Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXII.: VICTORY GAINED BY MARSHAL VILLARS AT DENAIN—THE AFFAIRS OF FRANCE RETRIEVED—THE GENERAL PEACE. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER XXII.: VICTORY GAINED BY MARSHAL VILLARS AT DENAIN—THE AFFAIRS OF FRANCE RETRIEVED—THE GENERAL PEACE. - 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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VICTORY GAINED BY MARSHAL VILLARS AT DENAIN—THE AFFAIRS OF FRANCE RETRIEVED—THE GENERAL PEACE.
The negotiations which were now openly set on foot in London proved more salutary. The queen sent the earl of Strafford, ambassador to Holland, to communicate to the states the proposals made by Louis XIV. Marlborough’s leave was no longer asked. The earl of Strafford obliged the Dutch to name plenipotentiaries, and to receive those of France.
Three private persons still continued to oppose the peace; these were Marlborough, Prince Eugene, and Heinsius, who persisted in their intention of crushing Louis XIV., but when the English general returned to London, at the close of the campaign in 1711, he was deprived of all his prestige; he found a new house of commons, and had no longer the majority in the house of lords. The queen, by creating a number of new peers, had weakened the duke’s party and strengthened the crown interest. He was now accused, like Scipio, of malfeasance; and, like that hero, extricated himself by his reputation, and by retiring. He was still powerful, though in disgrace. Prince Eugene himself came over to London purposely to strengthen his party. This prince met with the reception due to his birth and reputation, but his proposals were rejected. The court interest prevailed; Prince Eugene returned to end the war alone, with the fresh incentive of a prospect of victory, without a companion to divide the honor.
While the congress was assembling at Utrecht and the French plenipotentiaries, who had been so ill used at Gertruydenberg, now returned to treat upon more equal terms, Marshal Villars lay behind his lines to cover Arras and Cambray. Prince Eugene took the town of Quesnoy, and overspread the country with an army of a hundred thousand men. The Dutch had exerted themselves; and though they had never before furnished their whole quota toward the necessary expenses of the war, they had this year exceeded their contingent. Queen Anne could not as yet openly disengage herself from them; she had sent the duke of Ormond to join Prince Eugene’s army with twelve thousand English, and still kept in pay a number of German troops. Prince Eugene, after burning the suburbs of Arras, advanced toward the French army, and proposed to the duke of Ormond to give them battle; but the English general had been sent with orders not to fight. The private negotiations between England and France drew toward a conclusion: a suspension of arms was proclaimed between the two crowns. Louis XIV. put Dunkirk into the hands of the English, as a security for the performance of his engagements. The duke of Ormond then retired toward Ghent: he endeavored to take with him the troops that were in the queen’s pay; but none would follow him except four squadrons of the regiment of Holstein, and one regiment of Liège. The troops of Brandenburg, Saxony, Hesse, and Denmark remained with Prince Eugene, and were paid by the Dutch. The elector of Hanover himself, who was to succeed Queen Anne on the throne of England, notwithstanding her remonstrances, continued his troops in the pay of the allies, which plainly showed that the pretensions of his family to the crown of England did not depend on Queen Anne’s favor.
Prince Eugene, though deprived of the assistance of the English, was still superior by twenty thousand men to the French army; he was likewise superior by his position, by the great plenty of magazines, and by nine years of continued victories.
Marshal Villars could not prevent him from laying siege to Landrecy. France, exhausted of men and money, was in consternation, and people placed no great dependence on the conferences at Utrecht, which might be all overthrown by the successes of Prince Eugene. Several considerable detachments had already entered Champagne and ravaged the country, and advanced as far as the gates of Rheims.
The alarm was now as great at Versailles as in the rest of the kingdom. The death of the king’s only son, which occurred this year, the duke of Burgundy, the duchess, his wife, and their eldest son, all carried to their graves the same day, and the only remaining child at the point of death; all these domestic misfortunes, added to those from without, and the sufferings of the people, made the close of Louis XIV.’s reign considered as a time pointed out for calamities, and everyone expected to see more disasters than they had formerly seen greatness and glory.
Precisely at this period the duke of Vendôme died in Spain. The general despondency which seized upon the French nation on this occasion, of which I remember to have been a witness, filled them with apprehensions, lest Spain, which had been supported by the duke of Vendôme, should fall with him.
As Landrecy could not hold out long, it was debated at Versailles whether the king should retire to Chambord. On this occasion he told Marshal d’Harcourt that, in case of any fresh misfortune, he would assemble the nobility of his kingdom, lead them in person against the enemy, notwithstanding he was now over seventy, and die fighting at their head.
A fault committed by Prince Eugene delivered the king and kingdom from these dreadful disquietudes. It is said that his lines were too much extended; that his magazines at Marchiennes were at too great a distance; and that General Albemarle, who was posted between Denain and the prince’s camp, was not within reach of assisting him soon enough, in case he was attacked. I have been assured that a beautiful Italian lady, whom I saw some time afterward at The Hague, and whom Prince Eugene then kept, lived at Marchienne-au-Pont; and that it was on her account that this was made a place for magazines. It is doing injustice to Prince Eugene to suppose that a woman could have any share in his military arrangements; but when we know that a curate and a counsellor of Douay, named le Fevre d’Orval, walking together in those quarters, first conceived the idea that Denain and Marchienne-au-Pont might easily be attacked, this will better serve to prove by what secret and weak springs the great affairs of this world are often directed. Le Fevre communicated his notion to the intendant of the province, and he to Marshal Montesquieu, who commanded under Marshal Villars; the general approved of the scheme, and put it into execution. To this action, in fact, France owed her safety more than to the peace she made with England. Marshal Villars misled Prince Eugene; a body of dragoons were ordered to advance in sight of the enemy’s camp, as if going to attack it; and while these dragoons retired toward Guise, the marshal on July 24, 1712, marched towards Denain, with his army drawn up in five columns, and forced General Albemarle’s intrenchments, defended by seventeen battalions, who were all killed or made prisoners of war, with two princes of the house of Nassau, the prince of Holstein, the prince of Anhalt, and all the officers of the detachment. Prince Eugene marched in haste to their assistance; but did not come up till the action was over, and, in endeavoring to get possession of a bridge that led to Denain, he lost a number of his men, and was obliged to return to his camp, after having been witness of this defeat.
All the posts along the Scarpe, as far as Marchienne-au-Pont, were carried, one after another, with the utmost rapidity; the army then pushed directly for Marchienne-au-Pont, which was defended by four thousand men; the siege was carried on with the greatest vigor, and in three days the garrison were made prisoners of war; and all the ammunition and provisions that the enemy had laid up for the whole campaign fell into our hands. The superiority was now wholly on the side of Marshal Villars; the enemy discouraged, raised the siege of Landrecy, and soon afterward saw Douay, Quesnoy, and Bouchain retaken by our troops. The frontiers were now in safety. Prince Eugene drew off his army, after having lost nearly fifty battalions, forty of whom were made prisoners between the fight of Denain and the end of the campaign. The most signal victory could not have produced greater advantages.
Had Marshal Villars been possessed of the same share of popular favor as some other generals, he would have been publicly called the restorer of France, instead of which they hardly acknowledged the obligations they were under to him, and envy prevailed over the public joy for this unexpected success.
Every step of Marshal de Villars hastened the Peace of Utrecht; Queen Anne’s ministry, as answerable to their country and to Europe for their actions, neglected nothing that concerned the interest of England and its allies, and the safety of the public weal. In the first place, they insisted that Philip V., now settled on the throne of Spain, should renounce his right to the crown of France, which he had hitherto constantly maintained; and that the duke of Berry, his brother, presumptive heir to that crown, after the only remaining great-grandson of Louis XIV., then at the point of death, should likewise renounce all pretensions to the crown of Spain, in case he should come to be king of France. They exacted the same on the part of the duke of Orleans. The late twelve years’ war had shown how little men are to be bound by such acts; there is no one known law that obliges the descendants of a prince to give up their right to a throne because their father may have renounced it. These renunciations are of no effect, except when the common interest is in concert with them; however, they served to calm, for the present, a twelve years’ storm; and it is probable that one day several nations may join to support these renunciations that are now the basis of the balance of power and the tranquillity of Europe.
By this treaty the island of Sicily was given to the duke of Savoy, with the title of king, and on the continent the towns of Fenestrelles, Exilles, with the valley of Pragilas; so that they took from the house of Bourbon to aggrandize him.
The Dutch had a considerable barrier given them, which they had always been aiming at; and if the house of Bourbon was despoiled of some territories in favor of the duke of Savoy, the house of Austria was, on the other hand, stripped to satisfy the Dutch, who were, at its expense, the guaranties and masters of the strongest cities of Flanders. Due regard was paid to the interest of the Dutch, with respect to trade; and there was an article stipulated in favor of the Portuguese.
The sovereignty of the ten provinces of the Spanish Netherlands was reserved for the emperor, together with the advantageous lordship of the barrier towns. They also guaranteed to him the kingdom of Naples and Sicily, with all his possessions in Lombardy, and the four ports on the coast of Tuscany. But the court of Vienna would not subscribe to these conditions, as thinking she had not sufficient justice done her.
As to England, her glory and interest were sufficiently secured. She had obtained the demolition of the harbor and fortifications of Dunkirk, which had been the object of so much jealousy. She was left in possession of Gibraltar and the island of Minorca by Spain. France ceded to her Hudson’s Bay, the island of Newfoundland, and Acadia; and she procured greater privileges for her American trade than had been granted even to the French, who placed Philip V. on the throne. We must also reckon among the glorious acts of the English ministry its having engaged Louis XIV. to consent to set at liberty those of his subjects who were confined in prison on account of their religion; this was dictating laws, but laws of a very respectable nature.
Lastly, Queen Anne, sacrificing the rights of blood, and the secret inclinations of her heart, to the desires of her country, secured the succession to the crown of Great Britain to the house of Hanover.
As to the electors of Bavaria and Cologne, the former was to keep the duchy of Luxemburg and the county of Namur till his brother and himself should be restored to their electorates; for Spain had ceded those two sovereignties to the elector of Bavaria, as a consideration for his losses, and the allies had taken neither of them during the war.
France, who demolished Dunkirk, and gave up so many places in Flanders that her arms had formerly conquered, and that had been secured to her by the treaties of Nimeguen and Ryswick, got back Lille, Aire, Béthune, and St. Venant.
Thus did the English ministry to all appearance do justice to everyone; but this was denied them by the Whigs; and one-half of the nation reviled the memory of Queen Anne, for having done the greatest good that a sovereign possibly could do, in giving peace to so many nations. She was reproached with not having dismembered France, when it was in her power to do it.
All these treaties were signed, one after another, in the course of the year 1713; but whether it was owing to the obstinacy of Prince Eugene, or to the bad politics of the emperor’s council, that monarch did not enter into any of these negotiations. He would certainly have had Landau, and perhaps Strasburg, had he at first fallen in with the views of Queen Anne and her ministry; but he was bent on continuing the war, and so got nothing.
Marshal Villars, having secured the rest of French Flanders, marched toward the Rhine, and, after making himself master of Spires, Worms, and all the adjacent country, he took Landau, which the emperor might have had by acceding to the peace, forced the lines that Prince Eugene had ordered to be drawn from Breisgau, defeated Marshal Vaubonne, who defended those lines; and, lastly, besieged and took Freiburg, the capital of Upper Austria.
The council of Vienna pressed the circles of the empire to send the reinforcements they had promised, but none came. They now began to be sensible that the emperor, without the assistance of England and Holland, could never prevail against France, and resolved upon peace when it was too late.
Marshal Villars, after having thus put an end to the war, had the additional honor of concluding the peace with Prince Eugene, at Rastatt. This was, perhaps, the first time that two generals of opposite parties had been known to meet together at the close of a campaign to treat in the names of their masters. They both brought with them that openness of character for which they were distinguished. I have heard Marshal Villars relate that one of the first things he said to Prince Eugene was this: “Sir, we do not meet as enemies; your enemies are at Vienna, and mine at Versailles.” And in fact both of them had always cabals to combat at their respective courts.
In this treaty there was no notice taken of the pretensions which the emperor still maintained to the Spanish monarchy, nor of the empty title of Catholic King, that he continued to bear after Philip V. was in quiet possession of the kingdom. Louis XIV. kept Strasburg and Landau, which he had before offered to give up, Huninguen, and New Breisach, which he had proposed to demolish, and the sovereignty of Alsace, which he had offered to renounce. But what was still more honorable for him, he procured the reinstatement of the electors of Cologne and Bavaria in their ranks and dominions.
It is a remarkable circumstance that France, in all her treaties with the emperors, has constantly protected the rights of the princes and states of the empire. She laid the foundation of the Germanic liberties by the Peace of Münster; and caused an eighth electorate to be erected in favor of this very house of Bavaria. The Treaty of Westphalia was confirmed by that of Nimeguen. By the Treaty of Ryswick she procured all the estate of Cardinal Furstemberg to be restored to him. Lastly, by this Peace of Utrecht, she obtained the re-establishment of the two electors. It must be acknowledged that, throughout the whole negotiation which put an end to this long quarrel, France received laws from England, and imposed them on the empire.
The historical memoirs of those times, from which so many histories of Louis XIV. have been compiled, say that Prince Eugene, when he had finished the conferences, desired the duke de Villars to embrace the knees of Louis XIV. for him, and to present that monarch, in his name, with assurances of the most profound respect of “a subject toward his sovereign.” In the first place, it is not true that a prince, the grandson of a sovereign, can be the subject of another prince, because he was born in his dominions; and in the second place, it is still less so that Prince Eugene, vicar-general of the empire, could call himself the subject of the king of France.
And now each state took possession of its new rights. The duke of Savoy got himself acknowledged in Sicily without consulting the emperor, who complained of it in vain. Louis XIV. procured entrance for his troops into Lille, the Dutch seized on their barrier towns, and the states of the country gave them one million two hundred and fifty thousand florins a year to continue masters in Flanders. Louis XIV. filled up the harbor of Dunkirk, razed the citadel, and demolished the fortifications toward the sea, in presence of the English commissary. The inhabitants, who saw their whole trade ruined thereby, sent a deputation over to London to implore the clemency of Queen Anne. It was a mortifying circumstance to Louis XIV. that his subjects should go to ask favors of a queen of England; but it was still more melancholy for these poor people to meet with a refusal from the queen.
The king some time afterward enlarged the canal of Mardyke, and by means of sluices formed a harbor there, which was thought already to equal that of Dunkirk. The earl of Stair, ambassador from England, complained of this in warm terms to the king. It is said in one of the best books we have that Louis XIV. made him this reply: “My lord, I have always been master in my own kingdom, sometimes in those of others; do not put me in remembrance of it.” I know of my own certain knowledge that Louis XIV. never made so improper a reply; he was far from ever having been master in England: he was indeed master in his own kingdom; but the point in question was, whether he was master of eluding a treaty to which he owed his repose, and perhaps the greatest part of his kingdom. This, however, is true, that he put a stop to the works of Mardyke, and thus yielded to the remonstrances of the ambassador, instead of braving them. The works of the canal of Mardyke were demolished soon afterward, during the regency, and the treaty accomplished in every point.
Notwithstanding the Peace of Utrecht and that of Rastatt, Philip V. was not yet in possession of all Spain: he still had Catalonia to conquer, and the islands of Majorca and Ivica.
It is necessary to know that the emperor Charles, having left his wife at Barcelona, and finding himself unable to carry on a war in Spain, and yet unwilling to give up his claim, or accept of the Peace of Utrecht, had nevertheless made an agreement with Queen Anne for a squadron of English ships to bring away the empress and the troops, now useless in Catalonia. In fact, Catalonia had been already evacuated; and Staremberg, when he quitted that province, had resigned his title of viceroy; but he left behind him all the seeds of a civil war. Those who had the most credit in that province imagined that they might be able to form a republic under a foreign protection; and that the king of Spain would not be strong enough to subdue them. On this occasion they displayed that character which Tacitus gave them so long since, who calls them “an intrepid people, that count their lives for nothing when not employed in fighting.”
If they had made half the efforts for Philip V., their king, that they then did against him, the archduke would never have disputed Spain. By the obstinate resistance they made, they proved that Philip, though delivered from his competitor, was not able to reduce them by his own power. Louis XIV., who, during the latter part of the war, had not been able to assist his grandson with either ships or soldiers, against his rival, Charles, now sent him aid against his rebellious subjects. A fleet of French ships blocked up the harbor of Barcelona, and Marshal Berwick laid siege to it by land.
The queen of England, faithful to her treaty, would not assist this city. The emperor made a vain promise of relief. The besieged defended themselves with a courage that was fortified by fanaticism. The priests and monks ran to arms, and mounted the trenches, as if it had been a religious war. A phantom of liberty rendered them deaf to all the advances made to them by their master. More than five hundred ecclesiastics died during this siege, with their arms in their hands: we may judge whether by their speeches and examples they helped to animate the people.
They hung out a black ensign on the breach and withstood several assaults; at length, the besiegers having made their way into the town, the besieged disputed street after street; and having retreated into the new town, after the old one was taken, they offered to capitulate on condition of being allowed all their privileges; but they obtained only their lives and estates. Most of their privileges were taken from them. Sixty monks were condemned to the galleys, and this was the only vengeance taken by the conquerors. Philip V. had, during the war, treated the little town of Xativa much more severely, by ordering it to be razed from the foundation, as an example; but though he might do this to a town of no importance, he would not destroy a large city that had a fine seaport and was of use to the state.
This fury of the Catalans, that had not exerted itself while Charles VI. was among them, and which transported them to such extremes when they were left without assistance, was the last spark of that flame which had been lighted up by the will of Charles II., king of Spain, and had so long laid waste the most beautiful part of Europe.