Military service is long periods of boredom interupted by utter terror. For those boring times, this supplementary reading for my book This Side Toward Enemy might help fill the hours. For your further reading and research, I have placed Olive Drab links to more information or to Amazon.com where you can research or buy the source material.
Shortly before the conclusion of the Peace of Breda, Louis XIV. made his first step toward seizing parts of the Spanish Netherlands and Franche Comte. At the same time that his armies moved forward, he sent out a State paper setting forth his claims upon the territories in question. This paper showed unmistakably the ambitious character of the young king, roused the anxiety of Europe, and doubtless increased the strength of the peace party in England. Under the leadership of Holland, but with the hearty co-operation of the English minister, an alliance was formed between the two countries and Sweden, hitherto the friend of France, to check Louis’ advance before his power became too great. The attack first on the Netherlands in 1607, and then on Franche Comte in 1668, showed the hopeless weakness of Spain to defend her possessions; they fell almost without a blow.
The policy of the United Provinces, relative to the claims of Louis at this time, was summed up in the phrase that “France was good as a friend, but not as a neighbor.” They were unwilling to break their traditional alliance, but still more unwilling to have her on their border. The policy of the English people, though not of their king, turned toward the Dutch. In the increased greatness of Louis they saw danger to all Europe; to themselves more especially if, by a settled preponderance on the continent, his hands were free to develop his sea power. “Flanders once in the power of Louis XIV,” wrote the English ambassador Temple, “the Dutch feel that their country will be only a maritime province of France;” and sharing that opinion, “he advocated the policy of resistance to the latter country, whose domination in the Low Countries he considered as a threatened subjection of all Europe. He never ceased to represent to his government how dangerous to England would be the conquest of the sea provinces by France, and he urgently pointed out the need of a prompt understanding with the Dutch. This would be the best revenge,’ said he, ‘for the trick France has played us in involving us in the last war with the United Provinces.’” These considerations brought the two countries together in that Triple Alliance with Sweden which has been mentioned, and which for a the checked the onward movement of Louis. But the wars between the two sea nations were too recent, the humiliation of England in the Thames too bitter, and the rivalries that still existed too real, too deeply seated in the nature of things, to make that alliance durable. It needed the dangerous power of Louis, and his persistence in a course threatening to both, to weld the union of these natural antagonists. This was not to be done without another bloody encounter.
Louis was deeply angered at the Triple Alliance, and his wrath was turned mainly upon Holland, in which from the necessities of her position he recognized his most steadfast opponent. For the time, however, he seemed to yield; the more readily because of the probable approaching failure of the Spanish royal line, and the ambition he had of getting more than merely the territory lying to the east of France, when the throne became vacant. But, though he dissembled and yielded, from that time he set his mind upon the destruction of the republic. This policy was directly contrary to that laid down by Richelieu, and to the true welfare of France. It was to England’s interest, at least just then, that the United Provinces should not be trodden down by France; but it was much more to the interest of France that they should not be subjected to England. England, free from the continent, might stand alone upon the seas contending with France; but France, hampered by her continental politics, could not hope to wrest the control of the seas from England without an ally. This ally Louis proposed to destroy, and he asked England to help him. The final result is already known, but the outlines of the contest must now be followed.
Before the royal purpose had passed into action, and while there was still time to turn the energies of France into another channel, a different course was proposed to the king. This was the project of Leibnitz, before spoken of, which has special interest for our subject because, in proposing to re-verse the lines which Louis then laid down, to make continental expansion secondary and growth beyond the sea the primary object of France, the tendency avowedly and necessarily was to base the greatness of the country upon the control of the sea and of commerce. The immediate object offered to the France of that day, with the attainment of which, however, she could not have stopped short, was the conquest of Egypt; that country which, facing both the Mediterranean and Eastern seas, gave control of the great commercial route which in our own day has been completed by the Suez Canal. That route had lost much of its value by the discovery of the way round the Cape of Good Hope, and yet more by the unsettled and piratical conditions of the seas through which it lay; but with a really strong naval power occupying the key of the position it might have been largely restored. Such a power posted in Egypt would, in the already decaying condition of the Ottoman Empire, have controlled the trade not only of India and the far East, but also of the Levant; but the enterprise could not have stopped there. The necessity of mastering the Mediterranean and opening the Red Sea, closed to Christian vessels by Mohammedan bigotry, would have compelled the occupation of stations on either side of Egypt; and France would have been led step by step, as England has been led by the possession of India, to the seizure of points like Malta, Cyprus, Aden, in short, to a great sea power. That is clear now; but it will be interesting to hear the arguments by which Leibnitz sought to convince the French king two hundred years ago.
After pointing out the weakness of the Turkish Empire, and the readiness with which it might be further embarrassed by stirring up Austria and Poland, the latter the traditional ally of France; after showing that France had no armed enemy in the Mediterranean, and that on the other side of Egypt she would meet the Portuguese colonies, longing to obtain protection against the Dutch in India, the memorial proceeds: -
“The conquest of Egypt, that Holland of the East, is infinitely easier than that of the United Provinces. France needs peace in the west, war at a distance. War with Holland will probably ruin the new Indian companies as well as the colonies and commerce lately revived by France, and will increase the burdens of the people while diminishing their resources. The Dutch will retire into their maritime towns, stand there on the defensive in perfect safety, and assume the offensive on the sea with great chance of success. If France does not obtain a complete victory over them, she loses all her influence in Europe, and by victory she endangers that influence. In Egypt, on the contrary, a repulse, almost impossible, will be of no great consequence, and victory will give the dominion of the seas, the commerce of the East and of India, the preponderance in Christendom, and even the empire of the East on the ruins of the Ottoman power. The possession of Egypt opens the way to conquests worthy of Alexander; the extreme weakness of the Orientals is no longer a secret. Whoever has Egypt will have all the coasts and islands of the Indian Ocean. It is in Egypt that Holland will be conquered; it is there she will be despoiled of what alone renders her prosperous, the treasures of the East. She will be struck without being able to ward off the blow. Should she wish to oppose the designs of France upon Egypt, she would be overwhelmed with the universal hatred of Christians; attacked at home, on the contrary, not only could she ward off the aggression, but she could avenge herself sustained by universal public opinion, which suspects the views of France of ambition.” (1)
1. Martin: History of France.
The memorial had no effect. “All that the efforts of ambition and human prudence could do to lay the foundations for the destruction of a nation, Louis XIV. now did. Diplomatic strategy on a vast scale was displayed in order to isolate and hem in Holland. Louis, who had been unable to make Europe accept the conquest of Belgium by France, now hoped to induce it to see without trembling the fall of Holland.” His efforts were in the main successful. The Triple Alliance was broken; the King of England, though contrary to the wishes of his people, made an offensive alliance with Louis; and Holland, when the war began, found herself without an ally in Europe, except the worn-out kingdom of Spain and the Elector of Brandenburg, then by no means a first-class State. But in order to obtain the help of Charles II., Louis not only engaged to pay him large sums of money, but also to give to England, from the spoils of Holland and Belgium, Walcheren, Sluys, and Cadsand, and even the islands of Goree and Voorn; the control, that is, of the mouths of the great commercial rivers the Scheldt and the Meuse. With regard to the united fleets of the two nations, it was agreed that the officer bearing the admiral’s flag of England should command in chief. The question of naval precedence was reserved, by not sending the admiral of France afloat; but it was practically yielded. It is evident that in his eagerness for the ruin of Holland and his own continental aggrandizement Louis was playing directly into England’s hand, as to power on the sea. A French historian is justified in saying: “These negotiations have been wrongly judged. It has been often repeated that Charles sold England to Louis XIV. This is true only of internal policy. Charles indeed plotted the political and religious subjugation of England with the help of a foreign power; but as to external interests, he did not sell them, for the greater share in the profit from the ruin of the Dutch was to go to England.” (1)
1. Martin: History of France.
During the years preceding the war the Dutch made every diplomatic effort to avert it, but the hatred of Charles and Louis prevented any concession being accepted as final. An English royal yacht was ordered to pass through the Dutch ships-of-war in the Channel, and to fire on them if they did not strike their flags. In January, 1672, England sent an ultimatum, summoning Holland to acknowledge the right of the English crown to the sovereignty of the British seas, and to order its fleets to lower their flags to the smallest English man-of-war; and demands such as these received the support of a French king. The Dutch continued to yield, but seeing at length that all concessions were useless, they in February ordered into commission seventy-five ships-of-the-line, besides smaller vessels. On the 23d of March the English, without declaration of war, attacked a fleet of Dutch merchantmen; and on the 29th the king declared war. This was followed, April 6th, by the declaration of Louis XIV.; and on the 28th of the same month he set out to take command in person of his army.
The war which now began, including the third and last of the great contests between the English and Dutch upon the ocean, was not, like those before it, purely a sea war; and it will be necessary to mention its leading outlines on the land also, not only in order to clearness of impression, but also to bring out the desperate straits to which the republic was reduced, and the final deliverance through its sea power in the hands of the great seaman De Ruyter.
The naval war differs from those that preceded it in more than one respect; but its most distinctive feature is that the Dutch, except on one occasion at the very beginning, did not send out their fleet to meet the enemy, but made what may properly be called a strategic use of their dangerous coast and shoals, upon which were based their sea operations. To this course they were forced by the desperate odds under which they were fighting; but they did not use their shoals as a mere shelter, - the warfare they waged was the defensive-offensive. When the wind was fair for the allies to attack, Ruyter kept under cover of his islands, or at least on ground where the enemy dared not follow; but when the wind served so that he might attack in his own way, he turned and fell upon them. There are also apparent indications of tactical combinations, on his part, of a higher order than have yet been met; though it is possible that the particular acts referred to, consisting in partial attacks amounting to little more than demonstrations against the French contingent, may have sprung from political motives. This solution for the undoubted fact that the Dutch attacked the French lightly has not been met with elsewhere by the writer; but it seems possible that the rulers of the United Provinces may have wished not to increase the exasperation of their most dangerous enemy by humiliating his fleet, and so making it less easy to his pride to accept their offers. There is, however, an equally satisfactory military explanation in the supposition that, the French being yet inexperienced, Ruyter thought it only necessary to contain them while falling in force upon the English. The latter fought throughout with their old gallantry, but less than their old discipline; whereas the attacks of the Dutch were made with a sustained and unanimous vigor that showed a great military advance. The action of the French was at times suspicious; it has been alleged that Louis ordered his admiral to economize his fleet, and there is good reason to believe that toward the end of the two years that England remained in his alliance he did do so.
The authorities of the United Provinces, knowing that the French fleet at Brest was to join the English in the Thames, made great exertions to fit out their squadron so as to attack the latter before the junction was made; but the wretched lack of centralization in their naval administration caused this project to fail. The province of Zealand was so backward that its contingent, a large fraction of the whole, was not ready in time; and it has been charged that the delay was due, not merely to mismanagement, but to disaffection to the party in control of the government. A blow at the English fleet in its own waters, by a superior force, before its ally arrived, was a correct military conception; judging from the after-history of this war, it might well have produced a profound effect upon the whole course of the struggle. Ruyter finally got to sea and fell in with the allied fleets, but though fully intending to fight, fell back before them to his own coast. The allies did not follow him there, but retired, apparently in full security, to Southwold Bay, on the east coast of England, some ninety miles north of the mouth of the Thames. There they anchored in three divisions, - two English, the rear and centre of the allied line, to the northward, and the van, composed of French ships, to the southward. Ruyter followed them, and on the early morning of June 7, 1672, the Dutch fleet was signalled by a French lookout frigate in the northward and eastward; standing down before a northeast wind for the allied fleet, from which a large number of boats and men were ashore in watering parties. The Dutch order of battle was in two lines, the advanced one containing eighteen ships with fire-ships. Their total force was ninety-one ships-of-the-line; that of the allies one hundred and one.
The wind was blowing toward the coast, which here trends nearly north and south, and the allies were in an awkward position. They had first to get under way, and they could not fall back to gain the or room to establish their order. Most of the ships cut their cables, and the English made sail on the starboard tack, heading about north-northwest, a course which forced them soon to go about; whereas the French took the other tack. The battle began therefore by the separation of the allied fleet. Ruyter sent one division to attack the French, or rather to contain them; for these opponents exchanged only a distant cannonade, although the Dutch, being to windward, had the choice of closer action if they wished it. As their commander, Bankert, was not censured, it may be supposed he acted under orders; and he was certainly in command a year later, and acting with great judgment and gallantry at the battle of the Texel. Meanwhile Ruyter fell furiously upon the two English divisions, and apparently with superior forces; for the English naval historians claim that the Dutch were in the proportion of three to two. (1) If this can be accepted, it gives a marked evidence of Ruyter’s high qualities as a general officer, in advance of any other who appears in this century.
1. Ledyard, vol. ii. p. 599; Campbell: Lives of the Admirals. See also letter of Sir Richard Haddock, Naval Chronicle, vol. xvii. p. 121.
The results of the battle, considered simply as an engagement, were indecisive; both sides lost heavily, but the honors and the substantial advantages all belonged to the Dutch, or rather to De Ruyter. He had outgeneralled the allies by his apparent retreat, and then returning had surprised them wholly unprepared. The false move by which the English, two thirds of the whole, stood to the northward and westward, while the other third, the French, went off to the east and south, separated the allied fleet; Ruyter threw his whole force into the gap, showing front to the French with a division probably smaller in numbers, but which, from its position to windward, had the choice of coming to close action or not, while with the remainder he fell in much superior strength upon the English. Paul Hoste says (1) that Vice-Admiral D’Estrees, commanding the French, had taken measures for tacking and breaking through the Dutch division opposed to him so as to rejoin the Duke of York, the allied commander-in-chief. It may be so, for D’Estrees was a very brave man, and not enough of a seaman to appreciate the dangers of the attempt; but no such move was begun, and both the English and Ruyter thought that the French rather avoided than sought close action. Had D’Estrees, however, gone about, and attempted to break through the line of experienced Dutchmen to windward of him with the still raw seamen of France, the result would have been as disastrous as that which overtook the Spanish admiral at the battle of St. Vincent a hundred and twenty-five years later, when he tried to reunite his broken fleet by breaking through the close order of Jervis and Nelson. The truth, which gradually dawns through a mass of conflicting statements, is, that the Duke of York, though a fair seaman and a brave man, was not an able one; that his fleet was not in good order and was thus surprised; that his orders beforehand were not so precise as to make the French admiral technically disobedient in taking the opposite tack from the commander-in-chief, and so separating the squadrons; and that Ruyter profited most ably by the surprise which he had himself prepared, and by the further opportunity given him by the ineptness of his enemies. Unless for circumstances that are not stated, the French admiral took the right tack, with a northeast wind, for it led out to sea and would give room for manoeuvring; had the Duke of York chosen the same, the allied fleet would have gone out together, with only the disadvantage of the wind and bad order. In that case, however, Ruyter could, and probably would, have done just what he did at the Texel a year later, - check the van, the French, with a small containing force, and fall with the mass of his fleet upon the centre and rear. It is the similarity of his action in both cases, under very different conditions, that proves he intended at Southwold Bay merely to keep the French in check while he destroyed the English.
1. Hoste: Naval Tactics.
In this battle, called indifferently Southwold Bay and Solebay, Ruyter showed a degree of skill combined with vigor which did not appear upon the sea, after his death, until the days of Suffren and Nelson. His battles of the war of 1672 were no “affairs of circumspection,” though they were fought circumspectly; his aim was no less than the enemy’s total overthrow, by joining good combinations to fury of attack. At Solebay he was somewhat, though not greatly, inferior to his enemies; afterward much more so.
The substantial results of Solebay fight were wholly favorable to the Dutch. The allied fleets were to have assisted the operations of the French army by making a descent upon the coast of Zealand. Ruyter’s attack had inflicted an amount of damage, and caused an expenditure of ammunition, which postponed the sailing of the fleet for a month; it was a diversion, not only important, but vital in the nearly desperate condition to which the United Provinces were reduced ashore. It may be added, as an instructive comment on the theory of commerce-destroying, that after this staggering check to the enemy’s superior forces, Ruyter met and convoyed safely to port a fleet of Dutch merchantmen.
The progress of the land campaign must now be briefly described. Early in May the French army in several corps moved forward, passing through the outskirts of the Spanish Netherlands, and directing their attack upon Holland from the south and east. The republican party which was in power in Holland had neglected the army, and now made the mistake of scattering the force they had among many fortified towns, trusting that each would do something toward delaying the French. Louis, however, under the advice of Turenne, simply observed the more important places, while the second-rate towns surrendered nearly as fast as they were summoned; the army of the Provinces, as well as their territory, thus passing rapidly, by fractions, into the power of the enemy. Within a month the French were in the heart of the country, having carried all before them, and with no organized force remaining in their front sufficient of itself to stop them. In the fortnight following the battle of Solebay, terror and disorganization spread throughout the republic. On the 15th of June the Grand Pensionary obtained permission of the States-General to send a deputation to Louis XIV., begging him to name the terms on which he would grant them peace; any humiliation to the foreigner was better in the eyes of the politician than to see the opposite party, the House of Orange, come into power on his downfall. While negotiations were pending, the Dutch towns continued to surrender; and on the 20th of June a few French soldiers entered Muyden, the key to Amsterdam. They were only stragglers, though the large body to which they belonged was near at hand; and the burghers, who had admitted them under the influence of the panic prevailing throughout the land, seeing that they were alone, soon made them drunk and put them out. The nobler feeling that animated Amsterdam now made itself felt in Muyden; a body of troops hurried up from the capital, and the smaller city was saved. “Situated on the Zuyder Zee, two hours distant from Amsterdam, at the junction of a number of rivers and canals, Muyden not only held the key of the principal dykes by which Amsterdam could surround herself with a protecting inundation, it also held the key of the harbor of this great city, all the ships which went from the North Sea to Amsterdam by the Zuyder Zee being obliged to pass under its guns. Muyden saved and its dykes open, Amsterdam had time to breathe, and remained free to break off her communications by land and to maintain them by sea.” (1) It was the turning-point of the invasion; but what would have been the effect upon the spirit of the Dutch, oppressed by defeat and distracted in council, if in that fateful fortnight which went before, the allied fleet had attacked their coasts? From this they were saved by the battle of Solebay.
1. Martin: History of France.
Negotiations continued. The burgomasters - the party rep-resenting wealth and commerce - favored submission; they shrank from the destruction of their property and trade. New advances were made; but while the envoys were still in the camp of Louis, the populace and the Orange party rose, and with them the spirit of resistance. On the 25th of June Amsterdam opened the dykes, and her example was followed by the other cities of Holland; immense loss was entailed, but the flooded country and the cities contained therein, standing like islands amid the waters, were safe from attack by land forces until freezing weather. The revolution continued. William of Orange, afterward William III. of England, was on the 8th of July made stadtholder, and head of the army and navy; and the two De Witts, the heads of the republican party, were murdered by a mob a few weeks later.
The resistance born of popular enthusiasm and pride of country was strengthened by the excessive demands of Louis XIV. It was plain that the Provinces must conquer or be destroyed. Meanwhile the other States of Europe were waking up to the danger, and the Emperor of Germany, the Elector of Brandenburg, and the King of Spain declared for Holland; while Sweden, though nominally in alliance with France, was unwilling to see the destruction of the Provinces, because that would be to the advantage of England’s sea power. Nevertheless the next year, 1673, opened with promise for France, and the English king was prepared to fulfil his part of the compact on the seas; but the Dutch, under the firm leadership of William of Orange, and with their hold on the sea unshaken, now refused to accept conditions of peace which had been offered by themselves the year before.
Three naval battles were fought in 1673, all near the coast of the United Provinces; the first two, June 7 and June 14, off Schoneveldt, from which place they have taken their name; the third, known as the battle of the Texel, August 21. In all three Ruyter attacked, choosing his own time, and retiring when it suited him to the protection of his own shores. For the allies to carry out their objects and make any diversion upon the seaboard, or on the other hand to cripple the sea resources of the hard-pressed Provinces, it was necessary first to deal successfully with Ruyter’s fleet. The great admiral and his government both felt this, and took the resolution that “the fleet should be posted in the passage of Schoneveldt, or a little farther south toward Ostend, to observe the enemy, and if attacked, or seeing the enemy’s fleet disposed to make a descent upon the shores of the United Provinces, should resist vigorously, by opposing his designs and destroying his ships.” (1) From this position, with good lookouts, any movement of the allies would be known.
1. Brandt: Life of De Ruyter.
The English and French put to sea about the 1st of June, under the command of Prince Rupert, first cousin to the king, the Duke of York having been obliged to resign his office on account of the passage of the Test Act, directed against persons of the Roman Catholic faith holding any public employment. The French were under Vice-Admiral D’Estrees, the same who had commanded them at Solebay. A force of six thousand English troops at Yarmouth was ready to embark if De Ruyter was worsted. On the 7th of June the Dutch were made out, riding within the sands at Schoneveldt. A detached squadron was sent to draw them out, but Ruyter needed no invitation; the wind served, and he followed the detached squadron with such impetuosity as to attack before the allied line was fairly formed. On this occasion the French occupied the centre. The affair was indecisive, if a battle can be called so in which an inferior force attacks a superior, inflicts an equal loss, and frustrates the main object of the enemy. A week later Ruyter again attacked, with results which, though indecisive as before as to the particular action, forced the allied fleet to return to the English coast to refit, and for supplies. The Dutch in these encounters had fifty-five ships-of-the-line; their enemies eighty-one, fifty-four of which were English.
The allied fleets did not go to sea again until the latter part of July, and this time they carried with them a body of troops meant for a landing. On the 20th of August the Dutch fleet was seen under way between the Texel and the Meuse. Rupert at once got ready to fight; but as the wind was from the northward and westward, giving the allies the weather-gage, and with it the choice of the method of attack, Ruyter availed himself of his local knowledge, keeping so close to the beach that the enemy dared not approach, - the more so as it was late in the day. During the night the wind shifted to east-southeast off the land, and at daybreak, to use the words of a French official narrative, the Dutch “made all sail and stood down boldly into action.”
The allied fleet was to leeward on the port tack, heading about south, - the French in the van, Rupert in the centre, and Sir Edward Spragge commanding the rear. De Ruyter divided his fleet into three squadrons, the leading one of which, of ten or twelve ships only, he sent against the French; while with the rest of his force he attacked the English in the centre and rear. If we accept the English estimate of the forces, which gives the English sixty ships, the French thirty, and the Dutch seventy. Ruyter’s plan of attack, by simply holding the French in check as at Solebay, allowed him to engage the English on equal terms. The battle took on several distinct phases, which it is instructive to follow. M. de Martel, commanding the van of the French, and consequently the leading subdivision of the allied fleet, was ordered to stretch ahead, go about and gain to windward of the Dutch van, so as to place it between two fires. This he did; but as soon as Bankert - the same who had manoeuvred so judiciously at Solebay the year before - saw the danger, he put his helm up and ran through the remaining twenty ships of D’Estrees’ squadron with his own twelve, - a feat as creditable to him as it was discreditable to the French; and then wearing round stood down to De Ruyter, who was hotly engaged with Rupert. He was not followed by D’Estrees, who suffered him to carry this important reinforcement to the Dutch main attack undisturbed. This practically ended the French share in the fight.
Rupert, during his action with De Ruyter, kept off continually, with the object of drawing the Dutch farther away from their coast, so that if the wind shifted they might not be able to regain its shelter. De Ruyter followed him, and the consequent separation of the centre from the van was one of the reasons alleged by D’Estrees for his delay. It does not, however, seem to have prevented Bankert from joining his chief.
In the rear an extraordinary action on the part of Sir Edward Spragge increased the confusion in the allied fleet. For some reason this officer considered Tromp, who commanded the Dutch rear, as his personal antagonist, and in order to facilitate the latter’s getting into action, he hove-to (stopped) the whole English rear to wait for him. This ill-timed point of honor on Spragge’s part seems to have sprung from a promise he had made to the king that he would bring back Tromp alive or dead, or else lose his own life. The stoppage, which recalls the irresponsible and insubordinate action of the junior Dutch flag-officers in the former war, of course separated the rear, which also drifted rapidly to leeward, Spragge and Tromp carrying on a hot private action on their own account. These two junior admirals sought each other personally, and the battle between their flags was so severe that Spragge twice had to shift his own to another ship; on the second occasion the boat in which he was embarked was sunk by a shot, and he himself drowned.
Rupert, thus forsaken by his van and rear, found himself alone with Ruyter; who, reinforced by his van, had the address further to cut off the rear subdivision of the allied centre, and to surround the remaining twenty ships with probably thirty or forty of his own. It is not creditable to the gunnery of the day that more substantial results did not follow; but it is to be remembered that all Ruyter’s skill could secure, except for probably a very short time, was an action on equal terms with the English; his total inferiority in numbers could not be quite overcome. The damage to the English and Dutch may therefore have been great, and was probably nearly equal.
Rupert finally disengaged himself, and seeing that the English rear was not replying well to its immediate opponents, ran down toward it, Ruyter following him; the two opposing centres steering parallel courses, and within cannon-shot, but by mutual consent, induced perhaps by ammunition running short, refraining from firing. At four P.M. the centres and rears united, and toward five a fresh engagement began, which continued till seven, when Ruyter withdrew, probably because of the approach of the French, who, by their own accounts, rejoined Rupert about that time. This ended the battle, which, like all that preceded it in this war, may be called a drawn fight, but as to which the verdict of the English naval historian is doubtless correct: “The consequences which the Dutch, through the prudence of their admiral, drew from this battle were exceedingly great; for they opened their ports, which were entirely blocked up, and put an end to all thoughts, by removing the possibility, of an invasion.” (1)
1. Campbell: Lives of the Admirals.
The military features of the action have sufficiently appeared in the account that has been given, - the skill of De Ruyter; the firmness and promptness of Bankert, first in checking and then in passing through the French division; the apparent disloyalty or, at the best, inefficiency of the lat-ter; the insubordination and military blundering of Spragge; the seeming lack of everything but hard fighting on Rupert’s part. The allies indulged in bitter mutual recriminations. Rupert blamed both D’Estrees and Spragge; D’Estrees found fault with Rupert for running to leeward; and D’Estrees’ own second, Martel, roundly called his chief a coward, in a letter which earned him an imprisonment in the Bastille. The French king ordered an inquiry by the intendant of the navy at Brest, who made a report (1) upon which the account here given has mainly rested, and which leaves little doubt of the dishonor of the French arms in this battle. “M. D’Estrees gave it to be understood,” says the French naval historian, “that the king wished his fleet spared, and that the English should not be trusted. Was he wrong in not relying upon the sincerity of the English alliance, when he was receiving from all quarters warnings that the people and the nobles were murmuring against it, and Charles II. was perhaps alone in his kingdom in wishing it?” (2) Possibly not; but he was surely wrong if he wished any military man, or body of men, to play the equivocal part assigned to the French admiral on this day; the loss of the fleet would have been a lighter disaster. So evident to eye-witnesses was the bad faith or cowardice (and the latter supposition is not admissible), that one of the Dutch seamen, as they discussed among themselves why the French did not come down, said: “You fools! they have hired the English to fight for them, and all their business here is to see that they earn their wages.” A more sober-minded and significant utterance is that with which the intendant at Brest ends the official report before mentioned: “It would appear in all these sea-fights Ruyter has never eared to attack the French squadron, and that in this last action he had detached ten ships of the Zealand squadron to keep it in play.” (3) No stronger testimony is needed to Ruyter’s opinion of the inefficiency or faithlessness of that contingent to the allied forces.
1. Troude: Batailles Navales de la France, year 1673.
Another chapter in the history of maritime coalitions was closed, on the 21st of August, 1673, by the battle of the Texel. In it, as in others, were amply justified the words with which a modern French naval officer has stamped them: “United by momentary political interests, but at bottom divided to the verge of hatred, never following the same path in counsel or in action, they have never produced good results, or at least results proportioned to the efforts of the powers allied against a common enemy. The navies of France, Spain, and Holland seem, at several distinct times, to have joined only to make more complete the triumph of the British arms.” (1) When to this well-ascertained tendency of coalitions is added the equally well known jealousy of every country over the increasing power of a neighbor, and the consequent unwillingness to see such increase obtained by crushing another member of the family of nations, an approach is made to the measure of naval strength required by a State. It is not necessary to be able to meet all others combined, as some Englishmen have seemed to think; it is necessary only to be able to meet the strongest on favorable terms, sure that the others will not join in destroying a factor in the political equilibrium, even if they hold aloof. England and Spain were allies in Toulon in 1793, when the excesses of Revolutionary France seemed to threaten the social order of Europe; but the Spanish admiral told the English flatly that the ruin of the French navy, a large part of which was there in their hands, could not fail to be injurious to the interests of Spain, and a part of the French ships was saved by his conduct, which has been justly characterized as not only full of firmness, but also as dictated by the highest political reason. (2)
1. Chabaud-Arnault: Revue Mar. et Col. July. 1885
2. Jurien de la Graviere: Guerres Maritimes.
The battle of the Texel, closing the long series of wars in which the Dutch and English contended on equal terms for the mastery of the seas, saw the Dutch navy in its highest efficiency, and its greatest ornament, De Ruyter, at the summit of his glory. Long since old in years, for he was now sixty-six, he had lost none of his martial vigor; his attack was as furious as eight years before, and his judgment apparently had ripened rapidly through the experience of the last war, for there is far more evidence of plan and military insight than before. To him, under the government of the great Pensionary De Witt, with whom he was in close sympathy, the increase of discipline and sound military tone now apparent in the Dutch navy must have been largely due. He went to this final strife of the two great sea-peoples in the fullness of his own genius, with an admirably tempered instrument in his hands, and with the glorious disadvantage of numbers, to save his country. The mission was fulfilled not by courage alone, but by courage, forethought, and skill. The attack at the Texel was, in its general lines, the same as that at Trafalgar, the enemy’s van being neglected to fall on the centre and rear, and as at Trafalgar the van, by failing to do its duty, more than justified the conception; but as the odds against De Ruyter were greater than those against Nelson, so was his success less. The part played by Bankert at Solebay was essentially the same as that of Nelson at St. Vincent, when he threw himself across the path of the Spanish division with his single ship; but Nelson took his course without orders from Jervis, while Bankert was carrying out Ruyter’s plan. Once more, still himself in his bearing, but under sadly altered surroundings, will this simple and heroic man come before us; and here, in contrast with his glory, seems a proper place to insert a little description by the Comte de Guiche (1) of his bearing in the Four Days’ Fight, which brings out at once the homely and the heroic sides of his character.
“I never saw him [during those last three days] other than even-tempered; and when victory was assured, saying always it was the good God that gives it to us. Amid the disorders of the fleet and the appearance of loss, he seemed to be moved only by the misfortune to his country, but always submissive to the will of God, Finally, it may be said that he has something of the frankness and lack of polish of our patriarchs; and, to conclude what I have to say of him, I will relate that the day after the victory I found him sweeping his own room and feeding his chickens.”
Nine days after the battle of the Texel, on the 30th of August, 1673, a formal alliance was made between Holland on the one hand, and Spain, Lorraine, and the emperor of Germany on the other, and the French ambassador was dismissed from Vienna. Louis almost immediately offered Holland comparatively moderate terms; but the United Provinces, with their new allies by their sides and with their backs borne firmly upon the sea which had favored and supported them, set their face steadily against him. In England the clamor of the people and Parliament became louder; the Protestant feeling and the old enmity to France were daily growing, as was the national distrust of the king. Charles, though he had himself lost none of his hatred of the republic, had to give way. Louis, seeing the gathering storm, made up his mind, by the counsel of Turenne, to withdraw from his dangerously advanced position by evacuating Holland, and to try to make peace with the Provinces separately while continuing the war with the House of Austria in Spain and Germany. Thus he returned to Richelieu’s policy, and Holland was saved. February 19, 1674, peace was signed between England and the Provinces. The latter recognized the absolute supremacy of the English flag from Cape Finisterre in Spain to Norway, and paid a war indemnity.
The withdrawal of England, which remained neutral during the remaining four years of the war, necessarily made it less maritime. The King of France did not think his navy, either in numbers or efficiency, able to contend alone with that of Holland; he therefore withdrew it from the ocean and con-fined his sea enterprises to the Mediterranean, with one or two half-privateering expeditions to the West Indies. The United Provinces for their part, being freed from danger on the side of the sea, and not having, except for a short time, any serious idea of operating against the French coast, diminished their own fleets. The war became more and more continental, and drew in more and more the other powers of Europe. Gradually the German States cast their lot with Austria, and on May 28, 1674, the Diet proclaimed war against France. The great work of French policy in the last generations was undone, Austria had resumed her supremacy in Germany, and Holland had not been destroyed. On the Baltic, Denmark, seeing Sweden inclining toward France, hastened to make common cause with the German Empire, sending fifteen thousand troops. There remained in Germany only Bavaria, Hanover, and Wurtemberg faithful still to their French alliance. The land war had thus drawn in nearly all the powers of Europe, and, from the nature of the case, the principal theatre of the conflict was beyond the eastern boundary of France, toward the Rhine, and in the Spanish Netherlands; but while this was raging, a maritime episode was introduced by the fact of Denmark and Sweden being engaged on opposite sides. Of this it will not be necessary to speak, beyond mentioning that the Dutch sent a squadron under Tromp to join the Danes, and that the united fleets won a great victory over the Swedes in 1676, taking from them ten ships. It is therefore evident that the sea superiority of Holland detracted greatly from Sweden’s value as an ally to Louis XIV.
Another maritime strife arose in the Mediterranean by the revolt of the Sicilians against the Spanish rule. The help they asked from France was granted as a diversion against Spain, but the Sicilian enterprise never became more than a side issue. Its naval interest springs from bringing Ruyter once more on the scene, and that as the antagonist of Duquesne, the equal, and by some thought even the superior. of Tourville, whose name has always stood far above all others in the French navy of that day.
Messina revolted in July, 1674, and the French king at once took it under his protection. The Spanish navy throughout seems to have behaved badly, certainly inefficiently; and early in 1675 the French were safely established in the city. During the year their naval power in the Mediterranean was much increased, and Spain, unable to defend the island herself, applied to the United Provinces for a fleet, the expenses of which she would bear. The Provinces, “fatigued by the war, involved in debt, suffering cruelly in their commerce, exhausted by the necessity of paying the emperor and all the German princes, could no longer fit out the enormous fleets which they had once opposed to France and England.” They however hearkened to Spain and sent De Ruyter, with a squadron of only eighteen ships and four fire-ships. The admiral, who had noted the growth of the French navy, said the force was too small, and departed oppressed in spirit, but with the calm resignation which was habitual to him. He reached Cadiz in September, and in the mean time the French had further strengthened themselves by the capture of Agosta, a port commanding the southeast of Sicily. De Ruyter was again delayed by the Spanish government, and did not reach the north coast of the island until the end of December, when head winds kept him from entering the Straits of Messina. He cruised between Messina and the Lipari Islands in a position to intercept the French fleet convoying troops and supplies, which was expected under Duquesne.
On the 7th of January, 1676, the French came in sight, twenty ships-of-the-line and six fire-ships; the Dutch had but nineteen ships, one of which was a Spaniard, and four fire-ships; and it must be remembered that, although there is no detailed account of the Dutch ships in this action, they were as a rule inferior to those of England, and yet more to those of France. The first day was spent in manoeuvring, the Dutch having the weather-gage; but during that night, which was squally and drove the Spanish galleys accompanying the Dutch to take refuge under Lipari, the wind shifted, and coming out at west-southwest, gave the French the weather-gage and the power to attack. Duquesne resolved to use it, and sending the convoy ahead, formed his line on the starboard tack standing south; the Dutch did the same, and waited for him.
An emotion of surprise must be felt at seeing the great Dutch admiral surrender the choice of attack on the 7th. At daybreak of that day he saw the enemy and steered for him; at three P.M., a French account says, he hauled his wind on the same tack as themselves, but out of cannon-shot to windward. How account for the seeming reluctance of the man who three years before had made the desperate attacks of Solebay and the Texel? His reasons have not been handed down; it may be that the defensive advantages of the lee-gage had been recognized by this thoughtful seaman, especially when preparing to meet, with inferior forces, an enemy of impetuous gallantry and imperfect seamanship. If any such ideas did influence him they were justified by the result. The battle of Stromboli presents a partial anticipation of the tactics of the French and English a hundred years later; but in this case it is the French who seek the weather-gage and attack with fury, while the Dutch take the defensive. The results were very much such as Clerk pointed out to the English in his celebrated work on naval tactics, the accounts here followed being entirely French. (1)
1. Lapeyrouse, Bonfils: Hist. de la Marine Francaise.
The two fleets being drawn up in line-of-battle on the star-board tack, heading south, as has been said, De Ruyter awaited the attack which he had refused to make. Being between the French and their port, he felt they must fight. At nine A.M. the French line kept away all together and ran down obliquely upon the Dutch, a manoeuvre difficult to be performed with accuracy, and during which the assailant receives his enemy’s fire at disadvantage. In doing this, two ships in the French van were seriously disabled. “M. de la Fayette, in the ‘Prudente,’ began the action; but having rashly thrown himself into the midst of the enemy’s van, he was dismantled and forced to haul off”. Confusion ensued in the French line, from the difficult character of the manoeuver. “Vice-Admiral de Preuilli, commanding the van, in keeping away took too little room, so that in coming to the wind again, the ships, in too close order, lapped and interfered with one another’s fire. The absence of M. de la Fayette from the line threw the ‘Parfait’ into peril. Attacked by two ships, she lost her maintopmast and had also to haul off for repairs.” Again, the French came into action in succession instead of all together, a usual and almost inevitable result of the manoeuvre in question. “In the midst of a terrible cannonade,” that is, after part of his ships were engaged, “Duquesne, commanding the centre, took post on the beam of Ruyter’s division.” The French rear came into action still later, after the centre. “Langeron and Bethune, commanding leading ships of the French centre, are crushed by superior forces.” How can this be, seeing the French had the more ships? It was because, as the narrative tells us, “the French had not yet repaired the disorder of the first movement.” However, all at last got into action, and Duquesne gradually restored order. The Dutch, engaged all along the line, resisted everywhere, and there was not one of their ships which was not closely engaged; more cannot be said for the admiral and captains of the inferior fleet. The remaining part of the fight is not very clearly related. Ruyter is said to have given way continually with his two leading divisions; but whether this was a confession of weakness or a tactical move does not appear. The rear was separated, in permitting which either Ruyter or the immediate commander was at fault; but the attempts made by the French to surround and isolate it failed, probably because of damaged spars, for one French ship did pass entirely around the separated division. The action ended at 4.30 P.M., except in the rear, and the Spanish galleys shortly after came up and towed the disabled Dutch ships away. Their escape shows how injured the French must have been. The positions are intended to show the Dutch rear far separated, and the disorder in which a fleet action under sail necessarily ended from loss of spars.
Those who are familiar with Clerk’s work on naval tactics, published about 1780, will recognize in this account of the battle of Stromboli all the features to which he called the attention of English seamen in his thesis on the methods of action employed by them and their adversaries in and before his time. Clerk’s thesis started from the postulate that English seamen and officers were superior in skill or spirit, or both, to the French, and their ships on the whole as fast; that they were conscious of this superiority and therefore eager to attack, while the French, equally conscious of inferiority, or for other reasons, were averse to decisive engagements. With these dispositions the latter, feeling they could rely on a blindly furious attack by the English, had evolved a crafty plan by which, while seeming to fight, they really avoided doing so, and at the same time did the enemy much harm. This plan was to take the lee-gage, the characteristic of which, as has before been pointed out, is that it is a defensive position, and to await attack. The English error, according to Clerk, upon which the French had learned by experience that they could always count, was in drawing up their line parallel to the enemy, or nearly so, and then keeping away all together to attack, ship for ship, each its opposite in the hostile line. By standing down in this manner the assailant lost the use of most of his artillery, while exposed to the full fire of his opponent, and invariably came up in confusion, because the order of attack was one difficult to maintain at any time, and much more so in the smoke under fire, with torn sails and falling masts. This was precisely the attack made by Duquesne at Stromboli, and it there had precisely the consequences Clerk points out, - confusion in the line, the van arriving first and getting the brunt of the fire of the defence, disabled ships in the van causing confusion in the rear, etc. Clerk further asserts, and he seems to be right, that as the action grew warm, the French, by running off to leeward, in their turn, led the English to repeat the same mode of attack; (1) and so we find, at Stromboli, Ruyter giving ground in the same way, though his motive does not appear. Clerk also points out that a necessary corollary of the lee-gage, assumed for tactical reasons, is to aim at the assailant’s spars, his motive power, so that his attack cannot be pushed farther than the defendant chooses, and at Stromboli the crippled condition of the French is evident; for after Ruyter had fallen to leeward, and could no longer help his separated rear, it was practically unmolested by the French, although none of these had been sunk. While therefore there cannot with certainty be attributed to Ruyter the deliberate choice of the lee-gage, for which there was as yet no precedent, it is evident that he reaped all its benefits, and that the character of the French officers of his day, inexperienced as seamen and of impetuous valor, offered just the conditions that gave most advantage to an inferior force standing on the defensive. The qualities and characteristics of the enemy are among the principal factors which a man of genius considers, and it was to this as much as to any other one trait that Nelson owed his dazzling successes. On the other hand, the French admiral attacked in a wholly unscientific manner, ship against ship, without an attempt to concentrate on a part of the enemy, or even trying to keep him in play until the French squadron of eight ships-of-the-line in Messina, near by, could join. Such tactics cannot be named beside that of Solebay or the Texel; but as Duquesne was the best French officer of the century, with the possible exception of Tourville, this battle has a value of its own in the history of tactics, and may by no means be omitted. The standing of the commander-in-chief is the warrant that it marks the highest point to which French naval tactics has as yet attained. Before quitting this discussion, it may be noted that the remedy Clerk proposed was to attack the rear ships of the enemy’s line, and preferably to leeward; the remainder of the fleet must then either abandon them or stand down for a general action, which according to his postulate was all that the English seamen desired.
1. This movement, according to Clerk, was not made by the whole of a French line together, but in a way much more scientific and military. A group of two or three ships withdrew at a time, being covered by the smoke and the continued fire of the rest of their line. In time a second line was partly formed, which in its turn protected the ships which had remained on the first, as they executed the somewhat exposed movement of falling back. Dutch ships are represented as thus withdrawing. English official reports of the eighteenth century often speak of French ships acting thus; the English officers attributing to their superior valor a movement which Clerk more plausibly considers a skilful military manoeuvre, well calculated to give the defence several opportunities of disabling the assailants as they bore down on a course which impeded the use of their artillery. In 1812 the frigate “United States,” commanded by Decatur, employed the same tactics in her fight with the “Macedonian;” and the Confederate gunboats at Mobile by the same means inflicted on Farragut’s flag-ship the greater part of the heavy loss which she sustained. In its essential features the same line of action can now be followed by a defendant, having greater speed, when the ardor of the attack, or the necessities of the case, force the assailant to a direct approach. An indirect cause of a lee line falling farther to leeward has never been noticed. When a ship in that line found itself without an opponent abeam, and its next ahead perhaps heavily engaged, the natural impulse would be to put up the helm so as to bring the broadside to bear. This advantage would be gained by a loss of ground to leeward and consequent disorder in the line; which, if the act were repeated by several ships, could only be restored by the whole line keeping away.
After the fight Be Ruyter sailed to Palermo, one of his ships sinking on the way. Duquesne was joined outside Messina by the French division that had been lying there. The remaining incidents of the Sicilian war are unimportant to the general subject. On the 22d of April, De Ruyter and Duquesne met again off Agosta. Duquesne had twenty-nine ships, the allied Spaniards and Dutch twenty-seven, of which ten were Spanish. Unfortunately the Spaniard commanded in chief, and took the centre of the line with the ships of his country, contrary to the advice of Ruyter, who, knowing how inefficient his allies were, wished to scatter them through the line and so support them better. Ruyter himself took the van, and the allies, having the wind, attacked; but the Spanish centre kept at long cannon range, leaving the brunt of the battle to fall on the Dutch van. The rear, following the commander-in-chief’s motions, was also but slightly engaged. In this sorrowful yet still glorious fulfilment of hopeless duty, De Ruyter, who never before in his long career had been struck by an enemy’s shot, received a mortal wound. He died a week later at Syracuse, and with him passed away the last hope of resistance on the sea. A month later the Spanish and Dutch fleets were attacked at anchor at Palermo, and many of them destroyed; while a division sent from Holland to reinforce the Mediterranean fleet was met by a French squadron in the Straits of Gibraltar and forced to take refuge in Cadiz.
The Sicilian enterprise continued to be only a diversion, and the slight importance attached to it shows clearly how entirely Louis XIV. was bent on the continental war. How differently would the value of Sicily have impressed him, had his eyes been fixed on Egypt and extension by sea. As the years passed, the temper of the English people became more and more excited against France; the trade rivalries with Holland seemed to fall into the shade, and it became likely that England, which had entered the war as the ally of Louis, would, before it closed, take up arms against him. In addition to other causes of jealousy she saw the French navy increased to a number superior to her own. Charles for a while resisted the pressure of Parliament, but in January, 1678, a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, was made between the two sea countries; the king recalled the English troops which until now had been serving as part of the French army, and when Parliament opened again in February, asked for money to equip ninety ships and thirty thousand soldiers. Louis, who was expecting this result, at once ordered the evacuation of Sicily. He did not fear England by land, but on the sea he could not yet hold his own against the union of the two sea powers. At the same the he redoubled his attacks on the Spanish Netherlands. As long as there was a hope of keeping the ships of England out of the fight, he had avoided touching the susceptibilities of the English people on the subject of the Belgian sea-coast; but now that they could no longer be conciliated, he thought best to terrify Holland by the sharpness of his attack in the quarter where she dreaded him most.
The United Provinces were in truth the mainspring of the coalition. Though among the smallest in extent of the countries arrayed against Louis, they were strongest in the character and purpose of their ruler, the Prince of Orange, and in the wealth which, while supporting the armies of the confederates, also kept the poor and greedy German princes faithful to their alliance. Almost alone, by dint of mighty sea power, by commercial and maritime ability, they bore the burden of the war; and though they staggered and complained, they still bore it. As in later centuries England, so at the time we are now speaking of Holland, the great sea power, supported the war against the ambition of France; but her sufferings were great. Her commerce, preyed upon by French privateers, lost heavily; and there was added an immense indirect loss in the transfer of the carrying-trade between foreign countries, which had contributed so much to the prosperity of the Dutch. When the flag of England became neutral, this rich business went to her ships, which crossed the seas the more securely because of the eager desire of Louis to conciliate the English nation. This desire led him also to make very large concessions to English exigencies in the matter of commercial treaties, undoing much of the work of protection upon which Colbert sought to nourish the yet feeble growth of French sea power. These sops, however, only stayed for a moment the passions which were driving England; it was not self-interest, but stronger motives, which impelled her to a break with France.
Still less was it to the interest of Holland to prolong the war, after Louis showed a wish for peace. A continental war could at best be but a necessary evil, and source of weakness to her. The money she spent on her own and the allied armies was lost to her navy, and the sources of her prosperity on the sea were being exhausted. How far the Prince of Orange was justified, by the aims of Louis XIV., in that unyielding attitude of opposition toward him which he always maintained, may be uncertain, and there is here no need to decide the question; but there can be no doubt that the strife sacrificed the sea power of Holland through sheer exhaustion, and with it destroyed her position among the nations of the world. “Situated between France and England,” says a historian of Holland, “by one or other of them were the United Provinces, after they had achieved their independence of Spain, constantly engaged in wars, which exhausted their finances, annihilated their navy, and caused the rapid decline of their trade, manufactures, and commerce; and thus a peace-loving nation found herself crushed by the weight of unprovoked and long-continued hostilities. Often, too, the friendship of England was scarcely less harmful to Holland than her enmity. As one increased and the other lessened, it became the alliance of the giant and the dwarf.” (1) Hitherto we have seen Holland the open enemy or hearty rival of England; henceforward she appears as an ally, - in both cases a sufferer from her smaller size, weaker numbers, and less favored situation.
1. Davies; History of Holland.
The exhaustion of the United Provinces and the clamor of their merchants and peace party on the one hand, aided on the other by the sufferings of France, the embarrassment of her finances, and the threatened addition of England’s navy to her already numerous enemies, inclined to peace the two principal parties to this long war. Louis had long been willing to make peace with Holland alone; but the States had been withheld, at first by fidelity to those who had joined them in their hour of trouble, and latterly by the firm purpose of William of Orange. Difficulties were gradually smoothed away, and the Peace of Nimeguen between the United Provinces and France was signed August 11, 1678. The other powers shortly afterward acceded to it. The principal sufferer, as was natural, was the overgrown but feeble monarchy whose centre was Spain, which gave up to France Franche Comte and a number of fortified towns in the Spanish Netherlands, thus extending the boundaries of France to the east and northeast. Holland, for whose destruction Louis began the war, lost not a foot of ground in Europe; and beyond the seas only her colonies on the west coast of Africa and in Guiana. She owed her safety at first, and the final successful issue, to her sea power. That delivered her in the hour of extreme danger, and enabled her afterward to keep alive the general war. It may be said to have been one of the chief factors, and inferior to no other one singly, in determining the event of the great war which was formally closed at Nimeguen.
The effort none the less sapped her strength, and being followed by many years of similar strain broke her down. But what was the effect upon the vastly greater state, the extreme ambition of whose king was the principal cause of the exhausting wars of this time? Among the many activities which illustrated the brilliant opening of the reign of the then youthful king of France, none was so important, none so intelligently directed, as those of Colbert, who aimed first at restoring the finances from the confusion into which they had fallen, and then at establishing them upon a firm foundation of national wealth. This wealth, at that time utterly beneath the possibilities of France, was to be developed on the lines of production encouraged, trade stimulated to healthful activity, a large merchant shipping, a great navy, and colonial extension. Some of these are sources, others the actual constituents, of sea power; which indeed may be said in a sea-board nation to be the invariable accompaniment, if it be not the chief source, of its strength. For nearly twelve years all went well; the development of the greatness of France in all these directions went forward rapidly, if not in all with equal strides, and the king’s revenues increased by bounds. Then came the hour in which he had to decide whether the exertions which his ambition naturally, perhaps properly, prompted should take the direction which, while imposing great efforts, did nothing to sustain but rather hindered the natural activities of his people, and broke down commerce by making control of the sea uncertain; or whether he should launch out in pursuits which, while involving expense, would keep peace on his borders, lead to the control of the sea, and by the impulse given to trade, and all upon which trade depends, would bring in money nearly if not quite equal to that which the State spent. This is not a fanciful picture; by his attitude toward Holland, and its consequences, Louis gave the first impulse to England upon the path which realized to her, within his own day, the results which Colbert and Leibnitz had hoped for France. He drove the Dutch carrying-trade into the ships of England; allowed her to settle peacefully Pennsylvania and Carolina, and to seize New York and New Jersey; and he sacrificed, to gain her neutrality, the growing commerce of France. Not all at once, but very rapidly, England pressed into the front place as a sea power; and however great her sufferings and the sufferings of individual Englishmen, it remained true of her that even in war her prosperity was great. Doubtless France could not forget her continental position, nor wholly keep free from continental wars; but it may be believed that if she had chosen the path of sea power, she might both have escaped many conflicts and borne those that were unavoidable with greater ease. At the Peace of Nimeguen the injuries were not irreparable, but “the agricultural classes, commerce, manufactures, and the colonies had alike been smitten by the war; and the conditions of peace, so advantageous to the territorial and military power of France, were much less so to manufactures, the protective tariffs having been lowered in favor of England and Holland,” (1) the two sea powers. The merchant shipping was stricken, and the splendid growth of the royal navy, that excited the jealousy of England, was like a tree without roots; it soon withered away under the blast of war.
1 Martin: History of France.
Before finally quitting this war with Holland, a short notice of the Comte D’Estrees, to whom Louis committed the charge of the French contingent of the allied fleet, and who commanded it at Solebay and the Texel, will throw some light upon the qualifications of the French naval officers of the day before experience had made seamen of many of them. D’Estrees went to sea for the first the in 1667, being then a man of mature years; but in 1672 we find him in the chief command of an important squadron, having under him Duquesne, who was a seaman, and had been so for nearly forty years. In 1677, D’Estrees obtained from the king a body of eight ships which he undertook to maintain at his own expense, upon the condition of receiving half the prizes made. With this squadron he made an attack upon the then Dutch island of Tobago, with a recklessness which showed that no lack of courage prompted his equivocal conduct at the Texel. The next year he went out again and contrived to run the whole squadron ashore on the Aves Islands. The account given by the flag-captain of this transaction is amusing as well as instructive. In his report he says: -
“The day that the squadron was lost, the sun having been taken by the pilots, the vice-admiral as usual had them put down the position in his cabin. As I was entering to learn what was going on, I met the third pilot, Bourdaloue, who was going out crying. I asked him what the matter was, and he answered: ‘Because I find more drift than the other pilots, the admiral is threatening me and abusing me, as usual; yet I am only a poor lad who does the best he can.’ When I had entered the cabin, the admiral, who was very angry, said to me, ‘That scoundrel of a Bourdaloue is always coming to me with some nonsense or other; I will drive him out of the ship. He makes us to be running a course, the devil knows where, I don’t.’ As I did not know which was right,” says the captain of the ship, rather naively, “I did not dare to say anything for fear of bringing down a like storm on my own head.” (1)
1. Gougeard: Marine de Guerre.
Some hours after this scene, which, as the French officer from whom the extract is taken says, “appears now almost grotesque, but which is only an exact portrayal of the sea manners of the day, the whole squadron was lost on a group of rocks known as the Aves Islands. Such were the officers.” The flag-captain, in another part of his report, says: “The shipwreck resulted from the general line of conduct held by Vice-Admiral d’Estrees. It was always the opinion of his servants, or others than the proper officers of the ship, which prevailed. This manner of acting may be understood in the Comte D’Estrees, who, without the necessary knowledge of a profession he had embraced so late, always had with him obscure counsellors, in order to appropriate the opinions they gave him so as to blind the ship’s company as to his capacity.” (1) D’Estrees had been made vice-admiral two years after he first went aboard ship.
1 Troude: Batailles Navales.