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Godolphin seems singular enough. But at that epoch the
constitution had by no means attained its present form.
The doctrine of ministerial responsibility was indeed
established; but the rule that ministers must be all of one
political complexion, and must be selected from the party
which for the time being controls a majority in the House
of Commons, was not. In 1702 it was still possible to hold
that the Crown has the right to criticise at all times the
services of its ablest subjects without any regard to the
party label by which they may happen to be designated.
It was still permissible to think that, the King being King
of England and not of a faction, the non-partisan character
of his office should be reflected in the composition of his
government. These views were strongly held by William,
whom the Whigs regarded as their own property, and by
Anne, whom the Tories regarded as theirs. They were held
by such Tories as Marlborough and Godolphin and by such
Whigs as Shrewsbury. But they were bitterly opposed by
Tories like Rochester and by Whigs like Marlborough's
wife. Modern pohticians would be at a loss to understand
them. For the essence of the English party system, as
fully developed, is the homogeneity of the Cabinet. In
1702, however, a homogeneous administration, while it was
regarded as an alternative, was considered by many to be
open to manifest and grave objections. How, it was asked,
would any true friend of monarchy recommend a plan
which restricted the Sovereign in the choice of his servants,
and which tended, moreover, in the direction of oligarchy ?
And how, it was also asked, could any sincere lover of liberty
advocate an arrangepient which subjected one half of the
nation to the tyranny of the other half ? Surely, it was
contended, the better way is that by which neither party
is left without some representatives among the advisers
of the Crown. Queen Anne, herself a Stuart, who combined
high notions of the kingly office with a conscientious concep-
tion of her duty to her people as a whole, naturally favoured
a mixed administration. Marlborough took the same line.


His mind rebelled, as the minds of all thinking men are still
naturally prone to rebel, against the absurdities, the
hypocrisies, and the humiliations of a rigid party system.
As a stanch supporter of the monarchy, the son and grand-
son of Cavaliers who had suffered for the royal cause, he
disliked any plan which facilitated encroachment on the
royal prerogative. But above all, as a soldier, he detested
the idea of conducting a campaign in the name of a faction.
War, and war on a gigantic scale, was to be the prime
business of the new reign. The party system, as we know
it, has been found the most practicable, if not the only
system for a time of peace. But in the day of battle it is
always seen at its weakest and its worst. England was
about to take a hand in a continental conflict of stupendous
magnitude. If a good understanding was to be maintained
among the allies, and if a vigorous and enterprising foe
was to be completely overthrown, it seemed to Marlborough
that national unity, or at least a fair appearance of it, was
a consideration of paramount importance.

Thus it came about that, just as William's first ministry
had consisted of Whigs with an admixture of Tories, so
Anne's consisted of Tories with an admixture of Whigs.
Marlborough and Godolphin, who by instinct and conviction
were not politicians at all, but servants of the State, were
eminently fitted for the leadership of a government consti-
tuted upon this basis. But they were not unaware of the
difficulty of the task which they had undertaken. William
had attempted it, and not always with success. It could
only be achieved by introducing into the Cabinet and the
House of Commons as many men as possible of their own
political temperament, and by scrupulously adhering to
a domestic policy not open to the reproach of violence
or vindictiveness. Several circumstances assisted them
greatly towards the attainment of their end. During the
late reign so many men had notoriously changed sides or had
consented to co-operate in the King's service with colleagues
whose principles they abhorred that the sharpness of party
distinctions had been somewhat obliterated. Then, too,
some seats in the House of Commons were at that epoch
virtually in the gift of the Crown and could be filled mth


representatives who were the nominees and the dependents
of the government of the day. Moreover, the growing sense
of pubHc danger, which the seizure of the barrier fortresses
and the insulting proclamation of the Pretender had enor-
mously fomented, fostered a sentiment of national unity,
which the progress of hostilities might reasonably be ex-
pected to deepen and confirm. It is obvious that a mixed
administration has better chances of success in time of war
than in time of peace. " Lord Godolphin and Lord Marl-
borough," says Dairy mple, " who were wise and moderate
men, found it easy to form a great party in the nation as well
as in Parliament, consisting of moderate Whigs andmoderate
Tories, who met each other halfway on principles, and the
whole way on the measures which the Queen should pursue
in foreign politics."'^ These statesmen recognised that
the conflict with France would smooth the path for such a
government as theirs; but they also firmly believed that
only by such a government as theirs could the conflict with
France be carried to a successful issue. Precisely as the
greatest of a nation's servants, the monarch, ought to re-
present the whole nation and not a fragment of it, so, as
they justly reasoned, the highest of a nation's acts, which
is war, can only be properly executed by an undivided and
unanimous people.^

In the country at large, the new government could rely
upon the support of a considerable number of persons who
were attached to no party, or whose party connections were
of the frailest. But among the recognised leaders of Whigs
and Tories it was none too easy to discover a sufficiency of
men of a moderate and conciliatory temper to fill the high
offices of State as Marlborough and Godolphin would have
wished them to be filled. Partisans so bigoted and im-
practicable as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or so vehement
and vindictive as the Mistress of the Robes, were a menace
to the chances of any ministry constituted, as this was, in
the interest of domestic unity. It is therefore no matter
for surprise that some dissensions should have begun from
the very outset.

^ Dalrymple's Memoirs, vol. iii., p. 246.

2 See Spenser Wilkinson, Britain at Bay. Claiisewitz, On War, especially
book iii., ch. xvii.


The Queen's advisers were agreed that she should make
war on France, but they were not agreed as to how and
where she should make it. On these points Rochester,
who was not exactly a qualified strategist, put forward some
extraordinary opinions which brought him at once into con-
flict ^vith Marlborough. These opinions, which were enter-
tained by a number of Englishmen, most, though not all, of
whom were Tories, originated less in party prejudice than
in sheer ignorance. In 1702 the nation as a whole knew
next to nothing of war. It is not for us, their descendants,
to censure them severely. Notwithstanding all the ex-
perience, glorious and inglorious, of the last two hundred
years, the statesmen and the voters of to-day are not
much better informed upon this vital topic than were the
contemporaries of Marlborough. Nobody expects that the
average civilian should be versed in the technical details of the
military profession. But every people which claims to govern
itself is morally bound, if it values its national independence,
to arrive at a correct understanding of the strategical
factors which should govern its action in the event of war.

The ideas of Rochester, and those for whom he spoke,
could be reduced to four propositions, which, taken together,
constituted a rare collection of premises that were half
true and conclusions that were fallacious. The first pro-
position was that, England's interest in the war being much
inferior to that of Holland or the Empire, England ought to
participate as an auxiliary and not as a principal. But
all three powers had the same high interest in the war, the
maintenance of ' the balance of power.' To say that, because
the French armies were already on the frontiers of the Empire
and the United Provinces, but had not yet entered Vienna
and the Hague, therefore England was only indirectly
concerned, was to argue in the manner of the householder
who takes but a languid interest in the extinction of the
conflagration until the adjacent building to his own is
actually in flames.

The second proposition was that, England being the
foremost naval power in Europe, she ought to devote the
best of her energies to the destruction of the maritime trade
of France and Spain, and to the acquisition of their posses-


sions and resources beyond the seas. These objects were
certainly desirable in themselves; and had the War of the
Spanish Succession been nothing better than a game of
grab, they were the proper objects for England to pursue.
But the war was a life-and-death struggle for the indepen-
dence of the European states. So far as could be judged at
the opening of hostilities the fleet would be needed in Europe
to keep the seas for the passage of troops, to facilitate
diversions, and to exert a steady pressure on the enemy in
the Mediterranean. The colonies of France and Spain were
valuable properties; but if, while England was annexing
them, France was annexing Europe, they would be useless
except as a retreat for the British race when, as would
speedily ensue, these islands became an appanage of the
Bourbon crown. This mercantile conception of warfare is
an inveterate and pernicious delusion of the English people.
A numerous, martial and aggressive nation, such as the
French were under Louis XIV, such as they were under
Napoleon I, and suc^i as the Germans are to-day, can never
be humbled merely by the loss of its colonies or the de-
struction of its sea-borne trade.

The third proposition was that, the land forces of England
being required for the defence of these islands and for
expeditions to America, they ought not to be employed in
operations on the continent of Europe. It was, however,
allowed that a " small force " must be assigned to the defence
of Holland. Of course, if the armies of England's allies
were sufficient to overwhelm France, this contention might
have been sound, though in that case the dispatch of even a
" small force " to Holland would have been superfluous.
But all the information available suggested that these allies
were not even capable of defending their own territories
from invasion. That such was indeed the fact, subsequent
events showed only too clearly. In the known circumstances,
the only true defence of England was to throw the whole of
her military strength into the continental struggle. To
have retained her army at home and to have frittered it
away on expeditions to America, until such time as the
Bourbons had conquered the mainland and were ready to
pass the Channel, would have been national suicide.


The fourth proposition was that, if the government was
determined to send soldiers to the continent, it ought to send
them to Spain, seeing that the war was about Spain, and not
to that old manoeuvring ground of William's, the Spanish
Netherlands. Obviously the Spanish Netherlands were a
very undesirable theatre of operations, studded as they
were with powerful fortresses. But the alternative was not
necessarily Spain. Moreover, the assumption that the war
was " about Spain " was incorrect. The war was not more
about Spain than it was about the Milanese or the Brazils
or the fortresses of Flanders. And even if the war had been
" about Spain," the deduction that the fighting ought
therefore to be in Spain was invalid.

It is impossible to examine the issues raised by Rochester
without realising how indissoluble is the bond between policy
and war. The strategy of Rochester was vitiated throughout
by political ignorance and political prejudice. He was not
the only Tory or the only Englishman who had much to
learn. So great a statesman as Bolingbroke, writing in
after life of the concluding years of William's reign, used
these words: " I have sometimes considered . . , what I
should have done if I had sat in Parliament at that time,
and have been forced to own to myself that I should have
voted for disbanding the army then, as I voted in the
following Parliament for censuring the Partition Treaties.
... I am forced to own this, because I remember how
imperfect my notions were of the situation of Europe in that
extraordinary crisis, and how much I saw the influence of my
country in a half-light.'"'^ As Bolingbroke confesses that
he was then, so assuredly was Rochester. Marlborough
himself, despite the illumination which he derived from
his professional training, had not always been greatly wiser
than they. He owed his education in large measure to
William. Close contact with events themselves had com-
pleted it. He had now to educate his party.

Louis proposed to remain on the defensive, that vigilant
defensive which seizes on the first mistake of the assailant
as an opportunity for a counter-attack. With his vast and
confident armies, with the central situation which he had

^ Letters on the Study and Use of History : Henry St. John, Lord
Bolingbroke {1779), letter viii.


always held, and the commanding positions which his grand-
son had enabled him to occupy, he did not anticipate defeat.
At the worst, he looked forward to a protracted struggle.
But, if the decision were long delayed, jealousies and dis-
sensions would probably appear among the allies, would
impair their energies, and eventually dissolve their com-
bination. To such a result nothing would contribute more
strongly than the pursuit by each member of the coalition
of his own immediate gain without regard to the one com-
mon and ultimate interest of the whole body, the reduction
of the exorbitant power of France. For England the temp-
tation to devote her whole strength to the acquisition of
territories in the New World was very great. But Marl-
borough, with the insight of the real strategist, resisted
it on grounds of war and policy alike. He knew that
dispersion of forces was dangerous in the military sense,
divergency of aims in the political one. He knew that in
any event time is never on the side of coalitions. They,
of all combatants, ought to aim swiftly, and with concen-
trated force, at the decisive point. In this war, as in all
wars against the French, that point was Paris.

Marlborough had not learned from Turenne himself
how to defend France without learning also how to attack
her. There were five roads to Paris — by the Spanish Nether-
lands, by Lorraine, by Alsace, by the Riviera, and by the
Pyrenees. Of these five the last two were the worst, by
reason of their remoteness from the objective on the one
hand, and from the territories of the coalition on the other.
The first was the shortest and the most convenient ; but it
was guarded by a triple barrier of fortresses which could
not be taken without immense expenditure of time and
lives. There remained only the second and third. For
Austria the way through Alsace was the quickest and the
best. But for the coalition as a whole, Lorraine was the
true gate of France. It would be necessary for a Dutch
contingent to protect the United Provinces against the
garrisons of the Spanish Netherlands, and for an Imperialist
one to hold the north of Italy against any attempt to threaten
Vienna through the passes of the Tyrol. A second Im-
perialist contingent would be stationed on the Upper Rhine


to cover the communications of the invading army against
a flanking movement from Alsace. But these dispositions
having once been made, the combined forces of England,
Holland, Prussia, Denmark, Hanover, and Hesse, assem-
bling at Coblenz and advancing up the valley of the Moselle,
might march to Paris in a couple of campaigns, provided only
that it had capable leadership and some numerical superi-
ority. To the attainment of this last condition it would
be the function of the combined fleets to contribute. By
threatening descents upon the coasts of France and Spain,
by intimidating Portugal and Savoy, and by aiding and
encouraging both Catalans and Camisards, they could
compel Louis to move large detachments from the decisive

Such, in outline, was Marlborough's conception of the
strategy which would most probably bring low "the exorbi-
tant power of France." Like all great strategy, it was dis-
tinguished by simplicity of design, by unity of purpose,
and by concentration of resources.

But the invasion of France by the valley of the Moselle
could not be undertaken until the French had been first
expelled from the angle which is formed by the Meuse and
the Rhine. So long as the Rhine from its confluence with
the Moselle to the Dutch frontier was in the enemy's hands,
Coblenz could not be utilised as a base of operations for the
allied armies. Moreover, for the sake of the immediate
safety of the United Provinces, Louis must be forced to
abandon his hold upon this waterway, as also upon
the Meuse at least as far as Liege. This essential but
preliminary work Marlborough desired to accomplish
without unnecessary delay. He therefore proposed that
the Dutch and English forces should take the offensive in
this quarter immediately and with the utmost of their
strength. This was the plan which brought him into
collision with Rochester.

Marlborough's influence prevailed against that of the
Queen's uncle, whom everybody knew to be a politician
with a grievance. Most of the Tories and all the Whigs
concurred in the opinion that Marlborough should be given
a free hand, the Tories chiefly because he was a Tory, and


the Whigs because, although he was a Tory, he was treading
in the footsteps of William. Few politicians upon either
side could lay claim to an enlightened comprehension of
the strategical issues. The Whig view was simple, if some-
what crude. The King of France declined to tolerate
Calvinism among his subjects; he declined to recognise
the divine origin of Locke's theory of government; he
extended hospitality to the family of James Stuart. On
these grounds alone, to say nothing of the growth of ' the
balance of power,' he ought to be exterminated in the
interest of civilisation, or, what was the same thing, universal
Whiggery. William, the grand exterminator, had gone to
work upon the continent ; and now that he was unhappily
removed from the scene of his labours, any competent
successor who was prepared to go and do likewise deserved
the support of all true Whigs. The attitude of the Tories,
on the other hand, was as subtle as it was unconsciously
amusing. In their opinion the Dutch were a race of huck-
sters and stock-jobbers; they were Puritans in religion
and Republicans in politics; they had done their utmost
in the time of Cromwell and Charles II to destroy the navy
and the commerce of England, but they had failed; they
had revenged themselves by sending that unlamented
monarch, William, into these islands to enrich his foreign
favourites with British land and British offices, and to
squander British blood and British treasure in the Nether-
lands, solely for the aggrandisement of the United Pro-
vinces. But, after all, ' the exorbitant power of France '
had an ugly look, especially when it claimed to appoint
monarchs to reign over these islands. The necessit}^ of a
war was not to be denied, and if the Queen and the general
(both of whom were English and both Tories) considered
that it could best be waged upon the continent, and even in
the Netherlands, there was no good reason why loyal Tories
should go out of their way to raise objections.

A naval expedition against the port of Cadiz, to be under-
taken by the combined navies of England and Holland,
had been arranged by the late King shortly before his
decease. The new government, acting on the advice of
Marlborough, adopted the plan. Fifty sail of the line,


thirty of which were EngHsh under Admiral Sir George
Rooke, made ready for this service. The expeditionary
force numbered 14,000, 10,000 of whom were British under
the Duke of Ormond. Both these offtcers were well-
known, and popular Tories, And Cadiz was the naval
arsenal of Spain and the centre of her West Indian
commerce. The Queen anticipated that these considerations
would conciliate Rochester; but she was disappointed.
He merely observed that it was " a plan to have two land
wars instead of one," and that " the capture of Cadiz was
no attack upon the trade or settlements of France or

On May 15 the Queen set her hand to a formal declara-
tion of war against Louis and his grandson. The text of
the document had been previously discussed before Her
Majesty in Council, when the opinion that England ought
not to engage herself in the capacity of a principal had been
duly urged. But Marlborough, who was backed by Somer-
set, Devonshire, and Pembroke, proved too strong for the
advocates of insufficiency. The Queen, having com-
municated her intention to the Commons, and that House
having unanimously resolved that it " would, to the utmost,
assist and support Her Majesty,"^ the declaration was pro-
claimed with the traditional ceremony in the streets of

The die was cast. The armed forces of the coalition,
outnumbering on paper those of France and her allies by
100,000 men, but in fact inferior by 30,000,^ stood face to
face with that strategical situation which, apart from all
other advantages, conferred upon the Bourbon power an
initial superiority well calculated to give pause to every
friend of European liberty who understood the art of war.

But this superiority would be increased and not diminished
by delay. It was now or never, if the states of Europe were
to retain their independence and their nationality. The
Emperor, indeed, had already been fighting for nearly twelve
months in Northern Italy, where Eugene had by this time
captured Marshal Villeroi and was blockading Mantua.

^ Dalrymple's Memoirs, vol. iii., p. 259.

2 Boyer, vol. i., p. 28.

3 Leadam, The Political History of England, vol. ix., p. 8.


But the Emperor was severely handicapped by a revolt of his
Hungarian subjects, who, with the assistance of French
officers and French money, successfully maintained a
guerrilla warfare in the heart of his dominions. Germany
was deeply stirred; but Germany's resources, which in
combination would have been decisive, were only partially
available. The Elector of Saxony was absorbed in the
struggle with Sweden. The Electors of Bavaria and
Cologne were the secret allies of France. Nevertheless,
Prussia, the most powerful and the most efficient of the
German states, was already in the field. And the House
of Hanover, which by reason of Louis' support of the English
pretender was vitally concerned in the struggle, had frus-
trated by armed force an attempt by the two princes of
Wolfenbuttel and the Duke of Saxe-Gotha to set up a French
interest in Northern Germany. The siege of Kaiserswerth
had been begun by the Dutch, the Prussians, and the
Palatines, and Louis of Baden was busily assembling an
army for the investment of Landau. It only remained
for England to take the field.

Marlborough, who in addition to his other honours had
now been made Master of the Ordnance, quitted London
for the Hague on May 23. He was accompanied as far as
Margate by the Countess. As soon as his ship was out
of sight of England, he wrote her a love-letter, the first
of that remarkable series which continued unbroken through-
out ten campaigns. " It is impossible," he said, " to express
with what a heavy heart I parted with you when I was by
the water's side. I could have given my life to have come
back, though I knew my own weakness so much that I
durst not, for I knew I should have exposed myself to the
company. I did for a great while, with a perspective glass,
look upon the cliffs, in hopes I might have had one sight of
you. ... If you will be sensible of what I now feel, you

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 44)