Marlborough, p.57Richard Holmes
However, what qualified as theft to a French marshal’s secretary could easily seem legitimate to the recipients of its proceeds. In December 1706 Marlborough told Stepney that the règlement for the governance of Netherlands
was made with a great deal of deliberation and, as the Deputies assured me, contained nothing contrary to the known laws of the country. However, our chief aim ought to be to satisfy the people, and to make them easy under the present administration, so that the collecting at present a little money more or less ought not … to come into competition in a matter of this moment, especially considering that when we take the field we shall be able to leave but small garrisons in the great towns, and must depend in some measure on the faithfulness of the inhabitants. I believe the states will readily agree with me in this point, and authorise their Deputies to concur with you in leaving the Council of Sate to do what might be most advisable for quieting the minds of the people, and putting them to good humour.87
The selective quotation of the middle part of this letter has been used to imply that Marlborough had a personal interest in extracting money from the Netherlands, but the whole document makes it clear that the issue was one of legitimate taxation, and that Marlborough was primarily concerned with alleviating its burden so as to encourage citizens to remain loyal. Indeed, had more attention been paid to his concerns, then Ghent and Bruges might have remained loyal.
Huge sums of money passed through Marlborough’s hands for the pay of British and British-funded foreign troops as well as for provision contracts. In June 1710, for instance, Cadogan told Marlborough: ‘The present wants of the contractors are supplied with an advance of five hundred and fifty thousand guilders.’88 The money often arrived long before it was required, and Cadogan generally invested it wisely and remitted the interest to Marlborough. The combination of legitimate perquisites, interest on government money and what his enemies alleged were simply bribes or extortions, produced very large sums. In the spring of 1709 van den Bergh told Heinsius that Marlborough had had ‘six hundred thousand rixdollars or 15 tons of gold transferred to England by Antwerp bankers; so that the safeguards, the marches, the orders for winter quarters, and more things of that kind no doubt bring in nice profits’.89
Cadogan was an inveterate gambler: in 1707 James Brydges wrote to congratulate him ‘on two pieces of good news the town is full of: one that you have won six thousand pistoles at play, the other that you are to reside at the Hague or Brussels in the room of Mr Stepney’. Usually his deals worked well, and the fact that Brydges was paymaster general to the army overseas put them both in a good position to slice off percentages here and there. In the spring of 1707 the two men agreed a complex scheme of shuffling government money between currencies with different agents. ‘I am persuaded this method is so settled,’ wrote Cadogan, ‘that we shall turn £15,000 or £16,000 a month at 100 per cent clear of all charges.’90 Cadogan’s friendship with Lord Raby meant that he enjoyed some of the benefits of what we might now call insider trading. In July 1707 he confessed to Raby: ‘We are in mighty pain about the King of Sweden. If that storm should break on the Hereditary Countries [of the Hapsburg crown] the affairs of the Allies would be in worse condition than ever. I that am a thousand deep in the Silesia loan, have some reason to enquire about it, for upon any hint from your Lordship I could dispose of it in time.’ Raby reassured him, correctly predicting ‘an accommodation between the Emperor and the King of Sweden’.91
However, Cadogan was not always fortunate, and shortly before Marlborough’s death Sarah pursued him in court for having placed £50,000, given him for investment in Holland, in Austria instead, where the rates seemed better: a sudden fall in Austrian rates left the Marlboroughs out of pocket. With a determination untroubled by Cadogan’s long personal loyalty to the duke, Sarah hounded him to what she regarded as a satisfactory conclusion even after her husband had died. She was so concerned that Marlborough, close to death, would wreck her suit by changing his will in Cadogan’s favour, that ‘I ordered his gentlemen that they should be sure to let me know when Lord Cadogan came to see him … I was so fearful of his altering his will that I locked up all the pens and ink.’92
If Cadogan’s evident rapacity helped prejudice people against Marlborough, the duke’s own ‘close accounting’ helped convey the impression that he was not only very rich but a skinflint into the bargain. In June 1709, with many other things on his mind, he drew Sarah’s attention to the fact that Lord Feversham, who had just died, had fallen into arrears with a mortgage he owed Marlborough, and that she might thus purchase his property at advantageous terms.
I think Lord Feversham owed three years last Christmas, but if you send for the steward he will show you the last acquittance. As for his estate, when I was about it two years ago, everyone thought him unreasonable in his demand, but if you can have it a penny worth you will do well by it. I remember one objection was that he had ploughed up the meadow ground so that some years hence it would not yield the same rent.93
What was in fact financial astuteness was easily misrepresented by Marlborough’s enemies, who claimed that he chivvied the dying and impoverished Feversham for payment, telling him that he could not invest his money on such good terms elsewhere. The fact that the mortgage was so long overdue is actually proof of the latitude he allowed his old commander. Moreover, as Philip Rambaut’s recent work demonstrates, Feversham died ‘a man of considerable means’, having an estimated income of £8,000 a year.94
It was not hard for folk to compare the Marlboroughs’ all too evident wealth with the financial state of the country. Over the duration of the war public expenditure had risen from £3 million to £13 million a year, and the national debt eventually rose from £10 million to £50 million during Anne’s reign. The hard winter of 1708–09, which had caused such suffering in France, also caused great hardship in Britain, and in January 1710 the price of grain in London was higher than ever before. There was an influx of some 10,000 Protestant refugees from the Palatinate, some of them hard-working but others (and where have we heard this before?) ‘inactive and mutinous’. ‘Charity begins at home,’ was the cry among the labouring poor, ‘and these foreigners are a plague to us.’95
Country gentlemen of a Tory persuasion met to quaff their bumpers, thump the table and damn the government and its land tax. City merchants complained of the damage done to trade by French privateers – the contemporary claim that 3,600 merchantmen were lost during the war is, thinks N.A.M. Rodger, ‘not much exaggerated’.96 G.M. Trevelyan was quite right to observe that Malplaquet might have once been regarded as a victory, but that under the shadow of the failed peace talks only a decisive battle and a march on Paris would have sufficed. Terrible though the slaughter had been, the British contingent of 14,000 had lost fewer than six hundred killed and under 1,300 wounded. Tories and Jacobite sympathisers, though, were not slow to magnify these figures. The Oxford diarist Thomas Hearne had been unmoved by Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenarde, but now described
the most direful battle to England that has yet happened, and there is not, in the opinion of honest men, the least reason for bragging. Private letters frequently come which give the most impartial accounts, and we are well assured from the greatest to the meanest officer hardly one escaped but was either slain or very much wounded.97
Lastly, ‘No Peace without Spain’ was evidently what had wrecked the talks, and that was a key plank of Whig policy. This was an administration in deep trouble, now faced, in the shape of Robert Harley, with a politician with the skill to bring it down, and a monarch with slights to avenge.
The tale is quickly told. Harley succeeded in converting the Dukes of Shrewsbury, Somerset and Argyll to his cause. All were Whiggish by sympathy but were distinct from those ‘Lords of the Junto’ so detested by Anne, and were invaluable allies for Harley. Marlborough’s own position had been very seriously damaged, as we have already seen, by his failure to make the queen part with Abigail Masham in early 1710, a
The Duchess reproached her [the queen] for above an hour with her family’s services in so loud and shrill a voice, that the footman at the bottom of the back stairs could hear it … The Queen, seeing her so outrageous, got up, to have gone out of the room: the Duchess clapped her back against the door, and told her that she must hear her out, for that was the least favour she could do her, for having set and kept the crown upon her head. As soon as she had done raging, she flounced out of the room and said, she did not care if she never saw her more; to which the Queen replied, very calmly, that she thought the seldomer the better.98
In mid-April, without consulting the Duumvirs, the queen made Shrewsbury her lord chamberlain, not in itself a fatal blow but a dangerous sign of the way the wind was now blowing. She toyed with the idea of dismissing Sunderland, the Marlboroughs’ Whig son-in-law, as secretary of state, and her determination to do so was strengthened rather than diminished by Sarah’s clumsy threat to make public some of the royal correspondence. Godolphin warned Anne that Marlborough would resign if she did indeed sack Sunderland, and the queen sweetly replied that she had no intention of replacing Marlborough, and that if he did ‘desert my service’ at what she called ‘this critical juncture’ then the blame would be Godolphin’s alone. On the same day, 14 June, Godolphin joined seven leading members of the government in urging Marlborough not to resign because of Sunderland’s dismissal. The duke, then besieging Douai, told Sarah:
I am only thinking how I may soonest get out of all business. All my friends write me that I must not retire, and I myself think it would do great mischief if I should quit before the end of this campaign. But after the contemptible usage I meet with, how is it possible to act as I ought to do? … I hope tomorrow we may sign the capitulation of this town, which would give me pleasure, were I not so extremely mortified with what you are doing in England.99
On the following day he informed Godolphin that Douai had indeed surrendered, but that ‘My spirits and zest are quite gone.’ He feared that ‘the expectation of disorders in England’ could only hearten the French, and was afraid that he would simply ‘drudge on for four or five months longer, and venture his life for those who do not deserve it from him’.100
By now Harley and his associates were applying increasing pressure to the queen to make her part with Godolphin, and he, tired and isolated, responded with a sourness that did not help his cause. An attempt by the Whigs to hold their ground backfired. The Dutch, Imperial and Hanoverian envoys were persuaded to ask the queen neither to change her ministry nor dissolve her Whig-dominated Parliament until the war was over. Harley was easily able to persuade Anne that this was foreign interference in her affairs, and both Godolphin and Marlborough were associated, probably rightly, with the appeal. On 8 August the queen sent a letter dismissing Godolphin with a pension of four thousand a year. She thought that it would be easier for them both if he broke his staff of office rather than, as was the custom, returning it to her personally. Anne probably felt genuine pain at parting with Godolphin, but what was meant to be a courteous dismissal turned into brusqueness.
The letter which effectively ended Godolphin’s distinguished political career was delivered to him by one of the Duke of Somerset’s grooms. John Smith, chancellor of the exchequer, called on him shortly afterwards, and saw Godolphin break his staff and fling the pieces into the fireplace, telling him ‘to witness that he had obeyed the Queen’s commands’.101 His pension was never paid, although the fact that he inherited the bulk of the family fortune when his elder brother died soon afterwards meant that he was able to survive without it. Arthur Maynwaring, writing before Godolphin had inherited, warned Sarah that Godolphin ‘will not be able to keep his family, unless 39 [Marlborough] assists him, which I really think he should do’.102 Godolphin continued to attend Parliament and to associate with what had become the Whig opposition, but his health failed fast, and he died at the Marlboroughs’ house in 1712. Sarah wrote on the flyleaf of her Bible: ‘The 15th of September at two in the morning the Earl of Godolphin died at the Duke of Marlborough’s house at St Albans, who was the best man that ever lived.’103
On 8 August Godolphin wrote to tell Marlborough that ‘The Queen has this morning been pleased to dismiss me from her service.’104 On the same date Anne herself told Marlborough what had happened, so ‘that you may receive this news first from me & I do assure you I shall take care that the army shall want for nothing’.105 On the ninth, when his initial pain had begun to subside, Godolphin assured Marlborough that although his ‘circumstances are at present a little discouraging’ he would do his best to ensure that Marlborough was ‘effectually supported to the end of this campaign, in the post where he now is’, and emphasised that it was essential to keep the Alliance together.106
At a meeting of the Privy Council on 20 September the queen ordered a proclamation dissolving Parliament to be read out – the clerk did it so eloquently that it was clear he had been practising. Most of the Whig ministers resigned the following day. The queen bade farewell to the Whig leader Somers and the lord keeper, Lord Cowper, with evident regret, in Cowper’s case probably because Harley had no one in mind to replace him. Some of the new ministers, notably Harcourt, who became lord chancellor, and St John, lord keeper, sympathised with Marlborough. St John, who kept in touch with the captain general through his confidential man of affairs, James Craggs the elder, did much to prevent a war office committee established by Harley from wresting political control of the army from Marlborough’s hands.107
Craggs, born in 1657, had entered the Duchess of Marlborough’s service and, through her interest, became MP for the Cornish borough of Grampound in 1702, retaining the seat till 1714. He served as clerk of the deliveries of the Ordnance from 1702 to 1711 and again in 1714–15. He died, possibly by his own hand, enormously wealthy but in disgrace over his involvement in the South Sea Bubble, in 1721. All the property he had acquired since December 1719 was subsequently confiscated by Act of Parliament. His correspondence with Marlborough seems not to have survived, but he flits through extant documents like a rather substantial wraith. By 1710 he was coded as ‘185’ in letters between Marlborough and Godolphin, and the latter told Marlborough: ‘I have spoken to him as fully as I can upon the posture of our affairs here, and I think nobody understands them as fully as he does.’108 In August that year Marlborough asked Villars for a passport for ‘Mr Craggs the elder, an English gentleman returning from Italy, who wishes to pass through here on his way back to England’.109 A year later, rightly foreseeing worsening problems over getting the Treasury to pay for Blenheim Palace, Marlborough wanted Craggs to work on the accounts, as it was clear that Harley, now Earl of Oxford, was anxious to avoid any official recognition that the queen was obliged to pay for the place.110
Although Cragg’s shuttle diplomacy ensured that the captain general was in close contact with sympathetic members of the new government, the fall of Godolphin and the rise of Harley and his associates left him increasingly isolated. The election of 1710, which resulted in a Tory majority of 151 in the Commons, further strengthened his enemies. Marlborough had initially hoped that the Tory majority would not be so overwhelming, and told Heinsius of his distaste at seeing ‘a great many honest people turned out to make room for the Earl of Rochester and the Duke of Buckingham and such like men. God knows where this can end …’111 Although Sarah and the queen had met for the last tim
It was very hard for him to remain calm, for he had already been publicly humiliated. In September Harley had engineered the dismissal of Marlborough’s private secretary Adam de Cardonnel, the newly appointed secretary at war, and his replacement by George Granville, later Lord Lansdowne, a personal enemy of Marlborough’s. In November generals Meredith, Macartney and Honeywood were dismissed from the army for drinking damnation to the new ministry. All three were Marlborough’s men, and he had only recently pressed to have Honeywood (the least culpable of the three, and the only one to have a notable military career after reinstatement in 1714) made a brigadier general.
Not only was Marlborough commanding the Allied army on a busy and successful campaign while all this was going on, but he remained determined to keep the British army under tight administrative control as long as he remained captain general. He promoted officers by seniority where this was appropriate, but always tried to give an advantage to those on active service. On 11 September he informed a Mr Pulteney that, despite ‘having just reason to be satisfied with his services’, he could not make his brother a captain, for there were several officers in the Guards who were senior to him. In a similarly conciliatory vein, he told another correspondent that while ‘I am very sorry the death of Captain Hearne should occasion you any loss than that of a brother’, his captaincy had already been given to an officer ‘to whom I could not refuse it without doing a piece of injustice’.112 Some correspondents railed against what they saw as such injustices. A lady describing herself as ‘an officer’s wife that was killed under your command’ bewailed ‘the loss of twenty thousand pounds a year to his family’. She felt that ‘the quality and estates of my near relations’ entitled her to ‘the same favours others receive from your Grace or my Lady Duchess’, but her late husband’s regimental agent was unable to produce the money. ‘May God send your Grace a happy conscience,’ she concluded.113
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