CHAPTER XI. THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM, 1704.
This is not the place for any narrative of the first essay which Louis XIV. made of his power in the war of 1667; of his rapid conquest of Flanders and Franche-Comte; of the treaty of Aix-la- Chapelle, which "was nothing more than a composition between the bully and the bullied;" [Ibid p. 399.] of his attack on Holland in 1672; of the districts and barrier-towns of the Spanish Netherlands which were secured to him by the treaty of Nimeguen in 1678; of how, after this treaty, he "continued to vex both Spain and the Empire, and to extend his conquests in the Low Countries and on the Rhine, both by the pen and the sword; how he took Luxembourg by force, stole Strasburg, and bought Casal;" of how the league of Augsburg was formed against him in 1686, and the election of William of Orange to the English throne in 1688, gave a new spirit to the opposition which France encountered; of the long and chequered war that followed, in which the French armies were generally victorious on the continent, though his fleet was beaten at La Hogue, and his dependent, James II,, was defeated at the Boyne, or of the treaty of Ryswick, which left France in possession of Roussillon, Artois, and Strasburg, which gave Europe no security against her claims on the Spanish succession, and which Louis regarded as a mere truce, to gain breathing-time before a more decisive struggle. It must be borne in mind that the ambition of Louis in these wars was twofold. It had its immediate and its ulterior objects. Its immediate object was to conquer and annex to France the neighbouring provinces and towns that were most convenient for the increase of her strength; but the ulterior object of Louis, from the time of his marriage to the Spanish Infanta in 1659, was to acquire for the house of Bourbon the whole empire of Spain. A formal renunciation of all right to the Spanish succession had been made at the time of the marriage; but such renunciations were never of any practical effect, and many casuists and jurists of the age even held them to be intrinsically void, as time passed on, and the prospect of Charles II. of Spain dying without lineal heirs became more and more certain, so did the claims of the house of Bourbon to the Spanish crown after his death become matters of urgent interest to French ambition on the one hand, and to the other powers of Europe on the other. At length the unhappy King of Spain died. By his will he appointed Philip, Duke of Anjou, one of Louis XIV.'s grandsons, to succeed him on the throne of Spain, and strictly forbade any partition of his dominions. Louis well knew that a general European war would follow if he accepted for his house the crown thus bequeathed. But he had been preparing for this crisis throughout his reign. He sent his grandson into Spain as King Philip V. of that country, addressing to him on his departure the memorable words, "There are no longer any Pyrenees."
The empire, which now received the grandson of Louis as its king, comprised, besides Spain itself, the strongest part of the Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, the principality of Milan, and other possessions in Italy, the Philippines and Marilla Islands in Asia, and, in the New World, besides California and Florida the greatest part of Central and of Southern America. Philip was well received in Madrid, where he was crowned as King Philip V. in the beginning of 1701. The distant portions of his empire sent in their adhesion; and the house of Bourbon, either by its French or Spanish troops, now had occupation both of the kingdom of Francis I., and of the fairest and amplest portion of the empire of the great rival of Francis, Charles V.
Loud was the wrath of Austria, whose princes were the rival claimants of the Bourbons for the empire of Spain. The indignation of William III., though not equally loud, was far more deep and energetic. By his exertions a league against the house of Bourbon was formed between England, Holland, and the Austrian Emperor, which was subsequently joined by the kings of Portugal and Prussia, by the Duke of Savoy, and by Denmark. Indeed, the alarm throughout Europe was now general and urgent. It was clear that Louis aimed a consolidating France and the Spanish dominions into one preponderating empire. At the moment when Philip was departing to take possession of Spain, Louis had issued letters-patent in his favour to the effect of preserving his rights to the throne of France. And Louis had himself obtained possession of the important frontier of the Spanish Netherlands, with its numerous fortified cities, which were given up to his troops under pretence of securing them for the young King of Spain. Whether the formal union of the two crowns was likely to take place speedily or not, it was evident that the resources of the whole Spanish monarchy were now virtually at the French king's disposal.
The peril that seemed to menace the empire, England, Holland, and the other independent powers, is well summed up by Alison: "Spain had threatened the liberties of Europe in the end of the sixteenth century, France had all but overthrown them in the close of the seventeenth. What hope was there of their being able to make head against them both, united under such a monarch as Louis XIV.?" [Military History of the Duke of Marlborough, p. 32.]
Our knowledge of the decayed state into which the Spanish power had fallen, ought not to make us regard their alarms as chimerical. Spain possessed enormous resources, and her strength was capable of being regenerated by a vigorous ruler. We should remember what Alberoni effected, even after the close of the War of Succession. By what that minister did in a few years, we may judge what Louis XIV. would have done in restoring the maritime and military power of that great country which nature has so largely gifted, and which man's misgovernment has so debased.