Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: MINORITY OF LOUIS XIV.—THE VICTORIES OF THE FRENCH UNDER THE GREAT CONDE, THEN DUKE OF ENGHIEN. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER II.: MINORITY OF LOUIS XIV.—THE VICTORIES OF THE FRENCH UNDER THE GREAT CONDE, THEN DUKE OF ENGHIEN. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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MINORITY OF LOUIS XIV.—THE VICTORIES OF THE FRENCH UNDER THE GREAT CONDE, THEN DUKE OF ENGHIEN.
Cardinal de Richelieu and Louis XIII. were lately dead, the one admired and hated, the other already forgotten. They had left the French, who were at that time a restless people, in a fixed aversion to the very name of a ministry, and with very little respect for the throne. Louis XIII. had, by his will, settled a council of regency. This monarch, so ill obeyed when he was living, flattered himself with meeting with more observance after his death; but the first step taken by his widow, Anne of Austria, was to procure an arret of the Parliament of Paris for setting aside her husband’s will. This body, which had been so long in opposition to the court, and which under Louis had with difficulty preserved its right of making remonstrances, now annulled its monarch’s will with the same ease as it would have determined the cause of a private citizen. Anne of Austria applied to this assembly to have the regency unlimited, because Mary de Medici had made use of the same court after the death of Henry IV., and Mary de Medici had set this example because any other method would have been tedious and uncertain; because the parliament being surrounded by her guards, could not dispute her will; and that an arret issued by the parliament and the peers seemed to confer an incontestable right.
The custom which always confers the regency on the king’s mother appeared to the French at that time as fundamental a law as that by which women are excluded from the crown. The Parliament of Paris having twice settled this point, that is to say, having by its own authority decreed the regency vested in the queen-mothers, seemed in fact to have conferred the regency; it considered itself, not without some show of reason, as the guardian of our kings, and every counsellor thought he had a part in the sovereign authority. By the same arret, Gaston, duke of Orleans, brother of the late king, had the vain title given him of lieutenant-general of the kingdom, under the queen-regent, who was absolute.
Anne of Austria was, upon her first assuming the reins of government, obliged to continue the war against her brother, Philip IV., king of Spain, whom she affectionately loved. It is difficult to assign any positive reason for the French having undertaken this war; they claimed nothing from Spain, not even Navarre, which should have been the patrimony of the kings of France. They had continued at war ever since the year 1634, because Cardinal de Richelieu would have it so, and it is to be supposed that he was desirous of it in order to make himself necessary. He had engaged in a league against the emperor with the Swedes and Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, one of those generals whom the Italians called condottieri, who sold the service of their troops. He also attacked the Austrian Spanish branch in those ten provinces which we now call by the general name of Flanders; and he had divided this country with the Dutch, at that time our allies, though it was not yet conquered.
The stress of the war lay on the side of Flanders; the Spanish troops marched from the frontiers of Hainault to the number of twenty-six thousand men, under the command of an old experienced general, whose name was Don Francisco de Mello, fell upon and ravaged the borders of Champagne, and attacked Rocroi, and thought soon to advance to the very gates of Paris, as they had done eight years before. The death of Louis XIII., and the weakness of a minority, raised their hopes, and when they saw only an inconsiderable army opposed to them, and that commanded by a young man of only twenty-one years of age, these hopes were changed into full security.
This inexperienced young man, whom they so much despised, was Louis of Bourbon, then duke of Enghien, known since by the name of the great Condé. Most great generals have become so by degrees, but this prince was born a general. The art of war seemed in him a natural instinct. There were only he and the Swede, Torstenson, who, at twenty years of age were possessed of this talent which can dispense with experience.
The duke of Enghien had received, together with the news of Louis XIII.’s death, orders not to risk a battle; Marshal de L’Hôpital, who had been given him as counsellor and guide, backed these timid orders by his own caution; but the prince heeded neither the court nor the marshal: he intrusted his design to no one but Field-Marshal Gassion, a person worthy of being consulted by him. They together obliged the marshal to give his assent to the battle.
It is observed of the prince that, having made all the necessary dispositions the evening before the battle, he slept so soundly that night that the people were obliged to wake him to begin the engagement. The same thing is related of Alexander. It is very natural for a young man, exhausted with the fatigue which must attend the preparations for such a day, to fall into a sound sleep; it is likewise as natural that a genius formed for war, and acting without confusion, should leave the body sufficiently calm for sleep. The prince gained the battle himself, by a quickness of sight, which at once made him discern the danger, and the means of preventing it; and by a cool activity, which carried him to every place at the time his presence was wanted. In person, at the head of the cavalry, he fell upon the Spanish infantry, till then deemed invincible, which were as strong and compact as the ancient phalanx, so greatly esteemed, and could open much more quickly than the phalanx could, in order to give room for the discharge of eighteen pieces of cannon which were placed in its centre. The prince surrounded this body, and charged it three times successively; at length he broke it, and no sooner was he assured of the victory, than he gave orders to put a stop to the slaughter. The Spanish officers threw themselves at his feet for protection against the fury of the victorious soldiery. The duke of Enghien was as assiduous in securing them as he had been in conquering them.
The old count de Fuentes, who commanded this body of foot, was slain on the field of battle; on hearing which, Condé said he should have wished to die like him, if he had not conquered.
The high esteem in which the Spanish arms had till then been held by all Europe was now lost, and those of the French began to gain repute. They had not for a century past gained so great a victory; for the bloody day of Melegnano, which was rather disputed than gained by Francis I. over the Swiss, was as much owing to the black bands of Germany as to the French.
The battles of Pavia and St. Quentin were again two fatal eras to the reputation of France. Henry IV. had the misfortune to gain great advantages only over his own nation. In the reign of Louis XIII., Marshal de Guébriant had had some inconsiderable successes, but they were always counterbalanced by losses. Gustavus Adolphus was the only one at that time who fought those great battles which shake a state, and remain forever in the memory of posterity.
The battle of Rocroi became the era of the French glory, and of the great Condé’s. This general knew how to conquer, and to make the most of conquest. The letters he wrote made the court resolve on the siege of Thionville, which Cardinal Richelieu had not dared to hazard; and when his couriers returned they found everything ready for the expedition.
The prince of Condé marched through the enemy’s country, eluded the vigilance of General Beck, and at length took Thionville; from there he hastened and laid siege to Cirq, which he also reduced. He obliged the Germans to repass the Rhine, followed them over that river, and came upon the frontiers, where he repaired all the defeats and losses which the French had sustained after the death of their commander de Guébriant. He found the town of Freiburg in the enemy’s possession, and General Mercy under its walls, with an army superior to his own. Condé had under him two marshals of France, Gramont and Turenne, the latter of whom had been made marshal about a month before, in consideration of the services he had rendered against the Spaniards at Piedmont, where he laid the foundation of that great reputation which he afterward acquired. The prince with these two generals attacked Mercy’s camp, August 31, 1644, which was intrenched upon two eminences. The fight was renewed three times on three successive days. It is said that the duke of Enghien threw his commander’s staff into the enemy’s trenches, and marched to retake it, sword in hand, at the head of the regiment of Conti. There may sometimes be a necessity for such bold actions in leading on troops to attacks of so dangerous a nature. This battle of Freiburg, rather bloody than decisive, was the second victory the prince had gained. Mercy decamped four days afterward; and the surrender of Philippsburg and Mentz were at once the proofs and fruits of this victory.
The duke of Enghien then returned to Paris, where he was received amidst the acclamations of the people, and demanded of the court the rewards due to his services; he left the command of his army to Marshal Turenne; but this general, notwithstanding his great military skill, was defeated at Marienthal, in April, 1645. Upon this the prince hastens back to his army, resumes the command, and to the glory of commanding the great Turenne, added that of repairing his defeat. He attacked Mercy in the plains of Nördlingen, August 3, 1645, and gained a complete victory. Marshal Gramont was taken; and General Glen, the second in command to Mercy, was also made prisoner, while Mercy himself was among the number of the slain. This general, who was esteemed one of the greatest captains of his age, was interred on the field of battle with this inscription on his tomb: “Sta, viator, heroem calcas”—“Stop, traveller, thou treadest on a hero.”
The name of the duke of Enghien now eclipsed all others. He afterward laid siege to Dunkirk, October 7, 1646, in sight of the Spanish army, and was the first who added that place to the French territories.
These many successes and services, which were looked upon with a suspicious eye by the court, rather than properly rewarded, made him as much feared by the ministry as by his enemies. He was therefore recalled from his theatre of conquest and glory, and sent into Catalonia with a handful of bad troops, as badly paid; then he besieged the town of Lérida, but was obliged to quit the siege. He is accused by several writers of a foolish bravado, in having opened the trenches to the sound of musical instruments. They do not know that this was the custom in Spain.
It was not long, however, before the ticklish situation of affairs obliged the court to recall him to Flanders. Archduke Leopold, the emperor’s brother, was then besieging the town of Lens in Artois. Condé, as soon as he was restored to those troops who had always conquered under his command, led them directly against the Archduke Leopold. This was the third time he had given battle with the advantage of numbers against him. He addressed his soldiers in this short speech: “My friends, remember Rocroi, Freiburg, and Nördlingen.” This battle of Lens put the finishing touch to his reputation.
In person he succored Marshal Gramont, who was giving way with the left wing, and took General Beck prisoner. The archduke with great difficulty saved himself, with the count of Fruensaldagna. The enemy’s army, which was composed of the imperialists and Spaniards, was totally routed, August 20, 1648. They lost upward of a hundred stands of colors and thirty-eight pieces of cannon, which at that time was a considerable number; there were five thousand men taken prisoners, and three thousand slain; the rest deserted, and the archduke was left without an army.
While the prince of Condé was thus numbering the years of his youth by victories, and while the duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII., maintained the reputation of a son of Henry IV. and that of his country by the taking of Gravelines, Courtray, and Mardyke, the viscount of Turenne reduced Landau, drove the Spaniards out of Trier, and restored the elector.
He gained the battles of Lavingen and Sommerhausen with the Swedes, and obliged the duke of Bavaria to fly out of his dominions, when almost eighty years old. The count d’Harcourt took Balaguier, and beat the Spaniards. They lost Portolongone in Italy, and their fleet was defeated on that coast by twenty ships of war and as many galleys, which was the whole of the French navy, then newly restored by Cardinal de Richelieu.
This was not all; the French army took Lorraine from Duke Charles IV., a warlike, but fickle, imprudent, and unfortunate prince, who at the same time saw his dominions seized on by the French, and himself a prisoner of the Spaniards. The Austrian power was hard pressed by the allies of France in the north and the south. The duke of Albuquerque, the Portuguese general, gained the battle of Badajoz against the Spaniards. Torstenson defeated the imperialists near Tabor, and gained a complete victory; and the prince of Orange, at the head of his Hollanders, penetrated as far as the province of Brabant in Flanders.
The Spanish king was beaten on all sides, and saw Roussillon and Catalonia in the hands of the French. Naples had lately revolted against him, and thrown itself into the hands of the duke de Guise, the last prince of that branch of a house which had teemed with so many illustrious and dangerous men. This prince, who was deemed only a rash and bold adventurer, because he did not succeed, had however the glory of passing alone in a boat through the midst of the Spanish fleet, landing in Naples, and defending it without any other assistance than his own valor.
At the view of so many misfortunes pouring upon the house of Austria, and such a train of victories gained by the French, and seconded by the successes of their allies, one would imagine that Vienna and Madrid only waited the moment when they should be obliged to throw open their gates, and that the emperor and the king of Spain must shortly be almost destitute of dominions; nevertheless, five years of excessive good fortune, hardly chequered by one disappointment, produced but very few real advantages, cost an infinite deal of blood, and brought about no change; or if there was one to be apprehended, it was rather on the side of France, which was bordering upon its ruin, in the midst of so many apparent successes.