CHAPTER V. WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION, 1702-1713. - SEA BATTLE OP MALAGA.
Owing to this characteristic, the War of the Spanish Succession, from the point of view of our subject, has to be blocked out in general outline, avoiding narrative and indicating general bearings, especially of the actions of the fleets. With the war in Flanders, in Germany, and in Italy the navies had naturally no concern; when they had so protected the commerce of the allies that there was no serious check to that flow of subsidies upon which the land war depended, their part toward it was done. In the Spanish peninsula it was different. Immediately after landing Carlos III. at Lisbon, Sir George Rooke sailed for Barcelona, which it was understood would be handed over when the fleets appeared; but the governor was faithful to his king and kept down the Austrian party. Rooke then sailed for Toulon, where a French fleet was at anchor. On his way he sighted another French fleet coming from Brest, which he chased but was unable to overtake; so that both the enemy's squadrons were united in the port. It is worth while to note here that the English navy did not as yet attempt to blockade the French ports in winter, as they did at a later date. At this period fleets, like armies, went into winter quarters. Another English admiral, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, had been sent in the spring to blockade Brest; but arriving too late, he found his bird flown, and at once kept on to the Mediterranean. Rooke, not thinking himself strong enough to resist the combined French squadrons, fell back toward the Straits; for at this time England had no ports, no base, in the Mediterranean, no useful ally; Lisbon was the nearest refuge. Rooke and Shovel met off Lagos, and there held a council of war, in which the former, who was senior, declared that his instructions forbade his undertaking anything without the consent of the kings of Spain and Portugal. This was indeed tying the hands of the sea powers; but Rooke at last, chafing at the humiliating inaction, and ashamed to go home without doing something, decided to attack Gibraltar for three reasons: because he heard it was insufficiently garrisoned, because it was of infinite importance as a port for the present war, and because its capture would reflect credit on the queen's arms. The place was attacked, bombarded, and then carried by an assault in boats. The English possession of Gibraltar dates from August 4, 1704, and the deed rightly keeps alive the name of Rooke, to whose judgment and fearlessness of responsibility England owes the key of the Mediterranean.
The Bourbon king of Spain at once undertook to retake the place, and called upon the French fleet in Toulon to support his attack. Tourville had died in 1701, and the fleet was commanded by the Count of Toulouse, - a natural son of Louis XIV., only twenty-six years old. Rooke also sailed eastward, and the two fleets met on the 24th of August off Velez Malaga. The allies were to windward with a northeast wind, both fleets on the port tack heading to the southward and eastward. There is some uncertainty as to the numbers; the French had fifty-two ships-of-the-line, their enemy probably half a dozen more. The allies kept away together, each ship for its opposite; there was apparently no attempt on Rooke's part at any tactical combination. The battle of Malaga possesses indeed no military interest, except that it is the first in which we find fully developed that wholly unscientific method of attack by the English which Clerk criticised, and which prevailed throughout the century. It is instructive to notice that the result in it was the same as in all others fought on the same principle. The van opened out from the centre, leaving quite an interval; and the attempt made to penetrate this gap and isolate the van was the only tactical move of the French. We find in them at Malaga no trace of the cautious, skilful tactics which Clerk rightly thought to recognize at a later day. The degeneracy from the able combinations of Monk, Ruyter, and Tourville to the epoch of mere seamanship is clearly marked by the battle of Malaga, and gives it its only historical importance. In it was realized that primitive mode of fighting which Macaulay has sung, and which remained for many years the ideal of the English navy: -
"Then on both sides the leaders Gave signal for the charge; And on both sides the footmen Strode forth with lance and targe; And on both sides the horsemen Struck their spurs deep in gore, And front to front the armies Met with a mighty roar."