Marlborough, p.33Richard Holmes
Even his return to England did not go smoothly. He was marooned at Briel by contrary winds, and eventually reached London, where he landed at Tower wharf on 30 October, just in time to sit in a Parliament which became almost as firmly enmeshed in the Occasional Conformity Bill as he had been in the Lines of Brabant. 1703 could not, by any reasonable definition, be termed a good year.
* * *
* In these pages I generally call Dutch officers by the names used by their British allies, and thus use ‘Overkirk’ instead of ‘d’Auverkerque’ or ‘Ouwerkerk’; but I realise that this practice may be considered now (as it was then) another symptom of British cultural myopia.
Forging a Strategy
The campaign of 1703 in the Low Countries had not been wholly sterile. Bonn had been taken at its beginning, and both Limburg and Guelders fell at its end. Indeed, the grateful Dutch struck a medal with Queen Anne on the obverse and Marlborough on the reverse, with the inscription: ‘Victory without slaughter, by the taking of Bonn, Huy and Limburg.’ There was no irony in this: gaining territory by manoeuvre remained appealing to the Dutch, who rightly dreaded the consequences of a lost battle. Yet in the winter of 1703–04 it seemed to Marlborough that the war would be lost in Germany long before it could be won in Flanders or Brabant, and the defection of Bavaria meant that the balance of strategic geography for once favoured the French.
How so? The easiest route between France and the litter of small states and the few rather bigger ones that constituted the Germany of the early eighteenth century was what Charles de Gaulle was later to call that ‘Fatal Avenue’ in which Marlborough had been campaigning for the past two seasons. It was speckled with fortresses, laced with rivers and canals, and offered limited prospects for war-winning advances by either side. Further south, nature splashed forests and rivers across the landscape to make any advance into or from Germany even more difficult. The Ardennes and the Eifel, the south-eastern pivots of Marlborough’s operations in 1702–03, were inimical to marching armies, and the valley of the Moselle, which creased their eastern edge, was commanded by the fortresses of Trier, Trarbach and Koblenz. Another slab of forested upland rippled southwards from east of Saarbrücken to the borders of Switzerland, pierced by gaps which were to leave bloody thumbprints on the pages of history: Wissembourg, Saverne and Belfort.
The most promising of these, the Saverne gap, led to Strasbourg, a French city since the Treaty of Ryswick, with its bridgehead Kehl, on the other side of the Rhine, now in French hands too. An advance northwards down the Rhine was blocked by the Lines of Stollhofen, running from the Rhine village of that name to Buhl in the Baden uplands, with the mighty fortress of Landau on the left bank of the Rhine behind them. Easterly routes through the Black Forest were bottlenecks, easily corked by a defender. However, a French army which reached the valley of the Neckar would suddenly find room for manoeuvre, especially into the upper Danube, which then led, by way of Ulm, Donauwörth and Ingolstadt, towards the emperor’s capital of Vienna. A jab straight to the pit of the Austrian stomach might, if events in northern Italy turned to the French advantage, be combined with a hook up from Verona and Trento to the Brenner Pass, a classic two-pronged attack which was to be used by Napoleon a century later.
Bavaria was part of a greater Germany largely in a linguistic sense, and with its Roman Catholicism and almost Latin culture, was quite unlike dour Prussia, away in the north with the Baltic on one flank and Russia on another. Elector Max Emmanuel’s change of allegiance had suddenly provided Louis with the stepping-stone he needed to get into Germany without a fight, and offered the possibility of cracking the Grand Alliance by striking at its point of natural cleavage along the Danube valley. Louis had long sought to encourage Turkey, still a major military power in Europe and last repulsed from the gates of Vienna in 1683, in order to divert Hapsburg power to the east. During the Nine Years War the Emperor Leopold was forced to juggle his forces between Italy and the Empire on the one hand, and the east on the other. He was fortunate in that Eugène of Savoy, arguably his most capable commander, demolished a large Turkish army at Zenta in September 1697, bringing the Turks to the conference table and leading to the signing of the Peace of Carlowitz in 1699.
However, if Louis had lost one ally he soon gained another. The Hapsburgs, trying to establish a permanent settlement of Hungary, so much of it recently liberated from the Turks, succeeded in inflaming the population by unwise taxation, and irritating the prickly local nobility. In 1703 the patriot leaders Francis Rákóczi and Alexander Károlyi were in large-scale rebellion against the Hapsburgs, and received gilded but empty promises of support from Louis. The Hapsburgs could not afford to send substantial forces against the Hungarian rebels until after Blenheim, in August 1704, and fighting went on till 1711, first under the Emperor Joseph, who succeeded in 1705 but died unexpectedly in 1711, and then under Charles III. Ultimately it was Hapsburg successes in southern Germany and northern Italy that enabled them to move troops eastwards and crush the rebellion. To Marlborough the rebellion was not simply a smoky clash on a distant frontier: it was a major strategic distraction for a crucial ally. There can be no doubting French diplomatic efforts to keep the rebellion alive: when Rákóczi went to Constantinople in 1716, at the request of the Turks, he travelled there from Paris.
The Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm I of Baden, cousin of Eugène of Savoy, was the Allied commander on the upper Rhine. ‘Prince Louis’ to his British contemporaries and to this author, the margrave was a professional soldier in the emperor’s service; his trademark scarlet coat had led the Turks, whom he beat at Slankamen in 1691, to call him the ‘red king’. The Allies had reinforced him with troops from the Low Countries, enabling him to take Landau in 1702, but he was beaten by Marshal Villars in something of a pyrrhic victory at Friedlingen soon afterwards. In 1703 he advanced into northern Bavaria in an effort to deal with the Franco-Bavarian army under Villars and Max Emmanuel, but he was soon forced back: it was his subordinate Styrum who had been defeated at Höchstädt on the Danube in September 1703. By the end of the campaign the Franco-Bavarians had captured both Ratisbon on the Danube and Augsburg on its tributary the Lech. However, despite its failure in Bavaria, Prince Louis’ army successfully prevented Marshal Tallard from forcing the Lines of Stollhofen, persuading Tallard to operate on the river’s left bank and besiege Landau. Louis remained an important strategic asset for the 1704 campaign, essential, as Marlborough assured Heinsius in June that year, for supporting an Allied advance into Germany. ‘Prince Lewis will do nothing without first consulting me,’ wrote Marlborough, ‘and … he approves of what I have proposed to him; which is that he should act on the Iller, at the same time that I do on the Danube, which must necessitate the enemy to divide their army.’1
Marlborough had begun to shift his weight south-eastwards even before the 1703 campaigning season had ended. When the rest of the army went into winter quarters after the fall of Limburg, he sent the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, with twenty-two battalions and thirty squadrons, to recapture Trier and Trarbach on the Moselle. However, Hesse-Cassel tried to make Tallard raise the siege of Landau, and was badly beaten at Speyerbach. Landau duly fell in November, and the Moselle fortresses remained in French hands. In the spring of 1704 Tallard succeeded in getting a substantial convoy of recruits, muskets, cannon and ammunition from Strasbourg to join the Franco-Bavarian army, feinting to deceive Prince Louis and starting the campaign by putting the French at a notable advantage. This contingent formed part of the Franco-Bavarian army which was to be beaten at the battle of Blenheim.
The only setback to France was the defection of the Duke of Savoy to the Allied cause. Prince Eugène had little time for his kinsman.
Twenty thousand crowns a month from England, twenty thousand more from Holland, four millions for the expenses of the war, a kind of submission amongst all the petty princes of Italy, had more effect than all my eloquence, and converted the Duke of Sav
This at least meant that the French would be unable to advance from northern Italy into the Empire, but given the way the situation in Bavaria had developed, they would scarcely need to.
In the winter of 1703–04 the emperor’s ambassador in London, Count Wratislaw, repeatedly pressed Marlborough to relieve the pressure on southern Germany. He had already written to Marlborough to that effect in the summer of 1703, and had again proposed an advance southwards at a conference at Düsseldorf in the autumn. We cannot say, therefore, that the strategic concept for 1704 was Marlborough’s, but it was certainly one of the possibilities that he had rolled round his mind before he went to the United Provinces in January that year to discuss strategy. He lamented his departure in a letter to Sarah which juxtaposed the marital and the mundane.
I never go from you my dearest soul, but I am extremely sensible of my own unhappiness, of not having it in my power to live quietly with you, which is the only thing that can contribute to the ending of my days happily.
The tides fell out so that I did not go from Margate roads till 4 o’clock on Sunday in the afternoon. I never in my life saw so fine an evening, so that we had all the hopes imaginable of a good and quiet passage. But by the time we had got 7 or 8 leagues to sea, the wind began to rise so high that … we were forced to take in all our sails, and submit ourselves to be tossed as the wind and sea pleased, which lasted during 7 hours, during which time I was extremely sick …
I should be glad if you would get patterns for 7 or 8 pieces of hangings for my bedchamber, when I am in the field. You know my field bed is blue. If I should not be able to write to the Lord Treasurer this post, you will make my excuse. I am, with all the truth imaginable, heart and soul, yours.3
Before leaving London he had told Wratislaw that:
It is my intention to induce the Estates-General to decide upon a siege of Landau, or a diversion on the Moselle. I should be very glad to march there myself, but as it is difficult to move the Dutch upon an offensive … I should be able to get at the most only 45 battalions and some 60 squadrons for that purpose. Should I take Landau I would supply the Margrave of Baden with as many troops as possible, to enable him to overthrow the Elector of Bavaria.4
No sooner had he reached The Hague than he reported to Godolphin that the deputies were ‘extremely alarmed’ by the news from Germany, and money was so tight that the magazines planned for the coming season had not been filled, and only 60,000 of the 100,000 crowns owed to the Duke of Savoy had been paid. He added that Pierre de Belcastel, a Huguenot in Dutch pay and ‘a good officer and a discreet man’, had proposed sending aid to the Protestant rebels in the Cevennes so as to divert French strength, although in the event the project foundered because neither the Swiss, who would have supplied the mercenaries needed, nor the Duke of Savoy, through whose territory the expedition would pass, would back it.
For the rest of the trip he told Godolphin nothing of real significance, though there was the usual housekeeping: he agreed that it would indeed be hard to give the major’s vacancy in the Blues to anyone but the senior captain. Delayed once again by contrary winds, he told Godolphin that there was no real point in his coming home, as he would have to be on the Continent again so soon, but ‘My desire of being with you and Lady Marlborough is such, that I would come, although I were to stay but one day.’ He was, though, delighted to hear that his daughter Lady Bridgewater had given birth to a son.5 But he was gloomy enough at the possibilities for the coming year to tell Sarah:
For this campaign I see so ill a prospect that I am extremely out of heart. But God’s will be done; and I must for this year be very uneasy, for in all the other campaigns I had an opinion of being able to do something for the common cause; but in this I have no other hopes than that some lucky accident may enable me to do good.6
This is typical of Marlborough. His was not an abstract military brain, but a concrete one: he was always happier dealing with practical problems than with airy conceptions, more confident on the battlefield than in the camp. However, his background as a courtier ensured that only those closest to him ever knew it. In even the darkest hour he was always smiles and politeness, displaying that most attractive of military virtues, grace under pressure.
By early March, however, the design had hardened. First, Marlborough did his best to wreck negotiations between the Elector of Bavaria and the king of Prussia, sending ambassador Stepney to Vienna and thence to Berlin, where he was to ‘second my Lord Raby [ambassador to Berlin] in the assurances he has given the king of the great satisfaction her Majesty takes in the zeal he shows for the public’.7 Cadogan was also in close but rather more light-hearted communication with his old schoolfellow at Berlin, emphasising that plans for the coming year required undivided command. ‘Nobody can better judge than your Lordship,’ he wrote, ‘of the necessity of putting the command into a single hand and the impossibility of doing anything without it. One should think the misfortune of Speyerbach might convince the herring-sellers of the inconveniency which unavoidably attends a distinct right and left wing which is in effect making a great body of men useless at best.’ Cadogan added that some verses had come into his hands: ‘the ballad is mightily liked’, and though ‘these on the ladies are not very new’ he thought that Raby might be amused by them.8 Happily they have not survived. He had a lucky escape on his way home when his packet boat was attacked by a Dunkirk privateer which knocked it about with cannonfire. The mail was thrown overboard, and Cadogan emptied his pockets of letters given him by Cutts and Greffier Fagel. The captain and crew manfully refused to strike their colours even as the privateer closed to board. Cadogan was sure that they would be taken, but at the last moment a wind sprang up, enabling the packet to slip away.
On 7 March Marlborough warned Heinsius that ‘If England and Holland do not assist the Empire by sending an army early to the Moselle the whole Empire must be undone,’ and suggested that he should send his generals to the Meuse to ensure that the army was ready to move in time. He followed up by regretting the death of old Coehoorn, and recommending that it would be no more than justice to give his regiment to one of his sons, for ‘had he died one year sooner, any nation might have been proud of such a subject’.9 There were still major difficulties with the Dutch. Their lieutenant general Johan van Goor, serving under the Margrave of Baden, had fallen out with that gentleman, whom he thought dilatory, and was summoned back to the United Provinces, bringing his men with him. A horrified Wratislaw told Marlborough that this would leave Tallard free to throw ‘a new and large reinforcement into Bavaria’, and begged him to persuade the Dutch to change their orders. Marlborough said that he would do his best, but begged Wratislaw to accompany him to The Hague to put the case to the Dutch leaders in person.
The outlines of alternative plans were discussed at The Hague in April. Both Prince Louis and the Dutch favoured what we might term the small solution, an offensive in the Moselle valley, linked with an attack on Landau. Marlborough and Prince Eugène, however, favoured the big solution, an advance all the way to the Danube. Archdeacon Coxe suggests a secret understanding on the subject between Marlborough and Eugène, but the written record is silent on the subject. As a senior Imperialist officer Eugène would naturally have found the strategy more appealing than the small solution, and we know that he had a high regard for Marlborough, writing: ‘We similarly loved and esteemed each other. He was indeed a great general.’10 However, that is as far as we can legitimately take the argument, and a long message sent by Marlborough to Eugène in February through the medium of the British ambassador in Vienna does not even mention the Danube strategy.
Indeed, Marlborough’s first letters to Godolphin after his return to the Low Countries in April imply that there
My intentions are to march all the English to Koblenz, and to declare here that I intend to command on the Moselle; but when I come there to write to the States, that I think it absolutely necessary for saving the Empire to march with the troops under my command to join those in Germany that are in her Majesty’s and Dutch pay, in order to take measure with Prince Louis for the speedy reducing of the Elector of Bavaria. The army I propose there would consist of upwards of 40,000 men. If I should act in any other manner than what I now tell you, my design would be immediately known to the French, and these people [the Dutch] would never consent to let so many troops go so far from their frontiers; for the preservation of which and their garrisons, I propose to leave 100 battalions and 110 squadrons … What I now write I beg may be known to nobody but her Majesty and the Prince.
He went on to gratefully acknowledge the queen’s kindness in making him colonel of 1st Foot Guards.12 Planning the campaign was exhausting. On 5 May Cadogan told Lord Raby that his work ‘has left me hardly time to eat or sleep’. He emphasised that it was ‘absolutely necessary to hasten putting into execution the project of reducing the Elector of Bavaria before he can receive a greater succour … in order to do it there will be an army left in the Lines of Stollhofen to prevent the French forcing them or passing the Rhine below Philipsburg’.13
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