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

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of the Empire. This mighty body lay exposed to
immediate ruin. In that memorable crisis, the Duke
of Marlborough led his troops with unexampled celerity,
secrecy, order, from the ocean to the Danube. He

1 Boyer, vol. iii., p. 224.

2 Burnet, vol. iv., p. 100.


saw, he attacked, nor stopped, but to conquer the
enemy. He forced the Bavarians, sustained by the
French, in their strong entrenchments at vSchellenberg.
He passed the Danube. A second royal army, com-
posed of the best troops of France, was sent to reinforce
the first. That of the Confederates was divided.
With one part of it the siege of Ingolstadt was carried
on: with the other, the Duke gave battle to the united
strength of France and Bavaria. On the second day
of August, one thousand seven hundred and four, he
gained a more glorious victory than the history of any
age can boast. The heaps of slain were dreadful proofs
of his valour: a marshal of France, whole legions of
French, his prisoners, proclaimed his mercy. Bavaria
was subdued, Ratisbon, Augsburg, Ulm, Memmingen,
all the usurpations of the enemy were restored. From
the Danube, the Duke turned his victorious arms toward
the Rhine, and the Moselle. Landau, Treves, Trarbach,
were taken. In the course of one campaign the very
nature of the war was changed. The invaders of other
states were reduced to defend their own. The frontier
of France was exposed in its weakest part to the efforts
of the allies," etc.


In the spring of 1705 Louis XIV and his advisers did not
underestimate the magnitude of the peril which menaced
France. The capture of Trarbach, the quartering of
10,000 of the allied troops along the Moselle, and the forma-
tion of immense magazines at Coblenz and Treves, left little
possibility of doubt as to the true intentions of the enemy.
Invasion was imminent, and invasion by " the real road "
{le vrai chemin),^ as Marlborough himself described it.

The French government exerted itself to repair the losses
of the last campaign, and to concentrate every available
man, horse, and gun upon the frontiers. Marsin commanded
in Alsace, and Villeroi and the Elector in Flanders. The
intervening space, the line from Luxembourg to Saarlouis,
was the post of danger. Here ran " the real road," and here
with admirable discernment Louis entrusted the defence to
Villars, the ablest of his generals.

Villars had served his country well when he prepared the
offensive combination against Vienna. Since then he had
done most valuable work in the Cevennes, where, despite
the efforts of the Grand Alliance to encourage the rebels,
he had partly pacified and partly crushed a movement,
which was diverting large bodies of troops from the various
theatres of the war. His qualities were peculiarly adapted
to the present crisis. An excellent type of the French
officer at his best, he blended discretion with dash, and a
natural instinct for tactics with a scientific knowledge of the
miHtary art. A consistently fortunate commander in the
field, he enjoyed immense popularity among the men, who
knew by experience that, if he was severe in matters of
discipUne, he was invariably just. A certain facility in the
use of boastful and mendacious rhetoric exposed him to no

1 Murray, vol. ii., p. 5: Marlborough to Wratislaw, April 17, 1705.



little ridicule, and tended, in the eyes of superficial observers,
to diminish the solidity of his exploits. But in reality he
owed his triumphs in no small measure to the judicious
exercise of this amusing talent. Villars, like Napoleon,
understood the psychology of the French soldier to a nicety.
In no army in the world is the maintenance of moral so vital
to success as in the army of France. And never was that
fact more palpable than in the period of dejection which
ensued upon the disasters of the Schellenberg and Blenheim.
On February 2 Villars arrived at Metz, where he found
the enemy from Treves raiding the country up to the very
walls. He was hampered by the weakness of his cavalry,
the disease, which had originated in Tallard's army, having
carried off large numbers of trained horses. But he ordered
five battalions of foot to Thionville, and established a chain
of posts between that place and Saarlouis. In the depth
of winter he traversed the rugged borderland committed
to his care, inspecting the fortresses and examining the
defensive positions. The state of the soldiers he discovered
to be excellent; but he reported to his government that an
excessive number of superior officers were absent from their
duty. This abuse he firmly checked. He also took steps
to suppress the scandalous luxury of the commissioned
ranks, and mindful of the infamy of Blenheim, he cautioned
the governors of towns against premature capitulations.
At the beginning of March he would have attacked the allies
in their entrenched camp at Treves, had not extraordinary
rains rendered the movement of troops impossible. There-
upon he hastened to Paris to concert with Villeroi and Marsin
the necessary arrangements for mutual aid in the forth-
coming campaign. On March 21 he returned to Metz.
To raise the spirit of his men, he planned a dash upon the
enemy's cantonments. The continuance of the rains,
however, delayed the operation until April 19. On that
day he passed three separate corps across the Saar. They
met with some slight successes; but the difficulty of subsis-
tence and the renewal of the rains compelled them to go
back. All this while, barges laden with munitions and
supphes were steadily ascending the Rhine and the Moselle
and discharging at Treves. Convinced that he would


shortly be confronted by enormous forces, Villars returned
to his study of the landscape. It was necessary to select
a situation where, with an inferior army, he could bar the
road into Champagne, and at the same time frustrate the
investment of Saarlouis, Thionville, and Luxembourg.

Villars did not exaggerate the ambitious character of
Marlborough's designs. The Duke proposed to invade
France with no fewer than 90,000 men. So large a concen-
tration of troops was exceptional in that age; and the problem
of feeding them in the barren region between the Moselle and
the Saar would have led the majority of contemporary
generals to condemn the project as impracticable. Marl-
borough believed that he had solved it. Not only had he
induced the Dutch to accumulate vast magazines at Coblenz,
Trarbach, and Treves, but he had also arranged that the
invading force should act as two distinct armies, subsisting
on two separate Unes of country. He himself, with 60,000
soldiers in the pay of England and Holland, would advance
from Treves along the Moselle, while the Margrave of Baden,
with 30,000 Austrians and Germans, would direct his march
from Landau to the River Saar. The two armies were to
act in support of one another, and to be ready to combine if
necessity should arise. This simple but correct plan he had
contrived with Eugene in the preceding autumn. In sub-
sequent communications^ with Vienna he had steadily
rejected all suggestions involving a dissipation of force.
The Germans were afraid that, unless a considerable body
of troops were retained upon the Rhine, Marsin would attack
them from Alsace. But Marlborough pointed out that the
movement which he contemplated would compel Marsin to
retire, or to make such detachments as would incapacitate
him from offensive action. Loyally supported as he was
by Eugene, he succeeded in securing a promise from the
Austrian government that an army of 30,000 men should
be ready in good time to co-operate with him in the manner

But the Emperor, who was rapidly descending to the
grave, was served by ministers deficient alike in insight and
in energy. Entirely absorbed in unprofitable attempts to

1 Murray, vol. i., p. 574: Marlborough to Wratislaw, January 9, 1705,


suppress the Hungarian rebellion, they seemed to consider
that an inadequate provision for the maintenance of the
war in Italy would cover their obligations to the Grand
Alliance. In the opening months of 1705 Marlborough was
concerned to observe the insufficiency of the Austrian pre-
parations on the side of the Rhine. The regiments were not
recruited; the magazines were empty; the suppHes of ammu-
nition were depleted; the artillery did not exist. The fortifi-
cations of Landau were in ruins, and unless they should be
speedily repaired, the army of invasion must be weakened
to furnish a very powerful garrison. Marlborough wrote
repeatedly to Stepney, instructing him to remonstrate with
the Emperor's ministers. He wrote also, and in the strongest
terms, to Wratislaw, Sinzendorf, and Eugene. But neither
he himself nor his friends at Vienna could awaken the govern-
ment to the danger of delay. The peril, from which Marl-
borough had rescued the Empire at Blenheim, was now
forgotten; the deference which was due to his judgment, was
forgotten too. To make matters worse, a coolness arose
between the Duke and Wratislaw, who suspected Stepney of
Hungarian sympathies and induced the Emperor to press
for his recall. Not until Eugene had threatened that, unless
proper measures were taken, he would refuse any longer to
serve the state, did the government begin to redeem its
pledges to the English general. But valuable time had been
wasted. And time was an important factor in the execution
of Marlborough's plan.

How important it was, became plain by the middle of
March, when Marlborough learned that the States, which in
December had sanctioned his project of a campaign upon
the Moselle, no longer approved it. This result had been
directly produced by the skilful strategy of France. By
rapidly concentrating his finest and largest army under
Villeroi and the Elector in Flanders, and by ordering his
own Household regiments to that theatre of the war, Louis
was playing on the Dutchmen's nerves. And the alarm in
Holland was by no means groundless. If Marlborough's
design were vigorously executed, Holland would have little
to fear from Villeroi and the Elector. But if, as seemed
possible, he received no proper support from the Empire,


it would be loolish and dangerous to weaken the army on the
Meuse for the sake of an ineffective operation on the Moselle.
The truth of this proposition was manifest to nobody
more than to Marlborough himself. He used it to incite the
Court of Vienna to a more strenuous activity. But his faith
in the feasibility of his own plan remained unshaken.
Immediately upon his arrival in Holland he exerted himself
to combat the terrors of the Dutch. The difficulty which he
experienced in persuading them to allow him a sufficient con-
tingent for his purpose kept him three weeks at the Hague.
But he got his way at last. On May 4 he set out for
Maestricht, which he reached on the 8th. Maestricht was
the rendezvous not only of the Dutch arm}-, which under the
command of Overkirk was to defend the Meuse during
Marlborough's absence, but also of the English forces which
were destined for the Moselle. This great concentration of
troops, coupled with the presence of the Duke himself,
perplexed the French. Villars received orders to hold him-
self in readiness to proceed to Flanders. But on the 15th
the Enghsh took the road to Treves, and all uncertainty was
at an end.

On the same day Marlborough departed for Coblenz.
Two obstacles he had surmounted, Austrian lethargy and
Dutch timidity; he was now confronted by a third, the
jealousy of the Margrave of Baden. This general had never
forgiven either Marlborough or Eugene for the complete
eclipse which his own reputation had suffered in the cam-
paign of Blenheim. He had already exhibited so much
reluctance to co-operate with Marlborough on the Moselle
that the Duke had been constrained to appeal to Vienna.
Peremptory instnictions had been sent to Rastatt ; and the
Margrave, affecting to obey, had suggested a conference with
Marlborough at Kreuznach on the 20th. But at Coblenz,
on the 1 8th, the Duke received a letter, cancelHng the appoint-
ment and explaining that the wound Louis had received in
his leg at the battle of the Schellenberg was too inflamed to
permit of any serious exertion. The tone of this communica-
tion excited grave misgivings. Whether the excuse were
true or false, it meant, at the best, delay. " My dearest
soul," wrote Marlborough to his wife at this moment, " till
I. 18


I come to live with you I shall have nothing but vexation."^
But intelligence from Vienna gave him some encouragement.
The Emperor Leopold was dead; Joseph, the King of the
Romans, had succeeded; and the influence of Eugene would
now become supreme, Joseph had written to the Duke
with his own hand, " if my affairs permitted me, I would do
myself the pleasure of joining you at the army, to testify in
person the sentiments of my esteem and friendship. I have,
nevertheless, ordered the Prince of Baden to act in concert
with you on the Moselle, and I wish you a campaign as glorious
as that of last year."^ Marlborough determined that, if the
Margrave would not come to him, he would go to the Mar-
grave. Quitting Coblenz on the igth, he arrived on the
2ist at Rastatt, where Louis received him with every
appearance of affection and respect. But the English
officers remarked that the accounts of the Margrave's
infirmity appeared to be exaggerated; and the Duke learned,
to his dismay, that for the present, at any rate, not more than
9,000 men could be dispatched towards the Saar. The con-
ception of two armies, acting in support of one another,
must therefore be abandoned. The failure of the Austrian
government to redeem its promises had crippled the execu-
tion of Marlborough's grand design. This cruel disappoint-
ment justified the strong remonstrance which he now
addressed to Vienna ; but it did not deter him from his pro-
jected advance along the Moselle. Having extracted from
the Margrave a promise to march on the 27th, and having
ridden forty miles to view the lines of Stollhofen and the
adjacent country, he departed for Treves, which he reached
on the 26th,

From Treves he wrote to Godolphin, Harley, Hedges, and
Sinzendorf, complaining bitterly that, instead of two
armies, the dishonourable negligence of the Austrian govern-
ment had reduced him to one. That one amounted at
present to only 30,000 men. More than a month before he
had been endeavouring through Lord Raby, the English
minister at Berlin, to accelerate the march of the Prussian
contingent, 12,000 strong. They had not arrived, and they

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 270: The Duke to the Duchess, May 6/17, 1705.
2 Ibid., p. 271 : Original letter of the Emperor Joseph, dated Vienna,
J*Iay 9. 1705. and signed " Josephus."


were not expected for a fortnight, if then. Nor had the
7,000 Palatine troops in Dutch and Enghsh pay as yet come
in. More serious still was the failure of the Elector on the
Rhine to supply him with the 3,000 horses which he needed
for the transport of his cannon and munitions. Reiterated
letters elicited no practical response. But the crowning
misfortune was the discovery that the superintendent of the
magazines, who was either a traitor or a thief, had dis-
appeared, and that there was " not near half the quantity
in the stores that should have been."^ But the Duke
refused to despair. To husband his stocks, he quartered the
Enghsh troops on the western side of the Moselle; and he
dispatched expresses to Cologne and Mainz to order up
supplies of corn and flour sufficient for a month. At the
same time, he endeavoured to calm the anxiety of the
Dutch, who were alarmed by the motions of Villeroi. He
explained his situation to the States, and promised to create
a strong diversion as speedily as possible.

Never was a great undertaking more shamefully obstructed
by those in whose interest it was conceived. " We shall
lose the finest opportunity in the world "^ {nous ferdrons la
plus belle occasion du monde), wrote Marlborough in the
bitterness of his soul, as the days slipped by, and neither
men nor horses appeared at Treves. Necessity at length
compelled him either to abandon the enterprise altogether,
or to advance beyond the Saar. The sterility of the country,
the backwardness of the season, and the dihgence which the
French had very properly displayed in destroying all forage
and burning the villages,^ rendered it impossible for his
cavalry to subsist any longer in their present situation.

At 2 a.m. on June 3 the English crossed the Moselle; and
the combined army, having passed the Saar in two columns,
moved rapidly towards the south.

Villars had concentrated his forces on May 18. He had
again examined the country for a position adapted to his
needs, and he had found nothing suitable which was nearer
to the enemy than Sierck. On the right bank of the Moselle
the little town of Sierck, surmounted by the ruins of its

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 274.

2 Murray, vol. ii., p. 6i : Marlborough to M. Pesters, May 31, 1703.

* Ibid., p. 55: Marlborough to Harley, May 27, 1705.


medigeval castle, nestles at the foot of a massive mountain,
the lower slopes of which are clothed with vineyards and
with scrub, and the upper with impenetrable woods. This
mountain, running southwards for the distance of a mile,
presents towards an enemy advancing from the Saar a
precipitous rampart, moated at its base by the stony
bed of a rapid torrent. On the summit is an extensive
plateau, an ideal site for an encampment. It was here
that Villars decided to await the enemy. He had nothing
to dread from a frontal attack. Not only was the eastern
face of this natural fortress well-nigh impregnable in itself,
but the country before it consisted of a succession of lofty
ridges and profound ravines peculiarly unfavourable to the
passage and deployment of an army. His left flank was pro-
tected by a loop of the Moselle, while his cannon dominated
the river road through Sierck to Thionville. The castle of
Sierck, though obsolete as a fortress, was a solid post, which
he occupied with a small garrison. His right was not
equally secure. For here the southern face of the mountain,
sloping less steeply than the eastern, did not prohibit an
assault. But here the Marshal threw up entrenchments of
a formidable kind. Moreover, the extremity of this flank
was shielded by a dense forest, and guarded by cavalry
extending backwards to the river. In this position, barring
the road to Thionville, and ready to move swiftly to the
assistance of Saarlouis or of Luxembourg, he confidently
awaited developments, while from Metz and from the fertile
region behind him he drew an abundance of supplies. The
French soldiers, high and healthy in their wind-swept camp,
lived upon the fat of the land and drank to the prosperity
of their astute commander.

Villars had done exactly what Marlborough, who knew the
country well, had expected him to do. Before quitting the
Hague, he had impressed upon Hompesch and Noyelles, the
officers commanding at Treves, the importance of the posi-
tion at Sierck and the desirability of endeavouring to hinder
any attempt to fortify it. But when the Duke advanced
on the morning of the 3rd, he still hoped that his enemy
might be tempted to resist his progress at a more advanced
point. A battle, even with the numerical odds against him,


he would have greatly welcomed. Villars, however, was
not aware that the allied army consisted of but 30,000 men.
From intercepted dispatches he had learned the magnitude
of the Duke's designs; and he seems to have imagined that
the forces assembled at Treves were as large as they ought
to have been. At Marlborough's approach, therefore, he
hastily called in an outlying corps, and permitted the allies
to enter their camp without molestation. This camp, which
was reached at 6 in the evening after a forced march of
eighteen miles, ran along elevated ground from the Moselle
on the west through Perl and Merschweiler to Eft and
Hellendorf upon the east. The troops, though weary, were
elated. They beheved the French to be afraid.

Villars, who had been reinforced by a detachment from
Marsin, could now dispose of 52,000 men. Yet he left the
initiative to Marlborough with 30,000. The Duke was
strengthened on the 5th by the arrival of 7,000 Palatines,
and in spite of the disparity of numbers he proposed, by a
movement of his left, to thrust himself between the French
Marshal and Saarlouis, and to invest that place. Should
a collision result, he asked for no better opportunity than a
decisive battle. But nothing could be done without artillery.
Far in the rear the great train lay idly at Trarbach, while
the Electors talked about terms and promised none. The
Duke was haunted also by the fear of famine. But on
the whole his commissariat department served him well.
Horses were the crying need; and horses, to the eternal
shame of the German princes, came not.

Meanwhile, the Margrave was sending perpetual excuses
for his own delay. At last he announced that he would be at
Birkenfeld on the 13th. Cadogan went to meet him, and
found on his arrival that Louis had delegated his command to
a subordinate, and departed for Schlangenbad to drink the
waters. "If we could have had what was absolutely
necessary," said Marlborough, " I could have borne this
disappointment . ' '^

All this time the opposing armies remained passive in
their camps. The monotony was broken by nothing more
exciting than a skirmish or a reconnaissance. Marlborough

* Coxe, vol. i., p. 285: The Duke to the Duchess, June 7/18, 1705.


maintained his high reputation among the French for
chivalrous pohteness by sending Villars a case of wine, cider,
and English spirits {licjueurs d'Angleterre), and Villars replied
in kind.-"- The Duke tiad begun by informing the Marshal
that with such an antagonist he looked forward to a fine
campaign. Very courteous communications passed in
reference to the exchange of prisoners. But the English
soldiers were spoiling for a fight ; and the Marshal refused to
budge. "We cannot possibly come at him," wrote Major
Cranstoun, " though we were six times his force. "^ And the
Duke was eating his heart out. The anxiety affected his
health. " I own to you," he wrote to his wife, " that my
sickness comes from fretting; for I have been disappointed
in everything that was promised me."^ On a bold and
storm-beaten bluff, high above the deep ravine of Mandern
which lay before the left centre of the allied lines, the sombre
towers of the castle of Mensberg stand sternly up against
the sky. " Schloss Mensberg " the Prussians call it, but to
the peasantry of Lorraine it is and will for ever be the
"Chateau de Malbrook." For here, according to the fixed
tradition of the countryside, that almost legendary warrior
established his head-quarters.'* And hither at least he must
have often ridden, to sweep with his glass the approaches to
Saarlouis and the circuitous defiles that led to Villars'

This situation could not long endure. The dice were too
heavily weighted against Holland. Villeroi had quitted
his lines on May 21. On the 28th he had invested Huy.
The army of Overkirk, outnumbered by more than two
to one, was tied to its fortified camp under the cannon
of Maestricht. Huy fell on June 13; and Villeroi, moving
quickly upon Liege, captured the town and laid siege to the
citadel. It was evident that Overkirk would speedily

1 Pelet, t. v., p. 451 : Lettre de Villars a Chamillart, 13 juin, 1705.

2 Portland MSS.: Major Cranstoun to Robert Cunningham, May 29,
1705 (Hist MSS. Comm., 15th Report, Appendix, part iv.. p. 187).

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 279: The Duke to the Duchess, June 1/12, 1705.
* They seem, in fact, to have been situated farther to the rear, at Elft.
A peasant told the writer that the chateau was the residence of " Mal-
brook." Perhaps he identified one of its towers with the famous tower in
the ballad —

" Madame a sa tour monte
Si haut qu'elle pent monter."


be confronted with a choice between annihilation or retreat.
All Holland was in a state of panic. On June 11 Marl-
borough had written to Eugene, advising him of the critical
condition of affairs, " which must," he said, " be attributed
to the delays in the arrival of the German troops. Had
they joined me in time, the enemy must have made a con-

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 44)