Marlborough, p.29Richard Holmes
Of course Cadogan could not shoulder his burden alone. His own staff, many of them holding appointments as deputy quartermaster generals, plied devolved authority of their own. Captain Richard King of Lord Orrery’s Regiment was authorised in 1707 to draw £100 in his capacity as assistant engineer by the master general of the ordnance, a good example of Marlborough rewarding in one capacity services done to him in another. As one of Cadogan’s deputies King was responsible for dealing with civilians who found themselves on the army’s line of march. In June 1709 a countess wrote from Malines:
I hear that you are on the march with the Palatine troops and are likely to pass this town. In that case, Sir, I beg you to remember that we are interested in Bonheiden, where we have meadows which may be greatly damaged by the passage of troops. So, Sir, if you can avoid that route we shall be eternally grateful to you.
She added, ‘if you pass by Malines yourself give us at least the pleasure of making use of our house’. Her husband was away at the moment, but sent his best wishes. Ambassador Stepney’s secretary, Mr Laws, wrote to ask if two villages near Brussels ‘may be entirely spared if possible and left off the routes by which the troops are to return to their winter quarters’. He too was able to hint at some reward, for ‘I am employed in this affair by so fair a person that I persuade myself, when you see her, her thanks will be a sufficient recompense for your trouble, though she granted you no other favour.’ The implication, of course, is that she might just have other favours in mind.
Captain King also dealt with bread-and-butter letters on Cadogan’s behalf. On 13 September 1708 Cadogan asked him to thank an officer ‘for his letter and exact account he gave me of everything’. He could not write a decent letter himself because he had been on the move for two days and ‘I drop asleep as I write.’ King was a colonel in 1711, and squared himself with Marlborough’s enemies before his fall. The Hanoverian succession and Marlborough’s reinstatement ruined him, and he disappears from history in 1716, blind and searching desperately for a cure.44
Most letters from Cadogan are not in his own ‘round, half-formed schoolboy’s hand, not very beautiful to look at but very easy to read’, but are instead the work of clerks or assistants. He generally wrote to Marlborough in his own hand, however, and in February 1716, though a full general and commander-in-chief in Scotland, nonetheless apologised because ‘my arm being extremely bruised and my shoulder bone wounded by a fall I got riding from Aberdeen to Montrose obliges me to make use of another hand to write to your Grace’.45 Similarly, many of Marlborough’s letters were written by secretaries or clerks, and his private secretary, Adam de Cardonnel, not only ran his private office in the field but led for the headquarters on many matters that were diplomatic rather than strictly military. Incoming packages of mail from the same source might be divided up between Cadogan and Cardonnel. On 26 June 1710 Cadogan told Marlborough: ‘I send Mr Cardonnel by this cover a relating of what was done in the conference here these two days past, by which your Grace will find the present want of the contractors are supplied with an advance of five hundred and fifty thousand guilders …’46
Adam de Cardonnel, the second son of a Huguenot refugee who had got no further than Southampton, and there prospered, had become chief clerk in the secretary at war’s office, and was appointed Marlborough’s private secretary early in 1692. During Marlborough’s ascendancy he was rewarded by a parliamentary seat at Southampton, eventually being designated secretary of war in place of Walpole in 1710, although he did not actually succeed to the office, for George Granville’s Tory friends secured it instead. In February 1712 he was expelled from the House for having accepted an annual sweetener of five hundred gold ducats from Sir Solomon de Medina, the army’s main bread contractor. Many MPs had done far worse, but Cardonnel was, as his Dictionary of National Biography entry asserts, ‘a pawn in a larger political game’. His wife died the following year, and Marlborough, then in exile in Frankfurt, wrote him a touching letter.
I would have written to you sooner, dear Cardonnel, if I had believed it possible to say anything to lessen your grief; but I think of all the worldly misfortunes, the losing what one loves is the greatest, and nothing but time can ease you. However, I could not deny myself any longer the satisfaction of writing to assure you that I shall always be very sorry for anything that is a trouble to you, and that I long for the opportunity of assuring you myself that I am your humble servant and faithful friend.
He remained Marlborough’s secretary until his death in 1719, and was buried in Chiswick, not far from Marlborough’s old lover Barbara Castlemaine.
Cardonnel’s correspondence, much of it now in the British Library, gives a penetrating view of attitudes at Marlborough’s headquarters. In July 1703 he told John Ellis, an under-secretary in London, that both Marlborough and the deputies wanted the Dutch engineer Coehoorn to besiege Ostend, ‘but I find ’twill be very difficult to persuade the old gentleman to do his part, so that in all probability we soon return again towards the Maas’. He added: ‘My Lord Duke has a very hard task indeed to keep our generals in humour and to prevent their falling out among themselves, particularly Lieut General Slangenburg, who is of a very unhappy temper to command an army.’47 Although Cardonnel was not a soldier, he ran many of a soldier’s risks. On the way to Blenheim in 1704 he reported: ‘Our last march was all in fire and smoke. I wish to God it were well over that I might get safe out of this country.’ In May 1706 he told Ambassador Stepney that the pursuit after Ramillies had left him ‘almost dead with the fatigue of marching, fighting (or at least the fright and apprehension of it) and writing for three days together without any rest’.48
The wars of the period were divided into distinct annual campaigns, although on occasion a commander might mount a surprise attack in the winter if he thought the reason good enough. In the winter of 1703–04 Colonel de la Colonie, troubled by the raids of Imperial hussars (‘a sort bandit on horseback’), led three hundred of his Bavarian grenadiers and two squadrons of cavalry to the village where they were quartered and took them by surprise in the darkness. The hussars turned out in their shirts, but could offer no effective resistance to men who were not over-anxious to take prisoners. De la Colonie killed four hundred and captured another 140 without the loss of a man. This was, however, exceptional, and generals usually preferred to wait until there was hay for their horses to eat and the roads were firm enough to bear the weight of guns and wagons.
Some Allied contingents simply marched home when the season ended, and the remainder went into garrison in the United Provinces or captured territory of the Spanish Netherlands following plans developed by Cadogan and his staff. British officers tried to get home on leave, to see to family business, sit in Parliament or hunt the fox, for the fox-hunting and campaigning seasons were closely aligned, or simply to recruit. Each March the London Gazette gave its call to arms.
It is Her Majesty’s Royal Will and Pleasure, that the General Officers, Field Officers, and all others whatever, belonging to the Army in Flanders, do repair forthwith to their respective commands, and not omit the opportunity of the present Embarkation, which is appointed the 15th Instant, upon pain of Her Majesty’s highest Displeasure.49
Drafts were recruited during the winter to bring regiments up to strength. In November 1711 the Gazette told its readers that:
The Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain, having issued into the hands of the Paymaster-General of Her Majesty’s Forces a sufficient sum of money for recruiting the army in Flanders, notice is hereby given to the several agents of the regiments concerned that they do apply for their proportion of what they are to receive thereof, which they are to distribute to the officers of the respective regiments to enable them immediately to proceed upon their service. And the General Officers of the army having allotted what counties each Regiment shall recruit in.50
In January 1712 the Gazette announced that just a few ‘able-bodied men are wanting to supply Her Majesty’s Royal Artillery
Desertion was a constant plague, and the London Gazette regularly contained descriptions of men who had run from their colours. In October 1704 it announced:
Deserted out of the Rt Hon the Lord Paston’s Regiment in his own company, Rob. Weston, a well-set man, about 5 foot 5 inches high, a fresh complexion, round visaged, aged about 24 years, supposed to be gone to Sheffield in Yorkshire; Rich. Brown, about 5 foot 6 inches high, thin visaged, swarthy complexioned, aged about 22 years, a locksmith; Benj. Lowe and John Tawits, both shoemakers by trade; Rich. Dewberry, aged about 44 years, 5 foot 6 inches high, light brown hair, bald on his crown, a miller; Steph. Burrel, about 5 foot 5 inches high, aged about 26 years, wears a wig, hath lately had the small-pox, and born at Diss in Norfolk … If they will return to the company in 14 days they shall be kindly received; or, whoever apprehends them, so as they may be brought to justice, they shall receive for each man two guineas, to be paid by Mr Rob. Perryman, agent to the said regiment, at his house in Leicester Fields.52
The fact that Tilbury was the rendezvous suggests that Paston’s men were about to embark for Flanders, though it was late in the year to move a regiment.
Marlborough sometimes spent part of the winter on the Continent, but he normally returned home before the campaign season started, and then left England in March or April, often crossing by yacht from Harwich to Helvoetsluis. Sarah sometimes accompanied him to the port, and Marlborough always felt the separation keenly. ‘It is impossible for me to express with what a heavy heart I parted with you,’ he told her when he set off for the 1702 campaign.
I would have given my life to come back but I know my own weakness so much that I darest not for I know I should have exposed myself [revealed his feelings] to the company: I did for a great while with a perspective glass look upon the cliffs in hopes I might have had the sight of you, we are now out of sight of Margate, and I have neither soul nor spirits, but I do at this minute suffer so much that nothing but being with you again can recompense it. If you could be sensible of what I now feel you would endeavour ever to be easy to me, and then I should be most happy, for it is you only that can give me some content … 53
Marlborough normally visited The Hague to see Heinsius and other important officials before setting off south to join the army. Although he sometimes undertook long journeys by coach, on campaign he generally rode, with fresh mounts being provided from a string of horses under the care of his ‘gentleman of the horse’, Colonel Bringfield, who was killed at Ramillies. On 11 July 1703 he closed a letter to Sarah, written the day before, saying: ‘I am just come off my horse where I have been near 14 hours, so that I own to you that I am so weary that I have not spirits to write any more, especially when I know I must be on horseback by three o’clock tomorrow morning.’54
At that time European capitals were connected by regular posts, leaving perhaps twice a week, and national authorities then distributed mail internally. London now had a general post office with some forty sorters, and it had recently become possible for ‘cross posts’ to go between major towns without passing through the capital. On average a postboy would take six days to ride from London to Edinburgh. Posts from London to The Hague and vice versa usually took three days, but bad weather in the Channel could leave a backlog at the ports, and sometimes a packet boat went down in a storm or was snatched by Dunkirk privateers, rather interrupting the mail. An express, the equivalent of modern special delivery, ran outside the times of the normal post, but it too ran the risk of being stopped by bad weather. Really important documents, like first reports of battles, would be sent by hand of an officer, and Marlborough assured Sarah that he would always send her a letter if he had an official courier on the way. Although her fierce temper did not always make her a comfortable spouse, when she wished to be loving she could certainly charm. ‘Wherever you are, whilst I have life my soul shall follow you my ever dear Lord Marlborough,’ she wrote in 1701–02, ‘and wherever I am I shall only kill the time, with the night that I may sleep & hope the next day to hear from you.’55
The post was notoriously insecure, and many correspondents used simple codes to screen their meaning. Marlborough and his circle replaced names and places by numbers, which changed from time to time. In August 1710, for instance, he gave Sarah instructions about the Woodstock election.
39 [Marlborough] shall expect more assistance in 87 [Parliament] from 197 [Cadogan] and 202 [Sir Thomas Wheate, the other MP for Woodstock] than any numbers … I do earnestly desire that these two men may be chosen preferable to all others which I desire you will lose no time in acquainting 38 [Godolphin] and that I beg it of him as a particular favour, and that he would take care of securing an election for 202, for 39 does not think it absolutely necessary to have him early in 108 [England] this winter, of which he will take care.56
Despite the quality of his staff, his own acumen and growing experience, there were moments when Marlborough found his burden almost intolerable. Sarah’s occasional sulks, apparently worsened by the approaching menopause, meant that she was not always as reliable a source of comfort as that other lodestar of Marlborough’s existence, Sidney Godolphin. In the depth of gloom after a battle which failed to materialise because of Allied disobedience, with Sarah ill and no word from her, he told Godolphin: ‘I am in so ill humour, that I will not trouble you, nor dare I trust myself to write more. But believe this truth; that I honour, and love you, my Lady Marlborough, and would die for the Queen.’57
In 1701 the War of Spanish Succession had opened well for the Allies in Italy, where the Imperialist general Prince Eugène of Savoy had first thrashed Marshal Catinat and gone on to capture his successor, Marshal Villeroi, in a midwinter attack on Cremona. There had been no fighting in the Low Countries, although the initial French incursion into the barrier fortresses had placed them in an advantageous position before a shot had been fired. For the 1702 campaign the French, like their opponents, had to find troops for other theatres of war, and the size of their field armies was reduced by the constant need to garrison fortresses. However, for the first few months of the campaign in the Low Countries the weight of numbers told in their favour.
When Marlborough arrived to take command in July, Marshal Boufflers had just jabbed hard at the main Allied army under the Earl of Athlone (Godert de Ginkel, commanding by virtue of his Dutch commission), which had fallen back on the fortress of Nijmegen. Boufflers was now close to invading the republic’s own territory, but Marlborough at once saw that there was nothing to be gained by mere frontal defence. Instead, an Allied crossing of the Meuse below Grave would threaten Boufflers’ communications, especially if some simultaneous pressure could be put on the French right on the lower Rhine. Before the Allies could reach a decision on this plan Louis ordered Boufflers to divert a strong detachment to the upper Rhine, giving Marlborough a clear numerical edge. Yet the Dutch were still not confident, and, as Marlborough told Godolphin, ‘the fears the Dutch have of Nijmegen and the Rhine, creates such difficulties when we come to take a resolution we were forced to send to the Hague’.58 He pressed Heinsius hard, telling him:
The Dutch did not approve the plan till 22 July, and Sergeant John Wilson tells us what happened as soon as Marlborough heard that he could move.
We continued in this ground without any motion till … there was orders to the pontoons to march to the right to lay two bridges over the Maas, as also for the [artillery] train and wheel baggage to march that afternoon by way of … Grave. At night there was orders for the quartermaster general, the vanguard and the camp colour men to parade on the right of the front line by four o’clock in the morning and the General to beat at 5.00. Which orders were all punctually obeyed and the army decamped accordingly and that day passed the Maas and advances about two and a half leagues and there encamped. Whereupon the enemy decamped also … 60
This is a classic description of an early-eighteenth-century army at its business. Although the Maas at Grave is a wide and stately river, it was the stock in trade of engineers to bridge it with pontoons, boats carried to the river on carts, floated, anchored and roped together before being turned into bridges by the addition of wooden trackway. Wheeled vehicles and heavy baggage were wisely sent over the fixed bridge in the town. Soldiers, roused from their slumbers by the drag and paradiddle of the general call to arms, drew up in line when the assembly was beaten perhaps half an hour later. Normally the troops to march first were on the right of the line, and included Cadogan with a small cavalry escort, and then the army’s vanguard. The camp colourmen were guides from each battalion who carried ‘camp colours’, small identifying flags which would enable their commanding officers to identify their allocated campsite at the end of the day’s march. It was as well to start the whole process as soon as it was light enough to strike camp, to ensure that there was plenty of daylight left when the army reached its next campsite. A river crossing and a march of two and a half leagues (seven and a half miles) was a good day’s work.
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