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The Wars of Louis XIV. page 3

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The peace was, however, nothing but a truce, prior to the great struggle known as the War of the Spanish Succession, a contest which at once displayed the grasping and formidable ambition of Louis, and put an end to French predominance in Europe (The origin of this war, and the operations in Spain, are best given in Lord Macaulay's Essays, War of the Succession in Spain. For a general view, and a good account of Blenheim, readers should see Creasy's Decisive Battles of the World). On the death of Charles II. of Spain in November, 1700, it was found that by will he had left the whole of his dominions to a grandson of Louis, Philip of Anjou. The French monarch, exulting in the success of his intrigues, which seemed to bring France and the great Spanish dominions virtually under one rule, declared to Philip, as he sent him to assume power in Spain, "There are no longer any Pyrenees." Louis well knew that a great war must ensue. The emperor, Leopold, claimed the Spanish throne for his son, afterwards the emperor Charles VI., and England and Holland were certain, in the interests of "the balance of power," to oppose by arms the French succession. In reckless defiance of treaties, Louis further provoked England in 1701 by recognising, on James II.'s death, his son James Stuart as king of England. The "Grand Alliance" instantly formed by the energetic efforts of William III. included England, Holland, and the emperor, with the other chief German princes, except the electors of Bavaria and Cologne. Savoy and Portugal afterwards joined the allies. The death of William in March, 1702, was a great blow to the cause, but his place was well supplied by the appointment of Marlborough to the command in Flanders, and, in political and diplomatic affairs, by Marlborough and Heinsius, who became the leading statesman of Holland. The imperial general, Prince Eugene of Savoy, was Marlborough's able and energetic assistant. British troops had some share in the warfare carried on in the interior of Spain, but Philip V. was, in the end, firmly seated on the throne, mainly owing to the skill of his commanders, the dukes of Vendome and Berwick. In 1702 an English and Dutch fleet, under Sir George Rooke, almost destroyed a French fleet of 30 vessels in Vigo harbour, and captured or destroyed a number of Spanish galleons. In the same year the brave Benbow, in the West Indies, sustained the honour of the navy in a six-days' engagement with a greatly superior French fleet, dying of his wounds -on reaching Jamaica. In 1704 the sailors and marines of the fleet under Sir George Rooke surprised and took the fortress of Gibraltar, an acquisition little thought of at the time; one which, as all the world knows, no efforts have ever been able to wrest from our grasp.

Before briefly dealing with the main events of this great struggle, we may advert to some reasons, apart from the duke of Marl-borough's surpassing genius in diplomacy and war, for the final failure of France. The honest but incapable Chamillart had become, through the influence of Mme. de Maintenon, minister of finance in 1699, and minister of war in 1701. In the one capacity he was anything but a Colbert, in the other he was not quite a Louvois. In order to raise money, the colonelcies of regiments and the crosses of St. Louis - a distinction established in 1693 - were sold. The operations in the field were, to a large extent, directed by Louis, Mme. de Maintenon, and Chamillart, from Versailles. Students of the war in the Peninsula a century later are.well aware of the mischief done by Napoleon's interference, from a distance, with his marshals in Spain. With the electric wires, a Moltke may, in full knowledge of all the enemy's movements and positions, direct his army-corps like pieces of chess, and with success. In the days of couriers, the change of circumstances during the lapse of time between the dispatch and the receipt of orders often made such meddling disastrous. The discipline which had been so strict under Louvois had been much relaxed in the French armies. The companies of regiments, and the number of officers to a company, fell below the proper strength. This state of affairs was owing to a corrupt understanding of commanders with the commissariat-officers, who drew stores for the full number, and divided the booty. The magazines were ill-supplied, and the weapons were of inferior make and temper. The contest had begun in 1701, on the emperor's side, with his dispatch of Prince Eugene into Italy. That great commander, fighting against Catinat, Villeroi, and Vendome, with general success, won a great victory in September, 1706, storming the French lines round Turin, taking the camp, and routing the army, with the loss of all guns, baggage, and stores, and the military chest. An army of 60,000 men was thus ruined, under Marsin and the due de la Feuillade, the latter being the son of the incapable Chamillart, whose interference had evil effects. The French hold on Italy was almost entirely lost, and the emperor (now Joseph I., son of Leopold) became predominant. The warfare in Flanders is well known from British history. The -great victory of Ramillies, in 1706, deprived France of all territory as far as Lille. In 1708 the victory of Oudenarde, won by Marlborough and Eugene, "twin thunderbolts of war," was followed by the capture of Lille. France was becoming exhausted. It was hard to obtain money to pay the troops, and the "farmers" of the revenue first robbed the suffering people and then insulted them by their luxurious display. Chamillart resigned his office as finance-minister, leaving affairs in the greatest disorder, and in 1709 he gave up the ministry-of-war. The misery of France was completed by the terribly hard winter of that year. The olive-trees in the south were killed by frost, and most of the fruit-trees perished. The next harvest was an assured failure, and the stores of provisions were low. The needful supply of corn was brought at great cost from the Levant and from Africa, exposed on the way to hostile cruisers. In this extremity, Louis and the nobles sold their plate for the public service, and certain advances for peace were made to the Dutch, whose commissioners demanded that the French king should compel his grandson to resign the Spanish crown. When the matter was referred to Heinsius, Marlborough, and Eugene, who all wished the war to continue, the humiliating terms proposed - the surrender of Alsace, and the forcible expulsion of Philip V., by French troops, from Spain - forced Louis, for the first time in his life, to appeal to his subjects in a royal address whereby he strove to arouse their indignation and to stir their pity for his position. He then declared to his council that, if he must make war, he would rather fight his enemies than his own kinsman, and he prepared to renew the struggle. In 1709 the sanguinary battle of Malplaquet ended in the defeat of the French under Villars, followed by the loss of Mons. The danger on the northern frontier was so great that Louis again begged for peace, making large offers - the surrender of Alsace, the recognition of the German claimant to the Spanish throne, and the surrender of many fortresses, including Lille, to Holland. These terms were rejected with disdain by the allies, who insisted that the French monarch should himself drive his grandson out of Spain. The way to Paris was open to the allies from the north, when party-spirit in England deprived Marlborough of the command in December, 1711, and saved Louis from having terms of peace dictated in his capital. At the same time, by the death of the emperor Joseph I., the Archduke Charles, German claimant of the Spanish throne, became emperor in succession to his brother, as Charles VI.

In Germany, the French won many successes over the imperialists, but on August. 13th, 1704, at Blenheim, the general issue was really decided in Marlborough's and Eugene's grand victory over Marshals Tallard and Marsin. Louis, from that day, was really fighting, not for conquest, but for favourable terms of peace. His German allies, the electors of Bavaria and Cologne, were driven from their territories, and some subsequent success of Marshal Villars was of little avail. In the north of France, at the close of the war, the same commander, facing Eugene alone in 1712, was enabled to procure for Louis better terms than he could have hoped. The Savoy prince, heading a great composite army of Dutch, Brandenburgers, Saxons, Hessians, Danes, and Palatinate troops, had, with his advanced detachments, ravaged part of Champagne, and reached the very gates of Reims; and Louis declared that, if another disaster in the field occurred, he would call around him all the French nobles, lead them against the foe, and die at their head. He was saved from this theatrical display of devotion by Villars. That able general suddenly attacked Denain, in July, 1712, and forced the entrenchments of Albemarle, an English general under Prince Eugene, capturing him and all his officers. The prince, coming up too late to retrieve matters, retired, and the French marshal then swept on and captured Marchiennes, with vast stores gathered for the allies. Douai and other towns were soon retaken by the French, and Prince Eugene was forced to withdraw. We may here note the heavy domestic misfortunes which had befallen the French monarch, in the successive deaths of the dauphin, his only legitimate son; of the dauphin's eldest son, the very promising duke of Burgundy, a man who might, if he had been spared to France, have averted by good government the great Revolution; of the duchess of Burgundy, his wife, and of their eldest son. This last event left the throne open to their second son, afterwards Louis XV. The " Grand Alliance " had been now dissolved, and the war ended in various treaties of peace which are comprehended under the title of the Peace of Utrecht, concluded in April, 1713, and in 1714. In regard to Holland, that republic, by the "Barrier-Treaty," received security in the right of occupying a number of fortresses along the French frontier, from Furnes to Namur. Lille was restored to France, and the fortifications of Dunkirk were demolished. Savoy received some more territory in upper Italy, and the island of Sicily as a kingdom. The elector of Brandenburg had a new title as "King of Prussia," and received some addition of territory on the west. Philip V. remained king of Spain and her colonies. The emperor received the Netherlands (which thus became the "Austrian" instead of the "Spanish" Netherlands), Naples, Sardinia, and the Milanese territory. The electors of Bavaria and Cologne, who had been placed under the ban of the empire, were fully restored. Lastly, Great Britain had the Protestant (Hanoverian or Brunswick) succession recognised by France and other powers. The crowns of Spain and France were to be separately held, a decision which settled the chief original matter in dispute. North American territory - Newfoundland, Nova Scotia (Acadie), and Hudson Bay Company's lands - were finally ceded by France to the British empire, and Spain gave up Gibraltar and Minorca, and made the arrangement called the Asiento, or contract for supplying the Spanish colonies with African slaves, whereby British commerce on the Spanish main in America was benefited. The Treaty of Utrecht marks a great epoch in the history of the British as regards the contest for supremacy among the nations of the world. The work begun by their success against the Armada was thus completed. Holland had been the rival of England in the earlier part of the 17th century; in the latter half of that age France had been decidedly the foremost nation of the world. That position was now assumed by Great Britain, and from the date of this famous treaty she has always been, in all respects, in the very front, and foremost of all nations in trade, wealth, maritime resources, and naval power. The Asiento contract with Spain broke down the Spanish monopoly of trade in central and southern America, and the loss of Nova Scotia was, for France, a first step towards the cession of all her dominions in North America.

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