Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII.: FROM THE DEATH OF TURENNE TILL THE PEACE OF NIMEGUEN, IN 1678. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XII.: FROM THE DEATH OF TURENNE TILL THE PEACE OF NIMEGUEN, IN 1678. - 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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FROM THE DEATH OF TURENNE TILL THE PEACE OF NIMEGUEN, IN 1678.
Notwithstanding that Turenne was dead, and the prince of Condé withdrawn from the army, the king still continued the war against the emperor, the Spaniards, and the Dutch, with as much success as before. He had a number of officers who had been trained up under these great men; he had Louvois, who was as good as a general to him, because, by his ready foresight, he furnished the generals with means of undertaking everything they desired; and the troops, by a long series of victories, retained that ardor with which the presence of a monarch, ever fortunate in his undertakings, had inspired them.
During the course of this war, he in person took Condé, Bouchain, Valenciennes, and Cambray. He was accused by some of having been afraid to engage the prince of Orange, who, at the siege of Bouchain, presented himself with an army of fifty thousand men, in order to relieve the place. The prince of Orange was reproached with not having given battle to Louis, when he might have done it; for such is the fate of kings and generals, that they are always blamed for what they do, and for what they do not do; but neither the king nor the prince of Orange was in the least to blame: the former did not give battle, although he was desirous of it, because Monterey, who was governor of the Netherlands, and who was then in his army, did not choose to expose his province to the chance of a decisive action; and the honor of the campaign was undoubtedly on the king’s side, since he did what he pleased, and took a town in sight of his enemy.
With regard to the town of Valenciennes; it was taken by assault, by one of those singular events which characterize the impetuous courage of the French nation.
The king carried on this siege, assisted by his brother and five marshals of France, namely, d’Humières, Schomberg, La Feuillade, Luxembourg, and de Lorges. The marshals had each their day of command in turn, and Vauban had the direction of all the operations.
They had not yet made themselves masters of any of the outworks of the place. The first thing to be done was to attack two half-moons; behind which was a large crown-work, guarded with palisades and friezes, and surrounded by a ditch, intersected with several traverses. Within this crown-work was another work, surrounded by another ditch. When all these intrenchments were carried, there was still a branch of the Scheldt to be passed. Even after this, there remained another work, called a pâté; behind this pâté ran the main stream of the Scheldt, which was very deep and rapid, and which serves as a ditch to the town wall, which was defended by strong ramparts. All these works were covered with artillery, and a garrison of three thousand men promised a long resistance.
The king held a council of war about attacking the outworks. It had always been a custom to make these attacks in the night, in order to steal upon the enemy unperceived, and save the lives of the men. Vauban proposed to make the attack in the day. This proposal was strongly opposed by the marshals, and Louvois joined in condemning it; Vauban, however, maintained his opinion, with the confidence of a man who is sure of what he advances: “You are desirous,” said he, “of saving your men as much as possible; you will certainly do this much better by day, when they will be able to fight without confusion and tumult, or being apprehensive of one party firing upon another, as too often happens in attacks by night. We want to surprise the enemy, who are always on their guard against an attack by night; we shall therefore effectually surprise them if we oblige them to stand the attack of our fresh troops, after they have been wearied out by the fatigue of the night’s watch. Add to this, that if there are any of our men who want courage, the night favors their backwardness; but, in day, the eye of the master inspires them with courage, and makes them surpass themselves.”
The king was convinced by Vauban’s arguments, and agreed to his proposal, notwithstanding the objections of the five marshals of France.
At nine o’clock in the morning, on March 17, 1677, the two companies of musketeers, a hundred grenadiers, a battalion of the guards, and another of the regiment of Picardy, mounted the great crown-work on all sides. Their orders were only to make a lodgment there, and this was a great deal; but some of the black musketeers having found entrance by a private passage into the inner intrenchments which were in this work, presently made themselves masters of it; at the same time the gray musketeers made way through another passage; these were followed by the battalion of guards, who fell upon the besieged, killed some of them, and put the rest to flight. By this time the musketeers had let down the drawbridge which joined this work to the rest: they followed the enemy from one intrenchment to another, both on the greater and lesser branch of the Scheldt. The guards pressed on in crowds, and the musketeers were in possession of the town before the king knew that the first work, which he had ordered to be attacked, was carried.
But this was the least considerable part of the action. It is likely enough that a number of young musketeers, inflamed with the ardor of success, might fall upon the troops or burghers whom they met in the streets, and lose their lives, or else plunder the town; but what is most extraordinary in this affair is, that these young men, under the command of a cornet called Moissac, drew up in rank behind some wagons, and while the rest of the troops who came in were forming with deliberation, other musketeers took possession of the neighboring houses, and covered with their fire those who were in the street. Hostages were now exchanged on each side; the town council assembled and despatched a deputation to the king, and all this was transacted without pillage, confusion, or the least outrage of any kind. The king made the garrison prisoners of war, and entered Valenciennes with astonishment. The singularity of this action engaged us to enter into this minute detail.
The king gained additional honor by the taking of Ghent in eight days, and Ypres in seven. His generals met with still greater success.
In Germany, indeed, the duke of Luxembourg, at the beginning of the war, suffered Philippsburg to be taken in his sight, after a fruitless attempt to relieve it with an army of fifty thousand men. The general who took Philippsburg was Charles V., the new duke of Lorraine, who succeeded his uncle, Charles IV., and was, like him, stripped of his dominions. He had all the good qualifications of his unhappy uncle, without any of his faults. He commanded the armies of the empire with great renown; but, notwithstanding that he had reduced Philippsburg, and was at the head of an army of sixty thousand men, he could never get possession of his dominions; and it was to no purpose that he carried these words on his colors: “Aut nunc aut nunquam”—“Now or never.” Marshal Créqui, now ransomed from his confinement, and rendered more prudent by his defeat at Consarbruck, always kept the entrance into Lorraine shut from him. He beat him in a small skirmish at Kokersberk, in Alsace, on October 7, 1677, and continually harassed him in his marches. He took Freiburg in his sight on November 14, 1677, and beat a detachment of his army at Rheinfelden, in July, 1678. He passed the river Keres in his view, pursued him to Offenburg, fell upon him in his retreat, and having immediately afterward carried the fort of Rethel, sword in hand, he proceeded to Saarburg, where he burned the bridge by which that city, which was still free, had so many times afforded a passage for the imperial troops into Alsace. Thus did Marshal Créqui make amends for the imprudence of one day, by a series of successes which were wholly owing to his prudence; and, had he lived some time longer, it is probable he would have acquired an equal reputation with Turenne.
The prince of Orange was not more successful in Flanders than the duke of Lorraine had been in Germany; he was not only obliged to raise the siege of Maestricht and Charleroi, but, after having suffered Condé, Bouchain, and Valenciennes to fall into the hands of Louis XIV., he lost the battle of Montcassel, against the king’s brother, in attempting to relieve St. Omer. The marshals Luxembourg and d’Humières were in command. It is said that the gaining of the battle was owing to an error committed by the prince of Orange, and a dexterous movement made by Luxembourg. Monsieur (as the brother of Louis XIV. was at that time called) fought with a courage and presence of mind that was never expected from so effeminate a prince. There could not be a stronger proof that valor is not incompatible with delicacy. This prince, who frequently used to go dressed like a woman, and who had the same inclinations, behaved on this occasion like a general and a soldier. It is said that the king was jealous of the reputation he acquired. He took very little notice of the victory he had gained, and did not so much as go to see the field of battle, though he was near by. Some of the staff of the duke of Orleans, who were more discerning than the rest, prophesied to him then that he would never again have the command of an army, and their predictions were verified.
The taking of so many towns, and the gaining of so many battles, were not the only successes which attended the arms of Louis XIV. during this war. The count of Schomberg and Marshal Navaille beat the Spaniards in the Lampourdan, at the foot of the Pyrenees, and attacked them even in Sicily.
This island, since the time of the tyrants of Syracuse, under whom it was of some note in the world, has always fallen a prey to foreigners: it has been successively enslaved by the Romans, the Vandals, the Arabians, the Norman princes, vassals to the popes, the French, the Germans, and the Spaniards; still hating its masters and rebelling against them, without making any noble efforts to gain their liberty, and continually engaged in fresh seditions, only to change its chains.
The magistrates of Messina had lately stirred up a civil war against their governors, and called in the French to their assistance. Their harbor was blocked up by a Spanish fleet, and they were reduced to the last extremities of famine.
The chevalier de Valbille was immediately sent with a few frigates to their assistance. He passed through the Spanish fleet, and threw a supply of provisions, arms, and men into the city. Soon after, the duke of Vivonne arrived with seven men of war of sixty guns, two of eighty, and a number of fireships; engaged the enemy’s fleet, which he defeated, and entered the harbor of Messina in triumph, February 9, 1675.
The Spaniards were obliged to have recourse to the Dutch, their ancient enemies, who were still looked upon as masters of the sea, to help them to defend Sicily. De Ruyter sailed from the Zuyder Zee, passed the mole of Messina, and reinforced the Spanish fleet of twenty ships with twenty-three large men of war.
And now the French, who, when joined with the English, had not been able to beat the Dutch fleets, gained a victory alone over the combined squadrons of Spain and Holland, on January 8, 1676. The duke of Vivonne, who was obliged to remain in Messina to restrain the populace, who already began to be displeased with their defenders, left the care of this engagement to Duquesne, his lieutenant-general, who was a man as extraordinary in his way as de Ruyter; he had, like him, risen to the command entirely by merit, but had never before had the management of a naval armament, having hitherto signalized himself rather in the character of a captain of a privateer than as the commander of a regular fleet. But whosoever possesses a genius for his art, and for carrying command, passes with great ease and quickness from the little to the great. Duquesne showed himself a very able officer in this action against de Ruyter, even though he only gained a small advantage over this experienced Hollander. He gave battle a second time to the enemy’s fleets off Aosta, March 12, 1676. In this engagement, de Ruyter received the wound which put an end to his glorious life. He was one of those men whose memories are still held in great veneration by the people of Holland. On his first entrance into sea life he was only a cabin boy, or captain’s servant, which makes him so much the more respectable. His name is equal with those of the princes of Nassau. The Spanish council gave him the title and patent of duke, an odd and ridiculous dignity to confer on a republican; the patent, however, did not arrive till after he was dead, when his children, proving themselves worthy of such a father, refused a title which is so earnestly sought after in our monarchies, but which is by no means to be preferred to the name of a good citizen.
Louis XIV. had too noble a soul not to be concerned at his death; and, when some of his courtiers represented to him that he was now rid of a troublesome and dangerous enemy, he replied: “Nevertheless, I cannot help being afflicted with the loss of a great man.”
Duquesne, the de Ruyter of the French, attacked the combined fleets a third time, immediately upon the death of the Dutch admiral, and sank, burned, and took several of their largest ships. The marshal, the duke of Vivonne, had chief command in this action; but it was nevertheless Duquesne who gained the victory. Europe stood amazed to see France, in so short a space of time, become as formidable on sea as on land. It is certain that these armaments and victories only served to spread the alarm through every state. The king of England, having entered upon the war to support the interest of France, was now desirous of joining the prince of Orange, who had lately married his niece. Besides, the great reputation gained in Sicily cost too much money, and lastly, the French evacuated Messina April 8, 1678, at the very time when they were thought to be on the point of making themselves masters of the island. Louis XIV. was greatly blamed for having, during the course of this war, undertaken many things which he could not go through with, and for quitting Messina, as he had done Holland, after a fruitless conquest.
However, it must be allowed that a prince is very formidable who is no other way unsuccessful than in not being able to keep all his conquests. He pressed his enemies in every part of Europe. The war in Sicily had not cost him nearly so much money as it did the Spaniards, who were distressed and beaten in every place. He likewise raised up new enemies against the house of Austria; he fomented the troubles in Hungary, and his ambassadors at the Ottoman Porte pressed the sultan to carry the war into Germany, though at the same time common decency would have obliged him to send aid against those very people whom his politics had called in: for, at that time, the Swedes, his old allies, were engaged in an unsuccessful war against the elector of Brandenburg. This elector, father of the first king of Prussia, had begun to exalt his country to that degree of reputation which has since received so considerable an addition. He had just then taken Pomerania from the Swedes.
It is remarkable, that during the course of this war, there were almost continual conferences held for peace; first at Cologne, upon the fruitless mediation of the Swedes, and afterward at Nimeguen, by the equally useless interposition of the English, whose mediation was almost as idle a piece of ceremony as the arbitration of the pope. At the Treaty of Nimeguen, Louis XIV. was actually the only real arbiter: he made proposals for a peace, April 9, 1678, in the midst of his victories, and gave the enemy till May 10 to accept of them. He afterward allowed the states-general six weeks longer, upon their asking it in the most submissive manner.
He now entirely laid aside all ambitious views upon Holland; that republic had been so lucky, or skilful, as to appear only as an auxiliary in a war which was begun for its destruction; while the empire and Spain, who were at first only auxiliaries, were at length the principal parties.
The king greatly favored the trade of the Dutch by the conditions which he imposed upon them; he restored to them the city of Maestricht, and gave the Spaniards some towns to serve as barriers to the United Provinces; as Charleroi, Courtrai, Oudenarde, Ath, Ghent, and Limburg: but he reserved Bouchain, Condé, Ypres, Valenciennes, Cambray, Maubeuge, Aire, Saint Omer, Cassel, Charlemont, Popering, and Bailleul, which made a great part of Flanders. To these he added Franche-Comté, which had been already twice conquered; and these two provinces were no despicable fruits of the war.
He demanded nothing more of the empire than Freiburg or Philippsburg, which he left to the emperor’s choice. He reinstated the two brothers Fürstemberg in the bishopric of Strasburg, and their family estate, of which they had been stripped by the emperor, who still detained one of them in prison.
He protected his allies, the Swedes, unhappily joined with him against the king of Denmark and the elector of Brandenburg. He insisted that Denmark should give up all it had taken from Sweden, lower the toll duties in the Baltic Sea; that the duke of Holstein should be restored to his dominions; that the elector of Brandenburg should give up Pomerania, which he had lately conquered; and that every article of the Treaty of Westphalia should be again renewed. His will was law throughout Europe; the elector of Brandenburg in vain wrote a letter to him, in the most submissive terms, in which he styles him “Lord and Master,” humbly entreating that he might be permitted to keep what he had conquered, with many assurances of his zeal and future service; but his submission proved as useless as his resistance, and the conqueror of the Swedes was obliged to restore all he had taken from them.
And now the ambassador of France insisted upon taking the upper hand of the electors. Brandenburg proposed every kind of modification, in order to settle a conference with the count, afterwards marshal, d’Estrades, who was ambassador to the states-general; but the king would never suffer a person who represented him to yield to an elector, and the count d’Estrades could not treat.
Charles V. had put the grandees of Spain in the same rank as the electors, consequently the peers of France had pretensions to the same equality. At present, we see that things are changed in every point, since in the imperial diets the ambassadors of electors are now recognized as those of crowned heads. As to Lorraine, Louis offered to restore the new duke, Charles V., but insisted upon remaining master of Nancy, and all the great roads.
These conditions were imposed with the haughtiness of a conqueror; but yet they were not so unreasonable as to drive his enemies to despair, or oblige them to join together against him, as the only thing left. He at once dictated to Europe as a master, and acted as a politician.
At the conferences at Nimeguen he found means to sow jealousy among his allies. The Dutch were in haste to sign, despite the prince of Orange, who resolved at all events to carry on war, alleging that the Spaniards were too weak to assist them, should they refuse to sign.
The Spaniards, seeing that the Dutch had accepted terms of peace, followed their example; alleging that the empire did not seem hearty in the common cause.
In the last place, the Germans, abandoned by Spain and Holland, signed after all the others, ceding Freiburg to the king, and confirming the Treaties of Westphalia.
There was no alteration made in the conditions prescribed by Louis XIV. The enemy in vain affected to make some extravagant proposals, in order to disguise their own weakness. He gave laws and peace to all Europe. The duke of Lorraine was the only one who refused to accede to a treaty which appeared to him in so oppressive a light. He chose rather to be a prince, and wander through the empire, than to be a sovereign without power or honors in his own dominions; and waited in expectation, till time and his own courage should bring about a favorable change of fortune.
During the conferences at Nimeguen, and four days after the plenipotentiaries of France and Holland had signed the treaty of peace, the prince of Orange showed how dangerous an enemy Louis XIV. had in him. Marshal Luxembourg, who was then besieging Mons, had lately received an account of the conclusion of the peace; upon which he lay lulled in full security in the village of St. Denis, and dined that day with the intendant of the army. The prince of Orange, with his whole army, attacked the marshal’s quarters, and forced them: a long and bloody engagement ensued, from which the prince had the greatest reason to expect the most signal victory; for he not only gave the attack, which is a great advantage, but he attacked an army which depended upon the faith of treaties, and grew remiss in their military rigor. Marshal Luxembourg could with great difficulty resist the fury of this attack; and if the advantage lay on any side, it was with the prince of Orange, whose foot remained master of the field of battle where they had fought.
Did ambitious men pay any regard to the lives of their fellow creatures, the prince of Orange would not have fought this battle. He certainly knew that the peace was already signed, or on the point of being so; he knew that this peace would prove advantageous to his country, and yet he hazarded his own life, and that of thousands of men besides, as the first fruits of a general peace, which was then so far advanced that, had he even beaten the French army, it would have made no alteration in the congress. This act, as inhuman as it was glorious, and which at that time was more esteemed than blamed, did not produce one single additional article in the treaty; and the lives of two thousand French, and as many of the enemy, were thrown away to no end. By this peace we may see how much projects are contradicted by events. Holland, against whom alone the war was undertaken, and whose destruction seemed inevitable, lost nothing at all; on the contrary, she gained a barrier, while every other crowned head who had preserved it from destruction, lost by it.
The king was now at the height of his greatness. He had been victorious ever since he came to the throne; never had besieged any place without taking it; was superior in all things to those in league against him; the terror of Europe for six years together; and at length the arbiter and peace-maker: he added to his estates Franche-Comté, Dunkirk, and one-half of Flanders; and, what he should have looked upon as one of the greatest blessings, he was king over a happy kingdom, now the model for all other nations.
Some time afterward—in 1680—the town-house of Paris solemnly bestowed upon him the epithet of “Great,” and ordered this title alone to be placed upon all public monuments. Several medals had been struck as early as 1673, with this surname on them; and Europe, though jealous of his glory, did not cry out against these honors. Nevertheless, the name of Louis XIV. has prevailed among the public more than that of Great. Custom governs all things. Henry, who had the surname of Great conferred on him after his death, is commonly called Henry IV., and that name alone is sufficiently expressive. The prince of Condé is always called the Great Condé, not only on account of his heroic deeds, but from a lucky facility of distinguishing him by that means from the other princes of Condé. Had he been called Condé the Great, that title would never have remained with him. We say the great Corneille, to distinguish him from his brother. We do not say the great Virgil, the great Horace, or the great Tasso. Alexander the Great is now only known by the simple name of Alexander. Charles V., whose successes were more dazzling than those of Louis XIV., had never the surname of Great. It continues to be given to Charlemagne, only as a proper name. Titles are of no use to posterity; the name of a man who has done great things commands more respect than the most sounding epithet.