Britain’s Jubilee

For those unaware, Britain just finished celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee – sixty years of rule. In the US, CNN dedicated a couple of hours to covering the thrilling fleet maneuvers on the Thames – Jon Stewart had a humorous take on CNN’s coverage last night.

As an American, a republican (small ‘r’), an early modernist, and non-royal watcher (or maybe it’s royal non-watcher?), I have little to say about the Diamond Jubilee and its historical importance, although I am curious whether she pardoned many criminals and forgave debts.

But I might as well use the event to segue (note to students: not segway) into a ballad I just happened to read and transcribe this very minute – a different kind of jubilee.

Britain’s Jubilee
A new congratulatory ballad on the Glorious Victories
obtain’d by the Duke of Marlborough, over the French:
Writ by the Famous Comedian, Mr. Escourt,
and Sung by him to most of our Nobility, with great Applause

You Tell me Dick you’ve lately Read,
That we are beaten in Spain;
But prithee Boy hold up thy Head,
We’ll beat ’em twice for it again:
With a fal la la la la la la la la la la la la &c.

Is this the Courage you us’d to Boast,
Why thou are quite cast down;
You can reflect on what we’ve Lost;
But never think what we’ve Won.
With a fal, &c.
In War and Gaming it is the same,
According to the old saying;
Who’s sure to Conquer every Game,
Quite loses the pleasure of Playing.
With a fal, &c.
Then prithee Boy hold up thy Head,
For if we are beaten in Spain;
As sure as Scarlet Colour is Red,
We’ll beat ’em twice for it again.
With a fal, &c.
Thank God we have a Man of our own,
A Man if I may call him so;
For after those great Deeds he has done,
I may question if he’s so or no.
With a fal, &c.
But there is a Man whose Name,
Is Johnny MARLBOROUGH;
The beaten French have felt his Fame,
And so shall the Spaniard too.
With a fal, &c.
Tho’ now Jack Spaniard pretends to Bounce,
He ne’er shall do so again:
We took last Year as many Towns,
As they now have taken Men.
With a fal, &c.
Since Justice now we cannot do,
To every Victory:
Our hearty Zeal in Wine let’s shew,
To our General Family.
With a fal, &c.
For he has Eight Fair Daughters,
And each of them is a Charmer:
Lady Rialton, Bridgewater,
Fine Sunderland, Lady Mount-Hermer,
With a fal, &c.
And as for the other Younger four,
They will with Raptures fill ye;
There’s Lady Hochstet, Schellenburgh,
Bright Blenheim, and Lady Ramillie,
With a fal, &c.
These last are begotten so Fair and Strong,
As ne’er in story was told;
The other four shall still be Young,
But these last shall not be Old.
With a fal, &c.
[**]
Now to make thy hopes more Strong,
And make thee look like a Man;
Remember all these do belong,
To the Queen of Great Britain.
With a fal, &c.

FINIS

Random thoughts:

  • This ballad was published (and presumably sung) in 1707, and republished (at the end of Windsor-Castle: A Poem) in 1708, and both were republished in the same year in A Collection of the Best English Poetry, vol. 1.
  • The reference to being ‘beaten in Spain’ is obviously in response to the Allied (i.e. English) defeat at the Spanish battle of Almansa (Almanza) on 25 April 1707.
  • The reported author is one comedian Mr. Escourt. I don’t have time to research him in too much detail, but a quick Google Books search (limited to 1670-1730) didn’t pull up very much, except a short ditty on artillery at sea (Wit and mirth: or, Pills to purge melancholy, vol. 6). Perhaps a perusal of the recent Oxford Dictionary of National Biography might uncover more of his biography.
  • If the subtitle is to be believed, this was likely sung in a theatre-house. There are several other examples of plays, e.g. Camilla, where a prologue would be added at the last minute to discourse on a recent military event.
  • As is obvious, the point of the poem is to buoy up English domestic morale after a significant battlefield defeat. There seem to be a fixed number of rhetorical strategies to achieve such an objective, and this poem uses two of them particularly – I don’t know if any one has written about this formally, so I’ll coin my own phrases. First is the “we’re still ahead in points” tack: the Gallispans may have won in Spain, but we still have captured more towns and won more battles than them. In fact, from the title, you’d hardly guess that Marlbro’ hadn’t just won another victory. Those battles have an exceedingly long half-life. This resurrection of recent successes also allows the author to gently chide the listener for forgetting about these battles – nothing like a little shame to keep people from complaining. The second technique is the “we’ll get ’em next time” promise: no worries, just wait, you’ll see. Of course the problem for the English was that the next successful Allied battle, Oudenaarde in 1708, led only to the epic siege of Lille. The year after that was the bloodbath of Malplaquet. In other words, each Allied battle victory (at least for Flanders) was less successful than the previous one. Not a good trend.
  • The comparison of gambling to war is interesting, not only because it won’t be the last time this parallel is drawn, but also because it hints at the popularity of gambling in early modern England (future post). The way it’s used to try to ameliorate English disappointment is also a bit amusing – personally it falls flat for me because I’d want to always win at gambling since my goal wouldn’t be the gambling per se, but to maximize my winnings. But I suppose if you gamble for entertainment purposes (as the wealthy presumably do), it might make more sense. Makes one wonder to what extent the English public read about the war for entertainment purposes as much as for their concern over the life-and-death struggle against a tyrannical universal monarch.
  • Describing Marlborough as a “Man of our own” – not only a reference to their commander (presumably in contrast with the Almanza victor Berwick, who was Marlborough’s nephew), but I don’t doubt it was also intended as a reminder of the Englishness of Marlborough, as contrasted with many of William’s generals in the Nine Years War. Implying that Marlborough might be semi-divine is also a nice touch.
  • “The beaten French have felt his Fame, And so shall the Spaniard too” – is this an implication that there was pressure to send the victorious Marlborough to Spain? I know there was talk of sending Prince Eugene of Savoy there to arrest the Bourbon advance. As a historian, it would have been very interesting if either of those two had been sent there – we’d have then seen what role leadership, theater, logistics, and allies (Dutch vs. Portuguese/Austrian) played in the relative successes of the Allies in Flanders, Italy and Iberia.
  • The General[‘s] family is interesting – I haven’t seen this in any other poems on Marlborough. The first four mentioned are real people: Lady Rialton was Churchill’s daughter Henrietta, Lady Bridgewater was another daughter Elizabeth, Lady Sunderland was his second daughter Anne, while Lady Mount-Hermer was John and Sarah Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary. Then, the author oddly gives Marlborough four more ‘daughters,’ that is to say his battlefield victories. Although he needs to do a bit of finessing here, since Hochstedt is an alternate name for the battle of Blenheim [presumably he’s not trying to associate Marlborough with the 1703 battle of Hochstedt won by Villars]. It’s not clear why he needs the symmetry of 8 daughters (four and four), but no surprise you want to flatter the good Duke that his daughters will always remain young while his battles are never forgotten. Of course all these daughters really belong to the Queen – that’s another interesting element of all the poems/odes/ballads about Marlborough’s victories, the extent to which they balance praising Marlborough and praising the Queen.
  • Style: The ballad might very well have been written by a comedian, because its style is far more informal (Johnny Marlborough, fal la la la la…) than most of the poems that you see from the period, which tend to be written in a more formal, heroic vein, usually victory odes, based off the classical poet Pindar. Befitting a popular ballad, in other words.
  •  [**] I also found this versionon Google Docs (Gutenberg), which includes musical notation and a few slight variations in wording. It also includes two additions verses:At ev’ry Feast, e’er we are all deceas’d,
    And the Service begins to be hard;
    ‘Tis surely your Duty, to Toast a young Beauty,
    Call’d Madamosel Audenard,
    With a Fal, &c.All Joy to his Grace, for the ninth of his Race,
    She’s as fair as most of the former;
    But where is that he, dare so impudent be,
    To compare her to Lady Mount-Hermer,
    With a Fal, &c.The additional verses indicate that they were added in 1708, since the battle of Oudenaarde (Audenard) took place on 11 July 1708. You can also tell that there’s a bit less euphoria about this last battle and the direction of the war more generally, perhaps with the “the Service begins to be hard” line, and also that fact that Madamosel Audenard isn’t quite as fair as Churchill’s previous daughters. As an aside, we could also note that the Whig Kit-Cat Club often drank toasts and gave speeches to the beauty of various women of the age, so this praise of Marlborough’s daughters was par for the course. Sarah Churchill doesn’t get mentioned in the ballad, but given her personality, I’m sure many Tories would have continued the theme and referred to her as an old battle ax.

Thoughts?

[Apologies for the formatting – WordPress is pissing me off by deleting all my attempts to put line breaks between the verses]

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2 responses to “Britain’s Jubilee”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    I am a bit of an iconoclast, myself. I rather think Villars won the battle of Malplaquet. Being in possession of the battlefield (and being able to prevent any relief of Mons) weighs rather lightly compared to the relative losses. The similar situation at Villaviciosa is generally accepted as an allied defeat.

    On Marlborough and Spain, I do not think the idea was seriously entertained, least of all by Marlborough. The command situation there was a complete screw-up, even before Almansa. Marlborough had pushed very hard to send Noyelles to Spain as C-in-C, but when Noyelles arrived in 1706 he found Peterborough on one side and Das Minas and Galway on the other, all claiming command. Stanhope was playing political Commissar and none of them had any modern large-scale battle experience (Galway had been at Aughrim and Landen but only at brigade level command.

    Noyelles had the required rank and experience and had been entrusted by Marlborough with breaking the lines of Brabant, but as King Charles commander, had no troops in Spain except the Catalan recruits and although he pushed his plan through for 1707, failed at imposing any command. Das Minas and Galway were caught out by Berwick on the wrong side of the planned route of march, resulting in Almansa.

    For Marlborough, who was extremely sensitive to any situation that would place him in difficulty, to go to Spain, supersede Noyelles and fight with the remnants of the allied army, with no assurance of success…. No way.

    PS. Thanks for for the Cortisos link. I read it with interest and am now trying to establish a possible relationship with hte Dutch commissary Dedel.

    • jostwald says :

      A belated thanks for the post.
      Somewhat unrelatedly, I should have realized earlier that the “Man of our Own” reference in the context of Almansa is likely referring to the defeated Allied commander, the French Huguenot Henri Massue de Ruvigny, earl of Galway, who was the ENGLISH commander at the battle. See what happens when you put a foreigner in charge?

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