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William, with a motley army of Dutch, Danes, Hanoverians, English, and refugee French, occupied the two villages of Landen, and Neerwinden; the river Ghette was behind him, rendering defeat perilous, whilst he had not time to cross it now without endangering his rear-guard. He made the most of his time, however, in throwing up intrenchments before the villages and along the line which joined them. On the morning of the 29th of July, the French attacked both villages, and were repulsed: one of their generals was kiked another, the duke of Berwick, taken. In vain did their cavalry attempt to charge and get over the intrenchment in the centre; they were beaten off in the whole line. But William, wanting sufficient force, and perhaps wanting that master talent that never allows a routed enemy to rally, waited quietly in his intrenchments. The French renewed their efforts, the prince of Conti heading those against Neerwinden. Then, and not till then, William advanced his cavalry, consisting of his guards and some English regiments, from behind his intrenchments: they were momentarily successful; but it was too late. The French had rallied, concentrated their forces on Neerwinden, and carried it after an obstinate struggle. The victory thus dealared for Luxembourg ; king William abandoning the field, but showing himself, as usual, formidable in defeat.* One of the corps that disputed the victory longest was that of the refugee Huguenots. The French in their king's ranks respected the inveterate gallantry of these exiles, whose commander, Ruvigny, was once taken prisoner and instantly released with honorable generosity. Except the capture of Charleroi, that closed the campaign, little advantage accrued to Louis from the battle of Neerwinden: still it was a fortunate year for the French. Catinat defeated the duke of Savoy at Marsaille in a general engagement; Noailles still made progress in Spain, and took Roses; whilst on the ocean Tourville disputed the superiority with the English and Dutch, and severely handled a squadron and convoy under Sir George Rooke. It was seen how Louis XIV., from some unaccountable apathy or disgust, quitted his army with every prospect of victory before him. This feeling gained upon him : he was not a monarch to be contented with slight advantages; and
* We•have heard on good authority, that the greatest captain of this age considered king William the greatest captain of his. Without daring to controvert so high an opinion, uttered after all perhaps but in casual conversation, we may state the opinion of his contemporaries to have been, that William of Orange had all the materials of a great general, but, for want of masters and right experience, never became one.
f Father of lord Galway
1695. STATE OF FINANCIES. 111
even victory, justly enough, appeared to him idle when conquest did not follow: he therefore made indirect overtures for peace to Savoy and to Holland: they were unattended with effect. The campaign of 1694 opened; but the monarch was no longer to visit the army in person, and the activity of the war-office accordingly relaxed; so much so that the mareschal de Luxembourg was enabled, merely by skill and countermarches, to keep honorably on the defensive. It proved the last campaign of this celebrated commander, who was soon after carried off by apoplexy. The French were, the same year, repulsed from Barcelona by the co-operation with the town of an English fleet. The enormous exertions of Louis XIV. against such a combination of enemies, began now to bring their pernicious consequences. The commerce of the kingdom was destroyed; its ports were bombarded and burned; the country was exhausted of men, of money, and of money's worth; and famine, occasioned by an inclementseason, had added to the general state of discontent. Colbert was dead. The economy of the minister of an absolute government is productive of little durable effect, perhaps of as much evil as good. That of Sully had merely laid by a store, which the ambition of Henry IV. was. about to lavish in vast schemes of war, when death cut him off, and left the hoarded materials of extravagance to his queen. In the same manner the resources husbanded by Colbert served to swell the pride of Louis XIV., and to impel him upon that career of conquest and aggression which had at last surpassed all means of supporting it. The expenditure, which, when last stated, fell far short of the 80,000,000 of revenue, now doubled that sum. The most disastrous and decried expedients were had recourse to, in order to meet the exigencies of the time. Letters of noblesse were sold; a recoinage, that increased the nominal value of money at the rate of two sous for every livre, brought in 40,000,000. to the treasury; and at length a capitation tax was established in 1695, in a graduated scale of twenty-two classes. The ignoble orders seemed to pay with alacrity a tribute which the nobles shared with them. The king set the example by having himself placed first on the capitation list, an illusory but not unwecome compliment to the commons. The campaign of 1696, in Flanders, was at first “nic chess playing,” to use the characteristic expression of St Simon. King William chose his time, and laid siege to Namur; the mareschal de Boufflers threw himself into it. The comte de Vaudemont protected the besiegers against the mareschal de Villeroy the latter made every preparation for
attacking Vaudemont. Unfortunately, the duc de Maine, illegitimate and favorite son of the king, was in command of the left wing, the post of honor, and the column of attack: Willeroy sent him orders to commence, and was obliged to repeat them, whilst the prince sedulously busied himself in reconnoitring, in confessing to a priest, and in ordering the ranks of his division. Thus the precious time was lost; Vaudemont retreated from his awkward position, and Namur surrendered to king William. e When Louis learned the pusillanimous conduct of his hopeful son, which he did through other means than Villeroy's dispatches, nothing could equal his chagrin. He had been made to expect a victory. So great was his irritation, that he lost sight even of his dignity, which he forgot so far as to beat with his own hands a valet for pocketing a biscuit at dinner. Whilst flustered with this feat, the monarch met his confessor, Père la Chaise, and cried, “I have beaten the rascal well, my father, and broke my cane upon his back; but I hope not to have offended God in the act.” The disgrace of the illegitimate prince delighted the high nobles of the court as much as it vexed the king. • Conferences commenced in 1696 for peace. Louis took, however, the speediest way to procure it, by giving numerous forces to Catinat, that he might overwhelm the duke of Savoy, and with these full powers to treat. The duke, knowing that a general peace was near, and fearing for Turin, made a separate accommodation, which he obtained on the most advantageous terms. The French king gave up Pignerol and his conquests on the other side of the Alps, paid 4,000,000 livres, and concluded a marriage agreement betwixt the young duke of Burgundy, eldest son of the dauphin, and a princess of Savoy. At this price Louis not only detached from the confederates, but gained to himself, an important ally. This should have rendered peace still more desirable to the confederacy. The plenipotentiaries of the several powers assembled at Ryswick near the Hague, in the beginning of 1697. Louis made ample offers of concession; but Strasburg, which he refused to yield, occasioned difference and delay. The allies demanded a truce: Louis denied it; and soon after arrived tidings that the duc de Vendôme had tâken Barcelona. This conquest brought down the pretensions of Spain, and Strasburg was no longer insisted on. Despite of this, negotiations might have dragged on interminably, had not the two kings held confidential communications through a more frank and immediate channel than their plenipotentiaries. Bentinck and Boufflers had several meetings, at which William and
1697. PEACE OF RYSW1CK. 113
Louis came to an understanding to make peace, even without the emperor, if that were necessary. The treaty or treaties of Ryswick were, in consequence, signed in September, 1697. England gained merely the recognition of the monarch of her choice. The French frontier in Flanders was agreed to be that established by former treaties. Mons, Charleroi, Courtray, and Luxembourg, were to be restored to Spain. The cession of the latter fortress, and of Barcelona, was made as a kind of compensation for Strasburg, which France now finally kept. Lorraine was restored to its duke, who was forbidden to fortify his towns, a stipulation that rendered him totally dependent. But that part of the treaty, which concerned the emperor, was not concluded for upwards of a year
France, in the treaty of Ryswick, appears to be the purchaser of peace: she yields. But the war, though not so brilliant as preceding ones, had still attained its aim : Louis kept the new frontier that he had first chosen in Flanders, whilst the posses. sion of Strasburg fixed him on the Rhine. He had baffled the most powerful European league; and, whatever were the internal sufferings and weakness of the country, France still preserved, over surrounding nations, the ascendency that Richelieu had founded, and that Louis XIV. had proudly raised. .
CHAP. V. 1697–1715. FROM THE PEACE OF RYSWICK TO THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV.
THE period just terminated is the “palmy state” of the French monarchy: it had then reached the zenith of its splendor, of its internal authority and external power. Never was Oriental monarch surrounded with more wealth, or worshipped with more devotion. The nobility, forced into obedience to the crown, hoped that all those selfish goods which they had sought from independence, might be as effectually secured by servility. They formed at once a close alliance with the throne, and accepted the maxim, that all honor and power and liberty emanated thence, taking care at the same time so to throng around it, as themselves to intercept its every ray. The mass of the people, less interested, rallied with equal enthusiasm to their king. Recollecting the weakness, anarchy, and public misfortunes that had attended past struggles for that unattainable boon, freedom, they hailed the monarch's absolute power as the guarantee of security and peace. Attachment
to the king became a second religion, and every class discarded all the old spirit and prejudices that offended against the creed of royalty. The noble sacrificed his independence, the magis. trate also; both waiving those undefined political rights which they had in vain endeavored to establish. The people applauded this humbling of their superiors; and when the firs' effects appeared in the greatness and glory of the monarchy under Louis XIV., all hankerings after freedom were instantly discarded in admiration of a form of government so simple, so natural, so ascendant. This universal opinion, assumed with such confidence, entertained with such devotion, was not of long duration: Louis XIV. himself was destined to outlive it. Even with him, its founder, the system of unlimited monarchy was not formed to prosper: the old state maladies, which it had for a moment removed, returned tenfold. Even the gilding of national glory, so lately laid on, and so dearly purchased, began to tarnish; sentiments began to waver: those of the people gathering into that hate towards the monarch which afterwards poured scandalous execrations on his bier: those of the nobles, who found themselves by no means possessed of the advantages which were to recompense their submission; but above all, those of the thinking class, the men of intellect and letters, those pioneers of civilization, who go before to clear the road of its march. This, however, is but anticipation; the monarchy was yet culminant, or but in the very commencement of its decline. We are about to enter on the first causes that precipitated it into military reverses and financial distress. The Spanish branch of the house of Austria threatened to become extinct. Charles II., reigning monarch of Spain, was childless, and of a sickly constitution. Who was to be his successor in the monarchy, was a question of the first importance. His father Philip IV. had left two daughters, the elder married to Louis XIV., the younger to the emperor Leopold; but as the queen of Louis had solemnly renounced her rights to the Spanish succession, the claim of her sister the empress was predominant. She, however, had had but a daughter, married to the elector of Bavaria, whose son, the electoral prince, showed, the renunciation of France remaining valid, the best title to the Spanish crown. Charles, in fact, made a testament in this young prince's favor, in the year 1696. This certainly would have been the fairest and happiest mode of settling the succession; the crown of Spain passing to a new race, unentangled, in the ties of blood, with the quarrels or policies of other countries. It was mortifying