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

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they endeavoured to penetrate the plans of Charles. They
received assurances that he wished them no ill, and that
his invasion of Saxony must not be regarded as anything
more than a strategical necessity of his conflict with
Augustus. But the prevaiUng uneasiness was only partially
allayed by correct generalities, the value of which was
largely discounted by known facts. Charles, for example,
was recruiting far and wide on German soil. He was
listening to the complaints of Silesian Protestants; he was
listening also to the complaints of the Electors of Bavaria
and Cologne. And in March, 1707, he gave audience to
an envoy from Versailles.

From the outbreak of the Scandinavian war Louis XIV
had plainly seen that, if the Swedes should enter Germany,
France would be the gainer. He therefore exerted himself
to reconcile Charles with both Denmark and Russia, and
to isolate Saxony. Unsuccessful in these attempts, he
watched with pleasure the amazing progress of the Swedish
arms. The appearance of Charles at Alt-Ranstadt, at the
very moment when the Bourbon cause had reached its
lowest ebb, excited new hopes at Versailles. Louis deter-
mined to send a representative to the Swedish camp. He

1706-1707 455

selected Besenval/ an able and energetic soldier of Swiss
extraction, who had fought at RamilHes. The instructions
which Torcy handed to Besenval were skilfully drawn.
Louis had no illusions. He knew that an offensive alUance
was out of the question, because " the tradition of Gustavus "
could not easily be stretched to cover an attack upon such
recognised champions of Protestantism as England and
Holland in the interest of the persecutors of the Huguenots.
Besenval therefore was to confine himself to congratula-
tions, to agreeable reminiscences, and to the practical
suggestion that Charles, as a Prince of the Empire, and one
of the guarantors of the peace of Westphalia, should
assume the honourable part of mediator between France
and the coalition. He was to press the argument that the
monarch who had pacified the north by his arms had now
a glorious opportunity of pacifying the west by his authority.
Disguised as the valet of a Swedish gentleman, Besenval
traversed loo leagues of hostile country, and reached
Leipzig on March 5. Sinzendorf, Robinson, and Kranen-
berg, the representatives of Austria, England, and Holland,
did not attempt to conceal their disgust at his arrival. But
the manner of his reception went far to reassure them.
The ambassador of France experienced the utmost difficulty
in procuring lodgings, servants, and ready money. Neither
from the first minister, Piper, nor from the second, Hermelin,
could he extract anything material. He was invited to
dine with Piper's countess, who talked continually but
never of the business in hand. Her husband, however, did
go so far as to observe that mediation would be very diffi-
cult in view of the unwillingness of the maritime powers
to accept it. He also spoke of Russia; and when Besenval
declared that a lieutenant could deal with such barbarians
as Peter's subjects, but that Charles should reserve himself
for European politics, the Count changed the subject.
Charles, who only received the ambassador of France
because he was beset by the representatives of all the
powers and he found it impossible to make an exception,
treated Besenval with a studied coldness and indifference

1 Coxe is mistaken in saying Ricoux. Ricoux was first chosen, but he
feU iU.


that were almost insulting. But the Swiss refused to be
discouraged. At length, having bestowed a bribe on
Hermelin, he succeeded in discovering that Charles intended
to gratify his revenge by an immediate attack on Russia,
but that after two years he would return and settle the
affairs of the Empire. Hermelin explained that at present
his master had no quarrel with the Emperor, who, though
he had at first refused to recognise Stanislaus, had recently
given way on this important point. From Hermelin's con-
versation and also from Piper's, Besenval gathered that
the Swedes believed in the essential moderation of the
Grand Alliance no less than in the ability of France to
hold her own for at least two years more. Having failed
in an attempt to bribe Piper, he concluded that the first
minister had already been bought by England and Holland.
And before he had been three weeks at Leipzig he was fully
satisfied that the maritime powers were masters of the
Swedish court, and that Charles would never accept the
proffered post of mediator in opposition to their wishes. In
short, he realised that his mission was a hopeless one. But
he still remained at Leipzig as an observer and a spy. And
he still hoped that the execution of the details of the treaty
of Alt-Ranstadt might detain Charles in Saxony. He was
disappointed. With the help of the representatives of the
Grand Alliance everything was arranged between Charles
and Augustus. By April the Swedish army was ready to
march. And Besenval was forbidden to accompany it even
as a volunteer.

Correct as Besenval's deductions were, they were known
only to himself and to his employers. The fact that he
was at Leipzig, even though he appeared to make but
little progress there, gave colour to the terrifying tales with
which Europe had been flooded. And now, as was usual
upon all occasions of anxiety and doubt, everybody turned
to Marlborough. In England, in Holland, and above all
in Austria, the opinion grew that only by personal contact
between Marlborough and Charles could the riddle be
satisfactorily solved.

The Duke was in no hurry to accept the task. Having
much more than one man's work upon his hands already.

1706-1707 457

he found this flattering confidence in his diplomatic skill a
huge embarrassment. Moreover, all the information which
he had been able to collect from the numerous and admir-
able sources of intelligence which he constantly employed,
led him to regard the current talk of Europe as unjustifiably
alarmist, if not demonstrably false. He knew that it was
the palpable interest of France to fabricate and to dis-
seminate rumours, which would produce a panic in Germany,
and compel the princes of the Empire to retain their troops
within their own borders. Having actually obtained a copy
of the instructions handed to Besenval, he was aware of the
precise game which Louis was playing, and he did not
regard it as a serious menace to the Grand Alliance. In
common with the statesmen of England and Holland he
was confident that Charles would never attempt to force
his good offices upon the maritime powers, which were
bound to Sweden not only by a common Protestantism, but
also by the gratitude which they had earned when they kept
the Baltic open for the passage of Charles' army. The
official reports from Leipzig of the little headway made
by Besenval only confirmed this view. As to the future
destination of the formidable forces assembled in Saxony,
Marlborough was assured by the Elector of Hanover, who
had excellent information, that the Grand AlHance had
nothing to fear. He was also advised by the Prussian
general, Grumbkow, a keen observer, who was at Alt-Ran-
stadt in January on behalf of the Court of Berhn, that
everything pointed to Russia as the next objective of the
Swedish army. In these circumstances the Duke was
naturally anxious to spare himself the fatigue of a super-
fluous mission to Saxony, though he was willing enough to
undertake the business, if real necessity could be shown for it.

In this undecided mood he quitted London on April i.
Contrary winds detaining him at Margate, he did not arrive
at the Hague until the i6th. The loss of so much valuable
time on the very eve of the new campaign, rendered him
more than ever disinclined to visit Leipzig. Yet three days
later he wrote to Wratislaw that he had the Queen's orders
to set out forthwith.

Events had suddenlv taken a more serious turn. Rela-


tions between Charles and the Emperor had become danger
ously strained. The trouble, which was trivial enough in
its origin, had been vastly magnified by the arrogant fashion
in which Charles approached it. Certain unfortunate
incidents had occurred. Count Zobor, a Hungarian noble,
had insulted the King of Sweden in the presence of the
Swedish ambassador. The ambassador had given him
" a box o' the ear "; the Emperor had imprisoned him in
the castle of Gratz; yet Charles insisted that he should be
handed over to the Swedish government. Some Swedish
officers, who were enlisting men at Breslau, had been
attacked by the mob; their recruits had been taken from
them, and a corporal had been killed in the scuffle. The
Emperor had promised to investigate the affair ; but Charles
imperatively demanded immediate satisfaction. In the
previous year 1,200 Russian soldiers had escaped from
Poland into Germany, where they were entertained by the
Imperial forces on the Upper Rhine. Charles considered
that they were his lawful prisoners and that the Emperor
should surrender them to him forthwith. On March 30
Piper presented to Sinzendorf a strong complaint upon this
subject. The tone of the document was peremptory, and
even threatening. It angered Sinzendorf and frightened
Robinson and Kranenberg. Negotiations, conducted in this
style with so proud a Court as that of Vienna, might easily
provoke a rupture. None realised the danger more clearly
than the statesmen of England and Holland. At length
they were seriously alarmed, and not without a cause.
They did not believe in Swedish intervention or Swedish
mediation in the War of the Spanish Succession. But they
fully believed in the possibility of a breach of the peace
between the House of Vasa and the House of Hapsburg.
To Marlborough in particular the prospect was a gloomj'^
one. It had always been difficult to induce Austria to
shoulder her fair share of the burdens of the Grand AlUance.
Hitherto the Hungarian rebeUion had been a constant drain
upon her powers. This new peril might paralyse them
entirely. In that event, his Mediterranean strategy, which
was to finish the war in one campaign, must be relegated
to the land of dreams.

1706-1707 459

On April 19 the Duke wrote to Robinson to announce his
coming. " I must pray you will be so kind," he said, " as
to procure me leave to set up my own field-bed in some
farm-house at Alt-Ranstadt so near as may be to the King's
quarters."-^ Having obtained permission from the Dutch
government to make the journey, and having instructed
Overkirk to assemble the army and to watch the move-
ments of the French, he set off for Leipzig on the 20th.
He reached Hanover on the 24th, paid his compliments to
the Elector, and departed at 4 o'clock next morning. On
the 26th he reached Halle, where he was met by Robinson,
Kranenberg, and Sinzendorf. They dined together, and
afterwards proceeded to Alt-Ranstadt, where they arrived
at 9 in the evening. Marlborough immediately visited Count
Piper, with whom he remained in conference for an hour.
He then retired to the quarters assigned to him by Charles'
orders. That same night he saw Sinzendorf. Early on the
morning of the 27th he was visited by the general-officers
and foreign envoys. Ciederholm came to tell him that the
King would receive him at 10 o'clock. The Duke drove
to Count Piper's quarters, and they went on together in
Piper's carriage to the audience. So vast a concourse of
curious spectators had assembled on the ground that three
regiments of horse were detailed to keep order. Marl-
borough was met by the high officials of the Court, and
immediately introduced into the King's presence. Charles
was surrounded by his councillors and men of war. He
advanced with a gracious air to meet the Duke. Marl-
borough, who was accompanied by Robinson, presented his
credentials, and speaking in English, which Robinson inter-
preted, addressed the King as follows: " I present to your
Majesty a letter, not from the chancery, but from the heart
of the Queen, my mistress, and written with her own hand.
Had not her sex prevented it, she would have crossed the
sea to see a prince admired by the whole universe. I am
in this particular more happy than the Queen, and I wish
I could serve some campaigns under so great a general as
your Majesty, that I might learn what I yet want to know

1 Mijrray. vol. iii., p. 343: Marlborough to Robinson April 19,


in the art of war."^ It has been questioned whether flattery
so crude could ever have been uttered. But the authen-
ticity of the speech is well supported. The Duke knew his
man. It must always be remembered that Charles XII was
only twenty-five, that he had been inconceivably successful,
that he deemed himself a second Alexander, and that in
several of his attributes he was no better than a semi-
savage. Moreover, it was expedient to gratify his adoring

The King did not conceal his pleasure. His reply, which
was interpreted by Piper, was happily framed. The con-
versation then became general, and lasted for nearly two
hours. Marlborough talked in French, a language which
Charles understood, though he never made use of it. At
noon dinner was announced. The King invited the Duke
to remain. At table, Piper sat upon Charles' left, and
Marlborough on his right. Everybody remarked the con-
trast between the unpolished manners of the young monarch
and the easy and elegant bearing of the Englishman. The
Swedes declared that Marlborough looked more like a
courtier than a soldier, and that they could well understand
how a fortune, completed with the sword, had been founded
originally upon love. At the same time, they could not
but admire a warrior who was also the finest of fine gentle-
men. The meal was prolonged by half an hour in honour
of the guest. At its conclusion, Piper signed to the com-
pany to retire. He himself, with Hermehn and Robinson,
remained alone with the King and Marlborough. In the
conversation which ensued and which lasted more than an
hour, every question of immediate interest both to Sweden
and the Grand AUiance, was examined and discussed.
Marlborough was struck by the extreme friendliness of the
King's tone towards England, and by his evident conviction
that " the exorbitant power of France " must be reduced.
But Charles did not confine himself to generalities. He
declared that, unless and until the Queen of England
desired it, he would never undertake the business of media-
tion. He expressed his sympathy with the English view
that the fortifications of Dunkirk should be demolished.

1 Coxc, vol. ii., p. 45.

1706-1707 461

And he even proposed a secret alliance with England for
the promotion of the cause of Protestantism. This very
inconvenient suggestion was adroitly turned by Marl-
borough, who showed that its adoption might render
Charles unacceptable as a future mediator between Catholic
powers. As the Duke no doubt anticipated, the least
satisfactory part of the interview related to the dispute
with Austria. Charles exhibited " a great deal of coolness
towards the court of Vienna,"^ and an obstinate determina-
tion to insist upon whatever he deemed to be his rights,
however trifling.^ He also manifested an inclination to
champion the cause of the Silesian Protestants, whose
churches had been suppressed. Marlborough pointed out
that it was impossible for Sweden to intervene in the
religious quarrels of Germany without embarrassing the
Grand Alliance. He suggested that the settlement of all
such questions should be deferred until the negotiations
for a general peace. And while he endeavoured to persuade
the King that the Austrian government would assuredly
concede to Sweden whatever was reasonable and just, he
plainly indicated that, if Sweden would be the friend of the
maritime powers, Sweden must not lay hands on their ally,
because, in the existing fortune of affairs, to injure one was
to injure all.

At the termination of the audience Marlborough returned
to his quarters, and wrote a short report to Harley. " I
have good reason to hope," he said, " my journey may
have all the success Her Majesty and the public expect
from it."^

Augustus invited him to Leipzig. Marlborough accepted
for the following day. He spent the afternoon in visiting
" the ministers, general officers, and other persons of dis-
tinction " at the Swedish Court. He paid his respects to
the Countess Piper; and he was about to take supper with
Marshal Renschild and his wife when three couriers sum-
moned him away, and he was seen no more.

On the morning of the 28th he was received by Augustus

^ Murray, vol. iii., p. 358: Marlborough to Harley, May 10, 1707.

2 Ibid., p. 348: jV^rlborough to the Prince of Salm, May i, 1707;
p. 350: Marlborough to Sinzendorf, May i, 1707.

3 Ibid., p. 347: Marlborough to Harley, April 27, 1707.


at Leipzig. Augustus expressed the warmest sympathy
with the Grand Alliance, and complained bitterly of his
treatment at the hands of Charles. Marlborough advised
him to raise no question " that might give the least handle
to the King of Sweden to delay his march out of Saxony."^
Augustus, whose army was a heavy drain on his depleted
purse, had been already approached by the English govern-
ment, which was anxious to hire 4,500 Saxon troops. Marl-
borough took the opportunity of completing this negotiation ;
and at the King's request, he promised to press the Emperor
to engage 3,000 or 4,000 more. Charles, who was uneasy
lest Augustus should get the ear of the maritime powers,
managed to arrive during the interview. Marlborough then
went to dinner at the Pipers' with Sinzendorf and Robinson.
Subsequently he discussed with Piper and Count Goertz a
dispute which had arisen between Sweden and Denmark
about the bishopric of Liibeck. Supper was taken with
Marshal Renschild and his wife and a distinguished

On the 29th he was visited in his quarters by Piper and
Ciederholm, whose mission it was " to recapitulate in the
King's name the essential of all that had passed before."^
Charles was the friend, and the grateful friend, of the Queen
of England; he recognised the necessity of restoring the
balance of power; and he considered that, when peace was
made, the German Protestants should be amply secured
against the persecuting poUcy of Rome. " This point of
religion," said Marlborough, " was what the King seemed
most warmly bent upon; and it was not without difficulty
that I convinced him and Count Piper of the necessity of
deferring everything of this nature till we come to that of
a general peace, for fear of weakening the alliance, by
creating unreasonable jealousy among such of the allies as
are of the Romish religion."^ Marlborough suggested that
if a clandestine correspondence were maintained between
the two Courts, it would be advantageous to both, and
offered to act as intermediary, " and that with all the secrecy
and faithfulness the matter did require.""* The offer was

1 Coxe, vol. ii., p. 49. 2 Ibid,^ p. 50.

^ Ibid. * Ibid.

1706-1707 4^3

accepted. Having received the visits of other personages
of importance, the Duke dined with Goertz. His audience
of leave was for 3 o'clock. The King's manner left nothing
to be desired. But at the very moment of departure
Stanislaus arrived. Stanislaus had not yet been acknow-
ledged by England or Holland. Charles, who had planned
the whole affair, enquired whether Marlborough would meet
the King of Poland. The position was a delicate one. It
was necessary to please Charles without offending Augustus.
Marlborough consented to the introduction. He told
Stanislaus that he himself brought no message from Queen
Anne, but that doubtless an envoy would be sent from
England with letters of congratulation. Charles was
dehghted. Thereupon the Duke took his leave. Before
departing, he had a final interview with Kranenberg. At
the moment of farewell, Sinzendorf was seen to have tears
in his eyes. The Austrian had followed the Duke every-
where, " paying court to him as to a king."^

Such was the celebrated embassy of Marlborough to
Alt-Ranstadt, in regard to which Voltaire and others dis-
seminated what Coxe has justly described as " idle and
improbable narratives." The Duke accomplished as much
as he anticipated; but he did not anticipate, and he did
not accomplish as much as his panegyrists have given the
world to believe. He had entirely satisfied himself that
Charles had " no manner of engagement with the French,"^
and that he was " not incHned to take any measures with
them that may occasion the least disturbance to the allies
in the prosecution of the war." But on these points
Marlborough at any rate had never entertained any serious
doubts. He had obtained a promise that the religious
question in Silesia should not be raised until the termina-
tion of hostihties. But the religious question in Silesia
was not the real danger. The real danger was the existing
dispute between Sweden and Austria in reference to the
three affairs of Breslau, Zobor, and the 1,200 Muscovites.
And here the Duke had secured no positive assurances of
a pacific settlement. Doubtless it was something to the

1 Gabriel Syveton, Louis XIV ei Charles XII, p. 97.

- Murray, vol. iii., 357: Marlborough to Harley, May 10, 1707.


good that he should have plainly told Charles that to attack
Austria at the moment would be in effect to attack the
maritime powers. But it was obvious that a monarch of
Charles' impulsive temperament could never be trusted to
abstain from actions inconsistent with his own principles
and policy. Consequently the Duke took every possible
precaution to ensure a speedy accommodation with Austria
He impressed upon Sinzendorf the necessity of moderation.
He wrote to Vienna to urge the adoption of a conciliatory
attitude. He recommended that the 1,200 Muscovites
should be surrendered to Stanislaus and that, in exchange
for an equal number of Swedish prisoners, they should then
be returned to their own country. He persuaded both
Hermelin and Ciederholm to become the pensioners of
England; and with the assistance of the Countess, he per-
suaded Piper also. And finally, having once established
personal relations with the King and his Cabinet, he cleverly
arranged to maintain them in the future by a secret

In a case of this sort it is necessarily difficult to estimate
how far the personal touch counts. Charles, says Burnet,
*' looked on foreign ministers as spies by their charter,
and treated them accordingly."^ Writing to the Prince of
Salm, Marlborough declared that it was impossible to
negotiate with the Court of Sweden, " as one would else-
where."^ In his deaUngs with the representatives of foreign
powers, the King was habitually secretive, and loath to
descend from the general to the particular. Lediard, who
was specially well informed upon this topic, declares that
he had " refused to open his mind to anyone but to the
Duke of Marlborough."^ He did not open it to the Duke
as fully as could have been desired. But it is certain that
he derived an almost childish pleasure from the visit of
a soldier so renowned, and that he was fascinated by that
personality which had subdued many more sophisticated
hearts than his. Nor was the attraction entirely on one

^ Burnet, vol. iv., p. 155.

2 Murray, vol. iii., p. 348: Marlborough to the Prince of Salm, May i,

3 Lediard, vol. ii., p. 139.

1706-1707 465

side. " This journey," wrote Marlborough to his wife,
" has given me the advantage of seeing four kings, three
of whom I had never seen. ... If I was obliged to make
a choice, it should be the youngest, which is the King of
Sweden."-^ This mutual liking gave sincerity to an inter-
course which otherwise would have been merely official.
That Charles honestly desired to continue the relations so
happily begun, he proved in a practical fashion, when,
contrary to his own most strict regulations, he permitted
Robinson's secretary, Jefferies, to accompany his army on
the march, nominally as a volunteer, but really as corre-
spondent between Marlborough and the Swedish govern-

The Duke considered that his journey had not been
wasted. " Now that it is over," he wrote to his wife, " I
am entirely well pleased to have made it, since I am
persuaded it will be of some use to the public, and a good
deal to the Qaeen."^ To Wratislaw he wrote: "I flatter
myself that it has succeeded so well for the advantage of
the common cause that I should have no reason to repent

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 43 of 44)