Marlborough, p.40Richard Holmes
A close observer of the court might have gone further, discerning one of those proverbial clouds, no bigger than a man’s hand, which herald a coming tempest. Abigail Hill, appointed bedchamber woman to the queen through Sarah’s abundant influence, had begun her slow, self-effacing rise. Over the next three years, as Sarah ranted against the Tories and found new opportunities to exercise her waspish temper, those powerful bonds which had linked her to Anne were gradually dissolved. The quiet, unobtrusive Abigail could never offer her employer a relationship of anything approaching the same intensity, but Anne had grown tired of being hectored. It was not until Abigail married Samuel Masham, a gentleman of the queen’s household, in 1707, that Sarah realised that she had been outflanked, and it was by then too late for her to react effectively. After Harley’s dismissal from office in 1708 Abigail Masham used her growing influence to drip-feed the queen with Harley’s own views, giving the opposition covert access to the monarch. Thus, in the kernel of Marlborough’s continuing triumph wriggled the worm of his eventual defeat.
Hark Now the Drums Beat up Again
The campaign of 1705 began under strategic circumstances transformed not only by Blenheim but by Marlborough’s brilliant exploitation of his victory. The Elector and Marsin took their survivors back via Ulm to join Villeroi on the Rhine. Marlborough and Eugène, for their part, marched through Württemberg in four large columns to reunite on 5 September at Philipsburg, where they crossed the Rhine, camping on the field of Speyerbach, where Tallard had beaten Prince Louis the year before. It was an inauspicious spot. Marlborough recalled Louis of Baden from Ingolstadt, and the margrave, so Richard Kane tells us, ‘could never forgive them for robbing him of a share of the glory in the late victory’.18 The garrison of the Lines of Stollhofen was brought in to join the army, which now numbered around 130,000 men, and Villeroi had no wish to offer battle, lamely falling back to allow the Allies to besiege Landau.
The siege was entrusted to Prince Louis, anxious for some visible triumph, with Marlborough and Eugène forward on the line of the little River Lauter to cover the operation. The fall of Ulm on 11 September released heavy guns and other siege equipment, strengthening Prince Louis, but Landau still held out till 8 November. It is evident that Marlborough was not happy with the conduct of the operation. On 20 October he warned Godolphin that the business was ‘very little advanced’, and Louis had just lost five hundred men in a failed attempt to wrest a handhold on the covered way. As late as 7 November Adam de Cardonnel told Ellis that ‘Everybody of all sides are dissatisfied with the management and cry out against Prince Louis, if the weather was not favourable, tho’ extreme cold, I know not what would become of us.’19
With the siege still labouring on, Marlborough himself planned to send a detachment under Colonel Blood to take Trier, and then proposed to go on to besiege Trarbach. Both these attacks succeeded, although the march was through what Marlborough called ‘the terriblest country for an army with cannon’. Trier was evacuated as Marlborough approached, and Trarbach fell in mid-December. The campaign ended with the Moselle cleared and the Allies in winter quarters there, ‘which I think will give France as much uneasiness as anything that has been done this summer’.20
Before returning to England, Marlborough visited Berlin. The King of Prussia was concerned at ‘commotions in the north’, where those martial titans Charles XII of Sweden and Peter the Great of Russia were in the throes of the Great Northern War, which lurched on, with interruptions, from 1700 till 1720, and ended with the destruction of Sweden as a major power. Marlborough was still able to persuade the king to send a force of 8,000 infantry to join the Allies in north Italy, in return for 200,000 écus from England and 100,000 from Holland, with the Empire providing the bread.21
Marlborough was well aware how much the events of that wonderful year owed to the soldiers under his command. After the Schellenberg he ordered the wounded ‘to be dressed with all possible care, and sent forthwith to the hospital’, and as Eric Gruber von Arni puts it, ‘personally supervised many of the talks associated with the work of organising casualty care that would normally have been delegated to a quartermaster or other subordinate officer’.22 He paid careful attention to the repatriation of wounded soldiers who had fought at the Schellenberg and Blenheim and to dependants of those who had fallen, for at this stage in the army’s history many women and children followed their menfolk on campaign. The lyrics of that touching folk song ‘High Germany’ make the point well.
O Polly, love, O Polly, the rout has now begun,
And we must be a-marching to the beating of the drum.
Go dress yourself all in your best and come along with me,
I’ll take you to the wars, my love, in High Germany.
O Harry love, O Harry, come list what I do say,
My feet they are so tender, I cannot march away.
Besides my dearest Harry, I am with child by thee,
Not fit to go to wars, my love, in High Germany.23
Immediately after the storming of the Schellenberg widows were ordered to report to the hospital at Heidenheim, where they were to help as nurses before being given passes and passage money for their journey home. After the campaign the hospital was closed, though not before some 1,710 sick and wounded had passed through it on their way to Flanders, where arrangements were made to hospitalise some men at Ghent and to repatriate others. On 20 March 1705 the commissioners of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea were ordered to give priority to
such of the invalids as being wounded in the last campaign in Germany are in the worst condition and want more than ordinary care to be taken of them. For the remainder of those invalids who, having likewise served in Germany, are entitled to the benefit of the hospital, His Grace does think fit that you appoint a person upon the most reasonable terms to take care of quartering them. And of the due payment of their quarters until vacancies shall happen. If any are found willing to return home and quit their pretensions to the hospital … for their encouragement £3 a man is to be paid to them.24
A bounty fund of £4,000 was to furnish this money, and also to provide payment for sick and injured NCOs and men on a scale determined by rank and unit, with a corporal of horse receiving one shilling and sixpence per day and a private in the infantry just five pence. Further money was put into the bounty fund so that widows could be paid, and Marlborough personally contributed £600. He also initiated the first ever scheme to give pensions to officers’ widows, with part of the capital coming from money paid in by officers on first commissioning or subsequent promotion. Modern research demonstrates conclusively that the historian R.E. Scouller’s assertion that Marlborough’s medical care was ‘remarkable for mismanagement, brutality, inhumanity, and, possibly corruption’ is at variance with the facts.25 Indeed, in his personal recognition that responsibility for the long-term care of his wounded was an inseparable part of the function of command, we see a quality that our own times might envy.
Examples of the battle injuries received by candidates for admission to Chelsea over the course the war make sobering reading. A trooper of Mapper’s Horse had been shot in the right arm at Blenheim and in the back at Ramillies, then cut over the head at Oudenarde: he lacked only a wound at Malplaquet to hold every suit. A soldier in Howard’s Foot had been shot in the right knee at Blenheim, had his left leg fractured by a mortar bomb and his left arm injured by a halberd. French sergeants, like their British counterparts, carried the halberd, a staff weapon with axe-edge and point: Peter Drake called his fellow sergeants ‘the brethren of the halberd’. Halberds could be used to help sergeants dress the ranks, or sometimes, laid across men’s shoulders, to hold a wilting rear rank in place by main force. When men came to hand-strokes, shoving with their bayonets or reversing their muskets to lay on with the butt, neither the halberd nor the spontoon, a similar but slimmer weapon carried by infantry officers, was to be despised.26 A private soldier of Wade’s Regiment managed to get shot in the left thigh at Schellenb
There is no doubt that Marlborough intended to open the campaign of 1705 by advancing up the Moselle while the Imperial army threatened Alsace. He travelled to the Continent to prepare for operations in early April, telling Sarah that a difficult voyage caused him to be ‘so very sick at sea, that my blood is as hot as if I were in a fever, which makes my head ache extremely, so that I beg you will make my excuse to my Lord Treasurer, for I can write to nobody but my dear soul, whom I love above my own life’.28
These repeated headaches, which were so much a feature of Marlborough’s life, deserve further consideration, and all the evidence points to migraine. Full-blown ‘classical’ migraine starts with an aura, sometimes a visual disturbance, and sometimes with a more severe neurological disturbance such as one-sided tingling or even weakness. This is shortly followed by a severe one-sided headache, accompanied by vomiting, and lasting from six to forty-eight hours. Less severe forms of migraine are common, and the headache may have no preceding aura, may not be unilateral and may not be accompanied by vomiting. These forms are often less incapacitating.
Migraines are not daily events, but tend to come every few weeks or months, sometimes occurring in clusters of great frequency followed by longer periods of freedom. They may be precipitated by substances such as chocolate, cheese and red wine, and often occur after a period of stress rather than during the stressful event itself: typically they often arrive at weekends. Marlborough’s symptoms strongly support a diagnosis of migraine. He sometimes distinguishes a ‘disorder’ in his head, possibly evidence of some kind of aura, from the headaches themselves, and regularly reports headaches after stressful events like difficult voyages, conferences or battles. The headaches did not progress or lead to other problems over the years, so we can safely rule out some serious underlying pathology. However, migraine, especially ‘hemiplegic’ migraine, is a risk factor for stroke in later life, and Marlborough was to be disabled by strokes.
It is believed that migraines result from the constriction of the cerebral arteries, causing the neurological symptoms, followed by the dilation of the arteries, causing the headache. Marlborough once reported that he felt better after being bled. Theoretically blood-letting should relieve the headache by reducing the pressure in the dilated arteries, but there seems little evidence of this in practice. Marlborough’s relief might thus simply have been a placebo effect. These headaches were sometimes totally disabling, although in cases of real emergency, as in the pursuit after Ramillies, Marlborough was able to carry out some of his duties, suggesting a form of migraine that fell short of the most severe. However, these attacks were certainly frequent and damaging, and it is remarkable that he coped as well as he did with the crushing burden of responsibilities and his migraine too.29
No sooner had he shaken off this latest headache than Marlborough was confronted with sufficient problems to restore it. The Dutch had not furnished the magazine at Trier, upon which operations in the Moselle depended. German princes, relieved by the disappearance of the direct French threat, were slow in putting their contingents into the field, and even the King of Prussia, far from dispatching his troops to Italy as had been agreed, had still not sent enough to join the Allies in Germany. Eugène was away commanding in Italy, and Marlborough missed his wholehearted collaboration. Prince Louis, suffering from the physical effects of the wound he had received at the Schellenberg (which modern antibiotics would probably have cured in a fortnight) and the chagrin of having missed Blenheim, was not at his best.
There was the usual fast footwork required at the beginning of a campaign. The home front had to be propped up: the Ordnance Board was assured that funds were on their way from Godolphin to meet the ‘extraordinary demands’ now placed upon it. There was a light gilding of letters to princes along the Moselle. The Elector of Trier was told that Cadogan had already headed south to meet Prince Louis, and was accompanied by a Hamburg merchant who would be responsible for paying the troops on the Moselle. Prince Louis was warned to expect Cadogan, now a brigadier after Blenheim: ‘He is briefed on everything, and I beg Your Highness to listen favourably to him, and to send him on as quickly as you can, so that he can join me before I leave Maastricht.’30 No good evidently came of the visit, for Marlborough himself had to go down to see Prince Louis at Rastatt. He had hoped for a meeting at Creuznach, but the prince was ‘incommoded with a swelling in his leg’, probably the result of the previous year’s wound.
Marlborough soon recognised that without Eugène and with limited German cooperation the original two-army campaign plan would not work. On 27 May he wrote to Secretary Harley from Trier.
I was in good hopes the Prince of Baden would have been enabled to have seconded me in these parts so that we might have acted with two separate armies, but you will be surprised to hear that all he can bring at present does not exceed eleven or twelve battalions and twenty-eight squadrons. These troops were to begin their march about this time, and will be here in ten or twelve days. The Prussians and several others cannot be here sooner, so it will be about the 10th of next month before we are able to move.31
Cardonnel radiated similar gloom, telling Ellis that ‘the dilatoriness of our friends in joining us is a very great disappointment’.32 Although Marlborough did manage to move off towards Villars’ position at Sierck on 2 June, his army was much smaller than he had hoped, and Villars cunningly declined to offer battle in anything save the most formidable of positions.
While he was lamenting the impossibility of making real progress, Marlborough suddenly learnt the reason for his opponent’s clever wagging of the matador’s cloak. Up in Brabant, Villeroi was on the move. He snatched the fortress of Huy, and on 16 June opened his trenches before the citadel of Liège. Overkirk, outnumbered two to one, had to fall back on Maastricht. Heinsius had already warned Marlborough that the French planned to take Liège and Limburg, advancing into the bishopric of Cologne so as to block Dutch communications with the Moselle, and Marlborough told Godolphin of the inevitable result of all this.
The post does not go away till tomorrow, but I would ease my head and my heart by letting you know what is resolved. The deputies of the States’ army on the Meuse have sent an express to me to desire that 30 battalions of them may be immediately sent to them. This joined with the want of forage, and no hopes of having the horses and carts in less than six weeks for the drawing everything to the siege [of Saarlouis] we have taken the resolution for strengthening Prince Louis’ army and leaving a sufficient number of troops at Trier, and to march with the rest to assist them on the Meuse. We shall leave the cannon and all other ammunition at Trarbach and Coblenz, so that if the German princes will enable us to make a siege, we may return after we have put our friends on the Meuse at their ease … I have for these last ten days been so troubled by the many disappointments I have had, that I think if it were possible to vex me so for a fortnight longer it would make an end of me. In short, I am weary of my life.33
A letter to Sarah, written the same day, told her that he had a thousand things to say to her, but that ‘whenever I sit down to write, the business of the army hinders me’. He complained of ‘the negligence of princes whose interest is to help us with all they have’, and regretted that Hompesch and Overkirk were in such ‘great apprehension’, for they must know that he could not give them instant succour. ‘Adieu, my dearest soul,’ he concluded, ‘pity me and love me.’34
It was normally characteristic of Marlborough to reveal his despair to his wife and his best friend but to nobody else, though now there was a dash of bitters even in a letter to Heinsius sent from Trier on the eighteenth, gently warning that ‘I have been so
Marching all day. Uneasy with hot weather. A soldier’s life is an unaccountable way of living. One day too much heat, another too cold. Sometimes we want sleep, meat and drink; again, we are surfeited too much. A bad irregular way of living.36
Marlborough reached Maastricht on 27 June, but Villeroi did not care to wait for him, raised the siege as soon as he heard that Marlborough was approaching, and was back behind the Lines of Brabant too fast to be caught.
There was a poignant glint of an old mirror. On 11 July Marshal Villeroi sent him, under a flag of truce, two snuffboxes which had been dispatched to Marlborough by well-wishers in France. One was from the comte de Gramont, and was so elegant, as Marlborough assured its donor, that its equal could scarcely have been found in France or elsewhere. The other was ‘one of the finest that I have ever seen, and is made inestimable to me by the portrait it bears’. It was from Charles II’s old mistress the Duchess of Portsmouth, now living in France and allegedly in straitened circumstances, but not too poor to send a costly gift to the man who had been the lover of her predecessor in Charles’s affections, and perhaps a little more.
Marlborough had little enough time to enjoy his presents or to muse on the past. In early July he had been exasperated to hear that Lieutenant General Aubach’s force of Palatinate and Westphalian troops left to cover Trier had retired precipitately on the mere appearance of a French detachment. Aubach had at least blown breaches in the city’s defences and destroyed much of the equipment it contained, but his behaviour was so ‘unaccountable’ that Marlborough confessed that it made him ‘almost despair’. He ordered Aubach’s men to join Prince Louis on the Rhine, where the Prussians were already marching, telling Henry St John that this ought to bring Prince Louis’ army up to about 115 squadrons and eighty battalions, making it superior to Villars’ force. Meanwhile, he would set about recovering Huy.37
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