Frank Taylor.

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

. (page 5 of 44)
Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the ' New Model ' was the villain of the piece. Such were
the real causes why a generation, which had witnessed so
splendid and unprecedented a military portent, had no
desire to see another.

After the peace of Ryswick, therefore, a House of Com-
mons which faithfully represented the country's collective
ignorance of foreign politics and its ineradicable prejudice
against professional soldiers, had fixed the numbers of the
regular army at the very inadequate figure of 7,000 men
in England, and 12,000 in Ireland. The navy indeed was
already the first in Europe. And already the nation had
taken to its bosom the abominable fallacy that effective
war can be waged upon the sea alone. But both Louis and
William knew the truth. At this great crisis of European
history England counted for nothing.

Philip was proclaimed without opposition at Naples and
Brussels. His claims to the French crown were expressly
reserved by Louis. The French fleet took station at Cadiz,
and squadrons sailed for America and the Indies. But the
peace remained unbroken. Not a shot was fired by any
of those powers which had been members of the Grand
Alliance. They, who in the past had freely expended their
blood and treasure to prevent some comparatively trivial
additions to the preponderance of France, seemed paralysed
now in the presence of this sudden and gigantic peril. They



38 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

looked to William for a sign; but for once the oracle was
dumb. State after state acknowledged Philip as King of
Spain. But still the Emperor and the Dutch stood out.
The Emperor was aiming for the assertion of his rights.
But the Dutch lay open to intimidation. On the French
side the frontier fortresses of the Spanish Netherlands had
been garrisoned, since the treaty of Ryswick, by the soldiers
of Holland. The governor of the Spanish Netherlands was
the Elector of Bavaria, who had been completely gained by
Louis. With his connivance, a French army under Boufflers
passed the border, and early in February, 1701, surprised
the towns of the ' Dutch Barrier ' with all their garrisons
intact. The flower of the infantry of Holland, 15,000 in all,
became the prisoners of France. This swift and stealthy
stroke, so characteristic of Louis' government, and indeed
of all governments which have cherished ambitions similar
to his, brought the Dutchmen to their knees. Louis, having
exacted his price, released his captives. But now the north-
eastern frontier of his power ran not from Calais to Metz
but from Antwerp to Liege and Luxembourg. And Holland
trembled.

England, so far as observers could judge, remained un-
moved. The menace to her sea-borne trade and even the
disappearance of the ' Dutch Barrier ' and the occupation
of the Spanish Netherlands by the French forces left English
opinion strangely cold, so far at any rate as English opinion
found expression in the House of Commons. In the course
of 1699 and 1700 William had gradually got rid of most of his
Whig ministers, who had proved themselves incapable of
managing the Commons according to his wishes. He had
given their places to Tories. Rochester Was the chief of the
new Cabinet, and Godolphin, at the King's special request,
had accepted the Treasury. In November, 1700, there was
a general election. The new House contained a large Tory
majority. These men, country squires for the most part,
disliked the notion of a continental war, because it would
involve taxation of their estates and the enrichment of the
financial classes which lent money to the government, and
because, as they ignorantly believed, it would be waged at
England's expense in the sole interest of England's ancient



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 39

rival, Holland. In February, 1701, the Parliament met.
Harley was elected Speaker. William desired them " to
consider the state of affairs abroad." The Commons
replied by an address, in which they promised to " take
measures for the interest and safety of England, the preser-
vation of the Protestant religion, and the peace of Europe."
But they declined to concur in the address of the Peers,
which desired the King " to enter into alliances with all
those princes and states who were willing to unite for the
preservation of the balance of Europe."^ The Dutch,
who at this time were as anxious for peace as were the
English Tories, were negotiating with France with the object
of obtaining a new barrier in place of the one which they had
just lost. They begged William to support their diplomacy,
and also to prepare the 10,000 men and the twenty ships of
war, which England by the treaty of 1677 was bound to
furnish in the event of an attack on Holland. William
laid the correspondence before the Commons, who in reply
charged him to keep the treaty of 1677, and to keep the
peace, if possible.

Truth to tell, the Tory politicians were more eager to
take vengeance on the fallen ministers than to provide for the
safety of Europe. They severely censured both the sub-
stance of the now obsolete partition-treaties and the clan-
destine manner in which those treaties had been arranged.
Yet it was certain that the King had not exceeded his
constitutional powers ; and it was ridiculous for men, who
for the sake of peace were acquiescing in the absorption
by Louis of the whole Spanish monarchy, to complain
that schemes, deliberately framed in the interests of peace,
had assigned too large a share to France. The object of
the majority was merely factious. They wanted to dis-
credit the last Whig ministry, and they intended to impeach
it. They discovered that the Tory Jersey had been deeply
concerned in the business of the partition- treaties, and that
the Tory Marlborough was one of those who had been
consulted. Yet they selected the four Whigs, Portland,
Halifax, Orford, and Somers for impeachment, and ignored
the rest. By this procedure they stultified themselves,

^ Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland (1790), vol, iii.,
book ix., p. 212.



40 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUCxH

and exposed the vindictive nature of their aims. The two
Houses quarrelled as to the time and mode of the trial.
The Commons failed to appear, and a majority of the Lords
acquitted the accused. A minority, siding with the Com-
mons, protested vigorously. With this minority Marl-
borough voted. Both Wolseley and Coxe express regret
and astonishment that one, so opposed to partisan excesses,
should have identified himself with this factious cause.
They also assume that his conduct must have been dis-
pleasing to William, whose favour he was anxious to retain.
And they point out that two of the accused, Halifax and
Orford, were his friends. But if Halifax and Orford were
his friends, Portland was his enemy. And Marlborough
may also have resented the attempt of the late ministry
to involve him in their responsibility. In any case it is
unsafe to assume that his vote was displeasing to the King.
William cared nothing for either Whigs or Tories. But he
was obliged to placate one party or the other, if supplies
were to be obtained. At the moment he was trying to
placate the Tories. It may well have been that he desired
his known friends and advisers to vote in accordance with
the wishes of his new ministers and of the predominant
party in the House of Commons.

While the chosen of the people were exhibiting their
stupid and degraded partisanship at Westminster, France
was steadily tightening her grip on Europe. William was
pressed by the Cabinet to follow the example of Holland
and to acknowledge Philip as King of Spain. The Dutch,
in the interests of immediate peace, urged him to accept this
advice. In April he yielded, and dispatched a letter of
congratulation to Philip.

But at last, after its own sullen fashion, the temper of
the English people was beginning to smoulder. Always
deficient in imagination, and always unable to project their
minds into futurity, they are seldom moved by anything
short of accomplished facts. Slowly they were beginning
to realise that France, by a stroke of the pen, was become
mistress of half Europe, and prospective mistress of the rest.
The danger to Holland was now imminent and visible.
And if Holland fell, how long would England stand ? Yet



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 41

this was the moment which the gentlemen of the House of
Commons had selected for an ignoble faction fight. No
wonder the King retired to Hampton Court and appeared
to have abandoned all interest in the country's affairs.
The King, after all, might well have been right from the
beginning; the King understood these matters; if only the
King had been permitted to retain a respectable army,
the liberties of Europe would never have fallen into such
grievous peril. Thus with its habitual and honest incon-
sistency the nation reasoned. But they did more. They
spoke their minds with a loudness and a freedom that were
peculiarly unwelcome to the House of Commons. The men
of Kent sent up a petition, requesting that assembly to drop
domestic brawls and address itself to the nation's business.
The House was furious, and by a tyrannical abuse of its
privileges committed the bearers of the petition to prison.
Passions became more and more inflamed. In the country
it was openly alleged that certain of the Tory majority in
the House were in the pay of France. The circulation of an
extraordinary number of French coins lent colour to the
charge. But the Tories retorted that, if Louis had really
found it worth his while to bribe anybody in England, the
persons selected must have been those ministers who had
concurred in the partition-treaties, which France had so
ardently promoted and by which she stood to gain so much.^
The Speaker, on the other hand, received a singular memorial,
purporting to come from 200,000 Englishmen, and threaten-
ing the Commons with popular vengeance, if they persisted
in sacrificing the public's safety to the malice of partisanship.
" For Englishmen," it concluded, " are no more to be slaves
to Parliaments than to a King — our name is Legion, and we
are many."" The House began to be frightened as well
as angry. But nothing happened. "Legion" was only
Daniel Defoe, who loved a hoax, especially when it conveyed
and emphasised a truth. But the clamour of the consti-
tuencies grew deeper and more menacing. The full signifi-
cance of Philip's succession had come home at last. The
Spanish fortresses were in the occupation of French armies;
the Spanish trade-routes were patrolled by French fleets;

''■ " Tom Double" (1704), p. 21. 2 Defoe, Legion's Memorial (1701).



42 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

the commerce of the Indies and the Levant was declared
by French proclamations to be reserved for France and
Spain. By May the French had drawn defensive lines from
Antwerp to the Meuse, and were drawing others from
Antwerp to Ostend. They had prepared immense magazines,
and were erecting forts under the very noses of the Dutch.
Louis had essayed to inveigle the States-General into a
separate treaty ; but the States-General had taken the dykes,
and had appealed to the English people. And this time
the appeal was not in vain. The Tories in the Commons
awoke to the fatuity of their proceedings. The House re-
solved unanimously " that they would effectually assist His
Majesty to support his allies in maintaining the liberty of
Europe."^ Unanimously also they presented an address
to the effect that " they would be ready on all occasions to
assist him, in supporting such alliances as he should think
fit to make in conjunction with the Emperor and States-
General, for the preservation of the liberties of Europe, the
prosperity and peace of England, and for reducing the
exorbitant power of France."^ And they voted the necessary
supplies, which, as Speaker Harley declared to the King,
" were more than ever were given in a time of peace, to
enable him, when he was abroad, to support his allies, to
procure either a lasting peace, or to preserve the liberties
of Europe by a necessary war."^

Meantime, the question of the succession, which had been
rendered urgent by the Duke of Gloucester's death, had been
duly settled. If William and Anne should both die childless,
the crown was entailed by Act of Parliament on the Protes-
tant branch of the Stuart family, the House of Hanover.
But the Commons had seized this opportunity of restricting
the royal prerogative. The Act declared, for example,
that henceforth no King of England should quit these
islands, or engage in a war in defence of foreign territory,
without the consent of Parliament. It also prohibited the
admission of foreigners to the public service. Such con-
ditions were regarded as a censure upon William's conduct.
But William minded them no more than he minded the
wrangling of the parties and the Houses over the impeach-

1 The Life of King William III. (1705), p. 609. - Ibid., p. 616.

3 Ihid., p. 618.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 43

merit of the four lords. He was satisfied that the order of
the succession had been properly fixed. He was more
than satisfied that addresses so encouraging and supplies
so ample had been voted him at last.

He had watched with pleasure the awakening of public
sentiment in England. But he had not been idle. He had
been secretly encouraging the Emperor to send an army into
Northern Italy. An early success in the field might arouse
the martial spirit of the powers which had formerly been
united in the Grand Alliance. To unite them again for the
greatest conflict, and the last, was now the work to which
he devoted the whole of his rapidly declining strength.
But he recognised that he was no longer equal to the labour
involved. It was necessary to find a man, who would relieve
him of the burden of diplomatic and military preparation.
It was necessary that this man should be an English-born
subject, and, if possible, a Tory. William believed that
Marlborough was incomparably the best soldier and the best
negotiator in the three kingdoms. But these qualifications
alone were not sufficient. The struggle which was coming
would far outlast the King's life. It was therefore desirable
that the man whom he now selected should be one who
could reasonably expect to retain the confidence of his
successor. By nobody was this condition so thoroughly
satisfied as by Marlborough. As Shrewsbury had foreseen,
Marlborough's reversion was " very fair."^ He was
therefore the man marked out by destiny to carry on the
work of William's life. William turned to him without
hesitation. In June, 1701, to the unconcealed disgust of
Ormond and other important personages, the Earl was
appointed Commander of the Forces in Flanders, and also
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the
States of Holland. Never did William exhibit a more
signal proof of greatness. All the evil years of doubt and
suspicion, all the intrigue and jealousy and petty treason
were forgotten. The man whom he had most feared in the
past was the man whom he most trusted for the future.
The power of detecting capacity in others is a rare and
valuable power. But the power of ignoring the extraneous,

^ Shrewsbury, Correspondence (1821), p. 220: The Duke of Shrewsbury
to Admiral Russell, January 29, 1694-5.



44 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

of subordinating the accidental, of suppressing the merely
personal, and of concentrating completely on a single and
sublime aim, is genius.

Marlborough was equipped with ample funds, \\dth the
customary allowance of plate, and with permission to expend
whatever sums he might consider necessary on secret service.
On July I he sailed with William from Margate for the
Hague. In Holland he was little known, except by reputa-
tion; but he was welcomed as the man whom William was
delighted to honour. His presence, and the powers with
which he was clothed, were regarded as a pledge of England's
loyal support in the time of trial. The States-General
assigned him the mansion of Prince Maurice as his official
residence. Here he conducted conferences and received
ambassadors. And here he commenced that multifarious
correspondence with Godolphin, with the Duchess, and with
an ever enlarging circle of princes, statesmen, soldiers,
and diplomatists, both at home and on the continent, which
continued throughout the remainder of his public life, and
which presents to posterity an unrivalled picture of his
character and work.

The immediate business before him was the reconstruction
of the Grand Alliance. So far as France was concerned, he
was empowered to negotiate on the basis of the withdrawal
of the French troops from the Spanish Netherlands, and of
the surrender of Ostend and Nieuport to England, and
Luxembourg, Namur, and Mons to the Dutch. But these
negotiations were not regarded seriously by either side.
Unlike too many of his countrymen both then and now,
Marlborough understood that, in dealing with governments
such as that of Louis XIV, and indeed in dealing with any
governments whatsoever, diplomacy is idle waste of time,
unless it be supported by adequate force. He therefore
devoted the utmost of his energies to the renewal of that
compact which was the only known check to French am-
bition. His task was not an easy one. England, Holland,
and Austria were agreed in thinking that the power of France
was exorbitant, but they were agreed in little else. Holland,
provided she could secure the restoration of her barrier,
and the Emperor if he could obtain the entire Spanish



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 45

Empire for the Archduke Charles, adhered to the principle
of a partition. England was willing to accept any arrange-
ment which would preserve the balance of power and guar-
antee the freedom of trade with the Spanish Indies and the
Levant. It required both time and temper to bring the
three parties to an adjustment, Marlborough's patience
and tact overcame all obstacles. Early in September the
treaty was signed. England and Holland pledged them-
selves to demand compensation for the Emperor. If
Louis proved obdurate, war was to be waged with the full
strength of the three powers, and with the immediate object
of conquering the Spanish dominions in Italy for Austria
and of recovering the Spanish Netherlands " that they may
be a barrier separating the United Provinces from France."
William had been willing to restrict the Emperor's share of
Italy to the Milanese alone; but Marlborough, who under-
stood the value of sea power, and who had recognised the
justice of one of the criticisms passed on the partition-treaties,
insisted that, in no circumstances, should Naples and Sicily
be left to France. And it was Marlborough who, in con-
junction with Heinsius, procured the insertion of a clause
assigning to England and Holland respectively whatever
conquests they could make in the western world. Never-
theless the completed instrument left much to be desired.
It lacked precision, because the divergent interests of the
signatories rendered precision well-nigh impossible. If, for
example, the Spanish Netherlands should be recovered, in
whom would the sovereignty rest? Although the preamble
implied that it would rest in the Archduke, the silence of
the treaty itself upon the point left room for Dutch preten-
sions. For this, and other ambiguities, the allies paid dearly
at a later date.

The question of the number of troops which each of the
allies should furnish had still to be determined. The
negotiations were long and difficult. At length, by a sub-
sidiary treaty, the quotas were fixed at 90,000 Austrians,
10,000 Dutch, and 40,000 English, or troops in English pay.
But the Grand Alliance had other resources. The treaty
was so drawn that other powers could subscribe to it, if
they chose, though not as principals. Marlborough accord-



46 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

ingly approached the King of Denmark, who agreed to
furnish 5,000 men at once, and 20,000 at a later date.

Louis has been censured for permitting his enemies to
organise their forces, when he might have fallen upon them
unprepared. ■*■ It has been contended that he ought never
to have released the Dutch garrisons, and that if he had
followed up that stroke by the seizure of Holland, he would
have held Europe at his mercy. But governments like that
of Louis do not desire war for its own sake. They know
that it is cheaper to win by the threat of war than by war
itself. It is therefore with absolute truth that they always
represent themselves as confirmed lovers of peace. Louis
had got what he wanted without fighting, and he hoped to
retain it without fighting. And he had excellent chances
in his favour — the notorious conflict of interest between
Austria and Holland, the doubtful conduct of the English
Parliament, the probability of William's early decease, and
above all, the imposing aspect of the united forces of France
and Spain. Furthermore, while his former antagonists
were arming and confabulating, his own consummate
diplomacy did not stand idle. It was busily directed to the
prudent purpose of securing the alliance of certain princes,
who, though comparatively feeble in themselves, ruled
over territories, which, at this juncture, possessed a high
strategical value. The Kingdom of Portugal was the only
base from which the enemy could attack Spain by land.
The Duchy of Savoy was indispensable to the maintenance
of communications between France and Italy. The Elec-
torate of Bavaria, astride of the Danube, and seated in the
very heart of the Empire itself, laid bare the road to Vienna.
And the Electorate of Cologne, while it threatened the Dutch
upon their flank, severed the communications of Holland
and England with the Upper Rhine. These four states
constituted four military positions of the first importance.
Their rulers, set between the fleets and armies of the Bour-
bons on the one hand and the inchoate mass of unready and
uncertain powers upon the other, exercised no real freedom
of choice. Intimidation, blended with bribery, made them,
in appearance at any rate, the satellites of France. Their

1 See, for example, Feuquieres, t. ii., cli. liii., pp. 261-267.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 47

adhesion to Louis, by augmenting his military superiority,
still further diminished the probability of war.

In pursuance of the same wise policy Louis endeavoured
to create a diversion in his enemies' rear by courting the
friendship of Charles XII of vSwedcn. This youthful
monarch had recently astonished Europe by his swiit and
sudden triumphs over Denmark, Poland, and Russia, which
had wantonly attacked him. It seemed for the moment
that Gustavus had come again. The allies, who were
counting upon Danish aid, viewed with apprehension the
possibility of a renewal of hostilities between Sweden and
Denmark. They also feared lest Charles should call upon
England for that armed assistance, which in certain even-
tualities she was bound by treaty to provide. Louis was
exerting himself to cajole the Swede and to corrupt his
ministers, when Marlborough intervened. He too spared
neither money nor fine words. And he won the game
Charles, who was jealous of France, and who had good reason
to value the alliance of England, agreed that he would give
no help to Louis. He also agreed that England should
compound in money for the men, whom at this juncture
she could ill have spared.

If Marlborough's diplomacy succeeded, it succeeded in
spite of obstacles, of which the conflict of Dutch and Austrian
interests was only one. In Holland there were men who
still believed in a pacific settlement, and whose existence
encouraged Louis in his efforts to split the Grand Alliance.
In England there were Tory ministers who regarded with
cold suspicion the continental activities of even a Tory
plenipotentiary. Marlborough was continually engaged in
educating his party in the meaning and the necessities of
the European situation. On the other hand, he was com-
pelled to moderate the too impetuous temper of the King.
In opposition to William's wishes, he insisted that all
treaties must be submitted to the Lords Justices in London
for signature, and the numbers of the British contingent
must be regarded as provisional until they should receive
the ratification of Parliament. William, who never under-
stood the English character, was impatient of these delays.
But Marlborough had grasped the supreme importance of



48 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

maintaining good relations between the Crown and the
dominant majority in the Cabinet and the House of Commons.
On the brink of a great war he realised that unity was more



Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 44)