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Title: Malplaquet
Author: Belloc, Hilaire, 1870-1953
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Malplaquet" ***

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[Illustration: _Malplaquet._








   II. THE SIEGE OF TOURNAI                            27

  III. THE MANOEUVRING FOR POSITION                    45


    V. THE ACTION                                      65



  Sketch Map showing how the Lines of La Bassée
    blocked the advance of the Allies on Paris,
    and Marlborough's plan for turning them by
    the successive capture of Tournai and Mons         19

  Sketch Map showing how the Allies, holding
    Lille, thrust the French back on to the
    defensive line St Venant-Valenciennes, and
    thus cut off the French garrisons of Ypres,
    Tournai, and Mons                                  28

  Sketch Map showing complete investment of
    Tournai                                            34

  Sketch Map showing the lines of woods behind
    Mons, with the two gaps of Boussu and Aulnois      48

  The Elements of the Action of Malplaquet,
    September 11th, 1709                               66

  Sketch Map showing the peril the French centre
    ran towards noon of being turned on its left       79

  Sketch Map showing Marlborough bringing up
    troops to the centre for the final and
    successful attack upon the entrenchments           84




That political significance which we must seek in all military history,
and without which that history cannot be accurate even upon its technical
side, may be stated for the battle of Malplaquet in the following terms.

Louis XIV. succeeding to a cautious and constructive period in the
national life of France, this in its turn succeeding to the long impotence
of the religious wars, found at his orders when his long minority was
ended a society not only eager and united, but beginning also to give
forth the fruit due to three active generations of discussion and combat.

Every department of the national life manifested an extreme vitality, and,
while the orderly and therefore convincing scheme of French culture
imposed itself upon Western Europe, there followed in its wake the triumph
of French arms; the king in that triumph nearly perfected a realm which
would have had for its limits those of ancient Gaul.

It would be too long a matter to describe, even in general terms, the
major issues depending upon Louis XIV.'s national ambitions and their
success or failure.

In one aspect he stands for the maintenance of Catholic civilisation
against the Separatist and dissolving forces of the Protestant North; in
another he is the permanent antagonist of the Holy Roman Empire, or rather
of the House of Austria, which had attained to a permanent hegemony
therein. An extravagant judgment conceives his great successes as a menace
to the corporate independence of Europe, or--upon the other view--as the
opportunity for the founding of a real European unity.

But all these general considerations may, for the purposes of military
history, be regarded in the single light of the final and decisive action
which Louis XIV. took when he determined in the year 1701 to support the
claims of his young grandson to the throne of Spain. This it was which
excited against him a universal coalition, and acts following upon that
main decision drew into the coalition the deciding factor of Great

The supremacy of French arms had endured in Europe for forty years when
the Spanish policy was decided on. Louis was growing old. That financial
exhaustion which almost invariably follows a generation of high national
activity, and which is almost invariably masked by pompous outward state,
was a reality already present though as yet undiscovered in the condition
of France.

It was at the close of that year 1701 that the French king had determined
upon a union of the two crowns of France and Spain in his own family. His
forces occupied the Spanish Netherlands, which we now call the Kingdom of
Belgium; others of his armies were spread along the Rhine, or were acting
in Northern Italy--for the coalition at once began to make itself felt.
Two men of genius combined in an exact agreement, the qualities of each
complementing the defects of the other, to lead the main armies that were
operating against the French. These men were Prince Eugene of Savoy
(French by birth and training, a voluntary exile, and inspired throughout
his life by a determination to avenge himself upon Louis XIV.), and the
Englishman John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.

The combination of such a pair was irresistible. Its fruit appeared almost
at the inception of the new situation in the great victory of Blenheim.

This action, fought in August 1704, was the first great defeat French arms
had registered in that generation. Henceforward the forces commanded from
Versailles were compelled to stand upon the defensive.

To Blenheim succeeded one blow after another. In 1706 the great battle of
Ramillies, in 1708 the crushing action of Oudenarde, confirmed the
supremacy of the allies and the abasement of France. By the opening of
1709 the final defeat of Louis and his readiness to sue for peace were
taken for granted.

The financial exhaustion which I have said was already present, though
hardly suspected, in 1701, was grown by 1709 acute. The ordinary methods
of recruitment for the French army--which nominally, of course, was upon a
voluntary basis--had long reached and passed their limit. The failure of
the harvest in 1708, followed by a winter of terrible severity, had
completed the catastrophe, and with the ensuing spring of 1709 Louis had
no alternative but to approach the allies with terms of surrender.

It seemed as though at last the way to Paris lay open. The forces of the
allies in the Netherlands were not only numerically greatly superior to
any which the exhausted French could now set against them, but in their
equipment, in their supplies, the nourishment of the men, and every
material detail, they were upon a footing wholly superior to the
corresponding units of the enemy, man for man. They had further the
incalculable advantage of prestige. Victory seemed normal to them, defeat
to their opponents; and so overwhelming were the chances of the coalition
against Louis that its leaders determined with judgment to demand from
that monarch the very fullest and most humiliating terms.

Though various sections of the allies differed severally as to their
objects and requirements, their general purpose of completely destroying
the power of France for offence, of recapturing all her conquests, and in
particular of driving the Bourbons from the throne of Spain, was held in
common, and vigorously pursued.

Marlborough was as active as any in pushing the demands to the furthest
possible point; Eugene, the ruling politicians of the English, the Dutch,
and the German princes were agreed.

Louis naturally made every effort to lessen the blow, though he regarded
his acceptance of grave and permanent humiliation as inevitable. The
negotiations were undertaken at the Hague, and were protracted. They
occupied the late spring of 1709 and stretched into the beginning of
summer. The French king was prepared (as his instructions to his
negotiators show) to give up every point, though he strove to bargain for
what remained after each concession. He would lose the frontier
fortresses, which were the barrier of his kingdom in the north-east. He
would even consent to the abandonment of Spain to Austria.

Had that peace been declared for which the captains of Europe were
confidently preparing, the future history of our civilisation would have
proved materially different from what it has become. It is to be presumed
that a complete breakdown of the strength of France would have followed;
that the monarchy at Versailles would have sunk immediately into such
disrepute that the eighteenth century would have seen France divided and
possibly a prey to civil war, and one may even conclude that the great
events of a century later, the Revolution and the campaigns of Napoleon,
could not have sprung from so enfeebled a society.

It so happened, however, that one of those slight miscalculations which
are productive in history of its chief consequences, prevented the
complete humiliation of Louis XIV. The demands of the allies were pushed
in one last respect just beyond the line which it was worth the while of
the defeated party to accept, for it was required of the old king not only
that he should yield in every point, not only that he should abandon the
claims of his own grandson to the throne of Spain (which throne Louis
himself had now, after eight years of wise administration, singularly
strengthened), but himself take arms against that grandson and co-operate
in his proper shame by helping to oust him from it. It was stipulated that
Louis should so act (if his grandson should show resistance and still
clung to his throne) in company with those who had been for so many years
his bitter and successful foes.

This last small item in the programme of the victors changed all. It
destroyed in the mind of Louis and of his subjects the advantages of the
disgraceful peace which they had thought themselves compelled to accept;
and, as Louis himself well put it, if he were still compelled to carry on
the war, it was better to fail in pursuing it against his enemies than
against his own household.

The king issued to the authorities of his kingdom and to his people a
circular letter, which remains a model of statesmanlike appeal. Grave,
brief, and resolute, it exactly expressed the common mood of the moment.
It met with an enthusiastic response. The depleted countrysides just
managed to furnish the armies with a bare pittance of oats and rye (for
wheat was unobtainable). Recruits appeared in unexpected numbers; and
though none could believe that the issue could be other than disastrous,
the campaign of 1709 was undertaken by a united nation.

Of French offensive action against the overwhelming forces of their
enemies there could be no question. Villars, who commanded the armies of
Louis XIV. upon the north-eastern frontier, opposing Marlborough and
Eugene, drew up a line of defence consisting of entrenchments, flooded
land, and the use of existing watercourses, a line running from the
neighbourhood of Douai away eastward to the Belgian frontier. Behind this
line, with his headquarters at La Bassée,[1] he waited the fatal assault.

It was at the close of June that the enemy's great forces moved. Their
first action was not an attempt to penetrate the line but to take the
fortresses upon its right, which taken, the defence might be turned. They
therefore laid siege to Tournai, the first of the two fortresses guarding
the right of the French line. (Mons was the second.)

Here the first material point in the campaign showed the power of
resistance that tradition and discipline yet maintained in the French
army. The long resistance of Tournai and its small garrison largely
determined what was to follow. Its siege had been undertaken in the hope
of its rapid termination, which the exiguity of its garrison and the
impossibility of its succour rendered probable. But though Marlborough had
established his headquarters before the place by the evening of the 27th
of June, and Eugene upon the next day, the 28th, though trenches were
opened in the first week of July and the first of the heavy fighting
began upon the 8th of that month, though the town itself was occupied
after a fortnight's struggle, yet it was not until the 3rd of September
that the citadel surrendered.

This protracted resistance largely determined what was to follow. While it
lasted no action could be undertaken against Villars. Meanwhile the French
forces were growing stronger, and, most important of all, the first
results of the harvest began to be felt.

Tournai once taken, it was the business of the allies to pierce the French
line of defence as soon as possible, and with that object to bring Villars
to battle and to defeat him.

The plan chosen for this object was as follows:--

The allied army to march to the extreme right of the positions which the
French could hope to defend. There the allies would contain the little
garrison of Mons. Thither the mass of the French forces must march in
order to bar the enemy's advance upon Paris, and upon some point near Mons
the whole weight of the allies could fall upon them, destroy them, and
leave the way to the capital open.

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing how the Lines of La Bassée blocked the
advance of the Allies on Paris, and Marlborough's plan for turning them by
the successive capture of Tournai and Mons.]

The plan was strategically wise. The lines of La Bassée proper could not
be pierced, but this right extremity of the French positions was backed by
easy country; the swamps, canals, and entrenchments of the main line to
the north and west were absent. With the defeat of the inferior French
forces at this point all obstacle to an advance into the heart of France
would be removed.

The plan was as rapidly executed as it was skilfully devised. Actually
before the capitulation of the citadel of Tournai, but when it was
perceived that that capitulation could only be a matter of hours, Lord
Orkney had begun to advance upon the neighbourhood of Mons. Upon the day
of the capitulation of Tournai, the Prince of Hesse-Cassel had started for
Mons, Cadogan following him with the cavalry. Less than twenty-four hours
after Tournai had yielded, the whole allied army was on the march
throughout the night. Never was a military operation performed with
organisation more exact, or with obedience more prompt. Three days later
Mons was contained, and by Monday the 9th of September Villars awaited,
some few miles to the west of that fortress, the assault of the allies.

There followed two days of delay, which will be discussed in detail
later. For the purposes of this introductory survey of the political
meaning of the battle, it is enough to fix the date, Wednesday, 11th
September 1709. A little before eight o'clock on the morning of that day
the first cannon-shot of the battle of Malplaquet was fired. To the
numerical superiority of the allies the French could oppose entrenchment
and that character in the locality of the fight, or "terrain," which will
be fully described on a later page. To the superior _moral_, equipment,
and subsistence of the allies, however, it was doubtful whether any factor
could be discovered on the French side.

An unexpected enthusiasm lent something to the French resistance; the
delay of two days lent something more to their defensive power. As will be
seen in the sequel, certain errors (notably upon the left of Marlborough's
line) also contributed to the result, and the whole day was passed in a
series of attacks and counter-attacks which left the French forces intact,
and permitted them in the early afternoon to rely upon the exhaustion of
the enemy and to leave, in order and without loss, the field to the enemy.

Marlborough's victory at Malplaquet was both honourable and great. The
French were compelled to withdraw; the allies occupied upon the evening
of the battle the ground upon which the struggle had taken place. It is
with justice that Malplaquet is counted as the fourth of those great
successful actions which distinguish the name of Marlborough, and it is
reckoned with justice the conclusion of the series whose three other terms
are Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde. So much might suffice did war
consist in scoring points as one does in a game. But when we consider war
as alone it should be considered for the serious purposes of history--that
is, in its political aspect; and when we ask what Malplaquet was in the
political sequence of European events, the withdrawal of the French from
the field in the early afternoon of September 11, 1709, has no
significance comparable to the fact that the allies could not pursue.

Strategically the victory meant that an army which it was intended to
destroy had maintained itself intact; morally, the battle left the
defeated more elated than the victors; and for this reason, that the
result was so much more in their favour than the expectation had been. In
what is most important of all, the general fortunes of the campaign, the
victory of the allies at Malplaquet was as sure a signal that the advance
on Paris could not be made, and as sure a prevention of that advance as
though Marlborough and Eugene had registered, not a success, but a defeat.

Situations of this sort, which render victories barren or actually
negative, paradoxical to the general reader, simple enough in their
military aspect, abound in the history of war. It is perhaps more
important to explain them if one is to make military history intelligible
than to describe the preliminaries and movements of the great decisive

The "block" of Malplaquet (to use the metaphor which is common in French
history), the unexpected power of resistance which this last of the French
armies displayed, and the moral effect of that resistance upon the allies,
have an historical meaning almost as high as that of Blenheim upon the
other side. It has been well said that one may win every battle and yet
lose a campaign; there is a sense in which it may be said that one may win
a campaign and suffer political loss as the result.

Malplaquet was the turning-point after which it was evident that the
decline of the French position in Europe would go no further. As Blenheim
had marked the turn of the tide against Louis, so Malplaquet marked the
slack water when the tide was ready to turn in his favour. After Blenheim
it was certain that the ambition of Louis XIV. was checked, and probable
that it would wholly fail. After Malplaquet it was equally certain that
the total destruction of Louis' power was impossible, that the project of
a march on Paris might be abandoned, and that the last phases of the great
war would diminish the chances of the allies.

The Dutch (whose troops in particular had been annihilated upon the left
of the field) did indeed maintain their uncompromising attitude, but no
longer with the old certitude of success; Austria also and her allies did
continue the war, but a war doomed to puerility, to a sort of stale-mate
bound to end in compromise. But it was in England that the effect of the
battle was most remarkable.

In England, where opinion had but tardily accepted the necessity for war
nine years before, and where the fruits of that war were now regarded as
quite sufficient for the satisfaction of English demands, this negative
action, followed by no greater fruit than the capitulation of the little
garrison at Mons, began the agitation for peace. Look closely at that
agitation through its details, and personal motives will confuse you; the
motives of the queen, of Harley, of Marlborough's enemies. Look at it in
the general light of the national history and you will perceive that the
winter following Malplaquet, a winter of disillusionment and discontent,
bred in England an opinion that made peace certain at last. The accusation
against Marlborough that he fought the battle with an eye to his failing
political position is probably unjust. The accusation that he fought it
from a lust of bloodshed is certainly a stupid calumny. But the
unpopularity of so great a man succeeding upon so considerable a technical
success sufficiently proves at what a price the barrenness of that success
was estimated in England. It was the English Government that first opened
secret negotiations with Louis for peace in the following year; and when
the great instrument which closed the war was signed at Utrecht in 1713,
it was after the English troops had been withdrawn from their allies,
after Eugene, acting single-handed, had suffered serious check, and in
general the Peace of Utrecht was concluded under conditions far more
favourable to Louis than would have been any peace signed at the Hague in
1709. The Spanish Netherlands were ceded to Austria, but France kept
intact what is still her Belgian frontier. She preserved what she has
since lost on the frontier of the Rhine, and (most remarkable of all!) the
grandson of Louis was permitted to remain upon the Spanish throne.

Such is the general political setting of this fierce action, one of the
most determined known in the history of European arms, and therefore one
of the most legitimately glorious; one in which men were most ready at the
call of duty and under the influences of discipline to sacrifice their
lives in the defence of a common cause; and one which, as all such
sacrifices must, illumines the history of the several national traditions
concerned, of the English as of the Dutch, of the German principalities as
of the French.

No action better proves the historical worth of valour.



When the negotiations for peace had failed, that is, with the opening of
June 1709, the King of France and his forces had particularly to dread an
invasion of the country and the march on Paris.

The accompanying sketch map will show under what preoccupations the French
commander upon the north-eastern frontier lay.

Lille was in the hands of the enemy. There was still a small French
garrison in Ypres, another in Tournai, and a third in Mons. These of
themselves (considering that Lille, the great town, was now occupied by
the allies, and considering also the width of the gap between Ypres and
Tournai) could not prevent the invasion and the advance on the capital.

It was necessary to oppose some more formidable barrier to the line of
advance which topography marked out for the allies into the heart of

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing how the Allies holding Lille thrust the
French back on to the defensive line St Venant-Valenciennes, and thus cut
off the French garrisons of Ypres, Tournai, and Mons.]

Some fear was indeed expressed lest a descent should be made on the coasts
and an advance attempted along the valley of the Somme. The fear was
groundless. To organise the transportation of troops thus by sea, to
disembark them, to bring and continue the enormous supply of provisions
and ammunition they would require, was far less practical than to use the
great forces already drawn up under Marlborough and Eugene in the Low
Countries. Of what size these forces were we shall see in a moment.

The barrier, then, which Villars at the head of the French forces
proceeded to erect, and which is known in history as "The Lines of La
Bassée," are the first point upon which we must fix our attention in order
to understand the campaign of Malplaquet, and why that battle took place
where it did.

It was upon the 3rd of June that Louis XIV. had written to Villars telling
him that a renewal of the war would now be undertaken. On the 14th,
Villars began to throw up earth for the formation of an entrenched camp
between the marshy ground of Hulluch and that of Cuinchy. Here he proposed
to concentrate the mass of his forces, with La Bassée just before him,
the town of Lens behind. He used the waterways and the swamped ground in
front and to the right for the formation of his defensive lines. These
followed the upper valley of the Deule, the line of its canal, and finally
reposed their right upon the river Scarpe. Though the regularly fortified
line went no further than the camp near La Bassée, he also threw up a
couple of entrenchments in front of Bethune and St Venant in order to
cover any march he might have to make towards his left should the enemy
attempt to turn him in that direction.

It must further be noted that from the Scarpe eastward went the old "lines
of La Trouille" thrown up in a former campaign, and now largely useless,
but still covering, after a fashion, the neighbourhood of Mons.

Toward the end of the month of June Villars awaited the advance of the
allies. His forces were inferior by 40,000 to those of his enemy. He had
but eight men to their twelve. The season of the year, immediately
preceding the harvest, made the victualling of his troops exceedingly
difficult, nor was it until the day before the final assault was expected
that the moneys necessary to their pay, and to the other purposes of the
army, reached him; but he had done what he could, and, acting upon a
national tradition which is as old as Rome, he had very wisely depended
upon fortification.

The same conditions of the season which produced something like famine in
the French camp, though they did not press equally severely upon that of
the allies, rendered difficult the provisioning of their vast army also.

It was the first intention of Marlborough and Eugene to attack the lines
at once, to force them, and to destroy the command of Villars. But these
lines had been carefully reconnoitred, notably by Cadogan, who, with a
party of English officers, and under a disguise, had made himself
acquainted with their strength. It was determined, therefore, at the last
moment, partly also from the fears of the Dutch, to whom the possession of
every fortress upon the frontier was of paramount importance, to make but
a "feint" upon Villars' lines and to direct the army upon Tournai as its
true object. The feint took the form of Eugene's marching towards the left
or western extremity of the line, Marlborough towards the eastern or right
extremity near Douai, and this general movement was effected on the night
of the 26th and 27th of June. In the midst of its execution, the feint
(which for the moment deceived Villars) was arrested.

The 27th was passed without a movement, Villars refusing to leave his
entrenchments, and the commanders of the allies giving no hint of their
next intention. But during that same day Tilly with the Dutch had appeared
before Tournai. On the evening of the day Marlborough himself was before
the town. On the 28th Prince Eugene joined both the Dutch and Marlborough
before the town, taking up his headquarters at Froyennes, Marlborough
being at Willemeau, and the Dutch, under Tilly, already established on the
east of Tournai from Antoing to Constantin, just opposite Eugene, where
they threw a bridge across the Scheldt. By the evening of the 28th,
therefore, Tournai was invested on every side, and the great allied armies
of between 110,000 and 120,000 men had abandoned all hope of carrying
Villars' lines, and had sat down to the capture of the frontier

A comprehension of this siege of Tournai, which so largely determined the
fortunes of the campaign of Malplaquet, will be aided by the accompanying
sketch map. Here it is apparent that Marlborough with his headquarters at
Willemeau, Eugene with his at Froyennes, the Dutch under Tilly in a
semicircle from Antoing to Constantin, completed the investment of the
fortress, and that the existing bridge at Antoing which the Dutch
commanded, the bridge at Constantin which they had constructed, giving
access over the river to the north and to the south, made the circle

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing complete investment of Tournai.]

The fortifications of Tournai were excellent. Vauban had superintended
that piece of engineering in person, and the scheme of the fortifications
was remarkable from the strength of the citadel which lay apart from the
town (though within its ring of earthworks) to the south. The traveller
can still recognise in its abandonment this enormous achievement of Louis
XIV.'s sappers, and the opposition it was about to offer to the great
hosts of Marlborough and Eugene does almost as much honour to the genius
of the French engineer as to the tenacity of the little garrison then
defending it.

Two factors in the situation must first be appreciated by the reader.

The first is that the inferiority of Villars' force made it impossible for
him to do more than demonstrate against the army of observation. He was
compelled to leave Tournai to its fate, and, indeed, the king in his first
instructions, Villars in his reply, had taken it for granted that either
that town or Ypres would be besieged and must fall. But the value of a
fortress depends not upon its inviolability (for that can never be
reckoned with), but upon the length of time during which it can hold out,
and in this respect Tournai was to give full measure.

Secondly, it must be set down for the allies that their unexpectedly long
task was hampered by exceptional weather. Rain fell continually, and
though their command of the Scheldt lessened in some degree the problem of
transport, rain in those days upon such roads as the allies drew their
supplies by was a heavy handicap. The garrison of Tournai numbered
thirteen and a half battalions, five detached companies, the complement of
gunners necessary for the artillery, and a couple of Irish brigades--in
all, counting the depleted condition of the French units at the moment,
some six to seven thousand men. Perhaps, counting every combatant and
non-combatant attached to the garrison, a full seven thousand men.

The command of this force was under Surville, in rank a
lieutenant-general. Ravignon and Dolet were his subordinates. There was no
lack of wheat for so small a force. Rationed, it was sufficient for four
months. Meat made default, and, what was important with a large civil
population encumbering the little garrison, money. Surville, the bishop,
and others melted down their plate; even that of the altars in the town
was sacrificed.

The first trench was opened on the night of the 7th of July, and three
first attacks were delivered: one by the gate called Marvis, which looks
eastward, another by the gate of Valenciennes, the third at the gate known
as that of the Seven Springs. A sortie of the second of these was fairly
successful, and upon this model the operations continued for five days.

By the end of that time a hundred heavy pieces had come up the Scheldt
from Ghent, and sixty mortars as well. Four great batteries were formed.
That to the south opened fire upon the 13th of July, and on the 14th the
three others joined it.

The discipline maintained in the great camps of the besiegers was severe,
and the besieged experienced the unusual recruitment of five hundred to
six hundred deserters who penetrated within their lines. A considerable
body of deserters also betook themselves to Villars' lines, and the
operations in these first days were sufficiently violent to account for
some four thousand killed and wounded upon the side of the allies.
Villars, meanwhile, could do no more than demonstrate without effect.
Apart from the inferiority of his force, it was still impossible for him,
until the harvest was gathered, to establish a sufficient accumulation of
wheat to permit a forward movement. He never had four days' provision of
bread at any one time, nor, considering the length of his line, could he
concentrate it upon any one place. He was fed by driblets from day to day,
and lived from hand to mouth while the siege of Tournai proceeded to the
east of him.

That siege was entering, with the close of the month, upon the end of its
first phase.

It had been a desperate combat of mine and counter-mine even where the
general circumvallation of the town was concerned, though the worst, of
course, was to come when the citadel should be attacked. The batteries
against the place had been increased until they counted one hundred and
twelve heavy pieces and seventy mortars. On the night of the 24th of July
the covered way on the right of the Scheldt was taken at heavy loss;
forty-eight hours later the covered way on the left between the river and
the citadel. The horn work in front of the Gate of the Seven Springs was
carried on the 27th, and the isolated work between this point and the Gate
of Lille upon the following day. Surville in his report, in the true
French spirit of self-criticism, ascribed to the culpable failure of
their defenders the loss of these outworks. But the loss, whatever its
cause, determined the loss of the town. A few hours later practicable
breaches had been made in the walls, ways were filled in over the ditches,
and on the imminence of a general assault Surville upon the 28th demanded
terms. The capitulation was signed on the 29th, and with it the commander
sent a letter to Versailles detailing his motives for demanding terms for
the civilian population. Finally, upon the 30th,[3] Surville with 4000
men, all that was left of his original force of 7000, retired into the
citadel and there disposed himself for as a long a resistance as might be.
As his good fortune decided, he was to be able to hold with this small
force for five full weeks.

To Marlborough is due the honour of the capitulation. The besieging troops
were under his command, while Eugene directed the army of observation to
the west. Marlborough put some eight thousand men into the town under
Albemarle. A verbal understanding was given on both sides that the
citadel would not fire upon the civilian part, nor the allies make an
attack from it upon the citadel, and the siege of that stronghold began
upon the following day, the 21st, towards evening. The operations against
the citadel proved far more severe and a far greater trial to
Marlborough's troops than those against the general circumvallation of the
town. The subterranean struggle of mine and counter-mine particularly
affected the moral of the allies, and after a week a proposal appeared[4]
that the active fighting should cease, the siege be converted into a
blockade, and only the small number of men sufficient for such a blockade
be left before the citadel until the 5th of September, up to which date, a
month ahead, at the utmost, it was believed the garrison could hold out.
Louis was willing to accept the terms upon the condition that this month
should be one of general truce. The allies refused this condition, and
hostilities were resumed.[5]

The force employed for containing the citadel and for prosecuting its
siege had no necessity to be very large.

It was warfare of a terrible kind. Men met underground in the mines, were
burned alive when these were sprung, were exhausted, sometimes to death,
in the subterranean and perilous labour. The mass of the army was free to
menace Villars and his main body.

But the admirable engineering which had instructed and completed the lines
of La Bassée still checked the allies, in spite of superior numbers and
provisionment still superior.

The effect of the harvest was indeed just beginning to be felt, and the
French general was beginning to have a little more elbow-room, so to
speak, for the disposition of his men through the gradual replenishment of
his stores. But even so, Marlborough and Eugene had very greatly the
advantage of him in this respect.

When the siege of the citadel of Tournai had been proceeding a little more
than a week, upon the 8th of August the main body of the allies fell
suddenly upon Marchiennes. Here the river Scarpe defended the main French
positions. The town itself lay upon the further bank like a bastion. The
attack was made under Tilly, and, consonantly to the strength of all
Villars' defensive positions, that attack failed. On the night of the 9th
Tilly retired from before Marchiennes, after having suffered the loss of
but a few of his men.

This action, though but a detail in the campaign, is well worth noting,
because it exhibits in a sort of section, as it were, the causes of

Malplaquet, as we shall see in a moment, was fought simply because it had
been impossible to pierce Villars' line, and Malplaquet, though a victory,
was a sterile victory, more useful to the defeated than to the victors,
because the defence had been kept up for such a length of time and was
able to choose its own terrain.

Now all this character in the campaign preceding the battle is exemplified
in the attempt upon Marchiennes upon August 8th and 9th and its failure.
Had it succeeded, had the line been pierced, there would have been no
"block" at Malplaquet but an immediate invasion of France, just as there
would have been had the line been pierced in the first attempt of five
weeks before.

In the next week and the next, Villars continually extended that line. He
brought it up solidly as far as St Venant on his left, as far as
Valenciennes on his right. He continually strengthened it, so that at no
one place should it need any considerable body of men to hold it, and that
the mass of the army should be free to move at will behind this strong
entrenchment and dyke, fortified as it was with careful inundation and the
use of two large rivers.

Though the body of the allies again appeared in the neighbourhood of the
lines, no general attack was delivered, but on the 30th of August Villars
heard from deserters and spies that the citadel of Tournai was at the end
of its provisions. Though but a certain minority of the allied army was
necessary to contain that citadel, yet once it had fallen the whole of the
allied forces would be much freer to act.

It was upon the 31st of August that Surville, finding himself at the end
of his provisionment of food, proposed capitulation. At first no
capitulation could be arrived at. Marlborough insisted upon the garrison's
complete surrender; Surville replied by threatening a destruction of the
place. It was not until the morning of the 3rd September that a
capitulation was signed in the form that the officers and soldiers of the
garrison should not be free to serve the king until after they had been
exchanged. The troops should march out with arms and colours, and should
have safe escort through the French lines to Douai. They reached that town
and camp upon the 4th, and an exchange of prisoners against their numbers
was soon effected.

Thus after two months ended the siege of Tournai, a piece of resistance
which, as the reader will soon see, determined all that was to follow. Six
thousand four hundred men had held the place when it was first invested.
Of these, 1709 (nearly a third) had been killed; a number approximately
equal had been wounded. The figures are sufficient to show the desperate
character of the fighting, and how worthy this episode of war was on both
sides of the legends that arose from it.



With the end of the siege of Tournai both armies were free, the one for
unfettered assault, the other to defend itself behind the lines as best it

To make a frontal attack upon Villars' lines at any point was justly
thought impossible after the past experience which Eugene and Marlborough
had of their strength. A different plan was determined on. Mons, with its
little garrison, should be invested, and the mass of the army should, on
that extreme right of the French position, attempt to break through the
old lines of the Trouille and invade France.

Coincidently with the first negotiations for the capitulation of the
citadel of Tournai, this new plan was entered upon. Lord Orkney, with the
grenadiers of the army and between 2000 and 3000 mounted men, was sent
off on the march to the south-east just as the first negotiations of
Marlborough with Surville were opened. With this mobile force Orkney
attempted to pass the Haine at St Ghislain. He all but surprised that
point at one o'clock of the dark September night, but the French posts
were just in time. He was beaten off, and had to cross the river higher up
upon the eastern side of Mons, at Havre.

The little check was not without its importance. It meant that the rapid
forward march of his vanguard had failed to force that extreme extension
of the French line, which was called "The Line of the Trouille" from the
name of the small river that falls into the Haine near Mons. In point of
time--which is everything in defensive warfare--the success of the defence
at St Ghislain meant that all action by the allies was retarded for pretty
well a week. Meanwhile, the weather had turned to persistent and harassing
rain, the allied army, "toiling through a sea of mud,"[6] had not invested
Mons even upon the eastern side until the evening of the 7th of September.
On the same day Villars took advantage of a natural feature, stronger for
purposes of defence than the line of the Trouille. This feature was the
belt of forest-land which lies south and a little west of Mons, between
that town and Bavai. He strengthened such forces as he had on the line of
the Trouille (the little posts which had checked the first advance upon
Mons, as I have said), concentrated the whole army just behind and west of
the forest barrier, and watching the two gaps of that barrier, whose
importance will be explained in a moment, he lay, upon the morning of
Sunday, September the 8th, in a line which stretched from the river Haine
at Montreuil to the bridge of Athis behind the woods; keeping watch upon
his right in case he should have to move the line down south suddenly to
meet an attack. As Villars so lay, he was in the position of a man who may
be attacked through one of two doors in a wall. Such a man would stand
between the two doors, watching both, and ready to spring upon that one
which might be attacked, and attempt to defend it. The wall was the wall
of wood, the two doors were the opening by Boussu and the other narrow
opening which is distinguished by the name of Aulnois, the principal
village at its mouth. It was this last which was to prove in the event the

All this I must make plainer and elaborate in what follows, and close
this section by a mere statement of the manoeuvring for position.

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing the Lines of Woods behind Mons, with the
two gaps of Boussu and Aulnois.]

Villars lying, as I have said, with his right at Athis, his left on the
river Haine at Montreuil, Marlborough countered him by bringing the main
of his forces over the Trouille[7] so that they lay from Quevy to

Eugene brought up his half, and drew it up as an extension of the Duke of
Marlborough's line, and by the evening of the Sunday and on the morning of
the Monday, all the troops who were at Tournai having been meanwhile
called up, the allied army lay opposite the second or southern of the two
openings in the forest wall. Villars during the Sunday shifted somewhat
to the left or the south in the course of the day to face the new position
of his enemy. It was evident upon that Monday morning the 9th of September
that the action, when it was forced, would be in the second and
southernmost of the two gaps. On that same Monday morning Villars brought
the whole of his army still further south and was now right in front of
the allies and barring the gap of Aulnois. By ten o'clock the centre of
the French forces was drawn up in front of the hamlet of Malplaquet, by
noon it had marched forward not quite a mile, stretched from wood to wood,
and awaited the onslaught. A few ineffective cannon-shots were exchanged,
but the expected attack was not delivered. Vastly to the advantage of the
French and to the inexplicable prejudice of the allies Marlborough and
Eugene wasted all that Monday and all the Tuesday following: the result we
shall see when we come to the battle, for Villars used every moment of his
respite to entrench and fortify without ceasing.

With the drawing up of the French army across the gap, however, ends the
manoeuvring for position, and under the title of "The Preliminaries of
the Battle" I will next describe the arrival of Boufflers--a moral
advantage not to be despised--the terrain, the French defences, and the
full effect of the unexpected delay upon the part of the allies.



The arrival of Louis Francis, Duke of Boufflers, peer and marshal of
France, upon the frontier and before the army of defence, was one of those
intangible advantages which the civilian historian will tend to exaggerate
and the military to belittle, but which, though not susceptible of
calculation or measurement, may always prove of vast consequence to a
force, and have sometimes decided between victory and defeat. This
advantage did not lie in Boufflers' singular capacity for command, nor, as
will presently be seen, was he entrusted with the supreme direction of the
action that was to follow. He was a great general. His service under arms
had occupied the whole of his life and energies; he was to have a high and
worthy reputation in the particular province of his career. But much more
than this, the magic of his name and the just prestige which attached to
the integrity and valour of the man went before him with a spiritual
influence which every soldier felt, and which reanimated the whole body of
the defence. His record was peculiarly suited for the confirmation of men
who were fighting against odds, under disappointment, at the end of a long
series of defeats, and on a last line to which the national arms had been
thrust back after five years of almost uninterrupted failure.

Boufflers at this moment was in his 66th year, and seemed older. His
masterful, prominent face, large, direct, humorous in expression, full of
command, was an index of a life well lived in the business of
organisation, of obedience, and at last of supreme direction. Years ago at
Namur his tenacity, under the pressure of a superior offensive, had earned
him the particular character which he now bore. Only the year before, his
conduct of the siege of Lille, when he had determinedly held out against
the certitude of ultimate surrender, had refused to yield the place even
after receiving orders from his sovereign, and had finally obtained, by
his unshakable determination, a capitulation of the most honourable kind,
was fresh in the minds of all. There is a story that on his arrival in the
French camp the cheers with which he was greeted reached the opposing
line, and that the allies were moved by the enormous rumour to expect an
instant assault. He was one of those leaders who, partly through their
legend, more through their real virtue, are a sort of flag and symbol to
the soldiery who have the good fortune to receive their command.

Nine years the senior in age of Villars, of a military experience far
superior, in rank again possessed of the right to supreme command (for he
had received the grade of marshal long before), he none the less
determined to put himself wholly at Villars' orders, for he knew of what
importance was continuity of direction in the face of the enemy. At the
end of the last campaign, when he had expected peace, he had honourably
retired. His life was nearing its close; in two years he was to die. He
sacrificed both the pretension and the fact of superiority so dear to the
commander, and told Villars that he came simply as a volunteer to aid as
best he might, and to support the supreme command in the coming fight.

He had arrived at Arras on the same day that Tournai had surrendered. Upon
the morrow he had reached Villars' headquarters near Douai, Sin le Noble,
in the centre of the defensive line. He had followed the easterly
movement of the mass of the French army along that line to their present
establishment between the two woods and to the terrain whereupon the
action would be decided. In that action he was set at the head of the
troops on the right, while Villars, attending in particular to the left,
retained the general command and ordered all the disposition of the French

       *       *       *       *       *

The landscape which lay before the French commanders when upon the Monday
morning their line was drawn up and immediate battle expected, has changed
hardly at all in the two hundred years between their day and ours. I will
describe it.

From the valley of the Sambre (which great river lies a day's march to the
south of the French position) the land rises gradually upward in long
rolls of bare fields. At the head of this slope is a typical watershed
country, a country that is typical of watersheds in land neither hilly nor
mountainous; small, sluggish streams, lessening to mere trickles of water
as you rise, cut the clay; and the landscape, though at the watershed
itself one is standing at a height of 500 feet above the sea, has the
appearance of a plain. It is indeed difficult, without the aid of a map,
to decide when one has passed from the one to the other side of the water
parting, and the actual summit is, at this season of the year, a confused,
flat stretch of open stubble fallow, and here and there coarse, heathy,
untilled land. For two or three miles every way this level stretches,
hummocked by slight rolls between stream and stream, and upon the actual
watershed marked by one or two stagnant ponds. Seven miles behind you as
you stand upon the battlefield lies the little French market town of
Bavai, which was for centuries one of the great centres of Roman rule. It
was the capital of the Nervii. Seven great Roman roads still strike out
from it, to Rheims, to Cologne, to Utrecht, to Amiens, to the sea. Two in
particular, that to Treves and that to Cologne, spreading gradually apart
like the two neighbouring fingers of a hand, are the natural ways by which
an army advancing to such a field or retreating from it would communicate
with Bavai as a base.[8]

The outstanding feature of this terrain is not that it is the summit of a
watershed; indeed, as I have said, but for a map one would not guess that
it bore this character, and to the eye it presents the appearance of a
plain; it is rather the symmetrical arrangement of it as a broad belt of
open land, flanked upon either side north and south by two great woods.
That upon the right is known as the wood of Lanière, that upon the left
bears several names in its various parts, and is easiest to remember under
the general title of "The Forest of Sars." The gap between these two woods
narrows to a line which is precisely 2000 yards in extent and runs from
north-west to south-east, the two nearest points where either wood
approaches the other being distant one from another by that distance and
bearing one to the other upon those points of the compass. The French
army, therefore, drawn up on the open land and stretching from wood to
wood, faced somewhat north of east. The allies, drawn up a mile and a
half away on the broad beginning of that gap, looked somewhat south of
west. Behind the latter at a day's march was Mons; behind the former some
seven miles was Bavai; and the modern frontier as well as the natural
topographical frontier of the watershed runs just in front of what was
then the emplacement of the French line.

Upon the French side the bare fields are marked by no more than a few
hamlets, the chief of which is the little village of Malplaquet, a few
houses built along what is now the main road to Brussels. Certain of the
French reserve were posted in this village, accompanied by a few sections
of artillery, but the fields before it lay completely open to the action.

Upon the Belgian side a string of considerable villages stretched; three
of them from right to left marked the principal position of the allies.
Their names from north to south, that is, from the left of the allies to
the right, are Aulnois, Blaregnies, and Sars. The first of these lies
right under the wood of Lanière; the second faces the gap between the
woods; the third lies behind the left-hand wood, and takes its name from
it, and is, as we have seen, called the forest of Sars.[9]

The dispositions which the French army would take in such a defensive
position were evident enough. It must defend the gap by entrenchment; it
must put considerable forces into the woods upon the right and to the left
of the gap to prevent the entrenchments being turned. The character of
Villars and the French tradition of depending upon earth wherever that be
possible, was bound, if time were accorded, to make the entrenchment of
the open gap formidable. The large numbers engaged upon either side left a
considerable number at the disposal of either commander, to be used by the
one in holding the woods, by the other in attempting to force them; not
much more than half of the French force need stand to the defence of the
open gap. This gap was so suitable, with its bare fields after harvest,
the absence of hedges, the insignificance of the rivulets, for the action
of cavalry, that gates or gaps would be left in the French entrenchment
for the use of that arm in order to allow the mounted men to pass through
and charge as the necessity for such action might arise. In general,
therefore, we must conceive of the French position as strong entrenchments
thrown across the gap and lined with infantry, the cavalry drawn up behind
to pass through the infantry when occasion might demand, through the line
of entrenchment, and so to charge; the two woods upon either side thickly
filled with men, and the position taken up by these defended by felled
tree trunks and such earthwork as could be thrown up with difficulty in
the dense undergrowth.

It would be the business of the allies to try and force this line, either
by carrying the central entrenchments across the gap or by turning the
French left flank in the forest of Sars or the French right flank in the
wood of Lanière, or by both of these attempts combined; for it must be
remembered that the numerical superiority of the allies gave them a choice
of action. Should either the stand on the left or that on the right be
forced, the French line would be turned and the destruction of the army
completed. Should the centre be pierced effectively and in time, the
Northern half of the army so severed would certainly be destroyed, for
there was no effective line of retreat; the Southern half might or might
not escape towards the valley of the Sambre. In either case a decisive
victory would destroy the last of the French bodies of defence and would
open the way for an almost uninterrupted march upon Paris.

It will be self-evident to the reader that what with Villars' known
methods, his dependence upon his engineers, the tradition of the French
service in this respect, the inferior numbers of the French forces, and
the glaring necessities of the position, earthworks would be a deciding
factor in the result.

Now the value of entrenchment is a matter of time, and before proceeding
to a description of the action we must, if we are to understand its
result, appreciate how great an advantage was conferred upon the French by
the delay in the attack of the allies.

As I have said, it was upon the morning of Monday, September 9th, that the
two armies were drawn up facing each other, and there is no apparent
reason why the assault should not have been delivered upon that day. Had
it been delivered we can hardly doubt that a decisive defeat of the French
would have resulted, that the way to Paris would have been thrown open,
and that the ruin of the French monarchy would have immediately followed.
As it was, no attack was delivered upon that Monday. The whole of Tuesday
was allowed to pass without a movement. It was not until the Wednesday
morning that the allies moved.

The problem of this delay is one which the historian must anxiously
consider, for the answer to it explains the barrenness and political
failure associated with the name of Malplaquet. But it is one which the
historian will not succeed in answering unless indeed further documents
should come to light. All that we now know is that in a council of war
held upon the Monday on the side of the allies, it was thought well to
wait until all the troops from Tournai should have come up (though these
were few in number), and necessary to send 9000 men to hold the bridge
across the Haine at St Ghislain in order to secure retreat in case of

The English historians blame the Dutch, the Dutch the English, and the
Austrians and Prussians blame both.

Perhaps there would have been an attack upon the Tuesday at least had not
Villars spent all the Monday and all the Monday night in exacting from
his men the most unexpected labours in constructing entrenchments of the
most formidable character. Marlborough and Eugene, riding out before their
lines to judge their chances on the Tuesday, were astonished at the work
that had been done in those twenty-four hours. Nine redans, that is,
openworks of peculiar strength, stretched across the gap to within about
600 yards of the wood of Lanière, and the remainder of the space was one
continuous line of entrenchment. What had been done in the woods could not
be judged from such a survey, but it might be guessed, and the forcing of
these became a very different problem from what it would have been had an
attack been delivered on the Monday. Behind this main line Villars drew up
another and yet another series of earthworks; even Malplaquet itself, with
the reserve in the rear, was defended, and the work was continued without
interruption even throughout the Tuesday night with relays of men.

When at last, upon the Wednesday morning, the allies had arrived at their
tardy agreement and determined to force an action, their superiority in
numbers, such as it was (and this disputed point must be later
discussed), was quite negatived by having to meet fortifications so
formidable as to be called, in the exaggerated phrase of a witness, "a

One last point must be mentioned before the action itself is described:
the open gap across which the centre of the allies must advance to break
the French centre and encapture the entrenchments was cut in two by a
large copse or small wood, called "The Wood of Tiry." It was not defended,
lying too far in front of the French line, and was of no great consequence
save in this: that when the advance of the allies against the French
defence should begin, it was bound to canalise and cut off from support
for a moment the extreme left of that advance through the channel marked A
upon the map over page. As will be seen, the Dutch advanced too early and
in too great strength through this narrow gap, and the check they
suffered, which was of such effect upon the battle, would not have been
nearly so severe had not the little wood cut them off from the support of
the centre.



On the morning of Wednesday, the 11th of September, the allied army was
afoot long before dawn, and was ranged in order of battle earlier than
four o'clock. But a dense mist covered the ground, and nothing was done
until at about half-past seven this lifted and enabled the artillery of
the opposing forces to estimate the range and to open fire. In order to
understand what was to follow, the reader may, so to speak, utilise this
empty period of the early morning before the action joined, to grasp the
respective positions of the two hosts.

[Illustration: The Elements of the Action of Malplaquet, September 11th,

The nature of the terrain has already been described. The plan upon the
part of the allies would naturally consist in an attempt to force both
woods which covered the French flank, and, while the pressure upon these
was at its strongest, the entrenched and fortified centre. Of course, if
either of the woods was forced before the French centre should break,
there would be no need to continue the central attack, for one or other of
the French flanks would then be turned. But the woods were so well
garnished by this time, and so strongly lined with fallen tree-trunks and
such entrenchments as the undergrowth permitted, that it seemed to both
Eugene and Marlborough more probable that the centre should be forced than
that either of the two flanks should first be turned, and the general plan
of the battle depended rather upon the holding and heavy engagement of the
forces in the two woods to the north and south than in any hope to clear
them out, and the final success was expected rather to take the form of
piercing the central line while the flanks were thus held and engaged. The
barren issue of the engagement led the commanders of the allies to excuse
themselves, of course, and the peculiar ill-success of their left against
the French right, which we shall detail in a moment, gave rise to the
thesis that only a "feint" was intended in that quarter. The thesis may
readily be dismissed. The left was intended to do serious work quite as
much as the right. The theory that it was intended to "feint" was only
produced after the action, and in order to explain its incomplete

Upon the French side the plan was purely defensive, as their inferior
numbers and their reliance upon earthworks both necessitated and proved.
It was Villars' plan to hold every part of his line with a force
proportionate to its strength; to furnish the woods a little more heavily
than the entrenchments of the open gap, but everywhere to rely upon the
steadiness of his infantry and their artificial protections in the
repelling of the assault. His cavalry he drew up behind this long line of
infantry defence, prepared, as has already been said, to charge through
gaps whenever such action on their part might seem effective.

It will be perceived that the plan upon either side was of a very simple
sort, and one easily grasped. On the side of the allies it was little more
than a "hammer-and-tongs" assault upon a difficult and well-guarded
position; on the side of the French, little more than a defence of the

Next must be described the nature of the troops engaged in the various
parts of the field.

Upon the side of the allies we have:--

On their left--that is, to the south of their lines and over against the
wood of Lanière--one-third of the army under the Prince of Orange. The
bulk of this body consisted in Dutch troops, of whom thirty-one battalions
of infantry were present, and behind the infantry thus drawn up under the
Dutch commander were his cavalry, instructed to keep out of range during
the attack of the infantry upon the wood, and to charge and complete it
when it should be successful. Embodied among these troops the British
reader should note a corps of Highlanders, known as the Scottish
Brigade.[12] These did not form part of the British army, but were
specially enrolled in the Dutch service. The cavalry of this left wing was
under the command of the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, who was mentioned a few
pages back in the advance upon Mons. It numbered somewhat over 10,000

The other end of the allied position consisted in two great forces of
infantry acting separately, and in the following fashion:--

First, a force under Schulemberg, which attacked the salient angle of the
forest of Sars on its northern face, and another body attacking the other
side of the same angle, to wit, its eastern face. In the first of these
great masses, that under Schulemberg, there were no English troops. In
strength it amounted alone to nearly 20,000 men. The second part, which
was to attack the eastern face, was commanded by Lottum, and was only
about half as strong, contained a certain small proportion of English.

It may be asked when once these two great bodies of the left and the right
(each of which was to concern itself with one of the two woods in front of
the gap) are disposed of, what remained to furnish the centre of the
allies? To this the curious answer must be afforded that in the
arrangements of the allies at Malplaquet no true centre existed. The
battle must be regarded from their side as a battle fought by two isolated
wings, left and right, and ending in a central attack composed of men
drawn from either wing. If upon the following sketch map the section from
A to B be regarded as the special province of the Dutch or left wing, and
the section from C to D be regarded as the special province of the
Austro-Prussian or right wing, then the mid-section between B and C has no
large body of troops corresponding to it. When the time came for acting in
that mid-section, the troops necessary for the work were drawn from either
end of the line. There were, however, two elements in connection with this
mid-section which must be considered.


First, a great battery of forty guns ready to support an attack upon the
entrenchments of the gap, whenever that time should come; and secondly,
far in the rear, about 6000 British troops under Lord Orkney were spread
out and linked the massed right of the army to its massed left. One
further corps must be mentioned. Quite separate from the rest of the army,
and right away on the left on the _French side_ of the forest of Sars, was
the small isolated corps under Withers, which was to hold and embarrass
the French rear near the group of farmsteads called La Folie, and when the
forest of Sars was forced was to join hands with the successful assault
of the Prussians and Austrians who should have forced it.

The general command of the left, including Lord Orkney's battalions, also
including (though tactically they formed part of the right wing) the force
under Lottum, lay with the Duke of Marlborough. The command of the
right--that is, Schulemberg and the cavalry behind him--lay with Prince

The French line of defence is, from its simplicity, quite easy to
describe. In the wood of Lanière, and in the open space just outside it,
as far as the fields in front of Malplaquet village, were the troops under
command of the French general D'Artagnan. Among the regiments holding this
part was that of the Bourbonnais, the famous brigade of Navarre (the best
in the service), and certain of the Swiss mercenaries. The last of this
body on the left was formed by the French Guards. The entrenchments in the
centre were held by the Irish Brigades of Lee and O'Brien, and by the
German mercenaries and allies of Bavaria and Cologne. These guarded the
redans which defended the left or northern part of the open gap. The
remainder of this gap, right up to the forest of Sars, was held by
Alsatians and by the Brigade of Laon, and the chief command in this part
lay with Steckenberg. The forest of Sars was full of French troops,
Picardy, the Marines, the Regiment of Champagne, and many others, with a
strong reserve of similar troops just behind the wood. The cavalry of the
army formed a long line behind this body of entrenched infantry; the
Household Cavalry being on the right near the wood of Lanière, the Gens
d'armes being in the centre, and the Carabiniers upon the left. These last
stretched so far northward and westward as to come at last opposite to

       *       *       *       *       *

Such was the disposition of the two armies when at half-past seven the sun
pierced the mist and the first cannon-shots were exchanged. Marlborough
and Eugene had decided that they would begin by pressing, as hard as might
be, the assault upon the forest of Sars. When this assault should have
proceeded for half an hour, the opposite end of the line, the left, under
the Prince of Orange,[13] should engage the French troops holding the wood
of Lanière. It was expected that the forest of Sars would be forced early
in the action; that the troops in the wood of Lanière would at least be
held fast by the attack of the Prince of Orange, and that the weakened
French centre could then be taken by assault with the use of the reserves,
of Orkney's men, and of detachments drawn from the two great masses upon
the wings.

The reader may here pause to consider the excellence of this plan--very
probably Marlborough's own, and one the comparative ill-success of which
was due to the unexpected power of resistance displayed by the French
infantry upon that day.

It was wise to put the greater part of the force into a double attack upon
the forest of Sars, for this forest, with its thick woods and heavy
entrenchments, was at once the strongest part of the French position in
its garnishing and artificial enforcement, yet weak in that the salient
angle it presented was one that could not, from the thickness of the
trees, be watched from any central point, as can the salient angle of a
fortification. Lottum on the one side, Schulemberg on the other, were
attacking forces numerically weaker than their own, and separate fronts
which could not support each other under the pressure of the attack.

It was wise to engage the forces upon the French side opposite the allied
left in the wood of Lanière half an hour after the assault had begun upon
the forest of Sars, for it was legitimate to expect that at the end of
that half hour the pressure upon the forest of Sars would begin to be felt
by the French, and that they would call for troops from the right unless
the right were very busily occupied at that moment.

Finally, it was wise not to burden the centre with any great body of
troops until one of the two flanks should be pressed or broken, for the
centre might, in this case, be compared to a funnel in which too great a
body of troops would be caught at a disadvantage against the strong
entrenchments which closed the mouth of the funnel. An historical
discussion has arisen upon the true rôle of the left in this plan. The
commander of the allies gave it out _after_ the action (as we have seen
above) that the left had only been intended to "feint." The better
conclusion is that they were intended to do their worst against the wood
of Lanière, although of course this "worst" could not be expected to
compare with the fundamental attack upon the forest of Sars, where all the
chief forces of the battle were concentrated.

If by a "feint" is meant a subsidiary part of the general plan, the
expression might be allowed to pass, but it is not a legitimate use of
that expression, and if, as occurred at Malplaquet with the Dutch troops,
a subsidiary body in the general plan is badly commanded, the temptation
to call the original movement a "feint," which developed from breach of
orders into a true attack, though strong for the disappointed commanders,
must not be admitted by the accurate historian. In general, we may be
certain that the Dutch troops and their neighbours on the allied left were
intended to do all they could against the wood of Lanière, did all they
could, but suffered in the process a great deal more than Marlborough had
allowed for.

       *       *       *       *       *

These dispositions once grasped, we may proceed to the nature and
development of the general attack which followed that opening cannonade of
half-past seven, which has already been described.

The first movement of the allies was an advance of the left under the
Prince of Orange and of the right under Lottum. The first was halted out
of range; the second, after getting up as far as the eastern flank of the
forest of Sars, wheeled round so as to face the hedge lining that forest,
and formed into three lines. It was nine o'clock before the signal for
the attack was given by a general discharge of the great battery in the
centre opposite the French entrenchments in the gap. Coincidently with
that signal Schulemberg attacked the forest of Sars from his side, the
northern face, and he and Lottum pressed each upon that side of the
salient angle which faced him. Schulemberg's large force got into the
fringe of the wood, but no further. The resistance was furious; the
thickness of the trees aided it. Eugene was present upon this side;
meanwhile Marlborough himself was leading the troops of Lottum. He
advanced with them against a hot fire, passed the swampy rivulet which
here flanks the wood, and reached the entrenchments which had been drawn
up just within the outer boundary of it.

This attack failed. Villars was present in person with the French troops
and directed the repulse. Almost at the same time the advance of
Schulemberg upon the other side of the wood, which Eugene was
superintending, suffered a check. Its reserves were called up. The
intervals of the first line were filled up from the second. One French
brigade lining the wood was beaten back, but the Picardy Regiment and the
Marines stood out against a mixed force of Danes, Saxons, and Hessians
opposing them. Schulemberg, therefore, in this second attack had failed
again, but Marlborough, leading Lottum's men upon the other side of the
wood to a second charge in his turn, had somewhat greater success. He had
by this time been joined by a British brigade under the Duke of Argyle
from the second line, and he did so far succeed with this extension of his
men as to get round the edge of the French entrenchments in the wood.

The French began to be pressed from this eastern side of their salient
angle, right in among the trees. Schulemberg's command felt the advantage
of the pressure being exercised on the other side. The French weakened
before it, and in the neighbourhood of eleven o'clock a great part of the
forest of Sars was already filled with the allies, who were beating back
the French in individual combats from tree to tree. Close on noon the
battle upon this side stood much as the sketch map upon the opposite page
shows, and was as good as won, for it seemed to need only a continuation
of this victorious effort to clear the whole wood at last and to turn the
French line.

This is undoubtedly the form which the battle would have taken--a complete
victory for the allied forces by their right turning the French
left--and the destruction of the French army would have followed, had not
the allied left been getting into grave difficulty at the other end of the
field of battle.

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing the peril the French centre ran towards
noon of being turned on its left.]

The plan of the allied generals, it will be remembered, was that the left
of their army under the Prince of Orange should attack the wood of Lanière
about half an hour after the right had begun to effect an entrance into
the opposing forest of Sars. When that half hour had elapsed, that is,
about half-past nine, the Prince of Orange, without receiving special
orders, it is true, but acting rightly enough upon his general orders,
advanced against the French right. Tullibardine with his Scottish brigade
took the worst of the fighting on the extreme left against the extreme of
the French right, and was the first to get engaged among the trees. The
great mass of the force advanced up the opening between the coppice called
the wood of Tiry and the main wood, with the object of carrying the
entrenchments which ran from the corner of the wood in front of Malplaquet
and covered this edge of the open gap. The nine foremost battalions were
led by the Prince of Orange in person; his courage and their tenacity,
though fatal to the issue of the fight, form perhaps the finest part of
our story. As they came near the French earthworks, a French battery right
upon their flank at the edge of the wood opened upon them, enfilading
whole ranks and doing, in the shortest time, terrible execution. The young
leader managed to reach the earthworks. The breastwork was forced, but
Boufflers brought up men from his left, that is, from the centre of the
gap, drove the Dutch back, and checked, at the height of its success, this
determined assault. Had not the wood of Tiry been there to separate the
main part of the Prince of Orange's command from its right, reinforcements
might have reached him and have saved the disaster. As it was, the wood of
Tiry had cut the advance into two streams, and neither could help the
other. The Dutch troops and the Highlanders rallied; the Prince of Orange
charged again with a personal bravery that made him conspicuous before the
whole field, and should make him famous in history, but the task was more
than men could accomplish. The best brigade at the disposal of the French,
that of Navarre, was brought up to meet this second onslaught, broke it,
and the French leapt from the earthworks to pursue the flight of their
assailants. Many of Orange's colours were taken in that rout, and the guns
of his advanced battery fell into French hands. Beyond the wood of Tiry
the extreme right of the Dutch charge had suffered no better fate. It had
carried the central entrenchment of the French, only to be beaten back as
the main body between the wood of Tiry and the wood of Lanière opened.

At this moment, then, after eleven o'clock, which was coincident with the
success of Lottum and Schulemberg in the forest of Sars, upon the right,
the allied left had been hopelessly beaten back from the entrenchments in
the gap, and from the edge of the wood of Lanière.

Marlborough was hurriedly summoned away from his personal command of
Lottum's victorious troops, and begged to do what he could for the broken
regiments of Orange. He galloped back over the battlefield, a mile or so
of open fields, and was appalled to see the havoc. Of the great force that
had advanced an hour and a half before against Boufflers and the French
right, fully a third was struck, and 2000 or more lay dead upon the
stubble and the coarse heath of that upland. The scattered corpses strewn
over half a mile of flight from the French entrenchments, almost back to
their original position, largely showed the severity of the blow. It was
impossible to attempt another attack upon the French right with any hope
of success.

Marlborough, trusting that the forest of Sars would soon be finally
cleared, determined upon a change of plan. He ordered the advance upon the
centre of the position of Lord Orkney's fifteen battalions, reinforced
that advance by drafts of men from the shattered Dutch left, and prepared
with some deliberation to charge the line of earthworks which ran across
the open and the nine redans which we have seen were held by the French
allies and mercenaries from Bavaria and Cologne, and await his moment.
That moment came at about one o'clock; at this point in the action the
opposing forces stood somewhat as they are sketched on the map over page.

The pressure upon the French in the wood of Sars, perpetually increasing,
had already caused Villars, who commanded there in person, to beg
Boufflers for aid; but the demand came when Boufflers was fighting his
hardest against the last Dutch attack, and no aid could be sent.

Somewhat reluctantly, Villars had weakened his centre by withdrawing from
it the two Irish regiments, and continued to dispute foot by foot the
forest of Sars. But foot by foot and tree by tree, in a series of
individual engagements, his men were pressed back, and a larger area of
the woodland was held by the troops of Schulemberg and Lottum. Eugene was
wounded, but refused to leave the field. The loss had been appalling upon
either side, but especially severe (as might have been expected) among the
assailants, when, just before one o'clock, the last of the French soldiers
were driven from the wood.

[Illustration: Sketch Map showing Marlborough bringing up troops to the
centre for the final and successful attack upon the entrenchments about
one o'clock.]

All that main defence which the forest of Sars formed upon the French left
flank was lost, but the fight had been so exhausting to the assailants in
the confusion of the underwood, and the difficulty of forming them in the
trees was so great, that the French forces once outside the wood could
rally at leisure and draw up in line to receive any further movement on
the part of their opponents. It was while the French left were thus drawn
up in line behind the wood of Sars, with their redans at the centre
weakened by the withdrawal of the Irish brigade, that Marlborough ordered
the final central attack against those redans. The honour of carrying them
fell to Lord Orkney and his British battalions. His men flooded over the
earthworks at the first rush, breaking the depleted infantry behind them
(for these, after the withdrawal of the Irish, were no more than the men
of Bavaria and Cologne), and held the parapet.

The French earthworks thus carried by the infantry in the centre, the
modern reader might well premise that a complete rout of the French forces
should have followed. But he would make this premise without counting for
the preponderant rôle that cavalry played in the wars of Marlborough.

Facing the victorious English battalions of Orkney, now in possession of
the redans, stood the mile-long unbroken squadrons of the French horse.

The allied cavalry, passing between gaps in its infantry line, began to
deploy for the charge, but even as they deployed they were charged by the
French mounted men, thrust back, and thrown into confusion. The short
remainder of the battle is no more than a mêlée of sabres, but the nature
of that mêlée must be clearly grasped, and the character of the French
cavalry resistance understood, for this it was which determined the issue
of the combat and saved the army of Louis XIV.

A detailed account of the charges and counter-charges of the opposing
horse would be confusing to the reader, and is, as a fact, impossible of
narration, for no contemporary record of it remains in any form which can
be lucidly set forth.

A rough outline of what happened is this:--

The first counter-charge of the French was successful, and the allied
cavalry, caught in the act of deployment, was thrust back in confusion, as
I have said, upon the British infantry who lined the captured earthworks.

The great central battery of forty guns which Marlborough had kept all day
in the centre of the gap, split to the right and left, and, once clear of
its own troops, fired from either side upon the French horse. Shaken,
confused, and almost broken by this fire, the French horse were charged by
a new body of the allied horse led by Marlborough in person, composed of
British and Prussian units. But, just as Marlborough's charge was
succeeding, old Boufflers, bringing up the French Household Cavalry from
in front of Malplaquet village, charged right home into the flank of
Marlborough's mounted troops, bore back their first and second lines, and
destroyed the order of their third.

Thereupon Eugene, with yet another body of fresh horse (of the Imperial
Service), charged in his turn, and the battle of Malplaquet ends in a
furious mix-up of mounted men, which gradually separated into two
undefeated lines, each retiring from the contest.

It will be wondered why a conclusion so curiously impotent was permitted
to close the fighting of so famous a field.

The answer to this query is that the effort upon either side had passed
the limits beyond which men are physically incapable of further action.
Any attempt of the French to advance in force after two o'clock would have
led to their certain disaster, for the allies were now in possession of
their long line of earthworks.[14]

On the other hand, the allies could not advance, because the men upon whom
they could still count for action were reduced to insufficient numbers.
Something like one-third of their vast host had fallen in this most
murderous of battles; from an eighth to a sixth were dead. Of the
remainder, the great proportion suffered at this hour from an exhaustion
that forbade all effective effort.

The horse upon either side might indeed have continued charge and
counter-charge to no purpose and with no final effect, but the action of
the cavalry in the repeated and abortive shocks, of which a list has just
been detailed, could lead neither commander to hope for any final result.
Boufflers ordered a retreat, screened by his yet unbroken lines of horse.
The infantry were withdrawn from the wood of Lanière, which they still
held, and from their positions behind the forest of Sars. They were
directed in two columns towards Bavai in their rear, and as that orderly
and unhurried retreat was accomplished, the cavalry filed in to follow the
line, and the French host, leaving the field in the possession of the
victors, marched back westward by the two Roman roads in as regular a
formation as though they had been advancing to action rather than
retreating from an abandoned position.

It was not quite three o'clock in the afternoon.

There was no pursuit, and there could be none. The allied army slept upon
the ground it had gained; rested, evacuated its wounded, and restored its
broken ranks through the whole of the morrow, Thursday. It was not until
the Friday that it was able to march back again from the field in which
it had triumphed at so terrible an expense of numbers, guns, and colours,
and with so null a strategic result, and to take up once more the siege of
Mons. Upon the 9th of October Mons capitulated, furnishing the sole fruit
of this most arduous of all the great series of Marlborough's campaigns.

No battle has been contested with more valour or tenacity than the battle
of Malplaquet. The nature of the woodland fighting contributed to the
enormous losses sustained upon either side. The delay during which the
French had been permitted to entrench themselves so thoroughly naturally
threw the great balance of the loss upon the assailants. In no battle,
free, as Malplaquet was free, from all pursuit or a rout, or even the
breaking of any considerable body of troops (save the Dutch troops and
Highlanders on the left in the earlier part of the battle, and the
Bavarians and Cologne men in the redans at the close of it), has the
proportion of the killed and wounded been anything like so high. In none,
perhaps, were casualties so heavy accompanied by so small a proportion of

The action will remain throughout history a standing example of the pitch
of excellence to which those highly trained professional armies of the
eighteenth century, with their savage discipline, their aristocratic
command, their close formations, and their extraordinary reliance upon
human daring, could arrive.




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The humour of this remarkable satire is irresistible. The truth concerning
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[1] From which little place the lines as a whole take the name in history
of "Lines of La Bassée."

[2] As is common in the history of military affairs, the advocates of
either party present these confused movements before the lines of La
Bassée upon the eve of the siege of Tournai in very different and indeed
contradictory lights.

The classical work of Mr Fortescue, to which I must, here as elsewhere,
render homage, will have the whole movement, from its inception, to be
deliberately designed; no battle intended, the siege of Tournai to be the
only real object of the allies.

The French apologists talk of quarrels between Eugene and Marlborough,
take for granted a plan of assault against Villars, and represent the
turning off of the army to the siege of Tournai as an afterthought. The
truth, of course, is contained in both versions, and lies between the two.
Eugene and Marlborough did intend a destructive assault upon Villars and
his line, but they were early persuaded--especially by the reconnoitring
of Cadogan--that the defensive skill of the French commander had proved
formidable, and we may take it that the determination to besiege Tournai
and to abandon an assault upon the main of the French forces had been
reached at least as early as the 26th. There is no positive evidence,
however, one way or the other, to decide these questions of motive. I rely
upon no more than the probable intention of the men, to be deduced from
their actions, and I do not believe that the Dutch would have had orders
to move as early as they did unless Marlborough had decided--not later
than the moment I have mentioned--to make Tournai the first objective of
the campaign.

[3] Mr Fortescue in his work makes it the 23rd. I cannot conceive the
basis for such an error. The whole story of the 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th,
28th, and 29th is in the French archives, together with full details of
the capitulation on the 29th and 30th.

[4] As usual, there is a contradiction in the records. The French record
definitely ascribes the proposal to Marlborough. Marlborough, in a letter
to his wife of 5th August, as definitely ascribes it to Surville; and
there is no positive evidence one way or the other, though Louis'
rejection of the terms and the ability of calculation and the character of
the two men certainly make it more probable that Marlborough and not
Surville was the author of the proposition.

[5] The dispute as to who was the author of the suggestion for an
armistice is further illumined by this refusal on the part of the allies.
The proposal to contain Tournai and yet to have free their vast forces in
operation elsewhere, if a trifle crude, was certainly to their advantage,
and as certainly to the disadvantage of the French.

[6] This excellent phrase is Mr Fortescue's.

[7] Technically the line of defence was forced, for the line of Trouille
was but a continuation of the lines of La Bassée--Douai--Valenciennes. So
far as strategical results were concerned, the withdrawal of Villars
behind the forest barrier was equivalent to the reconstruction of new
lines, and in the event the action of Malplaquet proved that new defensive
position to be strong enough to prevent the invasion of France. On the
other hand, there is little doubt that if Villars had been in a little
more strength he would have elected to fight on the old lines and not
behind the woods.

It must further be remarked that if the operations had not been prolonged
as they were by the existence of the posts on the lines, notably at St
Ghislain, the defensive position of the French would probably have been
forced and their whole line broken as early as September 4th.

[8] It is remarkable that these two roads, which are the chief feature
both of the landscape and the local military topography, and which are of
course as straight as taut strings, are represented upon Mr Fortescue's
map (vol. i. p. 424) as winding lanes, or, to speak more accurately, are
not represented at all. In this perhaps the learned historian of the
British army was misled by Coxe's atlas to Marlborough's campaign, a
picturesque but grossly inaccurate compilation. The student who desires to
study this action in detail will do well to consult the Belgian Ordnance
Map on the scale of 1/40,000 contours at 5 metres, section Roisin, and the
French General Staff Map, 1/80,000, section Maubeuge, south-western
quarter; the action being fought exactly on the frontier between Belgium
and France, both maps are necessary. For the general strategic position
the French 1/200,000 in colours, sheet Maubeuge, and the adjoining sheet,
Lille, are sufficient.

[9] The reader who may compare this account of Malplaquet with others will
be the less confused if he remembers that the forest of Sars is called on
that extremity nearest to the gap the wood of Blaregnies, and that this
name is often extended, especially in English accounts, to the whole

[10] These 9000 found at St Ghislain a belated post of 200 French, who
surrendered. Someone had forgotten them.

[11] For the discussion of this see later on p. 75.

[12] They were commanded by Hamilton and Tullibardine. It is to be
remarked that the command of the whole of the left of the Prince of
Orange's force, though it was not half Scotch, was under the command of
Hamilton and Douglas. The two regiments of Tullibardine and Hepburn were
under the personal command of the Marquis of Tullibardine, the heir of

[13] Nominally under Tilly, but practically under the young Royal

[14] Villars, wounded and fainting with pain, had been taken from the
field an hour or two before, and the whole command was now in the hands of

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _underscore_.

The misprint "Schulenberg" has been corrected to "Schulemberg" (page 70).

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