Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 10.djvu/343

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Churchill
Churchill
335

moral weight. Marlborough, however, concerted, with Eugene, a large scheme for the campaign. Arras, the most important fortress which still covered the French frontier, was to be t-aken, and the allies were thence to attack Abbeville, Calais, and Boulogne. Great efforts were also to be made on Spain and the south of France. Marlborough reached Toumay on 18 April 1710, and began operations by the siege of Douay, passing the French lines by surprise on 20 April. Trenches were opened on 5 May. Villars took command of the French army near Cam bray about 20 May. His forces, though he asserts the contrary, seem to have been about equal to Marlborough's, and he made various manœuvres to interrupt the siege. Douay surrendered on 26 June, after an obstinate defence. The passage of the French lines had incidentally led to another indication of loss of influence. A list of officers was recommended for promotion by Marlborough, which stopped short of Hill and Masham. The queen forced him to give way on both points. The duchess declined to make his concession a ground for proposing a reconciliation with ' Mrs. Masham. Sunderland was dismissed on 13 June, when the ministry sent a memorial to Marlborough entreating him to restrain his resentment at the fall of his son-in-law and remain at the head of the army. They told him that he would thus hinder the dissolution of parliament, an argument which shows the real secret of their weakness. Marlborough consented, moved chiefly, as he said, by this consideration (Coxe, iii. 241-9). The allies were alarmed at the prospect. The Dutch sent a memorial to protest ; the emperor wrote to the queen begging her not to dissolve parliament or dismiss the ministry, and to Marlborough begging him not to resign. The interference was useless, or worse ; and the duchess improved the occasion by a series of violent epistles, to which the queen finally declined to reply.

Villars now avoided an engagement, the loss of which must have been disastrous, and took upon a strong position from Arras to the Somme. His skilful dispositions forced the allies to abandon their attack upon Arras, and content themselves with the capture of Bethune (28 Aug.), St. Vincent (29 Sept.), and Aire (12 Nov.) Marlborough mentions the loss of a convoy during the siege of St. Vincent as the 'first ill news' he had had to send in nine years' war (Private Corresponddence, i. 393). He complains of the want of engineers, which delayed these and other sieges (Despatches, v. 105). While slow propress was thus being niade abroad, the ministry was rapidly collapsing. Halifax was partly detached from the whigs by his appointment as joint plenipotentiary at the Hague. At last the catastrophe came. Godolphin was dismissed on 8 Aug., and by the end of the month Somers, Orford, and Cowper were out of office, and the administration formed, of which Harley and St. John were the prominent leaders. Parliament was dissolved on 26 Sept. The new ministers showed their sympathies by delaying to provide funds for Blenheim. Marlborough felt himself ill supported, while the allies became suspicious. The campaigns on the Rhine and in the south were nugatory, and the Spanish war ended with the disasters at Brihuega and Villa Viciosa. Marlborough, after tlie campaign, went to the Hague, to consider future measures. In the House of Commons, which met on 25 Nov., the tories had a great majority. Marlborough did not receive the customary vote of thanks. For some time the dismissal of the duchess had been contemplated, while efforts were made to persuade Marlborough to submit. The duchess herself wrote letters to Sir David Hamilton, one of the queen's physicians, remonstrating as usual, and insinuating a threat of publishing the old affectionate correspondence. Marlborough reached London on 28 Dec., while the controversy was still raging. At last, on 17 Jan. 1711, Marlborough took a letter from the duchess to the nueen containing a final protest. He himselr entreated the queen to retreat or delay, while complaining of a recent dismissal of three officers for drinking 'confusion to his enemies.' The queen was immovable, and Marlborough the same night returned the duchess's golden key of office. He yielded to the solicitations of the whigs and Eugene by still retaining his command.

The duchess now sent in her accounts, in which she cleared herself from insinuations of peculation. Swift, in the 'Examiner' (No. 16, 23 Nov. 1710), had accused the duchess of appropriating 22,000l. a year out of the privy purse. According to the duchess (Conduct, p. 293) this referred to the pension of 2,000l. a year which had been offered to her by the queen in 1702 and then absolutely refused. She now put things straight by charging the whole amount of the pension for nine years as arrears. 'It went very much against' the duchess to desire anything of the queen; but, considering how much was due to her economy and her other good services, she felt that the claim was only due to herself. She added a last insult by taking away the locks and the marble chimneypiece from her lodgmgs in the palace.

The following session Drought fresh annoyances. The old ministers were blamed ;