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Kingdom, which greatly needed his presence."^ He was
succeeded by the Duke of Ormond. Anne was well quit
of his insolence, Godolphin of his intrigues, and Marlborough
of his " military criticism," But Nottingham, Hedges,
Seymour, and the other pronounced Tories exerted them-
selves to purge the public offices and the local administration
of all taint of Whiggery; and they eventually succeeded,
after Marlborough's departure for the continent, in inducing
the Queen to dismiss several lords lieutenant, sheriffs, and
justices of the peace. She was also persuaded to make
four new barons out of four strong Tories, a very considerable
creation in a House of 150, where, as Burnet confesses,
" things of the greatest consequence were carried only by
one or two voices."^ At the Duchess of Marlborough's
request and in fulfilment of a private promise, Hervey,^ a
Whig, was added to the number. This was the only case
in which Sarah's influence was exerted on behalf of any
aspirant to the peerage.

It was a relief to Marlborough to turn from the contempla-
tion of a party system which he detested to the business of
the war. Supplies had been cheerfully granted ; but, alarmed
by the magnitude of Louis' preparations for the next cam-
paign, the States petitioned the Queen for a fresh levy of
10,000 men. The Commons voted the money in January,

1 Memoirs of ths Life and Conduct of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
(1744), p. 139.

2 Burnet, vol. iii., p. 382.

3 Memoirs of the Life and Conduct of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough,
P- 1.35.


but on the condition that all Dutch trade and corre-
spondence with France and Spain should forthwith cease.
The Queen in her declaration of hostilities had forbidden
her own subjects to have dealings with the enemy. The
Emperor and the German Princes had followed suit. But
the Dutch, who desired to enjoy the advantages of both
peace and war at the same time, continued to maintain
a profitable intercourse with the common foe. With the
assistance of the merchants and bankers of Amsterdam,
which was " the financial clearing-house of Europe,"^ Louis
was enabled to pay his armies in Italy and to transmit
subsidies to Bavaria. Such suppHants did not come into
court with clean hands. If Holland chose to make war
upon the principles of comic opera, it was her own affair;
but that she should summon the rest of Europe to her aid,
and should then proceed to enrich herself by forging weapons
to be used against all who had responded to her piercing
cries, was monstrous and intolerable. At the beginning of
the last campaign both Houses had addressed the Queen
upon this subject. At the Hague, Marlborough had striven
his hardest, but without success, to procure the prohibition
of a commerce which was not only discreditable to Holland,
but highly injurious to the strategy of the coahtion. The
Commons therefore took a necessary and proper course.
The Lords could not do otherwise than support them.
The conduct of the Dutch admitted of no defence. Never-
theless the Whigs exerted their ingenuity to palliate and
to excuse it. Burnet dwells upon the importance of trade
to Holland and affects to be shocked at the plainness of
the language used in the Lower House. The Dutch, he says,
" were treated very indecently."^ They deserved it. The
special pleading of their Whig champions only aggravated
the case. Such short-sighted selfishness as they had
exhibited in this matter went far to justify that English
prejudice against foreigners, and that EngUsh suspicion of
continental alhances which had continually obstructed the
policy of WilHam.

On the eve of the Duke's departure for the Hague, an
irreparable disaster befell the Marlboroughs. Their only

I Leadam, vol. ix., p. 26. 2 Burnet, vol. iii., p. 370.


surviving boy, John, Marquis of Blandford, had quitted
Eton for Cambridge, where his natural talents, his devotion
to study, and his amenability to the discipHne of college
life, gave promise of a brilliant future. In spite of his
mother's protests, his heart was already set upon a military
career; and he had undertaken to procure a commission in
the cavalry for his intimate friend, Horace Walpole. But
in Febitiary, 1703, he was smitten with the ubiquitous
scourge of that epoch, malignant smallpox. The Duchess
hastened to his side. But no remedies and no physicians
could avail. Her unremitting care perhaps prolonged
a Ufe which it was powerless to save. Marlborough, who
had remained behind in torturing anxiety, arrived at Cam-
bridge in time to see the end. They buried the boy in the
beautiful chapel of his college. King's. He was not yet

Sarah, whom men have called heartless, gave way to a
paroxysm of grief. It was succeeded by a settled melancholy,
which impaired her health and seemed at one time to threaten
her reason. She would wander for hours in the cloisters of
Westminster, brooding on her loss. Neither the tenderness
of her husband, nor the solicitude of her daughters, nor
the sympathy of the Queen, nor the universal regret of
innumerable friends and of the public at large, could heal
her wound. In the greatness of her sorrow Marlborough
forgot his own. " You and I," he wrote, in a letter instinct
with true piety, " have great reason to bless God for all
we have, so that we must not repine at His taking our poor
child from us, but bless and praise Him for what His goodness
leaves us. . . . The use I think we should make of this
His correction is, that our chiefest time should be spent in
reconciling ourselves to Him, and having in our minds
always that we may not have long to live in this

The Duke found comfort also in the thought that four
daughters still remained to him. The third, Elizabeth, he
had recently united to the Earl of Bridgewater ; and the
fourth, Mary, who excelled even her own sisters in beauty,
was betrothed to Viscount Mounthermer. Peterborough had

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. Ill : The Duke to the Duchess, August 2, 1703.


sought her hand for his son, Lord Mordaunt, but Marl-
borough took exception to the young man's dissolute
character. Having prudently made a new will, in which he
besought the Queen to continue his titles in the person of
his son-in-law, Godolphin, he gladly departed for another
scene, where he could forget his private affliction in the
service of his country.

VI.— 1703

Those who, on the eve of the War of the Spanish Succession,
computed and compared the resources of the antagonists
and endeavoured to forecast the result, omitted from their
calculations the very factor which, in the event, proved to
be the determining one. They omitted it of necessity, and
because they did not, and could not, know it. That factor
was the human one of generalship. The balance was turned
against Louis, as soon as ever it became manifest that
Conde and Turenne had left no heirs, while the genius
of Marlborough and Eugene was at the service of the coali-
tion. Nevertheless, France in this time of need produced
one soldier of outstanding ability, who, though, Hke Luxem-
bourg, he was less than Conde and Turenne, like Luxembourg,
he was only a little less. At the very outset of the struggle
Louis Hector Villars came swiftly to the front, and all but
crushed the combination of his country's enemies. Six
years later, he stood between her and what seemed to all
observers inevitable doom.

Villars in 1703 was fifty. It was exactly thirty years since
he had shared with Monmouth and Churchill in the glorious
assault upon the counterscarp of Maestricht. A brilliant
cavalry officer, he had been noticed by Conde at Seneffe,
he had ridden by the side of Max Emanuel of Bavaria at
Mohacs, he had saved the beaten army of d'Humieres at
Walcourt, he had charged among the foremost in the famous
action at Leuze. Both at Munich and at Vienna he had
exhibited no Httle talent for diplomacy. His most obvious
fault, a kind of rhetorical boastfulness of utterance, was
easily pardoned in one who was ever ready to make good
his words. His proved abiUty, his popularity with the
troops, and his personal intimacy with Max Emanuel had
led to his selection, in the autumn of 1702, for the command
of the army destined to relieve Bavaria. His passage of
the Rhine and his victory at Friedhngen had demonstrated
his capacity to handle a combined force of all arms. Owing


1703 lig

to the duplicity of the Elector's conduct, a junction between
the French and Bavarian armies was not effected that
autumn. But Louis relied on Villars to effect it in the
ensuing year, and left him at liberty to choose his own

The new-made Marshal had other ideas of war than those
entertained by the text-book generals, and by the drawing-
room critics of Versailles. Ruthlessly violating the sacro-
sanct tradition of ' winter-quarters,' he mobilised his forces at
Strasbourg and summoned his officers from their chateaux
and their pleasures in the middle of January. He crossed
the Rhine at Neuenburg, passed under the cannon of
Breisach in a dense fog, marched over roads which frost had
rendered practicable, in weather which the soldiers called
"Villars' weather,"^ swept the startled enemy from their
cantonments, and after a siege conducted upon principles
of his own took the strong fortress of Kehl in the brief space
of twelve days. These unorthodox proceedings shocked the
soul of every incapable officer in France. The tongue of
folly and envy was loosed at once against the man who
dared to succeed by breaking the rules. Villars, it was said,
conducted an army as though he were leading a squadron
to the charge. The King was warned that, though for a
season fortune may attend temerity, sooner or later the
lucky blunderer comes to inevitable doom. But Villars
inconsiderately refuted the arguments of the courtiers and
demonstrated that his impetuosity was tempered by
prudence by returning immediately from Kehl to Strasbourg,
to rest and recruit his army. Thereupon the same critics
declared that he had sacrificed a great opportunity, and
exposed Bavaria to ruin; and they sought to render him
ridiculous by suggesting that jealousy was the motive which
had induced an uxorious husband of fifty to quit his duty
and return to the side of a young and beautiful wife of
twenty. Disregarding these malicious chatterers, the
Marshal continued his preparations. Meantime the Elector,
assailed by the Imperialists upon three sides, was manfully
holding his own. But the struggle was too unequal to
continue for ever. By the beginning of April Villars was

' Vie de Villars (1784), t. i., p. 135.


ready. Baden, lying in the lines of StoUhofen, threatened the
road to Bavaria. Villars would gladly have stormed the
Prince's camp, but the majority of his lieutenant-generals
pronounced against the enterprise. Knowing that, thanks
to the critics at Versailles, he could afford to risk no failures,
he abandoned an idea which his own judgment told him
was a right one, and leaving Tallard to watch the Prince's
motions, plunged boldly into the mountains. The passes were
held by regular troops, supported by militia, but with rare
audacity and dash the French carried position after position,
and at TuttUngen on May 9 joined hands with the Elector.
This concentration of forces on German soil was an
event of the highest strategical importance. Louis, who
understood perfectly that war is only a department of
statecraft, was fighting everywhere on the defensive, in the
well-grounded hope that political causes would presently dis-
solve the coalition. The march of Villars, though offensive
in appearance, did not in reahty involve any departure
from Louis' plan, which rightly enough made no distinction
between the territories of his alHes and the soil of France.
But though Villars had been sent to protect Bavaria, he
was at liberty to protect it in his own way. Now Villars
was endowed with the strategical instinct. He knew
that there is no more terrible form of war than that vigilant
defensive, which patiently awaits the favourable moment
for a crushing counter-stroke. He knew also that the most
deadly blow is the one that falls upon the centre of gravity
of the enemy's power. In his judgment the time had come
to annihilate Austria by the capture of Vienna. He drew
his design upon the grand scale. He proposed that the
French and Bavarian armies should advance along the
Danube, that Vendome, who was feebly opposed by
Starhemberg's omall force in Italy, should pass the Tyrol
and unite his troops to theirs, and that a combined host
of more than 80,000 men should then bear down upon the
Austrian capital. The shock, he calculated, would be
irresistible. The Emperor, harassed as he was by the
Hungarian rebels, had nothing adequate to oppose to it.
The fortifications of Vienna could not endure for more than
eight days. If Baden should attempt a diversion or a

1703 121

rescue, Tallard was at hand to hold him down. This con-
ception, magnificent and daring as it seemed, rested upon
sound and sohd foundations. It captivated the wayward
fancy of Max Emanuel, the experienced judgment of Louis,
and the mediocre mind of Chamillart. But its execution
involved the perfect cohesion of four armies and the complete
co-ordination of four wills. These essential conditions of
success were lacking.

More than a century later, in 1809, the efficacy of the
Marshal's plan was signally demonstrated by Napoleon
himself. Had Villars enjoyed that absolute power which
gave Napoleon an immense advantage over most of the
generals known to history, Villars would have succeeded in
1703. He failed; but the failures of genius are sometimes
more effective than the petty triumphs of orthodoxy.

Down to the beginning of June at any rate all promised
fair. And for more than a year the menace of his strategy
was destined to hold Austria in suspense, and to fetter the
energies of the coalition in every theatre of the war.

The war in 1703 is more interesting in its strategical
aspect than in any other. While Villars was preparing his
terrific counter-stroke against the Empire, Marlborough's
Mediterranean policy was already bearing fruit. The ex-
pedition of Rooke and Ormond in the preceding year had
not been wasted on the Portuguese, who realised that their
coasts could be either ruined or protected by the navies
of the maritime powers. Judicious negotiations, culminat-
ing in May, 1704, in the famous commercial treaty which is
associated with the name of Paul Methuen, detached the
King of Portugal from his alHance with France. Thus tlie
coalition obtained a secure base for land operations in the
Peninsula and for naval operations beyond the Straits,
Marlborough was resolved to push this policy to the utmost.
He knew the strategical value of " the noiseless, steady,
exhausting pressure with which sea-power acts." The
weapon which in 1703 had won Portugal for the coalition
might win them Savoy in 1704. The Duke was already
wavering. And he was the custodian of the road from
France to Italy. It was therefore decided that the fleet
should pass the Straits. Once in the Mediterranean it


could at least encourage disaffection on the eastern coasts
of Spain, it might even assist the rebellion of the Cevennes,
and it would certainly endanger the Italian dominions of
the Spanish Crown. And always it would prove to Portugal
that the navy of France was impotent to punish her de-

Of the rebellion in the Cevennes, where upwards of
4,000 Protestants had risen in arms, little was known but
much was hoped. The French government was already
drafting large forces into the disaffected area, and the allies
were congratulating themselves on the appearance of a
counterpoise to the Hungarian trouble in the Empire.
Marlborough was very desirous of encouraging the move-
ment, but he had been forced to overcome the opposition
of Nottingham, who entertained conscientious scruples on
the subject of assisting rebels. Such delicacy was singularly
misplaced in dealing with Louis, who was tireless in ex-
ploiting sedition in the dominions of his enemies.

Though Marlborough may not as yet have appreciated the
full magnitude of Villars' design, he knew that an offensive
movement of so menacing a character could not safely be
left without a strong reply. The reply which he contem-
plated was nothing less than the capture of Antwerp and
Ostend, places the possession of which, apart from their
commercial value, would have been very advantageous to the
maritime powers, and would have rendered the French lines
untenable. Moreover he knew by experience that the Dutch
government which shuddered at the suggestion of a battle,
could easily be persuaded to sanction a siege. And he hoped,
as he always hoped, that before the campaign was ended, he
might continue to filch from friends and enemies ahke an
opportunity of crushing the French arrny in the field.

On March 17 he arrived at the Hague. Athlone having
died, it was necessary to select a new commander for the
Dutch forces. Marlborough no doubt was responsible for
the choice of Overkirk, an old and gallant officer, and by
far the most competent of the candidates. But in the all-
important matter of the plan of campaign, the Dutch
government showed less compHance. They were ready of
course to undertake a siege, but not the siege which Marl-

1703 T23

borough proposed. As long as the city of Bonn remained
in Louis' hands, they felt that their frontier was insecure
and that their communications with the Empire were
obstructed. To besiege Bonn at this particular juncture
was in Marlborough's opinion mere waste of time. If Bonn
were first wrested from the French, they would consent to
the design upon Antwerp and Ostend, but not otherwise.
The Dutch were obdurate and Marlborough, having no
alternative, yielded. His principal anxiety was lest the
French should utilise the opportunity, created by the
absence of a large part of his forces on the Rhine, to attempt
some enterprise upon the Meuse. The question resolved
itself into one of time. If the allies were very early in the
field, and if the siege of Bonn were swiftly pressed to a
conclusion, the chances of trouble on the Meuse would be
but slight. He therefore pushed on the necessary arrange-
ments with extreme vigour. Traversing the country, he
inspected the troops in their quarters and impressed upon
the officers the necessity of rapid preparation. At Nijmegen
he discussed the details of the siege with Coehoorn, whom he
instructed to accumulate the requisite materials as quickly
as possible. Ascending the Meuse, lie visited the fortresses
of Venlo, Roermond, Stevensweert, and Maestricht, and
on April 14 arrived at Liege, where he conferred with
Sinzendorf, the Emperor's minister, and revealed to him
his future projects against Antwerp and Ostend. As
Louis of Baden was pressing for reinforcements, it was
necessary that the Emperor should understand that none
could be spared from the defence of Flanders. Returning
to Maestricht, he ordered Overkirk to concentrate the Dutch
and English troops in the vicinity of that fortress, to cover
the town and citadel of Liege, and to watch the motions of
the French. That invaluable time might not be frittered
away by the lethargic methods of Dutch or German generals,
he proposed to go in person to the siege of Bonn at the head of
the Prussian, Hanoverian, and Hessian forces. How necessary
his presence was, appeared at once from the backward state
of Coehoorn's preparations. Nevertheless, Marlborough's
cavalry invested Bonn on April 25, and Marlborough
himself arrived with the infantry on the ensuing day.


Meantime the French government had by no means pene-
trated the Duke's designs. But they made ready for all
eventualities. The plan of campaign was purely defensive.
It rested partly on the assumption that sooner or later the
progress of Villars would compel Marlborough to dispatch
a strong detachment to Bavaria. By occupying unas-
sailable positions in close proximity to the enemy, the army
was to prevent the forcing of the lines or the formation of
any considerable siege. But it was on no account to fight
a battle with the main army of the enemy, except for the
protection of Namur or Antwerp, and then only in the
last resort. It might however undertake the siege of the
citadel of Liege, if an opportunity occurred during Marl-
borough's absence at Bonn. The command was entrusted
to Marshal Villeroi, a courtier of fine person and charming
manners, but an incompetent general. He was assisted
by Boufflers, who was a better soldier, but who had incurred
the King's displeasure by his failure in the preceding cam-
paign. The two Marshals entrusted the defence of the
lines to small detachments, and concentrated the bulk of
their forces in the neighbourhood of Tirlemont. They had
more men than Marlborough had been led to believe, they
had brought great guns from Maubeuge down the Sambre
to Namur, and they intended to compensate themselves
for the loss of Bonn by the recovery of Liege. And now
was seen the value of Marlborough's inexhaustible energy.
It was not until May 8 that the Marshals were ready to
move ; but the trenches before Bonn had been opened on the
3rd, and the siege was being conducted with so numerous and
formidable an artillery and with such astounding vigour
that prolonged resistance was out of the question. Apprised
of these facts, the Marshals abandoned the idea of an attempt
upon Liege as altogether hopeless in the little time at their
disposal. But the destruction of Overkirk's army seemed
well within their means. Overkirk had assembled some
15,000 men in Bilsen and Tongres, and the country to the
west of Maestricht, and he was daily expecting to be joined
by 10,000 Enghsh. But the Marshals had 40,000 horse and
foot, the horse in particular being of splendid quality. They
did not hesitate to seize so fair an opportunity. At daybreak

1703 125

on the 9th they marched from Montenaeken in eight columns.
Overkirk, having early information of their advance, ordered
liis forces to fall back on Maestricht. Two Dutch battalions,
one of which belonged to the Scots Brigade in the service of
Holland, were cut off in Tongres. The mediaeval ramparts
of that ancient town were indefensible against artillery.
But reahsing that the safety of the army might depend upon
the time which they could gain, these two battalions declined
to yield. From 4 in the afternoon until midnight the
Marshals battered the place with their field-guns, the
defenders replying with " two russtie cannon."^ At dawn
on the loth the French reopened fire and effectually breached
the wall. Thereupon the garrison surrendered. They had
stood it out for twenty-eight hours. Their conduct excited
the admiration of Berwick. John Scot, who was one of the
prisoners, records that

"The noble Duke Berwick he ther did command,
To us he proved right kin Je :
' Ye are my countrie men,' said he,
' No man shal do you wronge.' "^

And he kept his word. Overkirk's army was safe. The
EngHsh had arrived, and the entire force had occupied a
good position to the north-west of Maestricht. The left and
centre were on rising ground and covered by the artillery
of that fortress, while the right was strongly posted in the
villages of Lanaeken and Petersheim. On the night of the
13th the French again advanced, and by noon on the follow-
ing day drew up in full view of the alHed army. Villeroi
and Boufilers rode out to examine the ground. At first they
formed the opinion that an attack upon the village of
Lanaeken was feasible, and made their dispositions accord-
ingly. But Overkirk reinforced the threatened point, threw
up entrenchments, and saluted the French with his artillery
both small and great. There were some in the French army
who conceived that an attack upon the centre would have
succeeded. But the more the Marshals saw of the position,
the less they liked it. At 3 o'clock they ordered a retire-
ment to Bomershoven. This decision, though humiliating

^ The Remembrance (The Scots Brigade in Holland), vol. iii. Publica-
tions of the Scottish History Society, vol. xxxviii.
2 Ibid.


to the spirit of an army which had numerical odds of nearly
two to one in its favour, was subsequently approved by
Louis. Overkirk's conduct stood in no need of approval.
He had thoroughly justified his appointment.

In the trenches before Bonn the news of Villeroi's

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 44)