A. T. (Alfred Thayer) Mahan.

The influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783 online

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the war of the sword ; incessant appeals were made to Euro-
pean opinion by indefatigable publicists ; under all forms
was diffused the terror of the New Universal Monarchy,"
which was seeking to take the place once filled by the House
of Austria. It was known that Louis sought to make himself
or his son emperor of Germany. But complications of differ-
ent kinds, private interests, lack of money, all combined to
delay action. The United Provinces, despite William's wishes,
were yet unwilling to act again as banker for a coalition,
and the emperor was so threatened on his eastern frontier
by the rebel Hungarians and the Turks that he dared not
risk a western war.

Meanwhile the armed navy of France was daily growing
in strengtii and efficiency under Colbert's care, and acquiring
the habit of war by attacks upon the Barbary pirates and
their ports. During the same years the navies both of Eng-
land and of Holland were dechning in numbers and efficiency.
It has already been said that in 1688, when William needed
Dutch ships for his expedition to England, it was objected that
the navy was in a far different condition from 1672, " being
incalculably decreased in strength and deprived of its most
able commanders." In England, the decline of discipline had
been followed by an economical policy as to material, grad-
ually lessening the numbers and injuring the condition of
the fleet ; and after the little flare-up and expected war with
France in 1678, the king gave the care of the navy to a new
body of men, concerning whom an English naval historian
says : " This new administration lasted five years, and if


it had continued five years longer would in all probabilit}'
have remedied even the numerous and mighty evils it had
introduced, by wearing out the whole royal navy, and so
leaving no room for future mistakes. However, a just sense
of this induced the king, in 1684, to resume the management
of the fleet into his own hands, restoring most of the old
officers ; but before any great progress in the work of res-
toration could be made, his Majesty died," i— in 1685. The
change of sovereigns was of vast importance, not merely to
the English navy, but from the ultimate effect it was to have
upon the designs of Louis XIV. and the fortune of the gen-
eral war which his aggressions were preparing. James II.
was peculiarly interested in the navy, being himself a sea-
man, and having commanded in chief at Lowestoft and South-
wold Bay. He knew its actual depressed condition ; and the
measures he at once took to restore it, both in numbers
and efficiency, were thoughtful and thorough. In the three
years of his reign very much indeed was done to prepare
a weapon which was first proved against himself and his
best friend.

The accession of James II., which promised fairly for
Louis, precipitated the action of Europe against him. The
House of Stuart, closely allied to the King of France, and
sympathizing with his absolutist rule, had used the still
great power of the sovereign to check the political and re-
ligious enmity of the English nation to France. James II.
added to the same political sympathies a strength of Roman
Catholic fervor which led him into acts peculiarly fitted to
revolt the feeling of the English people, with the final
result of driving him from the throne, and calling to it, by
the voice of Parliament, his daughter Mary, whose husband
was William of Orange.

In the same year that James became king, a vast diplo-
matic combination against France began. This movement
had two sides, religious and political. The Protestant States
were enraged at the increasing persecutions of the French

1 Campbell : Lives of the Admirals.



Protestants, and their feelings became stronger as the policy
of James of England showed itself more and more bent
toward Rome. The Protestant northern States, Holland,
Sweden, and Brandenburg, drew together in alliances; and
they counted for support upon the Emperor of Austria and
Germany, upon Spain and other Roman Catholic States whose
motives were political apprehension and anger. The emperor
had latterly been successful against the Turks, thus freeing
his hands for a move against Prance. July 9, 1686, there
was signed at Augsburg a secret agreement between the
emperor, the kings of Spain and Sweden, and a number of
German princes. Its object was at first defensive only
against France, but it could readily be turned into an of-
fensive alliance. This compact took the name of the League
of Augsburg, and from it the general war which followed two
years later was called the War of the League of Augsburg.

The next year, 1687, saw yet greater successes of the
Empire over the Turks and Hungarians. It was evident
that France could expect no more from diversions in that
quarter. At the same time the discontent of the English and
the ambitions of the Prince of Orange, who hoped from his
accession to the throne of England no ordinary personal
aggrandizement, but tlie fulfilment of his strongest politi-
cal wish and conviction, in curbing forever the power of
Louis XIV., became more and more plain. But for his
expedition into England, William needed ships, money, and
men from the United Provinces ; and they hung back, know-
ing that the result would be war with the French king, who
proclaimed James his ally. Their action was at last decided
by the course of Louis, who chose this moment to revoke
concessions made at Niraeguen to Dutch trade. The serious
injury thus done to Holland's material interests turned the
wavering scale. " This violation of the conventions of Nime-
guen," says a French historian,^ " by giving a severe blow to
Dutch commerce, reducing her European trade more than
one fourth, removed the obstacle that religious passions still

' Martin : History of France-


encountered in material interests, and put all Holland at the
disposition of William, none having reason longer to concili-
ate France." This was in November, 1687. In the summer
of the following year the birth of an heir to the English
throne brought things to an issue. English loyalty might
have put up with the reign of the father, now advanced in
years, but could not endure the prospect of a continued
Roman Catholic royalty.

Matters had at last reached the crisis to which they liad
been tending for years. Louis and William of Orange, long-
standing enemies, and at the moment the two cliief figures
in European politics, alike from their own strong personali-
ties and the cause which either represented, stood on the
brink of great actions, whose eiTects were to be felt through
many generations. William, despotic in temper himself,
stood on the shores of Holland looking hopefully toward free
England, from which he was separated by the narrow belt
of water that was the defence of the island kingdom, and
might yet be an impassable barrier to his own high aims ; for
the French king at that moment could control the sea if he
would. Louis, holding all the power of France in his single
grasp, facing eastward as before, saw the continent gathering
against him ; while on his flank was England heartily hostile,
longing to enter on the strife against him, but as yet without
a leader. It still remained with him to decide whether he
would leave the road open for the head to join the waiting
body, and to bring Holland and England, the two sea powers,
under one rule. If he attacked Holland by land, and sent
his superior navy into the Channel, he might well keep
William in his own country ; the more so as the English
navy, beloved and petted by the king, was likely to have more
than the usual loyalty of seamen to their chief. Faithful
to the bias of his life, perhaps unable to free himself from
it, he turned toward the continent, and September 24, 1688,
declared war against Germany and moved his armies toward
the Rhine. William, overjoyed, saw removed the last ob-
stacle to his ambition. Delayed for some weeks by contrary



winds, he finally set sail from Holland on the 30th of October.
More than five hundred transports, with fifteen thousand
troops, escorted by fifty men-of-war, formed the expedition ;
and it is typical of its mingled political and religious char-
acter, that the larger part of the army officers were French
Protestants who had been driven from Prance since the last
war, the commander-in-chief under William being the Hu-
guenot Schomberg, late a marshal of France. The first start
was foiled by a violent storm ; but sailing again on the 10th
of November, a fresh, fair breeze carried the ships through
the Straits and the Channel, and William landed on the 15th
at Torbay. Before the end of the year, James had fled from
his kingdom. On the 21st of the following April, William and
Mary were proclaimed sovereigns of Great Britain, and Eng-
land and Holland were united for the war, which Louis had
declared against the United Provinces as soon as he heard of
William's invasion. During all the weeks that the expedi-
tion was preparing and delayed, the French ambassador at
the Hague and the minister of the navy were praying the
king to stop it with his great sea power, — a power so great
that the French fleet in the first years of the war outnum-
bered those of England and Holland combined; but Louis
would not. Blindness seems to have struck the kings of
England and Prance alike ; for James, amid all his apprehen-
sions, steadily refused any assistance from the French fleet,
trusting to the fidelity of the English seamen to his person,
although his attempts to have Mass celebrated on board the
ships had occasioned an uproar and mutiny which nearly
ended in the crews throwing the priests overboard.

France thus entered the War of the League of Augsburg
without a single ally. "What her policy had most feared,
what she had long averted, was come to pass. England and
Holland were not only allied, but united under the same
chief; and England entered the coalition with all the eager-
ness of passions long restrained by the Stuart policy." As
regards the sea war, the different battles have much less
tactical value than those of De Ruyter. The chief points


of strategic interest are the failure of Louis, having a de-
cided superiority at sea, properly to support James II. in
Ireland, which remained faithful to him, and the gradual
disappearance from the ocean of the great French fleets,
which Louis XIV. could no longer maintain, owing to the
expense of that continental policy which he had chosen for
himself. A third point of rather minor interest is the pe-
culiar character and large proportions taken on by the
commerce-destroying and privateering warfare of the French,
as their large fleets were disappearing. This, and the great
effect produced by it, will appear at first to contradict what
has been said as to the general inadequacy of such a warfare
when not supported by fleets ; but an examination of the
conditions, which will be made later on, will show that the
contradiction is rather apparent than real.

Taught by the experience of the last conflict, the chief
effort of the French king, in the general war he had brought
upon himself, should have been directed against the sea pow-
ers, — against William of Orange and the Anglo-Dutch alli-
ance. The weakest point in William's position was Ireland ;
though in England itself not only were there many parti-
sans of the exiled king, but even those who had called in
William fenced his kingship about with jealous restrictions.
His power was not secure so long as Ireland was not sub-
dued. James, having fled from England in January, 1689,
landed in Ireland in the following March, accompanied by
French troops and a French squadron, and was enthusias-
tically welcomed everywhere but in the Protestant North.
He made Dublin his capital, and remained in the country
until July of the next year. During these fifteen months
the French were much superior at sea; they landed troops
in Ireland on more than one occasion ; and the English, at-
tempting to prevent this, were defeated in the naval battle
of Bantry Bay.^ But although James was so well estab-
lished, and it was of the utmost importance to sustain him ;
although it was equally important to keep William from get
1 See Map of English Channel, etc., p. 107.



ting a foothold till James was further strengthened and Lon-
donderry, then passing through its famous siege, reduced ;
and although the French were superior to the united Eng-
lish and Dutch on the seas in 1689 and 1690 ; nevertheless,
the English admiral Rooke was able, unmolested, to throw
succors and troops into Londonderry, and afterward landed
Marshal Schomberg, with a small army, near Carrickfergus.
Rooke stopped intercourse between Ireland and Scotland,
where were many Stuart partisans, and then with his small
squadron passed along the east coast of Ireland, attempted
to burn the shipping in Dublin harbor, failing only through
lack of wind, and finally came off Cork, then occupied by
James, took possession of an island in the harbor, and re-
turned in safety to the Downs in October. These services,
which raised the siege of Londonderry and kept open the com-
munications between England and Ireland, extended through-
out the summer months ; nor was any attempt made by the
French to stop them. There can be little doubt than an
effective co-operation of the French fleet in the summer of
1689 would have broken down all opposition to James in
Ireland, by isolating that country from England, with cor-
responding injury to William's power.

The following year the same strategic and political mis-
take was made. It is the nature of an enterprise such as
James's, dependent upon a weaker people and foreign help,
to lose strength if it does not progress; but the chances were
still in his favor, provided France co-operated heartily, and
above all, with her fleet. It is equally the nature of a merely
military navy like that of France to be strongest at the begin-
ning of hostilities ; whereas that of the allied sea powers grew
daily stronger, drawing upon the vast resources of their mer-
chant shipping and their wealth. The disparity of force was
still in favor of France in 1690, but it was not as great as the
year before. The all-important question was where to direct
it. There were two principal courses, involving two views of
naval strategy. The one was to act against the allied fleet,
whose defeat, if sufficiently severe, might involve the fall of


William's throne in England ; the other was to make the fleet
subsidiary to the Irish campaign. Tlie French king decided
upon the former, which was undoubtedly the proper course ;
but there was no reason for neglecting, as he did, the impor-
tant duty of cutting off the communications between the two
islands. As early as March he had sent a large fleet with six
thousand troops and supplies of war, which were landed with-
out any trouble in the southern ports of Ireland ; but after
performing that service, the ships employed returned to Brest,
and there remained inactive during May and June while the
grand fleet under the Comte de Tourville was assembling.
During those two months the English were gathering an army
on their west coast, and on the 21st of June, William em-
barked his forces at Chester on board two hundred and eighty-
eight transports, escorted by only six men-of-war. On the
24th he landed in Carrickfergas, and the ships-of-war were
dismissed to join the English grand fleet, which, however,
they were not able to do; Tourville's ships having in the
mean time got to sea and occupied the channel to the east-
ward. There is nothing more striking than the carelessness
shown by both the contending parties, during the time that
Ireland was in dispute, as to the communications of their
opponents with the island ; but this was especiallj^ strange in
the French, as they had the larger forces, and must have re-
ceived pretty accurate information of what was going on from
disafi^ected persons in England. It appears that a squadron
of twenty-five frigates, to be supported by ships-of-the-line,
were told off for duty in St. George's Channel ; but they
never reached their station, and only ten of the frigates had
got as far as Kinsale by the time James had lost all at the
battle of the Boyne. The English communications were not
even threatened for an hour.

Tourville's fleet, complete in numbers, having seventy-eight
ships, of which seventy were in the line-of-battle, with twenty-
two fire-ships, got to sea June 22, the day after William em-
barked. On the 30th the French were off the Lizard, to the
dismay of the English admiral, who was lying off the Isle


of Wight in such an unprepared attitude that he had not even
lookout ships to the westward. He got under way, standing
off-shore to the southeast, and was joined from time to time,
during the next ten days, by 6ther English and Dutch ships.
The two fleets continued moving to the eastward, sighting
each other from time to time.

The political situation in England was critical. The Jaco-
bites were growing more and more open in their demonstra-
tions, Ireland had been in successful revolt for over a year,
and William was now there, leaving only the queen in Lon-
don. The urgency of the case was such that the council
decided the French fleet must be fought, and orders to that
effect were sent to the English admiral, Herbert. In obedi-
ence to his instructions he went out, and on the 10th of July,
being to windward, with the wind at northeast, formed his line-
of-battle, and then stood down to attack the French, who
waited for him, with their foretopsails aback ^ on the star-
board tack, heading to the northward and westward.

The fight that followed is known as the battle of Beachy
Head. The ships engaged were, French seventy, English and
Dutch according to their own account fifty-six, according to
the French sixty. In the allied line of battle the Dutch were
in the van ; the English, commanded in person by Herbert,
in the centre ; and the rear was made up partly of English
and partly of Dutch ships. The stages of the battle were as
follows : —

1. The allies, being to windward, bore down together in
line abreast. As usual, this manoeuvre was ill performed,
and as also generally happens, the van came under fire be-
fore the centre and rear, and bore the brunt of the injury.

2. Admiral Herbert, though commander-in-chief, failed to
attack vigorously with the centre, keeping it at long range.
The allied van and rear came to close action (Plate VI., A).
Paul Hoste's 2 account of this manoeuvre of the allies is 'that
the admiral intended to fall mainly on the French rear. To
that end he closed the centre to the rear and kept it to wind-

1 That is, nearly motionless. 2 Hoste : Naval Tactics.

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ward at long cannon-shot (refused it), so as to prevent the
French from tacking and doubling on the rear. If that were
his purpose, his plan, though tolerably conceived in the main,
was faulty in detail, for this manoeuvre of the centre left a
great gap between it and the van. He should rather have
attacked, as Ruyter did at the Texel, as many of the rear
ships as he thought he could deal with, and refused liis van,
assigning to it the part of checking the French van. It may
be conceded that an admiral who, from inferior numbers, can-
not spread as long and close a line as his enemy, should not
let the latter overlap the extremities of his fleet ; but he
should attain his end not, as Herbert did, by leaving a great
opening in the centre, but by increasing each interval between
the ships refused. The allied fleet was thus exposed to be
doubled on at two points, both van and centre ; and both
points were attacked.

3. The commander of the French van, seeing the Dutch
close to his line and more disabled than himself, pressed six
of his leading ships ahead, where they went about, and so put
the Dutch between two fires (Plate VI. B).

At the same time Tourville, finding himself without adver-
saries in the centre, having beaten off the leading division
of the enemy's centre, pushed forward his own leading ships,
which Herbert's dispositions had left without opponents; and
these fresh ships strengthened the attack upon the Dutch in
the van (B).

This brought about a m^lSe at the head of the lines, in
which the Dutch, being inferior, suffered heavily. Luckily
for the allies the wind fell calm ; and while Tourville him-
self and other French ships got out their boats to tow
into action again, the allies were shrewd enough to drop
anchor with all sail set, and before Tourville took in the
situation the ebb-tide, setting southwest, had carried his
fleet out of action. He finally anchored a league from his

At nine P. M., when the tide changed, the allies weighed and
stood to the eastward. So badly had many of them been


mauled, that, by English accounts, it was decided rather to
destroy the disabled ships than to risk a general engagenaent
to preserve them.

Tourville pursued ; but instead of ordering a general chase,
he kept the line-of-battle, reducing the speed of the fleet to
that of the slower ships. The occasion was precisely one of
those in which a melee is permissible, indeed, obligatory. An
enemy beaten and in flight should be pursued with ardor, and
with only so much regard to order as will prevent the chas-
ing vessels from losing mutual support, — a condition which by
no means implies such relative bearings and distances as are
required in the beginning or middle of a well-contested action.
The failure to order such general pursuit indicates the side
on which Tourville's military character lacked completeness;
and the failure showed itself, as is apt to be the case, at the
supreme moment of his career. He never had such another
opportunity as in this, the first great general action in which
he commanded in chief, and which Hoste, who was on board
the flag-ship, calls the most complete naval victory ever gained.
It was so indeed at that time, — the most complete, but not the
most decisive, as it perhaps might have been. The French,
according to Hoste, lost not even a boat, much less a ship,
which, if true, makes yet more culpable the sluggishness of
the pursuit; while the allies fled, casting sixteen of their ships
ashore and burning them in sight of the enemy, who pursued
as far as the Downs. The English indeed give the allied loss
as only eight ships, — an estimate probably full as much out
one way as the French the other. Herbert took his fleet to
the Thames, and baffled the enemy's further pursuit by remov-
ing the buoys.^

Tourville's is the only great historical name among the
seamen of this war, if we except the renowned privateer°smen
at whose head was Jean Bart. Among the English, extraor-
dinary merit cannot be claimed for any one of the gallant
and enterprising men who commanded squadrons. Tourville,

1 Ledyard says the order to remove the buoys was not carried out (Naval
History, vol. ii. p. 636). ^


who by this time had served afloat for nearly thirty years,
was at once a seaman and a military man. With superb
courage, of which he had given dazzling examples in his
youth, he had seen service wherever the French fleets had
fought, — in the Anglo-Dutch war, in the Mediterranean, and
against the Barbary pirates. Reaching the rank of admiral,
he commanded in person all the largest fleets sent out during

Online LibraryA. T. (Alfred Thayer) MahanThe influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783 → online text (page 18 of 52)