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

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circumstances to weaken his left. The determining factor
was the moral one. On the one hand, the government and
the Marshal were both obsessed with an exaggerated terror
of the English, wliich led to the paralysis of half the army.
On the other, they altogether failed to reaUse that by
Marlborough's magic influence the Dutch and the auxiliaries
had been Hfted far above themselves. It was expected in
the French army that the King's Household would scatter
the horsemen of Holland to the winds. It was confidently
assumed that, in no case, could the Household be beaten.
Time was when these suppositions would have been justified.
But five years of Marlborough's leadership had wrought a
miraculous change in the hearts of the Dutch troopers.
Surprise was one of the secrets of his art. And, of all the
many surprises which the Duke prepared for the armies
and the generals of France, there was none greater than
the transformation of the runaways of Neerwinden into
disciplined and stubborn squadrons which refused to flinch
from the most renowned cavalry in Europe.'^

On the morning of the 24th Marlborough dispatched two
letters to England, one for Godolphin and the other for
the Duchess. To the Duchess he wrote as follows:

" Monday, May 24. 11 o'clock.— I did not tell my
dearest soul in my last the design I had of engaging
the enemy if possible to a battle, fearing the concern
she had for me might make her uneasy; but I can now
give her the satisfaction of letting her know that, on
Sunday last we fought, and that God Almighty has
been pleased to give us a victory. I must leave the
particulars to this bearer, Colonel Richards, for having
been on horseback all Sunday, and after the battle
marching all night, my head aches to that degree that
it is very uneasy to me to write. Poor Bingfield,
holding my stirrup for me, and helping me on horse-
back, was killed. I am told that he leaves his wife and
mother in a poor condition. I can't write to any of
my children, so that you will let them know I am well,
and that I desire they will thank God for preserving

1 See Appendix I. {b): Marlborough's Cavalry at Ramillies.


me. And pray give my duty to the Queen, and let
her know the truth of my heart, that the greatest
pleasure I have in this success is, that it may be a great
service to her affairs; for I am sincerely sensible of all
her goodness to me and mine. Pray believe me when

1 assure you that I love you more than I can express."^

Nothing more characteristic of the man exists. His
tender and considerate passion for his wife, his devotion
to the Queen, his affection for his children, his simple piety,
his care for the distressed, his modesty amounting almost
to self-effacement — all these are to be found in the letter
of Ramillies.

Richards arrived on Thursday night. On Friday, says
a diarist,^ " the Duchess of Marlborough went and condoled
Colonel Bingfield's widow upon the loss of her husband,
and assured her from Her Majesty a pension for life."

And once again all England rang with joy. The Queen
spoke from her heart, and from the heart of her people,
when she wrote to the general, " I want words to express
my true sense of the great service you have done to your
country."^ The pride of the nation was deeply stirred. It
was true that the Dutch had endured the brunt of the
fighting, and that the praises of the Danes were on every
lip. But it was equally true that the pursuit, as conducted
by the English, constituted a revolution in military science.
The critics, who had professed to see in the popular hero
no more than a fortunate blunderer, were effectually silenced
now. No longer could it be said that Marlborough did
not know how to improve his own victories. For Ramillies
from first to last was a masterpiece.

A deluge of congratulations poured in upon the throne.
A general thanksgiving was ordered for a day in July.
And then once more, amid the reverberation of cannon and
the clash of bells and all the exultant clamour of a multi-
tudinous concourse, the Queen and the Duchess rode side
by side past tapestried houses and long lines of steel and
scarlet to the shadow of the glorious dome. There " with

* Coxe, vol. i., p. 418: The Duke to the Duchess, May 24, 1706.

2 Luttrell, State Affairs from i6'j8-i'ji4, vol. vi., p. 49.

3 Coxe, vol. i., p. 419.


vocal and instrumental music, after the composition of the
late famous Mr. Henry Purcel,"^ the great Te Deum was
sung. The sermon was preached by the Dean of Canter-
bury from the text, "Happy art thou, O Israel: Who is
like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of
thy help ?" That night the streets of London blazed with
illumination, and bonfires roared aloft. For every Briton
knew that one of the world's grand battles had been fought
and won, and that for the second time the disturber of
Europe was reeling from a stupendous blow, dealt him by
the hand of England's incomparable soldier.

To-day the fame of it is more than half forgotten. Yet
even oblivion has compensations. Over the plain of
Waterloo, deformed for ever and desecrated by ignoble
vulgarities, complacent droves of tourists roam unintel-
ligently. They know not, or if they know, they fortunately
do not care, that only fifteen miles away the tomb of
Ottamond and the village steeples of Ramillies and Offus
look down upon a landscape yet unspoiled by modern
imbecility and greed, and almost unchanged since it came
under the discerning eye of Marlborough. The lonely field
of RamilHes is still its own best monument.

^ Boyer, vol. v., p. 154.


After a halt of two hours, Marlborough again advanced,
and pitched his camp at Beauvchain. Here he was rejoined
by the stragglers, and by the various detachments which
had separated from the main body in the course of the
pursuit. Filthy, exhausted, and famishing, the trium-
phant soldiery marched in. No provisions arrived until the
evening. "We look like a beaten army," said Orkney,
who had neither eaten nor drunk for forty-eight hours,
save " once or twice a glass of wine and a bit of bread. "-^
Marlborough himself, with the exception of his brief rest
at Meldert, had been in the saddle from before dawn on
Sunday to nearly noon on Monday, and his head was
aching intolerably. But he was preparing to march towards
the Dyle that night, when he received intelhgence that
the enemy had partially destroyed their magazines, and
retired behind the canal of Brussels. Thereupon he dis-
patched 500 men to Louvain, whither the whole army
followed on the morning of the 25th. Louvain, as the Duke
informed the States with an irony which all the world
appreciated, was the place, " where, for the good of the
common cause, I had long wished to be."^ On the 26th
he advanced to Dieghem; and the enemy, after ordering
the garrisons of Lierre and Malines to take refuge at Ant-
werp, abandoned the capital, and passed the Dendre at
Alost. Thence they continued their retreat to Ghent,
which they entered with much of the confusion and terror
that had characterised the flight from Ramillies.

At Dieghem Marlborough received the submission of the
magistracy of Brussels, and of the Sovereign Council and
the States of Brabant. He informed these bodies by letter

1 English Historical Review, April, 1904.

2 Murray, vol. ii., p. 523: Marlborough to the States-General, May 25,



that the alhed army was come for no other purpose than
"to uphold the just interests" of King Charles HI; and
he assured them, on the faith of the maritime powers, that
His Catholic Majesty would respect their " ancient rights
and privileges, as well ecclesiastical as secular," would
make not " the least innovation in what concerns religion,"
and would " cause those concessions to be renewed which
are termed ' The Joyful Entry of Brabant.' "^ At the same
time, the Duke gave warning to the troops in an order,
which was read at the head of every squadron and every
battalion in the army, that the inhabitants of the Spanish
Netherlands must be treated with the utmost consideration.
" If any soldier," ran this seasonable document, " shall be
taken plundering or doing any other damage to the said
inhabitants, their houses, cattle, moveables, or other goods,
he shall immediately be punished with death." Moreover,
the regiments, to which the offenders belonged, were
required " to make good to the said inhabitants all the loss
and damage they may have sustained, without any other
form or process than the apprehending such soldiers in the
fact, who (as is above said) shall suffer death without mercy. "^
These reassuring pronouncements produced an excellent
effect. So long as their churches, their purses, and their
portly wives were safe, the Flemings were more than satis-
fied to be quit of the exactions of the French, who had
centralised the administration of the country on the model
of one of their own provinces.

The towns of Malines and Alost having followed the
example of Brussels, the army passed the canal on the 27th,
and encamped at Grimberghen. Here the Duke allowed
his men a couple of days for repose. They had " marched
six days together, without any rest," he wrote to Harley.
" Nothing," he said, " could excuse the giving them so
great a fatigue, especially after a battle, but the necessity
of pursuing the enemy. "^ He himself was, in his own
words, " half dead." On the 28th, however, he paid an
official visit to the capital, which received him " with all
possible demonstrations of joy and respect." On the 29th

1 Lediard, vol. ii., p. 44.

2 Ibid., vol. ii., p. 56.

3 Murray, vol. ii., p. 538: Marlborougli to Harley, May 28, 1706.


he sent Wiirttemberg forward with 3,000 men and six guns
to Alost. The army followed on the 30th.

At Ghent, Villeroi and the Elector, protected by the
Schelde and the Lys, had been seeking to persuade them-
selves that they were covering that city, as well as Antwerp,
Bruges, and Ostend. The numbers under their command
had been augmented by the troops from the country of
Waes, by the arrival of Marsin in the Netherlands, and by
the return of large bodies of fugitives to the colours. They
had conceived the idea of holding the line of the Schelde,
when they learned en the 3otli that Wiirttemberg was moving
with pontoons upon Gavre. This threat against their
communications with France was sufficient. Early on the
31st they decamped to Courtrai. The same day Marl-
borough advanced to Meirelbeke in the neighbourhood of
Ghent. The burghers saluted his cavalry with shouts of
welcome, and the Spanish garrison in the citadel sur-
rendered. Bruges, Damme, and even the strong fortress
of Audenarde, declared for King Charles. On June 4, the
army passed both the Schelde and the Lys. On the 5th
it reached Aerseele; and on the same day, Antwerp itself
capitulated to Cadogan. Half the garrison were Spaniards,
who all enlisted in the service of the Hapsburg sovereign.
" The hand of God appears visibly,"^ wrote Marlborough
to the States.

All Brabant and most of Spanish Flanders were already
lost to France. The magnitude of the catastrophe astounded
Louis. Nobody at Versailles could understand it. The
comparatively trivial casualties at RamilHes did not explain
it. To investigate the mystery, Chamillart himself took
post to Courtrai, where he saw with his own eyes the un-
speakable demoralisation of the French army. Of the best
of the infantry, one-third had ceased to exist. Regiments
of two, and even of three, battalions were reduced to one.
The cavalry was completely disorganised. The Bavarians
were deserting. Half the Spanish troops had gone over to
the enemy, and the other half seemed hkely to follow their
example. But infinitely worse than any material losses

1 Murray, vol. ii., p. 558: Marlborough to the States-General, June 3,
1 706.


was the pitiful dejection of all arms, without distinction of
rank. Saint-Simon and Feuquieres pretend that, if only
Villeroi had kept his head, Flanders need never have been
abandoned. But Saint-Simon and Feuquieres are contra-
dicted by both witnesses and facts. The army was incapable
of fighting. Yet fight it must, if it proposed to keep the field.
For Marlborough, that insatiable gambler in battles, per-
sisted in advancing. The problem was temporarily solved
by distributing the bulk of the French infantry among the
garrisons of the frontier, while the rest of the army took
refuge behind this barrier of fortresses. Marsin commanded
from Namur to Tournai, and Villeroi from Tournai to the
sea. The Electors of Bavaria and Cologne estabhshed
themselves at Mons. Vendome was summoned from Italy
to supersede Villeroi; thirty battalions and twenty-six
squadrons were detached from Alsace to the Netherlands;
and more of the troops of the Household were ordered to
the front. The popular ear was regaled, in the meantime,
with rumours that France would shortly resume the offensive
with 80,000 men.

Marlborough was interested, but not deceived. He had
drawn detachments from every Dutch garrison. He had
sent for the Hanoverians; and with permission from Berlin,
where the news of Ramillies had produced a good effect,
the Prussians were marching to join him. He knew that
the French could obtain a superiority of numbers in the
Netherlands only by reducing their armies in Italy and
Alsace to a weak defensive. " I wish they may endeavour
it," he wrote to Godolphin, " for the men they have here
will very unwillingly be brought to fight again this cam-
paign."^ His own immediate interest was to take Ostend,
a nest of privateers, very deleterious to the commerce of
the maritime powers. The possession of that harbour
would shorten his communications with England. The
capture of Ostend, moreover, was an essential preliminary
to the capture of Dunkirk. But the army having quite
outmarched its heavy artillery, Marlborough had a few
days to spare. He devoted them to a brief visit to the
Hague. He left Aerseele on June 8, and returned on the

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 432: Marlborough to Godolphin, June 7, 1706.


13th. He found the Dutch government ready and wiUing
to concur in everything that he proposed. He persuaded
them to draw more troops from their garrisons, and to fix
their quotas of men and money for the descent on Guienne.
At Antwerp he received a hearty welcome from the populace.
He was attended by the bishop, the clergy, and the magis-
trates, and also by the Spanish governor, Terracina, who
had entered the service of Charles HI. The keys of the
city were presented to him, together with the flattering
intimation that " they had never been delivered up to any
person since the great Duke of Parma, and that after a
siege of twelve months. "-"^

On the i8th, Overkirk appeared before both Nieuport
and Ostend, while Marlborough advanced with the cover-
ing army to Rousselaere. Nieuport was found to be so
difficult of access, that Overkirk abandoned his original
idea of storming it, and directed his attention solely to
Ostend. He was assisted by Sir Stafford Fairborne, with
a squadron of nine of the line, besides bomb- vessels. At
this time, also, Terracina and Meredith blockaded Dender-
monde, a fortress, which, by reason of artificial inundations,
was almost inapproachable. The allied forces were there-
fore fully occupied. But Louis was so nervous for the
safety of his coast-towns that he directed Vauban with
twenty-four battalions to guard the line through Dunkirk,
Gravelines, and Calais.

As soon as the siege of Ostend had been formed, Churchill,
who commanded the garrison of Brussels, was startled by
rumours that the Elector intended to make a sudden dash
upon the capital. Terracina got wind of a similar story in
regard to Antwerp. To calm their fears, and to provide
against eventualities, Marlborough sent six squadrons under
Cadogan to Audenarde, with orders to repair the roads as
far as Ninove. If the enemy came out into the open with
anything resembling an army, the Duke was resolved to fall
upon them without a moment's hesitation. But in his
own mind he attached no credence to these stories, which
were far too good to be true. The Elector, however, was
not entirely paralysed. On the 21st, a detachment of

^ Lediard, vol. ii., p. 83.


3,000 horse and 2,000 foot, rushing up from Mons, threw
500 men with munitions and four guns into Dender-
monde. Cadogan rode from Audenarde to intercept them
at the bridge of Alost, but he came an hour too late.
The operation was an expensive one for France, for
600 or 700 soldiers of the detachment deserted on the

Marlborough was now committed to a type of war which
he detested, a war of sieges. The road to Paris through
the Spanish Netherlands was never the road which he had
desired to follow. Circumstances, which it was not within
his power to control, having obliged him to open the cam-
paign of 1706 in Brabant, the surprising victory of Ramillies,
and the still more surprising collapse of French power
which followed it, left him no option in the matter. " So
many towns," he wrote to the Duchess, " have submitted
since the battle, that it really looks more like a dream than
truth. "■'• The capitulation of such fortresses as Antwerp
and Audenarde, either of which would have been deemed
by soldiers of the school of William a sufficient reward for
a whole campaign, had essentially modified the nature of the
problem. None knew better than Marlborough that the
coalition ought long since to have struck at France across
Lorraine. But the coalition itself had decided otherwise.
" To loosen the hold "^ which he had now taken on the
Spanish Netherlands, simply because the Spanish Nether-
lands were not an ideal theatre of war, as Marlborough
understood the art, would have been pedantic folly. This
view he expressed in letters to both Salm and Sinzendorf.^
If he was right upon miUtary grounds, he was no less right
upon political ones. At the first symptom of retreat, or
even of relaxation of effort, Flanders and Brabant would
have reverted to Philip as easily as they had declared for
Charles. It was necessary to consolidate these conquests,
and to augment them. In the Duke's own words to
Godolphin, " as God has blessed the beginning of this
campaign beyond what the thoughts of man could reason-

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 426: Marlborough to the Duchess, May 20/31, 1706.
2 " Lacher prise." Murray, vol. ii., p. 588: Marlborough to the Prince
of Salm, June 16, 1706.

2 Ibid.: also p. 595: Marlborough to Sinzendorf, June 17, 1706.


ably suppose, so it must be our duty to improve it as far
as occasion shall offer."^

It is abundantly clear that Marlborough at this time
believed the war to be approaching its end. The catastrophe
in the Spanish Netherlands and the humiUating failure at
Barcelona seemed sufficient by themselves to reduce the
enemy to reason. If the allies continued to press their
advantages, it was difficult to see how France could main-
tain the contest. Under the nose of Berwick and a Spanish
army, Galway and the Portuguese had taken Alcantara in
April and Ciudad Rodrigo in May, and were marching on
Madrid, where Charles might be expected to join them from
Barcelona at an early date. In Italy, Turin was indeed
besieged ; but Eugene was completing his preparations, and
Eugene could be trusted to show the people of England a
good return for their money. Meantime, the menace of
the projected descent, the destination of which the French
could not discover, " put all the maritime counties of
France to a vast charge and under dismal apprehensions."^
Only on the Rhine, where Villars, weakened by detachments
for Flanders, seemed particularly open to attack, the allied
forces displayed no sign of life. In Hare's opinion, more
could have been done in the Spanish Netherlands than
actually was done, " if they had made any diversion on the
Rhine. "^ Marlborough sent vigorous and reiterated protests
to Vienna against the criminal inertia of the Margrave,
but without result. The Austrian government, by diverting
some of that general's best regiments to the war in Hungary,
supplied him with the semblance of an excuse for misconduct
that was inexcusable. But on the whole, the outlook was
extremely propitious. And Marlborough did not conceal
his conviction that France must speedily be forced to accept
the necessary conditions of " a good and solid peace.""*

The siege of Ostend was strenuously pushed. On July 4,
when Marlborough paid a Hying visit to the scene, the town
endured a bombardment by land and sea which ruined its
defences and threatened to reduce it to a heap of rubbish.

^ Coxe, vol. i., p. 431: Marlborough to Godolphin, June 24, 1706.

2 Burnet, vol. iv., p. 131.

3 Hare MSS.: Francis Hare to his cousin (George Naylor), June 3, 1706
(Hist. MSS. Comm., 14th Report, Appendix, part ix.).

* Murray, vol. ii., p. 576: Letter to Eugene of June 10, 1706.


The same night an assault, headed by fifty English
grenadiers, gave the allies a lodgment on the counterscarp.
On the 5th, the garrison made a sortie, which was repulsed.
The Spanish regiments were hardly to be trusted, and the
inhabitants were clamorous to preserve their homes from
total destruction. La Motte, the French commander,
having vainly appealed to Vauban for assistance, capitu-
lated on the 6th. Most of his troops took service under
King Charles. The losses of the allies did not exceed 500.
A century before Spinola expended three years and 80,000
lives on the conquest of Ostend.

While Marlborough lay at Rousselaere, he received from
Vienna a communication, which affected profoundly both
his own career and the fortunes of the Grand Alliance.
Charles, on his departure for Spain, had left behind him a
blank patent, for use in a case of emergency. The Emperor
converted it into a commission of governor for the Spanish
Netherlands, and inserted the name of Marlborough, The
emoluments were £60,000 a year. The honour was one
which sovereign princes did not disdain to covet. Coxe
avers that the Emperor acted " in a transport of joy and
gratitude "^ for the news of Barcelona and Ramillies. But
it is seldom that the decisions of statesmen are dictated by
the simple and pleasing emotions alone.

Marlborough and the field- deputies had taken possession
of Flanders and Brabant in the name of the rightful monarch,
Charles HI. But in spite of modern misrepresentation,
which is sometimes ignorant and sometimes deliberate,
England and Holland were not fighting to gratify an
academic preference for the pedigree of the House of
Hapsburg. The 5th Article of the Grand Alliance had
provided that the allies should " use their utmost endeavours
to recover the Spanish Netherlands," not in the interest of
a particular claimant, but " to the end that they may serve
as a fence, rampart, and barrier to keep France at a distance
from the United Provinces."^ It was common ground
among the members of the coalition that, if Holland was
to retain her independence, an artificial obstacle of some

1 Coxe, vol. i., p. 437.

2 Lsgrelle, La diplomatie Franfaise et_ la Succession d'Espagne, t. iv.,
p. 522, Appendice No. 34.


kind must be interposed between her frontier and the frontier
of the strongest military power in Europe. But the precise
nature of that obstacle had not been determined. Time
was when the mere presence of the Spanish armies in the
Netherlands amply secured the United Provinces against
French aggression. But Spain, if she was not effete, had long
ceased to be efficient. She had long ceased, as William HI
observed, to contribute anything to the common cause
save rhodomontades. Before the question of the Spanish
succession arose, Louis had absorbed Artois, and valuable
portions of Flanders and Hainault. The government of
the Hague, which watched with anxiety the gradual
sapping of Holland's bulwark against France, had stipulated
at the peace of Ryswick for the right to garrison certain
fortresses of the Spanish Netherlands with Dutch troops.
But in February, 1701, these troops, serving under the
command of Spanish governors, had all been surprised
and captured by Louis in a single night. It was evident,
therefore, that to furnish the United Provinces with an
effective barrier some new method must be devised. What
that method should be, was not defined by the terms of the

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 37 of 44)