ALL EYES WERE NOW TURNED UPON THE ENGLISH COURT. IT WAS known throughout Europe that Marlborough’s power with the Queen had vanished. Harley with infinite craft and Abigail’s aid pursued his design of installing a Tory administration in power, with the object of ending a war of which all were weary.
The great armies faced one another for the campaign of 1710. Their actual numbers were larger than ever before, but Marlborough and Eugene could not or did not bring Villars to battle. Indeed it may be thought that Marlborough was so sickened by the slaughter of Malplaquet and so disheartened by the animosities crowding upon him at home that he would henceforward only wage war as if it were a game of chess. Certain it is that the twin captains looked only for battle at advantages which the skill of Villars did not concede. Douai was taken after another hot siege, and later the capture of Aire and St Venant opened the line of the Lys. These were inadequate results for a campaign so vast and costly.
While Marlborough was at these toils the political crisis of Queen Anne’s reign moved steadily to its climax. The Church of England was astir, and the Tory clergy preached against the war and its leaders, especially Godolphin. Dr Sacheverell, a High Church divine, delivered a sermon in London in violent attack upon the Government, the Whigs, and the Lord Treasurer. With great unwisdom the Government ordered a State prosecution in the form of an impeachment. Not only the Tories but the London mob rallied to Sacheverell, and scenes were witnessed recalling those which had attended the trial of the Seven Bishops a quarter of a century before. By narrow majorities nominal penalties were inflicted upon Sacheverell. He became the hero of the hour.
Queen Anne, advised by Harley, now felt strong enough to take her revenge for what she considered the insult inflicted on her by the Whig intrusion into her Council. During a year by successive steps the whole character of the Government was altered. First Sunderland was dismissed; then in August Queen Anne ordered Godolphin to break his staff of office and quit her service, adding, “but I will give you a pension of four thousand a year.” Godolphin spurned the pension and retired into a straitened private life. The Whig Ministers of less consequence were also relieved of office. Harley formed a predominantly Tory Government, and at his side Henry St John became Secretary of State. The new Government was largely built around the Duke of Shrewsbury, and found the support of many notables of high degree, outstanding abilities, and hungry ambition. The General Election, aptly launched, produced a substantial Tory majority in the House of Commons.
Marlborough returned from his ninth campaign to find England in the control of his political and personal foes. The Queen demanded that he should force Sarah to give up her offices at Court. He knelt before her in vain. St John, whom he had helped and cherished in the years of triumph, lectured him in insolent, patronising style. Harley bowed and scraped with stony coldness. He too had a score to pay. Yet in spite of all this Marlborough remained the most precious possession of the hostile Government and vengeful Queen. Before the Tories became responsible Ministers they thought they could have peace on victorious terms merely by intimating their willingness for it. They now realised that the downfall of Marlborough was also the revival of Louis XIV. They found themselves face to face with a very different France from the humbled monarchy of 1709. All the states of the Grand Alliance saw in bitter remorse that they had missed their chance. In their distress and returning fears they clung to Marlborough. The Dutch, the Prussians, and various Princes of the Rhine declared their troops should serve under no other commander. Harley and his lieutenant St John, who was swiftly rising to fame, now knew they had to fight another campaign. From every quarter therefore, even the most unfriendly, Marlborough was urged, implored, or conjured to serve. Defeated Whigs, exultant Tories, Harley and St John, the Queen, the States-General, the King of Prussia, the Princes of the Rhine, and, most fervent of all, the Emperor, called upon him to stand by the common cause. Although he was afterwards mocked for love of office and of war, it was his duty to comply. Terms were made between the Tory Ministers and Marlborough for the proper upkeep of the armies at the front, and the Captain-General for the tenth year in succession took the field.
Harley and St John were now in full cry. Having dispatched Marlborough to the wars, they pursued with consistency, craft, and vigour the whole policy of the Tory Party. St John sent a large, ill-managed, ill-starred expedition to take Quebec from the French. Harley, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was deep in financial plans for the creation of a great South Sea Company, which was to take over a part of the National Debt, and add to its revenues by importing slaves and merchandise into South America. From this the South Sea Bubble was later to be blown. But above all he sought peace with France. By secret channels, unknown to the Allies, he established contact with Torcy. Finding the French painfully stiff, he brought St John into the negotiations, which proceeded throughout 1711 without the knowledge of Parliament or of any of the confederate states. The method was treacherous, but the object reasonable.
In spite of the secret purpose they nursed in common, Harley and St John were soon estranged. Their rivalry had already become apparent when in March a French refugee, who had been discovered in treasonable correspondence with the enemy, stabbed Harley with a penknife while under examination in the Council Chamber. The Ministers, greatly excited, drew their swords and wounded the assailant, who died a week later of his injuries. Harley was not seriously hurt, but his popularity throughout the country rose with a bound. The Queen now bestowed upon him the proud titles of Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, and appointed him to the office of Lord Treasurer, which had been in commission since the fall of Godolphin. He was at the height of his career.
Marlborough hoped again to make the campaign of 1711 in company with Eugene, and he concentrated no fewer than a hundred and forty thousand men in the neighbourhood of Douai. But at the end of April an event occurred which affected every aspect of the war. The Emperor Joseph died of smallpox. The Archduke Charles, then maintaining himself stubbornly in Barcelona, succeeded to the hereditary domains of the house of Austria, and was certain to be elected Emperor. To interrupt the election at Frankfort Louis XIV moved a large detachment of Villars’s army to the angle of the Rhine. This entailed a corresponding movement of Eugene’s army, which in May quitted Marlborough’s camp, leaving the Duke with ninety thousand men facing Villars, whose army was still a hundred and twenty thousand strong.
During the winter Villars had constructed an enormous system of entrenchments and inundations stretching from the sea through the fortresses of Arras and Bouchain to Maubeuge, on the Sambre. He called these lines “Ne Plus Ultra,” and at the head of his mobile army courted attack. Marlborough, seeming to idle away the month of June, prepared to pierce this formidable barrier. By subtle arts and stratagems he convinced Villars that he intended to make another frontal attack on the scale of Malplaquet south of Arras.
The great armies formed against each other and the lines of battle were drawn. Everyone expected an onslaught. The Allied generals were deeply distressed. They thought that Marlborough, infuriated or deranged by his ill-treatment at home, would lead them to an appalling slaughter. On August 4 the Duke in person conducted a reconnaissance along the whole of Villars’s front. He allowed large numbers of officers to accompany him. He marked the places where he would plant his batteries and pointed to the positions he would assault. Only his immense prestige prevented outspoken protests, and many observers condemned the openness with which he spoke of his plans for battle. That night Villars was filled with hope. He had summoned every single battalion and battery on which he could lay his hands from all other parts of his lines. Marlborough’s soldiers had blind faith in a leader who had never led them wrong. But the high command was full of aches and fears. They did not notice that General Cadogan had silently slipped away from the great reconnaissance. They wondered at the absence of the artillery. They were not informed of the movements behind Marlborough’s front. They knew nothing of his heavy concentration at Douai.
At length tattoo beat and darkness fell. Orders came to strike tents and stand to arms. Soon staff officers arrived to guide the four columns, and in less than half an hour the whole army was on the march to the left. All through the moonlit night they marched eastward. They traversed those broad undulations between the Vimy Ridge and Arras which two centuries later were to be dyed with British and Canadian blood. The march was pressed with severity; only the briefest halts were allowed. But a sense of excitement filled the troops. It was not after all to be a bloody battle. The “Old Corporal” was up to something of his own. Before five o’clock on the morning of the 5th they reached the Scarpe near Vitry. Here the Army found a series of pontoon bridges already laid, and as the light grew they saw the long columns of their artillery now marching with them.
At daybreak Marlborough, riding in the van at the head of fifty squadrons, met a horseman who galloped up from Cadogan. He bore the news that Cadogan and the Prussian general Hompesch, with twenty-two battalions and twenty squadrons, had crossed the causeway at Arleux at 3 AM and were in actual possession of the enemy’s lines. Marlborough now sent his aides-de-camp and staff officers down the whole length of the marching columns with orders to explain to the officers and soldiers of every regiment what he was doing and what had happened, and to tell them that all now depended upon their marching qualities. “My Lord Duke wishes the infantry to step out.” As the light broadened and the day advanced the troops could see upon their right, across the marshes and streams of the Sensée, that the French were moving parallel to them within half cannon-shot. But they also saw that the head of the French horse was only abreast of the Allied foot. During August 5 the bulk of the Allied army had crossed the Sensée and was drawing up inside the enemy’s lines. Thousands of exhausted soldiers had fallen by the way, and large numbers died in the passion of their effort.
In the result Marlborough formed a front beyond the lines, which Villars, arriving piecemeal, was unable to attack. There was, and is, a controversy whether Marlborough should not have attacked himself. Certainly both Blenheim and Oudenarde had confronted him with graver risks. But instead of forcing a battle he moved rapidly to his left, crossed the Scheldt, and cast his siege-grip on the fortress of Bouchain. The forcing of the “Ne Plus Ultra” lines and the siege and capture of Bouchain were judged by Europe to be outstanding manifestations of the military art. Villars, with an army equal to Marlborough’s whole strength, strove vehemently to interrupt the operation. Marlborough, having obtained six thousand workmen by compulsion from Flanders and Brabant, constructed lines of circumvallation around the whole of Bouchain, and also double entrenchments protecting his communications with the Scheldt. He personally conducted the siege and commanded the covering army. At all hours of the day and night he moved about the astonishing labyrinth which he had created, while he strangled Bouchain. The siege train arrived from Tournai on August 21, and the batteries began to fire on the 30th. While Marlborough bombarded Bouchain Villars bombarded him. It was a siege within a siege, with the constant possibility of a battle at adverse odds to the besiegers. There is no finer example of Marlborough’s skill. Bouchain capitulated at the beginning of September. A hostile army as large as his own watched its powerful garrison marched out as prisoners of war. The Duke still wished to continue the campaign and he besieged Quesnoy. The physical forces were not lacking, but all the leaders were now morally worn out. The armies went into winter quarters and Marlborough returned home. For ten years he had led the armies of the Grand Alliance, and during all that period he never fought a battle he did not win or besieged a town he did not take. Nothing like this exists in the annals of war.
It was now impossible to conceal any longer the secret peace negotiations which had all this while been in progress. They came as a shock to the vehement London world. Harley—to use his former style—commanded a solid Tory majority in the Commons, but the Whigs still controlled the House of Lords. The Tory leaders were sure they could carry the peace if Marlborough would support it. To bend him to their will they had during the campaign set on foot an inquiry into the accounts of the armies, with the object of establishing a charge of peculation against him. If he would join with them in making peace and forcing it upon the Allies, or in making a separate peace, these charges would be dropped, and he would still enjoy “the protection of the Court.” If not, they thought they had enough to blacken his character. The Duke, who was in close association with the Elector George of Hanover, the heir to the throne, and still enjoyed the support of the King of Prussia and the Princes of the Grand Alliance, would not agree to a separate peace in any circumstances.
Parliament opened in the winter of 1711 in intense crisis. The two great parties faced one another upon all the issues of the long war. The Whigs used their majority in the House of Lords. They carried a resolution, hostile to the Government, by a majority of twelve. But Harley, strong in the support of the House of Commons, and using to the full the favour of the Queen, met this assault with a decisive rejoinder. He loosed the charges of peculation upon Marlborough, and procured from the Queen an extraordinary creation of twelve peers to override the adverse majority in the Lords. These heavy blows succeeded. Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices and exposed to the censure of the House of Commons. The salaries and emoluments he had enjoyed as Captain-General of England, as Deputy Captain-General of Holland, and from many other posts and perquisites had enabled him, with his thrift and acquisitiveness, to build up a large fortune. He was now charged chiefly with converting to his own use during his ten years’ command the 2½ per cent. levied upon the pay of all foreign contingents in the Allied army.
His defence was convincing. He produced Queen Anne’s signed warrant of 1702 authorising him to make this deduction, which had always been customary in the Grand Alliance from the days of King William. He declared that all the money—nearly a quarter of a million—had been expended upon the Secret Service and Intelligence of the Army, which it was not denied had been the most perfect ever known. This did not prevent the Tories in the House of Commons from impugning his conduct by a majority of 276 against 165. A State prosecution was set on foot against the dismissed General for the repayment of very large sums. But all the princes of the Alliance, headed by the Elector of Hanover and the King of Prussia, solemnly affirmed in State documents “that they had freely granted 2½ per cent. to the Duke of Marlborough for the purposes of Secret Service and without expecting any rendering of account,” and the Elector added: “We are fully convinced and satisfied that the Prince, Duke of Marlborough, has annually applied these sums to the Secret Services according to their destination . . . and that his wise application of these amounts has forcibly contributed to the gaining of so many battles, to the passing of so many entrenchments and so many lines, successes which, after the blessing of God, are due in great part to the good intelligence and information which the said Prince has had of the movements and condition of the enemy.”
England was now riven in twain upon the issue of peace. A separate peace it must be now, for the Allies one and all repudiated the right of the British Government to abandon the Alliance and provide for themselves. In that haughty, fierce society of London and of Europe no agreement was possible. Meanwhile the French armies, haggard, but refreshed by the downfall of their grand opponent, were gathering in great force. Louis XIV found himself delivered at his last gasp, and his valiant people hastened to his aid. Harley and St John could not avoid the campaign of 1712. They appointed the Duke of Ormonde, the splendid magnifico who had failed at Cadiz, to the command. They assured the Dutch of their fidelity. Eugene was sent by the Emperor to the Low Countries. Eugene, who in a visit to England had vainly sought to rally the loyalties of the Tory Government, and had avowed his unshakeable friendship with Marlborough, found himself at the head of a sufficient strength to take the field. In exasperation at the behaviour of the London Cabinet he was betrayed into an over-audacious campaign. He laid siege to Quesnoy, and called upon Ormonde to aid him. But the British Government was now on the verge of a separate peace. St John sent secret restraining orders to Ormonde not to “partake in any siege in a way to hazard a battle”—as if such tactics were possible.
Upon a dark day the British Army, hitherto the most forward in the Allied cause and admired by all, marched away from the camp of the Allies in bitter humiliation and amid the curses of their old comrades. Only a handful of the British-paid Allies would go with them. Although deprived of their pay and arrears, the great majority declared they would fight on for the “common cause.” Many of Marlborough’s veterans flung themselves on the ground in shame and fury. The outraged Dutch closed the gates of their cities in the face of the deserting Ally. Villars, advancing rapidly, fell upon Eugene’s magazines at Denain and inflicted upon him a cruel defeat in which many of his troops were driven into the Scheldt and drowned. Upon this collapse Villars captured all the advanced bases of the Allies and took Douai, Quesnoy, and Bouchain. Thus he obliterated the successes of the past three years, and at the end of the terrible war emerged victorious. The English Army, under Ormonde, in virtue of a military convention signed with France, retreated upon Dunkirk, which was temporarily delivered to them. After these shattering defeats all the states of the Grand Alliance were compelled to make peace on the best terms possible.
What is called the Treaty of Utrecht was in fact a series of separate agreements between individual Allied states with France and with Spain. The Empire continued the war alone. In the forefront stood the fact that the Duke of Anjou, recognised as Philip V, held Spain and the Indies, thus flouting the unreasonable declaration to which the English Parliament had so long adhered. With this out of the way the British Government gained their special terms; the French Court recognised the Protestant succession in Britain, and agreed to expel the Pretender from France, to demolish the fortifications of Dunkirk, and to cede various territories in North America and the West Indies, to wit, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, which had been captured by an expedition from Massachusetts, and St Christopher. With Spain the terms were that England should hold Minorca and Gibraltar, thus securing to her, while she remained the chief sea-power, the entry and control of the Mediterranean. Commercial advantages, one day to provoke another war, were obtained in Spanish South America, and in particular the Asiento, or the sole right for thirty years to import African Negroes as slaves into the New World. A renunciation was made both by France and Spain of the union of their two Crowns. This, through many strange deaths in the French royal family, hung for its validity upon the frail child since known to history as Louis XV. The Catalans, who had been called into the field by the Allies, and particularly by England, and who had adhered with admirable tenacity to the Archduke whom they called Charles III, were delivered over under polite diplomatic phrases to the vengeance of the victorious party in Spain.
The Dutch secured a restricted barrier, which nevertheless included, on the outer line, Furnes, Fort Knocke, Ypres, Menin, Tournai, Mons, Charleroi, and Namur; Ghent, for communication with Holland; and certain important forts guarding the entrance to the Scheldt. Prussia obtained Guelderland at the expense of Dutch claims. All other fortresses in the Low Countries beyond the barrier were restored to France, including particularly Lille. The Duke of Savoy gained Sicily and a strong frontier on the Alps. Portugal was rewarded for feeble service with trading rights upon the Amazon. The frontiers on the Rhine and the fate of Bavaria and the Milanese were left to the decision of further war. Such were the settlements reached at Utrecht in the spring of 1713, and Chatham, who inherited the consequences, was one day to declare them “an indelible blot upon the age.”
The Emperor Charles, indignant at the surrender of Spain, fought on during the whole of 1713; but the French, although themselves exhausted, took the key fortress of Landau and penetrated again into Germany. In March 1714 the Emperor was forced to conclude the Peace of Rastadt. By this treaty France regained Strasbourg and Landau and ceded all conquests on the right bank of the Rhine. The Elector of Bavaria was reinstated in his dominions. The Milanese, Naples, and Sardinia rested with the Empire. On this basis Europe subsided into an uneasy peace, and although these terms were not comparable with what the Allies could have gained in 1706, in 1709, or 1710 they none the less ended for a while the long torment to which Christendom had been subjected.
Marlborough was so much pursued by the Tory Party and harassed by the State prosecutions against him for his alleged peculation that at the end of 1712 he left the country and lived in self-imposed exile in Holland and Germany till the end of the reign. He maintained his close relations with the Court of Hanover, as well as with the Whig Opposition in England, and, with Cadogan and others of his old officers, stood ready to seize the command of the British troops in the Low Countries and at Dunkirk and lead them to England to sustain the Protestant succession.
The final phase of the Tory triumph was squalid. St John, raised to the peerage as Viscount Bolingbroke, became involved in a mortal quarrel with Harley, Earl of Oxford. His scandalous life and his financial inroads upon the public exposed him to indictment at Harley’s merciless hands; but, having procured the aid of Abigail by bribes, he supplanted Oxford in the Queen’s favour. Anne was now broken with gout and other ailments. For many months her life hung upon a thread. She who had seen so much glory now drew towards an ignominious end. Having enjoyed in the fullest measure the love of her people for many years of splendour, she now found herself the tool of what had become a disreputable faction. Beneath this weight of hostility and reproach the poor Queen sank in sorrow to the grave. Yet her spirit burned unquenched to the end. She followed with the closest attention the bitter feuds which tore her Cabinet. No one knows whether she wished to make her half-brother, the Pretender, her heir or not. Once again the two Englands which had contended since the Great Rebellion faced each other under different guises and upon an altered scene, but with the same main antagonisms. The Whigs, strong in the Act of Succession and in the Protestant resolve of the nation, prepared openly to take arms against a Jacobite Restoration. The Elector of Hanover, supported by the Dutch and aided by Marlborough, gathered the forces to repeat the descent of William of Orange.
The closing months of 1714 were laden with forebodings of civil war. But Bolingbroke, although in the ascendant, had not the nerve or the quality to play this deadly game. The declaration of the “Pretended Prince of Wales” that he would never abandon the Roman Catholic faith made his imposition upon the British throne impracticable. All must respect his honourable scruples, more especially when they conduced so greatly to the national advantage. “Good God,” exclaimed the Duke of Buckinghamshire (after he had been put out of office), “how has this poor nation been governed in my time! During the reign of King Charles the Second we were governed by a parcel of French whores, in King James the Second’s time by a parcel of Popish priests, in King William’s time by a parcel of Dutch footmen, and now we are governed by a dirty chambermaid, a Welsh attorney, and a profligate wretch that has neither honour nor honesty.”
Many accounts converge upon the conclusion that the final scene in the long duel between Oxford and Bolingbroke at the Cabinet Council of July 27 brought about the death of Queen Anne. Already scarcely capable of standing or walking, she nevertheless followed the intense political struggles proceeding around her with absorbed attention. She notified Oxford by gesture and utterance that he must surrender the Lord Treasurer’s White Staff. The sodden, indolent, but none the less tough and crafty politician who had overthrown Marlborough and changed the history of Europe had his final fling at his triumphant rival. In savage tones across the table, both men being within six feet of the Queen, he denounced Bolingbroke to her as a rogue and a thief, and in terms of vague but none the less impressive menace made it plain that he would denounce him to Parliament. Anne was deeply smitten. She was harassed beyond endurance. She had taken all upon herself, and now she did not know which way to turn. She was assisted and carried from this violent confrontation, and two days later the afflictions which had hitherto tormented her body moved towards her brain.
Bolingbroke remained master of the field and of the day—but only for two days. On July 30, while the Queen was evidently at the point of death, the Privy Council met in the palace. They were about to transact business when the door opened and in marched the Dukes of Somerset and Argyll. Both were Privy Counsellors, but neither had received a summons. They declared that the danger to the Queen made it their duty to proffer their services. Shrewsbury, the Lord Chamberlain, who had certainly planned this stroke, thanked them for their patriotic impulse. Bolingbroke, like Oxford some years before, blenched before the challenge. The Council pressed upon the deathbed of the Queen; they urged her to give to Shrewsbury the White Staff of Lord Treasurer, which Oxford had delivered. This would make Shrewsbury virtually head of the Government. With fleeting strength Anne, guided by the Lord Chancellor, passed the symbol to him, and then sank into a coma.
The Council sat far into the night. Vigorous measures were taken to ensure the Hanoverian succession. Messengers were dispatched in all directions to rally to their duty every functionary and officer throughout the land. The Fleet was mobilised under the Whig Earl of Berkeley and ordered to patrol the Channel and watch the French ports. Ten battalions were recalled from Flanders. The garrisons were put under arms and the train-bands warned. The Dutch were reminded of their treaty obligations. Everything was prepared to secure the accession of the Elector of Hanover as George I. These orders bore the signatures not only of Shrewsbury, Somerset, and Argyll, but of Bolingbroke and his Tory colleagues. They had no other choice. All preparations were made with heralds and Household troops to proclaim King George. When Queen Anne breathed her last at half-past seven on August 1 it was certain that there would be no Popery, no disputed succession, no French bayonets, no civil war.
Thus ended one of the greatest reigns in English history. It had been rendered glorious by Marlborough’s victories and guidance. The Union and the greatness of the Island had been established. The power of France to dominate Europe was broken, and only Napoleon could revive it. The last of the Stuart sovereigns had presided over a wonderful expansion of British national strength, and in spite of the moral and physical failures of her closing years she deserved to bear in history the title of “the Good Queen Anne.”