Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

as truly wrought." On the 15th of May, 1702, war was proclaimed by concert at Vienna, at London, and at the Hague.

Thus commenced that great struggle by which Europe, from the Vistula to the Atlantic Ocean, was agitated during twelve years. The two hostile coalitions were, in respect of territory, wealth, and population, not unequally matched. On the one side were France, Spain, and Bavaria; on the other, England, Holland, the Empire, and a crowd of inferior

powers.

That part of the war which Lord Mahon has undertaken to relate, though not the least important, is certainly the least attractive. In Italy, in Germany, and in the Netherlands, great means were at the disposal of great generals. Mighty battles were fought. Fortress after fortress was subdued. The iron chain of the Belgian strongholds was broken. By a regular and connected series of operations extending through several years, the French were driven back from the Danube and the Po into their own provinces. The war in Spain, on the contrary, is made of events which seem to have no dependence on each other. The turns of fortune resemble those which take place in a dream. Victory and defeat are not followed by their usual consequences. Armies spring out of nothing, and melt into nothing. Yet, to judicious readers of history, the Spanish conflict is perhaps more interesting than the campaigns of Marlborough and Eugene. The fate of the Milanese, and of the Low Countries, was decided by military skill. The fate of Spain was decided by the peculiarities of the national character.

When the war commenced, the young king was in a most deplorable situation. On his arrival at Madrid, he found Porto Carrero at the head of affairs, and he did not think it fit to displace the man to whom he owed his crown. The cardinal was a mere intriguer, and in no sense a statesman. He had acquired in the court and in the confessional, a rare degree of skill in all the tricks by which weak minds are managed. But of the noble science of government, of the sources of national prosperity, of the causes of national decay, he knew no more than his master. It is curious to observe the contrast between the dexterity with which he ruled the conscience of a foolish valetudinarian, and the imbecility which he showed when placed at the head of an empire. On what

grounds Lord Mahon represents the cardinal as a man "of splendid genius," "of vast abilities," we are unable to discover. Louis was of a very different opinion, and Louis was very seldom mistaken in his judgment of character. "Everybody,' says he, in a letter to his ambassador, "knows how incapable the cardinal is. He is an object of contempt to his countrymen."

[ocr errors]

A few miserable savings were made, which ruined individuals, without producing any perceptible benefit to the state. The police became more and more inefficient. The disorders of the capital were increased by the arrival of French adventurers the refuse of Parisian brothels and gaming-houses. These wretches considered the Spaniards as a subjugated race, whom the countrymen of the new sovereign might cheat and insult with impunity. The king sate eating and drinking all night, and lay in bed all day; yawned at the council table, and suffered the most important papers to lie unopened for weeks. At length he was roused by the only excitement of which his sluggish nature was susceptible. His grandfather consented to let him have a wife. The choice was fortunate. Maria Louisa, Princess of Savoy, a beautiful and graceful girl of thirteen, already a woman in person and mind, at an age when the females of colder climates are stil! children, was the person selected. The king resolved to give her the meeting in Catalonia. He left his capital, of which he was already thoroughly tired. At setting out, he was mobbed by a gang of beggars. He, however, made his way through them, and repaired to Barcelona.

Louis was perfectly aware that the queen would govern Philip. He, accordingly, looked about for somebody to govern the queen. He selected the Princess Orsini to be first lady of the bedchamber-no insignificant post in the household of a very young wife and a very uxorious husband. This lady was the daughter of a French peer, and the widow of a Spanish grandee. She was, therefore, admirably fitted by her position to be the instrument of the court of Versailles at the court of Madrid. The Duke of Orleans called her, in words too coarse for translation, the Lieutenant of Captain Maintenon; and the appellation was well deserved. She aspired to play in Spain the part which Madame de Maintenon had played in France. But, though at least equal to her model in wit, information, and talents for intrigue, she had not that self-command, that patience, that

imperturbable evenness of temper, which had raised the widow of a buffoon to be the consort of the proudest of kings. The princess was more than fifty years old; but was still vain of her fine eyes and her fine shape; she still dressed in the style of a girl; and she still carried her flirtations so far as to give occasion for scandal. She was, however, polite, eloquent, and not deficient in strength of mind. The bitter Saint Simon owns that no person whom she wished to attach, could long resist the graces of her manners and of her conversation.

We have not time to relate how she obtained, and how she preserved her empire over the young couple in whose household she was placed; how she became so powerful, that neither minister of Spain nor ambassador from France could stand against her; how Louis himself was compelled to court her; how she received orders from Versailles to retire; how the queen took part with the favourite attendant; how the king took part with the queen; and how, after much squabbling, lying, shuffling, bullying, and coaxing, the dispute was adjusted. We turn to the events of the war.

When hostilities were proclaimed at London, Vienna, and the Hague, Philip was at Naples. He had been with great difficulty prevailed upon, by the most urgent representations from Versailles, to separate himself from his wife, and to repair without her to his Italian dominions, which were then menaced by the emperor. The queen acted as regent, and, child as she was, seems to have been quite as competent to govern the kingdom as her husband, or any of his ministers. In August, 1702, an armament, under the command of the Duke of Ormond, appeared off Calais. The Spanish authorities had no guards and no regular troops. The national spirit, however, supplied in some degree what was wanting. The nobles and peasantry advanced money. The peasantry were formed into what the Spanish writers call bands of heroic patriots, and what General Stanhope calls a "rascally foot militia." If the invaders had acted with vigour and judgment, Cadiz would probably have fallen. But the chiefs of the expedition were divided by national and professional feelings-Dutch against English, and land against sea. Sparre, the Dutch general, was sulky and perverse; according to Lord Mahon, because he was a citizen of a republic. Bellasys, the English general, en bezzled the

stores; we suppose, because he was the subject of a mon archy. The Duke of Ormond, who had the command of the whole expedition, proved on this occasion, as on every other, destitute of the qualities which great emergencies require. No discipline was kept; the soldiers were suffered to rob and insult those whom it was most desirable to conciliate. Churches were robbed, images were pulled down, nuns were violated. The officers shared the spoil, instead of punishing the spoilers; and at last the armament, loaded, to use the words of Stanhope, "with a great deal of plunder and infamy," quitted the scene of Essex's glory, leaving the only Spaniard of note who had declared for them to be hanged by his countrymen.

The fleet was off the coast of Portugal, on the way back to England, when the Duke of Ormond received intelligence that the treasure-ships from America had just arrived in Europe, and had, in order to avoid his armament, repaired to the harbour of Vigo. The cargo consisted, it was said, of more than three millions sterling in gold and silver, besides much valuable merchandise. The prospect of plunder reconciled all disputes. Dutch and English, admirals and generals, were equally eager for action. The Spaniards might, with the greatest ease, have secured the treasure, by simply landing it; but it was a fundamental law of Spanish trade that the galleons should unload at Cadiz, and at Cadiz only. The Chamber of Commerce at Cadiz, in the true spirit of monopoly, refused, even at this conjuncture, to bate one jot of its privilege. The matter was referred to the Council of the Indies: that body deliberated and hesitated just a day too long. Some feeble preparations for defence were made. Two ruined towers at the mouth of the bay were garrisoned by a few ill-armed and untrained rustics; a boom was thrown across the entrance of the bay; and some French ships of war, which had convoyed the galleons from America, were moored in the basin within. But all was to no purpose. The Erglish ships broke the boom; Ormond and his soldiers scaled the forts; the French burned their ships, and escaped to the shore. The conquerors shared some millions of dollars; some millions more were sunk. When all the galleons had been captured or destroyed, there came an order in due form allowing them to unload.

When Philip returned to Madrid in the beginning of

1703, he found the finances more embarrassed, the people more discontented, and the hostile coalition more formida ble than ever. The loss of the galleons had occasioned a great deficiency in the revenue. The Admiral of Castile, one of the greatest subjects in Europe, had fled to Lisbon, and sworn allegiance to the archduke. The King of Portugal soon after acknowledged Charles as King of Spain, and prepared to support the title of the house of Austria by

arms.

On the other side, Louis sent to the assistance of his grandson an army of 12,000 men, commanded by the Duke of Berwick. Berwick was the son of James the Second and Arabella Churchill. He had been brought up to expect the highest honours which an English subject could enjoy; but the whole course of his life was changed by the revolution which overthrew his infatuated father. Berwick became an exile, a man without a country; and from that time forward his camp was to him in the place of a country, and professional honour was his patriotism. He ennobled his wretched calling. There was a stern, cold, Brutus-likę virtue, in the manner in which he discharged the duties of a soldier of fortune. His military fidelity was tried by the strongest temptations, and was found invincible. At one time he fought against his uncle; at another time he fought against the cause of his brother; yet he was never suspected of treachery, or even of slackness.

Early in 1704, an army, composed of English, Dutch, and Portuguese, was assembled on the western frontier of Spain. The Archduke Charles had arrived at Lisbon, and appeared in person at the head of his troops. The military skill of Berwick held the allies in check through the whole campaign. On the south, however, a great blow was struck. An English fleet, under Sir George Rooke, having on board several regiments, commanded by the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt, appeared before the rock of Gibraltar. celebrated stronghold, which nature has made all but impregnable, and against which all the resources of the mili tary art have been employed in vain, was taken as easily as if it had been an open village in a plain. The garrison went to say their prayers instead of standing on their guard. A few English sailors climbed the rock. The Spaniards capitulated; and the British flag was placed on those ramparts,

That

« AnteriorContinuar »