THE AGE OF ANNE IS RIGHTLY REGARDED AS THE GREATEST manifestation of the power of England which had till then been known. The genius of Marlborough in the field and his sagacity in counsel enabled the growing strength of the nation to make its full effect on Europe. The intimate, long-developed friendships of the Cockpit circle now found their expression in the smallest and most efficient executive which has ever ruled England. Sarah managed the Queen, Marlborough managed the war, and Godolphin managed the Parliament. The Queen, for five glorious years, threw herself with happiness and confidence into these capable hands, and as in the time of Cromwell, but on a far broader, stronger foundation, the whole force of England was applied to the leadership of the then known world.
There was at that time an extraordinary wealth of capacity in the English governing class. Not only the nobility but the country gentry produced a superabundance of men of the highest qualities in mind and body. All the offices of the State, military or political, could have been filled two or three times over by able, vigorous, daring, ambitious personalities. It was also the Augustan Age of English letters. Addison, Defoe, Pope, Steele, Swift, are names which shine to-day. There was a vehement outpouring of books, poems, and pamphlets. Art and science flourished. The work of the Royal Society, founded in Charles II’s reign, now bore a largesse of fruit. Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, physics, and astronomy completed the revolution of ideas which had begun with the Renaissance. Architecture was led to noble achievements by Wren, and to massive monuments by Vanbrugh.
All the time controversy ran to extremes. The religious passions of former years now flowed into the channels of political faction. Never was the strife of party groups so hot, so fiercely maintained, or more unscrupulous. Men and parties, conscious of their message and of the magnitude of the opportunity, strove furiously against one another for the control of the State or for a share in its governance. They carried their rivalry to all lengths; but in the earlier years of the reign there was a common purpose of beating France. This was no small undertaking, for at that time England had but five million inhabitants, while the towering French monarchy was master of near twenty millions, united under the Great King. Moreover, during the wars of King William there had been heavy cost and meagre results. Louis XIV stood triumphant, and, as it seemed, upon the threshold of unmeasured domination. He was now to be broken and humbled, and the later years of the reign of Anne were to be consumed mainly in disputes about the terms to be imposed upon him.
But all this wore a very different aspect when in March 1702 Anne ascended the throne. She presented herself to the Houses of Parliament in robes and insignia which revived memories of Queen Elizabeth. “I know my own heart,” she said, “to be entirely English.” She accepted Marlborough’s impulse upon the whole policy of the State. In the first momentous days of her reign he was not only her chief but her sole guide. Both main parties admired him for his gifts, and for a time he stood above their warfare. It was understood in the Army that if he had the power he would pursue unswervingly the Protestant and warlike policy of King William III. The strong strain of Cromwellian and Puritan conviction which ran in the nation reinforced patriotic and national sentiments. The new reign opened in a blaze of loyalty. It was the “sunshine day” for which the Princess Anne had long waited with placid attention.
Marlborough was made Captain-General of her armies at home and abroad. He acted immediately. No sooner had the Queen met the Privy Council on March 8 than he informed the Imperial Ambassador, Wratislaw, that the Queen, like the late King, would support unswervingly the interests of the Emperor. That same night he sent a personal message of reassurance to Anton Heinsius, the Grand Pensionary or Chief Minister of Holland, offering in the name of the Queen resolute prosecution of the war and adherence to the treaties, and at the earliest moment when he could be spared he sailed for The Hague.
This was the great period of the Dutch Republic. The union of the seven provinces which had been forged in the fires of Spanish persecution and tempered by heroic war on land against France and on sea against England had now become a wonderful instrument and force in Europe. But the death of William III shook the entire structure of the Dutch oligarchy. He left no direct heir of the house of Orange whom all the United Provinces would accept as their leading Stadtholder. Who would lead their army against the gathering foes? Who would preserve the common cause of the sea-powers? “When they had the first news of the King’s death,” wrote Bishop Burnet of the States-General, “they assembled together immediately; they looked to one another as men amazed; they embraced one another and promised they would stick together and adhere to the interests of their country.” Hard upon the news of William’s death came Marlborough’s message.
Soon Marlborough was in their midst. He had already under King William negotiated the network of compacts by which the Grand Alliance had been framed. All the threads were in his hands, and there was immediately imparted to that extensive and varied body of states, great and small, and of interests often conflicting, a unity and coherence which even the royal authority of King William had not secured.
Queen Anne cherished the idea that her husband, Prince George, would become Generalissimo of the armies of the sea-powers. There were forces in Holland which thought of a native commander for its troops. But all fell into Marlborough’s hands. The office of Stadtholder and Commander-in-Chief was allowed to pass into abeyance and Marlborough was appointed Deputy Captain-General of Holland. He was thus in supreme command of the armies of the two Western Powers. Prussia, which had lately become a kingdom, and the Germanic States of the Rhine soon naturally associated themselves with this system. But although the highest title and general deference were accorded to the English General his authority could only assert itself at every stage by infinite patience and persuasiveness. He was never in a position to give indisputable orders as Napoleon was to do. He had to procure assent for almost every act from diverse and often divergent interests, and to establish his ascendancy by subtle and ever varied methods. Moreover, he was never head of the Government in London. Marlborough and the able Lord Treasurer, Godolphin, who fulfilled many of the duties of a Prime Minister, worked closely and harmoniously together. But in drawing up their plans both men had to consider the party stresses at Westminster and the powerful influence in the country of political grandees. Unquestioned authority was never granted to them; they always had to walk warily. Marlborough’s reputation as a soldier was good upon the Continent, but he had never hitherto commanded a large army, and a dozen Dutch and German generals who must now work under him had seen far more service in the recent wars. The General of the Empire, Prince Eugene, at this time carrying on his successful campaign in Italy, stood forth as the foremost soldier of the Allies.
For the year 1702 Louis had decided to set his strongest army against Holland. He knew the division and uncertainty into which the Republic had been thrown by the death of King William. He believed that the links which joined it to England had been at the least gravely weakened. He counted upon a period of hesitation and loss of contact which, if turned to good account by military action, might break the Dutch and scare off the English. He regarded Marlborough as a favoured Court personage, able no doubt, and busy with intrigue, but owing his influence entirely to the Queen’s affection for his wife. The French High Command therefore did not hesitate to place their main army, as soon as the campaigning season began, within twenty miles of Nimwegen, at the point where the valleys of the Meuse and the Rhine divide.
In May Marlborough made for Nimwegen. He found widespread despondency among the Allied troops and jealously among the generals. But when his hand was felt upon the Army and its operations a different mood prevailed. The Dutch field-deputies, who had a veto on the movement of their troops, were induced to authorise an advance against the enemy. Although Marlborough was baulked on the heaths of Peer of the opportunity to fight what might have been a decisive battle at great advantage, the French were at once thrown on to the defensive. In a brilliant campaign the new Captain-General conquered all the fortresses of the Meuse, and thus the whole river channel was freed. The valiant but fruitless efforts of King William were replaced by the spectacle of substantial advances, and the hitherto aggressive French were seen baffled, hesitating, and in retreat. When after the storm of Liége Marlborough, narrowly escaping an ambuscade upon the Meuse, returned to The Hague he was received with intense public joy by the Dutch, and on his arrival in England he was created Duke by the Queen. In his very first year the tide of the war was set flowing in the opposite direction, and the whole Alliance, which had seemed about to collapse, was knit together by new bonds of constancy and hope.
The other English venture of 1702 was a naval expedition to Cadiz. William III had realised the importance to England of the Mediterranean and the harbours guarding its entrance. English trade with the Levant was seriously threatened by French ambition, and the French enthronement in Spain jeopardised English commercial interests. A powerful fleet and army sailed for Cadiz at the end of July under the Duke of Ormonde and Admiral Sir George Rooke. The commanders lacked the nerve to force the harbour upon the first surprise, and yielded themselves to what seemed the easier course. Troops were landed to capture the forts on the shore, and a prolonged series of desultory operations ensued, accompanied by pillage and sacrilege, tales of which spread far and wide throughout Spain. Meanwhile the defence grew continually stronger. A boom was placed across the entrance and ships were sunk in the channel by the enemy. After a month it was decided to reembark the soldiers and sail for home.
The ignominy was relieved by a lucky windfall. As Rooke and Ormonde, on the worst of terms and each blaming the other, were returning disconsolately home news was brought that the Spanish Treasure Fleet with millions from the Indies aboard had run into Vigo Bay. Excited councils of war ensued. It was decided to raid the harbour. The lure of gold and the sting of Cadiz inspired the leaders, and at last they let loose their brave men, who fought with indomitable fury. By sundown they were masters of Vigo Bay. The entire enemy fleet was sunk, burned, or captured. Not one ship escaped. The treasures of the Indies were frantically carried inland on mules before the action, but enough remained for the victors to bear home a million sterling to sustain the Treasury and appease Parliament. In spite of this a searching inquiry was ordered into the conduct of Rooke and Ormonde at Cadiz. Marlborough, who had approved the expedition, and looked upon the capture of Cadiz as a stepping-stone to the entry to the Mediterranean and the seizure of Minorca, intervened to protect the impugned commanders. Had they shown at Cadiz one-half of the spirit of Vigo Bay the sea-powers would have been masters of the Mediterranean in 1703.
The beginning of Queen Anne’s reign seemed to open a period of Tory prosperity. All King William’s Whig Ministers were banished from power. In Godolphin’s administration Rochester, the Queen’s uncle, and Nottingham, King William’s High Tory Minister, played substantial and grandiose parts. But from the very outset a deep division opened between Marlborough, to whom Godolphin was inseparably bound, and their Tory colleagues. The traditional Tory view was that England should not aspire to play a leading part in the Continental struggle. Her true policy was to intervene only by sea-power, and amid the conflicts of Europe to gain many territories overseas in the outer world. The Tories regarded with aversion the sending of large armies to the Continent. They looked with disparaging eyes upon victories in Europe. They groaned or affected to groan under the burden of Army expenses. They alleged that the interests which urged active intervention made great profits out of the war by subscribing to Government loans. They declared that the country gentlemen were being mulcted while the City of London, its bankers and its merchants, established an ever-growing mortgage upon the landed estates.
The Whigs, on the other hand, though banished from office, were ardent advocates of the greatest military efforts. They supported Marlborough in all his courses. They derided the false strategy of colonial expeditions, and declared that no British interest was safe without victory in the main and decisive theatre. This clash of opinion, in which on both sides there was massive argument, governed the politics of the reign. Marlborough and Godolphin found themselves continually at variance with their other Tory colleagues upon the crucial question of how the war should be fought. If England did not join whole-heartedly in the Continental war Louis XIV would win it. The issue was radical, and much to his regret Marlborough found it necessary to use his paramount influence with the Queen against the leaders of the Tory Party.
Moreover, there was a religious complication. Queen Anne, Marlborough, and Godolphin were all Tories born and bred, and all were Anglicans. Anne had long ago abandoned the conviction that her father’s son, the exiled Prince of Wales, was not her brother. The Prince lived under French protection. He is known to British history as the “Old Pretender,” but more gallantly in French annals as the Chevalier of St George. Queen Anne felt herself in her inmost conscience a usurper, and she was also gnawed by the feeling that she had treated her dead father ill. Her one justification against these self-questionings was her absolute faith in the Church of England. It was her duty to guard and cherish at all costs this sacred institution, the maintenance of which was bound up with her own title and the peace of her realm. To abdicate in favour of her Papist brother would be not only to betray her religion, but to let loose the horrors of civil war upon the land she ruled, loved, and in many ways truly represented.
The Tories in the House of Commons carried on their old party warfare against Dissent. The Test Acts were still in force, but in the comradeship of the war and the loyalties of the new reign they were evaded with general acquiescence. A Puritan merchant who wished to hold office took the Sacrament on one day in the year, according to the rites of the Church of England, and thereafter kept to his Dissenting chapel. The Tories in the autumn of 1702 introduced an “Occasional Conformity Bill” with the object of disqualifying their political opponents from office by closing such means of escaping penal legislation. They declared that formal compliance was a hypocritical and blasphemous attempt to evade the law for the sake of public office, and should be stopped forthwith. The Bill, several times passed by the House of Commons, was resisted in the Lords. The Bench of Bishops, created under King William, was hostile to it. The Queen’s husband, Prince George, was himself a Lutheran and was prejudicially affected. The Queen was torn between her loyalty to the Church and the wrongdoing involved in penalising loyal subjects, including her husband, who were moreover the strongest supporters of Marlborough’s war policy. So powerful however was the Tory influence that Marlborough and Godolphin did not dare openly to oppose the Bill. They voted for it in public, and successfully used all their weight to compass its destruction behind the scenes.
For the campaign of 1703 Marlborough was able to concentrate the “Grand Army” of the Alliance around Maastricht, eighty miles south of Nimwegen, the starting-point of the previous year. He had set his heart on the capture of Ostend and of Antwerp. Ostend would give him a new communication with England; Antwerp controlled the waterways of the Scheldt, the Lys, and the canals, which, with the Meuse, formed the principal lines of advance to the French fortress zone. He deferred to Dutch opinion and began the siege of Bonn on the Rhine. When Bonn fell he made the attempt upon Antwerp, and very rapid manœuvring and hard marching followed. The “great design,” as he called it, did not succeed because the Dutch were not willing to consent to the very severe offensive battle which Marlborough wished to fight. The campaign was marked by the capture of Huy on the Meuse and Limburg; and the Dutch, delighted with what they considered a year of success, struck medals with the telltale inscription “Victorious without Slaughter.” But meanwhile on the Danube and the Upper Rhine the armies of the Emperor suffered constant misfortune. They were defeated in the field in Bavaria, and the loss of the famous fortified cities of Augsburg, Ratisbon, and above all Landau, gave the French control of Southern Germany and the Upper Rhine.
The Tories threw the blame of these reverses upon the Whig policy of the Continental war, and the Whigs themselves wilted under the double strain of being out of office and yet held responsible. Both at home and abroad the fortunes of the Grand Allies sank to a low ebb in the winter of 1703. Queen Anne here rose to her greatest height. “I will never forsake,” she wrote to Sarah, using the private names which were current in the Cockpit circle, “your dear self, Mr Freeman [Marlborough], nor Mr Montgomery [Godolphin], but always be your constant faithful servant; and we four must never part till death mows us down with his impartial hand.” With this support Marlborough during the winter months planned the supreme stroke of strategy which turned the whole fortune of the war.
But before he could proceed to the Continent it was essential to reconstitute the Government of the High Tories. Rochester was already dismissed and Nottingham was soon to go. A new figure was required to fill the void. Harley, whom we have seen so active in reducing the armed forces and opposing King William’s foreign policy, had been Speaker, leader of the moderate Tories, and virtually Leader of the House of Commons. He was now invited to become a Secretary of State, and the inner circle of the Government was widened to admit him. The combination became Marlborough, Godolphin, and Harley, with the Queen and Sarah as before. In Harley’s train Henry St John, a young Member who had made himself conspicuous by his brilliant speeches in favour of the Occasional Conformity Bill and was in high favour with the Tories, became Secretary at War, a post which brought him into close contact with Marlborough. All this being arranged, and a Parliamentary majority composed of the moderate Tories and the Whigs being procured, the Duke sailed for Holland.
The Elector of Bavaria, as we have seen, had abandoned the Emperor and was now the ally of France. A French army under Marshal Marsin had been sent to his aid, and Vienna, the Emperor’s capital, would evidently be exposed to mortal peril in the coming year. By subtle arts of persuasion and deceit Marlborough, with the complicity of Heinsius alone, obtained the assent of the Dutch States-General for a campaign upon the Moselle with British troops and those in British pay. Disengaging himself from the main armies left to guard Holland, he marched rapidly through Bonn to Coblenz. At this point, when friend and foe alike expected him to turn right-handed and southwards up the Moselle towards Trarbach and Treves, the first part of his true intention was revealed. The long column of redcoats passed the confluence of the rivers, crossed the Rhine upon a floating bridge, and marched day after day with extreme rapidity through Mainz and Heidelberg into the heart of Germany. Beyond the Neckar Marlborough was joined by the contingents of Prussia and other German states, and on June 11 he met the Margrave, Prince Louis of Baden, commanding the Imperial Army of the Rhine, and Prince Eugene, who, though he had no actual command, represented the supreme military control of the Empire. Here for the first time began that splendid comradeship of the Duke and Eugene which for seven years continued without jealousy or defeat.
The annals of the British Army contain no more heroic episode than Marlborough’s march from the North Sea to the Danube. All the French plans for the campaign were held in suspense while it proceeded. As Marlborough quitted the Low Countries Marshal Villeroy moved to meet him on the Moselle. When he reached Heidelberg the French generals expected a campaign on the Upper Rhine. Only when he was already within reach of the Danube did they realise that he meant to strike at Bavaria and rescue Vienna. Marshal Tallard, with a second French army, was forthwith sent to reinforce the Elector and the French troops under Marshal Marsin. Marlborough and the Margrave, having arrived upon the Danube, in a bloody assault stormed the strong entrenchments of the Schellenberg, drove their defenders into the river, and forced an entry into Bavaria. As the Elector would not yield Marlborough delivered the country to military execution, and grievous devastation followed.
Meanwhile Eugene fell back before Tallard’s superior strength and manœuvred so as to join hands with Marlborough. The two armies, French and Bavarian, now united, recrossed the Danube, and Tallard conceived himself able to force the Allies into a disastrous retreat. Marlborough persuaded the Margrave, whose counsels were obstructive, to occupy himself with the siege of Ingolstadt, and marched suddenly to join Eugene. The twin captains—“one soul in two bodies” as they were described—fell upon the French and Bavarian army at Höchstädt, on the Danube, early in the morning of August 13. The French were somewhat more numerous, and had the advantage of a far more powerful artillery and of a strong position protected by the marshy streams of the Nebel. The battle was fought with the greatest fury on both sides. Eugene commanded the right and Marlborough the left and centre. The English attack upon the village of Blindheim—or Blenheim, as it has been called in history—was repulsed, and for several hours the issue hung in the balance; but Marlborough about half-past five in the afternoon, after a series of intricate manœuvres, crossed the Nebel and concentrated an overwhelming force of cavalry, supported by infantry and guns, against the French centre, which had gradually been denuded to withstand the attacks on either wing. At the head of eighty squadrons he broke the centre, routed the French cavalry, drove many thousands to death in the Danube, cut to pieces the remaining squares of French infantry, surrounded the great mass of French troops crowded into the village of Blenheim, and, as dusk fell on this memorable day, was able to write his famous letter to his wife: “I have not time to say more, but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her army has had a glorious victory. Monsieur Tallard and the two other Generals are in my coach and I am following the rest.”
The victory of Blenheim almost destroyed the French and Bavarian armies on the Danube. Over forty thousand men were killed, wounded, captured, or dispersed. The remnant retreated through the Black Forest towards the Upper Rhine. One-third of both armies lay stricken on the field. Thirteen thousand unwounded prisoners, including the most famous regiments of France, passed the night of the 13th in the hands of the British infantry. Ulm surrendered after a brief siege, and Marlborough marched rapidly westward to the angle of the Rhine, where he was soon able to concentrate nearly a hundred thousand men. With Eugene and the Margrave he drove the French along the left bank towards Strasbourg and set siege to Landau, which surrendered in November. Finally, unwearied by these superb exertions, the Duke marched during October from the Rhine to the Moselle, where he closed a campaign ever a classic model of war by the capture of Trarbach and Treves.
All Europe was hushed before these prodigious events. Louis XIV could not understand how his finest army was not merely defeated, but destroyed. From this moment he thought no more of domination, but only of an honourable exit from the war he had provoked. The whole force of the Grand Alliance was revived and consolidated. The terror of the French arms, which had weighed on Europe for a generation, was broken. Marlborough stood forth, even above his comrade, the great Eugene, as the foremost soldier of the age; and as at the same time he conducted the whole diplomacy and life of the Alliance this English General became for a while the effective head of the great league of nations united against Louis XIV. England rose with Marlborough to the summit, and the Islanders, who had never known such a triumph since Crécy and Agincourt, four centuries earlier, yielded themselves to transports of joy. The Tory Opposition, who had been scandalised at the Duke’s unpardonable incursion into the midst of Europe, and who had declared their intention, should he fail, of “breaking him up like hounds upon a hare,” could not entirely restrain their patriotic admiration. Queen Anne, delivered from her perils, enchanted by her glory, loaded him with wealth and honours. On New Year’s Day the scores of standards and trophies of victory were borne in stately cavalcade through the streets of London to Westminster Hall. Marshal Tallard and other eminent French prisoners were distributed in honourable confinement in country houses, and for a space party spirit and even personal jealousies seemed stilled.
The same year had seen remarkable successes at sea. A recent treaty of alliance with Portugal made possible effective English intervention in the Mediterranean, since the harbour of Lisbon was now at the disposal of the English Navy. In May 1704 a powerful Anglo-Dutch fleet under Admiral Rooke entered the inland sea. This was the prelude to a lasting naval triumph. Reinforced by a squadron under Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Rooke turned his attention in July to the Rock of Gibraltar. This fortress was then little more than a roadstead, but the possibilities of its commanding position at the gateway of the Mediterranean were already recognised. After bombardment the Rock was taken on August 4, in the same month as Blenheim, by a combined assault, led on land by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. The French and Spanish Governments were both perturbed by this eruption of a new Power into the Mediterranean. The naval balance of the war was threatened, and the whole French Fleet came out to offer battle. A long and bloody engagement, fought off Malaga, failed to give them the advantage. The French therefore decided that Gibraltar must be recovered by siege. Throughout the winter of 1704-5 the Anglo-Dutch garrison, under Darmstadt, withstood an arduous attack by heavy forces. Failure to take the Rock brought sour quarrels over strategy between France and Spain. But Gibraltar remained in English hands, and proved a sure key to maritime power.
In this war a curious rhythm now recurs. When the fortunes of the Allies fell all obeyed Marlborough and looked to him to find the path to safety; but when he produced, infallibly, as it seemed, a new victorious scene the bonds of fear and necessity were relaxed and he was again hampered and controlled. Just as the brilliant campaign of 1702 was succeeded by the disappointments of 1703, so the grand recovery of 1704 gave place to disunity in 1705. For this year Marlborough planned an advance up the Moselle and a march to Paris. It was for this that he had prepared the ground at the end of 1704. He arrived at The Hague in April, and took the field in May. Basing himself successively upon Coblenz, Trarbach, and Treves, he placed himself, after difficult and dangerous marches, with sixty thousand Dutch and British, opposite Saarlouis, before which Marshal Villars, with a larger army, awaited him. Marlborough had expected and minutely made ready for a concentration with the Margrave’s Imperial Army and the contingents of the Princes of the Rhine. But all these forces were late at the rendezvous, and the Margrave, who had not forgiven Marlborough for leaving him out of the glories of Blenheim, showed deliberate ill-will, palliated only by serious ill-health. The Duke, unsupported, was forced to abandon his plan of fighting a decisive battle at the head of a hundred thousand men and advancing towards Paris. His position for ten days was most perilous. The difficulties of supply were formidable. “We are in a country,” he wrote, “where nothing can be found, and yet should we lack bread even for one day we shall be ruined.” On June 17 he extricated himself by a long night-march back to Treves, and thereafter, plunging into the wooded, mountainous region, then almost a wilderness, which lies between the Moselle and the Meuse, he reached Maastricht, and relieved Liége, upon which the French had hurled themselves.
The Dutch were overjoyed to see their Captain-General back in their home theatre. The French had constructed the famous lines of Brabant, covering the sixty miles from Antwerp to Namur, and these they now guarded with an equal army under Marshal Villeroy. Marlborough knew that he could not persuade the Dutch field deputies or their generals to contemplate a direct assault; but by a profound stratagem, which again deceived both sides, he feinted towards Namur, and then, by a long, sudden night-march, the purpose of which none but he understood, surprised the French and traversed the dreaded lines in the neighbourhood of Tirlemont without the loss of a single man. A brilliant cavalry action, in which he in person led the charge, drove back the French who were hurrying to the scene, and enabled him to establish himself amid the fortresses of Belgium. He now attempted a still more remarkable manœuvre. Filling his wagons with eight days’ supplies and separating himself from his base, he marched round Villeroy’s right flank, and on August 18 confronted him with superior forces on what was one day to be called the Field of Waterloo.
Like Napoleon a hundred years later, he aimed at Brussels, and also like Napoleon he sought a decisive victory over the enemy beforehand. The armies were ranged in strange posture, each facing their own country. Marlborough believed a victory was in his hands, but the Dutch generals and deputies, headed by one of Marlborough’s bitter rivals, General Slangenberg, delayed and prevented the battle, and Marlborough, being nearly at the end of his wagon-borne supplies, was forced to return to his base. Thus the campaign of 1705 ended again in disappointment and recriminations between the Allies. Marlborough, who had denounced the Margrave for failing to succour him upon the Moselle, now procured the dismissal of Slangenberg from the Dutch service. But passion rose high in England, and the Tories realised that Dutch obstructiveness was a means of presenting the Continental war in an odious light. The Duke returned home to a difficult situation. The triumph of Blenheim seemed overclouded. Once again the fortunes of the Grand Alliance declined, and the central power of the French monarchy regathered its giant strength.
Wearied with the difficulties of co-operating with the Dutch and with the Princes of the Rhine, Marlborough planned through the winter an even more daring repetition of his march to the Danube in 1704. He had succeeded in procuring from the King of Prussia, with whom he had immense personal influence, a strong Prussian force to aid Prince Eugene in Northern Italy. He now schemed to march across Europe with about twenty-five thousand British and British-paid troops by Coblenz, Stuttgart, and Ulm, through the passes of the Alps, to join Eugene in Northern Italy. There amid the vineyards and the olive trees the two great captains would gain another Blenheim and strike into France from the south. The States-General showed much more imagination and confidence than they had done in 1704. Their terms were simple. If Marlborough went he must take no Dutch troops. The Queen and the English Cabinet gave full approval, and on this basis he perfected his plans, even ordering six hand-mills for every British battalion for grinding corn in this novel theatre.
But the earliest events of the campaign of 1706 destroyed the Italian project. The French forestalled the Allies in the field both on the Rhine and in Italy. At Calcinato Marshal Vendôme inflicted a severe minor defeat on the Imperial forces. In Germany Villars fell upon the Margrave and chased him over the Rhine. The key fortress of Landau was threatened. Marlborough’s hopes were dashed. It was with melancholy thoughts that he began his most brilliant campaign. “I cross the sea,” he wrote to the Imperial Envoy, “with sufficiently sad reflections.” “The little concern of the King of Denmark and almost all the other princes give me so dismal thoughts that I almost despair of success,” he wrote to Godolphin. Not without pangs but certainly without the slightest hesitation he now divested himself of the troops which would have secured him a large superiority in the Low Countries and the chance of some deed “that would make a noise” and sent all possible reinforcements to Eugene. He deliberately resigned himself to “a whole campaign” with indecisive forces among the fortresses of Brabant, at a time when personal success seemed most necessary to his position in England. But now Fortune, whom Marlborough had so ruefully but sternly dismissed, returned importunate, bearing her most dazzling gift.
Louis XIV had convinced himself, after the forcing of the lines of Brabant and Marlborough’s threat to Brussels, that a defensive war could not be maintained against such an opponent. In robust mood he authorised Marshal Villeroy to seek a battle at the beginning of the campaign, and furnished him with the best-equipped army of France, all clothed in new uniforms and in perfect order. On May 18 Marlborough’s Intelligence Service reported heavy French assemblings on the left bank of the Dyle between Wavre and Louvain, and on the 19th news arrived that the French army had crossed the Dyle and advanced to within four miles of Tirlemont. The whole region was familiar to both sides, and had long been regarded as a possible ground of great battle. It was one of the most thoroughly comprehended terrains in Europe. Marlborough, summoning the Danish horse, who had hitherto been held back because they had not been paid, marched to meet Villeroy.
At dawn on May 23 the two armies were in presence near the village of Ramillies. Marlborough, having deployed, about noon began a heavy but feigned attack upon the French right with the British troops. Availing himself of the undulations of the ground, he hurled the whole mass of the Dutch, British, and Danish cavalry, over 25,000 strong, upon the French horse between the villages of Taviers and Ramillies. Here stood the finest cavalry of France, including the famous Household troops. Casting aside his veil of secrecy and manœuvre, Marlborough exclaimed, “I have five horses to two.” Actually he had first four to three and finally five to three. But it was enough. After furious fighting, in which forty thousand horsemen were engaged, he broke the French line, drove their right from the field, and compromised their centre. Forgetting his duty as Commander-in-Chief, he charged into the cavalry battle, sword in hand. He was unhorsed and ridden over by the enemy. His equerry, Colonel Bingfield, while helping him to mount a second charger, had his head carried off by a cannonball which passed close to Marlborough’s leg as he threw it over the saddle. But he soon resumed his full control of the tremendous event. His main infantry attack now broke upon the village of Ramillies, while his victorious cavalry, forming at right angles to the original front, swept along the whole rear of the French line. All the Allied troops now advanced, and the French army fled from the field in utter ruin. In this masterpiece of war, fought between armies almost exactly equal in strength and quality, the military genius of the English General, with a loss of less than five thousand men, destroyed and defeated his opponents with great slaughter and thousands of captives. Night shielded the fugitives, but less than a quarter escaped, and all their cannon were abandoned on the field.
The consequences of Ramillies were even more spectacular than those which had followed Blenheim. If, as was said, Blenheim had saved Vienna, Ramillies conquered Belgium. Fortresses, the capture of any one of which would have rewarded the efforts of a long campaign, fell by the dozen. Antwerp and Brussels surrendered, and the astonished Dutch saw themselves again possessors of almost the whole barrier which had been lost in the last year of King William’s reign. These immense successes were enhanced by the victories of Prince Eugene in Northern Italy. Marching across the broad base of the Peninsula, he relieved Turin in a wonderful action against heavy odds, and thereafter drove the French completely out of Northern Italy.
At the same time in Spain the Allies had achieved much to their credit and come near to a striking success. The Archduke Charles, their candidate for the Spanish throne, had taken up his residence in Lisbon. It was part of the Allied plan to prosecute his claims with vigour. At first he had been supported only by a small force of about five thousand British and Dutch under the Earl of Galway, a Huguenot who had won a respectable reputation as a commander in King William’s wars. Galway was assisted by a Portuguese army two or three times the size of his own. With these resources he could do little but make menacing gestures along the Spanish frontier. In 1705 the Allies determined on a greater effort. The Earl of Peterborough was dispatched from England with over six thousand troops and a considerable fleet under the command of Admiral Shovell. They were to pick up reinforcements at Lisbon, embark the Archduke, and sally into the Mediterranean.
There was much dispute among the commanders about their objective. Eventually however they decided upon Barcelona. Here was the populous capital of Catalonia, long restive under rule from Madrid and deeply estranged from the French-born king, Philip V. A landing was made north of the city in August and the Allies prepared to lay siege. The chief obstacle was the hill of Montjuich, which lay to the south, towering to nearly six hundred feet straight out of the sea and crowned by a bristling fortress. Peterborough was a man of mercurial mind in which daring and contentiousness vied with one another. After a period of squabbling, such as was to distract all Allied operations in Spain, Peterborough suddenly by a bold night march assaulted Montjuich. It fell to his attack the next day after a confused mêleé in which Darmstadt, defender of Gibraltar, was killed. Barcelona now surrendered to the Archduke. All Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia rose in the Allied cause and proclaimed their allegiance to “King Charles III.” The eastern provinces of Spain were solidly his, and there was widespread rejoicing in London.
In the spring of 1706, while Marlborough was manœuvring towards Ramillies, the Allies in Barcelona successfully withstood a siege by an imposing French army. Harried by the Catalan guerrilla, the French were uncertain of their communications. Though they in turn captured Montjuich after prolonged assault, they could not force the city. At a critical moment for the defenders providential succour arrived from an English fleet. The French gave up and retired north to the Pyrenees. Now was the time for the Allies to take advantage of French disarray and make for Madrid. Galway, already on the advance from Portugal, reached the Spanish capital in June. The “Year of Victory,” as it was called in London, may close on this.