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

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completed the good understanding between the maritime
powers. The States being in this accommodating temper,
Marlborough presented them with a memorandum, in
which the English government requested them to consider
the expediency of guaranteeing by treaty the Protestant
succession to the Crown of England. The deputies received
the suggestion with favour, and according to Halifax,
warmly expressed " their inclinations to comply with every-
thing that the Queen desires of them."^

They showed themselves equally reasonable when he
touched upon strategic questions. To one proposition,
however, they were obdurately hostile. They would have
nothing to do with any combinations whatsoever which
depended in any way on the concurrence of the Margrave
of Baden. Marlborough represented, as he had repre-
sented before, that an army of invasion on the Moselle
and the Saar would threaten the French frontier in its
most sensitive part.^ This opinion he had always held;
but the experiences of the campaign of 1705 had killed his
desire to act upon it. He urged it now out of deference

1 Murray, vol. ii., p. 485: Marlborough to Harley, May 4, 1706.

2 Halifax to Harley, May i/ii, 1706. Record Of&ce, State Papers,
Holland, 225.

3 Murray, vol. ii., p. 473: Marlborough to Wratislaw, April 26, 1706:
p. 495: Marlborough to the Emperor, May 9, 1706.



to the Emperor's wishes, though he knew beforehand that,
as long as the Margrave commanded on the Rhine, it would
never be admitted by the Dutch except as a counsel of
perfection and an abstract truth.

He then unfolded to a few his Italian project. He was
agreeably surprised to find that it was not immediately
condemned. " They are very positive," he wrote to
Godolphin, " that they dare not consent to the letting
their own countrymen go."^ But they were willing to
entertain the suggestion, so long as it involved the use of
no troops save the English and the auxiliaries. The merits
of the design were rendered more apparent by the receipt
of alarming news from Italy. On April 19, when Eugene
had not yet arrived from Vienna, Vendome had suddenly
attacked the Imperialists with superior forces and beaten
them at Calcinato in a battle which cost the allies 3,000 men.

But nothing could be done either in Lombardy, Germany,
or the Netherlands without soldiers. And soldiers in
sufficient numbers were not forthcoming. The King of
Denmark presented a claim for arrears of pay, and refused
to allow his troops to leave their winter-quarters until it
was settled. The Elector of Hanover and the Landgrave
of Hesse would not consent to the employment of their
forces in Italy. The Elector indeed had adopted so pecuHar
a tone that Anne was provoked into sending him a remon-
strance couched in no gentle terms. But Marlborough, who
had already dispatched Cadogan to the Court of Hanover,
wisely took upon himself to intercept the Queen's letter.

More serious still was the attitude of the King of Prussia,
who had recently renewed his complaints against Vienna
and the Hague. He embodied his demands in eleven
articles, which Marlborough described as " very unseason-
able at this time of day."^ Pending a settlement, the King's
" extreme ill-humour "^ led him to retain his troops at
Wesel when they ought to have been at Mainz. Marl-
borough wrote to him on April 26, and plainly warned him
that his selfish policy was exposing the allies to the risk of
a reverse, which might ruin the entire campaign. Unfor-

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 402: Marlborough to Godolphin, April 19/30, 1706.

2 Murray, vol. ii., p. 476: Marlborough to Harley, April 27, 1706.

3 Ihid., p. 478: Marlborough to Lord Eaby, April 30, 1706.


tunately, the enemies of Wartenberg, the Prussian prime
minister, had persuaded the King that Prussian interests
were being sacrificed. They had even undermined the
position of Lord Raby by insinuating that Wartenberg
was governed by his wife, and that his wife was the mistress
of the EngHsh ambassador. " Everybody must own you
have a very difficult task," wrote Marlborough to Rab3^
" to struggle with so ticklish a court as yours is."^ It was
also one of Frederick's grievances that he was not admitted
to the counsels of the Grand Alliance. Marlborough
assured him that he was mistaken, and that it was im-
possible to communicate plans before they had been formed.
But the Duke suspected that Prussia was in reality pre-
paring to abandon the coalition, and he reported his sus-
picions to London and Vienna. He informed Harley that
he had received a letter from Frederick, written "in a
very odd style. "^ To Godolphin he said: "The little zeal
that the King of Prussia, the King of Denmark, and almost
all the other princes show, gives me so dismal thoughts that
I almost despair of good success."^

What the Duke had anticipated came quickly to pass.
On May i the Margrave, who was holding the Hne of the
Motter with no more than 7,000 ill-found troops, was
attacked in front by Villars, who commanded in Alsace.
At the same moment, Marsin, who had been demonstrating
against Trarbach and Coblenz with the army of the Moselle,
swooped suddenly down upon his flank. The Germans
were compelled to relinquish the blockade of Fort Louis,
to abandon their valuable magazines, and to retire beyond
the Rhine. This disaster, thoagh not unexpected, made
a deep impression on the Dutch. Marlborough reported to
Salm that, while it was perfectly true that nothing could
be " more advantageous for the allies, or could touch the
enemy more closely "■* than an offensive movement on the
Moselle, the States, having refused to participate in any such
design hitherto, would certainly never consent to it now.

1 Ibid., p. 514: Marlborough to Lord Raby, May i8, 1706.

2 Ibid., p. 481: Marlborough to Harley, April 30, 1706.

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 402: Marlborough to Godolphin, May 4, 1706.
* Murray, vol. ii., p. 505: Marlborough to the Prince of Salm, May 10,

I. 24


Very regretfully also the Duke was compelled to announce
to the Emperor and to Eugene that he had formed a plan
of marching from the Meuse to the Po with 20,000 men,
and that the States had virtually accepted it and were on
the point of passing the necessary resolutions, when the
deplorable news from the Rhine destroyed it absolutely.
But he still cherished the hope of one day exhibiting on
Hannibal's battle-ground talents which bore a particular
resemblance to Hannibal's own. The dream was never
realised. Exactly one hundred years were to elapse before
the British army went into action on Italian soil. The
eight regiments of the line, which in July, 1806, achieved
the right to inscribe the name of " Maida " on their banners,
so bore themselves that, if Marlborough was an unseen
witness of that day, he had no cause to be ashamed.

The Duke's disappointment was not shared by Godolphin,
who rejoiced that his friend was not to undertake so diffi-
cult and dangerous an expedition. It was not shared by
the Dutch, who assured him that if he " would continue
at the head of the army on their frontier," there was nothing
he " could think reasonable to propose, but they would
readily comply withal."^ In proof of their good faith they
appointed as field-deputies men who could be trusted not
to make themselves ridiculous.

The situation now was simple, if unsatisfactory. As
Marlborough saw it, Italy and Spain were the only theatres
of decisive war. The army of the Netherlands he regarded
as almost certainly doomed to inactivity. He therefore
exerted himself, at the expense of his own prospects of
accomplishing anything that " shall make a noise, "^ to
procure another contingent of 10,000 Hessians for Eugene,
and to augment with Dutch and English regiments the forces
destined for the diversion in Guienne.

Accompanied by Overkirk, he quitted the Hague on
May 9, and reached Maestricht on the 12th. He found the
Dutch troops encamped in the neighbourhood of Tongres.
The British, under Churchill, were still marching from their
cantonments. As soon as they arrived, he proposed to

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 403: Marlborough to Godolphin, April 28/May 9,

2 Ibid., p. 405: The Duke to the Duchess, May 4/15, 1706.


advance towards Louvain, where Villeroi and the Elector
had concentrated their forces. " God knows," he wrote to
Godolphin on the 15th, " I go with a heavy heart. "-^ Despite
their numerical superiority, he did not believe that the
enemy would face him in the open. But Marsin, who had
quitted Villars, was hastening to join the army of the
Netherlands. He was now at Metz, and his advance-guard
of twenty squadrons was approaching Namur. It was
possible that, when a junction had been effected, Villeroi
and the Elector might be tempted to march out. " If they
do," wrote Marlborough, " I will most certainly attack
thefti, not doubting, with the blessing of God, to beat them."^
As late as the i8th, however, he expressed the opinion that,
not even when Marsin came, would they venture to give

His pessimism was natural enough. All his labours of the
last six months had so far resulted in nothing but failure.
Both in Italy and on the Rhine France had proved herself
swifter and stronger than the Grand Alliance. In Spain,
for aught that he knew to the contrary, it was the same
story. On April i Toulouse had anchored in Barcelona
Roads; on the 2nd Legal had arrived from Roussillon; and
on the 3rd Phihp and Tesse had completed the blockade.
The siege was vigorously pushed. Peterborough was too
weak to raise it; and despite the gallant defence of the
garrison, who were animated by the presence of King
Charles, the place would assuredly have fallen, had not
Leake arrived on May 9 with the combined fleets of England
and Holland. Thereupon Toulouse fled to Toulon without
firing a shot, and Tesse and Legal retreated, leaving behind
them 129 cannon and immense stores. They had lost
6,000 men, and the garrison not more than 1,000. But this
consolatory intelligence had not yet arrived at Tongres.

Nevertheless, the Duke's judgment for once had played
him false. Ever since January he had presupposed that the
enemy would not assume the offensive in every theatre of
the war at the same time. But he was not aware that
Chamillart had conceived " a mediocre opinion " of his

1 Ibid., p. 405: Marlborough to Godolphin, May 4/15, 1706.

2 Ibid.

3 Murray, vol. ii., p. 515: Marlborough to Gueldermalsen, May 18, 1706.


capacity, that Villeroi regarded him as " a mortified ad-
venturer," and that both of them beUeved him to be still
helplessly fettered by the control of the field-deputies. He
was not aware that, even without Marsin, the enemy's army
was estimated both at Louvain and Versailles to be over-
whelmingly superior in numbers to any that he could bring
against it. He was not aware that both the rulers and
the soldiers of France were unduly elated by the initial
successes which had rewarded their resolute strategy in
Italy, Germany, and Spain, and that Villeroi and the
Elector were burning to signalise their own command by
some similar exploit. Above all, he was not aware that
on May 6 Louis had dispatched instructions to the Marshal
to besiege Lean, and to fight, if he were attacked, and that
the Marshal in. his reply had laid special emphasis on the
numbers, the quality, and the confident spirit of his troops,
and on the expediency of giving battle, not merely for the
sake of Leau, but upon general grounds. All these things
were hidden from Marlborough. In the hope of compelling
the enemy to action he had formed a project, with the
connivance of an agent in Namur, for the surprise of that
valuable fortress. But as late as the i8th he despaired
of the chances of a decisive encounter. To his amazement
he learned on the 19th that Villeroi had crossed the Dyle
and advanced almost to Tirlemont.

There are some miscalculations that do not matter.
Marlborough's was one of them. Upon what hypothesis,
or with what design the enemy was acting, he neither knew
nor cared. He only knew that they were out at last, and
that the rest, " with the blessing of God,"^ would be easy.
He instantly dispatched an express to the Duke of Wiirttem-
berg, who commanded the Danes, with urgent orders to bring
up the horse of that nation by forced marches, and the
infantry as rapidly as should be possible without exhausting
them. He solemnly pledged himself, in conjunction with
the field-deputies, that all arrears of pay should be dis-
charged. Wiirttemberg, keens oldier that he was, obeyed
upon his own responsibiUty and without reference to Copen-
hagen. On the 20th Marlborough advanced to Borchloen.

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 407: Marlborough to Godolphin, May 9/20, 1706.


He was joined that day by the British. On the 21st he
rested his men, and waited for the Danes. Villeroi, to
show the perfection of his confidence in himself, passed the
Great Geete and moved out to Gossoncourt. He reported
to Versailles that he was certainly superior in numbers,
that he had never commanded a finer army, and that he
believed his march to have made a great impression on the
foe. This style is reminiscent of the Duke of Burgundy's
" audacious marches " in 1702.

On Saturday, the 22nd, Marlborough pushed forward as
far as Montenaeken and Corswaren, where he learned that
the Danish cavalry was only a league behind. Villeroi,
who knew nothing of the Danish cavalry, was surprised.
He decided, however, that it was necessary to terminate
summarily a movement which threatened Namur and
Louvain, besides his own communications and his eventual
junction with Marsin. One march to the south would
place him athwart the line of his antagonist's advance.
He determined to take it on the morrow. The Elector,
who fully concurred with the Marshal, posted from Brussels
to Tirlemont forthwith.

Villeroi's concern for the strategic possibilities of the
situation was altogether misplaced. Marlborough cared
nothing for its strategic possibilities. His object was a
simple one. He wished to make a circuit round the sources
of the Little Geete that he might come at the enemy in
the open field. He was informed that they were about to
move to Judoigne. Determined to attack them there, he
ordered the army to be ready to march before dawn. He
proposed to encamp on the plateau of Mont St. Andre.
But the plateau of Mont St. Andre was the very position
which Villeroi had selected for himself. Each general was
ignorant of the other's intention; and a collision was

Before he retired to rest that evening, Marlborough found
time to compose a letter,-^ which, seeing that it might well
have been his last, possesses a peculiar charm. It was
written on behalf of an officer's widow, who was soliciting
a pension from the King of Prussia.

^ Murray, vol. ii., p. 521 : Marlborough to Lord Raby, May 22, 1706.


At 3 o'clock on the morning of Whitsunday, May 23,
the allies marched in eight columns. A heavy fall of rain
had made the ways laborious, and thick fog obscured the
view. Cadogan, pushing forward with 600 horse, passed
the recently levelled lines at Merdorp at 8 o'clock. Here
a surprise awaited him. Though the mist had not yet
lifted, it was possible to descry upon the distant plateau
of Mont St. Andre dark, moving specks, which to his ex-
perienced eye could be none other than the hussars of
Villeroi. He instantly sent back the news to Marlborough.
At 10 o'clock the Duke arrived. He was accompanied by
Overkirk and other officers, and by Goslinga, one of
the new field-deputies. The whole party rode on with
Cadogan to reconnoitre. Uncertain as to the precise
significance of the enemy's motions, the Duke ordered his
cavalry to go forward and estabUsh contact. But now the
fog dispersed, and revealed the startling yet welcome truth.
The entire French army, resplendent in nev*? and untarnished
uniforms, was already in possession of the plateau, and
was evidently preparing to dispute the further progress of
the allied forces.

Feuquieres,-^ who does not condemn Villeroi for quitting
his lines, censures him severely for fighting a battle. The
argument is a little difficult to follow. When Villeroi
marched over the Dyle, a battle became certain, because,
if he did not go to Marlborough, Marlborough would
assuredly go to him. This was a fact which Villeroi did
not know at the time, and which Feuquieres appears to
have overlooked. Villeroi, moreover, cannot very well be
proved to have contravened the spirit of his instructions.
The King had ordered him to invest Lean, and to fight
if he were attacked. But he could not invest Lean if
Marlborough were free to wander at will between the French
army and its base. It is true that the letter in which the
King instructed him to fight, if the siege of Lean were
interrupted, assumed that a junction with Marsin would
be first effected. But a junction with Marsin might never
be effected at all, if Marlborough were permitted to thrust
himself between. And as Louis contemplated that Marsin

1 Menioires de Feuquidres, t. iv., p. 16.


would be detached to make the siege, while Villeroi covered
it, the numbers available for combat would not, in that
case, have been materially greater than they already were.
On the other hand, every day's delay increased the possi-
bility that the allied army might be reinforced. Feuquieres
contended that the French in Flanders ought not to have
taken the offensive. It may be that he was right. Marl-
borough certainly assumed that they would remain
quiescent. But the blame, if blame was merited, belonged
to the government which ordered the recovery of Lcau,
a distinctly offensive opening, and not to the Marshal,
who, in circumstances which the government did not
foresee, appears to have acted in accordance with the spirit
of the instructions which they had given him.

If Marlborough was surprised, so also was Villeroi. In
his own eagerness to fight, the Frenchman had never con-
sidered that his antagonist might exhibit an equal alacrity.
He had planned to spend Whitsunday at Mont St. Andre,
and to advance on Monday against an enemy, who, as he
imagined, must either retire before him or suffer annihilation
at his hands. The boldness with which that enemy was
now himself advancing, caused the Marshal a momentary
uneasiness. But he quickly made up his mind. Setting
aside the unthinkable humiliation of a retreat to Tirlemont,
he had two alternatives before him. He could either press
on to the attack or stand still to be attacked. If he pressed
on, he would reap the full advantage of that national genius
for the offensive, which is the strength of all French armies.
He would also, according to Goslinga, have caught the
allied forces in a situation of some embarrassment. But
he chose the second alternative. Seduced by the exag-
gerated importance which the military science of his epoch
attached to ground, he proceeded at once to occupy that
famous position of Ramillies, the mere existence of which
had been used by the Dutch generals in the campaign of
1703 as an argument against Marlborough's proposal to
assail the lines of Brabant .■'•

His right flank was protected by the Mehaigne and the
marshes bordering it. From the village of Tavieres beside

1- See Chapter VI., "1703," p. 138.


that river the open country rolled upwards to the north
in gentle undulations as far as the village of Ramillies,
which stood boldly out before his right centre. North-
ward of RamilUes, and somewhat in advance of his left
centre, was the village of Offus, while his extreme left
rested on the village of Autreglise, which had a steep and
broken declivity before it. The front of both Offus and
Autreglise was covered by bog-land, through which the
Little Geete, descending from its spring by Ramillies,
pursued a sluggish course towards the north. The whole
position was about four miles in length.

The strength of such a situation was obvious. It could
not easily be turned on either flank. The left and left
centre were difficult of access. The right afforded excellent
opportunities to cavalry, an arm in which the French
imagined themselves to excel. The four villages stood out
before the lines like four strong bastions. But certain
weaknesses were equally apparent. Beyond the Little
Geete and opposite to Autreglise rose the high ground of
Foulz, where the assailants' right would be at least as safe
as the defenders' left. The approach to Ramillies was an
easy slope, presenting no natural obstacles to a frontal
attack. Ramillies and Tavieres were so far apart that the
intervening ground could not be entirely swept by cross-
fire. That ground itself, ideal as it appeared to the French
horsemen, would appear equally ideal to any others that
were not afraid to try conclusions with them. And worst of
all, the line of battle was decidedly concave in shape. The
assailants, manoeuvring upon the chord of the arc, could con-
centrate superior forces upon a decisive point before the de-
fenders would have time to effect a corresponding movement.

That the position had grave defects^ was well known to
the French engineers, who, in constructing the lines of
Brabant, had refused to utilise it. And Villeroi himself
had seen so good a judge as Luxembourg reject it as a
fighting-ground. But believing his army, which had now
been joined by Marsin's twenty squadrons, to be very
superior in numbers, and reposing, as all Frenchmen did,

1 For a favourable opinion see Wars in the Low Countries, by Colonel Sir
James Carmichael-Smyth, p. 158.


an almost childish faith in the invincibility of the " Maison
du Roi," he prepared for action with the utmost confidence.
Having occupied Tavieres with five battalions, he drew up
seventy-eight squadrons (60 per cent, of his mounted men)
in three lines upon the open fields between Ramillies and
the marshes of the Mehaigne. Into RamilHes itself, as also
into Off us and Autreglise, he threw detachments of foot.
In rear of these three villages, and in support of them, he
placed the main body of his infantry in two lines. The
residue of his horse, fifty squadrons in all, he stationed
behind the left wing. His total force amounted to 62,000

Meanwhile, the eight columns of the allied army, as fast
as they arrived, deployed across the plain from Foulz to
Boneffe. The movement was attended by some confusion,^
for the ground was so narrow that the usual extension in
two lines proved to be impracticable, and at certain points
it became necessary to adopt a deeper formation. This
circumstance alone must have suggested to Villeroi that
the disparity of numbers was less than he had thought it,
though even now he may not have realised that he had
60,000 m.en before him.

The Marshal watched the deployment of Marlborough's
army with the keenest interest. The letter, in which Louis
had instructed him to undertake the siege of Leau, con-
tained directions for a day of battle. " It would he very
important,''' wrote the King, " to have particular attention
to that part of the line which will endure the first shock of
the English troops.""^ The British soldier could desire no
higher testimonial. He, at any rate, was not included in
the " mediocre opinion " entertained at Versailles of the
capacity of his commander. It was therefore with con-
siderable satisfaction that Villeroi perceived the English
regiments, both horse and foot, defiling to the right, and
forming over against his left and left centre, where the
nature of the ground gave great advantages to the defence.
The King had also directed that the Elector's troops should
not go into action as a single unit. It was recognised at

^ English Historical Review, April, 1904: The Earl of Orkney's account of
the Battle of Ramillies, letter iii., May 24, 1706.

2 Pelet, t. vi., p. 19: Lettre du Roi a Villeroi, 6 mai, 1706.


Versailles that the moral of the Bavarians had been
thoroughly shaken. They were therefore distributed at
different points in the hne of battle.

Marlborough, in the meantime, had carefully scrutinised
the French position, and had matured his plan. Officers,
who had served in the Spanish army and who knew the
country well, told him that there were so many hedges,
ditches, and marshes on his right that cavalry was useless
there .-^ They suggested that the whole strength of the

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 35 of 44)