The Influence of Sea Power upon History/Chapter V

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The Influence of Sea Power upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan
Chapter V
Chapter V.
War of the Spanish Succession, 1702-1713. Sea Battle of Malaga.

During the last thirty years of the seventeenth century, and all the strifes of arms and diplomacy, there had been clearly foreseen the coming of an event which would raise new and great issues. This was the failure of the direct royal line in that branch of the House of Austria which was then on the Spanish throne; and the issues to be determined when the present king, infirm both in body and mind, should die, were whether the new monarch was to be taken from the House of Bourbon or from the Austrian family in Germany; and whether, in either event, the sovereign thus raised to the throne should succeed to the entire inheritance, the Empire of Spain, or some partition of that vast inheritance be made in the interests of the balance of European power. But this balance of power was no longer understood in the narrow sense of continental possessions; the effect of the new arrangements upon commerce, shipping, and the control both of the ocean and the Mediterranean, was closely looked to. The influence of the two sea powers and the nature of their interests were becoming more evident.

It is necessary to recall the various countries that were ruled by Spain at that time in order to understand the strategic questions, as they may fairly he called, now to be settled. These were, in Europe, the Netherlands (now Belgium); Naples and the south of Italy; Milan and other provinces in the north; and, in the Mediterranean, Sicily, Sardinia, and the Balearic Isles. Corsica at that the belonged to Genoa. In the western hemisphere, besides Cuba and Porto Rico, Spain then held all that part of the continent now divided among the Spanish American States, a region whose vast commercial possibilities were coming to be understood; and in the Asian archipelago there were large possessions that entered less into the present dispute. The excessive weakness of this empire, owing to the decay of the central kingdom, had hitherto caused other nations, occupied as they were with more immediate interests, to regard with indifference its enormous extent. This indifference could not last when there was a prospect of a stronger administration, backed possibly by alliances with one of the great powers of Europe.

It would be foreign to our subject to enter into the details of diplomatic arrangement, which, by shifting about peoples and territories from one ruler to another, sought to reach a political balance peacefully. The cardinal points of each nation's policy may be shortly stated. The Spanish cabinet and people objected to any solution which dismembered the empire. The English and the Dutch objected to any extension of France in the Spanish Netherlands, and to the monopoly by the French of the trade with Spanish Americas both which they feared as the results of placing a Bourbon on the Spanish throne. Louis XIV. wanted Naples and Sicily for one of his sons, in case of any partition; thus giving France a strong Mediterranean position, but one which would be at the mercy of the sea powers,--a fact which induced William III. to acquiesce in this demand. The Emperor of Austria particularly objected to these Mediterranean positions going away from his family, and refused to come into any of the partition treaties. Before any arrangement was perfected, the actual king of Spain died, but before his death was induced by his ministers to sign a will, bequeathing all his States to the grandson of Louis XIV., then Duke of Anjou, known afterward as Philip V. of Spain. By this step it was hoped to preserve the whole, by enlisting in its defence the nearest and one of the most powerful States in Europe,--nearest, if are excepted the powers ruling the sea, which are always near any country whose ports are open to their ships.

Louis XIV. accepted the bequest, and in so doing felt bound in honor to resist all attempts at partition. The union of the two kingdoms under one family promised important advantages to France, henceforth delivered from that old enemy in the rear, which had balked so many of her efforts to extend her frontiers eastward. As a matter of fact, from that time, with rare breaks, there existed between the two kingdoms an alliance, the result of family ties, which only the weakness of Spain kept from being dangerous to the rest of Europe. The other countries at once realized the situation, and nothing could have saved war but some backward step on the part of the French king. The statesmen of England and Holland, the two powers on whose wealth the threatened war must depend, proposed that the Italian States should be given to the son of the Austrian emperor, Belgium be occupied by themselves, and that the new king of Spain should grant no commercial privileges in the Indies to France above other nations. To the credit of their wisdom it must be said that this compromise was the one which after ten years of war was found, on the whole, best; and in it is seen the growing sense of the value of extension by sea. Louis, however, would not yield; on the contrary, he occupied, by connivance of the Spanish governors, towns in the Netherlands which had been held by Dutch troops under treaties with Spain. Soon after, in February, 1701, the English Parliament met, and denounced any treaty which promised France the dominion of the Mediterranean. Holland began to arm, and the Emperor of Austria pushed his troops into northern Italy, where a campaign followed, greatly to the disadvantage of Louis. In September of the same year, 1701, the two sea powers and the Emperor of Austria signed a secret treaty, which laid down the chief lines of the coming war, with the exception of that waged in the Spanish peninsula itself. By it the allies undertook to conquer the Spanish Netherlands in order to place a barrier between France and the United Provinces; to conquer Milan as a security for the emperor's other provinces; and to conquer Naples and Sicily for the same security, and also for the security of the navigation and commerce of the subjects of his Britannic Majesty and of the United Provinces. The sea powers should have the right to conquer, for the utility of the said navigation and commerce, the countries and towns of the Spanish Indies; and all that they should be able to take there should be for them and re-main theirs. The war begun, none of the allies could treat without the others, nor without having taken just measures--first, to prevent the kingdoms of France and Spain from ever being united under the same king; second, to prevent the French from ever making themselves masters of the Spanish Indies, or from sending ships thither to engage, directly or indirectly, in commerce; third, to secure to the subjects of his Britannic Majesty and of the United Provinces the commercial privileges which they enjoyed in all the Spanish States under the late king.

It will be noticed that in these conditions there is no suggestion of any intention to resist the accession of the Bourbon king, who was called to the throne by the Spanish government and at first acknowledged by England and Holland; but, on the other hand, the Emperor of Austria does not withdraw the Austrian claim, which centred in his own person. The voice of the sea powers was paramount in the coalition, as the terms of the treaty safeguarding their commercial interests show, though, as they were about to use German armies for the land war, German claims also had to be considered. As a French historian points out:--

"This was really a new treaty of partition... William III., who had conducted all, had taken care not to exhaust England and Holland, in order to restore the Spanish monarchy, intact, to the emperor; his final condition was to reduce the new king, Philip V., to Spain proper, and to secure to England and Holland at once the commercial use of all the regions that had been under the Spanish monarchy, together with important military and maritime positions against France."[1]

But though war was imminent, the countries about to engage hesitated. Holland would not move without England, and despite the strong feeling of the latter country against France, the manufacturers and merchants still remembered the terrible sufferings of the last war. Just then, as the scales were wavering, James II. died. Louis, yielding to a sentiment of sympathy and urged by his nearest intimates, formally recognized the son of James as king of England; and the English people, enraged at what they looked on as a threat and an insult, threw aside all merely prudential considerations. The House of Lords declared that "there could be no security till the usurper of the Spanish monarchy was brought to reason;" and the House of Commons voted fifty thousand soldiers and thirty-five thousand seamen, besides subsidies for German and Danish auxiliaries. William III. died soon after, in March, 1702; but Queen Anne took up his policy, which had become that of the English and Dutch peoples.

Louis XIV. tried to break part of the on-coming storm by forming a league of neutrals among the other German States; but the emperor adroitly made use of the German feeling, and won to his side the Elector of Brandenburg by acknowledging him as king of Prussia, thus creating a North-German Protestant royal house, around which the other Protestant States naturally gathered, and which was in the future to prove a formidable rival to Austria. The immediate result was that France and Spain, whose cause was thenceforth known as that of the two crowns, went into the war without any ally save Bavaria. War was declared in May by Holland against the kings of France and Spain; by England against France and Spain, Anne refusing to recognize Philip V. even in declaring war, because he had recognized James III. as king of England; while the emperor was still more outspoken, declaring against the King of France and the Duke of Anjou. Thus began the great War of the Spanish Succession.

It is far from easy, in dealing with a war of such proportions, lasting for more than ten years, to disentangle from the general narrative that part which particularly touches our subject, without at the same the losing sight of the relation of the one part to the whole. Such a loss, however, is fatal to the end in view, which is not a mere chronicle of naval events, nor even a tactical or strategic discussion of certain naval problems divorced from their surroundings of cause and effect in general history, but an appreciation of the effect of sea power upon the general result of the war and upon the prosperity of nations. It will conduce to clearness, however, to point out again that the aim of William III. was not to dispute the claim of Philip V. to the throne,--a matter of comparative indifference to the sea powers,--but to seize, to the benefit of their commerce and colonial empire, such portions of the Spanish American possessions as he could, and at the same time to impose such conditions upon the new monarchy as would at least prevent any loss, to English and Dutch commerce, of the privileges they had had under the Austrian line. Such a policy would not direct the main effort of the sea nations upon the Spanish peninsula, but upon America; and the allied fleets might not have entered the Straits. Sicily and Naples were to go, not to England, but to Austria. Subsequent causes led to an entire change in this general plan. A new candidate, a son of the Emperor of Germany, was set up in 1703 by the coalition under the name of Carlos III., and the peninsula became the scene of a doubtful and bloody war, keeping the Anglo-Dutch fleets hovering round the coasts; with the result, as regards the sea powers, that nothing of decisive importance was done in Spanish America, but that England issued from the strife with Gibraltar and Port Mahon in her hands, to be thence-forth a Mediterranean power. At the same time that Carlos III. was proclaimed, a treaty was negotiated with Portugal, known as the Methuen Treaty, which gave England the practical monopoly of Portuguese trade, and sent the gold of Brazil by way of Lisbon to London,--an advantage so great that it aided materially in keeping up the war on the continent as well as in maintaining the navy. At the same time the efficiency of the latter so increased that the losses by French cruisers, though still heavy, were at no time unendurable.

When the war broke out, in pursuance of the original policy, Sir George Rooke, with a fleet of fifty ships-of-the-line and transports carrying fourteen thousand troops, was sent against Cadiz, which was the great European centre of the Spanish-American trade; there came the specie and products of the West, and thence they were dispersed through Europe. It had been the purpose of William III, also to seize Cartagena, one of the principal centres of the same trade in the other hemisphere; and to that end, six months before his death, in September, 1701, he had despatched there a squadron under that traditional seaman of the olden time, Benbow. Benbow fell in with a French squadron sent to supply and strengthen the place, and brought it to action north of Cartagena; but though superior in force, the treason of several of his captains, who kept out of action, defeated his purpose, and after fighting till his ship was helpless and he himself had received a mortal wound, the French escaped and Cartagena was saved. Before his death Benbow received a letter from the French commodore to this effect: "Yesterday morning I had no hope but I should have supped in your cabin. As for those cowardly captains of yours, hang them up, for, by God! they deserve it." And hanged two of them were. Rooke's expedition against Cadiz also failed, as it was nearly certain to do; for his instructions were so to act as to conciliate the Spanish people and disincline them to the Bourbon king. Such doubtful orders tied his hands; but after failing there, he learned that the galleons from the West Indies, loaded with silver and merchandise, had put into Vigo Bay under escort of French ships-of-war. He went there at once, and found the enemy in a harbor whose entrance was but three quarters of a mile wide, defended by fortifications and a heavy boom; but a passage was forced through the boom under a hot fire, the place seized, and all the shipping, with much of the specie, either taken or sunk. This affair, which is known in history as that of the Vigo galleons, was a brilliant and interesting feat of arms, but has no military features calling for mention, except the blow it gave to the finances and prestige of the two crowns.

The affair at Vigo had, however, important political results, and helped to that change in the general plan of the sea powers which has been mentioned. The King of Portugal, moved by fear of the French, had acknowledged Philip V.; but his heart was against him, for he dreaded French influence and power brought so near his little and isolated kingdom. It had been a part of Rooke's mission to detach him from the alliance of the two crowns; and the affair of Vigo, happening so near his own frontiers, impressed him with a sense of the power of the allied navies. In truth, Portugal is nearer to the sea than to Spain, and must fall naturally under the influence of the power controlling the sea. Inducements were offered,--by the Emperor of Austria a cession of Spanish territory, by the sea powers a subsidy; but the king was not willing to declare himself until the Austrian claimant should have landed at Lisbon, fairly committing the coalition to a peninsular as well as a continental war. The emperor transferred his claims to his second son, Charles; and the latter, after being proclaimed in Vienna and acknowledged by England and Holland, was taken by the allied fleets to Lisbon, where he landed in March, 1704. This necessitated the important change in the plans of the sea powers. Pledged to the support of Carlos, their fleets were thenceforth tied to the shores of the peninsula and the protection of commerce; while the war in the West Indies, becoming a side issue on a small scale, led to no results. From this time on, Portugal was the faithful ally of England, whose sea power during this war gained its vast preponderance over all rivals. Her ports were the refuge and support of English fleets, and on Portugal was based in later days the Peninsular war with Napoleon. In and through all, Portugal, for a hundred years, had more to gain and more to fear from England than from any other power.

Great as were the effects of the maritime supremacy of the two sea powers upon the general result of the war, and especially upon that undisputed empire of the seas which England held for a century after, the contest is marked by no one naval action of military interest. Once only did great fleets meet, and then with results that were indecisive; after which the French gave up the struggle at sea, confining themselves wholly to a commerce-destroying warfare. This feature of the War of the Spanish Succession characterizes nearly the whole of the eighteenth century, with the exception of the American Revolutionary struggle. The noiseless, steady, exhausting pressure with which sea power acts, cutting off the resources of the enemy while maintaining its own, supporting war in scenes where it does not appear itself, or appears only in the background, and striking open blows at rare intervals, though lost to most, is emphasized to the careful reader by the events of this war and of the half-century that followed. The overwhelming sea power of England was the determining factor in European history during the period mentioned, maintaining war abroad while keeping its own people in prosperity at home, and building up the great empire which is now seen; but from its very greatness its action, by escaping opposition, escapes attention. On the few occasions in which it is called to fight, its superiority is so marked that the affairs can scarcely be called battles; with the possible exceptions of Byng's action at Minorca and Hawke's at Quiberon, the latter one of the most brilliant pages in naval history, no decisive encounter between equal forces, possessing military interest, occurs between 1700 and 1778.

Owing to this characteristic, the War of the Spanish Succession, from the point of view of our subject, has to be blocked out in general outline, avoiding narrative and indicating general bearings, especially of the actions of the fleets. With the war in Flanders, in Germany, and in Italy the navies had naturally no concern; when they had so protected the commerce of the allies that there was no serious check to that flow of subsidies upon which the land war depended, their part toward it was done. In the Spanish peninsula it was different. Immediately after landing Carlos III. at Lisbon, Sir George Rooke sailed for Barcelona, which it was understood would be handed over when the fleets appeared; but the governor was faithful to his king and kept down the Austrian party. Rooke then sailed for Toulon, where a French fleet was at anchor. On his way he sighted another French fleet coming from Brest, which he chased but was unable to overtake; so that both the enemy's squadrons were united in the port. It is worth while to note here that the English navy did not as yet attempt to blockade the French ports in winter, as they did at a later date. At this period fleets, like armies, went into winter quarters. Another English admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, had been sent in the spring to blockade Brest; but arriving too late, he found his bird flown, and at once kept on to the Mediterranean. Rooke, not thinking himself strong enough to resist the combined French squadrons, fell back toward the Straits; for at this time England had no ports, no base, in the Mediterranean, no useful ally; Lisbon was the nearest refuge. Rooke and Shovel met off Lagos, and there held a council of war, in which the former, who was senior, declared that his instructions forbade his undertaking anything without the consent of the kings of Spain and Portugal. This was indeed tying the hands of the sea powers; but Rooke at last, chafing at the humiliating inaction, and ashamed to go home without doing something, decided to attack Gibraltar for three reasons: because he heard it was insufficiently garrisoned, because it was of infinite importance as a port for the present war, and because its capture would reflect credit on the queen's arms. The place was attacked, bombarded, and then carried by an assault in boats. The English possession of Gibraltar dates from August 4, 1704, and the deed rightly keeps alive the name of Rooke, to whose judgment and fearlessness of responsibility England owes the key of the Mediterranean.

The Bourbon king of Spain at once undertook to retake the place, and called upon the French fleet in Toulon to support his attack. Tourville had died in 1701, and the fleet was commanded by the Count of Toulouse,--a natural son of Louis XIV., only twenty-six years old. Rooke also sailed eastward, and the two fleets met on the 24th of August off Velez Malaga. The allies were to windward with a northeast wind, both fleets on the port tack heading to the southward and eastward. There is some uncertainty as to the numbers; the French had fifty-two ships-of-the-line, their enemy probably half a dozen more. The allies kept away together, each ship for its opposite; there was apparently no attempt on Rooke's part at any tactical combination. The battle of Malaga possesses indeed no military interest, except that it is the first in which we find fully developed that wholly unscientific method of attack by the English which Clerk criticised, and which prevailed throughout the century. It is instructive to notice that the result in it was the same as in all others fought on the same principle. The van opened out from the centre, leaving quite an interval; and the attempt made to penetrate this gap and isolate the van was the only tactical move of the French. We find in them at Malaga no trace of the cautious, skilful tactics which Clerk rightly thought to recognize at a later day. The degeneracy from the able combinations of Monk, Ruyter, and Tourville to the epoch of mere seamanship is clearly marked by the battle of Malaga, and gives it its only historical importance. In it was realized that primitive mode of fighting which Macaulay has sung, and which remained for many years the ideal of the English navy:--

"Then on both sides the leaders

Gave signal for the charge;
And on both sides the footmen
Strode forth with lance and targe;
And on both sides the horsemen
Struck their spurs deep in gore,
And front to front the armies

Met with a mighty roar."

Human movement is not always advance; and there are traces of a somewhat similar ideal in the naval periodical literature of our own day. The fight was severe, lasting from ten in the morning till five in the afternoon, but was entirely indecisive. The next day the wind shifted, giving the weather-gage to the French, but they did not use the opportunity to attack; for which they were much to blame, if their claim of the advantage the day before is well founded. Rooke could not have fought; nearly half his fleet, twenty-five ships, it is said, had used up all their ammunition. Even during the battle itself several of the allied ships were towed out of line, because they had not powder and ball for a single broadside. This was doubtless due to the attack upon Gibraltar, in which fifteen thousand shot were expended, and to the lack of any port serving as a base of supplies,--a deficiency which the new possession would hereafter remove. Rooke, in seizing Gibraltar, had the same object in view that prompted the United States to seize Port Royal at the beginning of the Civil War, and which made the Duke of Parma urge upon his king, before sending the Spanish Great Armada, to seize Flushing on the coast of Holland,--advice which, had it been followed, would have made unnecessary that dreary and disastrous voyage to the north of England. The same reasons would doubtless lead any nation intending serious operations against our seaboard, to seize points remote from the great centres and susceptible of defence, like Gardiner's Bay or Port Royal, which in an inefficient condition of our navy they might hold with and for their fleets.

Rooke retired in peace to Lisbon, bestowing by the way on Gibraltar all the victuals and ammunition that could be spared from the fleet. Toulouse, instead of following up his victory, if it was one, went back to Toulon, sending only ten ships-of-the-line to support the attack on Gibraltar. All the at-tempts of the French against the place were carried on in a futile manner; the investing squadron was finally destroyed and the land attack converted into a blockade. "With this reverse," says a French naval officer, "began in the French people a regrettable reaction against the navy. The wonders to which it had given birth, its immense services, were forgotten. Its value was no longer believed. The army, more directly in contact with the nation, had all its favor, all its sympathy. The prevailing error, that the greatness or decay of France depended upon some Rhenish positions, could not but favor these ideas adverse to the sea service, which have made England's strength and our weakness."[2]

During this year, 1704, the battle of Blenheim was fought, in which the French and Bavarian troops were wholly over-thrown by the English and German under Marlborough and Prince Eugene. The result of this battle was that Bavaria forsook the French alliance, and Germany became a secondary theatre of the general war, which was waged thereafter mainly in the Netherlands, Italy, and the Peninsula.

The following year, 1705, the allies moved against Philip V. by two roads,--from Lisbon upon Madrid, and by way of Barcelona. The former attack, though based upon the sea, was mainly by land, and resultless; the Spanish people in that quarter showed unmistakably that they would not welcome the king set up by foreign powers. It was different in Catalonia. Carlos III. went there in person with the allied fleet. The French navy, inferior in numbers, kept in port. The French army also did not appear. The allied troops invested the town, aided by three thousand seamen and supported by supplies landed from the fleet, which was to them both base of supplies and line of communications. Barcelona surrendered on the 9th of October; all Catalonia welcomed Carlos, and the movement spread to Aragon and Valencia, the capital of the latter province declaring for Carlos.

The following year, 1706, the French took the offensive in Spain on the borders of Catalonia, while defending the passes of the mountains toward Portugal. In the absence of the allied fleet, and of the succors which it brought and maintained, the resistance was weak, and Barcelona was again besieged, this time by the French party supported by a French fleet of thirty sail-of-the-line and numerous transports with supplies from the neighboring port of Toulon. The siege, begun April 5, was going on hopefully; the Austrian claimant himself was within the walls, the prize of success; but on the 10th of May the allied fleet appeared, the French ships retired, and the siege was raised in disorder. The Bourbon claimant dared not retreat into Aragon, and so passed by Roussillon into France, leaving his rival in possession. At the same time there moved forward from Portugal--that other base which the sea power of the English and Dutch at once controlled and utilized--another army maintained by the subsidies earned from the ocean. This time the western attack was more successful; many cities in Estremadura and Leon fell, and as soon as the allied generals learned the raising of the siege of Barcelona, they pressed on by way of Salamanca to Madrid. Philip V., after escaping into France, had returned to Spain by the western Pyrenees; but on the approach of the allies he had again to fly, leaving to them his capital. The Portuguese and allied troops entered Madrid, June 26, 1706. The allied fleet, after the fall of Barcelona, seized Alicante and Cartagena.

So far success had gone; but the inclinations of the Spanish people had been mistaken, and the strength of their purpose and pride, supported by the natural features of their country, was not yet understood. The national hatred to the Portuguese was aroused, as well as the religious dislike to heretics, the English general himself being a Huguenot refugee. Madrid and the surrounding country were disaffected, and the south sent the Bourbon king assurance of its fidelity. The allies were not able to remain in the hostile capital, particularly as the region around was empty of supplies and full of guerillas. They retired to the eastward, drawing toward the Austrian claimant in Aragon. Reverse followed reverse, and on the 25th of April, 1707, the allied army was disastrously overthrown at Almansa, losing fifteen thousand men. All Spain fell back again into the power of Philip V., except the province of Catalonia, part of which also was subdued. The next year 1708, the French made some progress in the same quarter, but were not able to attack Barcelona; Valencia and Alicante, however, were reduced.

The year 1707 was not marked by any naval event of importance. During the summer the allied fleets in the Mediterranean were diverted from the coast of Spain to support arm attack upon Toulon made by the Austrians and Piedmontese. The latter moved from Italy along the coast of the Mediterranean, the fleet supporting the flank on the sea, and contributing supplies. The siege, however, failed, and the campaign was inconclusive. Returning home, the admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, with several ships-of-the-line, was lost on the Scilly Islands, in one of those shipwrecks which have become historical.

In 1708 the allied fleets seized Sardinia, which from its fruitfulness and nearness to Barcelona became a rich store-house to the Austrian claimant, so long as by the allied help he controlled the sea. The same year Minorca, with its valuable harbor, Port Mahon, was also taken, and from that time for fifty years remained in English hands. Blocking Cadiz and Cartagena by the possession of Gibraltar, and facing Toulon with Port Mahon, Great Britain was now as strongly based in the Mediterranean as either France or Spain; while, with Portugal as an ally, she controlled the two stations of Lisbon and Gibraltar, watching the trade routes both of the ocean and of the inland sea. By the end of 1708 the disasters of France by land and sea, the frightful sufferings of the kingdom, and the almost hopelessness of carrying on a strife which was destroying France, and easily borne by England, led Louis XIV. to offer most humiliating concessions to obtain peace. He undertook to surrender the whole Spanish monarchy, reserving only Naples for the Bourbon king. The allies refused; they demanded the abandonment of the whole Spanish Empire without exception by the Duke of Anjou, refusing to call him king, and added thereto ruinous conditions for France herself. Louis would not yield these, and the war went on.

During the remaining years the strenuous action of the sea power of the allies, which had by this time come to be that of Great Britain alone, with little help from Holland, was less than ever obtrusive, but the reality of its effect remained. The Austrian claimant, confined to Catalonia for the most part, was kept in communication with Sardinia and the Italian provinces of Germany by the English fleet; but the entire disappearance of the French navy and the evident intention on the part of Louis to keep no squadrons at sea, allowed some diminution of the Mediterranean fleet, with the result of greater protection to trade. In the years 1710 and 1711 expeditions were also made against the French colonies in North America. Nova Scotia was taken, but an attempt on Quebec failed.

During the winter of 1709 and 1710 Louis withdrew all the French troops from Spain, thus abandoning the cause of his grandson. But when the cause of France was at the very lowest, and it seemed as though she might be driven to concessions which would reduce her to a second-class power, the existence of the coalition was threatened by the disgrace of Marlborough, who represented England in it. His loss of favor with the queen was followed by the accession to power of the party opposed to the war, or rather to its further continuance. This change took place in the summer of 1710, and the inclination toward peace was strengthened both by the favorable position in which England then stood for treating, and by the heavy burden she was bearing; which it became evident could bring in no further advantages commensurate to its weight. The weaker ally, Holland, had gradually ceased to contribute her stipulated share to the sea forces; and although far-sighted Englishmen might see with complacency the disappearance of a rival sea power, the immediate increase of expense was more looked to and felt by the men of the day. The cost both of the continental and Spanish wars was also largely defrayed by England's subsidies; and while that on the continent could bring her no further gain, it was seen that the sympathies of the Spanish people could not be overborne in favor of Carlos III. without paying more than the game was worth. Secret negotiations between England and France soon began, and received an additional impulse by the unexpected death of the Emperor of Germany, the brother of the Austrian claimant of the Spanish throne. There being no other male heir, Carlos became at once emperor of Austria, and was soon after elected emperor of Germany. England had no more wish to see two crowns on an Austrian head than on that of a Bourbon.

The demands made by England, as conditions of peace in 1711, showed her to have become a sea power in the purest sense of the word, not only in fact, but also in her own consciousness. She required that the same person should never be king both of France and Spain; that a barrier of fortified towns should be granted her allies, Holland and Germany, as a defensive line against France; that French conquests from her allies should be restored; and for herself she demanded the formal cession of Gibraltar and Port Mahon, whose strategic and maritime value has been pointed out, the destruction of the port of Dunkirk, the home nest of the privateers that preyed on English commerce, the cession of the French colonies of Newfoundland, Hudson's Bay, and Nova Scotia, the last of which she held at that time, and finally, treaties of commerce with France and Spain, and the concession of the monopoly of the slave trade with Spanish America, known as the Asiento, which Spain had given to France in 1701.

Negotiations continued, though hostilities did not cease; and in June, 1712, a four months' truce between Great Britain and France removed the English troops from the allied armies on the continent, their great leader Marlborough having been taken from their head the year before. The campaign of 1712 was favorable to France; but in almost any event the withdrawal of Great Britain made the end of the war a question of but a short time. The remonstrances of Holland were met by the reply that since 1707 the Dutch had not furnished more than one third their quota of ships, and taking the war through, not over one half. The House of Commons in an address to the throne in 1712 complained that--"The service at sea hath been carried on through the whole course of the war in a manner highly disadvantageous to your Majesty's kingdom, for the necessity requiring that great fleets should be fitted out every year for maintaining a superiority in the Mediterranean and for opposing any force which the enemy might prepare either at Dunkirk or in the ports of west France; your Majesty's readiness, in fitting out your proportion of ships for all parts of that service, hath not prevailed with Holland, which has been greatly deficient every year in proportion to what your Majesty hath furnished. Hence your Majesty hath been obliged to supply those deficiencies with additional reinforcements of your own ships, and your Majesty's ships have been forced in greater numbers to continue in remote seas, and at unseasonable times of the year, to the great damage of the navy. This also hath straitened the convoys for trade; the coasts have been exposed for want of cruisers; and you have been disabled from annoying the enemy in their most beneficial commerce with the West Indies, whence they received those vast supplies of treasure, without which they could not have supported the expenses of the war."

In fact, between 1701 and 1716 the commerce of Spanish America had brought into France forty million dollars in specie. To these complaints the Dutch envoy to England could only reply that Holland was not in a condition to fulfil her compacts. The reverses of 1712, added to Great Britain's fixed purpose to have peace, decided the Dutch to the same; and the English still kept, amid their dissatisfaction with their allies, so much of their old feeling against France as to support all the reasonable claims of Holland. April 11, 1713, an almost general peace, known as the Peace of Utrecht, one of the landmarks of history, was signed between France on the one hand, and England, Holland, Prussia, Portugal, and Savoy on the other. The emperor still held out, but the loss of British subsidies fettered the movements of his armies, and with the withdrawal of the sea powers the continental war might have fallen of itself; but France with her hands freed carried on during 1713 a brilliant and successful campaign in Germany. On the 7th of March, 1714, peace was signed between France and Austria. Some embers of the war continued to burn in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, which persisted in their rebellion against Philip V.; but the revolt was stilled as soon as the arms of France were turned against them. Barcelona was taken by storm in September, 1714; the islands submitted in the following summer.

The changes effected by this long war and sanctioned by the peace, neglecting details of lesser or passing importance, may be stated as follows: 1. The House of Bourbon was settled on the Spanish throne, and the Spanish empire retained its West Indian and American possessions; the purpose of William III. against her dominion there was frustrated when England undertook to support the Austrian prince, and so fastened the greater part of her naval force to the Mediterranean. 2. The Spanish empire lost its possessions in the Netherlands, Gelderland going to the new kingdom of Prussia and Belgium to the emperor; the Spanish Netherlands thus became the Austrian Netherlands. 3. Spain lost also the principal islands of the Mediterranean Sardinia being given to Austria, Minorca with its fine harbor to Great Britain, and Sicily to the Duke of Savoy. 4. Spain lost also her Italian possessions, Milan and Naples going to the emperor. Such, in the main, were the results to Spain of the fight over the succession to her throne.

France, the backer of the successful claimant, came out of the strife worn out, and with considerable loss of territory. She had succeeded in placing a king of her own royal house on a neighboring throne, but her sea strength was exhausted, her population diminished, her financial condition ruined. The European territory surrendered was on her northern and eastern boundaries; and she abandoned the use of the port of Dunkirk, the centre of that privateering warfare so dreaded by English merchants. In America, the cession of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland was the first step toward that entire loss of Canada which befell half a century later; but for the present she retained Cape Breton Island, with its port Louisburg, the key to the Gulf and River St. Lawrence.

The gains of England, by the treaty and the war, corresponded very nearly to the losses of France and Spain, and were all in the direction of extending and strengthening her sea power. Gibraltar and Port Mahon in the Mediterranean, and the colonies already mentioned in North America, afforded new bases to that power, extending and protecting her trade. Second only to the expansion of her own was the injury to the sea power of France and Holland, by the decay of their navies in consequence of the immense drain of the land warfare; further indications of that decay will be given later. The very neglect of Holland to fill up her quota of ships, and the bad condition of those sent, while imposing extra burdens upon England, may be considered a benefit, forcing the British navy to greater development and effort. The disproportion in military power on the sea was further increased by the destruction of the works at Dunkirk; for though not in itself a first-class port, nor of much depth of water, it had great artificial military strength, and its position was peculiarly adapted to annoy English trade. It was but forty miles from the South Foreland and the Downs, and the Channel abreast it is but twenty miles wide. Dunkirk was one of Louis' earliest acquisitions, and in its development was as his own child; the dismantling of the works and filling-in of the port show the depth of his humiliation at this time. But it was the wisdom of England not to base her sea power solely on military positions nor even on fighting-ships, and the commercial advantages she had now gained by the war and the peace were very great. The grant of the slave trade with Spanish America, in itself lucrative, became yet more so as the basis for an immense smuggling inter-course with those countries, which gave the English a partial recompense for their failure to obtain actual possession; while the cessions made to Portugal by France in South America were mainly to the advantage of England, which had obtained the control of Portuguese trade by the treaty of 1703. The North American colonies ceded were valuable, not merely nor chiefly as military stations, but commercially; and treaties of commerce on favorable terms were made both with France and Spain. A minister of the day, defending the treaty in Parliament, said: "The advantages from this peace appear in the addition made to our wealth; in the great quantities of bullion lately coined in our mint; by the vast increase in our shipping employed since the peace, in the fisheries, and in merchandise; and by the remarkable growth of the customs upon imports, and of our manufactures, and the growth of our country upon export;" in a word, by the impetus to trade in all its branches.

While England thus came out from the war in good running condition, and fairly placed in that position of maritime supremacy which she has so long maintained, her old rival in trade and fighting was left hopelessly behind. As the result of the war Holland obtained nothing at sea,--no colony, no station. The commercial treaty with France placed her on the same terms as England, but she received no concessions giving her a footing in Spanish America like that obtained by her ally. Indeed, some years before the peace, while the coalition was still maintaining Carlos, a treaty was made with the latter by the British minister, unknown to the Dutch, practically giving the British monopoly of Spanish trade in America; sharing it only with Spaniards, which was pretty much the same as not sharing it at all. This treaty accidentally became known, and made a great impression on the Dutch; but England was then so necessary to the coalition that she ran no risk of being left out by its other members. The gain which Holland made by land was that of military occupation only, of certain fortified places in the Austrian Netherlands, known to history as the "barrier towns;" nothing was added by them to her revenue, population, or resources; nothing to that national strength which must underlie military institutions. Holland had forsaken, perhaps unavoidably, the path by which she had advanced to wealth and to leadership among nations. The exigencies of her continental position had led to the neglect of her navy, which in those days of war and privateering involved a loss of carrying-trade and commerce: and although she held her head high through the war, the symptoms of weakness were apparent in her failing armaments. Therefore, though the United Provinces attained the great object for which they began the war, and saved the Spanish Netherlands from the hands of France, the success was not worth the cost. Thenceforth they withdrew for a long period from the wars and diplomacy of Europe; partly, perhaps, because they saw how little they had gained, but yet more from actual weakness and inability. After the strenuous exertions of the war came a reaction, which showed painfully the inherent weakness of a State narrow in territory and small in the number of its people. The visible decline of the Provinces dates from the Peace of Utrecht; the real decline began earlier. Holland ceased to be numbered among the great powers of Europe, her navy was no longer a military factor in diplomacy, and her commerce also shared in the general decline of the State.

It remains only to notice briefly the results to Austria, and to Germany generally. France yielded the barrier of the Rhine, with fortified places on the east bank of the river. Austria received, as has been mentioned, Belgium, Sardinia, Naples, and the Spanish possessions in northern Italy; dissatisfied in other respects, Austria was especially discontented at her failure to obtain Sicily, and did not cease negotiating afterward, until she had secured that island. A circumstance more important to Germany and to all Europe than this transitory acquisition of distant and alien countries by Austria was the rise of Prussia, which dates from this war as a Protestant and military kingdom destined to weigh in the balance against Austria.

Such were the leading results of the War of the Spanish Succession, "the vastest yet witnessed by Europe since the Crusades." It was a war whose chief military interest was on the land,--a war in which fought two of the greatest generals of all times, Marlborough and Prince Eugene, the names of whose battles, Blenheim, Ramillies, Malplaquet, Turin, are familiar to the most casual reader of history; while a multitude of able men distinguished themselves on the other theatres of the strife, in Flanders, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain. On the sea only one great battle, and that scarcely worthy of the name, took place. Yet looking only, for the moment, to immediate and evident results, who reaped the benefit? Was it France, whose only gain was to seat a Bourbon on the Spanish throne? Was it Spain, whose only gain was to have a Bourbon king instead of an Austrian, and thus a closer alliance with France? Was it Holland, with its barrier of fortified towns, its ruined navy, and its exhausted people? Was it, lastly, Austria, even though she had fought with the money of the sea powers, and gained such maritime States as the Netherlands and Naples? Was it with these, who had waged war more and more exclusively by land, and set their eyes more and more on gains on the land, or was it not rather with England, who had indeed paid for that continental war and even backed it with her troops, but who meanwhile was building up her navy, strengthening, extending, and protecting her commerce, seizing maritime positions,--in a word, founding and rearing her sea power upon the ruins of that of her rivals, friend and foe alike? It is not to depreciate the gains of others that the eye fixes on England's naval growth; their gains but bring out more clearly the immenseness of hers. It was a gain to France to have a friend rather than an enemy in her rear, though her navy and shipping were ruined. It was a gain to Spain to be brought in close intercourse with a living country like France after a century of political death, and she had saved the greater part of her threatened possessions. It was a gain to Holland to be definitively freed from French aggression, with Belgium in the hands of a strong instead of a weak State. And it doubtless was a gain to Austria not only to have checked, chiefly at the expense of others, the progress of her hereditary enemy, but also to have received provinces like Sicily and Naples, which, under wise government, might become the foundation of a respectable sea power. But not one of these gains, nor all together, compared in greatness, and much less in solidity, with the gain to England of that unequalled sea power which started ahead during the War of the League of Augsburg, and received its completeness and seal during that of the Spanish Succession. By it she controlled the great commerce of the open sea with a military shipping that had no rival, and in the exhausted condition of the other nations could have none; and that shipping was now securely based on strong positions in all the disputed quarters of the world. Although her Indian empire was not yet begun, the vast superiority of her navy would enable her to control the communications of other nations with those rich and distant regions, and to assert her will in any disputes arising among the trading-stations of the different nationalities. The commerce which had sustained her in prosperity, and her allies in military efficiency, during the war, though checked and harassed by the enemy's cruisers (to which she could pay only partial attention and the many claims upon her), started with a bound into new life when the war was over. All over the world, exhausted by their share of the common suffering, people were longing for the return of prosperity and peaceful commerce; and there was no country ready as England was in wealth, capital, and shipping to forward and reap the advantages of every enterprise by which the interchange of commodities was promoted, either by lawful or unlawful means. In the War of the Spanish Succession, by her own wise management and through the exhaustion of other nations, not only her navy but her trade was steadily built up; and indeed, in that dangerous condition of the seas, traversed by some of the most reckless and restless cruisers France ever sent out, the efficiency of the navy meant safer voyages, and so more employment for the merchant-ships. The British merchant-ships, being better protected than those of the Dutch, gained the reputation of being far safer carriers, and the carrying-trade naturally passed more and more into their hands; while the habit of employing them in preference, once established, was likely to continue.

"Taking all things together," says an historian of the British navy, "I doubt whether the credit of the English nation ever stood higher than at this period, or the spirit of the people higher. The success of our arms at sea, the necessity of protecting our trade, and the popularity of every step taken to increase our maritime power, occasioned such measures to be pursued as annually added to our force. Hence arose that mighty difference which at the close of the year 1706 appeared in the Royal Navy; this, not only in the number but in the quality of the ships, was much superior to what it had been at the time of the Revolution or even before. Hence it was that our trade rather increased than diminished during the last war, and that we gained so signally by our strict intercourse with Portugal."[3]

The sea power of England therefore was not merely in the great navy, with which we too commonly and exclusively associate it; France had had such a navy in 1688, and it shrivelled away like a leaf in the fire. Neither was it in a prosperous commerce alone; a few years after the date at which we have arrived, the commerce of France took on fair proportions, but the first blast of war swept it off the seas as the navy of Cromwell had once swept that of Holland. It was in the union of the two, carefully fostered, that Eng-land made the gain of sea power over and beyond all other States; and this gain is distinctly associated with and dates from the War of the Spanish Succession. Before that war England was one of the sea powers; after it she was the sea power, without any second. This power also she held alone, unshared by friend and unchecked by foe. She alone was rich, and in her control of the sea and her extensive shipping had the sources of wealth so much in her hands that there was no present danger of a rival on the ocean. Thus her gain of sea power and wealth was not only great but solid, being wholly in her own hands; while the gains of the other States were not merely inferior in degree, but weaker in kind, in that they depended more or less upon the good will of other peoples.

Is it meant, it may be asked, to attribute to sea power alone the greatness or wealth of any State? Certainly not. The due use and control of the sea is but one link in the chain of exchange by which wealth accumulates; but it is the central link, which lays under contribution other nations for the benefit of the one holding it, and which, history seems to assert, most surely of all gathers to itself riches. In England, this control and use of the sea seems to arise naturally, from the concurrence of many circumstances; the years immediately preceding the War of the Spanish Succession had, moreover, furthered the advance of her prosperity by a series of fiscal measures, which Macaulay speaks of as "the deep and solid foundation on which was to rise the most gigantic fabric of commercial prosperity which the world had ever seen." It may be questioned, however, whether the genius of the people, inclined to and developed by trade, did not make easier the taking of such measures; whether their adoption did not at least partially spring from, as well as add to, the sea power of the nation. However that may be, there is seen, on the opposite side of the Channel, a nation which started ahead of England in the race,--a nation peculiarly well fitted, by situation and resources, for the control of the sea both by war and commerce. The position of France is in this peculiar, that of all the great powers she alone had a free choice; the others were more or less constrained to the land chiefly, or to the sea chiefly, for any movement outside their own borders; but she to her long continental frontier added a seaboard on three seas. In 1672 she definitely chose expansion by land. At that time Colbert had administered her finances for twelve years, and from a state of terrible confusion had so restored them that the revenue of the King of France was more than double that of the King of England. In those days France paid the subsidies of Europe; but Colbert's plans and hopes for France rested upon making her powerful on the sea. The war with Holland arrested these plans, the onward movement of prosperity ceased, the nation was thrown back upon itself, shut off from the outside world. Many causes doubtless worked together to the disastrous result which marked the end of the reign of Louis XIV.: constant wars, bad administration in the latter half of the period, extravagance throughout; but France was practically never invaded, the war was kept at or beyond her own frontiers with slight exceptions, her home industries could suffer little from direct hostilities. In these respects she was nearly equal to England, and under better conditions than her other enemies. What made the difference in the results? Why was France miserable and exhausted, while England was smiling and prosperous? Why did England dictate, and France accept, terms of peace? The reason apparently was the difference in wealth and credit. France stood alone against many enemies; but those enemies were raised and kept moving by English subsidies. The Lord Treasurer of England, writing in 1706 to Marlborough, says:--

"Though the land and trade of both England and Holland have excessive burthens upon them, yet the credit continues good both of them and us; whereas the finances of France are so much more exhausted that they are forced to give twenty and twenty-five per cent for every penny they send out of the kingdom, unless they send it in specie."

In 1712 the expenditure of France was 240,000,000 francs, while the taxes brought in only 113,000,000 gross, of which, after deducting losses and necessary expenses, only 37,000,000 remained in the treasury; the deficit was sought to be met by anticipating parts of the revenue for years ahead, and by a series of extraordinary transactions tedious to name or to understand.

"In the summer of 1715 [two years after the peace] it seemed as if the situation could not grow worse,--no more public nor private credit; no more clear revenue for the State; the portions of the revenue not pledged, anticipated on the following years. Neither labor nor consumption could be resumed for want of circulation; usury reigned on the ruins of society. The alternations of high prices and the depreciation of commodities finally crushed the people. Provision riots broke out among them, and even in the army. Manufactures were languishing or suspended; forced mendicity was preying upon the cities. The fields were deserted, the lands fallow for lack of instruments, for lack of manure, for lack of cattle; the houses were falling to ruin. Monarchical France seemed ready to expire with its aged king."[4]

Thus it was in France, with a population of nineteen millions at that time to the eight millions of all the British islands; with a land vastly more fertile and productive; before the great days, too, of coal and iron. "In England, on the contrary, the immense grants of Parliament in 1710 struck the French prodigiously; for while their credit was low, or in a manner quite gone, ours was at its zenith." During that same war "there appeared that mighty spirit among our merchants which enabled them to carry on all their schemes with a vigor that kept a constant circulation of money throughout the kingdom, and afforded such mighty encouragement to all manufactures as has made the remembrance of those times grateful in worse."

"By the treaty with Portugal we were prodigious gainers.... The Portuguese began to feel the comfortable effects of their Brazil gold mines, and the prodigious commerce that followed with us made their good fortune in great measure ours; and so it has been ever since; otherwise I know not how the expenses of the war had been borne.... The running cash in the kingdom increased very considerably, which must be attributed in great measure to our Portuguese trade; and this, as I have made manifest, we owed wholly to our power at sea [which took Portugal from the alliance of the two crowns, and threw her upon the protection of the maritime powers]. Our trade with the Spanish West Indies by way of Cadiz was certainly much interrupted at the beginning of this war; but afterward it was in great measure restored, as well by direct communication with several provinces when under the Archduke, as through Portugal, by which a very great though contraband trade was carried on. We were at the same time very great gainers by our commerce with the Spaniards in the West Indies [also contraband].... Our colonies, though complaining of neglect, grew richer, more populous, and carried their trade farther than in former times... Our national end with respect to England was in this war particularly in great measure answered,--I mean the destruction of the French power at sea, for, after the battle of Malaga, we hear no more of their great fleets; and though by this the number of their privateers was very much increased, yet the losses of our merchants were far less in the latter than in the former reign.... It is certainly a matter of great satisfaction that... setting out at first with the sight of so great a naval power as the French king had assembled in 1688, while we struggled under such difficulties, and when we got out of that troublesome war, in 1697, found ourselves loaded with a debt too heavy to be shaken off in the short interval of peace, yet by 1706, instead of seeing the navy of France riding upon our coast, we sent every year a powerful fleet to insult theirs, superior to them not only in the ocean, but in the Mediterranean, forcing them entirely out of that sea by the mere sight of our flag.... By this we not only secured our trade with the Levant, and strengthened our interests with all the Italian princes, but struck the States of Barbary with terror, and awed the Sultan from listening to any proposals from France. Such were the fruits of the increase of our naval power, and of the manner in which it was employed.... Such fleets were necessary; they at once protected our flag and our allies, and attached them to our interest; and, what is of greater importance than all the rest, they established our reputation for maritime force so effectually that we feel even to this day [1740] the happy effects of the fame thus acquired."[5]

It is needless to add more. Thus stood the Power of the Seas during the years in which the French historians tell us that their cruisers were battening on her commerce. The English writer admits heavy losses. In 1707, that is, in the space of five years, the returns, according to the report of a committee of the House of Lords, "show that since the beginning of the war England had lost 30 ships-of-war and 1146 merchant-ships, of which 300 were retaken; whereas we had taken from them, or destroyed, 80 ships-of-war, and 1346 merchantmen; 175 privateers also were taken." The greater number of the ships-of-war were probably on private venture, as has been explained. But, be the relative numbers what they may, no argument is needed beyond the statements just given, to show the inability of a mere cruising warfare, not based upon large fleets, to break down a great sea power. Jean Bart died in 1702; but in Forbin, Du Casse, and others, and above all in Duguay-Trouin, he left worthy successors, the equals of any commerce-destroyers the world has ever seen.

The name of Duguay-Trouin suggests the mention, before finally leaving the War of the Spanish Succession, of his greatest privateering expedition, carried to a distance from home rarely reached by the seamen of his occupation, and which illustrates curiously the spirit of such enterprises in that day, and the shifts to which the French government was reduced. A small French squadron had attacked Rio Janeiro in 1710, but being repulsed, had lost some prisoners, who were said to have been put to death. Duguay-Trouin sought permission to avenge the insult to France. The king, consenting, advanced the ships and furnished the crews; and a regular contract was drawn up between the king on the one hand and the company employing Duguay-Trouin on the other, stipulating the expenses to be borne and supplies furnished on either hand; among which we find the odd, business-like provision that for every one of the troops embarked who shall die, be killed, or desert during the cruise, the company should pay a forfeit of thirty francs. The king was to receive one fifth of the net profits, and was to bear the loss of any one of the vessels that should be wrecked, or destroyed in action. Under these provisions, enumerated in full in a long contract, Duguay-Trouin received a force of six ships-of-the-line, seven frigates, and over two thousand troops, with which he sailed to Rio Janeiro in 1711; captured the place after a series of operations, and allowed it to be ransomed at the price of something under four hundred thousand dollars, probably nearly equal to a million in the present day, besides five hundred cases of sugar. The privateering company cleared about ninety-two per cent on their venture. As two of the ships-of-the-line were never heard from after sailing on the return voyage, the king's profits were probably small.

While the War of the Spanish Succession was engaging all western Europe, a strife which might have had a profound influence upon its issue was going on in the east. Sweden and Russia were at war, the Hungarians had revolted against Austria, and Turkey was finally drawn in, though not till the end of the year 1710. Had Turkey helped the Hungarians, she would have made a powerful diversion, not for the first the in history, in favor of France. The English historian suggests that she was deterred by fear oh the English fleet; at all events she did not move, and Hungary was reduced to obedience. The war between Sweden and Russia was to result in the preponderance of the latter upon the Baltic, the subsidence of Sweden, the old ally of France, into a second-rate State, and the entrance of Russia definitively into European politics.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Martin: History of France.
  2. Lapeyrouse-Bonfils: Hist. de la Marine Francaise.
  3. Campbell: Lives of the Admirals.
  4. Martin: History of France.
  5. Campbell: Lives of the Admirals.