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The Reign of Queen Anne - (Concluded) page 8


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Accordingly, on the 5th of June, the queen proceeded to the house of lords, and stated in a long speech the terms on which it was proposed to make the peace with France - namely, that Louis XIV. should acknowledge the protestant succession and remove the pretender out of France; that Philip should renounce the crown of Spain, should it devolve on him; and that the kings of both France and Spain should make solemn engagements for themselves and their heirs that the two kingdoms should never be united under one crown; that Newfoundland, with Placentia, Hudson's Bay, Nova Scotia, or Acadia, as it was then termed by the French, as well as Gibraltar, Port Mahon, and the whole island of Minorca, should be ceded to England; that the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Sardinia, the duchy of Milan, and the places on the Tuscan coast, formerly belonging to Spain, should be yielded to Austria, the appropriation of Sicily being not so far determined; that France would make the Rhine the barrier of the empire, yielding up all places beyond it, and razing the fortresses on the German side as well as in the river; that the barriers of Savoy, the Netherlands, and Prussia, should be made satisfactory to the allies. The electoral dignity was to be acknowledged in the house of Hanover.

The house of commons received the speech with enthusiasm, and carried up an address of thanks in a body. Very different, however, was the reception of the speech in the house of lords. Lord Wharton proposed that in the address they should declare themselves against a separate peace, and the duke of Marlborough supported that view. He said that for a year past the measures pursued were directly opposed to her majesty's engagement with the allies, had sullied the glories of her reign, and would render our name odious to all nations. Lord Strafford, who had come over from the Hague purposely to defend the government policy, and his own share in it at Utrecht, asserted that the opposition of the allies would not have been so obstinate had they not been encouraged by a certain member of that house who corresponded with them, and stimulated them by assurances that they would be supported by a large party in England. This blow aimed at Marlborough called up lord Cowper, who directed his sarcasm against Strafford on the ground of his well-known illiterate character, observing that the noble lord had been so long abroad that he had forgotten not only the language but the constitution of his country; that according to our laws it could never be a crime in an individual to correspond with its allies, but that it was a crime to correspond, as certain persons did, with the common enemy, unknown to the allies, and to their manifest prejudice. The amendment of lord Wharton, however, was rejected, and the protest, entered against its rejection by twenty peers and bishops, was voted violent and indecorous, and erased from the journal. The matter was carried to such a degree of heat, that the protest was printed and widely circulated, to the great indignation of the ministers, who endeavoured to discover the printer and publisher, in order to punish them, but in vain. The house of commons, however, took the opportunity to retaliate on the whig bishop, Dr. Fleetwood, of St. Asaph, something of the treatment of the whigs on Dr. Sacheverel. They ordered the preface to certain sermons, which he had recently published, and in which he had extolled the former ministry at the expense of the present, to be burnt by the common hangman, which was done accordingly, and they presented an address to the queen, expressing their sense of the insult which had been offered to her by the printing and publishing of the letter of remonstrance sent by the States-General to her majesty. It went on to declare that the house would support her majesty against faction both at home and abroad. In this violent tone of the opposing parties on the question of the peace, the parliament was prorogued on the 8th of July, when the queen asserted that both houses had approved her scheme of the peace, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition, and that they had gone no further than a general vote of confidence. The conflicting spirit excited by this topic extended over the whole kingdom; the whigs showed everywhere much discontent, but the tory corporations, including that of London, sent up addresses approving of the queen's conduct.

Notwithstanding these addresses and the confident tone of the queen's speech, the funds fell, and there was general dissatisfaction at the conditions of the proposed pacification. In order to stimulate the proceedings and excite a jealousy of the Dutch, St. John professed to discover that they were secretly negotiating themselves with France, and urged that, if we did not take care, they would have the management of the negotiations and not her majesty. Lord Strafford hastened back to the Hague, and from thence to Utrecht, where he proposed a cessation of arms, which was rejected by the allies. He then went on to the army, where the duke of Ormonde was in a situation of the utmost difficulty, He had received orders from government, in consequence of the clamour in parliament, to support prince Eugene at the siege of Quesnoy, which he had invested on the 8th of June, and in consequence he had appeared before the place with such forces as threatened speedily to reduce it. At the same time he had received from the marquis de Torcy a copy of the articles of peace signed by him, and from the marquis of Villars the most bitter remonstrances on his conduct, which he did not hesitate to declare most perfidious and disgraceful. On the other hand, prince Eugene, who did not find the English forces, notwithstanding their presence, rendering any active service, was equally irritated by his proceedings. Ormonde could but reply to each party that such were his orders, and leave the government to bear the ignominy of it. To extricate themselves from the just censures on this dishonourable policy, St. John instructed Ormonde to demand from Villars the surrender of Dunkirk, which, it was asserted, must be put into the hands of the queen's troops, as a pledge that France would perform all that she had promised, before there could be a cessation of hostilities.

The French hastened to comply with this condition, on the understanding that Ormonde would immediately draw off his troops from Quesnoy; and the duke was obliged to announce to prince Eugene that he was under this necessity, in consequence of the terms agreed upon betwixt France and England; in fact, that he must cease all opposition to the French. Ormonde, therefore, not only gave the command for the retirement of the English troops, but also of all those belonging to the German princes which were in British pay. Eugene and the Dutch field deputies protested most, indignantly against this proceeding, and the mercenary troops themselves refused to follow Ormonde. In vain did he endeavour to move the officers of those troops; they despised the conduct of England in abandoning the advantageous position at which they had arrived for terminating the war gloriously, and releasing the common enemy of Europe from his just punishment to gratify party spirit in England. "Up to this point," says Cunningham, "these mercenaries had punctually obeyed orders; but now, when they were required to separate from the allied army, the men made answer to their own officers that they would obey the duke of Ormonde in everything else except in this single point, in which the common safety and their own honour were in the utmost danger; that in this particular instance they could not be prevailed upon by any promises or threatenings to follow him without the commands of their respective sovereigns, and they would rather perish than desert their allies."

Prince Eugene represented that the duke, in not only withdrawing his own troops but the troops in the queen's pay too, would leave the allies at the mercy of the French, and be productive of the most disastrous and disgraceful consequences; and he therefore exhorted the foreign troops to stand firm to their duty, declaring that they could not separate from the confederacy without express consent of the princes their masters. An extraordinary conference was summoned at the Hague to consider this difficulty, and a delay of five days before marching was demanded of the duke and consented to by him. At length the princes to whom the troops belonged assured them that they would maintain them at their own expense for one month under the command of prince Eugene, and afterwards at half the charge, provided the States-General and the empires would defray the rest. On learning this conclusion, St. John wrote a most arrogant letter to Ormonde, declaring that the British government was much at a loss to know what these princes meant; adding: - UA beggarly German general commands the troops which have been so many years paid by her majesty, and which are actually so at this time, to desert from the queen, and to leave her subject forces, for aught they knew, exposed to the attacks of the enemy."

This language, applied to such a man as prince Eugene, was nothing less than infamous; and the argument was equally false, because St. John knew perfectly well that there was no danger at this moment of the French attacking the English. But the German princes stood firm, calling God to witness that they had furnished their troops with higher objects than the mere pay - those of their-duty to the German empire, and the common safety and interest of Europe. Ormonde, on this, declared that the poor German soldiers should never get the arrears of their pay; and he ordered a cessation of arms for two months, according to his orders received from St. John - now advanced to the dignity of baron St. John and viscount Bolingbroke.

When, however, the French saw that Ormonde could not induce the mercenary troops to move, they refused to surrender Dunkirk, and an English detachment which arrived there to take possession found the gates shut in their faces. At this insult the British troops burst out into a fury of indignation, and, says Cunningham, "cursed the duke of Ormonde as stupid fool and general of straw." The officers as well as the men were beside themselves with shame, and shed tears of mortification, remembering the glorious times under Marlborough. Ormonde himself, thus disgraced, thus helpless - for he had not the satisfaction, even, of being able to avenge himself on the French - thus deserted by the auxiliaries, and made a laughing-stock to all Europe by the crooked and base policy of his government, retired from before the walls of Dunkirk, and directed his course towards Douay. "This," continues Cunningham, "was the inauspicious day which caused so much sorrow and disgust to the allies, and branded the British name with infamy and disgrace."

But Ormonde had not yet got to the bottom of his humiliation as the general of such a government. When he 'approached Douay the Dutch shut him out there too, and repeated the contempt wherever they had a garrison, as at Tournay, Oudenarde, and Lisle. Here was a spectacle of that English army which reaped the laurels of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet, wandering outcast, and subject to every insult from both the French and the allies, doomed to endure their ignominious fate from the dishonourable and unpatriotic policy of a set of mean men, who would ruin their country if they could thereby ruin their political rivals. Any man of spirit would have at once thrown up such a command; but Ormonde tamely continued it, and had yet more exquisite mockeries and chagrins to endure. Villars, with a refined raillery, sent him word that, if none of his old friends would receive him and his army, he was welcome to a retreat in France; and, to add to his vexation, he saw Dunkirk surrendered to another British commander. Louis had sent to order its surrender, and Sir John Leake, who had arrived with the fleet before the place, took possession of it. Ormonde thus saw even this small honour snatched from him, and had to march back from Ghent, where at length he had found a shelter, to support brigadier Hill, whom Leake had landed in Dunkirk. Towards the end of October he returned to England, where the tories endeavoured to cover his and their own dishonour by receiving him as if he had been a conqueror greater, even, than Marlborough; but they could not, by their feigned enthusiasm, hide from the nation how much they had disgraced it.

Eugene, during these proceedings, had been actively pushing on the fortunes of the allies with his remnant of an army. He pushed on the siege of Quesnoy, and took it. He sent a flying detachment of one thousand five hundred cavalry, under major-general Grovestein, to make an incursion into France. This force made a rapid raid in Champagne, passed the Noire, the Meuse, the Moselle, and the Saar, ravaged the country, reduced a great number of villages and towns to ashes, rode up to the very gate of Metz, and then retired to Traerbach with a load of rich booty. This was a proof of what might have been done in France at this period with the whole united army, and a commander like Marlborough, in place of miserably giving up everything to that country in the moment of power. As it was, it created the utmost consternation in Paris, the people of which already saw the English at their gate; whilst Louis, trembling for his safety, did not think himself safe at Versailles, but gathered all the troops in the neighbourhood of the capital around his palace, leaving the city to take care of itself. What a glory to this country, what a satisfaction to the world would have been such an event - the old despot and troubler of Europe compelled in terror to yield all the just demands of the allies, and all necessary securities for the future peace of the world.

But the Harleys and St. John had deprived the nation of this triumph, and left the way open to fresh insults and humiliations. No sooner did Villars see the English forces withdrawn from the allies, than he seized the opportunity to snatch fresh advantages for France, and thus make all her demands on the allies certain. He crossed the Scheldt on the 24th of July, and, with an overwhelming force, attacked the earl of Albemarle, who commanded a division of the allied army at Derrain. Eugene, who, from the reduction of Quesnoy, had proceeded to lay siege to Landrey, instantly hastened to the support of Albemarle; but, to his grief, found himself, when in sight of him, cut off: from rendering him any assistance by the breaking down of the bridge over the Scheldt; and he had the pain to see Albemarle beaten under his very eyes. Seventeen battalions of Albemarle's force were killed or taken. He himself and all the surviving officers were made prisoners. Five hundred wagons loaded with bread, twelve pieces of brass cannon, a large quantity of ammunition and provisions, horses and baggage, fell into the hands of the French. Villars then marched out to Merchiennes, where the stores of the allies were deposited, and took it on the 31st of July, the garrison of five thousand being sent to Valenciennes prisoners. He next advanced to Douay, where Eugene would have given him battle, but was forbidden to do so by the States, and, consequently, Douay fell into Villars' hands. This was followed by the speedy fall of Quesnoy and Bouchain, which had cost Marlborough and Eugene so much to win them.

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