Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X.: HOLLAND EVACUATED—FRANCHÉ-COMTE CONQUERED A SECOND TIME. - 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 X.: HOLLAND EVACUATED—FRANCHÉ-COMTE CONQUERED A SECOND TIME. - 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.
HOLLAND EVACUATED—FRANCHÉ-COMTE CONQUERED A SECOND TIME.
We think it necessary to advise those who may read this work that they are to remember it is not a bare relation of campaigns, but rather a history of the manners of mankind. There are already a sufficient number of books filled with the minute particulars of military actions, and details of human rage and misery. The design of this essay is to describe the principal characters of these revolutions, and to remove the multitude of trifling facts, in order to set to view those only which are considerable, and the spirit by which they were actuated.
France was at that time in the zenith of her glory. The names of her generals inspired veneration. Her ministers were regarded as geniuses superior to the counsellors of other princes; and Louis XIV. seemed almost the only king in Europe. As to the emperor Leopold, he never appeared with his armies. Charles II., king of Spain, son of Philip IV., was as yet a child; and the king of England showed no activity but in the pursuit of his pleasures.
The princes of Europe and their ministers were all guilty of great blunders. England acted against the common principles of reason in joining with France to aggrandize a power which it was to her interest to weaken.
The emperor, the empire, and the king of Spain’s council committed still a greater error in not opposing this torrent in the beginning; and even Louis himself was as blamable as any of them, for not rapidly pursuing conquests which were so easily made. Condé and Turenne were for demolishing the greatest part of the fortified places taken from the Dutch, alleging that states were not to be taken by garrisons but by armies; and that, keeping one or two strongholds only for a retreat, they should proceed immediately to complete the conquest of the whole country. Louvois, on the contrary, was for making every place a garrison or fortress. This was his peculiar genius, and it was likewise the king’s own taste. Louvois had by this means more employments in his disposal, and increased his ministerial influence; besides, he took a pride in thwarting the two greatest captains of the age. Louis implicitly believed what he said, by which he was deceived, as he afterward acknowledged. He let slip the opportunity of entering the capital of Holland; he weakened his army by dividing it into too many detachments, and gave the enemy breathing time. The history of the greatest princes is frequently a narrative of human errors.
After the king had quitted the army, affairs took a different turn. Turenne was obliged to march into Westphalia, to oppose the imperialists. Monterey, the governor of Flanders, whom the Spanish council were afraid of countenancing openly, reinforced the prince of Orange’s small army with about ten thousand men, by which the prince found himself strong enough to oppose the French till the winter. It was doing a great deal to be able to hold fortune in suspense. At length winter came on, and covered the overflowed country of Holland with ice. Luxembourg, who commanded in Utrecht, carried on a new kind of war, to which the French themselves were strangers, and threw the Dutch into a fresh dilemma, as terrible as anything they had yet experienced.
One night he got together nearly twelve thousand foot soldiers, drawn from the neighboring garrisons; and having ordered every man to be furnished with a pair of skates, he put himself at their head, and began his march over the ice toward Leyden and The Hague: a thaw came on, which saved The Hague; and his little army, surrounded by the waters, knowing no longer which way to go, and being destitute of provisions, was on the point of perishing. There was a narrow and muddy dike, where four men could barely walk abreast, which he was obliged to march over before he could get back to Utrecht; and there was no way to get at this dike, but by attacking a fort which seemed impregnable without artillery; and had those who were in it defended it but for a single day, the French army must inevitably have perished with hunger and fatigue. Luxembourg now looked upon himself as lost; but the same good fortune which had preserved The Hague saved his army, through the cowardice of the commandant of the fort, who abandoned his post without the least reason. There are a thousand events in war, as in civil life, which are altogether incomprehensible, and this was of the number. This expedition was productive of nothing but a piece of cruelty, which rendered the French name completely odious in this country. Bodegraven and Swammerdam, two considerable villages, each well peopled, and as large as some of our middling towns, were given up to the soldiery for plunder, as a reward for the fatigues they had undergone. They immediately set fire to both towns, and indulged themselves by the light of the flames in all the excesses of debauchery and cruelty. It is surprising that the common soldiers among the French can be so barbarous, seeing they are commanded by officers who have with justice the reputation of being as humane as they are brave. The sacking of these two places was so exaggerated that I myself, above forty years afterward, saw some Dutch books in which children were taught to read, where this affair was recapitulated, in order to inspire the rising generation with a hatred to the French.
In 1673 the king cut out work for the cabinets of all Europe, by his negotiations. He gained over the duke of Hanover. The elector of Brandenburg, in entering into the war, had made a treaty which he soon broke. There was not a court in Germany where Louis had not some pensioners. By his emissaries in Hungary he fomented the troubles of that province, which had been severely treated by the emperor’s council. He lavished great sums on Charles II. of England, to engage him to declare war once more against the Dutch, notwithstanding the outcries and murmurs of all his subjects, who were filled with indignation at being made tools to raise the French king’s greatness, which it was to their interest and desire to humble. In a word, Louis disturbed all Europe by his arms and negotiations; but, after all, he could not prevent the emperor, the empire, and Spain from joining the Dutch, and publicly declaring war against him. He had so far changed the course of things that the Dutch, who were his natural allies, were become friends to Spain. The emperor Leopold sent aid slowly; but he showed great animosity against the French. It is reported that, as he was going to Eger to see the troops, which were there assembled, he took the sacrament on the road, and that after having communicated, he took a crucifix in his hand, and called God to witness the justice of his cause. This action would have done very well in the time of the Crusades; however, the emperor’s invocation did not in the least stop the progress of the French king’s arms.
It was soon apparent how greatly his marine was improved. Instead of thirty ships, which had been sent the year before to join the English fleet, he now sent forty, without reckoning fireships. The officers had learned from the English the judicious manner of working their ships in their engagements with the Dutch. The duke of York, afterward King James II., was the person who first invented the method of giving orders in a naval fight by the different dispositions and motions of flags. Till that time the French did not know how to draw up a fleet in line of battle. All their experience consisted in fighting ship to ship, without knowing how to make a number move in concert, or to imitate at sea the evolutions of armies on shore, whose several different corps mutually sustain and assist each other. In this they resembled the Romans, who in one year’s time learned the art of fighting at sea from the Carthaginians, and soon became equal with their masters.
The vice-admiral, d’Estrées, and his second in command, Martel, did honor to the industry of the French nation in three successive engagements, which were fought in June, 1673, between the Dutch fleet and the combined squadrons of France and England. Admiral de Ruyter was more admired than ever in these three engagements. D’Estrées, in a letter to Colbert, expressed himself in these terms: “I would willingly have died to purchase the glory which de Ruyter has acquired.” D’Estrées deserved that Ruyter should have said the same by him. In short, the valor and conduct were so equal on both sides that it remained doubtful which had the victory.
Louis, having thus made seamen of his French subjects, through the diligence of Colbert, improved the art of war on land by the industry of Vauban. He went in person to lay siege to Maestricht, at the time that these three naval battles were fought. Maestricht was the key of the Low Countries and the United Provinces. The place was prodigiously strong, and defended by an intrepid governor, named Farjaux, a Frenchman by birth, who had gone into the Spanish service, and afterward into the Dutch. The garrison consisted of five hundred men. Vauban, who had the direction of the siege, made use for the first time of the parallel lines, which were invented by the Italian engineers in the service of the Turks at the siege of Candia. To these he added the places d’armes, or parade of arms, which is made in the trenches, for ranging the troops in order of battle, and better rallying them in case of sallies from the besieged. Louis, in this siege, showed himself more strict and assiduous than he had ever yet done. By his example he accustomed his subjects to endure labor patiently, who had hitherto been regarded as a nation which had only an impetuous courage that is soon exhausted by fatigues. Maestricht surrendered, June 29, after a week’s siege.
The desire of establishing strict military discipline among his troops carried him rather to an excess of severity. The prince of Orange at first had only a few officers without emulation, and soldiers without courage, to oppose the rapid conquests of the French arms, and therefore was obliged to employ the utmost rigor in training them, and to hang everyone who quitted his post. The king likewise made use of punishments. Naarden, the first place he lost, a very brave officer named du Pas gave up to the prince of Orange. It is true, he held out only four days, but he did not give it up till after an obstinate engagement of five hours on bad works, and to prevent a general assault, which it would have been impossible for him to have sustained with a weak and dispirited garrison. The king, incensed at this first affront which his arms had received, ordered du Pas to be led through Utrecht by the common hangman, with a shovel in his hand, and to have his sword broken before his face. This ignominious treatment was perhaps not altogether necessary, as the French officers have too nice a sense of honor to need being governed by the fear of disgrace. It is to be observed that, according to the tenor of his commission, the governor of a fortress is obliged to stand three assaults; but this is one of those laws which are hardly ever put in force.
But not all the king’s diligence, Vauban’s genius, Louvois’s strict vigilance, the knowledge and great military experience of Turenne, nor the active intrepidity of the prince of Condé were sufficient to repair the fault which had been committed in keeping such a number of places, weakening the army, and missing the opportunity of taking Amsterdam.
The prince of Condé in vain attempted to penetrate into the heart of Holland, which was all under water. Turenne could neither prevent the junction of Montecuculi with the prince of Orange, nor hinder the latter from making himself master of the town of Bonn. The bishop of Münster, who had sworn the destruction of the states-general, was himself attacked by them.
The English Parliament obliged its king to enter seriously into a treaty of peace, and to cease being the mercenary instrument of aggrandizing France. And now the French were obliged to evacuate the three Dutch provinces as rapidly as they had conquered them; but not till they had made them pay dearly for their deliverance. The intendant, Robert, had raised in the single province of Utrecht in one year, no less than sixteen hundred and sixty-eight thousand florins. So great was their hurry to evacuate the country which they had overrun with such rapidity, that twenty-eight thousand Dutch prisoners were restored at a crown a man. The triumphal arch of St. Denis’s gate, and the other monuments of Louis’s conquests, were hardly finished when those conquests were already abandoned. During the course of this invasion, the Dutch had the honor of disputing the empire of the sea, and the dexterity to remove the theatre of the war out of their own country. Louis XIV. was considered throughout Europe as one who had enjoyed the glory of a transient triumph with too much precipitation and pride. The fruits of this expedition were, that he had a bloody war to support against the united forces of the Empire, Spain, and Holland; saw himself abandoned by England, and at length by the bishop of Münster, and even the elector of Cologne; and left the countries he had invaded and was compelled to quit, more hated than admired.
The king maintained his ground alone against all the enemies he had drawn upon him. The foresight of his administration and the strength of his kingdom appeared to much greater advantage, when he had so many combined powers and great generals to defend himself against, than even when he took French Flanders in a party of pleasure, and Franche-Comté, and one half of Holland, from a defenceless enemy.
It now appeared how great an advantage an absolute sovereign, whose finances are well managed, has over all other kings. He at one and the same time furnished Turenne with an army of twenty-three thousand men, against the imperialists; Condé, with one of forty thousand, against the prince of Orange; and a body of troops was stationed on the borders of Roussillon. A fleet of transports, full of soldiers, was sent to carry the war among the Spaniards, even to the gates of Messina; while he himself marched in person to subdue Franche-Comté a second time. In a word, he at once defended himself, and attacked his enemies on every side.
As soon as Louis began his expedition against Franche-Comté, the superiority of his administration showed in the fullest manner. It was necessary to bring over, or at least to amuse, the Swiss nation, who are as formidable as poor, are always in arms, jealous to an excess of their liberty, invincible on their own frontiers, and who already began to murmur and take umbrage at seeing Louis a second time in their neighborhood. The emperor and the court of Spain warmly solicited the thirteen cantons to grant a free passage to their troops, who were going to the assistance of Franche-Comté, which had been left defenceless by the negligence of the Spanish ministry; but the emperor and the Spaniard were only lavish in arguments and entreaties. The French king, on the contrary, by a million of livres in ready money, and the assurance of six hundred thousand more, prevailed on those people to do as he pleased. They refused to grant a passage to the Spanish troops. Louis, accompanied by his brother and the great Condé’s son, laid siege to Besançon. He was fond of this part of war, which he understood perfectly well, and left the care of the campaign to Condé and Turenne. Besides, he never laid siege to a town without being morally sure of taking it. Louvois made such excellent preparations; the troops were so well found in everything; Vauban, who had almost always the direction of the sieges, was so great a master in the art of reducing places, that the king was secure of his reputation. Vauban directed the attacks against Besançon, which was taken in nine days; and, at the end of six weeks, all Franche-Comté submitted to the king. It has ever since remained in the hands of France, and seems to be forever annexed to it, a monument of the weakness of the Austro-Spanish ministry, and of the vigor of that of Louis XIV.