Frank Taylor.

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

. (page 9 of 44)
Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

will endeavour ever to be easy to me, and then I shall be
most happy; for it is you only that can give me true
content."^ This document is the first of hundreds, scribbled
in the intervals of an enormous correspondence with half
the courts of Europe, scribbled in barges upon Dutch canals

Coxe, vol. i., p. 83: Marlborough to the Countess, May 15/26, 1702.


and in travelling-coaches upon German roads, scribbled in
the saddle and on the battlefield itself, and one and all
breathing such a fervour of chivalrous devotion as the
youngest ensign in the army, engaged in a sedulous court-
ship of some new-found sweetheart, could never have

Marlborough remained at the Hague till the end of June.
In his capacity of Plenipotentiary he held many conferences
with the deputies of the States, while in his other capacity
of Captain-General he occupied himself with the organisation
of the British forces in the field.

But of all the affairs which now engaged his attention
the question of the supreme command of the Dutch army
was by far the most important. The Earl on his arrival
had renewed his petition on behalf of Prince George; but
the States-General remained obdurately blind to the merits
of that aspirant. Marlborough's position became extremely
delicate and embarrassing. He could not be unaware of the
fact, which was patent to everybody, that he himself
possessed high qualifications for the very appointment which
official duty and private friendship alike compelled him to
solicit for another. He was in truth the man on whom
Heinsius and leaders of Dutch opinion had already set their
hearts. The Dutch generals not unnaturally resented the
suggestion that a foreign subject should be promoted over
their heads. The claims of Ginkel, Earl of Athlone, were
specially pressed upon the States. But on personal and
public grounds the Dutch government decided that no
candidate, native or foreign, could be compared with Marl-
borough. The Earl obtained the post, and with it a salary'
of £10,000 a year.

Prince George was deeply mortified. But he could
console himself with the reflection that the King of Prussia,
the Elector of Hanover, the Prince of Nassau-Saarbriick,
and the Archduke Charles were in similar case. Marl-
borough was troubled lest the sincerity of his own conduct
should be questioned; but the excellent Prince was in-
capable of jealousy or malice. The facts spoke for them-
selves. Holland would have no sovereign prince at the
head of her troops. And of subjects, the Captain-General
I. 6


of the English army was by far the most eligible. His
appointment was sound strategy, for it united the Dutch
and English forces under one commander. Moreover, it
was sound statecraft, for it gratified Anne, it flattered her
people, and it captivated the hearts of the Tories. Inci-
dentally, it was a delicious revenge on all English detractors
of William and his foreign generals. Marlborough himself
must have winced a little at the sting of it.

The French affected to ridicule the Dutchmen's choice.
They represented Marlborough as an obscure soldier who
owed his new command less to his own merits than to
his wife's influence. But the merchants and bankers of
Holland were never the men to purchase incompetence
at the rate of £10,000 a year. They knew what William
thought of Marlborough's military capacity, and they needed
no higher testimonial. It would have been a fortunate
circumstance for them and for their allies if the wisdom
which they showed in selecting a commander had been
equally apparent in their treatment of him in the field.

IV.— 1702

The War of the Spanish Succession is a perfect example of
the vices and the defects of a coalition. If the forces at the
disposal of the allies had been placed under the unfettered
control of a military genius of the first order, in three cam-
paigns he would have made an end of " the exorbitant power
of France." If Marlborough or Eugene had been fortunate
enough to wield the political authority of a Frederick
or a Napoleon, the war would have been conducted with
a single eye to the destruction of the enemy. But under the
conditions which in fact prevailed the opinions of third-
rate generals were treated with respect, while unity of purpose
and harmony of action were entirely sacrificed to the
selfish and short-sighted ambitions of the various members
of the vast confederacy.

Marlborough's idea of strategy was essentially modern.
He utterly rejected the notion that such an enemy as France
could ever be humbled by capturing a few fortresses or
eating up the supplies of a few square miles of territory.
From the very beginning he fixed his gaze upon the city
of Paris. To crush the French armies in the field, and to
pursue their demoralised remnants to the French capital
itself, was his conception of the proper method of conducting
such a war as was now about to be waged. Few of the
soldiers and none of the statesmen of that age agreed with
him. For ten years he struggled against the ignorance,
the fatuity, and the malice of those who had not even suffi-
cient understanding to know their own interest. But he
never for one moment abandoned his ideal. What he might
have achieved under happier conditions may be inferred
from what he actually accomplished.

At the opening of the campaign of 1702, however, it was
not yet time to consider the question of invading France.
The immediate necessity of the situation admitted of no
dispute. The French army of Flanders, though it had not
as yet adopted the offensive, occupied a position so trouble-



some and dangerous to the allies that, until it was either
removed or destroyed, nothing of importance could be
undertaken in this theatre of the war. With 60,000 men
Marshal Boufflers had marched down the Meuse to Xanten,
in the Prussian territory of Cleves, a small Dutch force
under Tilly evacuating the place on his approach . Boufflers'
critics, of whom Berwick was one, alleged that he ought
not to have permitted Tilly to escape, and that he had
carelessly sacrificed the moral advantage which always
attaches to initial success.-^ However that may have been,
the Marshal's occupation of Xanten created no little
anxiety among the allies. While subsisting largely at his
enemies' expense, and protecting, from his central position
between Meuse and Rhine, both Spanish Guelderland and
the Electorate of Cologne, he interposed between Upper
Germany and Holland, threatened all the Provinces of
Lower Germany, and menaced the Dutch frontier at its
weakest point. He did not however feel equal to the relief
of Kaiserswerth. The passage of the Rhine, which is here of
great breadth, was too hazardous in the face of the enemy.
But Tallard, with a separate force of 13,000 men operating
on the left bank, threw both soldiers and supplies into the
place by boat, and cannonaded the besiegers' quarters across
the river. By these means the progress of the siege was
much retarded. Tallard also contemplated the bombard-
ment of Diisseldorf; but he Was deterred by the threat of
retaliation upon Bonn.

At the opposite extremity of the Dutch frontier, Coehoorn
with an army of 10,000 men created a diversion by capturing
the town of Middelburg, demolishing the French lines, and
levying contributions in the territory of Bruges. On the
approach of the Spanish general, Bedmar, he retired,
opened the sluices, and sending down the waters on the
enemy drove them back to Ghent.

Meanwhile, at Kranenburg, fifteen miles to the north-
west of Xanten, Athlone was covering Nijmegen and watch-
ing Boufflers with an army of 25,000 Dutch and English.
Despite their great superiority of numbers, the French
attempted nothing of importance from the middle of April
* Memoires de Berwick (1778), t. i., p, 174.

1702 85

to the second week of June. This inactivity was severely
censured. But in justice to Boufflers it must be remembered
that, the navigation of the Meuse being interrupted by the
Dutch garrison in Maestricht, which also sent out parties
to harass the French convoys on the march, the supply of all
things needful for a great army in the field was seriously
delayed. Boufflers' post was not in fact an enviable one.
He had been joined at Xanten by the Duke of Burgundy,
who, though ignorant of war, exercised the titular command ;
and he had been instructed from Versailles that the army,
which a Prince of the Blood honoured with his presence,
was in duty bound to act with vigour. Towards the end of
May it became evident that Kaiserswerth must fall. Recog-
nising that this event would set the besiegers at liberty to
join Athlone, Boufflers, who had just received an important
convoy, determined to march on Kranenburg forthwith.
Between that place and Xanten lay the dense forest of Cleves,
which, though it obstructed a direct advance, favoured the
secret execution of an enveloping movement. Having
summoned Tallard to rejoin, the Marshal struck his camp
June 10, and, moving behind the forest in two divisions
by Cleves on the right and Gennep on the left, threatened
to surround Athlone and to isolate Nijmegen, which left
to itself was in no condition to resist assault. Athlone,
being poorly served by his intelligence department, had a
narrow escape. Almost too late he beat a precipitate
retreat to Nijmegen; but, as he approached that place,
the French cavalry came swiftly down upon his rear-guard,
while in the distance he could descry the long columns of
their foot pressing forw^ard to the chase. Fighting gallantly
against superior numbers, the allied horse enabled their
infantry to occup}^ the outworks of Nijmegen. But the
Household troops of France charged up to the very palisades,
and only recoiled before the fire of the artillery upon the
ramparts. Athlone w^as saved by a short half -hour. Robbed
of their prey, the French dropped back to Kranenburg and
Cleves. Two days later Kaisersw-erth fell, and the besieging
army reinforced Athlone. Boufflers' opportunity had passed.
But he had given the Dutchmen such a fright as paralysed
their initiative for the remainder of the campaign.


On Jul}^ 2, Marlborough arrived at Nijmegen, where he
proceeded to effect a concentration of 60,000 men. On
the 6th he advanced to Duckenberg, and on July 5th to
Sutterburg. Boufflers in the meantime had been weakened
by the loss of a detachment which Louis had ordered him
to send to the relief of Landau. In numbers he was now
inferior. But the disparity was slight ; and Louis told him,
for his consolation, that it was fully balanced by the superior
quality of the French troops. This fact, if it was a fact,
made no impression upon Marlborough. The new com-
mander was determined to put an end to the nuisance of
the French occupation of Cleves. His instinct told him
that neither the garrisons on the Meuse nor the garrisons
on the Rhine were his true objective. If Boufflers' army
were destroyed the rest would be easy. But Boufflers' army
was entrenched between Gennep and Goch in a situation too
strong to be attacked. And in any event the Dutch govern-
ment were too terrified by their recent experience to run the
hazard of a battle in such close proximity to their frontier.
The very suggestion of a forward movement excited their
alarm. At length they were induced to listen to a proposal
of their own generals for the siege of Rheinberg. But this
kind of operation had no attraction for Marlborough. He
had seen at a glance the weakness of the French position
in Cleves. Though a skilful and enterprising commander
might have utilised that position for a bold offensive, an
army located there could not hope to defend simultane-
ously, the province of Brabant, the Electorate of Cologne,
and Spanish Guelderland. He therefore proposed to pass
the Meuse and advance towards Brabant. He told the
Dutch government that such a movement could produce
but one effect. Boufflers, fearful of being cut off from his
base and of leaving the Spanish Netherlands exposed to
invasion, would instantly abandon Cleves. He did not tell
them that in that event opportunities for battle would
inevitably arise. Precious days were wasted before he
carried his point; but he carried it at last. At this time
also he was worried by technical objections of the Prussian
and Hanoverian contingents to serving under his com-
mand. When all was settled, he threw bridges over the

1702 87

Meuse near Grave, and, to deceive Boufflers,who was already
puzzled by the long delay, sent his foragers across the river
as though he intendedtocontinue a great time in those parts.
But at sunset on the ensuing day (July 25) he struck his
camp, and, passing his entire army over the Meuse, pushed
southward for Brabant.

Boufflers was taken by surprise. But he decided at once
that he must follow Marlborough. Having dispatched a
reinforcement to Rheinberg and sent word to Tallard to
rejoin him as rapidly as possible, he struck his tents on the
evening of the 26th, and marched up the Meuse with the
utmost speed to Roermond, where he crossed the river on
the 28th, and encamped at Horn upon the western bank.
Strengthened by detachments which he drew from the
garrisons of Venlo and Roermond, and occupying at Horn
a central position which enabled him to cover Rheinberg,
Brabant, and Spanish Guelderland at the same time, he
ought, in the opinion of the Duke of Berwick, to have con-
tinued in this locahty. But the difficulties of subsistence
were very great; and Berwick does not explain how Boufflers
could have overcome them. Boufflers, moreover, was con-
vinced that the security of the Spanish Netherlands was the
most important of the interests committed to his charge.
He therefore decided to continue his march in the direction
of Tirlemont and Lou vain. But without a battle it seemed
improbable that he could effect his purpose of interposing
between Marlborough and the Belgian frontier. For, on
the 28th, when the French arrived at Horn, the allies were
already at Geldrop. On the 31st, when Boufflers set out
for Bree, Marlborough after capturing the castle of Graven-
broek, was advancing upon Lille St. Hubert. The two armies
were marching at right angles to one another, and were
steadily converging. That same evening, Marlborough was
joined by nine battalions and six squadrons from Nijmegen
as well as by the English artillery, while Tallard drew up
to a league's distance of Boufflers' rear. The outposts of
the two armies were in contact ; and a collision now appeared

On Marlborough's front, the country between Peer and
Zonhoven was a vast and open heath, which the French


must traverse, if they would continue their movement in the
direction of Lou vain. On this ideal battle-ground, the Earl
proposed to try conclusions. He had reason to believe that
Boufflers' men were fatigued with their long and rapid
marches, and, what was even more important, depressed by
the idea, which so easily springs up in the imaginative and
critical-"- mind of the French soldier, that their general was
somewhat overmatched. On August i, Tilly, at the head
of 4,000 horse, reconnoitred the enemy's position, which was
excellent in itself, but untenable by reason of the difficulty
of subsistence. Rightly conjecturing that Boufflers would
strike his camp that night, Marlborough sent back the heavy
baggage to Gravenbroek, and made ready to deliver his
attack at dawn. The field-deputies had consented to a
battle. But during the hours of darkness their courage
seems to have evaporated. At sunrise on the 2nd, when
the heads of the French columns appeared upon the heath,
they besought the Earl to hold his hand. In justification
of this change of attitude they laid great stress upon the
fact that Tallard had now joined Boufflers. Marlborough,
who knew all about the position of Tallard, was bitterly
disappointed. But realising the inexpediency of friction
with the Dutch government at this early stage of his com-
mand, he yielded to the agonised entreaties of the deputies,
and merely requested that they would ride forward in his
company to watch the passage of the enemy across the heath.
The spectacle was magnificent. Throwing up a screen of
cavalry as they went the entire French army marched by
in elaborate order of battle." Their historians represent
this movement as a daring conception executed with con-
summate skill. But General Kane, who was an eye-witness,
has placed on record that it was marked by such hurry and
confusion, that the Dutch deputies themselves were aston-
ished, and "confessed a great opportunity was lost." In
Kane's opinion the fine French army would easily have been
turned into a panic-stricken mob. But for the intervention
of the deputies, he calculated, as Marlborough had calculated,
that " in all human probability v.'e should have given the

1 Modern examples are many, but for ' ancicn regime ' see also Mauvillon,
Leitres Francoises el Germaniques (1740), lettrc ii.

2 Pelet, MSmoires tnilitaires. t. ii., p. 80.

1702 Sg

enemy a fatal blow."^ Though one chance had been thrown
away, another presented itself immediately. The French
encamped at Zonhoven on ground so badly chosen as
positively to invite attack. On the 3rd, " by break of day,"
says Millner, " all stood to arms in very good order."- But
again the deputies opposed a stubborn resistance to Marl-
borough's arguments in favour of a battle. Berwick de-
clares that they saved the French aiTny from destruction,
" for our situation was such," he writes, " that we should
have been beaten without any possibility of escape."^
But the opportimity passed. On August 4, Boufflers con-
tinued his march to Beeringen, where he was joined by
reinforcements from the Spanish Netherlands.

Marlborough, whatever his feehngs may have been,
exhibited no resentment. A weaker man, or a less wise one,
would have complained to the government at the Hague.
But Marlborough merely reported that he had accomphshed
his purpose of forcing the enemy to abandon the Dutch
frontier and to subsist henceforth at their own expense. As
regards the future, he wrote, that he had consulted the
deputies and the generals of the States, and, with their full
approval, proposed to besiege Venlo. As several days must
elapse before the preparations for this project would be
complete, he advanced on the 5th to Peer, and gave orders
for the ramparts of that place to be dismantled, as well as
those of Bree. He likewise arranged to attack the castle
of Weert, which was another of the fortified posts held by
the French in that district; and for the execution of this
enterprise he summoned ten battalions and seven squadrons
from the garrison of Maestricht, together with six field-guns
and six mortars. But Boufiiers, who saw clearly enough
that Spanish Guelderland was likely to fall an easy prey to
the alHed army, decided now to try the effect of a blow at
their communications. Accordingly on the 9th he marched
northwards to Baelen, and on the loth to Riethoven. He
occupied Eindhoven with a detachment, and on the 13th
pushed forward Berwick with six battalions, 600 grenadiers,
thirteen squadrons, and twelve guns to that town. In this

^ Kane, Memoirs of all the Campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough (1702),
p. 35- ^ Millner' s Journal (1733), p. 22, July 22, 1703.

^ Mimoires de Berwick, t. i., p. 187.


situation, he could subsist on Dutch territory, while he
blocked the direct road from Maestricht to Bois-le-Duc.
Though Marlborough, who could draw supplies from
Maestricht, was not actually dependent upon Bois-le-Duc,
he was nevertheless expecting a valuable convoy of bread
and money from that place. It occurred to him that he
might use this convoy as a lure to entice the enemy to battle.
Accordingly on the 12th, he returned to Hamont and on the
ensuing day dispatched an escort of 2,000 horse and dragoons
under Albemarle and Tilly to Bois-le-Duc, destined to take
part in the investment of Venlo. To cover the march of
the convoy, he ordered Opdam, who commanded a detach-
ment of ten battalions and seventeen squadrons, to advance
on the 14th towards Helmond. Opdam encamped invitingly
upon the open heath of Geldrop, at a distance of less than
four miles from Eindhoven. It was Marlborough's inten-
tion, if Boufflers swallowed the bait, to support Opdam with
the entire army. Berwick, who thought that a great
opportunity had come, and who in any event saw no reason
to avoid a general action, reported Opdam's presence on the
evening of the 15th, and suggested that with the assistance
of Boufflers' left wing, he could crush the detachment on
the heath. Having received permission to advance, he
crossed the Dommel and the Tongreloup on the morning of
the 16th, while Boufflers moved up from Riethoven with the
left wing. Marlborough, who was early in the saddle, was
apprised of the situation by an express from Opdam. De-
lighted at the success of his ruse, he drew out the army in
order of battle, and pushed up his right wing towards Leende.
Once again a collision seemed inevitable. When Boufflers
arrived on the scene, only a mile of open heath separated
the forces of Berwick and Opdam. But the Marshal's heart
failed him at the last moment. Alleging that, while the
action with Opdam was precisely what he desired, yet
fearing that Marlborough might cut the French army in
twain by a march to Eindhoven, he ordered Berwick,
to withdraw behind the Dommel, much to that good
offlcer's chagrin. At 2 o'clock Opdam resumed his march
to Helmond, while Marlborough's troops returned to
camp. That night the two most disappointed men in

If 02 9t

both armies were the brother and the sun' of Arabella

On the 17th the castle of Weert surrendered after a brief
bombardment . On the same day, Opdam arrived at Gemert,
where he met the convoy. Acting under Marlborough's
instructions, he conducted it by a road which lay to the east
of the road through Geldrop, and which was protected by
small rivers. On the 20th, he brought it -in safety to the
camp. All this time Boufflers remained quietly at Riethoven,
where he enjoyed the satisfaction of subsisting upon Dutch
territory. But now the French government intervened.
Louis was profoundly mortified by the course of the campaign.
The fall of Kaiserswerth, the failure to accomplish anything
of magnitude during the siege, the vacation of Prussian
territory, the desertion of the Electorate of Cologne, and the
abandonment of the whole line of the Meuse as far as
Maestricht, constituted in his eyes a discreditable and
damaging record . In so far as his power in Europe depended
upon prestige, it had certainly been shaken. He considered
himself bound by the strongest claims both of honour and
of policy to defend the Electorate of Cologne against all
comers. But if Spanish Guelderland were lost, he could hold
neither the Meuse nor the Lower Rhine. In his letters to
Boufflers he made no attempt to hide his vexation. Boufflers
had proposed a diversion in Flanders as a device for drawing
off the enemy from Spanish Guelderland. But Louis, who
had begun to form a correct estimate of Marlborough's
capacity, would have none of such futile palliatives. In a
letter dated August 23rd he told Boufflers plainly that there
was only one course open to him. He must dog the steps
of the allies, and on the first convenient occasion, he must
give them battle. On no account must they be permitted
to capture Venlo. If Venlo were to fall in the presence
of the Duke of Burgundy and a powerful army, France,
wrote Louis, would be intolerably humihated. Liege itself
would be as good as lost, and the whole situation in this
theatre of the war would be irretrievably ruined.

But before the King's letter reached Boufflers, Marl-
borough had done what he could to assist the unhappy
Marshal to fulfil the royal will. He set out for Peer, but he


left his rear-guard, which consisted of the detachment under
Opdam, so far behind that the enemy had every excuse to
attack it. Boufflers came down from Riethoven to Exel
on the same day. On the 23rd, still dangling his rear-guard
under the noses of the French, Marlborough continued
his march over the heath in the direction of Helchteren.
Boufflers dashed forward in pursuit, but he was just too late.
At the last moment Marlborough wheeled round in order of
battle, and drew up to Opdam's detachment. Emerging

Online LibraryFrank TaylorThe wars of Marlborough, 1702-1709 (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 44)