Marlborough, p.60Richard Holmes
The second accusation against Marlborough was that he had received 2½ per cent of the money paid to foreign troops in British pay. He replied that this was the traditional way in which a commander-in-chief financed his secret intelligence, and added that he had himself negotiated the agreement in the time of William III, and also held a warrant from Queen Anne, dated 6 July 1702, authorising the practice. His defence was not wholly persuasive. William had instituted the scheme to get round Parliament’s tight control over military expenditure during his reign, and the 1702 warrant had lapsed and its existence was not known to the paymaster general or to the exchequer. While Marlborough had undoubtedly spent some of the money on that intelligence service which had served him so well, Ivor Burton is surely right to suggest that ‘nothing like 2½ per cent of the entire cost of 30,000 auxiliary troops could possibly have been needed for this purpose’.158 Nevertheless, the fact that Marlborough’s successor enjoyed the same perquisites emphasises that his conduct was not wholly unreasonable.
The findings of the inquiry were enough for Harley to persuade the queen to dismiss Marlborough from all his military offices on 31 December 1711. The London Gazette on New Year’s Day 1712 duly recorded Marlborough’s dismissal. The Duke of Ormonde succeeded him as commander-in-chief and colonel of 1st Foot Guards, and Lord Rivers became master general of the ordnance. The same Gazette announced the promotion of the twelve new Tory peers.
Marlborough took his downfall with remarkable equanimity, writing to assure his well-wishers that he sought only ‘a quiet retirement … [which is] what I have long wished for, I shall be easy in my relation to my own destiny, and shall always add my good wishes for the continued success and prosperity of the public’.159 Amongst the dozens of replies to foreign monarchs, soldiers and diplomats who had sent their commiserations was a note to Sir Thomas Wheate, who lived at Glympton, near Woodstock. ‘I am very much obliged to you for being mindful of my want of beagles,’ Marlborough wrote, ‘though I am yet at a loss where to keep them; however I should be glad to know where they are, and if the huntsman will undertake to keep them till I have a proper place, and upon what terms, to which I shall pray your answer at your leisure.’160 It seemed that he might, at long last, be able to live in retirement as a country gentleman, albeit in a rather big house.
Marlborough had little to do with the Treaty of Utrecht, though he can have taken little comfort in the events leading up to it. Bolingbroke’s plans received a serious jolt when in 1713 the Duke of Burgundy and his eldest son both died, leaving only one infant prince, the future Louis XV, between Philip of Spain and the French throne. Bolingbroke and Oxford decided that Philip could either keep Spain but renounce France, or leave Spain to the Duke of Savoy and take the latter’s territories and Sicily instead. Neither the Imperialists nor the Dutch would accept this, and resolved to fight on. To prevent the Allies from gaining a victory which might have upset their plans, the ministry imposed ‘restraining orders’ on Marlborough’s successor. Ormonde was secretly forbidden to engage the French, leading to letters like this, from Ormonde to Villars:
It is true, Sir, that for the siege of Quesnoy, which it was not in my power to prevent, I was obliged to contribute some troops in the pay of the Estates-General, but not a single man in the Queen’s pay; it seems to me that, as we had not even opened our trenches, that the siege could in no way break the measures agreed by our sovereigns.161
‘Whether the Duke of Ormonde was really concerned at receiving these orders, I shall not take it upon me to say,’ wrote Robert Parker; ‘but however that was, most certain it is, that he was extremely punctual in observing them.’162 Corporal Bishop thought that with Marlborough’s departure, ‘the neck of the war was broke, and that I should be disappointed of the pleasure of seeing Paris next year’.163 Richard Kane was even more critical. Ormonde, he thought, was ‘a good natured, but a weak and ambitious man, fit to be made tool of by a crafty set of knaves’.164 Without British help, the Allies took Quesnoy but lost it again almost immediately, and Eugène, who had taken over as Allied commander-in-chief, was beaten by Villars at Denain. Villars finished up with Marchines, Bouchain and Douai in his hands, having undone much of the work of Marlborough’s last two campaigns.
The treaty was not signed till 1713, and it took the Empire another year to agree to it. The terms were approved by Parliament, passing the Lords by eighty-one to thirty-six votes. Twenty-four peers, Marlborough and Godolphin among them, recorded their formal protest, but the majority ordered this to be struck from the records of the House. When the protest was printed for circulation, the ministry prosecuted its printers and publishers.
By this time Marlborough’s own position had deteriorated. Parliament concluded, by a substantial majority, that ‘the taking of several sums of money annually by the Duke of Marlborough from the contractor for foraging the bread and wagons in the Low Countries was unwarrantable and illegal’, and that the 2½ per cent deducted from the pay of foreign troops ‘is public money, and ought to be accounted for’.165 The House of Commons took vengeance on Cardonnel, one of the MPs for Southampton, and duly expelled him for having accepted bribes from Medina. The government press enjoyed open season on Marlborough, that man who had ‘once perhaps been fortunate’. Captain Parker was shocked to see that the Examiner, one of the ministry’s news-sheets, described the former captain general as ‘naturally a very great coward … all the victories and successes that attended him, were owing to mere chance, and to those about him’. ‘Had I not read those words,’ Parker wrote, ‘I should never have believed that any man could have the face to publish so notorious a falsehood.’166
Exile and Return
Falsehood or not, it was clear to Marlborough and his supporters that he was in real trouble. The ministry’s lawyers had it in mind to make him repay the cash he had acquired from Medina and his percentage of the pay of foreign troops, and the crown was likely to demand the return of part of the money expended on Blenheim Palace, still far from completion. The repeated attacks on his reputation made it dangerous for him to remain in England, and with Anne’s health visibly failing, the prospect of a Hanoverian succession might provoke factional violence or, as many Whigs feared (with good reason, as we shall see), a Jacobite invasion. He had other reasons for wishing to go to the Continent. It seemed probable that peace negotiations would result in his principality of Mindelheim being given to Bavaria, and he hoped to prevent this. Marlborough also hoped that he might persuade the Elector of Hanover and other Allied sovereigns to send an expedition to Britain to forestall the expected Jacobite attack. In short, he had much to risk and little to gain by staying at Holywell. ‘In England,’ writes Winston S. Churchill, ‘he was a prey. In Europe he was a prince.’167
The queen, who retained great personal attachment to Marlborough, told Dr Hamilton that ‘it was prudent of him’ to depart, and signed his passport on 30 October. Bolingbroke maintained that there had been ‘a good deal of contest’ within the cabinet about allowing him to go, though the passport bears his countersignature. There have been suggestions that Oxford was so anxious to get Marlborough out of the country that he threatened to make public details of his dealings with the French over the money promised him for helping bring about peace. There is no doubt that Marlborough met Oxford that autumn, but the best we can say of the ‘blackmail’ assertion is that, even if it were true, Oxford was ‘forcing at an open door with a battering ram’, for Marlborough had many other reasons to depart.168 However, one of Oxford’s letters to Maynwaring, Marlborough’s intermediary in his application for a passport, tells him that ‘You will … assure your friend that there have been endeavours from both sides to obstruct granting the pass desired, yet I shall have the honour to put it into his hands.’169 This would be odd language had the idea of exile been Oxford’s in the first place. Marlborough passed much of his money to his sons-in-law, and transferred £50,000 to Cadogan, then serving as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at The Hag
Marlborough at least had the opportunity of seeing Sidney Godolphin to his grave before going into exile. Godolphin died at Holywell, and it took three weeks to get sufficient Whig Knights of the Garter to act as his pallbearers, ‘for they don’t find the Tory knights so ready to come to town a purpose’. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on 7 October with the Dukes of Marlborough, Devonshire, Richmond and Schomberg bearing his pall. Sarah recognised in their old friend a virtue she admired, even if she could not share it: ‘He was a man of wonderful frugality in the public concerns but of no great money above his paternal estate. What he left at his death showed that he had indeed been the nation’s treasurer and not his own.’170
Marlborough drove to Dover on 24 November 1712 with just a few servants, but, held up by contrary winds, could not get a packet boat till the end of the month, and arrived in Ostend on 1 December. He was received there with enthusiasm, and went on to Antwerp, where his welcome was so spectacular, with shipping in the harbour firing salutes, that he made the next stage of his journey, to Maastricht, in Dutch territory, by a circuitous route to avoid stirring up public excitement that might affront the British government. Now accompanied by both Cadogan and the Dutch General Dopff, he was greeted by a guard of honour and yet more demonstrations of public regard when he reached Aachen on 21 January 1713.
That day he told Sarah that he had received no letters from her since 20 December, and was not sure where she now was. He advised her that because of a sudden thaw ‘you will find the ways extremely bad, and as this place is extremely dirty I have resolved to go to Maastricht at the beginning of the week, and there to expect you. I send this letter to Ostend in hopes it may meet you there.’171 By early February he was palpably concerned at not having heard from her. ‘If you have observed by my letters that I thought you would have left England sooner than you have been able to do,’ he wrote,
I hope you will be so kind and just to me, to impute it to the great desire I had of having the satisfaction of your company. For I am extremely sensible of the obligation I have to you, for the resolution you have taken of leaving your friends and country for my sake. I am very sure, if there be anything in my power that may make it easy to you, I should do it with all imaginable pleasure. In this place you will have little conveniences; so that we must get to Frankfurt as soon as we can. I wish we may be better there; but I fear you will not be easy till we get to some place where we may settle for some time; so that we may be in a method and orderly way of living; and if you are then contented, I shall have nothing to trouble me.172
Sarah applied for her passport on 29 January. It was granted without delay, and she set off to join her husband. But while he had travelled light, she took with her a substantial wardrobe, which included forty cloaks and petticoats and several leopard-skin muffs, as well as a chocolate pot and a five-pint kettle. Her little retinue included a Protestant chaplain with the improbable name of Whadcock Priest. What she saw soon convinced her of ‘the sad effects of Popery and arbitrary power’, though she was delighted by her reception by the nuns of Aachen.
If our enemies do prevail to our utter ruin, I think I had best go into a monastery. There are several of them in this town, and tis all the entertainment I have to vist [them]. I supped with about twenty [nuns] the other night but twas a very slight [meal] nothing but brown bread and butter … They were as fond of me as if I had not been a heretic.173
They reached Frankfurt in the middle of May, and Sarah was delighted to see that the troops, under Eugène’s command, paid her lord ‘all the respects as if he had been in his old post’.
To see so may brave men marching by was a fine sight. It gave me melancholy reflections, and made me weep; but at the same time I was so much animated that I wished I had been a man that I might have ventured my life a thousand times in the glorious cause of liberty …
When I had written so far I was called to receive the honour of a visit from the Elector of Mainz. I fancy he came to this place chiefly to see the Duke of Marlborough. His chap [cheek] is, like my own, a little of the fattest, but in my life I never saw a face that expressed so much openness, honesty and good nature … I can’t help repeating part of his compliment to the Duke of Marlborough, that he wished any Prince of the Empire might be severely punished if they forgot his merit. It would fill a book to give you an account of all the honours done the Duke of Marlborough in all the towns … as if he had been king of them.174
She could not but contrast the civility with which they were received on the Continent with the way they had been cold-shouldered in England.
’Tother day we were walking upon the road, and a gentleman and a lady went past us in their chariot who we had never seen before, and after passing with us the usual civilities, in half a quarter of an hour or less they bethought themselves and turned back, came out of their coach to us, and desired that we would go into their garden, which was very near that place, and which they think, I believe, is a very fine thing, desiring us to accept of a key. This is only a little taste of the civility of people abroad, and I could not help thinking that we might have walked in England as far as our feet would have carried us before anybody that we had never seen before would have lighted out of their coach to have entertained us.175
Marlborough visited his principality of Mindelheim, where he was received with royal honours. He already suspected that its location meant that it would go to Bavaria when peace was concluded, and this is indeed what happened. The emperor promised to ‘give his highness an equivalent principality out of his own hereditary dominions’, and eventually created a new principality from the county of Mellenburg, in Upper Austria. Archdeacon Coxe doubted if this had actually happened, grumbling that ‘The most eminent services are but too often ill requited, when they cease to be necessary or useful,’ but the best evidence suggests that the exchange was indeed made.176
Marlborough was in very close contact with the Electoral court at Hanover, and worked hard, with Cadogan and Robethon, to ensure that the Elector would succeed bloodlessly to the throne on Anne’s death, although the Elector made it clear that he had no intention of sending an expedition to Britain before he had formally succeeded to the throne. They concluded that most of the British troops on the Continent at the time of her death ‘would readily obey a man so agreeable to them as the Duke of Marlborough’, and both the Duke and Cadogan received provisional commissions from the Elector authorising them to take command of these troops when the queen died. Marlborough moved from Frankfurt to Antwerp, to be as close as possible to England when the moment came. In Britain, meanwhile, the ministry purged the army not simply of outright Whigs, but of men like Argyll and Stair, many of whom joined armed associations ready to support the Protestant succession when Anne died.
At precisely the same time that he was working so eagerly for a Hanoverian succession, Marlborough was corresponding with the Jacobites. Indeed, the German historian Onno Klopp argued, in Der Fall des Hauses Stuart, that ‘Marlborough succeeded in an astonishing way in not losing the confidence of Saint-Germain, while at the same time preserving that of Hanover.’ Winston S. Churchill maintains that his contact with the Jacobite court gave him ‘a window of indispensable intelligence’, and that this is the only motive for his behaviour that ‘fits all the facts of twenty years’.177 It is hard to share this confidence. We have already seen that Marlborough had shifted £50,000 to the Continent in case of a Stuart restoration, and we shall soon note that he remained on good terms with the Jacobites when he was close to death and had no official responsibilities or personal ambitions. The truth is probably that, as Sarah observed on 17 October 1713, it was impossible to be sure of anything, and dangerous to burn any bridges. ‘This is a world that is subject to frequent revolutions,’ she wrote, ‘and though one wishes to lea
Moreover, the spirit of the age saw little wrong in Marlborough’s continuing friendship with James II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Berwick, who was his nephew long before he became a Marshal of France. As Berwick pointed out, when asking Marlborough leave for an equerry to visit the Allied army ‘to buy some English horses’, there were contacts ‘so indifferent to the public cause’ as not to excite reasonable criticism. Berwick concluded: ‘pray [give] my compliments to Mr Godfrey,’ the English officer now married to his mother.179 When they were in exile Sarah feared that her husband’s old fire had left him. She thought he had grown ‘intolerably lazy’, and one early biographer recorded a comment made at the time: ‘The only things the Duke has forgotten are his deeds. The only things he remembers are the misfortunes of others.’180 In early 1714 his favourite daughter Elizabeth, Countess of Bridgewater, died of smallpox. He received the dreadful news in his house at Antwerp, where he was leaning on a marble mantelpiece: it was said that his head slammed against the marble so hard that he fell to the floor unconscious.
Queen Anne had been very ill over the winter of 1713–14, but had recovered sufficiently to open Parliament in person on 15 February. However, it was ‘universally recognised that her days were numbered’, and on 5 January Oxford’s cousin Thomas Harley was sent to Hanover to assure the Electoral court that Anne was determined to adhere to the Act of Settlement that enshrined the Hanoverian succession.181 Just as Marlborough kept a foot in both camps, so Oxford also negotiated with the Jacobites, though there can be no doubt that his overtures to St Germain were perfectly sincere. He used an intermediary to ask James, the Old Pretender, to change or at least conceal his religion, and Bolingbroke assured the French envoy in London that unless he did so there was no chance of his succeeding, for ‘people would rather have a Turk than a catholic’. Happily for the Protestant succession, James declined to temporise.
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