Frank Taylor.

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

. (page 4 of 44)
Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


it flourishes without disguise in the Germany of to-day.
" The great body of the people," to quote the words of
Alison, "proud of their sovereign, proud of his victories,
proud of his magnificence, proud of his fame, proud of his
national spirit, proud of the literary glory which environed
his throne, in secret proud of his gallantries, joyfully
followed their nobles in the brilliant career which his am-
bition opened, and submitted with as much docility to his
government as they had once ranged themselves round the
banners of their respective chiefs in the day of battle."^ The
contrast with the political decadence of modern France is
striking; to those, whose business or pleasure it is to pretend
that in 1780 she lost nothing, it cannot be other than painful.
^ Alison, The Military Life of John, Duke of Marlborough {1848), p. 40,



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 27

At the peace of Westphalia in 1648 France had obtained
possession of Austrian Alsace, of Breisach, and of the right
to garrison Philippsburg, as well as of Metz, Toul, and
Verdun. These acquisitions planted her firmly on the
Upper Rhine. She also received the fortress of Pignerole on
the Italian side of the Alps. At the peace of the Pyrenees
in 1659 she strengthened her exposed, northern frontier by
the addition of the province of Artois, and the fortresses of
Thionville, Landrecies, and Avesnes. In the south she
secured the territories of Roussillon and Cerdagne, where
hitherto the Spaniards had maintained a footing on the
wrong side of the mountain-barrier. She also established
a virtual control over the duchy of Lorraine. At the peace
of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1668 she acquired a belt of fortresses
in the Spanish Netherlands, Lille, Tournai, Charleroi,
Audenarde, Ath, and others, which not only rendered her
northern frontier as strong as it had formerly been weak,
but opened the whole of the Low Countries to her attack.
At the peace of Nijmegen in 1678 she obtained Franche
Comte, and still further strengthened her position in
Lorraine. She subsequently laid hands upon the city of
Strasbourg, the fortress of Casale in Piedmont, and other
places in Alsace, all of which, with the important exception
of the first, she was obliged to abandon at the peace of
Ryswick in 1698. Thus in a period of fifty years, an able,
arrogant, and unscrupulous diplomacy, supported always
by war in its most relentless form, had girdled her with
fortresses and carried her borders to the Pyrenees, the Alps,
and the Vosges. Herself immune from attack, she could
issue forth at will into the valleys of the Schelde, the Meuse,
the Rhine, the Ebro, and the Po. Her expansion had
naturally been watched with profound misgiving. Three
times already Europe had seen fit to intervene, in 1668,
in 1673, and in 1688. On each occasion the aggressor had
been checked, but had nevertheless got off with a goodly
portion of the spoil. And the conquests of Louis XIV were
permanent conquests. He created the frontier lines of
modern France. Creasy has justly observed that " all
the provinces that Bonaparte conquered, were rent again
from France within twenty years from the date when the



28 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

very earliest of them was acquired. France is not stronger
by a single city or a single acre for all the devastating wars
of the Consulate and the Empire. She has still the extended
boundaries which Louis XIV gave her."^ Unhappily, since
Creasy wrote those words, the France which affects to
ignore and to despise the Bourbons has proved incapable
of retaining what the Bourbons won,

William of Orange had devoted his life to the enormous
labour of frustrating the designs of this ambitious and
formidable power. Down to 1688 Louis had reckoned on
the friendship, or at the worst, on the neutrality or the
impotence of England. William, who had no fanatical
attachment to the Protestant religion, and who positively
detested those constitutional principles which he is supposed
to have vindicated, snatched the sceptre from James II that
he might cast it into the scale against the preponderating
weight of the French power. In the war which followed,
great exertions were made, and great losses were sustained
by both sides, until at the end of eight years the mutual
exhaustion of the combatants disposed them to a peace.
Louis, who had suffered more severely than the allies, was
a willing signatory of the terms agreed at Ryswick. In
forfeiting some of his more recent acquisitions, and in
consenting at last to acknowledge William as King of
England, he did but give what he had stolen, and what cost
him nothing. And in return he obtained what was at that
moment a necessity of his far-sighted policy, time to
recuperate his forces and to prepare for a final struggle,
the prize of which would be infinitely richer than any that
had hitherto attracted his inordinate ambition.

This prize was nothing less than the entire dominions of
the Spanish monarchy, comprising, in addition to modern
Spain, Naples, Sicily, Finale, the Tuscan ports, the Milanese,
the Spanish Netherlands, and vast possessions in the New
World. Charles II, who was rapidly sinking into the grave,
had no immediate heirs. The claimants to the succession
were three in number, the Emperor Leopold I, Joseph, the
Electoral Prince of Bavaria, and the Dauphin. In each

1 Creasy, Decisive Battles of the World : ch. xi., " The Battle of Blen-
heim."



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 29

ran the blood of a Spanish princess. The title of each
was in some respect defective. But it was obvious to Louis
and to every statesman that Europe would never permit
this question to be settled as if it were a private lawsuit.
It was obvious that she would not welcome a King of Spain
who was also Emperor, and still less a King of Spain
who was also King of France. Either arrangement would
be perilously subversive of ' the balance of power.' Both
Louis and Leopold recognised this fact. The Dauphin's
claim was accordingly withdrawn in favour of his second
son, Philip, Duke of Anjou, and Leopold's in favour of his,
the Archduke Charles. But this device was more satis-
factory in appearance than in reality. The objections to the
new candidates, if not insuperable, were still very grave.
In the first place, by the accidents of life the kingdom of
France might still revert to Philip, and the Empire to
Charles. And secondly, if either France or Austria supplied
a prince for the throne of Spain, either France or Austria
might expect to use him as a faithful ally, if not as an
obedient vassal. An overwhelming combination of forces
might still result. An intimate alliance of two powers may
be just as disturbing to the equilibrium of Europe as an
actual union of crowns. The danger was of course far greater
in the case of Philip. France was already so strong that
nothing less than a grand coalition of states could curb her
ambition even when she stood alone. The secret of her
success lay not so much in the wealth and enterprise of her
people as in the organising capacity of her rulers. Under
French direction and control the latent resources of the
Spanish dominions, which needed only capital and energy
for their development, might have produced incalculable
riches. But the question was even more a strategic than
an economic one. The armies of France, in numbers, in
science, and in audacity, excelled all others. Admitted
by Philip to the Spanish Netherlands, they would speedily
conquer Holland, and convert it into a military and naval
base against England and Germany; admitted to the
Milanese, they would threaten Vienna itself through the
passes of the Tyrol. Masters of Sicily, Naples, and the
Tuscan ports, they would dominate all Italy south of the



30 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

Po. With Philip astride of the Straits of Gibraltar, they
would transform the Mediterranean Sea into " a Bourbon
lake," exclusively reserved for the galleons of Cadiz and the
galleys of Toulon.

The ideal solution of the problem was apparent. Joseph,
the Electoral Prince of Bavaria, should have inherited the
Spanish dominions in their entirety. Being but a child of
five, he could have been educated as a Spaniard; and
throughout his minority at any rate his subjects would
have insisted on a foreign policy devoid of subservience to
either Austria or France. The Spaniards themselves would
have welcomed such a settlement. William also would
have welcomed it. But William had a single eye to the
peace and the liberties of Europe. Louis and Leopold, on
the contrary, thought solely of their own aggrandisement.
They would never consent to withdraw their candidates in
favour of Joseph. And William was not in a position to
coerce them.

But Louis at least was not unreasonable. Though he
claimed the whole, he was prepared to accept a part. France
was still too exhausted to renew the struggle which had forced
her to accept the treaty of Rj^'swick. If the question of the
Spanish succession could be settled peaceably on the basis
of adequate compensation for the various candidates,
Louis would be satisfied. Early in 1698 he sounded William
on the subject. William, though at first suspicious, was
soon convinced of his old antagonist's sincerity. Long and
arduous negotiations ensued. At length, in October, 1698,
England, Holland, and France signed what is known as the
first Partition Treaty. The three powers agreed among
themselves that, at the death of Charles II, the Milanese
should pass to the Archduke, Naples, Sicily, the Tuscan
ports, Guipuzcoa, San Sebastian, and Fuenterrabia to the
Duke of Anjou, and the residue of the Spanish dominions
to the Electoral Prince.

The treaty, though secret, soon became public property.
It was none too well received. The indignation of the
haughty Spaniards knew no bounds. That foreign poten-
tates should presume, though only upon paper, to dismember
the Empire of Philip II was an outrage not to be endured.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 31

Leopold too looked coldly on a settlement which had been
made without reference to him, and which assigned to the
House of Hapsburg so much less than he judged to be its
due. It is certain that effect would never have been given
to the terms of the treaty without a struggle of some kind.
But it is almost as certain that the struggle would not have
been of long duration. For the persons aggrieved could have
offered no effective resistance. Sentimental Liberalism
has wasted many tears on the cynical immorality of the
three powers. But the partition of an empire, composed
of various nationalities, differs essentially from the vivi-
section of an homogeneous state. It is true that Castilian
pride was hurt ; but the ethical value of Castilian pride may
be overrated. The scheme was conceived in the interest
of peace and of the liberties of Europe as a whole. It
yielded possibly too much to France in the Mediterranean,
though even here, by leaving the Straits of Gibraltar in
Spanish hands, and by introducing the Austrians into the
Milanese, it established strategic checks of an effective kind.
The fact that William himself supported the arrangement,
is perhaps the strongest of all proofs that it would have
solved a perilous problem with the smallest possible disturb-
ance of ' the balance of power.'

But the issue was never tried. In February, i6gg, th3
death of the Electoral Prince of Bavaria destroyed the very
basis of the compromise. Louis and William however were
not discouraged. They resumed negotiations, and by May
they had arrived at a second settlement. It was now agreed
that the Archduke Charles should take the place of the
deceased prince, and should inherit the greater part of the
Spanish dominions. The Duke of Anjou was to receive
the same compensation as fell to him under the earlier
treaty. But the Archduke was to resign the Milanese in
favour of France on the understanding that France would
then bestow it on the Duke of Lorraine in exchange for his
duchy, which in fact, if not in law, was already French.
On paper it appeared that ' the balance of power ' was
better preserved by the second partition than by the first.
The House of Hapsburg secured an accession of territory
and of potential wealth much in excess of that allotted to



32 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

the House of Bourbon. But in forfeiting the Milanese
the Hapsburgs lost a strategic position of immense value.
What would have been the ultimate result can only be
surmised. For the second Partition Treaty met with no
better fate than the first.

The great majority of the Spanish nation, without any
distinction of class, were resolutely determined to uphold the
unity of the empire. As soon as the contents of the first
Partition Treaty were divulged, the dying King declared
the Electoral Prince to be the heir of his entire dominions,
and sent for him to Madrid that he might be educated as a
Spaniard. The prince's death created a dilemma. The ties
of blood and of friendship drew both King and people to-
wards the Austrian claimant. A century of war had left
them little love for France. But gradually the opinion
grew that France was the only power sufficiently strong to
maintain against all comers the integrity of the Spanish
Empire. This opinion was skilfully fostered by Harcourt,
the brilliant ambassador of Louis at Madrid. France in
that age was as ably served by her diplomatists as by her
soldiers. The Queen, who was Leopold's sister-in-law,
pleaded the cause of Austria at her husband's bedside.
But her influence was neutralised by the influence of the
Church, and was ultimately overborne by the passionate
patriotism of an indignant nation. In November, 1700, the
end came. When Charles' testament was opened, it was
found that he had bequeathed his empke in its entirety to
Philip, Duke of Anjou, on the sole condition that he should
renounce, for himself and for his heirs, all claim to the
crown of France. If Philip declined to benefit under the
will, the inheritance was to pass to the Archduke Charles.

It has been suggested by some among English historians
that Louis from the outset had played for this result, and
that the Partition Treaties, initiated though they were by
his diplomacy, were merely an elaborate device for gaining
time. Louis was perfectly capable of such duplicity. But
there is no convincing proof that he was guilty of it. Al-
though the possibility of a will in Philip's favour had never
been wholly absent from his calculations, it was a possi-
bility upon which he had scarcely dared to reckon. The



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 33

event took him by surprise. When the Spanish envoys
arrived at Paris, he hesitated. His indecision was genuine.
It did not spring from any sense of obligation under the
treaty which he had so recently signed. It originated solely
in a doubt as to the true interest of France at this momentous
juncture. Louis wanted the whole Spanish monarchy;
but he did not want it at the price of a bloody and prolonged
struggle with a coalition of the powers. That Austria
would fight was certain. But the wrath of Leopold had
no terrors for Louis. One man, and only one, could make
him pay too dearly for the prize. That man was William
of Orange. William's health was visibly decaying. But
his spirit and his brain retained their vigour, Louis was
too prudent to gamble on the chance of his great antagonist's
decease. He looked for a certainty, and in the military and
political infirmity of England he thought that he had found
one. The English people wanted peace, and the English
people were unready for war. Those two circumstances
determined the fate of Europe. No coalition which left
out England could greatly trouble the combined forces of
France and Spain. Even William could not make bricks
without straw. Confident that his perfidy would not be
punished, Louis broke his plighted word and dispatched
his grandson to Madrid.

Of all the dangers to peace none is at once so constant
and so grave as unpreparedness for war. This truth, which
for most of mankind is a truism, has always been steadily
ignored in England. Pursuing its fatuous policy of false
economy, the English Parliament in time of peace has over
and over again insisted on reducing the military forces of
the Crown to something indistinguishable from a mere
skeleton. Such a system is always wasteful and extrava-
gant ; in the years which followed the peace of Ryswick it
was particularly perilous. Louis and William, and all who
understood the European situation, knew that that treaty
was only an armistice, and that the impending question of
the Spanish succession would be settled, if not by an appeal
to arms, at least by those and in favour of those who were
obviously able to appeal to arms. But the people of England
did not understand the European situation, and they did



34 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

not want to understand it . Weary of taxation and disgusted
by defeat, they had compelled William to cut down the
standing army to 7,000 men in England and 12,000 in
Ireland, and to dismiss 5,000 Dutch and Huguenots. The
King had resisted, but he had been constrained to yield.
All the Tories, and almost all the Whigs, were united on this
question. The English of both parties had no proper
comprehension of foreign politics. They could not see the
dangerous absurdity of disbanding their forces while Louis
maintained his own upon a war footing. The Tories
refused to listen to the warnings of a monarch, whose
policy, in their judgment, involved the sacrifice of England's
interests to those of Holland. Though the Whigs at any
rate had supported William in the recent war, they had been
actuated more by hatred of the House of Stuart and a
quixotic devotion to the cause of Protestantism in general
than by any intelligent desire to redress the balance of power
in Europe. These motives had now ceased to operate with
their original force. At Ryswick Louis had acknowledged
William's title. Nor was it a matter of vital concern to
the cause of Protestantism whether the Papist who became
ruler of the inveterate Papists of the Spanish Empire was a
Frenchman or an Austrian. " There is," wrote Somers to
the King in 1698, " a deadness and want of spirit in the
nation universally."^

Our forefathers' ignorance of continental politics was
not without some excuse. With the exception of one
brilliant interlude under Cromwell, England, absorbed in
her domestic altercations, had played but a trivial part in
Europe since the death of Elizabeth. And there was some
excuse also for the Englishman's dislike of the professional
soldier. All the great despotisms, which had arisen on the
ruins of feudal institutions, maintained their standing
armies and did not hesitate to use them against disaffected
subjects. The idea of a standing army had come therefore
to be associated with the idea of arbitrary power; and the
not very logical conclusion was drawn that these permanent
forces were incompatible with the existence of constitutional
rule. Bookish Whigs, familiar with the chronicles of Greece

1 IVIacaulay's Essays : vol. i., 2'he War of the Succession in Spain.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 35

and Rome, drove home the argument with illustrations culled
from the stories of the classic tyrants. Doubtless they
were mistaken. Doubtless those military writers, who
have so bitterly censured the traditional antipathy of the
House of Commons to a standing army, have just reason
for their indignation. But if ever there was a period in
English history when this ignoble, but seemingly imperish-
able, superstition was founded upon something more worthy
than unthinking prejudice, that period was the second half
of the seventeenth century. In those da3^s, at any rate,
ignorance of the subject could not be ascribed to the English
people. It could not be said of that generation, as it
might have been said of its predecessors, that English-
men, with the exception of the few who had travelled or
served upon the continent, had no experience of standing
armies. For they themselves had seen, or their own fathers
had seen, what was perhaps the most formidable and efficient
body of organised, fighting men that the world has ever
produced. Neither the veteran mercenaries of Tilly and
Wallenstcin, nor the habitually victorious soldiery of Conde
and Turenne, could have stood for long, in equal numbers,
before the army of Cromwell. And the conduct of that
army in peace had been no less remarkable than its prowess
in war. Other troops, and not alone those which were
composed of hii^ed aliens, were frequently as great a terror
to their friends as to their foes. The subsistence of even a
national army on its own territories was often calamitous
to whole provinces. But the behaviour of Cromwell's men
in the presence of civilian populations was at that epoch
unexampled in Europe. In this, as in most other respects,
the ' New Model ' had been a model to the world
and to all time. In discipline it has never been surpassed.
Moreover, unlike those gallant regiments which astonished
Europe at Blenheim, at Fontenoy, and at Minden, and
which in a later age destroyed the empire of Bonaparte,
Cromwell's army was recruited in the main from self-
respecting men of decent station and repute. It would
be natural therefore to presume that an institution,
so creditable to the English name, was at least popular
with contemporary Englishmen. And yet, to almost all



36 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

classes and parties in the state, its very name was
execrable.

The explanation is simple, The ' New Model ' was the
product of the Great Rebellion. The Great Rebellion had
been begun by a faction, who conceived themselves to be
fighting for the supremacy of law. They took their stand,
as for that matter did also their opponents, upon the
principles, written and unwritten, of the English constitu-
tion. Their quarrel with Charles I was, in its inception, a
respectable quarrel. Yet to what a grotesque issue
did they, or the discredited remnant of them, ultimately
bring it ! Contrary to the laws, they degraded and
destroyed the House of Commons and the House of Peers.
Contrary to the laws, they overthrew the Church.
Contrary to the laws, though not without an insult-
ing travesty of legal forms, they killed the King.
Contrary to the laws, they substituted for the venerable
monarchy of England a perpetual military dictatorship.
The Rebellion had been preceded by disputes about arbi-
trary taxation, about the billeting of soldiers, and about the
administration of justice by special commissions, disputes
in which both sides were able to appeal to the indubitable
records of the past. It ended in a system of martial law,
which is no law, and which had no foundations in English
history. Every action in the drama had been accompanied
by the clash of steel and the roll of drums. When England
looked back upon that distracted period, she saw the
' New Model ' like " the abomination of desolation, standing
where it ought not." She saw soldiers using her cathedrals
for stables, and soldiers testifying in the pulpits of her
parish churches, soldiers at the doors of the House of Com-
mons, soldiers on the floor of the House itself, soldiers innu-
merable about the scaffold of a King. She understood
that a faction, which had not hesitated to make war upon the
legitimate Sovereign because he was suspected of a dangerous
desire to strain the prerogative of his ancestors, had itself
set up a tyranny that beside the wildest dreams of Charles
or his advisers would have seemed extravagant. And she
fully realised that this tyranny was raised and supported
solely by the pikes and muskets of a regular army of 50,000



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 37

men. It was irrelevant, and it was felt to be irrelevant, to
plead that in certain directions Cromwell had put his
authority to noble uses. Many despots have governed well.
Many more have wished to govern well. And one and all
they have based their claims upon the public good. Charles
himself had the best intention, and honestly declared, even
with his dying breath, that he sought only the well-being
of his people. All such considerations are beside the point.
Those who appealed to precedent and law had themselves
obliterated all precedent and all law with blood and steel.
The monstrous irony of such a consummation was too much
even for a people which has invariably divorced logic
from its politics. When the Great Rebellion began, it had
appeared to be a solemn tragedy. Long before it ended,
it was seen to be a violent and sanguinary farce. And



Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 44)