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siderable detachment from the Netherlands."^ The Duke
had done his best to create such a diversion by alarming
Villars. He had announced the total of his forces to be
110,000 men; and all the prisoners, whom Villars took,
repeated these figures with suspicious unanimity. But the
artifice failed. Villars was dehghted. After making a
generous deduction, he could still estimate his enemies at
80,000 as against the 52,000 under his own command; and
he could tell his government and his army that this enormous
advantage in numbers had been more than neutralised by
the superior skill of a French general and the superior
courage of French soldiers. When Marlborough wrote to
Eugene, he was in daily expectation of recall to Flanders.
On the i6th Hompesch arrived with a piteous appeal from
Overkirk. On the same date came an express from the
field-deputies at Maestricht, requiring him to send them
thirty battalions forthwith. If he obeyed, it would be
useless to continue with diminished forces in Lorraine.
Indeed, it was useless to continue there in any case. The
advent of Wiirttemberg with 4,000 horse in Dutch and
English pay, and also of 12,000 Prussians, had at last raised
his army to comparative equality with that of Villars.
But the Margrave's men had not yet appeared, forage was
almost unobtainable, and horses and carts " for the drawing
of everything to the siege "^ could not be expected within
less than six weeks. Moreover, the Duke was justifiably
afraid lest in his continued absence the feeble government
of Holland should be terrified into some disastrous peace.
He therefore resolved to return immediately to the Meuse.
It was better to go where he was wanted than to remain
where he was impotent.

At midnight on the 17th, he noiselessly decamped, and

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 280: Marlborough to Eugene, June ii, 1705.

2 Ibid., p. 282: Marlborough to Godolphin, June 16, 1705.


covered by a strong rear-guard of cavalry, moved back in
pouring rain towards the Saar. At Consaarbriick he
halted, and endeavoured to communicate with the Mar-
grave's general, who, however, successfully avoided an
interview. On the 19th he resumed his march, which was
in no ^ way impeded by the French at Sierck. He had
decided to retain the magazines at Treves, in case it might
subsequently be found possible to reopen operations on the
Moselle. The protection of this post he assigned to the
Palatine and Westphahan troops, sixteen battalions and
fifteen squadrons in all. Wiirttemberg's men and the
Prussians he ordered to join the Margrave.

Thus terminated an enterprise, conceived in the spirit of
the soundest strategy, and ruined in its execution by the
jealousy, incapacity, and sloth of those who were bound bj-
every motive of honour and expediency to be most forward
in promoting it. The Duke, said Major Cranstoun, was
"innocent and ill-used."^ But how bitted}^ he felt the
mortification of failure, his private correspondence clearly
shows. " If I had known beforehand," he wrote to the
Duchess, " what I must have endured by relying on the
people of this country, no reasons should have persuaded
me to have undertaken this campaign. . . . My dearest
soul, pity me and love me."^ To Godolphin he said: "I
think if it were possible to vex me so for a fortnight longer,
it would make an end of me. In short, I am weary of my
life."^ He was naturally concerned for his own reputation.
To publish the whole truth to Europe would be highly
injurious to the Grand Alliance. To endure in silence,
would encourage his detractors to proclaim that he was no
match for generals above the class of Tallard. Marlborough
knew Villars, and respected him. He set so high a value
on the good opinion of the Marshal that he actually sent him
a letter, apologising for the poorness of the sport which he
had provided, and ascribing the entire responsibility to the
Margrave, whose contemptible jealousy was already noto-
rious. More than that it would have been impoHtic to say.

^ Portland MSS. : Major Cranstoun to Robert Cunningham, October i ,
1705 (Hist. MSS. Comm., 15th Report, Appendix, part iv., p. 250).

2 Coxe, vol. i., p. 282: The Duke to the Duchess, June 16, 1705.

3 Ibid.: Marlborough to Godolphin, June 16, 1705.


But Villars of course contrived to give forth his calculated
rhodomontades. He had done well. No man could have
done better. But nothing could have saved him, had
Marlborough been properly supported. Sierck was an
earher Valmy, for at Sierck as at Valmy the invaders of
France defeated themselves.

But the personal question was of comparatively minor
importance. What mattered most, was the loss to the
coalised powers of the fairest opportunity that they were ever
to obtain of ending the war at one stroke. In 1705 Marl-
borough, at the best, might have marched to Paris itself;
at the worst, he could have wintered in Lorraine, severed
connections with Alsace, and raised contributions to the
gates of the capital. " It is most certain," he wrote, " the
Moselle is the place where we might have done the French
most hurt."-"- And again, "I see but too plainly that the
jealousy of Prince Louis and the backwardness of the German
princes, will always hinder us from succeeding here, which
is the most sensible part."^ So " the real road " was closed.
And what was the alternative ? The road through the
Spanish Netherlands, where the mighty fortresses, which he
had hoped to turn, must be conquered one by one. That
was a process peculiarly agreeable to the talents of the
Dutch generals and ambitions of the Dutch people. But
what would they say in England ? Marlborough knew only
too well what they would say. And he knew that to a
large extent it would be justified. He knew also that he,
who above all men detested the idea of transferring opera-
tions to Belgium, and who craved most ardently for an early
retirement to the quietude of domestic life, would be accused
at home of prolonging, in his own interest, a war, which
from the very outset he had consistently striven to terminate
by swift and paralysing blow^s.^ " I never knew the Duke
of Marlborough," said Burnet, " go out so full of hopes."^
Now all those hopes were levelled. The character of
the war was completely altered. For three campaigns the

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 286: The Duke to the Duchess, June 18/29, 1705.
2 Ibid., p. 285: The Duke to the Duchess, June 21, 1705.
^ See, for example, the line taken by Dalrymple in his Memoirs of Great
Britain and Ireland, part iv., book i.
* Burnet, vol. iv., p. 89.


whole strategy of the Grand Alliance, in so far as Marl-
borough had controlled it, had been directed towards the
preparation of a strong offensive movement through
Lorraine. And now that movement had ended in collapse
almost before it was begun. It might indeed be resumed;
and the Duke's letters to Vienna and elsewhere referred
to the possibility of a return to the Moselle after six weeks.
But it is questionable whether he seriously contemplated
such a return. As a matter of history, he never ventured
to risk a repetition of the fiasco of Sierck. The lesson had
been too sharp. Nothing of all that he had suffered in the
past and was yet to suffer at the hands of the Dutch, ever
affected him so acutely as the shameful misconduct of the
Austrian government, the Margrave of Baden, and the
German princes of the Rhine.

The Duke resolved that at the conclusion of the campaign
he would resign his command. This determination was
the outcome, not of ill-temper, but of a very proper reluct-
ance to accept continued responsibility for operations which
he was not permitted to control. In informing the Duchess
of his decision, he promised in the meantime to " take all
occasion of doing service to the Queen and public."-^ He
redeemed his promise in characteristic fashion. Having
dispatched Colonel Durel to Vienna with a full account of
all that had passed, he began the march to Maestricht on
the 19th. Churchill, with the infantry, the artillery, and
a few squadrons, moved off in two columns, and took the
route through Steffeln and Auel. The main body of the
horse, under the Duke himself, started on the 20th, and
followed the road by Bitburg, Prum, and Dreiborn. The
general rendezvous was Diiren in the territory of Jiilich.
Hompesch rode on before to apprise Overkirk of the
movement, and to arrange, if possible, for a combined attack
on Villeroi. The Dutch were in agonies of terror. Express
after express came in with intelligence more and more
alarming. Marlborough wasted no time. In miserable
weather, and through the bleak hill-country of the Volcanic
Eifel, which could barely sustain its own inhabitants,
his columns pressed forward with surprising diligence. They

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 286: The Duke to the Duchess, June 18/29, 1705.


had little inducement to tarry. Privation and desertion
thinned their ranks; the unseasoned horses perished in
great numbers; but in spite of all hardships the spirit of
the army as a whole continued to be excellent. Having
learned that Villars was sending a strong detachment to
the Meuse, Marlborough affected to delay, as though he
would return to the Moselle; but he ordered Churchill on the
2ist to send on all his squadrons together with a picked
detachment of 10,000 foot under Lord Orkney. Then he
himself again dashed forward. Orkney moved so fast that
he reached Diiren on the 25th, some hours before the Duke,
who in his last two marches covered sixty miles. At Diiren
they learned that the rapidity of their march had
astonished and confounded Villeroi, that he had recalled
a detachment which was on its way to Sierck, and that
he was hurriedly preparing to retire from Liege. Marl-
borough rested on the 26th; but Orkney, the sturdy Scot,
rushed on with his untiring marches. Churchill reached
Diiren on the same day. At noon on the 27th Marlborough
and his cavalry arrived at Maestri cht. Villeroi was already
in full retreat to Tongres.

Marlborough and Overkirk decided that their first
operation must be the recovery of Huy. But " the Lord
knows," wrote the Duke, "what we shall do next."^ A
return to the Moselle seemed more than ever improbable,
for on the 29th came the astounding news that Aubach,
the Palatine general, scared by the motions of a small
detachment which Villars had thrown across the Saar,
had burned the magazines at Treves and hastily abandoned
that city. Villars, who had dispatched a part of his army
to Flanders, and was himself conducting the remainder to
Alsace, had no serious design on Treves. The place re-
mained without any garrison for four days, when a French
force came down from Luxembourg and occupied it.
Villars, continuing his march, easily outstripped the troops
which Marlborough had ordered up the Rhine. He joined
Marsin on July 3, and on the ensuing day drove the
Imperialists from their lines at Weissenburg.

Midway between Maestricht and Liege Marlborough

^ Ibid.: The Duke to the Duchess, July i, 1705.


army passed the Meuse on July 2, and advanced to Haneffe,
where it was joined by Overkirk's. Villeroi, who had
already retired to Montenaeken, withdrew precipitately to
the shelter of his lines. On the 4th the alHes moved on to
Lens-Ies-Beguines. A detachment was sent to recapture
Huy; and Overkirk went to Vinaimont to cover the
siege. Villeroi made no attempt to relieve the garrison,
though the division of the allied forces into three parts
invited an attack. He had 70,000 men, which was probably
more, and certainly not much less than the combined armies
of Overkirk and Marlborough. But the French govern-
ment proposed to take no risks. They were informed that
Marlborough's relations with the Dutch were strained; and
they imagined that they could force the English general
to endure once more his exasperating experiences of the
campaign of 1703.

The Duke was still determined to resign at the end of the
summer. On June 29, the very day on which he received
the news of Aubach's retreat from Treves, he wrote to
Heinsius: "I am so weary at all the follys and villanys I
have met with whilest I was on the Moselle that I should
be extreamly obliged to you, if you would find some proper
person to be in my post when this campaign is end'd so
that I might be quiet in England."^ In this resolution he
was daily confirmed by the accounts which reached him
from home of the indecent exultation of " the Tackers "
at his miscarriage on the Moselle. It was actually suggested
in England that victories like that of Blenheim were a
menace to the liberty of the subject and that the constitu-
tion itself was in peril from the ambition of a too
successful soldier. To Godolphin the Duke had already
written, " As I have no other ambition but that of serving
well Her Majesty, and being thought what I am, a good
Englishman, this vile, enormous faction of theirs vexes me
so much, that I hope the Queen will after this campaign
give me leave to retire, and end my days in praying
for her prosperity, and making my own peace with God."^
To the Queen herself he declared, " I think this retirement

^ Von Noorden, part i., vol. ii., ch. iii., p. 165: Marlborough an Heinsius,
29 Juni, 1705, Heinsiiisarchiv.

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 285: Marlborough to Godolphin, June 13/24, 1705.


of mine is not only necessary for me, but also good for you ;
for as my principle is, that I would not have your Majesty
in either of the parties' hands, so I have them both my
enemies, which must be a weight to your business."^

And this was his considered judgment. For no personal
pique could have survived the expressions of sympathy and
regard which were now reaching him by every post. From
Vienna Durel brought him a dispatch, assuring him of the
Emperor's undivided confidence, and promising that, if he
would return to the Moselle at an early date, he should be
zealously supported by the Imperial government. The
Queen wrote to him at length, and in a strain of simple,
unaffected familiarity very consoling to his wounded pride.
In a letter to the Duchess of Marlborough the King of Spain
expressed his " great chagrin " that the Duke should be
" deprived of the success which would always follow his
enterprises if others had no share in them."^ Those whose
opinion he most valued, exhorted him not to abandon the
pubHc service. And the whole body of his friends and
admirers on both sides of the North Sea set up an indignant
clamour against the Prince of Baden, who was openly
declared to have been corrupted by the gold of

Huy capitulated on the 12th. Marlborough, in the
meantime, had not been idle. For he did not propose to
remain with the army as a mere figure-head: he intended
that the French should once more feel the sharpness of his
sword before he sheathed it. And he had been pondering
the ways and means. It was certain that Villeroi would
never of his own free will come out into the open. It was
no less certain that the Dutch would never consent to an
assault in form upon the French army as it lay within its
lines. But those lines were very long. Extending as they
did from Namur to Antwerp, they could not be adequately
guarded with equal forces at every point. They were
therefore open to surprise, a manifestation of the art of
war which invariably attracted the mind of Marlborough.
A successful surprise, moreover, would obviate the necessity

1 Ibid., p. 287: Marlborough to the Queen, July 16/27, ly^S-

2 Private Correspondence of the Duchess of Marlborough (1838), July 27,
1705, vol. i., p. 10.


for a hard-fought battle. It might therefore be expected
to appeal to the Dutch proclivity for bloodless victories.

As in the campaign of 1703, the Duke had now two
enemies to fight, the French and the Dutch ; and the French
were the less dangerous of the two. He had learned by
melancholy experience that to solicit the active assistance
of the generals and deputies of Holland in any decisive
operation of war, was mere waste of time and temper.
On this occasion, therefore, he adopted a novel course. On
July 1 he had dispatched Hompesch to the Hague with an
outline of his proposals, and had obtained from the govern-
ment an approval which he deemed sufficient for his purpose.
That purpose was to surprise and penetrate the French
lines with the English troops and the auxiliaries in English
pay. The Dutch generals and deputies were not to be
consulted; the Dutch army was not to be employed. To
facilitate this design, he permitted the forces under Over-
kirk's command to retain their organisation as a separate
unit. The details of his plan he kept locked in his own
breast. But in two councils of war he suggested the
feasibility of surprising the lines, and invited a free ex-
pression of opinion on the subject. The idea was coldly
received by most of the English officers; it was opposed
by the Dutch with the exception of Overkirk.

The Duke's mind was now made up. He knew that the
English, whatever they might think of his orders, would
obe}^ them to the letter. He knew too that nothing which
a majority of the Dutch generals condemned would ever
be sanctioned by the field-deputies. To the army of the
Moselle, therefore, must belong all the danger of the enter-
prise, and all the glory.

The French were posted by brigades along the lines,
Villeroi's headquarters being at Merdorp over against
those of Marlborough at Lens-les-Beguines. The point
which the Duke had selected for attack was the Chateau
of Wanghe on the Little Geete, ten good miles to the north.
The defences in that locality were reckoned, by reason of
the marshy river in their front, to be quite impregnable.
But at the Chateau of Wanghe the river was traversed by
a stone bridge, which the French, for their own convenience,


had not destroyed. The peasantry reported that this post
was normally guarded by a force of only thirty or forty
men. At Orsmael, nearly two miles to the north-east of
it, lay three regiments of dragoons. Four miles to the
south-west of it, the extremity of Villeroi's left wing rested
upon Gossoncourt, where thirty-three squadrons of cavalry
were encamped. At Racour, about the same distance
to the south, were eleven battalions of foot. These sup-
ports were sufficiently remote from Wanghe to encourage
the behef that the bridge might be carried by surprise, and
the lines traversed by a considerable force before the French
could concentrate in adequate numbers to frustrate the

Marlborough proceeded to mature his plan with a patient
thoroughness and attention to detail, which practically
ensured its success. He began by creating " the fog of
war." Villeroi and the Elector believed that the Duke
was now a discredited person, that his relations with the
States-General were seriously strained, and that in no
event would he be permitted to make any attempt upon
the Unes. To encourage them in these ideas, Marlborough
circulated a rumour that he was returning to the Moselle.
When Huy fell on the 12th, instead of calling in the besieging
force, he left it on the Meuse, as though it were destined
to form the advance-guard of a southward march. On the
other hand, deserters arrived in the French camp with
circumstantial stories of an attack which the Duke was
alleged to be meditating at Merdorp in the French centre,
at Meeffe on the right, and at Heylissem on the left. Villeroi
and the Elector were not convinced; but, as a measure of
precaution, they concentrated more closely about Merdorp,
and kept their troops continually under arms. To draw
them still further to their right, which was considered the
most vulnerable portion of the lines, Marlborough ordered
Overkirk to quit Vinaimont, pass the Mehaigne, and
advance to Ville-en-Hesbaye. Schlangenberg and others
protested that this movement would dangerously expose
the Dutch army. Schlangenberg indeed addressed a formal
complaint on the subject to the States-General, But the
brave and experienced veteran, Overkirk, to whom the


Duke by now had partially opened his mind, executed the
order at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 17th. Thereupon
Marlborough made a slight motion with his own left, and
threw bridges across the Mehaigne, as if he would support
a Dutch attack. Villeroi and the Elector were puzzled.
They were still unconvinced that the allies intended to give
battle. But this massing of forces in close proximity to
their centre and right compelled them to make corresponding
dispositions. In and about Merdorp they concentrated
almost all their foot. But they sent the four battaUons of the
Regiment du Roi, which had just arrived from the Moselle,
to the extreme right. To the same point also they sent
three regiments of dragoons which had hitherto acted as a
reserve. Meantime, the allied detachment at Huy returned
to Lens-les-Beguines. Apparently, therefore, it was not the
advance-guard of a march to the Moselle. But that a march
of some sort was in contemplation, could not be doubted.
All reports agreed that the Duke was moving that night.
Some captured letters were brought to Villeroi. They
declared that the English general intended to go north, as
if he would attack the lines in that quarter, but that his
real destination was St. Trond. The Marshal was disposed
to believe it. A quiet promenade to St. Trond, where the
surrounding country would afford good subsistence to an
idle army, was exactly the operation which, in Marlborough's
place, Villeroi himself would have proposed.

By the afternoon of the 17th this process of mystification
had prepared the minds of the Duke's antagonists for every-
thing except the actual truth. A march to the Moselle, a
march to St. Trond, a grand attack upon the lines in separate
places at the same time, all these were regarded by Villeroi
and the Elector as possible solutions of the puzzle. The
conception of a sudden swoop in, overwhelming force upon
a remote and isolated point was the one factor which they
omitted from their calculations. They considered that the
most likely contingency was a march to St. Trond. But
the road to St. Trond was, for two-thirds of the way at
least, the road to Wanghe. Consequently, Marlborough
could arrive within striking distance of his objective with-
out arousing any particular suspicion. They considered,


on the other hand, that a triple assault was highly im-
probable. But the necessity of preparing for it had induced
them to concentrate the bulk of their army, and particularly
their infantry and guns, in such a position that it could
render no effective succour until long after the decisive
blow had fallen. Marlborough was employing, on a small
scale, the very strategy which in 1704 had carried him to
the Danube.

Nevertheless, Vilieroi and the Elector can hardly be
accused of negligence or want of caution. The orders for
the night were strict and comprehensive. The infantry
were to remain under arms, the cavalry were to keep their
horses saddled, the general officers were to sleep at the head
of their troops. Patrols were to be out the whole length
of the lines, and they were specially instructed to follow
by ear the direction of the enemy's march in the darkness.

By 4 in the afternoon Marlborough had completed his
preparations. The attack upon the lines was to be delivered
by a detachment of twenty battalions and thirty-eight
squadrons under the command of Noyelles, a general in
whose knowledge of the country and natural daring the
Duke reposed the utmost confidence. Officers, who had
proved their worth, Lumley, Hompesch, Wood, Palmes,
Meredith, and Lord John Hay, were selected for the service.
The soldiers received orders to assemble on the right at
8 in the evening, but their destination was not revealed
to them. They were to march at 9. The rest of the
army of the Moselle was to hold itself in readiness to
follow them at 10. At 11 the army of Overkirk was to
abandon its position on the extreme left, and recrossing
the Mehaigne by the twelve bridges which had just been
constructed, was to take the same road. And now the
Duke disclosed the details of his project to the Dutch
commander, requesting him to show his cavalry towards
Merdorp and Meeffe before sunset, and at the moment of
departure to send a strong body of dragoons along the
Namur road to alarm the extreme right of the enemy's
lines. At 6 the heavy baggage moved off towards Liege.

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 44)