Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII.: THE CONQUEST OF FLANDERS. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER VII.: THE CONQUEST OF FLANDERS. - 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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THE CONQUEST OF FLANDERS.
The king was not long without an opportunity he so earnestly desired. His father-in-law, Philip IV., died; this prince had by his first wife, sister of Louis XIII., the princess Maria Theresa, who was married to her cousin, Louis XIV., by which match the Spanish monarchy fell at length into the house of Bourbon, which had been so long its enemy. By his second marriage, he had Charles II., a weak and unhealthy child, but who lived to inherit his father’s crown, being the only surviving of three male children, the other two having died in their infancy. Louis XIV. pretended that Flanders and Franche-Comté, two provinces belonging to the kingdom of Spain, should by the laws of those provinces devolve to his wife, notwithstanding her former renunciation. Were the causes of kings to be tried by the laws of nations, before an impartial tribunal, perhaps this affair might have appeared a little doubtful.
Louis submitted his claims to the examination of his council and the body of theologians, who declared them indisputable; but the council and confessor of Philip IV.’s widow, thought them very ill founded. This princess had a very powerful argument in her favor, the express law made by Charles V.; but Charles V.’s laws were very little attended to by the court of France.
One of the pretexts made use of by the French king’s council was, that the five hundred thousand crowns which had been granted in dowry with his wife, had never been paid; but they had forgotten at the same time, that the marriage portion of Henry IV.’s daughter had likewise never been paid. The two courts at first waged a paper war with each other, in which the nicest calculations and most learned arguments were displayed on both sides; but reasons of state silenced all other pleas.
The king, considering more in strength than arguments, marched in person into Flanders, in 1667, at the head of thirty-five thousand men; while another body of eight thousand was despatched toward Dunkirk, and a third, consisting of four thousand, to Luxemburg. Turenne had the command of this army, under his majesty. Colbert had multiplied the resources of the state, to furnish the necessary expenses. Louvois, the new secretary at war, had made immense preparations for carrying on the campaign, and magazines of all kinds were distributed over the frontiers. He was the first who introduced the advantageous method of supplying the army by magazines, which the weak condition of the government had hitherto rendered impracticable. Whatever place the king chose to lay siege to, or whithersoever he turned his arms, he was sure of finding supplies and subsistence ready. The quarters for the troops were all fixed, and their marches regulated. The officers were all kept close to their duty, by the strict discipline which this minister caused to be observed among them: and the presence of a young monarch, who was the idol of his army, made the strictness of their duty light, and even pleasing to them. The military degree became a right more inviolably observed than even that of birth. It was the man’s services, and not his family, that was considered; a thing which had hitherto been rarely seen. By this means an officer, however inconsiderable in point of birth, met with the encouragement due to his merit; and those of the most exalted rank had no reason for complaint. The infantry, who sustained all the weight of the war, since the disuse of lances, shared with the cavalry in those rewards of which they had till then been in sole possession. These new maxims in the government inspired everyone with a new kind of courage.
The king, assisted by a general and minister of equal abilities, both jealous of each other, and striving who should best serve him, at the head of the best troops in Europe, and newly engaged in an alliance with Portugal, with all those advantages, attacks an ill-defended province of a ruined and distracted kingdom. He had only his mother-in-law, Philip IV.’s widow, to deal with, and she a weak woman, whose unfortunate administration left her kingdom defenceless. She had made her confessor, one Father Nitard, a German Jesuit, prime minister, a man as fit for lording it over his penitent, as he was unfit for governing a state, having nothing of the minister or the churchman but haughtiness and ambition. He had the insolence one day to say to the duke of Lerma, even before he came into the administration: “It is you who ought to show me respect, since I have every day your God in my hands, and your queen at my feet.” With all this insolence, so contrary to true greatness of mind, he suffered the treasury to remain without money, all the fortifications in the kingdom to go to ruin, the harbors to be without shipping, and the army without discipline, destitute of generals, badly paid, and still worse commanded, in presence of an enemy who possessed all the requisites which Spain wanted.
The art of attacking places was not as perfect as it now is, because that of fortifying and defending them was not so well known. The frontiers of Spanish Flanders were almost destitute of fortifications, and even garrisons.
Louis then had nothing more to do than to present himself before them. He entered Charleroi as he would Paris; Ath and Tournay were taken in two days; Furnes, Armentières, and Courtrai made as little resistance. The king entered the trenches before Douay, July 6, 1667, and the next morning it capitulated. Lille, which was the finest town in that country, and the only one well fortified, having a garrison of six hundred men, capitulated after nine days’ siege. The Spaniards had only eight thousand men to oppose a victorious army, and even the rear guard of this small body was cut in pieces by the marquis, afterward marshal, de Créqui: the remainder hid itself within the walls of Brussels and Mons, leaving Louis to carry on his conquests, without striking a blow.
This campaign, which was made in the midst of abundance, and had been attended with such easy successes, seemed a party of pleasure made by a court. High living, luxury, and pleasures were then first introduced into our armies, at the same time that the strictest discipline was established. The officers performed military duty much more exactly than before; but with every kind of convenience. Marshal Turenne had for a long time been served only upon iron plates, when in camp. Marquis d’Humières was the first, at the siege of Arras, in 1658, who was served in plate in the trenches, and had different courses at his table. But in this campaign of 1667, where a young monarch, who was fond of magnificence, held the most brilliant court amidst the fatigues of the field, everyone prided himself in showing a taste for splendor, elegant living, dress, and equipage. This luxury, the certain mark of riches in a great state, and frequently the cause of ruin to a small one, was nothing in comparison with what has been seen since. The king, his generals, and ministers, then went to the rendezvous of the army on horseback; whereas now, there is not a captain of horse, nor the secretary of a general officer, but has his postchaise hung on springs, in which he travels with greater ease and convenience than in those days a person could make a visit from one part of Paris to another.
This delicacy in the officers did not hinder them from going into the trenches with their steel caps and cuirasses: the king himself set the example. This prudent precaution preserved many a great man. It has been too much neglected since by our young people, who are naturally tender and effeminate, though courageous, and who seem to dread fatigue more than danger.
The rapidity of the king’s conquests filled Brussels with alarm. The inhabitants already began to remove their effects to Antwerp. All Flanders might have been conquered in a single campaign. The king only wanted a sufficient number of troops to put into those places which were ready to open their gates at his approach. Louvois advised him to put large garrisons into the conquered towns, and to fortify them; and Vauban, one of the many great men and surprising geniuses who appeared in this century, for the service of Louis XIV., was appointed for this purpose. He constructed the fortifications on a new method of his own, which is now the standard for all good engineers. It was a matter of surprise to see towns surrounded by walls which were almost on a level with the neighboring country. The old lofty and menacing ramparts were only more exposed by their height to the force of the artillery; but by making them sloping or shelving, they were the less liable to this inconvenience. He built the citadel of Lille on these principles. At that time—1686—the government of a town and its citadel were among the French always vested in the same person; but now an innovation was made in favor of Vauban, who was the first governor of a citadel: and here we may observe that the first of those plans in relief, which are to be seen in the gallery of the Louvre, was that of the fortifications of Lille.
The king now hastened back to Paris to enjoy the acclamations of his people, the adorations of his courtiers and mistresses, and partake of the splendid entertainments which he gave to his court.