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valuable even than time itself. Yet he knew when to
break his own rules. The treaty with Sweden he signed
upon his own responsibility, because he dared not allow
the impulsive Charles an opportunity of changing his mind.
It is obvious that the position in which Marlborough now
found himself tested to the uttermost his qualities of courage,
discretion, and sagacity. Nor was he free to devote the
whole of his time and energy to the business of diplomacy
alone. All through the summer and autumn the British
troops were steadily arriving. As commander of the forces,
he was bound to supervise the arrangements for their
reception. He was bound also to assist the King in organis-
ing the military establishment of Holland. Recruits must
be clothed, fortresses inspected, reviews held, and every
preparation made to take the field in the highest state of
efficiency for war.

Meantime the policy of William had been materially
advanced by good news from Northern Italy. Here a
French army under Catinat had occupied the fortresses,
and set a watch upon the passes of the Tyrol on the side of
Verona. In May the Emperor assembled 30,000 men at
Roveredo, and placed them under the command of Eugene of
Savoy, the conqueror of the Turks. Instead of descending
where the French expected him, Eugene struck south-east
in the direction of Vicenza, and after a long and arduous
march came down into the territories of Venice. He
encountered no resistance, the same judicious policy which
had led Louis to release the Dutch garrisons having led
him also to respect Venetian neutrality. Arrived upon
level ground, Eugene swept all before him. Deceiving
Catinat by skilful movements, he passed the Adige, beat the
French at Chiari and Carpi, and drove them over the Mincio
and Oglio. Catinat was superseded by the far less com-
petent Villeroi, who rashly attacked the Austrians in their
entrenched camp at Chiari, and was repulsed with a loss of
over 2,000 men Eugene established himself firmly in
Mantuan territory. Inferior in numbers, and operating



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 49

without any base, he had nothing in his favour save the
sympathy of the ItaUan population and his own genius.
The spectacle of his rapid triumph had a salutary effect
throughout Europe, It showed the waverers that the might
of France was vulnerable, and that Austria had still the
power to strike. On Prussia and Denmark and certain of
the German princes the lesson was by no means thrown away.

In common with all great men who have achieved great
success, Louis XIV made mistakes. Even since the death
of Charles II of Spain he had made no fewer than tlirec.
It was a mistake, in accepting the crown for his grandson,
to reserve the rights of Philip to the throne of France.
It was a mistake to seize the ' Dutch Barrier ' and to flood
the Spanish Netherlands with French troops. And it was a
mistake to advertise his design of excluding Dutch and
English shipping from the Mediterranean and the Indies,
These things were mistakes, because right policy demanded
that he should lull Europe into a false security, and not alarm
her by a premature and arrogant display of the power which
he intended to abuse. But they were trivial errors in com-
parison wth the gigantic blunder which he now committed.

On September 17, 1701, James II of England died
at St. Germain. By a clause in the treaty of Ryswick
Louis was pledged to render no assistance to the enemies
of William's title. But now, in a moment of proud and
chivalrous compassion, he caused " the pretended Prince
of Wales," the boy who quartered the lilies of France upon
his arms, to be proclaimed King of England on French soil,
by French heralds, and to the fanfares of French trumpets.
Every French heart was touched by the pathos and the
magnanimity of the deed. When the news was brought to
William at Loo, where he sat at table with some German
princes, he flushed deeply, and pulled his hat low down upon
his brows. The insult stung; but there was balm in the
wound. At last his antagonist had played into his hand.
Little as William understood his subjects, he had lived
with them enough and suffered from them enough to see
at a glance that Louis had done what the English would never
forgive. His own immediate duty was plain. He instructed
the Earl of Manchester to quit Paris forthwith. He directed
I. 4



50 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

the Lords Justices to expel the French ambassador. Then
he quietly waited.

He was not disappointed. England was roused at last.
Even those who had remained unmoved by the spectacle
of violated faith and threatened commerce were profoundly
stirred by the proclamation of James III on French soil.
Even those who had regarded * the balance of power ' as
a tiresome abstraction, and the menace of a French hege-
mony of Europe as a figment of interested panic-mongers,
could not endure that the ancient monarchy of England
should become a part of the patronage of the House of
Bourbon. The nation which had repudiated ' the Bishop
of Rome ' trembled with fury at the thought of a suzerain
at Versailles. The nation which had long been notorious
for its unreasoning dislike of foreigners was all aflame at the
intervention of a foreign potentate in its domestic affairs.
The fact that Louis' action had the warm approval of his
subjects was in English eyes an aggravation. That the
French of all peoples should affect to pose as the champions
of distressed monarchy appeared to Englishmen to be
preposterous. Neither the French public nor the French
Court had any respectable qualifications for the part.
For a century and a half the French had made war upon their
kings. Huguenots, Leaguers, Frondists, nobles, church-
men, magistrates, and rabble, the whole race had lived for
generations on sedition and rebellion. Two sovereigns of
France had been assassinated in the streets of their own
capital with the approval of vast multitudes of their own
subjects. And as for the Court, within the memory of
living Englishmen it had permitted a daughter of Henry
of Navarre to starve in squalor at Paris; it had expelled a
King of England at the bidding of the usurper, Cromwell ; it
had contracted an offensive alhance with that same usurper,
who was not even, like William of Orange, of the blood royal ;
and it had put on mourning at his death, and advertised its
grief to all Europe. That France, with such a record,
should undertake to give lessons to England on the duty of
loyalty, was at once ridiculous and intolerable. But in
truth, nobody in England, outside the circle of the Jacobites,
believed in the magnanimous and quixotic character of



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 51

Louis' action. Both Whigs and Tories regarded it as ahi
attempt by a secular power to revive in its own favour the
temporal claims of the Papacy. Henceforth the King of
France was to make and unmake the kings of Europe.
There were many Tories, who would have welcomed " the
pretended Prince of Whales," had he thrown himself upon
their loyalty. But at Louis' dictation no Tory would accept
him for a King. At Louis' dictation no Tory would have
accepted the Angel Gabriel himself. From all parts of the
kingdom addresses poured in upon the Lords Justices,
Some of them were couched in language of extreme violence.
Some of them suggested that, if His Majesty would only
dissolve Parliament, the country would know how to choose
representatives that would be careful of its honour and its
safety. All of them proclaimed the indignation and
resentment of the English people.

Louis was astonished, and perhaps honestly, at the fury
of the tempest which he had raised. He endeavoured to
explain that his recognition of the Pretender amounted to
nothing, William received his advances with contemp-
tuous silence. The affront to his own dignity he might have
overlooked. But high policy required him to treat the
insult to the nation as unpardonable. The game was now
in his own hands. Every mail from England brought him
fresh proofs that he had the people at his back. And now
Sunderland, whose opinion he had always valued, began to
urge him to dismiss his Tory ministers, Heinsius offered
him the same advice, Marlborough, who was not consulted,
was aware of the intrigue and did what he could to frustrate
it. He induced Godolphin, who had taken the alarm and
wanted to resign, to continue still in office. He took every
opportunity of impressing upon William the expediency of
trusting the Tories, And he even ventured to suggest that,
if the Whigs were recalled, his own situation might become
untenable. The King listened; but his mind was virtually
made up. He could not resist the temptation to select a
new Cabinet and to summon a new Parliament, That such
a Cabinet and such a Parliament would vigorously support
the policy of the Grand Alliance could hardly be doubted.
Once and for all both France and Europe would be disabu.sed



52 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

of the notion that England, though unready, was afraid to
fight. These were grave considerations. It is not to be
supposed that Marlborough was bHnd to them. Still less
was he actuated by the zeal of the partisan. But in know-
ledge of his countrymen he had the advantage of both
William and Heinsius, and in length of vision he was very
superior to Sunderland. He knew that the sentiment
of a clear majority of the nation was permanently Tory.
He knew that a vast and protracted conflict by land and sea
could only be properly conducted by a government that was
supported by an undivided people. Whatever ministers
were in office, the W^iigs would enthusiastically favour a
war with France. But if the Tories were excluded from
power, sooner or later the Tory voters, who were also the
largest taxpayers, would weary of the struggle, and would
clamour for a premature peace. National unanimity, as
the one reliable foundation for national war, was Marl-
borough's aim. And national unanimity could not be
preserved throughout a lengthy period of hostiUties, unless
the King confided the administration to a Cabinet
in which the chiefs of the Tory party held a distinct
predominance.

But William was determined to reap the immediate
benefit of Louis' folly. Illness and adverse winds detained
him in Holland till the beginning of November. Then he
sailed; and England accorded him a rapturous welcome.
Marlborough, whom he left behind, ostensibly to complete
the work of negotiation, but in reality because the Earl was
opposed to a change of government, waited anxiously for
news. It soon came. Godolphin had resigned. Parlia-
ment was dissolved. For a second time within twelve
months the country was on the eve of a general election.
Deeply depressed by the adoption of a policy for which
he anticipated no permanent success, Marlborough returned
home. The contest in the country was waged with excessive
bitterness on both sides. Old Evelyn, now in his eighty-
second year, noted in his diary for December that there
were "great contentions about elections."^ Greater indeed
have seldom been seen. But those who had foretold an

' Evelyn's Diary, December, 1701.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 53

overwhelming triumph for the Whigs were disappointed.
The Whig minority was much increased; but it was still a
minority. And when Parliament met at the end of December,
by a majority of fourteen votes the Tory Harley was once
more elected Speaker of the House of Commons. Yet the
character of the House was entirel}^ changed. All Jacobites,
all secret and corrupted friends of France, and several of
the more fanatical Tories, had disappeared. And the whole
assembly, without distinction of party, was pledged to
support the foreign policy of William. The spirit of Parlia-
ment and of the nation was well expressed in the instructions
given by the City of London to its members, who were
enjoined to assist His Majesty " to make good his alliances,
and in conjunction with liis allies, so to reduce the French
King, that it might be no longer in his power to oppress
and disturb the rest of Europe. "■■■

William regarded himself as a dying man. That winter
he told Portland in confidence that he did not expect to see
another summer. When Parliament met, he addressed
them in a speech, of which it has been truly said that it
" was, as it were. His Majesty's last legacy to Britain."^

He began with a clear exposition of the case against
France :

" My Lords and Gentlemen,

"By the French King's placing his grandson
on the throne of Spain, he is in a condition to oppress
the rest of Europe, unless speedy and effectual measures
be taken. Under this pretence he is become the real
master of the whole Spanish monarchy; he has made
it to be entirely depending on France, and disposes of
it as of his own dominions, and by that means he has
surrounded his neighbours in such a manner that the
name of peace may be said to continue, yet they are
put to the expense and inconvenience of a war.

" This must affect England in the nearest and most
sensible manner: in respect to our trade, which will
soon become precarious in all the valuable branches of
it; in respect to our peace and safety at home, which
we cannot hope should long continue; and in respect

' The Life of King William III., p. 632. - Ibid,, p. 635



54 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

to that part which England ought to take in the
preservation of the liberty of Europe.

" In order to obviate the general calamity, with
which the rest of Christendom is threatened by this
exorbitant power of France, I have concluded several
alliances according to encouragement given me by both
Houses of Parliament, which I will direct shall be laid
before you, and which, I do not doubt, you will enable
me to make good."

Thus, having stated the grounds for action, he pro-
ceeded to emphasise its urgency :

"It is fit, I should tell you, the eyes of all Europe
are upon this Parliament, all matters are at a stand,
till your resolutions are known, and therefore no time
ought to be lost,

" You have yet an opportunity, by God's blessing,
to secure to you and your posterity, the quiet enjoyment
of your religion and liberties, if you are not wanting to
yourselves, but will exert the ancient vigour of the
English nation; but I tell you plainly, my opinion is,
if you do not lay hold on this occasion, you have no
reason to hope for another."

And he concluded with an appeal for that unity, which
is vital to the proper conduct of a great war :

" I hope you are come together determined to avoid
all manner of disputes and differences, and resolved
to act with a general and hearty concurrence for pro-
moting the common cause, which alone can make this
a happy session.

" I should think it as great a blessing as could befall
England, if I could observe you as much inclined to
lay aside those unhappy, fatal animosities which divide
and weaken you, as I am disposed to make all my
subjects safe and easy as to any, even the highest
offences committed against me.

" Let me conjure you to disappoint the only hopes
of our enemies by your unanimity. I have shown,
and will always show, how desirous I am to be the
common Father of all my people ; do you in like manner



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 55

lay aside parties and divisions; let there be no other
distinction heard of among us for the future, but of
those who are for the Protestant Religion and the
present Establishment, and of those who mean a Popish
Prince and a French Government."-''

" This speech," says Dalrymple, " was translated and
pubHshed in every country of Europe, and roused princes
and states, some by their policy, some by their religion,
but all by their sentiment, like the sound of a trumpet,
against France."^ The impression produced by language
so direct, so spirited, and so pathetic on those who
actually heard it, can easily be imagined. All the treaties
were at once approved. A levy of 40,000 soldiers was voted ;
and 40,000 seamen were ordered for the fleet. In spite of
the resistance of the extreme Tories, a Bill of Attainder
against the Pretender, and a Bill of Abjuration, were quickly
carried. But on February 20 William was thrown from
his horse at Hampton Court, and broke his collar-bone.
The shock was greater than his enfeebled frame could bear.
Fever set in; and by the first week in March he was seen
by all men to be dying. Fearless as ever for himself, he
thought of nothing now save the work which he must leave
unfinished. He thought of the weakness of the little island
of Britain with its divided peoples and its separate Parlia-
ments; and his last message to the Commons was a plea
for that corporate communion which would consolidate the
resources of England and Scotland in the face of the foe.
And he thought above all of the man whom he had chosen
to take up the burden which he himself was putting off;
and with his failing breath he commended the Earl of Marl-
borough to the Princess Anne "as the fittest person in all her
dominions to conduct her armies and to preside in her
councils, as being a man of a cool head and a warm heart,
proper to encounter the genius of France, suppressing her
designs of swallowing all Europe."^ Of all the wrong
which he conceived that Marlborough had done him, he
remembered nothing now. He remembered only the still

1 Boyer, The History of Wilham III. (1702), vol. iii., p. 505.

2 Dalrymple, part iii., p. 235.

3 Lediard, Life of the Duke of Marlbovough (1736), vol. i., p. 136.



56 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

unaccomplished purpose of his own life ; he considered only
its ultimate fulfilment. Truly William was of those, who,
as they pass down into the shadows, do but fix their eyes
more firmly on the stars.

On March 8 he died. He was only fifty-two; but he was
worn out with ceaseless toil. He had given his life for the
liberties of Europe. And the words of Captain Shandy should
be carved upon his tomb — " Brave, brave, by Heaven !"^

Thus he passed; and Whiggery and Liberalism have
exalted his name for ever. They could hardlj^ have selected
a more singular idol, not even excepting Oliver Cromwell
himself. A soldier by instinct, an aristocrat by tempera-
ment, an architect of empire by deliberate choice, he had
little enough in common with their theories and ideals.
By accident alone he figured as the champion of Protes-
tantism and of Parliamentary rule. But those were not
the causes which swayed his passions and controlled his
life. To him they were not motives but merely opportunities.
Yet England's debt to him is indeed immense. He was one
of the greatest of her foreign ministers. From him she
first derived a just appreciation of her place in Europe
and a correct understanding of the course she ought to steer
in the unfamiliar sea of international politics. This was his
bequest to the English people, this — and Marlborough.

A gigantic conflict was now seen to be inevitable. All
Europe now realised the magnitude of the peril. The nations
realised it not less than the princes, A late, and a more
sheltered posterity has lectured them, and scolded them,
and explained to them how, if only they had understood it,
their strength was " to sit still." But they, in their per-
versity, believed that at a certain point the aggrandisement
of a single state ceases to be compatible with the indepen-
dence of its neighbours. They believed that, when tLat
point is reached, the law of self-preservation, to say nothing
of the principle of self-respect, requires that those neighbours
should combine for their own defence. And they believed
that the French monarchy had long since passed the point in
question. This, and nothing else, was the real meaning of
the so-called War of the Spanish Succession. This had been
^ Stcme, Tnsiram Shandy, ch. xix.



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 57

the meaning of the wars of the preceding twenty-five years.
And this, a century later, was the meaning of the struggle
which began in the year of Valmy and culminated in the
year of Waterloo. The same issue is destined to be raised
once more, as soon as ever the new Empire of Germany
shall have completed those scientific and systematic prepara-
tions which, with a cynical disregard of all concealment,
she has long been conducting in the face of Europe.

Only a superficial or a dishonest student could represent
the War of the Spanish Succession as a ' dynastic war.'
When Peterborough sarcastically enquired whether it were
worth while for great nations to fight for " such a pair of
louts " as Charles and Philip, he was well aware that great
nations did not fight in causes of that character. It was
neither for this prince nor for that prince that the states of
Europe drew the sword, but solely for their own liberties.
For at last the scales had fallen from every eye. " We
esteem it," said the House of Lords in an address to William
two months before his death, " we esteem it a further good
fortune in this time of public danger that the French King
has taken those measures, which will make it impossible for
him to impose any more upon the world by treaties, so often
violated; neither can he hope any longer to cover his am-
bitious designs, or justify his usurpations, under the specious
pretensions of peace. "^ Not all the smug philosophy of the
nineteenth century, nor of the twentieth, can alter the
fact that the true significance of ' the exorbitant power of
France ' was very well understood by those who had been
spectators of its growth and sufferers from its activities.

It was however so complex and so vast a structure that
only by careful analysis can the modern student obtain a
clear comprehension of its real character. Its elements
at the time of William's death were four. The first, and the
greatest, was France herself, the second was the control
obtained by France over the Spanish Empire, the third
was the system of alliances which France had created in
Europe, and the fourth and the most immediately menacing
was the strategical situation which resulted from the com-
bination of the other three.

^ Journals of the House oj Lords, vol. xvii.



58 THE WARS OF MARLBOROUGH

Fiance herself possessed a population of twenty millions.
Her soil was fertile, her industries had been greatly developed,
her administration was highly organised. In that unity,
which a resolute and centralised government confers, she
enjoyed a great advantage over the rest of Europe. Both
her rulers and her people cherished inordinate ambitions,
which they promoted by a tireless diplomacy as able as it
was unscrupulous. And this diplomacy was backed by a
fleet, which had not been afraid to encounter the navy of
England, and by an army of 200,000 men, strong in the
accumulated prestige of more than half a century of victory.

The acceptance by the Spanish people of a French prince
for King of Spain virtually placed at the disposal of the
French monarchy the financial and military resources of the
Spanish Empire. These resources were far less than they
had been, and infinitely less than they ought to have been.
But they were latent and undeveloped rather than extinct.
And they included strategical positions of immense value.
They included the taxable capacity of the Spanish Nether-
lands, and the fighting capacity of troops, which, whatever
they had now become, had been, within the memory of
men still living, the most redoubtable in Europe. Such
as the Spanish Empire was, it had hitherto been found upon
the side of the coalised powers. Its transference to France
' counted two upon a division,' and constituted, without
any other reason, a sufficient ground for hostilities.

By the judicious employment of bribery and intimidation
France had secured the alliance of the King of Portugal, the
Duke of Savoy, and the Electors of Bavaria and Cologne.
The combined armies of these princes, amounting to more
than 70,000 men, made up a respectable addition to the
total of the forces at the call of the French government.
The Duke of Savoy and the Elector of Bavaria were generals
of some reputation; and the soldiers of both were of excellent
quality. But these allies derived their main importance
from the geographical situation of their territories.

The strategical advantage which the French monarchy
had now acquired in Europe was in fact the true and ulti-
mate expression of " the exorbitant power of France."
As against the armed forces of European coalitions, the



THE EXORBITANT POWER OF FRANCE 59

French have always the advantage which attaches to the
possession of interior lines. In war the combination of



Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 44)