Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVIII.: LOSS OF THE BATTLE OF HÖCHSTÄDT, OR BLENHEIM. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XVIII.: LOSS OF THE BATTLE OF HÖCHSTÄDT, OR BLENHEIM. - 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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LOSS OF THE BATTLE OF HÖCHSTÄDT, OR BLENHEIM.
The duke of Marlborough returned from the Low Countries in the beginning of 1703, with the same conduct and the same success. He had taken Bonn, the residence of the elector of Cologne. Thence he marched and retook Huy and Limburg, and made himself master of all the Lower Rhine. Marshal Villeroi, now returned from his confinement, commanded in Flanders, where he had no better success against Marlborough than he had had against Prince Eugene. Marshal Bouflers, with a detachment of his army, had indeed gained a small advantage in the fight of Eckeren, over the Dutch general, Opdam; but an advantage which has no consequences is no advantage at all.
And now the house of Austria was undone, unless the English general marched to the assistance of the emperor. The elector of Bavaria was master of Passau. Thirty thousand French, under the command of Marshal Marsin, who had succeeded Villars, overspread the countries of the other side of the Danube. There were several flying parties in Austria. Vienna itself was threatened on one side by the French and Bavarians, and on the other by Prince Ragotski, at the head of the Hungarians, fighting for their liberty, and supplied with money by the French and the Turks. In this situation of affairs, Prince Eugene hastens from Italy to take command of the armies in Germany: he had an interview with the duke of Marlborough at Heilbronn. The English general, whose hands were at full liberty, being left to act as he pleased by his queen and her allies, the Dutch, marched with reinforcements into the heart of the empire, taking with him ten thousand English foot, and twenty-three squadrons of horse. He made forced marches, and arrived on the banks of the Danube, near Donauwörth, opposite the elector of Bavaria’s lines, where about eight thousand French and as many Bavarians lay intrenched, to guard the country they had conquered. After an engagement of two hours, Marlborough forced the lines, at the head of three battalions of English, and routed the Bavarians and French. It is said that he killed six thousand of the enemy, and lost as many himself. A general concerns himself little about the number of slain, provided he succeeds in his enterprise. He then took Donauwörth, July 2, 1704, repassed the Danube, and laid Bavaria under contribution.
Marshal Villeroi, who attempted to follow him in his first marches, lost sight of him, and knew not where he was, till he heard the news of his victory at Donauwörth.
Marshal Tallard, who with a corps of thirty thousand men, had marched by another route to oppose Marlborough, came and joined the elector. At the same time Prince Eugene arrived and joined Marlborough.
At length the two armies met within a small distance of Donauwörth, and nearly in the same place where Marshal Villars had gained a victory the year before. I know that the marshal, who was then in the Cévennes, having received a letter from Tallard’s army, written the night before the battle, acquainting him with the disposition of the two armies, and the manner in which Marshal Tallard intended to engage, wrote to his brother-in-law, the president de Maisons, telling him that if Marshal Tallard gave the enemy battle in that position, he must inevitably be beaten. This letter was shown to Louis XIV. and afterward became public.
The French army, including the Bavarians, consisted of eighty-two battalions, and one hundred and sixty squadrons, which made in all nearly sixty thousand men, the corps being then not quite complete. The enemy had sixty-four battalions, and one hundred and fifty-two squadrons, in all not more than fifty-two thousand men; for armies are always made more numerous than they really are. This battle, which proved so bloody and decisive, deserves particular attention. The French generals were accused of a number of errors; the chief was, having brought themselves under a necessity of accepting a battle, instead of letting the enemy’s army waste itself for want of forage, and giving time to Marshal Villeroi, either to fall upon the Netherlands, then in a defenceless state, or to penetrate farther into Germany. But it should be considered in reply to this accusation, that the French army being somewhat stronger than that of the allies, might hope for the victory, which indeed would have dethroned the emperor. The marquis de Feuquières reckons up no less than twelve capital faults committed by the elector, Marsin, and Tallard, before and after the battle. One of the greatest was not having placed a large body of foot in their centre, and having separated the two bodies of the army. I have often heard Marshal Villars say, that this disposition was unpardonable.
Marshal Tallard was at the head of the right wing, and the elector, with Marsin, at the left. Tallard had all the impetuous and sprightly courage of a Frenchman, an active and penetrating understanding, and a genius fruitful in expedients and resources. It was he who had made the partition treaties. He was allied to glory and fortune by all the ways of a man of genius and courage. The battle of Spires had gained him great honor, notwithstanding the animadversions of Feuquières; for a victorious general never appears culpable in the eyes of the public, while he who is beaten is always in the wrong, however just or prudent his conduct may have been.
But Marshal Tallard labored under a malady very dangerous to a general; his sight was so weak that he could not distinguish objects at the distance of twenty paces from him. Those who were well acquainted with him have told me, moreover, that his impetuous courage, quite the reverse of the duke of Marlborough’s, growing still warmer in the heat of the action, deprived him sometimes of the necessary presence of mind. This defect was owing to a dry and inflammatory state of the blood. It is well known that the qualifications of the mind are chiefly influenced by the constitution of the body.
This was the first time that Marshal Marsin had the chief command. With a great deal of wit and a good understanding, he is said to have had rather the experience of a good officer than of a general.
As to the elector of Bavaria, he was looked upon not less as a great general than as a valiant and amiable prince, the darling of his subjects, and who had more magnanimity than application.
At length the battle began, between twelve and one o’clock in the afternoon. Marlborough, with his English, having passed a small rivulet, began the attack upon Tallard’s cavalry. That general, a little before, had ridden toward the left wing to observe its disposition. It was no small disadvantage to Tallard’s corps from the beginning to be obliged to fight without its general at its head. The corps commanded by the elector and Marsin had not yet been attacked by Prince Eugene. Marlborough began upon our right nearly an hour before Eugene could have come up to the elector at our left.
As soon as Marshal Tallard heard that Marlborough had attacked his wing, he immediately posted thither, where he found a furious action begun; the French cavalry rallied three times, and was as often repulsed. He then went to the village of Blenheim, where he had posted twenty-seven battalions, and twelve squadrons. This was a little detached army that kept a continual fire on Marlborough during the whole time he was engaged with Tallard’s wing. After giving his orders in this village, he hastened back to the place where the duke, with a body of horse and battalions of foot between the squadrons was driving the French cavalry before him.
M. de Feuquières is certainly mistaken in saying that Marshal Tallard was not present at this time, but was taken prisoner as he was returning from Marsin’s wing to his own. All accounts agree, and it was but too true of him, that he was actually present. He received a wound in the action, and his son was mortally wounded by his side. His cavalry was routed before his face. The victorious Marlborough forced his way between the two bodies of the French army on one side, while on the other his general officers got between the village of Blenheim and Tallard’s division, which was also separated from the little army in that village.
In this cruel situation, Marshal Tallard flew to rally some of the broken squadrons; but the badness of his sight made him mistake a squadron of the enemy for one of his own, and he was taken prisoner by the Hessian troops that were in English pay. At the very instant that the general was taken, Prince Eugene, after having been three times repulsed, at length gained the advantage. The rout now became total in Tallard’s division; everyone fled with the utmost precipitation; and so great was the terror and confusion throughout that whole wing, that officers and soldiers ran headlong into the Danube, without knowing whither they were going. There was no general officer to give orders for a retreat; no one thought of saving those twenty-seven battalions and twelve squadrons of the best troops of France, that were so unfortunately shut up in Blenheim, or of bringing them into action. At last Marshal Marsin ordered a retreat. The count du Bourg, afterward marshal of France, saved a small part of the infantry by retreating over the marshes of Höchstädt; but neither he, Marsin, nor anyone else thought of this little army, which still remained in Blenheim, waiting for orders which were never sent them. It consisted of eleven thousand effective men, from the oldest corps. There are many examples of less armies that have beaten others of fifty thousand men, or at least made a glorious retreat; but the nature of the post determines everything. It was impossible for them to get out of the narrow streets of a village, and range themselves in order of battle, in the face of a victorious army, that would have overwhelmed them at once with a superior front, and even with their own artillery, which had all fallen into the victors’ hands.
The general officer who commanded here was the marquis of Clérembaut, son of the marshal of that name: he was hastening to find Marshal Tallard, to receive orders from him, when he was told that he was taken prisoner; and seeing nothing but people running on all sides, he fled with them, and in flying was drowned in the Danube.
Brigadier Sivières, who was posted in this village, ventured on a bold stroke: he called aloud to the officers of the regiments of Artois and Provence, to follow him: several officers even of other regiments obeyed the summons, and rushing out of the village, like those who make a sally from a town that is besieged, fell upon the enemy; but after this sally they were obliged to return again. One of these officers, named Des Nonvilles, returned some few moments afterward on horseback, with the earl of Orkney. As soon as he entered the village, the rest of the officers flocked round him, inquiring if it was an English prisoner that he had brought in. “No, gentlemen,” replied he, “I am a prisoner myself, and am come to tell you, that you have nothing left but to surrender yourselves prisoners of war. Here is the earl of Orkney, who has come to offer you terms.” At hearing this, all these old bands shuddered with horror: the regiment of Navarre tore its colors, and buried them. But at length they were obliged to yield to necessity; and this whole army laid down its arms without having struck a blow. My lord Orkney has told me that it was impossible for them to do otherwise in their confined situation. Europe was struck with astonishment that the best troops in France should have suffered such disgrace. Their misfortune was at first imputed to cowardice; but a few years afterward the same thing happening to fourteen thousand Swedes, who surrendered at discretion to the Muscovites, in the open field, fully justified the French.
Such was this famous action of Aug. 13, 1704, which in France was known by the name of the battle of Höchstädt, and by the English and Germans was called the battle of Blenheim. The victors had nearly five thousand killed and eight thousand wounded; the greatest part of which loss fell on the side of Prince Eugene. The French army was almost entirely cut to pieces. Of sixty thousand men, who had been so long victorious, not more than twenty thousand could be gathered together after the battle.
This fatal day was distinguished by the loss of twenty thousand men killed, fourteen thousand made prisoners, all the cannon, a prodigious number of standards, colors, tents, and equipages, with the general of the army, and twelve hundred officers of note in the hands of the conquerors. The runaways dispersed themselves on all sides; and more than a hundred leagues of country were lost in less than a month. The whole electorate of Bavaria, now fallen under the yoke of the emperor, experienced all the severity of Austrian resentment, and all the cruelties of a rapacious soldiery. The elector, on his way to Brussels, whither he was flying for refuge, met with his brother, the elector of Cologne, who like him was driven out of his dominions; they embraced each other with a flood of tears. The court of Versailles, accustomed to continual successes, was struck with astonishment and confusion at this reverse. The news of the defeat arrived in the midst of the rejoicings made on account of the birth of a great-grandson of Louis XIV. No one would venture to acquaint the king with this cruel truth. At length Madame de Maintenon took upon her to let him know that he was no longer invincible. It has been affirmed both by word of mouth and in writing, and the same has been repeated in above twenty different histories, that the emperor ordered a monument of this defeat to be erected on the plains of Blenheim, with an inscription greatly to the dishonor of the French king; but no such monument ever existed.
The English erected one to the honor of their duke of Marlborough. The queen and the parliament built an immense palace for him on one of his principal estates, to which they gave the name of Blenheim, where this battle is represented in most curious paintings and tapestry. The thanks of the two houses of parliament, and of the cities and boroughs, and the general acclamation of the people, were the first fruits he received from his victory. But the poem written by the famous Addison, a monument more durable than the palace of Blenheim, is reckoned by this warlike and learned nation, among the most honorable rewards bestowed on the duke of Marlborough. The emperor created him a prince of the empire, bestowed on him the principality of Mindelsheim, which was afterward exchanged for another; but he was never known by that title; the name of Marlborough being now the most noble he could bear.
By the dispersion of the French army an open passage was left to the allies from the Danube to the Rhine. They passed the latter and entered Alsace. Prince Louis of Baden, a general famous for his encampments and marches, invested Landau. Joseph, king of the Romans, eldest son of the emperor Leopold, came to be present at this siege; Landau was taken, and afterward Traerbach.
Notwithstanding the loss of a hundred leagues of country, the French extended their frontiers. Louis XIV. supported his grandson in Spain, and his arms were victorious in Italy. It required great efforts to make head against the victorious Marlborough in Germany, which, however, he did; the scattered remains of the army were gathered together, the garrisons were ordered to furnish men, and the militia were ordered to take the field. The ministry borrowed money everywhere. At length an army was got together; and Marshal Villars was recalled from the heart of the Cévennes to take the command. He came and joined the army at Trier, where he found himself in presence of the English general with an inferior army. Both sides were desirous of giving battle; but the prince of Baden not coming up soon enough to join his troops to those of the English, Villars had the honor of obliging Marlborough to decamp, in May, 1705. This was doing a great deal at that time. The duke of Marlborough, who had a sufficient esteem for Marshal Villars to wish to be esteemed by him again, wrote him the following billet while he was decamping: “Do me the justice, sir, to believe, that my retreat is entirely the prince of Baden’s fault, and that I esteem you even more than I am angry with him.”
The French had still some barriers in Germany. The enemy had not yet done anything in Flanders, where Marshal Villeroi, now at liberty, had the command. In Spain King Philip V. and the archduke Charles were both in expectation of the crown, the former from the powerful assistance of his grandfather, and the good will of the greater part of the Spaniards; the latter from the assistance of the English, and the partisans he had in Catalonia and Aragon. This archduke, afterward emperor, second son of the emperor Leopold, went, toward the latter part of 1703, without any retinue, to London, to implore the assistance of Queen Anne.
Now the English power appeared in all its glory. This nation, which had in fact so little to do with this quarrel, furnished the Austrian prince with two hundred transport ships, thirty ships of war, joined to ten sail of the Dutch, nine thousand men, and a sum of money, to go and conquer a kingdom for himself. But notwithstanding the superiority which power and benefits confer, the emperor, in his letter to Queen Anne, which the archduke presented, would not give this princess, his benefactress, the title of majesty, but only that of serenity, agreeable to the style of the court of Vienna, which custom alone could justify, and which reason has since changed, when pride has been obliged to stoop to necessity.