Marlborough, p.27Richard Holmes
Much of Marlborough’s time for the next nine years would be taken up with a thousand and one practical issues of coalition warfare. His correspondence files bulge with letters to monarchs, ambassadors and contingent commanders, and his background as courtier and diplomat was every bit as useful as his ability as a soldier. During the campaigning season operational matters were uppermost. When the Imperialist General Thungen was taking charge of the siege of Ulm in August 1704, Marlborough sent him some Prussian reinforcements.
Mr Schlundt, who will have the honour to present this to you, is a colonel of artillery in the service of the King of Prussia, who his Majesty sends with a brigade, specified on the enclosed list, to assist us in our enterprises. He is an officer of merit and experience, and I do not in the least doubt that you will be wholly pleased with him. When you no longer have need of him, I beg you to send him back to me with his men, and to give them wagons and the other necessities for their journey. I wish you, with all my heart, a happy success, and I am, with real esteem and friendship,
When the armies were in winter quarters Marlborough’s mind ran towards detailed issues of structures and establishments. In December 1706 he told Heinsius:
You may remember when it was under deliberation at The Hague, I told you my thoughts that it would be both for the service and for the honour of your troops that your squadrons should be of equal force with the rest of the army, therefore I hope the addition of eight men to a troop will meet with no difficulty, and I think you may depend that the Queen will be ready to increase her foot by an equal proportion to the charge you are at; in order whereto I should be very glad if you would send me, as soon as may be, an estimate of the numbers and expense of this augmentation on your part.9
Of course his responsibilities did not end there. He was both captain general of the British army and master general of the ordnance, and in consequence in charge not only of the ‘marching regiments’ of horse and foot, but also of the ‘gentlemen of the ordnance’, the artillery and engineers, as well as all fortifications and many military supplies. By holding both posts he was able to exercise an almost unmatched degree of control over the British army, but at the cost of mastering yet more detail. In July 1702 he wrote his first formal letter to the principal officers of the ordnance, establishing the policy that was to prevail during his tenure of the post.
I am obliged to you for your letter of the 30th past, and am very glad to see at the same time that the Queen has thought fit to honour me with an employment of the greatest trust. Her Majesty has been pleased to place me at a board with gentlemen of so much ability and experience, I do not doubt but with your advice and assistance the service will be carried on to Her Majesty’s entire satisfaction, and answer the great confidence reposed in us, wherein I shall always be ready to do my part.
I have likewise your letter of the 4th instant relating to the employments that are become void by this new commission and the vacancies that may happen by death or otherwise among the gunners of the garrisons, and other small officers, and in answer must desire that for such vacancies, where Her Majesty’s service may require the present filling them up, you will do it without expecting further notice from me; but for the others, where the delay may be of no prejudice to the service, I should be glad they might be deferred to my return.
As to the storekeeper and gunner of Scarborough, I leave it to you to do therein as upon examination of the complaint you shall find the merit of the case to deserve, either by restoring him or confirming the other who is now acting in his place.10
Marlborough did not simply sanction a policy of laissez-faire, for as soon as the board drew something to his attention he moved quickly. On 25 August 1707 he wrote from the army’s camp in Soignies, just off the 1815 battlefield of Waterloo, to inform the board that:
I have received your letter of the 8th inst. relating to the arms that are making in Holland for the service of Ireland, and send you the enclosed memorial which Lieutenant-General Ingoldsby has delivered to me, wherein he sets forth the extravagant rate demanded for the transport of the said arms, besides five per cent customs demanded on their exportation, and desire you will move the Prince’s council to appoint a man of war as soon as any can be spared, to receive the arms in Holland and carry them directly to Ireland to save that expense; in the meantime I shall apply to have the customs taken off. The Lieutenant-General assures me that the arms will be completed within the term of the contract, which he alleged to be eighteen months from the time the advance was made in December last.11
Marlborough had firm views on arms and equipment as captain general, and had to ensure, as master general of the ordnance, that these demands were met. When he reached the Continent in 1702 the matchlock musket had all but disappeared from British service, replaced by versions of the flintlock. The socket bayonet, which fitted around the musket’s muzzle so that the weapon could be loaded and fired with the bayonet fixed, was fast replacing the inconvenient plug bayonet. The pike, however, was trailed for far longer than we might suppose. In about 1702 Peter Drake was serving in Marlborough’s own regiment, having been compulsorily re-enlisted after one of his many desertions. It ‘had been commanded by the Marquis [de Puisan], who in coming from Ireland to join his regiment, was lost at sea: upon which it became General Seymour’s, and soon after Lord Marlborough’s; so that in less than five months we had three colonels’. He had to master pike drill, because
my size made me a pikeman against my will, though indeed I liked that service, and thought it the most becoming and manly of all. There was an encouragement (to induce a brisk and smart motion in charging) of half a crown to every one that should break a pike in that motion, and I had the good fortune to break two before I left the regiment.12
Naturally enough Drake soon deserted, first to a Dutch regiment in Spanish pay, and then to Old Pretender’s Life Guard of Horse, having somehow, in the process, changed sides.
As late as 1704 there were evidently not enough muskets for all, and Major General the Earl of Portmore, then at Plymouth, told the Duke of Somerset:
I have the honour of receiving an order from your Grace directing the storekeeper of this place to deliver 450 firelock in lieu of the like number of pikes which some of the regiments that come from Holland [on their way to Portugal] have, as they say, left behind by his Grace the Duke of Marlborough’s allowance.
The storekeeper would not comply unless given a direct order from the ordnance board, because some troops would sail unarmed if he did so.13
When Richard Kane wrote his New System of Military Discipline after 1714 he observed that a battalion used to form up in three grand divisions, musketeers on the flanks and pikes in the centre, but now, ‘since pikes have been laid aside’, a new system was required. The abolition of the pike was not universally supported. Lieutenant General Henry ‘Hangman’ Hawley, a government commander in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, agreed that Marlborough had been anxious to get rid of the pike. However, he argued, as a professional cavalry officer, that he would be hard pressed to break a battalion of pikemen in good order, and the weapon’s long reach might do more harm to his troopers than ill-aimed musketry. Marshal Saxe, who saw his first battle as an Imperialist officer at Malplaquet, always argued that the pike should be retained, because it might be needed one summer’s afternoon.
Marlborough was convinced, however, that infantry primarily achieved its effect by fire, and only secondarily by shock, while for cavalry the reverse was true. Kane tells us that he was only prepared ‘to allow the horse but three charges of powder and ball to each man for a campaign, and then only for guarding their horses when at grass, and not to be made use of in action’.14 He believed that cavalry should attack in close order, charging at the last moment so as to preserve alignment but on no account pausing to fire their pistols. The sheer terror of charging squadrons often persuaded their opponents to go ‘threes about’. A Royal Dragoon descr
Much of Marlborough’s ordnance work could be delegated, but as far as the army’s regiments of horse and foot were concerned, a far greater degree of control was required. On 6 April 1704, when he was about to leave Harwich for the Continent, he wrote to Sir Charles Hedges, briefly the sole secretary of state (and a man much disliked by Sarah as having ‘no capacity, no quality nor interest’) to tell him:
Herewith I send you a list of general officers to be promoted this year, with a list of officers for the two new regiments of foot to be raised under the command of the Lord Paston and Col Heyman Rooke; as also a fourth list of some officers to be commissioned in the Guards, and the Lord Lucas’s regiment, all of which I desire you will lay before Her Majesty and His Royal Highness and prepare commissions thereupon, according to the directions you shall receive in that behalf.
The commissions for the General officers and Brigadiers may bear the date of 1st January last, though it is not intended that those who are to receive pay should commence their allowance before the 1st May next.
I must desire you will remind His Royal Highness, at a proper time, of providing for Mr Montague [Wortley] on the first vacancy of a colours in the Foot Guards.16
Hedges was one of the great officers of state, albeit a man frequently in trouble over electoral investigations and a loyal supporter of his own interests, but there is no mistaking Marlborough’s peremptory tone. In contrast, by the same post he winged a letter off to secretary Blathwayt, upon whose judgement he had come to rely, even though he was a veteran of Charles II’s administration who was now ‘grown somewhat stiff and rusty’.
I received last night your letter of the 6th, and am just going to embark. I was in hopes I should have taken with me all the troops from home, but I shall be obliged to leave behind me four companies of Sir Richard Temple’s, and about fifty dragoons for the next embarkation for the want of part of our shipping … I must recommend to you that these, with Farrington’s regiment, be all put on board between the 18th and 20th of this month at the farthest, that a convoy may be ready against that time. I shall on this occasion depend upon your care, of which I have had so long experience, and shall always be ready to give you all possible marks of my friendship, and the esteem wherewith I am,
Sir, yours &c Marlborough17
There was never much shelter from the barrage of calls upon his interest. When a lady made a very general demand for a commission for a relative, he professed himself anxious to oblige, but added that it would assist him if she could tell him just which army the youngster had in mind. A bloody battle produced a flurry of requests. On 30 September 1709, in the aftermath of Malplaquet, he told the Duke of Somerset, seeking a regiment for his son Lord Hertford:
We have only two regiments vacant, that of Brigadier Lalo, and Sir Thomas Prendergast’s; the former, which is the eldest of the two, by agreement between the Brigadier and Lord Mordaunt, is to return to his Lordship as soon as peace is made, so that I know not whether Your Grace may be willing Lord Hertford should accept it with that encumbrance; the other is entirely at my disposal, and I will sign no commission till I receive your answer.18
Colonel Pennefather was anxious to sell a vacant company in his regiment, and engaged Brigadier Sabine to lobby Marlborough on his behalf. Marlborough could not help him.
I should willingly have agreed to it were it not for the pressing instances of the Prince of Savoy and others on behalf of Lieutenant Jones, to whom I am therefore obliged to give it, but I have promised the Brigadier that you shall have the benefit of the first that become vacant.19
Lord Halifax hoped that Lieutenant Barton might be preferred, ‘but there is no vacancy in his regiment, and you are too just to desire I should do it to the prejudice of such as were in the battle’.20 Marlborough deployed his own interest almost as often, whether it was trying to get a diplomatic post for that convicted duellist the Master of Sinclair, casting his vote as a Scots peer for the election of the Earls of Orkney and Stair as two of the sixteen representative Scots peers sitting at Westminster after the Union, or recommending Mr Abel the singer, ‘whose fine voice and manner has not displeased His Imperial Majesty’, to that cultured monarch the king of Portugal.21
Marlborough’s responsibilities immeasurably outweighed those exercised by British commanders-in-chief in the great wars of the twentieth century, for he did not simply execute strategy but helped to determine it. In the context of 1944, for instance, he would have been Eisenhower, Montgomery and Brooke rolled into one. He was able to do this because of his intimate relationship with the man who was as close as politics then allowed to being prime minister. Sidney Godolphin was appointed lord high treasurer on the accession of Anne, and advanced to earl in 1706. He was eventually unseated by the Tories in 1710, a process to which Sarah Marlborough’s replacement as Anne’s confidante by Abigail Hill (later Lady Masham) contributed. Godolphin was Marlborough’s closest friend and political associate, and in 1712 when he was tired, friendless and felt death’s fingers groping for him, he went to Marlborough’s home, Holywell House, to await the end. ‘The Whigs have lost a great support in the Earl of Godolphin,’ wrote Richard Swift, by then a Tory pamphleteer. ‘’Tis good jest to hear the ministers talk of him now with humanity and pity, because he is dead, and can do them no more hurt.’22
The fighting in Spain, where British troops were commanded first by Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, and then by that rheumy old Huguenot warrior Henri de Ruvigny, Viscount Galway, lay outside the compass of Marlborough’s sphere of tactical command. Yet it was never far from his thoughts, for he was concerned that the British army could never be simultaneously strong enough in the Low Countries and the Iberian Peninsula, and that the country’s desire to have ‘No Peace without Spain’ would compel the diversion of resources from the war’s main theatre to an important but necessarily subsidiary one. In October 1703 he informed Godolphin:
Mr Secretary [Hedges] sends me word that Lord Nottingham would send me her Majesty’s commands concerning the 2,000 men for Portugal. Not having heard from him, I take it for granted he wrote to me by that packet that is lost. However, I have directed the regiments of Leigh and Lord Baltimore to be ready for to be embarked, which has given so much alarm here, that I had a deputation this day from the States, to represent to me the dangerous consequence of what might happen, by drawing away without their consent any of those troops which were agreed at the beginning of the war … 23
This might almost be Sir John French, writing to Lord Kitchener in the spring of 1915 to say how much the French resented the diversion of British troops to the Dardanelles.
Both of the Marlboroughs had deep reservations about Peterborough. Sarah thought that his ‘vileness of soul’ had led him into ‘a sort of knight errantry’ with Lord Rivers, himself ‘of no better reputation than a common cheat or pickpocket’.24 Peterborough, initially a Whig, was to win several victories in Spain. The capture of Barcelona owed much to his efforts: when the attackers shrank from the assault on the fort of Montjuich, ‘Lord Peterborough … fell into the horriblest passion that ever man was seen in, and with a great deal of bravery and resolution, led us back to the part we had quitted.’25
However, Peterborough got on badly with other Allied commanders, and suggested a variety of schemes so puzzling that there was reason to believe that he did not in fact wish to see the Archduke Charles installed as king of Spain. Summoned home to explain him
In April 1707 Galway was beaten by Berwick at Almanza and several British regiments were destroyed, and in late 1710 the capitulation of a British force at Brihuega effectively doomed Allied hopes in Spain. Marlborough, as captain general, was part of the opposition’s target when the Tory leader Henry St John attacked the government for failing to ensure that the Almanza regiments were up to strength: of almost 30,000 troops on the payroll for Spain fewer than 9,000 had actually been present at the battle. Marlborough was then involved in trying to find extra recruits for ‘re-forming broken battalions’, for influential colonels were not prepared to see their regiments disappear, at precisely the same time that Flanders made its own inexorable demands for manpower and, as a theatre commander in his own right, Marlborough had a campaign to fight.
Gentlemen of the Staff
This workload was unending and potentially crushing, and if its tenor changed between the campaign season and the winter months, its weight scarcely ever receded. Marlborough coped as well as he did not simply because of personal energy and an acute brain, but because the delegation of routine work was fundamental to his style of command. His principal staff officer, ‘quartermaster general’ in the terminology of the age, was William Cadogan. Cadogan’s family was Welsh, but his grandfather had gone to Ireland with Charles I’s lord deputy, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. He later became a major in the parliamentarian army and served as governor of Trim Castle, whose massy square Norman keep still guards the River Boyne many miles upstream of the battlefield. His son Henry married Bridget, daughter of the regicide Sir Hardress Waller, and they had two sons and two daughters. Henry Cadogan was determined that William, born in 1672, should follow him into the law, and he duly went to Trinity College Dublin, where he met the convivial Lord Raby, subsequently Earl of Strafford.
Marlborough by Richard Holmes / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes