Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII.: CONQUEST OF FRANCHE-COMTÉ—PEACE OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER VIII.: CONQUEST OF FRANCHE-COMTÉ—PEACE OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
CONQUEST OF FRANCHE-COMTÉ—PEACE OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE.
The whole court was taken up with the diversions at St. Germain, when, in the midst of winter, in the month of January, everyone was surprised to see troops in motion on all sides, and several bodies coming and going on the road to Champagne, in the three bishoprics. Several trains of battering cannon, and wagons loaded with ammunition, stopped under different pretences on the route which leads from Champagne to Burgundy. This part of France was the scene of movements, of which no one could conjecture the cause. Foreigners, through interest, and the courtiers, through curiosity, exhausted themselves in surmises; Germany was alarmed; but everyone was alike ignorant of the object of these vast preparations and irregular marches. Never was more secrecy observed in a conspiracy than in this expedition of Louis XIV. At length, on February 2, the king himself set out from St. Germain, with the young duke of Enghien and some of his courtiers, the other officers being at the place of rendezvous appointed for the troops. He made long journeys on horseback, and arrived at Dijon. Twenty thousand men, who had been assembled on different routes, met the same day in Franche-Comté, some leagues from Besançon, and the great Condé appeared at their head, having his friend Bouteville-Montmorency for his lieutenant-general, lately made duke of Luxembourg, and who had always preserved an inviolable attachment to him through every change of his fortune. Luxembourg had studied the art of war under the great Condé, and his great merit obliged the king, who did not love him, to employ him.
The springs of this unforeseen expedition were these: the prince of Condé was jealous of Turenne’s reputation; and Louvois of his favor with his master. Condé’s jealousy was that of a hero, Louvois’s that of a minister. The prince, who was governor of Burgundy, which borders on Franche-Comté, had formed the project of making himself master of this province during the winter season, in as short a time as Turenne had taken in the foregoing summer to make the conquest of French Flanders. He immediately communicated his scheme to Louvois, who eagerly embraced it, glad of an opportunity of removing Turenne to a distance, and making him useless, and at the same time of serving his master.
This province, which was then very poor, but extremely well peopled, is forty leagues long, and twenty broad. It was called Franche-Comté—the free country—and was actually so; for the Spanish kings were rather its protectors than its masters: and though this country was in the government of Flanders, yet it was very little dependent on it. The administration was divided and disputed between the parliament and the governor of Franche-Comté. The people enjoyed many privileges, which the court of Madrid were cautious of infringing on, being desirous to keep fair with a province that was jealous of its rights, and so near a neighbor to France. Never did people live under a milder government, or were more attached to their sovereigns. They had preserved an affection for the house of Austria for almost two generations; but this was rather the love of their liberty.
In a word, Franche-Comté was happy, though poor; but as it was a kind of republic, there were necessarily some factions among its inhabitants; and notwithstanding what is said by Pellisson, Louis did not confine himself merely to force on this occasion.
He began by gaining over some of the inhabitants, by presents and promises. He made sure of the abbot, John Watteville, brother of him who, having insulted the French ambassador at a public entry into London, had by this outrage occasioned the humiliation of the Spanish branch of the house of Austria. This abbot, who had formerly been an officer, then a Carthusian friar, afterward a Turk, and last of all a churchman, had the promise of being made high dean, and of having several other preferments in the church. The count of St. Amour, the governor’s nephew, was likewise bribed, and the governor himself at last proved not inflexible. A number of the counsellors of the parliament were bought at a reasonable rate, and these private intrigues were at their very beginning seconded by an army of twenty thousand men. Besançon, the capital of the province, was invested by the prince of Condé. Luxembourg marched to Salins; and the next day Besançon and Salins surrendered. Besançon insisted on no other terms of capitulation than that it should remain in possession of the holy handkerchief, which was held in great reverence in that city, and which was readily granted them. The king having arrived at Dijon, Louvois, who had hastened to the frontiers to direct all the marches, informed him that these two towns were besieged and taken. The king hastened to show himself to fortune, who did everything for him.
In person, he next laid siege to Dôle, a place reputed very strong, in which the count of Montrevel commanded; a man of distinguished valor, who was faithful to the Spanish government, which he hated, and a parliament which he despised. His garrison consisted of no more than four hundred soldiers and the inhabitants of the place, and yet he bravely resolved to defend it. The trenches were not carried on in form; for no sooner were they opened than a crowd of young volunteers, who had followed the king, flew to attack the counterscarp, on which they made a lodgment. The prince of Condé, whose age and experience gave him a more sedate courage, supported them properly, and by sharing in their danger extricated them from it. This prince was everywhere with his son, and went to give an account of all that passed to the king, as if he had been an officer who had his fortune to make. The king remained in his quarters, where he displayed the dignity of a monarch in his court, rather than that impetuous ardor which is by no means necessary. The same ceremonials were observed there as at St. Germain. He had his great couch and his lesser one; he had his drawing-rooms, his public audience-hall in his tent, and never stooped from the dignity of the throne in any other respect than that of permitting his general officers and aides-de-camp to dine at the same table with him. He never was seen to expose himself to the ruder fatigues of war, nor to show that rash courage for which Francis I. and Henry IV. were so famous, who greedily sought after danger in all shapes. He was contented with not fearing it himself, and with encouraging all about him to rush into it with ardor for his service. He entered Dôle after four days’ siege, and twelve days after his departure from St. Germain, and in less than three weeks the whole province of Franche-Comté was reduced. The Spanish council, both amazed and incensed at the small resistance which had been made, wrote the governor that, “the French king should have sent his valets to take possession of the province, instead of marching against it in person.”
So much ambition and good fortune roused Europe from its lethargy. The empire began to stir, and the emperor to raise troops. The Swiss nation, who are neighbors to the people of Franche-Comté, and who have nothing to depend upon but their liberty, trembled for themselves. The rest of Flanders might be invaded the ensuing spring; the Dutch, whose interest it had always been to have the French their friends, shuddered at the thoughts of having them for neighbors. Spain had then recourse for protection, and actually received it from that inconsiderable nation, which it had hitherto looked upon as a contemptible and rebellious people.
Holland was then governed by John de Witt, who had been chosen grand pensionary, when he was only twenty-five years old; a man who had the freedom of his country as much at heart as his own personal greatness; wedded to the old republican principles, frugality and moderation, he kept only one man and a maid, and always went on foot at The Hague, while in the negotiations of Europe his name was ranked with that of the most powerful kings: he was a person of unwearied application, of the greatest regularity, prudence, and assiduity in public affairs; an excellent citizen, a great politician, and yet in the end very unfortunate.
He had contracted a friendship with Sir William Temple, the English ambassador at The Hague, which is rarely to be found between statesmen. Sir William was a philosopher, who blended a taste for literature with public affairs, and an honest man, notwithstanding that Bishop Burnet has reproached him with atheism. He was born with a prudent republican genius, and loved Holland like his own country, because it was the seat of liberty, of which he was as jealous as the grand pensionary himself. These two excellent members of the community, joined with Count Dohna, the Swedish ambassador, to stop the French king’s progress.
This period was distinguished by rapid events. French Flanders had been taken within three months and Franche-Comté in the space of three weeks. The treaty entered into between Holland, England, and Sweden, for maintaining the balance of power in Europe, and bridling the ambition of Louis XIV., was proposed and concluded in five days.
The French monarch was not a little incensed that a pitiful state like that of Holland should have presumed to think of setting bounds to his conquests, and being the arbiter between crowned heads; and still more so, that it was in a condition to do it. He was sensibly affected by this indignity put upon his greatness by the Dutch, which he was obliged to swallow for the present; but for which he from that instant meditated revenge.
Ambitious, powerful, and incensed as he was, he yet found it most prudent to divert the storm which began to gather from all parts of Europe. He, himself, made the first overtures for peace. Aix-la-Chapelle was selected by the courts of France and Spain for the place of conference, and Pope Clement IX. was chosen mediator.
The court of Rome, to cover its weakness with a show of credit, earnestly contended for the honor of being the arbiter between crowned heads. It had been disappointed at the Peace of the Pyrenees; but it seemed to have carried its point at this of Aix-la-Chapelle. A nuncio was sent to the congress, to be a phantom of an arbiter between phantoms of plenipotentiaries. The Dutch, who already felt a thirst for honor, would not share that of concluding what they had begun with any other. Accordingly everything was in fact settled at St. Germain, by their ambassador, Van Beuning. What had been privately agreed upon there with him was sent to Aix-la-Chapelle to be signed in great pomp by the ministers assembled at the congress. Who could have supposed thirty years before, that a burgher of Holland would oblige the kings of France and Spain to abide by his arbitration?
This Van Beuning, who was burgomaster of Amsterdam, had all the vivacity of a Frenchman, with the pride of a Spaniard. He took pleasure in thwarting the king’s imperious disposition on all occasions; and opposed a republican inflexibility to the magisterial tone, which the French ministers began to assume. “Do you doubt the king’s word?” said M. de Lionne to him, one day at a conference. “I know not what the king may intend,” said Van Beuning, “I only consider what he may do.” In short, at the court of the proudest monarch in the world, a simple burgomaster concluded by his own authority a peace by which the king was obliged to restore Franche-Comté. The Dutch would have been much better pleased had he restored Flanders, by which they would have been freed from so formidable a neighbor: but all Europe thought the king showed sufficient moderation in parting with Franche-Comté. However, he was a greater gainer by keeping the towns in Flanders, as by this means he opened himself a way into Holland, whose destruction he meditated even while he appeared to make the greatest concessions.