For those who get all their international news from CNN, they would’ve come across this article on the British (“Royal”) Navy keeping a close eye on Russia’s lone aircraft carrier as it chugs its way back to its Baltic home: http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/26/europe/britain-russia-aircraft-carrier/.
The quote receiving attention abroad was the UK Defence Secretary saying that “We are keeping a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia, a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people.” Of course for me, the money quote was not the “ship of shame” line – to be honest, I had to think for a minute which shame to focus on: the mission, the carrier design, or its operational performance in the Eastern Med? No, I smiled at yet another example of the British accusing their opponents of skulking about – why can’t everybody just be brave and downright like the British?
So, is Vladimir Putin the new Louis XIV? Discuss.
Which gives me time to throw a quick blog post up into the Ether – now that we’ve finally gotten our electricity back, after six hours. I’ve been busy with teaching two grading-intensive courses (a senior seminar on the Age of Enlightenment and the Historical Research and Writing course), as well as my European Warfare 1337-1815, but also getting some overdue research done. So I might as well share little bits that are too long to publish in full.
As I’m nearing the completing of my long-delayed siege capitulation chapter, I came across this humorous piece illustrating a lot of the themes I’ve been exploring over the past few years. Without further ado, I bring you another episode in the rarely-boring Country-man and Observator Show, from 1706.
Cm: It pleases me and all good Christian Englishmen, Master, I have a whole Budget full of Victories.
O: What more Victories? New Ones, Roger?
Cm: Yes, Master, all Spike and Span New. Let me see, Master, I’ll lay ’em out before you in Mode and Form. First and foremost I present with the Surrender of Ostend, that’s the Place you wanted to have Taken, and so I hope you are pleas’d for One, especially since it was Taken in less time than you thought for [it defended itself for more than three years during the Eighty Years War].
As soon as my Lord Overkirk began to fling his Bombs on one side, and the English Fleet did the like on the other side of the Town, the French and Spaniards began to Squeak like so many Rats and Wessels between two Fires. Ah, Master, ’tis a sad thing to be Roasted at that rate; and while a Body is turning upon the Spit to be Basted with huge ugly Bombs and stinking Carcasses [an incendiary bomb]; ’tis enough to Fright any Body. I’ll warrant it the poor Frenchmen Drip’d more T—- [Turd] than Tallow; the heat of the Fire shrivel’d their poor thin hunger-starv’d Carcasses.
But there is one thing I observ’d upon the Papers that seems very Chomical, I cou’dn’t forbear Laughing at it: Master Mothe [La Mothe-Houdancourt], the French Governor in the Town, when it was Surrender’d, excused the Bravery of his Men, which he said Was quite lost in Defending a Ravelin; but he did not attribute it to a Natural Cause, but to Witchery and Devildom, and said All his Men were Bewitch’d. Aye, thought I, and so was thy Master Bewitch’d too, when he sent a Mothe [i.e. a moth] to take Care of the Cloathing of such a Town as Ostend. The Notion of Witchery is a poor excuse for Cowardice, and being over-match’d in Bravery and Skill in Martial Affairs.
But, Master, I foresee this Notion of Witchery will spread a great way; Anjou he’s coming Home Bewitch’d and Bedevil’d. Bavaria and Collogn, the two Brothers of Treachery, they are Bewitch’d and Hagg-Riden out of their Country. Prince Eugene he has Bewitch’d poor Vendosme, as I’ll tell you By and By. But the Duke of Marlborough he has Bewitch’d all Flanders, as the Earl of Peterborough has done all Spain. Bless me, Master, was there ever such Witchery, such a parcel of Martial Necromancers ever known at one time in the World? One would think that all the English Forces had been rais’d in Lancashire [the Pendle witches 1612], and were the Legitimate Issue of Teague O Devilly, begotten on Mother Demdyke [one of the Lancashire witches].
But Master, it rejoyces my Heart to see this Witchery as Monsieur Mothe calls it, go on o’the other side of the Water. Dendermond is Bewitch’d already; and a Spell is lay’d upon Newport, that will be actually Bewitch’d in twelve or fourteen Days time; nay, I heard some of our Coffee-House Wizzards say, That before the Campaign is ended Dunkirk will be horribly Bewitch’d. Ha! thought I, will it so? Then the Prophecy that I remember I read, concerning the French King, may come to pass.
Lorrain you Stole, by Fraud you got Burgundy,
Dunkirk you Bought, and you shall Pay for’t one Day.
Obs: He has Pay’d for’t long ago.
Cm: Aye, Master, to a Corrupt Minister that had no Power to Sell it and Receive the Money; and, I think the English Nation were Bewitch’d at that time, that they did not Hovel-Post that Minister. But now, Master, is our time to make the French King pay for Buying Stollen-Goods; and I foresee we shall do it with a Vengeance.
There’s another great piece of Witchery coming on the Stage too: The Earl of Rivers is going to Bewitch a Power of People somewhere or other; and the French King, tho’ he is an Old Wizzard, and has his Familiar, Goody Maintenon, always about him, he can’t tell whether they are going: But they are going to Bewitch some of his People, that’s for certain; because they carry with ’em Mortars, Bombs, Great and Small Guns, and other Instruments of War, the Spells with which the Duke of Marlborough has Bewitch’d so many Towns and People in Flanders. And what is most inconsolable to the French King is, that 12000 of those very Wizzards that Bewitch’d all Flanders are Ship’d off at Ostend, and wait only for a Wind to joyn in this Expedition.
Well, for my part I would give a Pot of October [brew] to see how the French King himself is Bewitch’d at this News. What are become of all his Little Imps that us’d to Creep into the Cabinet of Princes, even thro’ the Little Key-Holes? That when we had an Expedition forwarded, as at this present, could tel him it was to be at Camaret? [Did Tutchin know that Marlborough is traditionally credited with spilling that particular secret?] That when we had sent a Spy to France he was so effectually told of it, that when the Vessel Arrived, his Officers could come to Her side and ask for Lame Puckle? Master, I fancy the French King is Bewitch’d, because his Devils have lost their Power, because our Devils, with whom they held a Correspondance are Exorcis’d, and render’d Incapable of doing us any more Mischief. Tar-box for that.
Obs: Indeed, Honest Country-man, the little Shifts that are made use of by the French King, his Ministers and Generals, to excuse their Bankrupcty of Power, are so very Weak, that none but the Vassals of France, who must have their Eyes put out for Seeing can help Laughing at them. ‘Tis but t’other Day the French Kings Minister at Madrid told the Grandees of Spain, Asembled for that purpose, That his Master would rather call Home his Grandson, the Duke de Anjou, than that such Sacriledges should be Committed in a Catholick Kingdom by Wicked Heretics. This is the specious Pretence for calling Home his Spanish PERKIN; but who can believe the sincerity of the French King in this Point, who has, himself, been the most Sacrilegious Monster that ever Europe Bred? That has spared neither Religious-Houses, nor their Inhabitants, or the Lands Given and Settled to Pious Uses, when it has been his Interest to Seize them; and had he not been Diverted by a War in Eighty Eight, he had Wag’d War upon his Holy-Father, the Pope, at that time.
Monsieur Mothe’s Whim of Witchery is Comical enough. A good Excuse for being Beaten. This strange Reflux of French Valour cannot proceed from any Natural Cause; no, by no means. The French Courage can never be decay’d in its Nature, ’tis some Evil Planet Governs, and the French Troops are certainly Bewitch’d.
I might here assert that ’tis Natural for Men, so much beaten as the French has been of late every where, and in all Engagements, to be Cow’d and Disspirited, that ’tis also Politick for Men when they find the Dice of War run against ’em to leave off Playing at Soldiers. But to attribute the want of French Courage to Witchcraft, is in so many Words telling the World, That the Devil Reigns in the Year 1706, and that his Ancient Alliance with the French King is come to a Period.
Honest-Roger, all this is the Work of the Almighty, he gives Courage and he Disspirits Men; God is against that Wicked Tyrant, that Grizly Oppressor of Mankind, that Bloody Butcher of Protestants, and can he then Prosper? Who can withstand the fixt Resolves of the Eternal Being? Or can Humane Force over-come the Almighty Arm? No, Roger, ’tis Providence, and not Witchcraft has Disspirited the French Forces; and the same Providence may, and will do the same by us, if we don’t own that High Hand by whose Influence we Conquer, and make suitable Returns for such Auxiliaries of Divine Power.
Cm: Now, Master, out of my Budget I pull a Notable Victory, obtained by Prince Eugene over the Duke D’Vandosme. The French Forces in Italy are also Bewitch’d; this Magick Spell fles a great way: I fancy some or other of our Side has got Pandora’s Box, and opens it at every turn when he pleases, and let his Poisons fly to taint the Frenchmen with Cowardice. Master, in short we han’t yet got the Particulars of the Fight in Italy, but of this we are certain, that there has been a Fight and that the French Army is Routed Horse and Foot, and that Vandosme is Mortally Wounded, so that he’ll hardly be in a Condition to Act against the Duke of Marlborough.
And now what wil become of the Something of Orelans that was to have Vandosme’s Post? I fancy Vandosme was a Malicious Fellow, and being Incens’d at the French King, for putting Orleans over his Head, he carried his Bewitch’d Army to Prince Eugene to have ’em Kill’d, and so that Orleans, when he came, might have no Army to Command. Those Frenchmen are Spiteful, let ’em be Bewitch’d or not Bewitch’d.
Obs: That Prince Eugene, the most Neglected of any general, has done the greatest Exploits in War that ever any Age could produce, always out-Number’d, out of time Recruited, Troops Ill Paid, and yet always Victorious. Unrewarded, and yet Faithful to his Trust; and what is yet more Glorious, as Poor now, after being General so many Campaigns, as at first when he held the Truncheon of Honour. Covetousness is the worst Vice a General can have, a Covetous Man can never be so true to his Trust as he that despises Money, and seeks nothing but the Good of his Country in the Service of it; a Covetous Captain is a Rent to a Kingdom, you must purchase his Fidelity at so high a Rate as the Enemy may’nt out-bid you for his Treachery. But Brave Prince Eugene has not sought himself, but the Interest of his Master, and the Common Good of Europe, and has made such a Stand in Italy as future Ages will wonder at.
Cm: Master, they say the Emperor will give him part of the Duke of Bavaria’s Country, and so Reward Fidelity and true Merit with the Forfeitures arising by Treachery.
Obs: If he had all Bavaria I should rejoyce exceedingly. But, Roger, when the account of this Victory comes confirm’d it will prove a Glorious Stroke on Behalf of the Confederates. The Duke of Savoy will by this means joyn the Imperial Forces, the Seige of Turin will be raised, and the Country of Savoy will be cleared from the Vermin that now Infect it; and so, Roger, let us go to Bed with a good Health to Prince Eugene.
God, I love The Observator.
One more bit of background: using witchcraft to (satirically) describe an otherwise-inexplicable military victory was an old trope – see, for example, A Letter from a Trooper in Flanders, to His Comerade: Shewing, that Luxemburg is a Witch, and Deals with the Devil (1695).
While the official program for next April’s Society for Military History conference won’t be out until early next year, I can report that there will be at least one panel on Louis XIV’s last two wars (or is it William III’s last two wars?).
If I can quote from the brilliantly-crafted proposal overview:
Crossing the Channel: Anglo-Germanic Military Relations in the Age of William and Anne
England has always had a complicated relationship with the rest of Europe. Neither the ‘English’ Channel nor the wooden walls of the Royal Navy have prevented invasions from the sea, yet English self-identity has long prided itself on its separation from the Continent. Historians are well aware of the permeability of the Channel and North Sea: Julius Caesar, Norsemen and William the Conqueror, Lancaster and York are only a few of the early successful examples. Nevertheless, England’s peripheral location generally allowed Tudor and Stuart monarchs a freedom of action regarding continental entanglements. After William of Orange’s successful invasion of 1688 forced the island nation into a full-scale continental commitment, the immediate question arose of how England’s forces would contribute to the two ensuing conflicts against Louis XIV’s France (the Nine Years War, 1688-1697, and War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714). English troops, commanded first by King William III and then by the Duke of Marlborough, campaigned across Flanders and Iberia, while English diplomatic attentions ranged throughout Europe. Central to William’s vision of a pan-European anti-French alliance were the Germanic states of northern Europe: his own United Provinces of the Netherlands, the German princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and the crown lands of Austria. By 1714, the coalitions constructed by William had humbled the Sun King, and elevated Britain to the status of a great power. How England incorporated its own forces into this larger coalition effort is the focus of this panel.
The three papers provide complementary perspectives on the resulting military relations between England (Britain from 1707) and these continental allies, the compromises and tensions inherent in such coalition endeavors. Thomas M. Nora (University of Hull, Ph.D. candidate) focuses on the administrative and diplomatic groundwork necessary for the English to participate as full members of the Grand Alliances of 1689 and 1701 – their reliance on German auxiliaries. John M. Stapleton (West Point, Associate professor) examines the English reliance on Dutch operational logistics within a Flanders coalition army. Caleb Karges (University of St. Andrews, Ph.D.) explores the question of how the English sought to shape their Austrian ally’s grand strategy.
Together these contributions illustrate how the multi-national forces of two Grand Alliances crossed not just physical and state boundaries on campaign, but necessarily violated borders often considered sovereign and inviolate – crossing the frontiers of individual states’ fiscal, administrative and command structures. These papers explore the extent to which English exceptionalists were forced to become more “continental” when fighting within grand coalitions against a hegemonic France.
Me? I’ll just be along for the ride to chair and to comment
… was my shorthand working title for a book chapter that’s finally been released. Selected papers from the 2012 Louis XIV Outside In conference have just been published in a collection that should be read by everyone interested in France, Britain and the Netherlands during Louis XIV’s reign.
In order to try to break free of such parochial strictures, this volume builds upon the approach of scholars such as Ragnhild Hatton who have attempted to situate Louis’ legacy within broader, pan-European context. But where Hatton focused primarily on geo-political themes, Louis XIV Outside In introduces current interests in cultural history, integrating aspects of artistic, literary and musical themes. In particular it examines the formulation and use of images of Louis XIV abroad, concentrating on Louis’ neighbours in north west Europe. This broad geographical coverage demonstrates how images of Louis XIV were moulded by the polemical needs of people far from Versailles, and distorted from any French originals by the particular political and cultural circumstances of diverse nations. Because the French regime’s ability to control the public image of its leader was very limited, the collection highlights how – at least in the sphere of public presentation – his power was frequently denied, subverted, or appropriated to very different purposes, questioning the limits of his absolutism which has also been such a feature of recent work.
Introduction: Louis XIV Upside Down? Interpreting the Sun King’s Image 1
Tony Claydon and Charles-Édouard Levillain
- Image Battles under Louis XIV: Some Reflections 25
- Francophobia in Late-Seventeenth-Century England 37
- ‘We Have Better Materials for Clothes, They, Better Taylors’: The Influence of La Mode on the Clothes of Charles II and James II 57
- The Court of Louis XIV and the English Public Sphere: Worlds Set Apart? 77
- Popular English Perceptions of Louis XIV’s Way of War 93
- Louis XIV, James II and Ireland 111
D. W. Hayton
- Lampooning Louis XIV: Romeyn de Hooghe’s Harlequin Prints,
Henk van Nierop
- Foe and Fatherland: The Image of Louis XIV in Dutch Songs 165
- Amsterdam and the Ambassadors of Louis XIV 1674–85 187
- Millenarian Portraits of Louis XIV 209
Thanks to Tony Claydon and Charles Levillain for putting the conference, and the volume, together. Hopefully this won’t be the last book in Ashgate’s Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650-1750 series!
(Sometimes I’ll let the URL do the talking. First day of school and all that.)
Once again, I’m late to the party. I probably could’ve saved some money in England if I’d pretended to be the Duke of Marlborough. Would it have worked? Depends on whether much changed between the First and Twelfth Dukes.
Bonus points for the Fawlty Towers reference!
For those planning on going to the British Library, it looks like they’ll be allowing photography in the Manuscripts room soon. If I can quote from the personalized email that I received:
Boy I could’ve used that three years ago.
For those who like to poke around in early modern holes and corners, the digital texts of about 25,000 English publications from the late 15C up to c. 1800 are now freely available. The collection is reported to include works from Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and Evans Early American Imprints. I think there are one or two works on military history in there somewhere, if you’re willing to look.
Currently hosted at the Oxford Text Archive.