Frank Taylor.

The wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) online

. (page 16 of 44)
Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

learned that the government at the Hague were dispatching
8 battalions and 21 squadrons to his assistance. On the
29th he reached Kastel, a village on the right bank of the
Rhine, over against Mainz. Leaving the men to the enjoy-
ment of a well-earned rest, the Duke and his retinue crossed
the river, and entering the carriages of the Elector of Mainz
were conducted amid the thunder of artillery to the palace.
The Elector entertained his guests with lavish hospitahty,
and was loud in his praises of the English soldiers, who
exhibited that smart appearance which has always dis-


tinguished the British Army. From Mainz the Duke wrote
to Godolphin to explain that he was endeavouring to arrange
with Frankfurt bankers " to take up a month's pay for the
EngUsh." He added that " notwithstanding the continual
marching, the men are extremely pleased with this

They had every reason to be pleased. Never before had
the army of an English monarch been seen in Germany.
And never before had any army, native or foreign, conducted
itself as this one. For Marlborough had issued the strictest
injunctions that nothing was to be taken from the inhabitants
without payment. He saw to it also that the men had always
the wherewithal to pay. In the German peoples, who were
gazing now for the first time upon the regular forces of the
British Crown, curiosity was soon succeeded by astonish-
ment. So the barbarous islanders were not barbarous at all.
In a country which had long been habituated to regard
all soldiers as robbers, ravishers, and assassins, the soldiers
of the Queen of England were conducting themselves as
correctly as at Windsor or at Kensington. To the burgher
and the boor aUke, such moderation seemed nothing less
than a portent. Certainly the gabled villages and steep-
roofed cities of old Germany had never looked down upon
its Uke. Moreover these righteous men were good to gaze
upon, and they rode their beautiful horses with consummate
ease, considerations not unavaihng even against the soUd
breast of the feminine Teuton. " The Electors of Treves
and Mayence," wrote an English officer, "have seen us
on our march, and at least 200 ladies, some of them much
handsomer than we expected to find in this country."^
In short, the English had not been many hours on the
German side of the frontier before they were popular. And
as they advanced, they became more than popular. For
why, it was asked, had they crossed the northern sea and
ridden so many weary miles through dust and sun ? They
had done it to save Germany from the French tyrant, to
save German wealth and German women from that atrocious
treatment which too often fell to the lot of any civiHan

^ Co.xe, vol. i., p. 160: Marlborough to Godolphin.

- Coke MSS. belonging to Earl Cowper, vol. iii., p. 36: R. Pope to Thomas
Coke, June 4, 1704 (Hist. MSS. Comm., 12th Report, Appendix, part iii.).


population that found itself at the mercy of a profligate
soldiery. Therefore the English were deliverers, and they
were heroes. And for heroes, and virtuous heroes at that,
nothing was too good. The march, fatiguing as it was,
became a sort of triumphal progress. Marlborough and his
troopers were not only fed but feasted, not only welcomed
but acclaimed. No wonder therefore that the men were
" extremely pleased." It was not in human nature, and
certainly not in the very human nature of the British soldier,
to be anything else than " extremely pleased " in a land
flowing with beer and resounding with benedictions. Those
who know him as he is to-day, and as he has ever been, can
imagine how he rose to the occasion, and with what valiant
stolidity he played the part thus surprisingly thrust upon
him. His happiness indeed was deep and unalloyed. He was
sick to death of damp and dreary Holland. Adequate
language, in which to describe his sentiments towards Dutch
deputies and Dutch generals, had long been to seek even in
his opulent vocabulary. But now at last he had escaped
from the irritating jurisdiction of their " High Mightinesses."
His general too had escaped with him, such a general as
could not be matched in all Europe, if only he were freed,
as now at last he was free, from the meddUng of impertinent
fools. Together they would show these neglected foreigners
how war was understood in England.-^ Thus reasoned within
himself the British soldier. And so with the wonderful joy
of the truant in his heart, with a new and extremely beautiful
country to explore, with plenty of hard work, an abundance
of the finest food, a superabundance of alcoholic Uquors, and
the deUcious certainty of a big fight at the finish, he rode
radiantly on through guttural plaudits and the smiles of
massive beauty, following, he knew not whither, but always
in devoted confidence, that gracious and serene commander.
While he was at Mainz, Marlborough persuaded the
Landgrave of Hesse, who had prepared artillery for a cam-
paign on the Moselle, to send it up the Rhine to Mannheim.
This operation, which appeared to threaten Landau, was
intended to increase the mystification of the French generals.
Marlborough had indeed been eminently successful in creating

1 Coke MSS., ibid.


that ' fog of war ' which was essential to the execution
of his plan. At first, his declared intention of a campaign
upon the Moselle had imposed upon Villeroi, who had
hastened across Luxembourg in pursuit. But the march
from Coblenz to Mainz, though not incompatible with
operations in Lorraine, suggested that Alsace was the real
objective. The dispatch of the Hessian artillery to Mannheim
and the construction of a bridge at Philippsburg confirmed
this new impression. With sentiments akin to relief, Villeroi
and Tallard made ready to unite their armies. Hitherto
they had been sorely puzzled. The rapidity of Marl-
borough's march had greatly added to their embarrassment.
Their constant interchange of views with one another, and
with the government at Versailles, had been rendered nuga-
tory in the most exasperating fashion by the perpetual
arrival of intelligence which upset from hour to hour their
most recent calculations. Every possibihty of the situa-
tion had been considered, every solution of the problem had
been examined, even the right one. The right one however
appeared so unlikely that it received but scanty attention.
And now when the truth was so soon to be revealed, the
two Marshals laid firmer hold than ever on a wrong

On the 31st, Marlborough's troopers got once more to
horse, and passing the Maine, continued their march towards
the south. With every step, the beauty of the country
grew more wonderful. They were riding now over the broad
and sunlit plain of the Rhine, and under the shadow of that
mysterious mountain-land of Odenwald. From Weinheim,
on June 2, the Duke dispatched a letter to his wife, who
was still pressing for permission to join him. " You could
hardly get to me and back again to Holland," he wrote,
" before it would be time to return into England. Besides,
my dear soul, how could I be at any ease ? For if we should
not have good success, I could not put you into any place
where you would be safe."

" I am now in a house of the Elector Palatine, that has a

prospect over the finest country that is possible to be seen.

I see out of my chamber window the Rhine and the Neckar,

and his two principal towns of Mannheim and Heidelberg;



but would be much better pleased with the prospect of
St. Albans, which is not very famous for seeing far."^

On the following day he came down through the apple-
orchards to the Neckar at Ladenburg. The troops crossed
the river on a bridge of boats and encamped on the opposite
bank. And here the Duke permitted a halt of two days,
not only to refresh his men and horses, but also to afford an
opportunity to Churchill to lessen the widening gap between
the main body and the mounted arms. Never for one
moment, as he dashed forward with his brilliant squadrons,
had he banished from his memory the long files of toiling
infantry and guns. He had impressed upon his brother,
before they parted, the prime necessity of speed ; but he had
also insisted that speed must not be secured at too heavy a
cost. The reasonable comfort of the men must be consulted;
their physical fitness must be preserved to the very end..
The recruits, whom Tallard had sent to Marsin, had been
so cruelly overdriven that half of them were dead or in
hospital. Marlborough had no desire to reach the Danube
with an army incapacitated for active service. He had
therefore instructed Churchill to begin every day's march
at sunrise, and to have all the troops in camp before high
noon. Churchill had punctually obeyed these orders, and
was bringing up his men in fine condition and at a splendid
pace. They reached the Maine at Kastel on the 3rd, the
day of Marlborough's arrival on the Neckar. That same
day the Duke wrote to his brother, enquiring as to the state
of his forces and directing him to proceed straight to
Heidelberg, as the road by Ladenburg was not an easy one.
It was in a dispatch from Ladenburg, that Marlborough
at last disclosed his true intention to the Dutch government.
The Queen, he wrote, had commanded him " to march to
the relief of the Empire." He begged them to permit their
troops " to share in the honour of that expedition."^ The
States-General putting the best possible face upon the matter,
consented with unusual promptitude. But the secret was
still hidden from the French. Though the passage of the
Neckar excited their suspicions, it was not inconsistent with
a projected advance to Philippsburg or the lines of StoU-

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 161 : The Duke to the Duchess, May 22/June 2, 1704.
2 Lediard, vol. i., p. 303.


hofen. But on the morning of the 6th, when Churchill was
only a couple of marches from the Neckar, the truth was
made manifest to all. On that day the Duke and his cavalry,
taking to the road once more, wheeled off from the valley
of the Rhine, and struck south-east upon the way to Heil-
bronn. They camped at Wiesloch; and on the morrow,
riding on through the legendary Neckarland, past Turenne's
old battlefield of Sinsheim, a name redolent to Marlborough
of the memories of his youth, they came to Eppingen. Here
the Duke wrote to Churchill, who was now at Weinheim,
warning him that the road from Wiesloch to Sinsheim was
a hilly one, urging him to spare his artillery horses as much
as possible, and authorising him to shorten his marches if
the men showed signs of exhaustion. On the 8th, having
been joined on the road by some of the auxiharies, Marl-
borough pushed on to Gross Gartach, whither the Duke of
Wiirttemberg sent to compliment the English general and to
promise him any assistance in his passage through the ducal
territory. And here, still mindful of the long columns
of men and guns that were trudging in his wake, he wrote
to his brother to impress upon him the imperative necessity
of finishing each day's work while the morning was still
cool. He also urged him to see that the colonels provided
their regiments with proper boots, of which a good supply
at reasonable prices could be procured from Frankfurt.
On the 9th he passed the Neckar a second time, and advanced
to Mundelsheim. Here on the ensuing day he was joined by
Wratislaw and Prince Eugene, who was closeted alone with
the Duke for three hours ;-^ and here was laid the foundation
of that famous and singular friendship, so honourable to both
commanders and so fatal to " the exorbitant power of

The next day's march was over the hills and down into
Gross Heppach, a picturesque village in the lovely valley
of the Rems, Eugene accompanied the column, and in
conversation with Marlborough expressed a desire to inspect
the British cavalry and dragoons. So in the fair, green
meadows by the riverside, the English general drew up his
squadrons. Both men and horses were perhaps a trifle lean,

^ Coke MSS., ibid.: Letter of June 13, 1704.


for they had travelled fast and far; but the fineness of their
condition was unmistakable. Conspicuous also was that
trim smartness of uniform and that correctness of bearing
and perfection of movement which have ever been charac-
teristic of the British Army. None of these details escaped
the practised eye of the Prince. Nor did he fail to remark
the alert and proud demeanour of the men. "My Lord,"
he said, " I never saw better horses, better clothes, finer belts,
and accoutrements; yet all these may be had for money;
but there is a spirit in the looks of your men which I never
j-et saw in any in my Hfe." The Duke was pleased. " Sir,"
he replied, "if it be as you say, that spirit is inspired in
them by your presence."-^ He was never at a loss for the
language of compliment. But in his ears at any rate the
words of Eugene sounded as no idle flattery. In those
days EngUsh horses were easily the best in the world; and
English troopers were real horse-masters, and knew how to
preserve the fitness of their chargers through all the fatigues
of a prolonged campaign. Moreover, from his youth up
Marlborough had mingled with the fighting men of all
nations. He had confronted the tough barbarians of Northern
Africa, he had served among the French when the military
prestige of France was at its zenith. Germans, Dutchmen,
Flemings, British — he had fought against them all and with
them all. Both as a comrade and a foe he had intimate
knowledge of the military qualities of most of the armies of
Europe. And he had formed the dehberate opinion that
the British Isles produced the finest soldiers in the world.
The subsequent history of war by no means proves that he
was wrong. Yet everybody to-day has the misfortune to
know Englishmen who, in the fullness of their ignorance both
of what war is and what it has been, affect to despise the
judgment of Marlborough as a vulgar and a puerile prejudice.
At Gross Heppach the two commanders awaited the
coming of Louis of Baden, who arrived on the 13th. They
received him with every mark of consideration and respect.
The Margrave was a general of the orthodox school, but he
represented that school at its best. Inferior as he was to
Marlborough and Eugene, he was vastly superior to such

* Lediard, vol. i., p. 307.


officers as Opdam. Unfortunately, declining health had
begun to paralyse his energies both of mind and body. The
criticisms passed upon his recent failure to prevent the
passage of recruits to Marsin's army had rendered him
extremely sensitive. Conscious of the progressive decadence
of his powers, he was anxious only to conserve a reputation
which he had little hope of increasing. Such a man, jealous
and suspicious to the last degree, deficient in nerve, and
fearful of fresh responsibility, was little better than an
embarrassment to Marlborough and Eugene at this most
critical juncture. Marlborough had hoped that by delicate
tact and judicious flattery, the Margrave might be induced
to take command of the army on the Rhine, and to leave
the Imperialist forces on the Danube to Eugene. Eugene,
who knew the Margrave's character thoroughly, anticipated
difficulties. And he was right. For it speedily appeared
that the Margrave had no intention of abandoning the
principal theatre of the war in favour of a younger rival.
Taking his stand upon his right of seniority, he insisted upon
remaining in person on the Danube. Marlborough acquiesced
at once. He had been well coached by Eugene, who had
told him forcibly that the Margrave would require most
careful management. He therefore left nothing undone to
humour and conciliate the man with whom he would
presently be forced to co-operate in the field. On one point
only he was firm. Imperialist generals claimed precedence
of all others within the Empire. But as commander-in-
chief of the forces of the Queen of England and of the States-
General of Holland, Marlborough declined to become the
Margrave's subordinate. It was therefore agreed that
the old, unsatisfactory compromise of a dual command upon
alternate days should come into operation as soon as a
junction had been effected between the allied armies.

Early on the 14th, the cavalry set forward on the road to
Ebersbach. Marlborough remained behind at Gross Heppach,
to entertain his two colleagues at dinner at the Lamm Inn, a
great, old hostelry where the tradition of that famous day
is still preserved. After this farewell meal, Eugene departed
for Philippsburg, and the Margrave for the army on the
Danube. Marlborough reached the camp at Ebersbach


the same evening. Here he was informed by Wratislaw that
the Emperor desired, with the Queen's consent, to create
for him a principahty in the Holy Roman Empire. Marl-
borough had all the EngHsh gentleman's contempt for mere
titles. " I did assure him," he wrote afterwards to his wife,
" that I was very sensible of the honour his master intended
me, but in my opinion nothing of this ought to be thought
on till we saw what would be the fate of the war." But
Wratislaw insisted. "What already had been done," he
said, "had laid obligations on his master above what he could
express, and that if the Queen would not allow him to do
this, he must appear ungrateful to the world, for he had
nothing else in his power worth giving or my taking. What
is offered will in history for ever remain an honour to my
family. But I wish myself so well that I hope I shall never
want the income of the land, which no doubt will be but little,
nor enj oy the privilege of German assemblies. However, this
is the utmost expression that they can make, and therefore
ought to be taken as it is meant. "■'• It was eventually
decided that the Emperor should write to the Queen, and
that in the meantime the matter should continue in abeyance.
To Ebersbach came news from the army of Flanders,
such news as astonished nobody, and Marlborough least of
all. Overkirk having outwitted the French by a rapid
march and passed the lines at Wasseiges had been robbed of
the fruits of his enterprise by those suicidal methods which
were making war, as conducted by the Dutch, the laughing-
stock of Europe. "Our friends there," wrote Marlborough
to Harley, " have lost a very great opportunity. H they
had made a good use of it, we might have found the effects
in these parts and everywhere else."^ The Duke no doubt
was thinking of Villeroi. Pressure on the Meuse might have
compelled Villeroi to return to that quarter, or at least to
detach a considerable contingent. But as it was, he and
Tallard were now drawing together in the neighbourhood
of Landau. Their combined armies might carry the hnes
of Stollhofen ; or they might mask the lines, while they threw
a powerful reinforcement into Bavaria. Marlborough had
immense confidence in Eugene. But Eugene could not

* Coxe, vol. i., p. 166: The Duke to the Duchess, June 4/15.
2 Ibid., p. 165: Marlborough to Harley, June 15, 1704.


perform the impossible. A diversion in the Netherlands
would certainly have diminished the peril beyond the Rhine.
But as Marlborough expected nothing from the Dutch, he
was not disappointed. He relied in fact upon himself alone,
upon himself, that is, and Eugene. His responsibility at
this moment was overwhelming. Both in England and
Holland, foes more vigilant and cruel than any he would
ever encounter on the field of battle, were waiting and hoping
for his ruin. Nothing but victory, shattering, dazzling,
reverberating victory, could save him from their vindictive
machinations. And that victory must be gained with
heterogeneous forces and a feeble colleague. Alone in the
heart of this great, strange land where no British army had
ever before set foot, with mighty and numerous enemies
as yet unbeaten on his front and on his flank, and with the
vultures of faction croaking hoarsely in the distant north,
he had need of all his courage. It could not fail him, though
as the sense of solitude grew greater, he leaned the more
upon his absent friends. Harley's appointment to the
Secretaryship of State had been gazetted at the end of May.
In writing to congratulate him from Gross Heppach, the
Duke had also congratulated himself on " having so good
a friend near Her Majesty's person to represent in the truest
light my faithful endeavours for her service and the advan-
tage of the public."^ Now, as always, slanderous voices
and the intrigues of malice were infinitely more terrible to
Marlborough than all the Marshals of France. War was
his proper business; and in war he could trust himself.
Louis of Baden might not be a soldier after his own heart;
but Louis of Baden at his worst was a thousand times better
than Coehoorn and Opdam and the pettifogging meddlers of
the Hague. And always there were those 16,000 EngHsh-
men, with that " spirit in the looks " of them, the like of
which Eugene had never before set eyes on. Whatever of
doubt or misgiving may have visited the heart of their leader
in moments of depression, to them at any rate he made no
sign that might dim that splendid confidence which was at
once the omen and the instrument of certain victory.

On the i6th Marlborough continued his advance. He

* Murray, vol. i., p. 307: Marlborough to Harley, June 13, 1704.


halted at Gross Sussen; and at the same time auxiliary
troops of Hesse, Hamburg, and Hanover encamped in the
vicinity. Here he remained until the 21st. It had been
raining heavily for several days. The roads were becoming
impracticable ; and the Duke was greatly concerned for his
infantry and guns. He wrote to Churchill to urge him to
be careful of the men's health, and as sparing as possible
of the artillery teams. He arranged for the formation of
magazines at Heidenheim and Nordlingen. He directed
the Danish infantry, which had reached Frankfurt, to
proceed to Stollhofen. And to pacify the States-General,
who were terrified by a rumour of Villeroi's return to Flanders,
he ordered boats to be prepared as if for the rapid transport
of guns and baggage down the Rhine. At the same time
he wrote to Heinsius : " I beg you will take care that I receive
no orders from the States that may put me out of a condition
of reducing the Elector, for that would be of all mischiefs
the greatest."^

He of course was well aware that whatever plan was
ultimately adopted by French generals in concert with
Versailles, the return of Villeroi to Flanders was out of the
question. For the crisis was now at hand. The Elector
of Bavaria was sending his baggage to Ulm, and was passing
his army across the Danube. He evidently intended to
defend that river from its northern side. Louis of Baden
with the Imperialist army was approaching Westerstetten,
which is only eight miles north of Ulm. On the 21st Marl-
borough advanced to Ursprung, the auxiliaries falling in
upon the march . On the 22nd the allied armies joined hands
at Westerstetten. On the 23rd the two commanders re-
viewed their forces, and on the 24th they advanced to
Elchingen and Langenau. Thereupon the Elector retired
to the impregnable position of Lauingen and Dillingen,
midway between Ulm and Donau worth. Here he had
prepared himself a camp, strongly entrenched and almost
surrounded by water. On the 26th the aUies moved to
Herbrechtingen and Giengen, where only two leagues
separated them from the enemy. On the 27th the infantry
and guns marched in. And Marlborough saw with joy that,

1 Von Noorden, vol. i., p. 538: Marlborough an Heinsius, 19 Juni,
1 704, Heinsiusarchiv,


though the continual rains had caused some httle sickness,
the columns swung by with a proud and vigorous air that
would certainly have earned them from Eugene the same
commendations as he had already bestowed upon their
comrades of the moimted arm.

The hour, for which he had toiled and planned so long, had
come at last. He was face to face with that prince, who, to
gratify a private ambition, had gambled with the safety
of Europe. And there were no Dutch deputies to come
between them. Max Emanuel knew well that the game had
taken a dangerous turn for him and for his unfortunate
subjects. He at any rate had alwaj^s feared lest Marl-
borough's ultimate goal might prove to he upon the Danube.
And all through May and June the dread of such a possibihty

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 44)