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.
The Peace of Utrecht was soon followed by the deaths of the rulers of the two countries which had played the foremost part in the War of the Spanish Succession. Queen Anne died August 1, 1714; Louis XIV. on the 1st of September, 1715.
The successor to the English throne, the German George I., though undoubtedly the choice of the English people, was far from being their favorite, and was rather endured as a necessary evil, giving them a Protestant instead of a Roman Catholic king. Along with the coldness and dislike of his own partisans, he found a very considerable body of disaffected men, who wished to see the son of James II. on the throne. There was therefore a lack of solidity, more apparent than real, but still real, in his position. In France, on the contrary, the succession to the throne was undisputed; but the heir was a child of five years, and there was much jealousy as to the possession of the regency, a power more absolute than that of the King of England. The regency was obtained and exercised by the next in succession to the throne, Philip, Duke of Orleans; but he had to apprehend, not only attempts on the part of rivals in France to shake his hold, but also the active enmity of the Bourbon king of Spain, Philip V., - an enmity which seems to have dated from an intrigue of Orleans, during the late war, to supplant Philip on the Spanish throne. There was therefore a feeling of instability, of apprehension, in the governments of England and France, which influenced the policy of both. As regards the relations of France and Spain, the mutual hatred of the actual rulers stood for a while in the way of the friendly accord Louis XIV. had hoped from family ties, and was injurious to the true interests of both nations.
The Regent Orleans, under the advice of the most able and celebrated French statesman of that day, the Abbe Dubois, made overtures of alliance to the King of Great Britain. He began first by commercial concessions of the kind generally acceptable to the English, forbidding French shipping to trade to the South Seas under penalty of death, and lowering the duties on the importation of English coal. England at first received these advances warily; but the regent would not be discouraged, and offered, further, to compel the Pretender, James III., to withdraw beyond the Alps. He also undertook to fill up the port at Mardyck, a new excavation by which the French government was trying to indemnify itself for the loss of Dunkirk. These concessions, all of which but one, it will be noted, were at the expense of the sea power or commercial interests of France, induced England to sign a treaty by which the two countries mutually guaranteed the execution of the treaties of Utrecht as far as their respective interests were concerned; especially the clause by which the House of Orleans was to succeed to the French throne, if Louis XV. died childless. The Protestant succession in England was likewise guaranteed. Holland, exhausted by the war, was unwilling to enter upon new engagements, but was at last brought over to this by the remission of certain dues on her merchandise entering France. The treaty, signed in January, 1717, was known as the Triple Alliance, and bound France to England for some years to come. While France was thus making overtures to England, Spain, under the guidance of another able churchman, was seeking the same alliance and at the same the developing her national strength with the hope of recovering her lost Italian States. The new minister, Cardinal Alberoni, promised Philip V. To put him in a position to reconquer Sicily and Naples, if granted five years of peace. He worked hard to bring up the revenues, rebuild the navy, and re-establish the army, while at the same time promoting manufactures, commerce, and shipping, and the advance made in all these was remarkable; but the more legitimate ambition of Spain to recover her lost possessions, and with them to establish her power in the Mediterranean, so grievously wounded by the loss of Gibraltar, was hampered by the ill-timed purpose of Philip to overthrow the regency of Orleans in France. Alberoni was compelled to alienate France, whose sea power, as well as that of Spain, was concerned in seeing Sicily in friendly hands, and, instead of that natural ally, had to conciliate the maritime powers, England and Holland. This he also sought to do by commercial concessions; promising promptly to put the English in possession of the privileges granted at Utrecht, concerning which Spain had so far delayed. In return, he asked favorable action from them in Italy. George I., who was at heart German, received coldly advances which were unfriendly to the German emperor in his Italian dominions; and Alberoni, offended, withdrew them. The Triple Alliance, by guaranteeing the existing arrangement of succession to the French throne, gave further offence to Philip V., who dreamed of asserting his own claim. The result of all these negotiations was to bind England and France together against Spain, - a blind policy for the two Bourbon kingdoms.
The gist of the situation created by these different aims and feelings, was that the Emperor of Austria and the King of Spain both wanted Sicily, which at Utrecht had been given to the Duke of Savoy; and that France and England both wished for peace in western Europe, because war would give an opportunity to the malcontents in either kingdom. The position of George, however, being more secure than that of Orleans, the policy of the latter tended to yield to that of the former, and this tendency was increased by the active ill-will of the King of Spain. George, as a German, wished the emperor’s success; and the English statesmen naturally preferred to see Sicily in the hands of their late ally and well-assured friend rather than in Spain’s. France, contrary to her true policy, but under the urgency of the regent’s position, entertained the same views, and it was proposed to modify the Treaty of Utrecht by transferring Sicily from Savoy to Austria, giving the former Sardinia instead. It was necessary, however, to consider Spain, which under Alberoni had already gained a degree of military power astounding to those who had known her weakness during the last war. She was not yet ready to fight, for only half of the five years asked by the cardinal had passed; but still less was she ready to forego her ambitions. A trifling incident precipitated an outbreak. A high Spanish official, travelling from Rome to Spain by land, and so passing through the Italian States of the emperor, was arrested as a rebellious subject by order of the latter, who still styled himself King of Spain. At this insult, Alberoni could not hold Philip back. An expedition of twelve ships of war and eighty-six hundred soldiers was sent against Sardinia, the transfer to Savoy not having yet taken effect, and reduced the island in a few months. This happened in 1717.
Doubtless the Spaniards would at once have moved on against Sicily; but France and England now intervened more actively to prevent the general war that seemed threatening. England sent a fleet to the Mediterranean, and negotiations began at Paris, Vienna, and Madrid. The outcome of these conferences was an agreement between England and France to effect the exchange of Sardinia and Sicily just mentioned, recompensing Spain by giving her Parma and Tuscany in northern Italy, and stipulating that the emperor should renounce forever his absurd but irritating claim to the Spanish crown. This arrangement was to be enforced by arms, if necessary. The emperor at first refused consent; but the increasing greatness of Alberoni’s preparations at last decided him to accept so advantageous an offer, and the accession of Holland to the compact gave it the historical title of the Quadruple Alliance. Spain was obstinate; and it is significant of Alberoni’s achievements in developing her power, and the eagerness, not to say anxiety, of George I., that the offer was made to purchase her consent by ceding Gibraltar. If the Regent Orleans knew this, it would partly justify his forwarding the negotiations.
Alberoni tried to back up his military power by diplomatic efforts extending all over Europe. Russia and Sweden were brought together in a project for invading England in the interest of the Stuarts; the signing of the Quadruple Alliance in Holland was delayed by his agents; a conspiracy was started in France against the regent; the Turks were stirred up against the emperor; discontent was fomented throughout Great Britain; and an attempt was made to gain over the Duke of Savoy, outraged by being deprived of Sicily. On the 1st of July, 1718, a Spanish army of thirty thousand troops, escorted by twenty-two ships-of-the-line, appeared at Palermo, The troops of Savoy evacuated the city and pretty nearly the whole island, resistance being concentrated in the citadel of Messina. Anxiety was felt in Naples itself, until the English admiral, Byng, (1) anchored there the day after the investment of Messina. The King of Sicily having now consented to the terms of the Quadruple Alliance, Byng received on board two thousand Austrian troops to be landed at Messina. When he appeared before the place, finding it besieged, he wrote to the Spanish general suggesting a suspension of arms for two months. This was of course refused; so the Austrians were landed again at Reggio, in Italy, and Byng passed through the Straits of Messina to seek the Spanish fleet, which had gone to the southward.
1. Afterward Lord Torrington; father of Admiral John Byng, shot in 1757.
The engagement which ensued can scarcely be called a battle, and, as is apt to happen in such affairs, when the parties are on the verge of war but war has not actually been declared, there is some doubt as to how far the attack was morally justifiable on the part of the English. It seems pretty sure that Byng was determined beforehand to seize or destroy the Spanish fleet, and that as a military man he was justified by his orders. The Spanish naval officers had not made up their minds to any line of conduct; they were much inferior in numbers, and, as must always be the case, Alberoni’s hastily revived navy had not within the same period reached nearly the efficiency of his army. The English approached threateningly near, one or more Spanish ships opened fire, whereupon the English, being to windward, stood down and made an end of them; a few only escaped into Valetta harbor. The Spanish navy was practically annihilated. It is difficult to understand the importance attached by some writers to Byng’s action at this time in attacking without regard to the line-of-battle. He had before him a disorderly force, much inferior both in numbers and discipline. His merit seems rather to lie in the readiness to assume a responsibility from which a more scrupulous man might have shrunk; but in this and throughout the campaign he rendered good service to England, whose sea power was again strengthened by the destruction not of an actual but a possible rival, and his services were rewarded by a peerage. In connection with this day’s work was written a despatch which has great favor with English historians. One of the senior captains was detached with a division against some escaping ships of the enemy. His report to the admiral ran thus: “Sir, - We have taken or destroyed all the Spanish ships upon this coast, the number as per margin. Respectfully, etc., G. Walton.” One English writer makes, and another indorses, the uncalled-for but characteristic fling at the French, that the ships thus thrust into the margin would have filled some pages of a French narration. (1) It may be granted that the so-called “battle” of Cape Passaro did not merit a long description, and Captain Walton possibly felt so; but if all reports of naval transactions were modelled upon his, the writing of naval history would not depend on official papers.
1. Campbell: Lives of the Admirals; quoted by Lord Mahon in his History of England.
Thus the Spanish navy was struck down on the 11th of August, 1718, off Cape Passaro. This settled the fate of Sicily, if it had been doubtful before. The English fleet cruised round the island, supporting the Austrians and isolating the Spaniards, none of whom were permitted to withdraw before peace was made. Alberoni’s diplomatic projects failed one after the other, with a strange fatality. In the following year the French, in pursuance of the terms of the alliance, invaded the north of Spain and destroyed the dock-yards; burning nine large ships on the stocks, besides the materials for seven more, at the instigation of an English attache accompanying the French headquarters. Thus was completed the destruction of the Spanish navy, which, says an English historian, was ascribed to the maritime jealousy of England. “This was done,” wrote the French commander, the Duke of Berwick, a bastard of the house of Stuart, “in order that the English government may be able to show the next Parliament that nothing has been neglected to diminish the navy of Spain.” The acts of Sir George Byng, as given by the English naval historian, make yet more manifest the purpose of England at this time. While the city and citadel of Messina were being besieged by the Austrians, English, and Sardinians, a dispute arose as to the possession of the Spanish men-of-war within the mole. Byng, “reflecting within himself that possibly the garrison might capitulate for the safe return of those ships into Spain, which he was determined not to suffer; that on the other hand the right of possession might breed an inconvenient dispute at a critical juncture among the princes concerned, and if it should at length be determined that they did not belong to England it were better they belonged to no one else, proposed to Count de Merci, the Austrian general, to erect a battery and destroy them as they lay.” (1) After some demur on the part of the other leaders, this was done. If constant care and watchfulness deserve success, England certainly deserved her sea power; but what shall be said of the folly of France at this the and in this connection?
1. Lives of the Admirals.
The steady stream of reverses, and the hopelessness of contending for distant maritime possessions when without a navy, broke down the resistance of Spain. England and France insisted upon the dismissal of Alberoni, and Philip yielded to the terms of the Quadruple Alliance. The Austrian power, necessarily friendly to England, was thus firmly settled in the central Mediterranean, in Naples and Sicily, as England herself was in Gibraltar and Port Mahon. Sir Robert Walpole, the minister now coming into power in England, failed at a later day to support this favorable conjunction, and so far betrayed the traditional policy of his country. The dominion of the house of Savoy in Sardinia, which then began, has lasted; it is only within our own day that the title King of Sardinia has merged in the broader one of King of Italy.
Contemporaneously with and for some the after the short episode of Alberoni’s ministry and Spain’s ambition, a struggle was going on around the shores of the Baltic which must be mentioned, because it gave rise to another effectual illustration of the sea power of England, manifested alike in the north and south with a slightness of exertion which calls to mind the stories of the tap of a tiger’s paw. The long contest between Sweden and Russia was for a moment interrupted in 1718, by negotiations looking to peace and to an alliance between the two for the settlement of the succes-sion in Poland and the restoration of the Stuarts in England. This project, on which had rested many of Alberoni’s hopes, was finally stopped by the death in battle of the Swedish king. The war went on; and the czar, seeing the exhaustion of Sweden, purposed its entire subjugation. This destruction of the balance of power in the Baltic, making it a Russian lake, suited neither England nor France; especially the former, whose sea power both for peace and war depended upon the naval stores chiefly drawn from those regions. The two western kingdoms interfered, both by diplomacy, while England besides sent her fleet. Denmark, which was also at war with her traditional enemy Sweden, readily yielded; but Peter the Great chafed heavily under the implied coercion, until at last orders were sent to the English admiral to join his fleet to that of the Swedes and repeat in the Baltic the history of Cape Passaro. The czar in alarm withdrew his fleet. This happened in 1719; but Peter, though baffled, was not yet subdued. The following year the interposition of England was repeated with greater effect, although not in time to save the Swedish coasts from serious injury; but the czar, recognizing the fixed purpose with which he had to deal, and knowing from personal observation and practical experience the efficiency of England’s sea power, consented finally to peace. The French claim much for their own diplomacy in this happy result, and say that England supported Sweden feebly; being willing that she should lose her provinces on the eastern shore of the Baltic because Rus-sia, thus brought down to the sea-shore, could more easily open to English trade the vast resources of her interior. This may very possibly be true, and certainty can be felt that British interests, especially as to commerce and sea power, were looked after; but the character of Peter the Great is the guarantee that the argument which weighed most heavily with him was the military efficiency of the British fleet and its ability to move up to his very doors. By this Peace of Nystadt, August 30, 1721, Sweden abandoned Livonia, Esthonia, and other provinces on the east side of the Baltic. This result was inevitable; it was yearly becoming less possible for small States to hold their own.
It can readily be understood that Spain was utterly discontented with the terms wrung from her by the Quadruple Alliance. The twelve years which followed are called years of peace, but the peace was very uncertain, and fraught with elements of future wars. The three great grievances rankling with Spain were - Sicily and Naples in the possession of Austria, Gibraltar and Mahon in the hands of England, and lastly, the vast contraband trade carried on by English mer-chants and ships in Spanish America. It will be seen that England was the active supporter of all these injuries; England therefore was the special enemy of Spain, but Spain was not the only enemy of England.
The quiet, such as it was, that succeeded the fall of Alberoni was due mainly to the character and policy of the two ministers of France and England, who agreed in wishing a general peace. The policy and reasons of the French regent are already known. Moved by the same reasons, and to remove an accidental offence taken by England, Dubois obtained for her the further concession from Spain, additional to the commercial advantages granted at Utrecht, of sending a ship every year to trade in the West Indies. It is said that this ship, after being anchored, was kept continually supplied by others, so that fresh cargo came in over one side as fast as the old was sent ashore from the other. Dubois and the regent both died in the latter half of 1723, after an administration of eight years, in which they had reversed the policy of Richelieu by alliance with England and Austria and sacrificing to them the interests of France.
The regency and the nominal government of France passed to another member of the royal family; but the real ruler was Cardinal Fleuri, the preceptor of the young king, who was now thirteen years of age. Efforts to displace the preceptor resulted only in giving him the title, as well as the power, of minister in 1726. At this time Sir Robert Walpole had become prime minister of England, with an influence and power which gave him practically the entire guidance of the policy of the State. The chief wish of both Walpole and Fleuri was peace, above all in western Europe. France and England therefore continued to act together for that purpose, and though they could not entirely stifle every murmur, they were for several years successful in preventing outbreaks. But while the aims of the two ministers were thus agreed, the motives which inspired them were different. Walpole desired peace because of the still unsettled condition of the English succession; for the peaceful growth of English commerce, which he had ever before his eyes; and probably also because his spirit, impatient of equals in the government, shrank from war which would raise up stronger men around him. Fleuri, reasonably secure as to the throne and his own power, wished like Walpole the peaceful development of his country, and shrank from war with the love of repose natural to old age; for he was seventy-three when he took office, and ninety when he laid it down in death. Under his mild administration the prosperity of France revived; the passing traveller could note the change in the face of the country and of the people; yet it may be doubted whether this change was due to the government of the quiet old man, or merely to the natural elasticity of the people, no longer drained by war nor isolated from the rest of the world. French authorities say that agriculture did not revive throughout the country. It is certain, however, that the maritime prosperity of France advanced wonderfully, owing mainly to the removal of commercial restrictions in the years immediately following the death of Louis XIV. The West India islands in particular throve greatly, and their welfare was naturally shared by the home ports that traded with them. The tropical climnate of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Louisiana, and cultivation by slaves, lent themselves readily to the paternal, semi-military government which marks all French colonies, but which produced less happy results in the bitter weather of Canada. In the West Indies, France at this time obtained a decided preponderance over England; the value of the French half of Hayti was alone equal to that of all the English West Indies, and French coffee and sugar were driving those of England out of European markets. A like advantage over England in the Mediterranean and Levant trade is asserted by French historians. At the same time the East India Company was revived, and its French depot, whose name tells its association with the East, the Breton town of L’Orient, quickly became a splendid city. Pondicherry on the Coromandel coast, and Chandernagore on the Ganges, the chief seats of French power and commerce in India, grew rapidly; the Isle of Bourbon and the Isle of France, now the Mauritius, whose position is so well suited for the control of the Indian Ocean, became, the one a rich agricultural colony, the other a powerful naval station. The monopoly of the great company was confined to the trade between home and the chief Indian stations; the traffic throughout the Indian seas was open to private enterprise and grew more rapidly. This great movement, wholly spontaneous, and even looked on with distrust by the government, was personified in two men, Dupleix and La Bourdonnais; who, the former at Chandernagore and the latter at the Isle of France, pointed out and led the way in all these undertakings, which were building up the power and renown of the French in the Eastern seas. The movement was begun which, after making France the rival of England in the Hindustan peninsula, and giving her for a moment the promise of that great empire which has bestowed a new title on the Queen of Great Britain, was destined finally to falter and perish before the sea power of England. The extent of this expansion of French trade, consequent upon peace and the removal of restrictions, and not due in any sense to government protection, is evidenced by the growth of French merchant shipping from only three hundred vessels at the death of Louis XIV., to eighteen hundred, twenty years later. This, a French historian claims, refutes “the deplorable prejudices, born of our misfortunes, that France is not fitted for sea commerce, the only commerce that indefinitely extends the power of a nation with its sphere of activity.” (1)
1. Martin History of France.
This free and happy movement of the people was far from acceptable to Fleuri, who seems to have seen it with the distrust of a hen that has hatched ducklings. Walpole and himself were agreed to love peace; but Walpole was obliged to reckon with the English people, and these were prompt to resent rivalry upon the sea and in trade, however obtained. Moreover, Fleuri had inherited the unfortunate policy of Louis XIV.; his eyes were fixed on the continent. He did not indeed wish to follow the course of the regency in quarrelling with Spain, but rather to draw near to her; and although he was not able for a time to do so without sacrificing his peace policy, because of Spain’s restless enmity to England, yet his mind was chiefly bent upon strengthening the position of France on the land, by establishing Bourbon princes where he could, and drawing them together by family alliances. The navy was allowed to decay more and more. “The French government abandoned the sea at the very moment that the nation, through the activity of private individuals, was making an effort to regain it.” The material force fell to fifty-four ships-of-the-line and frigates, mostly in bad condition; and even when war with England had been imminent for five years, France had but forty-five ships-of-the-line to England’s ninety. This difference foreshadowed the results which followed a quarter of a century of war.
During the same period Walpole, relying upon Fleuri’s co-operation, resolutely set his face against open war between England and Spain. The difficulties caused by the threatening and exasperating action of the latter country, and of such allies as she from time to time could raise, were met, and for a while successfully met, by naval demonstrations, - reminders of that sea power which one nation after another had felt and yielded to. In 1725, the Spanish king and the emperor agreed to sink their long-standing feud, and signed a treaty at Vienna, in which there was a secret clause providing that the emperor would support the claim of Spain to Gibraltar and Port Mahon, by arms if necessary. Russia also showed a disposition to join this confederacy. A counter-alliance was formed between England, France, and Prussia; and English fleets were sent, one to the Baltic to awe the czarina, another to the coast of Spain to check that government and protect Gibraltar, and a third to Porto Bello, on the Spanish Main, to blockade the fleet of galleons there assembled, and by cutting off the supplies remind the Spanish king at once of his dependence upon the specie of America, and of England’s control of the highway by which it reached him. Walpole’s aversion to war was marked by giving the admiral at Porto Bello the strictest orders not to fight, only to blockade; the consequence of which, through the long delay of the squadron upon the sickly coast, was a mortality among the crews that shocked the nation, and led, among other causes, to the minister’s overthrow many years later. Between three and four thousand officers and men, including Admiral Rosier himself, died there. Walpole’s aim, however, was reached; though Spain made a foolish attack by land upon Gibraltar, the presence of the English fleet assured its supplies and provisions and averted the formal outbreak of war. The emperor withdrew from the alliance, and under English pressure also revoked the charter of an East India company which he had authorized in the Austrian Netherlands, and which took its name from the port of Ostend. English merchants demanded the removal of this competitor, and also of a similar rival established in Denmark; both which concessions the English ministry, backed by Holland, obtained. So long as commerce was not seriously disturbed, Walpole’s peace policy, accompanied as it naturally was by years of plenty and general content, was easily maintained, even though Spain continued threatening and arrogant in her demands for Gibraltar; but unfortunately she now entered more deeply upon a course of annoyance to English trade. The concessions of the Asiento, or slave-trade, and of the annual ship to South America have been mentioned; but these privileges were but a part of the English commerce in those regions. The system of Spain with regard to the trade of her colonies was of the narrowest and most exclusive character; but, while attempting to shut them out from foreign traffic, she neglected to provide for their wants herself. The consequence was that a great smuggling or contraband trade arose throughout her American possessions, carried on mainly by the English, who made their lawful traffic by the Asiento and the yearly ship subserve also the unlawful, or at least unauthorized, trade. This system was doubtless advantageous to the great body of the Spanish colonists, and was encouraged by them, while colonial governors connived at it, sometimes for money, sometimes swayed by local public opinion and their own knowledge of the hardships of the case; but there were Spanish subjects who saw their own business injured by the use and abuse of English privileges, and the national government suffered both in pocket and in pride by these evasions of the revenue. It now began to pull the strings tighter. Obsolete regulations were revived and enforced. Words in which the action of Spain in this old controversy have been described are curiously applicable to certain recent disputes to which the United States has been a party. “The letter of the treaty was now followed, though the spirit which dictated it was abandoned. Although English ships still enjoyed the liberty of putting into Spanish harbors for the purpose of refitting and provisioning, yet they were far from enjoying the same advantages of carrying on a friendly and commercial intercourse. They were now watched with a scrupulous jealousy, strictly visited by guarda-costas, and every efficient means adopted to prevent any commerce with the colonies, except what was allowed by the annual ship.” If Spain could have confined herself to closer watchfulness and to enforcing in her own waters vexatious customs regulations, not essentially different from those sanctioned by the general commercial ideas of that day, perhaps no further harm would nave resulted; but the condition of things and the temper of her government would not let her stop there. It was not possible to guard and effectually seal a sea-coast extending over hundreds of miles, with innumerable inlets; nor would traders and seamen, in pursuit of gain which they had come to consider their right, be deterred by fears of penalties nor consideration for Spanish susceptibilities. The power of Spain was not great enough to enforce on the English ministry any regulation of their shipping, or stoppage of the abuse of the treaty privileges, in face of the feelings of the merchants; and so the weaker State, wronged and harassed, was goaded into the use of wholly unlawful means. Ships-of-war and guarda-costas were instructed, or at least permitted, to stop and search English ships on the high seas, outside of Spanish jurisdiction; and the arrogant Spanish temper, unrestrained by the weak central government, made many of these visits, both the lawful and the unlawful, scenes of insult and even violence. Somewhat similar results, springing from causes not entirely different, have occurred in the relations of Spanish officials to the United States and American merchant-ships in our own day. The stories of these acts of violence coming back to England, coupled with cases of loss by confiscation and by the embarrassment of trade, of course stirred up the people. In 1737 the West India merchants petitioned the House of Commons, saying, -
“For many years past their ships have not only frequently been stopped and searched, but also forcibly and arbitrarily seized upon the high seas, by Spanish ships fitted out to cruise, under the plausible pretext of guarding their own coasts; that the commanders thereof, with their crews, have been inhumanly treated, and their ships carried into some of the Spanish ports and there condemned with their cargoes, in manifest violation of the treaties subsisting between the two crowns; that the remonstrances of his Majesty’s ministers at Madrid receive no attention, and that insults and plunder must soon destroy their trade.”
Walpole struggled hard, during the ten years following 1729, to keep off war. In that year a treaty signed at Seville professed to regulate matters, restoring the conditions of trade to what they had been four years before, and providing that six thousand Spanish troops should at once occupy the territory of Tuscany and Parma. Walpole argued with his own people that war would lose them the commercial privileges they already enjoyed in Spanish dominions; while with Spain he carried on constant negotiations, seeking concessions and indemnities that might silence the home clamor. In the midst of this period a war broke out concerning the succession to the Polish throne. The father-in-law of the French king was one claimant; Austria supported his opponent. A common hostility to Austria once more drew France and Spain together, and they were joined by the King of Sardinia, who hoped through this alliance to wrest Milan from Austria and add it to his own territory of Piedmont. The neutrality of England and Holland was secured by a promise not to attack the Austrian Netherlands, the possession of any part of which by France was considered to be dangerous to England’s sea power. The allied States declared war against Austria in October, 1733, and their armies entered Italy together; but the Spaniards, intent on their long-cherished projects against Naples and Sicily, left the others and turned southward. The two kingdoms were easily and quickly conquered, the invaders having command of the sea and the favor of the population. The second son of the King of Spain was proclaimed king under the title of Carlos III., and the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies thus came into existence. Walpole’s aversion to war, leading him to abandon a long-standing ally, thus resulted in the transfer of the central Mediterranean to a control necessarily unfriendly to Great Britain.
But while Walpole thus forsook the emperor, he was himself betrayed by his friend Fleuri. While making the open alliance with Spain against Austria, the French government agreed to a secret clause directed against England. This engagement ran as follows: “Whenever it seems good to both nations alike, the abuses which have crept into commerce, especially through the English, shall be abolished and if the English make objection, France will ward off their hostility with all its strength by land and sea.” “And this compact was made,” as the biographer of Lord Hawke points out, “during a period of intimate and ostentatious alliance with England itself.” (1) “Thus the policy against which William III. had called on England and Europe to arm, at last came into existence.” Had Walpole known of this secret agreement, it might have seemed to him an additional argument in favor of peace; for, his keen political sagacity warning him of the existence of a danger which he yet could not see, he told the House of Commons that “if the Spaniards had not private encouragement from powers more considerable than themselves, they would never have ventured on the insults and injuries which have been proved at your bar;” and he expressed the opinion that “England was not a match for the French and Spaniards too.”
1. Burrows: Life of Lord Hawke.
Fleuri had indeed given his old friend and fellow-statesman an ugly fall. The particular question which excited the two years’ War of the Polish Succession, the choice of a ruler for a distracted kingdom fated soon to disappear from the list of European States, seems a small matter; but the turn imparted to European politics by the action of the powers engaged gives it a very different importance. France and Austria came to an arrangement in October, 1735, upon terms to which Sardinia and Spain afterward acceded, the principal points of which were as follows: The French claimant to the Polish throne gave up his claim to it, and received instead the duchies of Bar and Lorraine on the east of France, with the provision that upon his death they were to go to his son-in-law, the King of France, in full sovereignty; the two kingdoms of Sicily and Naples were confirmed to the Spanish Bourbon prince, Don Carlos; and Austria received back Parma. The Sardinian monarchy also got an increase to its Italian territory. France thus, under the peace-loving Fleuri, obtained in Bar and Lorraine an accession of strength which more warlike rulers had coveted in vain; and at the same time her external position was fortified at the expense of England, by the transfer of controlling positions in the central Mediterranean to an ally. Yet the heart of Fleuri might well have failed him as he remembered the secret agreement to check the commerce of England, and thought of her mighty sea power alongside of the decayed navy of France. That compact between France and Spain, to which the Two Sicilies acceded later, bore within it, in the then strained relations between England and Spain, the germ of the great wars between England and the House of Bourbon which issued in the creation of the British Empire and the independence of the United States.
The clamor in England over Spanish outrages continued, and was carefully nursed by the opposition to Walpole. The minister was now over sixty years of age, and scarcely able to change the settled convictions and policy of his prime, he was face to face with one of those irrepressible conflicts between nations and races toward which a policy of repression and compromise can be employed but for a short time. The English were bent upon opening the West Indies and Spanish America, the Spanish government equally bent upon obstructing them. Unfortunately for their policy of obstruction, they strengthened Walpole’s enemies by unlawful search of English ships on the open sea, and possibly also by outrages to English seamen. Some of the latter were brought before the bar of the House of Commons, and testified that they had been not merely plundered, but tortured, shut up in prison, and compelled to live and work under loathsome conditions. The most celebrated case was that of a certain Jenkins, the master of a merchant-brig, who told that a Spanish officer had torn off one of his ears, bidding him carry it to the king his master, and say that if he had been there he would have been served likewise. Being asked what were his feelings at such a moment of danger and suffering, he was said to have replied, “I commended my soul to God and my cause to my country.” This well-turned dramatic utterance from the mouth of a man of his class throws a suspicion of high coloring over the whole story; but it can be readily imagined what a capital campaign-cry it would be in the heat of a popular movement. The tide of feeling swept away Walpole’s patchwork of compromise, and war was declared against Spain by Great Britain on the 19th of October, 1739. The English ultimatum insisted upon a formal renunciation of the right of search as claimed and exercised by the Spaniards, and upon an express acknowledgment of the British claims in North America. Among these claims was one relating to the limits of Georgia, then a recently established colony, touching the Spanish territory of Florida.
How far the war thus urged on and begun by England, against the judgment of her able minister, was morally justifiable has been warmly argued on either side by English writers. The laws of Spain with regard to the trade of her colonies did not differ in spirit from those of England herself as shown by her Navigation Act, and Spanish naval officers found themselves in a position nearly identical with that of Nelson when captain of a frigate in the West Indies half a century later. American ships and merchants then, after the separation from the mother-country, continued the trade which they had enjoyed as colonists; Nelson, zealous for the commercial advantage of England as then understood, undertook to enforce the act, and in so doing found against him the feeling of the West Indians and of the colonial authorities. It does not seem that he or those supporting him searched unlawfully, for the power of England was great enough to protect her shipping interests without using irregular means; whereas Spain between 1730 and 1740, being weak, was tempted, as she has since been, to seize those whom she knew to have injured her wherever she could find them, even outside her lawful jurisdiction.
After reading the entirely sympathetic presentation of the case of Walpole’s opponents, urging war, which is given by Professor Burrows in his Life of Lord Hawke, a foreigner can scarcely fail to conclude that the Spaniards were grievously wronged, according to the rights of the mother-country over colonies as commonly admitted in that day; though no nation could tolerate the right of search as claimed by them. It chiefly concerns our subject to notice that the dispute was radically a maritime question, that it grew out of the uncontrollable impulse of the English people to extend their trade and colonial interests. It is possible that France was acting under a similar impulse, as English writers have asserted but the character and general policy of Fleuri, as well as the genius of the French people, make this unlikely. There was no Parliament and no opposition to make known popular opinion in the France of that day, and very different estimates of Fleuri’s character and administration have found voice since then. The English look rather at the ability which obtained Lorraine for France and the Sicilies for the House of Bourbon, and blame Walpole for being overreached. The French say of Fleuri that “he lived from day to day seeking only to have quiet in his old age. He had stupefied France with opiates, instead of laboring to cure her. He could not even prolong this silent sleep until his own death.” (1) When the war broke out between England and Spain, “the latter claimed the advantage of her defensive alliance with France. Fleuri, grievously against his will, was forced to fit out a squadron; he did so in niggardly fashion.” This squadron, of twenty-two ships, convoyed to America the Spanish fleet assembled at Ferrol, and the reinforcement prevented the English from attacking. (2) “Still, Fleuri made explanations to Walpole and hoped for compromise, - an ill-founded hope, which had disastrous results for our sea interests, and prevented measures which would have given France, from the beginning of the war, the superiority in eastern seas.” But “upon Walpole’s overthrow,” says another Frenchman, “Fleuri perceived his mistake in letting the navy decay. Its importance had lately struck him. He knew that the kings of Naples and Sardinia forsook the French alliance merely because an English squadron threatened to bombard Naples and Genoa and to bring an army into Italy. For lack of this element of greatness, France silently swallowed the greatest humiliations, and could only complain of the violence of English cruisers, which pillaged our commerce, in violation of the law of nations,” (3) during the years of nominal peace that elapsed between the time when the French fleet was confined to protecting the Spanish against the English and the outbreak of formal war. The explanation of these differing views seems not very hard. The two ministers had tacitly agreed to follow lines which apparently could not cross. France was left free to expand by land, provided she did not excite the jealousy of the English people, and Walpole’s own sense of English interests, by rivalry at sea. This course suited Fleuri’s views and wishes. The one sought power by sea, the other by land. Which had been wiser, war was to show; for, with Spain as an ally to one party, war had to come, and that on the sea. Neither minister lived to see the result of his policy. Walpole was driven from power in 1742, and died in March, 1745. Fleuri died in office, January 29, 1743.
1. Martin: History of France.
2. The peculiar political relation which France bore toward England between 1739 and 1744, while the latter country was at war with Spain, needs to be explained, as it depended upon views of international duties which are practically obsolete. By her defensive alliance with Spain, France had bound herself to furnish a contingent of specified force to the Spanish fleet when that country was involved in war of a certain kind. She claimed, however, that her sending these succors was not such an act of hostility to England as involved a breach of the peace existing between the two nations. The French ships-of-war, while thus serving with the Spanish fleet under the terms of the treaty, were enemies; but the French nation and all other armed forces of France, on sea and land, were neutrals, with all the privileges of neutrality. Of course England was not bound to accept this view of the matter, and could make the action of France a casus belli; but France claimed it was not justly so, and England practically conceded the claim, though the relation was likely to lead to formal war, as it did in 1744. A few years later the Dutch will be found claiming the same privilege of neutrality toward France while furnishing a large contingent to the Austrian army acting against her.
3. Lapeyrouse-Bonfils: Hist. de la Marine Francaise.