Marlborough, p.23Richard Holmes
Aughrim was no easy victory. Ginkel’s frontal attack bogged down in the face of dogged resistance, for the Jacobite infantry, holding a line of ditches, ‘would maintain one side until our men put their pieces over the other, and then, having lines of communication from one ditch to another, they would presently post themselves again and flank us’. When a counterattack rolled Ginkel’s centre right back to his gun-line the exuberant St Ruth yelled, ‘Le jour est à nous, mes enfants,’ words of encouragement which might have cheered his Irish peasant infantry less than he expected. The Williamites then staked everything on an attack on St Ruth’s right, and as he was galloping across the peat to meet it a cannonball clipped off his head. His lifeguard wheeled about and left the field at once, followed by the rest of the horse: it may be no accident that their commander later received a pension from William. ‘And so,’ wrote a bitter infantryman, ‘let them keep their priding cavalry to stop bottles with.’ The Jacobites were cut to pieces as they fled: one Williamite saw their dead lying ‘like a great flock of sheep scattered up and down the country for almost four miles round’.44
The Jacobite survivors fell back to Limerick, where Tyrconnell was felled by a stroke. Early in October Ginkel gave them generous terms, allowing the French to go home, accompanied by Irish Jacobites who wished to serve King Louis. He agreed that Jacobite estates would not be confiscated, and that Roman Catholics would endure ‘not less toleration’ than they had enjoyed under Charles II. The Treaty of Limerick was not ratified: a million and a half acres were confiscated, and penal laws were to bear down harshly on Catholics and Protestant dissenters alike.
Marlborough hoped that his successes at Cork and Kinsale would bring him the office of master general of the ordnance, left vacant by Schomberg’s death, but it went instead, for no clearly discernible reason, to the civilian Henry Sidney. There was talk of a dukedom, although at this stage Marlborough felt that he lacked sufficient estate to support the title. He certainly hoped to receive the Garter, for Anne begged it on his behalf, though without success. William maintained that ‘No officer now living who has seen so little service as my Lord Marlborough is so fit for great commands,’ but there was no visible sign of royal favour. C.T. Atkinson argues that Marlborough ‘bitterly resented’ the lack of additional tangible reward as ‘a further proof of ingratitude, if not jealousy’, and that it was this that drove him ‘to make his peace with the man to whose overthrow he had contributed so largely’.45
Like many other senior officers, Marlborough resented the preeminence of foreign generals, just as English peers complained at the influx of foreigners into the Lords: Bentinck became Earl of Portland; Ginkel, Earl of Athlone; Ruvigny, Viscount Galway; and Zulestein, Earl of Rochford. ‘Under James,’ maintains Winston S. Churchill, ‘he saw his path blocked by Papists: under William by Dutchmen.’46 William only really trusted British officers who had served under him in the Anglo-Dutch Brigade. Thus he was prepared to appoint Hugh Mackay – ‘the most pious man that I ever knew in a military way’, says Burnet – commander-in-chief in Scotland. Mackay was beaten by Viscount Dundee’s Jacobites at Killiekrankie in July 1689. This mishap occurred partly because the plug bayonet then in use had to be rammed into the musket’s muzzle, and a government foot soldier thus armed was no match for a charging Highlander with broadsword and targe. Happily for Mackay, Dundee was killed in the moment of victory, and with his death the rebellion lost direction: Mackay subdued the Highlands that summer, and went on to distinguish himself at Aughrim.
However, there was no peerage for Mackay, not even an Irish one, and when he commanded the British vanguard against the French at Steenkirk in 1692 he was killed and his men badly mauled because, it was said, Count Solms, a Dutch lieutenant general and William’s greatuncle, failed to support him. William had some regard for Thomas Tollemache, a veteran of Walcourt and Aughrim, but there was a nasty scene when Tollemache told William that he was favouring foreigners, and threatened to resign both his major general’s post and the colonelcy of the Coldstream. William made him a lieutenant general but never forgave him. In November 1692 there was an acrimonious debate on the subject in the Commons, which revealed that around half the generals for the campaign of 1693 were to be British. The dispute showed Englishmen’s suspicions of foreigners and emphasised the way that William was failing to ‘oblige’ the political nation. Marlborough may have been unusually forward in his resentment at the way foreign generals were preferred to British, but he certainly spoke for a substantial constituency which suspected that William saw Britain simply as another stick with which to beat the French.
There can be no doubting William’s need for sticks. That untidy conflict known to historians as the War of the League of Augsburg rumbled on, with occasional naval clashes, skirmishes in North America (where it was called King William’s War) and the Caribbean, much marching and countermarching in the Low Countries, the war’s main theatre, and rather less in Italy and Spain, subsidiary areas of operations. In many respects it was a forerunner to the War of Spanish Succession, in which Marlborough was to make his reputation, with the French enjoying the advantage of a central position, interior lines of communication, and military reputation, and with William holding together a disparate alliance whose members were always vulnerable to defeat in detail. England’s most significant contribution was her navy, but she also furnished a contingent to the main Allied army, usually under William’s personal command, in the Low Countries.
The 1691 campaign began early with a French attack on the fortress of Mons in March, while William was busy with an Allied conference at The Hague. Marlborough had been left behind in England to raise recruits, and on 17 February he had written William a grumpy letter which went to the very edge of politeness. ‘I here send your majesty a copy of what we have done concerning the recruits,’ he wrote.
I must at the same time take leave to tell your Majesty that I am tired out of my life with the unreasonable way of proceeding of Lord President [Danby], for he is very ignorant of what is fit for an officer, both as to recruits and everything else as to a soldier; so that when I have given such as I think necessary orders, he does what he thinks fit, and enters into the business of tents, arms and the off-reckonings, which were all settled before your Majesty left England, so at this rate business is never done; but I think this all proceeds from, I hope, the unreasonable prejudice he has taken against me, which makes me incapable of doing you that service which I do with all my heart, and should wish to do, for I do with much truth wish both your person and Government to prosper. I hope it will not be long before your majesty will be here, after which I shall beg never to be in England when you are not.47
In May William ordered him to the Continent to command the British contingent, sending Tollemache to Ireland to create the vacancy. It was a thoroughly unsatisfactory campaign, for Marshal Luxembourg was more than a match for William. In September, just after William had given command to Waldeck and retired to Het Loo, Luxembourg unleashed Villars’ cavalry against the Allied rearguard, trudging along from Leuze to Grammont, cutting it up badly. Marlborough deftly swung the British contingent back to deal with the attack, but the dextrous Luxembourg had disengaged before it could come into action.
This mongrel campaign is noteworthy only because during it William asked Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudemont, son of the Duke of Lorraine and an experienced Imperialist general, what he made of British commanders. ‘Kirke has fire,’ said Vaudemont,
Lanier thought, Mackay skill, and Colchester bravery; but there is something inexpressible in the Earl of Marlborough. All their virtues seem to be united in his single person. I have lost my wonted skill in physiognomy if any subject of your Majesty can ever attain such a height of military glory as that to which this combination of sublime perfections must raise him.
‘Cousin,’ responded William, ‘you have done your part in answering my question, and I believe the Earl of Marlborough will do his to verify your prediction.’48
Fall and Rise
At this time, as William must have known, it would have been dangerous to make predictions about Marlborough. William told Gilbert Burnet, a trusted adviser who had landed with him in 1688, that ‘he had very good reason to believe that he [Marlborough] had made his peace with King James and was in correspondence with France’.49 Marlborough was one of the prime movers in the army’s opposition to foreign generals, and without the Marlboroughs’ support it would have been hard for Anne to maintain her divergent political line. William was fast concluding that Marlborough was a loose cannon who would be safest rolled overboard. Marlborough pressed him to ensure that British troops were commanded only by British officers. On the night of 9 January 1692 Marlborough told Godolphin and Russell that if the king refused he intended to move two resolutions in the Lords. One would deny all foreign officers the right to hold English commissions, and the other would demand the removal of Dutch troops from England.
On the morning of 20 January Marlborough, in his role as a gentleman of the bedchamber, attended the king’s rising as usual. Two hours later Nottingham told him, on behalf of the king, that he was dismissed from all his appointments and forbidden the court. Tollemache replaced him on the generals’ list, Lord Colchester took over the Royal Dragoons, and George Hamilton, later Earl of Orkney, became colonel of the Royal Fusiliers. The reversal cost Marlborough up to £11,000 a year, and though it did not leave him destitute, it was a shattering blow: the spectre of his father’s fate must have grinned impishly through the coal-fuelled smog of Whitehall.
It may be that William had decided, some time previously, to dispose of Marlborough, and that 20 January simply happened to be the chosen day. Marlborough was, after all, not simply prominent in his complaints about the over-use of foreign officers, but isolated, with Russell and Godolphin as his only really close friends. William told Nottingham that he had disgraced Marlborough for fomenting dissension in the army, but added, ‘He has rendered such valuable services that I have no wish to press him too hard.’50 He assured the Elector of Brandenburg’s representative that it was a matter of honour which, had the two of them been private gentlemen, could only have been settled by a duel. The historian Stephen Saunders Webb maintains that Marlborough’s opposition to foreign generals was the cause of his disgrace: ‘He pursued his xenophobic, patriotic programme to immediate disgrace and to ultimate success.’51
Alternatively, William might have received some specific intelligence, not long after rising that morning, that provoked him into taking sudden action. A well-placed but anonymous commentator later wrote that
the Earl’s disgrace was not slow, but sudden. He accompanied Lord George Hamilton, afterwards Earl of Orkney, and husband to Mrs Villiers, to King William in the morning, and was well received as usual; yet, within two hours after, the Earl of Nottingham came with a message from the king, saying that he had no further occasion for his services.
He acknowledged that Marlborough ‘spoke very freely of the King’s partiality to the Dutch, of the several mismanagements in the war, and of some indignities that had been put upon the English abroad’. However, he maintained that William was not capricious, and ‘very rarely dismissed his old servants’. The most probable cause of Marlborough’s fall, he argued, was the leakage of information about a projected attack on Dunkirk, known only to Marlborough, Portland and Rochford.52
In the published version of his History Burnet, by then influenced by his friendship with the Marlboroughs, wrote that ‘it seems certain that some letter was intercepted, which gave suspicion’. In his own annotations to Burnet, William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, argues that the ‘true cause of his disgrace’ was betrayal from within the Cockpit circle. Marlborough told Sarah of a projected operation against France, and Sarah passed on the news to Lady Fitzharding. Dartmouth maintains that she informed Lord Chelmsford, who in turn told the king.53 An anonymous well-wisher warned Anne:
I beg of you for your own sake that you will have a care of what you say before Lady Fitzharding, remember she’s Lord Portland’s and Betty Villiers’ sister. You may depend upon it that these two are not ignorant of what is said and done in your lodgings. Then I leave you to judge whether they make not their court at your expense … by exposing you and preserving the king as they call it … The King and Queen have been told that there has not passed a day since Lord Marlborough’s being out that you have not shed tears … If it ended in his turning out he might leave it with patience, but if resolutions hold he will be taken up as soon as the Parliament is up, and if you do not part with his Lady of yourself, you will be obliged to it … 54
The accuracy of these predictions reinforces the veracity of the source. In April Anne herself warned Sarah about Lady Fitzharding.
I can’t end this without begging dear Mrs Freeman to have a care of Mrs Hill [Sarah’s MS insertion: ‘That was a nickname for Lady Fitzharding’] for I doubt she is a jade and though one can’t be sure she has done anything against you, there is much reason to believe she has not been so sincere as she ought, and I am sure she hates your faithful Mrs Morley, & remember none of her family were ever good for anything.55
Princess Anne, pregnant yet again, was shocked, not simply by the news of Marlborough’s dismissal but by its yet unspoken corollary: Sarah, as the wife of a disgraced man, would be expected not to appear at court again. Only two weeks after the dismissal Anne put convention to the test by taking Sarah with her to a formal reception at Kensington Palace, and sure enough, Mary at once wrote to tell her forcefully that ‘never anybody was suffered to live at court in Lord Marlborough’s circumstances. I need not repeat the cause he has given the King to do what he has done, nor his unwillingness at all times to come to extremities, though people do deserve it.’ Under the circumstances it was ‘the strangest thing ever that was done’ for Anne to have brought Sarah to the palace: ‘it was very unkind in a sister, would have been very uncivil in an equal; and I need not say I have more to claim’. She concluded: ‘’Tis upon that account I tell you plainly, Lady Marlborough must not continue with you, in the circumstances her lord is …’56
Anne, furious at the suggestion that she could not choose her own servants, and by being reminded of the duty she owed her sister, slapped off a note to Sarah saying that she would keep her ‘in spite of their teeth’. She followed it with a measured letter telling Mary that ‘This proceeding can be for no other intent than to give me a very sensible mortification,’ and flatly refusing to part with Sarah. The maladroit Lord Rochester, upon whom Mary would rely increasingly heavily after William had departed to the Continent for the campaign of 1692, was summoned to the Cockpit to deliver this missive. Having seen what was in it he felt unable to do so, but advised the queen to expel Anne and her little court from the Cockpit. The lord chamberlain passed on this order, which was manifestly illegal because Anne held the Cockpit’s freehold, given her by Charles II.
However, Anne felt that she had no alternative but to comply, and duly moved into Syon House, on the Thames west of London, generously loaned to her by the Duke of Somerset. Her guards were withdrawn, and the Dutch sentries at Whitehall were told that they need no longer ‘stand to their arms’ for Anne and her husband. Sarah maintained that she was warned by Lady Fitzharding that her continued support for Anne would provoke worse trouble: ‘If I would not put an end to measures so disagreeable to the King and Queen, it would certainly be the ruin of my lord, and consequently of all our family.’ Indeed, she argued that it was her own closeness to Anne, not any action of her husband’s, that had precipitated his fall. ‘The disgrace of my Lord Marlborough,’ she writes, ‘was designed as a step for removing me from her.’57
Sarah offered to resign her post with Anne to defuse the crisis, but Anne replied that her mind was made up: ‘I am more yours than can be expressed, & had rather live in a cottage with you than reign empress of the world without you.’58 She followed this with a violent attack on ‘that monster … that Dutch abor
Rochester tried to broker a reconciliation based on Anne’s removal and, when that failed, advised Mary to ban any courtiers from visiting Anne. This was immediately effective, and only two or three Jacobite ladies visited the princess. Sarah observed that the breach between Mary and Anne was welcomed by the Jacobites. When Lady Ailesbury visited Anne, who was still confined to bed, to tell her that a French invasion was imminent and that 5,000 Jacobite soldiers would be ready to escort her to her father, she replied: ‘Well, Madam, tell your Lord that I am ready to do what he can advise me to.’60
As rumours of invasion reached fever-pitch, the nervous government responded by acting on a letter provided by Robert Young, a former confederate of Titus Oates and already a convicted criminal. He drew the Council’s attention to the fact that a treasonable bond of association, signed by Marlborough, Cornbury, Archbishop Sancroft and others, was hidden in a flowerpot at the Bishop of Rochester’s house. A search was made, the document was discovered and all the alleged signatories were sent to the Tower.
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