Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XX.: LOSSES OF THE FRENCH AND SPANIARDS CONTINUED—LOUIS XIV. HUMBLED; HIS PERSEVERANCE AND RESOURCES—BATTLE OF MALPLAQUET. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XX.: LOSSES OF THE FRENCH AND SPANIARDS CONTINUED—LOUIS XIV. HUMBLED; HIS PERSEVERANCE AND RESOURCES—BATTLE OF MALPLAQUET. - 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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LOSSES OF THE FRENCH AND SPANIARDS CONTINUED—LOUIS XIV. HUMBLED; HIS PERSEVERANCE AND RESOURCES—BATTLE OF MALPLAQUET.
The battle of Höchstadt, or Blenheim, cost Louis XIV. a fine army, and the whole country from the Danube to the Rhine; and the elector of Bavaria all his dominions. All Flanders was lost to the very gates of Lille, by the fatal day of Ramillies; and the defeat at Turin drove the French out of Italy, which had always happened to them in every war since the time of Charlemagne. They had still some troops left in the duchy of Milan, and the little victorious army under the count of Medavy. They were also still in possession of some strong places. They offered to give up all these to the emperor, provided he would permit these troops, which amounted to about fifteen thousand men, to retire unmolested. The emperor accepted of the proposition, and the duke of Savoy gave his assent. Thus the emperor, with a dash of his pen, became peaceable possessor of Italy. The kingdom of Naples and Sicily was guaranteed to him, and everything that had formerly been feudal was now treated as subject to a supreme power. He imposed a tax of one hundred and fifty thousand pistoles on Tuscany; forty thousand on the duchy of Mantua; and Parma, Modena, Lucca, and Genoa, notwithstanding they were free states, were included in these impositions.
The emperor, who had all these advantages on his side, was not that Leopold, the ancient rival of Louis XIV., who, under a show of moderation, had secretly cherished the most ambitious views. It was the fiery, sprightly, and passionate Joseph, his eldest son, who was not so good a soldier as his father. If ever there was an emperor who seemed formed to enslave Germany, it was this Joseph; his dominions stretched beyond the Alps, he laid the pope under contribution, and, by his sole authority, in 1706, had the electors of Bavaria and Cologne put under the ban of the empire, and then stripped them of their dominions. He kept Bavaria’s children in prison, and took away from them even their name. Their father had nothing left but to retire to France and the Low Countries, afterward, in 1712; Philip V. ceded to him all Spanish Flanders. If he could have kept this province, it would have been a better settlement for him than even Bavaria, and have freed him from his subjection to the house of Austria; but he could get possession only of the cities of Luxemburg, Namur, and Charleroi, the rest being in the hands of the victors. Everything now seemed to threaten Louis XIV., who had so lately been the terror of all Europe. There was nothing to oppose the duke of Savoy’s entering France. England and Scotland had lately become one kingdom, by the union; or, rather, Scotland, now a province of England, increased the power of its ancient rival. In 1706 and 1707 all the enemies of France seemed to have acquired new strength, and that kingdom to be on the verge of ruin. She was assailed on all sides, both by sea and land. Of the formidable fleets which Louis XIV. had raised, scarcely twenty-five ships were left remaining. Strasburg still continued to be the barrier town toward Germany; but by the loss of Landau, all Alsace lay exposed. Provence was threatened with an invasion by sea and land, and the losses already sustained in Flanders made us tremble for what was left; and yet, notwithstanding all these disasters, the body of the kingdom had not yet been attacked; and, unsuccessful as the war had been, we only lost what we had before conquered.
Louis XIV. still opposed his enemies; and though beaten almost everywhere, he continued to resist, protect, and even attack on all sides. But affairs were as unsuccessful in Spain as in Italy, Germany, and Flanders. It is said that the siege of Barcelona was still worse conducted than that of Turin.
The count of Toulouse had hardly made his appearance with his fleet, when he was obliged to sail back again. Barcelona was relieved, the siege raised, and the French, after having lost half their army, were forced, for want of provisions, to march back into Navarre, a little kingdom that they kept from the Spaniards, and of which our kings take the title by a custom that seems beneath their dignity.
To these disasters was added yet another, which seemed to be the finishing stroke. The Portuguese, together with a body of English, under the command of Lord Galloway, a Frenchman, formerly Count de Ruvigni, lately created a peer of Ireland, took every place they came to and had advanced even into the province of Estremadura; while the duke of Berwick, an Englishman, who commanded the troops of France and Spain, in vain attempted to stop their progress.
Philip V., uncertain of his fate, was in Pampeluna; while his competitor, Charles, was increasing his party, and augmenting his forces in Catalonia.
He was master of Aragon, the province of Valencia, Cartagena, and part of the province of Granada. The English took Gibraltar for themselves, and gave him Minorca, Ivica, and Alicant: besides, the road to Madrid was open to him; and Lord Galloway entered that city without any resistance, and proclaimed the archduke Charles king on June 26, 1706; a single detachment sent from the army proclaimed him in Toledo. In short, Philip’s affairs seemed so desperate that Marshal Vauban, the first of engineers, and the best of citizens, a man continually engaged in schemes, some useful, others impracticable, and all of them singular, actually proposed to the French court to send Philip over to America to reign there. In this case all the Spaniards in Philip’s interest would have left their country to follow him. Spain would have been left a prey to civil factions. The French would have had the whole trade of Peru and Mexico, and France would have been aggrandized even by the misfortunes of Louis XIV.’s family. This project was actually under consideration at Versailles; but the perseverance of the Castilians, and the oversights of the enemy, preserved the crown upon Philip’s head. The people loved him as the king of their choice; and his queen, the duke of Savoy’s daughter, had gained their affections by the pains she took to please them; by an intrepidity above her sex, and an active perseverance under misfortunes. She went in person from city to city, animating the minds of her subjects, rousing their zeal, and receiving the donations which they brought in on all sides; so that in three weeks’ time she remitted her husband more than two hundred thousand crowns. Not one of the grandees who had taken the oath of fidelity proved false. When Lord Galloway proclaimed the archduke in Madrid, the people cried out, “Long live King Philip;” and at Toledo they mutinied, and put to flight the officers who were going to proclaim Charles.
The Spaniards had till then made very few efforts in support of their king; but when they saw him thus distressed, they exerted themselves in a surprising manner; and on this occasion showed an example of courage quite the reverse of that of other nations, who generally set out in a vigorous manner, but shrink back at last. It is very difficult to impose a king upon a nation against its will. The Portuguese, English, and Austrians that were in Spain were miserably harassed wherever they came, suffered much for want of provisions, and were guilty of errors almost unavoidable in a strange country; so that they were beaten piecemeal. In short, Philip V., three months after his leaving Madrid like a fugitive, entered it again in triumph, and was received with as much joy and acclamation as his rival had met with coldness and aversion.
Louis XIV. redoubled his efforts when he saw the Spaniards bestir themselves; and while he was obliged to provide for the safety of the seacoasts of the Western Ocean and the Mediterranean, by stationing militia all along shore; though he had one army in Flanders, another at Strasburg, a body of troops in Navarre, and one in Roussillon, he sent a fresh reinforcement to Marshal Berwick in Castile.
It was with these troops, seconded by the Spaniards, that Berwick gained the important battle of Almanza—April 25, 1707—in which he beat Galloway. Neither Philip nor the archduke was present at this action, on which the famous earl of Peterborough, who was singular in everything, observed: “It is excellent, indeed, to fight against one another for them.” The duke of Orleans, who was to have the command in Spain, and who was very desirous of being present, did not arrive till the day after the battle; however, he made all possible advantage of the victory, by taking several places, and among others Lérida, the rock on which the great Condé had split.
On the other hand, Marshal Villars, now replaced at the head of the armies in Germany, because the government could not do without him, made amends for the fatal defeat at Hochstädt. He forced the enemy’s lines at Stollhofen, on the other side the Rhine, dispersed their whole body, levied contributions for fifty leagues round, and advanced as far as the Danube. This momentary success gave a better face to affairs on the frontiers of Germany; but in Italy all was lost. The kingdom of Naples, entirely defenceless, and accustomed to a change of masters, was under the yoke of the conquerors; and the pope, unable to refuse a passage to the German troops through his dominions, saw, without daring to murmur, the emperor make him his vassal against his will. It is a strong instance of the force of received opinions, and the power of custom, that Naples may always be seized upon without consulting the pope, and yet the possessor is always obliged to do him homage for it.
While the grandson of Louis XIV. was thus deprived of Naples, the grandfather was on the point of losing Provence and Dauphiny. The duke of Savoy and Prince Eugene had already entered those provinces by the narrow pass of Tenda; and Louis XIV. had the mortification of seeing that very duke of Savoy, who a twelvemonth before had hardly anything left but his capital, and Prince Eugene, who had been brought up at his court, on the point of stripping him of Toulon and Marseilles.
Toulon was besieged, and in danger of being taken; the English fleet lay before the harbor, and bombarded the town. A little more diligence, precaution, and unanimity, would have carried Toulon. Marseilles, then left defenceless, could have made no resistance, and France seemed likely to lose two provinces; but what is probable seldom happens. There was time to send relief; a detachment had been made from Marshal Villars’ army, as soon as these provinces were threatened; and the advantages in Germany were made to give way to the safety of a part of France. That part of the country by which the enemy entered was dry, barren, and hilly; provisions were scarce, and a retreat difficult. A sickness, which made great havoc in the enemy’s army, proved favorable to Louis XIV. The siege of Toulon was raised, and soon afterward the enemy evacuated Provence, and Dauphiny was out of danger; so seldom does an invasion prove successful, unless there is an intelligence with the people of the country. Charles V. failed in the same design, and of late days the queen of Hungary’s troops have been disappointed in their attempts against this country.
However, this invasion, which cost the allies so dear, proved of no small importance to the French. The country had been spoiled, and our forces divided.
Europe little expected that, while the French nation thus exhausted, thought itself happy in having escaped an invasion, Louis XIV. was sufficiently great and fruitful in expedients to attempt an invasion in Great Britain, in spite of the weak state of his maritime forces and the powerful fleets of the English that covered the seas. This expedition was proposed by some of the Scotch, in the interest of James III. The success was doubtful; but Louis thought the very attempt sufficiently glorious; and actually declared afterward, that he was determined as much by this motive as his political interest.
To carry the war into Great Britain at that time, when we could with difficulty support the burden of it in so many other places, and to endeavor to replace the son of James II. on the throne of Scotland, at least while we could hardly support Philip V. on that of Spain, was a noble idea, and after all, not quite destitute of probability.
Those of the Scotch who had not sold themselves to the court of London, were grieved to see themselves reduced to a state of dependence on the English, and privately with one accord called upon the offspring of their ancient kings, who in his infancy had been driven from the throne of three kingdoms, and whose very birth had been contested by his enemies. They promised to join him with thirty thousand men, if he would only land at Edinburgh with some few men from France.
Louis XIV., who in his time of prosperity, had made such efforts in behalf of the father, now did the same for the son, though his fortunes were in the decline. Eight ships of war and seventy transports were got ready at Dunkirk, and six thousand men put on board, in March, 1708. The count de Gacé, afterward Marshal Matignon, had the command of the troops, and the chevalier de Forbin Janson, one of the best sailors of his time, had that of the fleet. Everything seemed favorable for their design: there were but three thousand regular troops in Scotland, England was left defenceless, its soldiers being all engaged in Flanders, under the duke of Marlborough. The difficulty was to get there; for the English had a fleet of fifty ships of war cruising at sea. This expedition was exactly like the late one in 1744, in favor of the grandson of James II. It was discovered by the government, and impeded by several unlucky accidents; insomuch that the English ministry had time to send for twelve battalions out of Flanders. Several of the most suspected persons were seized in Edinburgh. At length, the Pretender having showed himself on the Scottish coast, and not seeing the signals which had been agreed upon, nothing was left but to turn back again. The chevalier Forbin landed him safely at Dunkirk, and by his prudent retreat saved the French fleet; but the expedition was entirely frustrated. Matignon was the only one who gained anything on this occasion: having opened his orders after he came out to sea, he there found a patent for marshal of France, a reward for what he meant to do, but could not perform.
There cannot be a more absurd notion than that of some historians, who pretend that Queen Anne had a correspondence with her brother in this affair. It is absolute folly to suppose that she would invite her competitor for the crown to come and dethrone her. They have confounded the time, and imagined that she favored him because she afterward looked upon him in private as her successor: but what prince would choose to be driven from the throne by his successor?
While the French affairs were every day growing worse and worse, the king thought that, by sending the duke of Burgundy, his grandson, to head the army in Flanders, the presence of the heir presumptive to the crown would excite the emulation of the troops, which began to droop. This prince was of a resolute and intrepid disposition, pious, just, and learned. He was formed to command wise men: he loved mankind, and endeavored to make them happy. Though well versed in the art of war, he considered that art rather as the scourge of human kind, and an unhappy necessity, than the source of real glory. This philosophical prince was the person sent to oppose the duke of Marlborough, and they gave him the duke of Vendôme for an assistant. It now happened, as it too frequently does: the experienced officer was not sufficiently listened to, and the prince’s counsel frequently carried it over the general’s reasons. Hence arose two parties; whereas, in the enemy’s army, there was but one, that of the public good. Prince Eugene was at that time on the Rhine; but when he and Marlborough were together, they had but one opinion.
The duke of Burgundy had the superiority in numbers; France, which Europe looked upon as exhausted, had furnished him with an army of one hundred thousand men; and the allies at that time had not quite eighty thousand. He had, moreover, the advantage of sympathy on his side, from a country which had been so long under the Spanish dominion, was tired out with Dutch garrisons, and where a great part of the inhabitants were inclined to favor Philip V. By his correspondence in Ghent and Ypres, he became master of these two places; but the schemes of the soldier soon rendered fruitless those of the politician. The disagreement in the council of war already began to distract their operations; so that now they began to march toward the Dender, and two hours afterward turned back again toward the Scheldt, to go to Oudenarde. In this manner they lost time, while the duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene were making the best of theirs, and acted in concert with each other. The French were routed near Oudenarde on July 11, 1708. This was not a great battle; but it proved a fatal retreat. Error was added to terror. The regiments were suffered to wander at random without receiving any orders, and more than four thousand men were made prisoners on the road, by the enemy’s army, only a few miles from the field of battle.
The army, in despondency, retreated without any order, part under Ghent, part under Tournay, and part under Ypres, and quietly suffered Prince Eugene, now returned from the Rhine, to lay siege to Lille with an inferior army.
To sit down before so large and well-fortified a town as Lille without being master of Ghent, obliged to send for provisions and ammunition as far as Ostend; and these to be brought over a narrow causeway, at the hazard of being every moment surprised, was what Europe called a rash action; but which the misunderstanding and irresolution that prevailed in the French army rendered very excusable, and was justified in the end by the success. The grand convoys which might have been intercepted, arrived safe. The troops that escorted them, and which should have been defeated by a superior number, proved victorious. The duke of Burgundy’s army, that might have attacked that of the enemy before it was complete, remained inactive; and Lille was taken, to the astonishment of all Europe, who thought the duke of Burgundy in a condition to besiege Marlborough and Eugene, rather than those generals to besiege Lille. Marshal Bouflers defended the place nearly four months.
The inhabitants became so familiar with the noise of cannon, and all the horror that attended a siege, that public diversions were carried on as in time of peace; and though a bomb one day fell very near the theatre, it did not interrupt the entertainment.
Marshal Bouflers had made such judicious dispositions that the inhabitants of this great city remained perfectly secure in his vigilance. The defence he made gained him the esteem even of his enemies, the hearts of the inhabitants, and a reward from the king. Those Dutch historians, or rather writers, who affect to blame him should remember that, to contradict the public voice, a person must have been a witness, and an intelligent one, or prove what he advances.
In the meantime, the army that had looked on while Lille was taken, began to diminish by little and little, and suffered Ghent to be taken next, and then Bruges, and all the posts one after another. Few campaigns have proved more fatal than this. The officers in the duke of Vendôme’s interest laid all these faults to the duke of Burgundy’s council, who blamed them on the duke of Vendôme. All minds were soured with misfortune. One of the duke of Burgundy’s courtiers said one day to the duke of Vendôme: “Thus it is, never to go to mass; you see how misfortunes follow us.” “Do you think then,” replied the duke of Vendôme, “that Marlborough goes there oftener than we?” The emperor Joseph was puffed up with the rapid successes of the allied army; he saw himself absolute in the empire, master of Landau, and the road to Paris in a manner open, by the taking of Lille. A party of Dutch soldiers had the boldness to advance as far as Versailles, from Courtrai, and carried off the king’s first equerry from under the castle windows, thinking it was the dauphin, the duke of Burgundy’s father. Paris was filled with terror; and the emperor entertained as strong hopes of settling his brother Charles on the throne of Spain as Louis XIV. had of keeping his grandson in possession of it.
This succession, which the Spaniards had wanted to render indivisible, was already split into three parts. The emperor had taken Lombardy and the kingdom of Naples to himself. His brother Charles was still in possession of Catalonia, and a part of Aragon. The emperor at that time obliged Pope Clement XI. to acknowledge the archduke for king of Spain. This pope, who was said to resemble St. Peter, because he owned, denied, repented, and wept, had, after the example of his predecessor, acknowledged Philip V., and was attached to the house of Bourbon. The emperor, to punish him, declared several fiefs, which at that time were held from the popes, subject to the empire, particularly Parma and Placentia; laid waste several lands belonging to the holy see, and seized on the town of Comacchio. In former times, a pope would have excommunicated any emperor who had attempted to dispute with him the most trifling privileges; and that excommunication would have driven the emperor from his throne: but the power of this see was now reduced within its proper bounds. Clement XI., at the instigation of France, had ventured to unsheathe the sword; but he had no sooner taken up arms than he repented of it. He perceived that the Romans were incapable of wielding the sword under a sacerdotal government. He therefore laid down his arms, left Comacchio in the emperor’s hands as a pledge of his future peaceable conduct, and consented to write to the archduke with the style of “Our dearest son, the Catholic king in Spain.” A fleet of English ships in the Mediterranean and a German army in his dominions soon made him glad to write, “To our dearest son, Charles, king of Spain.” It was thought that this suffrage of the popes, though of no service in the German Empire, might have some effect on the Spanish populace, who had been made to believe that the archduke was unworthy to reign, because he was protected by heretics, who had taken Gibraltar.
There yet remained to the Spanish monarchy beyond the continent, the two islands of Sardinia and Sicily: an English fleet had taken Sardinia, and given it to the emperor; for the English were not willing that the archduke should have anything more than Spain. At that time they made treaties of partition with their arms. The conquests of Sicily they reserved for another time, choosing to employ their ships at sea in capturing Spanish galleons, rather than in conquering new territories for the emperor.
France was now as much humbled as Rome, and more in danger; resources began to fail, credit was at a stand, and the people, who had idolized their monarch in his prosperity, began to murmur against him when unfortunate.
A set of men to whom the ministry had sold the nation for a little ready money to supply the immediate call grew fat on the public calamity, and insulted the sufferings of the people by their luxurious manner of living. The money they had advanced was spent; and had it not been for the bold industry of certain traders, particularly those of St. Malo, who made a voyage to Peru, and brought home thirty millions, half of which they lent to the government, Louis XIV. would not have had money to pay his troops. The war had ruined the kingdom, and the merchants saved it; this was the case in Spain. The galleons which had escaped being taken by the English helped to support Philip V., but this resource, which was only of a few months’ duration, did not facilitate the raising of recruits. Chamillard, who had been made treasurer and secretary of war, resigned the latter post in favor of M. Voisin, afterward chancellor, who had formerly been an intendant on the frontiers. The armies were as badly supplied as before, nor did merit meet with more encouragement. Chamillard afterward resigned the management of the treasury; but Desmarets, who succeeded him, was not able to restore a ruined credit. The severe winter of 1709 completed the despair of the nation. The olive trees, which bring in a great deal of money in the south of France, were all destroyed; almost all the fruit-trees were killed by the severe frost; there were no hopes of a harvest; and there was very little corn in the granaries; and what could be bought at a very great distance, from the seaport towns of the Levant, and the coast of Barbary, was liable to be taken by the enemies’ fleets, to whom we had hardly any ships of war to oppose. The scourge of this dreadful winter was general all over Europe; but the enemies had more resources, especially the Dutch, who had been so long the factors for other nations, had magazines sufficiently stored to supply the strongest armies the allies could bring into the field, in a plentiful manner, while the French troops, diminished and disheartened, seemed ready to perish for want.
Louis XIV., who had already made some advances toward a peace, determined under these fatal circumstances to send his chief minister, the marquis Torci Colbert, to The Hague, assisted by the president Rouillé. This was a humbling step. They first met at Antwerp, with two burgomasters from Amsterdam, named Buis and Vanderhussen, who talked like conquerors, and returned to the ministers of the proudest of all princes all the arrogance with which they themselves had been treated in 1672.
The states-general had chosen no stadtholder since the death of King William; and the Dutch magistrates, who already began to call their families “the patrician families,” were so many petty kings. The four Dutch commissaries, who attended the army, behaved with the utmost insolence to more than thirty German princes, whom they maintained in their pay. “Send Holstein hither,” said they; “tell Hesse to come and speak to us.” In this manner did a set of merchants express themselves, who, all plain in their garb, and abstemious in their way of living, took a pleasure in trampling upon German haughtiness in their pay, and mortifying the pride of a king who had formerly been their conqueror. They were not contented with showing the world by these external marks of superiority, that power is the only real greatness, but they insisted on having ten towns in Flanders given them in sovereignty, and among others Lille, which was already in their hands; and Tournay, which was not yet taken, Thus the Dutch wanted to reap all the fruits of the war, not only at the expense of France, but also at that of the house of Austria, whose cause they had been fighting, in the same manner as the republic of Venice had formerly augmented its territories with those of its neighbors. The republican spirit is in the main fully as ambitious as the monarchial.
This plainly appeared a few months afterward; for when this shadow of a negotiation had vanished and the allied army had gained some fresh advantages, the duke of Marlborough, at that time more absolute in England than his royal mistress, having been gained over by the Dutch, concluded a treaty with the states-general in 1709, by which they were to keep possession of all the frontier towns which should be taken from the French; were to have garrisons in twenty fortresses in Flanders, to be maintained at the expense of the country, and to have Upper Guelders in perpetual sovereignty. By this treaty they would have become actual sovereigns of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, and have had supreme rule in Liège and Cologne. In this manner did they want to aggrandize themselves by the ruin even of their allies. They were full of these lofty projects when the chief minister of France came to them to ask for peace; we must not therefore be surprised at the disdainful reception he met with.
After these first steps of humiliation, Louis’s minister went to The Hague, where he received in his master’s name the last degree of insult. He there saw Prince Eugene, the duke of Marlborough, and the pensionary, Heinsius, who all three were for continuing the war—the prince, because it at once gratified his glory and his revenge; Marlborough, because he gained both reputation and immense riches, of which he was equally fond; the third, who was guided by the other two, looked upon himself as a Spartan humbling the pride of a Persian monarch. They proposed instead of peace a truce, and during that truce a full satisfaction for all their allies, without taking any notice of the king’s, provided the king should assist in driving his grandson from the throne of Spain, within two months; and that as a surety for his performance of the treaty, he should begin by ceding to the states-general forever, ten towns in Flanders, restore Strasburg and Breisach, and renounce the sovereignty of Alsace. Louis little expected, some years before, when he refused a company of horse to Prince Eugene, when Churchill was only a colonel in the English army, and the name of Heinsius was hardly known, that one day these three men should impose such terms upon him. The marquis de Torci took his leave without negotiating, and returned to carry the king the orders of his enemies. Louis XIV. now did what he had never before done toward his subjects. He justified his conduct in a circular letter, which he addressed to them, in which, after acquainting his people with the added burdens he was obliged to lay upon them, he endeavored to rouse their indignation, honor, and even pity. The politicians said that Torci went to The Hague in that suppliant manner, only to throw the whole blame upon the enemy, to justify Louis XIV. in the eyes of Europe, and animate the French to a just resentment; but the fact is that he went there purely to demand peace. The president Rouillé was left some few days at The Hague, to endeavor to get more favorable conditions; but all the answer he received to his remonstrances was an order from the states-general to leave Holland in twenty-four hours.
Louis XIV., when he heard the rigorous terms imposed upon him, said to Rouillé: “Well then, since I must make war, I would rather it should be against my enemies than my children.” He then made preparations to try his fortune once more in Flanders; the famine, which had laid waste the countries round, proved a resource for the war; those who wanted bread enlisted for soldiers. Many lands lay untilled; but we had an army. Marshal Villars, who had been sent the preceding year into Savoy, to command a few troops whose ardor was revived by his presence, and who had met with some little successes, was recalled into Flanders, as the person in whom his country placed all her hopes.
Marlborough had already taken Tournay; and with Prince Eugene, who had covered the siege, marched to invest Mons. Marshal Villars advanced to prevent them, having with him Marshal Bouflers, a senior officer, but who had desired to serve under him. Bouflers had a true affection for his king and country; he proved on this occasion—notwithstanding what has been said by a very sensible man—that there are virtues in a monarchical state, especially under a good master. There are doubtless as many as in a republic, with less enthusiasm perhaps, but with more of what is called honor.
As soon as the French advanced to oppose the investing of Mons, the allies on their side advanced to attack them near the wood of Blangies and the village of Malplaquet, Sept. 11, 1709.
The two armies consisted of about eighty thousand men each; but the allies had forty-two battalions more. The French brought eighty pieces of cannon into the field, the allies one hundred and forty. The duke of Marlborough commanded the right wing, composed of the English and German troops in English pay; Prince Eugene was in the centre; Tilli and the count of Nassau at the left, with the Dutch.
Marshal Villars took the command of the left wing of his army, and left the right to Marshal Bouflers; he had intrenched his army in haste, a method perhaps most suitable to his troops, that were inferior in numbers, and had been a long time unsuccessful, and consisted of one-half recruits; it was most suitable likewise to our condition at that time; as an entire defeat would have ruined the nation. Some historians have found fault with the disposition made by the marshal: “He should,” say they, “have passed a large hollow, instead of having it in his front.” Is it not being rather too discerning to judge thus from our closet of what passes on a field of battle?
All that I know is, that the marshal himself said, that the soldiers who had had no bread for a whole day, and had just had their allowance distributed among them, threw half of it away, to make the greater haste to come to action. There has not been for many ages a longer or more obstinate battle; none more bloody. I shall say nothing touching this action but what has been universally acknowledged. The enemies’ left wing, where the Dutch fought, was almost entirely cut to pieces; and we pursued them with fixed bayonets. Marlborough, at the right, made and withstood surprising efforts. Marshal Villars had occasion to thin his centre to oppose Marlborough; at that very instant the centre was attacked, the intrenchments which covered it were carried, the regiment of guards who defended them making no resistance. The marshal, in riding from his left wing to his centre, was wounded, and the day was lost; the field of battle was covered with the bodies of thirty thousand men, killed and dying.
The loss of the French in this battle did not amount to more than eight thousand men; the enemy left nearly twenty-one thousand killed and wounded, but the centre being forced, and the two wings cut off, those who had made the greatest slaughter lost the day.
Marshal Bouflers made a retreat in good order, with the assistance of the prince of Tingri-Montmorency, afterward Marshal Luxembourg, inheritor of the valor of his ancestors. The army retired between Quesnoy and Valenciennes, carrying with them several standards and colors they had taken from the enemy. Louis XIV. comforted himself with these spoils, and it was esteemed a victory to have disputed the day so long, and to have lost only the field of battle. Marshal Villars, at his return to court, assured the king that, if he had not been wounded, he should have gained the victory. I know the general was persuaded of this, but I know very few people besides who believe it.
It may seem surprising that an army which had destroyed nearly two-thirds more men than it lost itself should not endeavor to prevent those who had gained no other advantage but that of lying in the midst of their dead, from going to lay siege to Mons, The Dutch were fearful for the success of this enterprise, and hesitated for some time; but the conquered are frequently imposed upon, and disheartened, by the name of having lost the battle. Men never do all that they might do, and the soldier who is told he is beaten, fears to be beaten again. Thus Mons was besieged and taken, and all for the Dutch, who kept possession of this town, as they had done of Lille and Tournay.