Marlborough, p.34
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       Marlborough, p.34

           Richard Holmes

  Despite his desire to conceal his full intentions from the Dutch, Marlborough was open with Heinsius. On 11 May he wrote from Maastricht to say that he had now met Goor, who must logically have been apprised of the plan, for, helpfully, he had proposed that the twenty Dutch cannon at Koblenz should join the march, and on 21 May Marlborough told Heinsius that he hoped to be at Koblenz on the twenty-fifth and then at Mainz on the twenty-ninth. He was confident that if Villeroi shadowed his march with a strong force to the west, as he expected, ‘they will hardly be able to leave the name of an army behind them’, and that would enable the Dutch to send more troops ‘as might make me succeed against the Elector of Bavaria’.14

  A private shadow hung over public endeavour. By the opening of the campaign Marlborough’s relations with Sarah had broken down almost completely, and they were certainly living apart. Although there had already been marked differences of opinion over politics, for John was too much his father’s son to approve of Sarah’s relentless whiggery, the most probable cause of her coldness was her belief that Marlborough was having an affair. Sarah’s biographers suggest that the thirty-year-old Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Lord Southwell, joint commissioner of the privy seal, was the most probable subject of her ire. It is impossible to say, after this passage of time, whether or not she had cause for it, although the case would fit a diagnosis of menopausal jealousy very closely. On an unspecified date in April, evidently before his departure for the Continent, Marlborough told Sarah:

  Your carriage to me of late is so extraordinary, that I do not know how to behave myself. I thought you used me so barbarously that I was resolved never to send or speak, but I love [you] too well to be able to keep in that resolution. Therefore I desire that you will give me leave to come to you tonight, so that I may know in what it is I have thus offended. I am sure really in thought I have not, for I do love you with all the truth imaginable.

  Another letter admitted that:

  As I know your temper, I am very sensible that what I say signifies nothing. However, I can’t forebear what I said yesterday, which is that I never sent to her [the unspecified ‘mistress’] in my life, and may my happiness in the other world depend upon the truth of this. If there be aught that I could do to let you know my innocency, I should be glad to do it … You say that every hour since I came from St Albans has given you fresh assurances of my hating you, and that you know I have sent to this woman. These two things are so barbarous, for I have not for these many years thought myself so happy by your kindness as for these last five or six days, and if you could at that time think I hated you I am most miserable. And for the last which you say you are sure of, may I and all that is dear to me be cursed if ever I sent to her, or have had anything to do with her, or have endeavoured to have.15

  They were at least communicating by the time he reached The Hague, and he begged her to let him know how she would like him to rewrite his will to reflect Blandford’s death: ‘As I hope for happiness in the next world and this, I will follow your directions exactly, and take it as kindly as if you have reprieved me from death.’16 She wrote to him soon afterwards, but ‘you write very much with the spleen, which makes me uneasy’. It was not until 24 April that she at last forgave him.

  Your dear letter of the 15th came to me but this minute. My Lord Treasurer’s letter in which it was enclosed, by some mistake was sent to Amsterdam. I would not for anything in my power it had been lost, for it is so very kind, that I would in return lose a thousand lives if I had them to make you happy. Before I set down to write this letter I took yours that you wrote at Harwich out of my strong box, and have burnt it; and if you will give me leave, it will be a great pleasure to me to have it in my power to read this dear letter often, and that it may be found in my strong box when I am dead. I do this minute love you better and with more tenderness than ever I did before. This letter of yours has made me so happy, that from my soul I do wish that we could retire and not be blamed … I have pressed this business of carrying an army into Germany, in order to have left a good name behind me, wishing for nothing else but good success. I shall now add to that, of having a long life that I may be happy in your dear love.17

  The Scarlet Caterpillar

  The great march began at Bedburg, west of Cologne, on 19 May. The weather had been terrible, but one cavalry officer remembered: ‘Notwithstanding the rainy weather that happened at the same time, [the army] made a most glorious appearance.’18 Marlborough started the march with some 19,000 men in English pay, 5,000 Prussian and Hanoverian troops met him at Koblenz on the twenty-sixth, and other streams flowed in to join the torrent as it rolled southwards. Apart from Marlborough and a few senior officers nobody knew the army’s destination. On 11 May he had written to congratulate Henry St John, a protégé of Robert Harley’s, who had just taken over from old Blathwayt as secretary at war, telling him that his army would shortly head for the Moselle, but ‘I may venture to tell you (though I would not have it public as yet) I design to march a great deal higher into Germany.’19 There was a two-day halt at Koblenz, ‘After which,’ says Richard Kane,

  to the surprise of all, we crossed the Moselle and Rhine both at this place, and marched through the country of Hesse-Cassel, where we were joined by the Hereditary Prince of that country with a body of Hessians, which completed the Duke’s army to about 40,000. Having passed through Hesse, we marched through the Electorate of Mainz, and so through the Palatinate of the Rhine, till we came to Heidelberg; here we halted four days, nor was it publicly known, till we came here, what the Duke designed.20

  The French were as mystified as Captain Kane. Villeroi knew that Marlborough had moved south, and duly shadowed him, but was then ordered by Louis to take station at Offenburg, across the Rhine south-east of Strasbourg, with forty battalions and sixty-eight to seventy squadrons (some of them later sent on to Tallard), and to react as required, blocking Marlborough if he came up the Rhine, turning on him if he entered Alsace, or following him to the Danube. Tallard, with forty battalions and fifty squadrons, was to operate in Bavaria, and Coigny, with a tiny force composed largely of Swiss regiments whose contracts did not oblige them to cross the Rhine, remained in Alsace. Thus while the French were not completely wrong-footed by Marlborough’s march, their response at this stage was wholly reactive, and in the event Villeroi was, through no fault of his own, to be no use on either the Brabant or the German front.

  Although some historians detect real tension between Marlborough and Overkirk, left behind to command Dutch troops in front of the Lines of Brabant, it is evident that relations between the two generals were actually very good. Cadogan makes it clear that ‘Monsieur Overkirk’ was the only Dutch general to have backed Marlborough when he wished to penetrate the Lines of Brabant the previous year, suggesting that the real problem was Dutch generals and not field deputies, and that ‘the deputies here … are extremely for it’.21 There was a moment of concern in early May when Cardonnel reported to John Ellis, under-secretary of state, that the French

  are getting all the boats they can together at Namur and landing cannon with ammunition and instruments for removing of ground and give out that they design to besiege Huy, though ’tis believed they will hardly attempt it, and that they make these preparations rather to hinder or retard our march into Germany.22

  However, Marlborough correctly deduced that if he moved south Villeroi had no choice but to follow, and on 21 May he assured Overkirk that Villeroi had indeed been ordered to take a very strong detachment from Brabant to follow him wherever he went: as this order had been issued by Louis XIV in person, it is an index of the quality of Marlborough’s intelligence. He added in a postscript that this force included thirty-six battalions and forty-five or forty-six squadrons, including the Maison du Roi, Louis’ household troops: these latter were to be sent on to Tallard in Germany. Three days later he told Overkirk that progress was good, and repeated letters assured Overkirk that operations were going according to plan and that there was n
o chance of Villeroi breaking back to attack the Dutch in Brabant. Marlborough helped confound confusion by ordering a bridge of boats to be thrown across the Rhine at Philipsburg, implying that Landau might really be his objective, and it was not until he crossed the Main on 3 June that this possibility could be ruled out by the French.

  We can see, from the correspondence between Louis and his generals, that they were consistently a move behind Marlborough in the game. On 4 May Louis told Villeroi that enemy movements still did not betray ‘their real intentions for the campaign: it seems only, by all the information … that they have no other object but a definite concentration in Flanders and Brabant’. Villeroi replied that ‘Rumour is rife … that they are going to raise a considerable army on the Moselle, and that the Duke of Marlborough will command it.’23 Tallard and Marsin were concerned about establishing the time and place of their rendezvous, and the only hint that all might not be perfect came when Tallard told Chamillart that his planned manoeuvres in Bavaria, so far from the fount of French strength, might prove tricky ‘if things do not turn out as we hope’.24

  In contrast, throughout this period Marlborough’s intelligence network was working flat-out. Although part of the responsibility was Cadogan’s, Adam de Cardonnel ran one network through John de Robethon, private secretary to the Elector of Hanover, the future George I. By the time he came to England with his employer Robethon was arguably the most influential of the new king’s advisers, and was not a popular figure in his master’s new realm. However, during Marlborough’s campaigns he was a vital link in an intelligence chain whose length and complexity we can only guess at. Cardonnel gave him accurate appraisals of the state of the French army and the progress of the Allied march. ‘The deserters who come in say that all French battalions are very weak despite the recruits who have joined them,’ said Cardonnel on 19 June, ‘and that sickness is rife amongst the newly-arrived, so that five hundred were buried at Ulm in a single week.’ A week later he said that: ‘The continual rain which has fallen for fifteen days has greatly inconvenienced our infantry and caused [illegible] sickness amongst them … but our cavalry and generally all the other troops in the pay of England and the States are in very good condition.’25

  The really valuable information flowed the other way. Cardonnel thanked Robethon for letters, now missing, which accompanied ‘Mons de Chamillart’s Memorial and du Breuil’s examination’. Michel de Chamillart was Louis’ war minister, who owed his rise at least in part to the fact that he was Louis’ billiards partner: ‘a hero at billiard, a zero in the ministry’ is how a waggish Frenchman described him. It is evident from the letter that his memorandum was nothing less than a summary of royal instructions to the army commanders. ‘We find … the utmost designs of the enemy in this memorial,’ wrote Cardonnel, ‘and I hope we shall be able to traverse them.’ A French historian of Napoleon’s era was exasperated when he described the leaks. ‘We must conclude from this significant paper,’ he lamented, ‘that the feeble Chamillart, occupying the post of Louvois without having either his vigour or his talent, had let himself be robbed of the secret of the campaign plan. Nothing is beyond the reach of the power of gold, and it looks as though Marlborough, although blamed for avarice, knew how to spend money to some point.’26 Although Cardonnel’s letter is as tantalising for what it fails to say as for what it does, the key piece of information seems to have been that French commanders were encouraged to attack the Allies in detail, but not to fight them united. Marlborough was to fail in one of his aims, that of wholly crushing the Bavarians before French reinforcements arrived, but the fact that he knew that the French would only offer battle if the Allies were disunited was of untold value.

  The ramifications of the Robethon connection were to spread more widely. First, Marlborough was on warm terms with the Hanoverian court, and enjoyed a good personal relationship with the Elector’s son George, who fought under his command at Oudenarde. These relationships played a significant part in Marlborough’s helping to ensure the Hanoverian succession on the death of Anne, and the Elector was suitably grateful. Second, Winston S. Churchill’s great biography of his ancestor dwelt on the vital importance of this strategic intelligence. It is not too much to argue that it was his gleanings as a historian, as well as his experience as first lord of the admiralty in 1914–15, that encouraged him as prime minister to take the German code ULTRA so seriously, and to insist on seeing original material, not simply summaries.27

  The march to the Danube was some 250 miles long, and for the most part was conducted through friendly territory. Contracts had been placed for the supply of food, forage and boots along the army’s line of march, and Marlborough was scrupulous in assuring local rulers that English gold would pave his way. For example, on 26 May he wrote to the Elector of Mainz, head of the ‘circle’ of the Rhine, one of the Empire’s loose subdivisions.


  Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and their High Mightinesses the Estates General having resolved … to send an army corps under my orders from the Low Countries, and seeing myself obliged to pass through the Electoral Circle of the Upper Rhine, I beg your Electoral Highness that he will be pleased to give free passage to the above-mentioned troops, and to ensure that supplies can be found on the march, for prompt payment. It would be a great advantage for the troops, and at the same time a solace for the countryside by preventing disorders and foraging, if the forage could be provided with several horses and carts to help the artillery on the road: to which effect officers can be sent in advance to organise things.

  He promised that in return for this help, his army would observe ‘a very exact discipline’.28

  For most of the route the horse, with Marlborough himself, followed a different route from the infantry under General Charles Churchill, the duke’s brother and ‘general of the foot’, so as to reduce the drain on local resources. Captain Robert Parker tells how it was for those men in long red coats and white spatterdashes, stepping out in rank and file in the close and comradely world of the marching regiments of foot.

  We frequently marched three, sometimes four days successively, and then halted a day. We generally began our march about three in the morning, proceeded about four leagues, or four and a half each day, and reached our [camping] ground about nine. As we marched through the country of our Allies, commissaries were appointed to furnish us with all manner of necessaries for man and horse; these were brought to the ground before we arrived, and the soldiers had nothing to do, but to pitch their tents, boil their kettles, and lie down to rest. Surely never was a march carried out with more order and regularity and with less fatigue to both man and horse.29

  Sometimes a soldier’s view of life reflects his rank, and Sergeant John Wilson was less favourably impressed by the comfort of the march. As the army trudged on from Mainz,

  there falling such a flood of rain by which there came such a torrent of water from the mountains that the roads were rendered so bad that there was no possibility of moving the train [of artillery] … the roads were so bad and the ground so boggy … that not one piece of cannon could be moved. Upon which there was orders for the country to bring in straw for the men and another day’s forage for the horses. And next day fifty men without arms were ordered to go before a mile or two to prepare the way. As the said 50 men of each regiment having repaired the roads, the train was ordered to march gradually after them. Which they did but with a great deal of trouble, they being obliged to put double horses, if not more, to each piece of cannon.30

  Good generals share sergeants’ concerns, and Marlborough too was worried about the weather. On 24 May OS he told Godolphin that the state of the roads meant that the ‘cannon and artillery’ were now six days behind him, and the Luneburg, Danish and Hessian troops were spread out ‘in several quarters’, but he hoped to push on to meet Eugène, leaving his brother Charles to bring on the English while the Duke of Württemberg, commander of the Danish contingent, further back still, broug
ht his own men forward.

  Even now, with the campaign still far short of any resolution, there was no refuge from administration. The promotion of Dutch generals in Portugal might cause unhappiness in Holland, warned Marlborough. Making Brigadier Harvey a major general might be gratifying to that officer but would not be wise ‘when we have colonels in the service elder officers than he is’. Lord Derby, however, should be made a major general, but with the same seniority date as Major General Withers. There were delicate feelings to be salved.

  For want of officers on the march I have been obliged to make Colonel [Archibald] Row a brigadier. He is the eldest colonel we have here, and a very diligent officer, but this will give a just occasion for Colonel Shrimpton of the Guards to desire the like commission, he being an elder colonel than Row, so that I desire they may be dated of the same day …

  There was at least some good news: he was happy to hear that Godolphin’s son had just been made cofferer of the household, and that Lady Henrietta had given him a son.31

  Captain John Blackader, of what was officially Fergusson’s Regiment but was already widely known, by that title by which it would leave its enduring mark on history, as the Cameronians, had already identified that: ‘This is like to be a campaign of great fatigue and trouble.’ His diary constantly dwells on the unhappy plight of a devout man in a less than devout army.

  Armies which used to be full of men of great and noble souls, are now turned to a parcel of mercenary, fawning, lewd, dissipated creatures; the dregs and scum of mankind: And those who will not fawn and crouch, are made the butt of malice, and oppressed by the joint conspiracy of wicked men.32

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