1708

Politics

The United Kingdom

The parliament of fall 1707 would start with a Whig attack on the Tory George Churchill, the first lord of the admiralty, whose chief was Prince George of Denmark (Queen Anne's husband). Meanwhile Harley started his attempt to topple Godolphin and if necessary Marlborough, an attempt which was also aimed at the party-system in general. In this he met with some very bad luck because on 11 January one of his agents was caught in an espionage scandal, and this gave the duo the opportunity to try to remove Harley from office and replace him by the moderate Whig Boyle. This brought the conflict into the open and Harley won the first round when Anne sacked the duo. He had however counted without the subsequent uproar in parliament and in the cabinet which forced him to step down, leaving the Marlborough - Godolphin duo in power leaning on Whig support.

Like Harley the Tories St. John, Harcourt and Mansell stepped down too. Because the Tory party was by nature somewhat bigger than the Whig party, the Tories could have hoped to restore the situation by winning the next elections. The Scottish invasion attempt by the French however, enabled the Whigs to win the May elections. With them parliament's plans to concentrate on the Spanish campaign, already crossed by Eugen's refusal to come to Spain, came to nothing.

The United Provinces

When preparations for the French invasion of Scotland became known, the UP promised their full support for Queen Anne. This of course strengthened their standing with the English parliament.

On 12 April 1708 Marlborough, Heinsius and Eugen gathered at The Hague to discuss strategy. The allies planned a repeat of Blenheim, but now in Flanders. To this effect Eugen would command on the Rhine, threaten on the Moselle and then suddenly join Marlborough in Flanders and provoke a decisive battle. The elector of Hannover would command on the upper Rhine with 47,000 men.

The Empire

The empire's forces and finances were still in distress, but it would this year triumph over the Hungarians. Also the emperor would send Eugen to Flanders. One can debate about if the Habsburgs would have done better sending forces to Spain or to Flanders as WSC does. To me the logic behind sending Eugen to Flanders is that the arrival of an Austrian army in Flanders would strengthen Austrian authority in the Southern Netherlands.

With popular support for the emperor growing, and at least part of Hungary under his control Joseph summoned a Hungarian assembly that met in Pressburg in April 1708. It came to chaotic meetings, clashes between Catholics and Protestants, civil and religious dignitaries, and all in all the 'loyal' assembly of Pressburg not only pressed for a lot of demands that were consented to by Joseph, but it also wanted legal guarantees.

After the defeat of Trencin Rákóczy started negotiations again. These failed anew because Rákóczy still insisted on having Transsylvania, though this time under nominal Austrian sovereignty, and on having the peace guaranteed by the Seapowers.

France

The French would open the year with an attempt in Scotland. Besides this they wanted to regain Flanders and had succeeded in raising the forces to enable them to do it: 110,000 men were gathered in Flanders (compare this to Boufflers' 60,000 in 1702 near Nijmegen). This would give them the initiative in Flanders.

Spain

Felipe V was still attempting to get money for his armies and now felt strong enough to demand that the super-rich Spanish clergy made a large contribution. This added a new conflict with the pope, with whom he was already in conflict because the imperialists had taken Naples by marching through the papal territory. This new conflict centered on the papal claim that such a don gratuit could only be given by the Spanish clergy if he consented to it. The pope got his way in this. Another matter that Felipe and the French ambassador were working on was the trade with the Indies, that was in French hands. If peace was to have a chance the Seapowers would have to have a part in this. If Spanish welfare was to have a chance certain tariffs would have to be imposed on exporting goods to the new world.

The arrival of the duke of Orleans in Spain started a new cabale against Des Ursins and Amelot an affair that came to nothing in 1708, but would have consequences in 1709. At the end of 1708 Louis XIV expressed his sentiment that he could be forced to abandon Felipe. Felipe's confidence and the actual strength of his government however enabled him to reply that he did not intent to leave his kingdom unless he was kicked out personally by the alliance. A claim that Felipe could well make because he had a lot of support from the population by now.

On Charles III's side Stanhope became commander of the British forces, Starhemberg would command the imperialists, and 7,000 palatine troops then in Italy would redeploy there, all for a defensive campaign.

Peace attempts

In August 1708 Herman von Petkum, an agent of Heinsius held talks with Torcy (French foreign minister). The preliminaries Petkum suggested were that France would get nothing of the Spanish inheritance and loose some recent annexations. The French did not want to give in that much and so it came to nothing at the moment.

Warfare

Situation of the front in early 1708

In Flanders the allies had 90,000 men consisting of 112 battalions and 197 squadrons south of Brussel. The French had 110,000 men consisting of 131 battalions and 216 squadrons concentrated near Bergen.

The Scotland raid of 1708

At Dunkirk the French assembled 6 ships of the line, a lot of frigates, 12 battalions, a lot of weapons to arm the Scots, and the pretender to carry out an invasion of Scotland. The seapowers reacted by forming a blockade fleet before Dunkirk. This blockade was temporarily lifted by storms and the French left for Scotland in March, with an Anglo-Dutch amphibious force following them. Because the Anglo-Dutch fleet was in hot pursuit the French did not feel able to land.

In the pursuit the allies took two warships, a couple of others and in them some important Jacobites. The method of transporting the troops on the decks of frigates killed a lot of soldiers on both fleets. Thus the invasion ended with heavy infantry losses on both sides.

The opening of the Flanders campaign of 1708

Officially the French army was commanded by Vendome and nominally by Louis' oldest grandson the Duke of Burgundy. Though this was a very common command structure at the time, in this army it would take an unexpected turn: Burgundy showed himself unwilling to accept Vendome's authority, and soon started to overrule Vendome with or without the backing of Versailles. Thus the army got a dual command structure and began to refer important decisions to Versailles.

On May 26th the French marched to Soignies, and after some marching the armies lay some distance from each other, Marlborough behind the Dijle, Burgundy / Vendome near Genappe. Marlborough was of course waiting for Eugen. Sadly for him Berwick was quite aware of the possibility of Eugen going to Flanders and just waited for this to detach forces to Flanders. On 29 June 1708 Eugen marched with 15,000 men from Coblenz. Berwick followed him with 27,000.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 Brugge and Gent

The Flemish Count Bergheyck had organized a plan to deliver Brugge and Gent to the French. The duke of Burgundy was all for it. Fast French columns captured Brugge on 5 July and the citadel of Gent on 8 July. The main French army and the allied army followed suit. With Brugge and Gent in their hands the French then started to besiege Oudenaerde on 9 July but after allied maneuvers they soon lifted this siege.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 battle of Oudenaarde

It is important to note that the French had performed the operation against Brugge and Gent before Eugen's and Berwick's reinforcements had arrived. This put them in a position where they wanted to hold the Schelde line and secure communications with Lille. When Marlborough's army crossed the Schelde below Oudenaarde this provoked the battle of Oudenaarde on 11 July 1708.

The battle opened with an attack by on some isolated batalions. This was followed by a cavalry attack on the confused French advance guard which provoked the French to send their army forward in confused manner. A mishap in communications or plain sabotage then was responsible for the fact that the French left wing did not attack. This gave the allies some respite and enabled them to form a line. With only a few hours of daylight left Ouwerkerk's Dutch troops, which had been marching through Oudenaarde, then enveloped the whole French right wing and part of its centre. With 50,000 French troops encircled only darkness prevented their destruction. The other half of the French army was not yet engaged, but in this situation Vendome decided to retreat to northwards to Gent. At many points a lot of the French troops encircled succeeded in escaping. About 10,000 even reaching France after crossing the Schelde. French losses were about 6,000 killed and wounded left on the field, 9,000 taken prisoner and 15,000 scattered, most of them rejoining the army later. Allied losses were 3,000 but these were almost immediately replaced by recruiting from the mercenaries captured.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 After Oudenaarde

Marshall Berwick now marched on Bergen and started organizing the defense of the French fortress lines. He reorganized 9,000 survivors of Oudenaarde into garrisons in Tournai Lille and Ypres. He also divided his regular army in the fortresses. The first action by Marlborough was detaching general Lottum to destroy some of the French lines near Comines in a surprise action. Marlborough then started to plunder and extort northern France, especially Artois.

The main obstacle to an allied attack on France was the French possession of Gent hindering supplies, especially heavy siege guns reaching the army. Transporting the guns over water to Brussel was easy, but the rest of the way would lead over land. This required 2 convoys consisting of 80 siege guns, 20 heavy mortars and 3,000 ammunition wagons. After incredible tension the convoy reached Menin on 12 August 1708.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 The siege of Lille

Lille was one of the top five cities of France at the time. It was also by far the greatest fortress of the area, perhaps even of Europe, a masterpiece by Vauban. The French laid a great garrison of 15,000 men inside it under the command of marshall Boufflers. On 13 August the allies started to besiege it under the command of Eugen. This prompted Vendome to finally leave Gent and join his army with that of Berwick on 29 August near Grammont, with Vendome now commanding 110,000 men. On 4 September the French reached Mons en Pévele, facing Marlborough's 75,000 that had been reinforced by Eugen. Marlborough then started to dig in, and Eugen performed a bloody and failed assault on Lille. The French did not dare to launch an attack and finally retreated to Tournai.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 Wijnendale

Vendome then took a different course: he crosses the Schelde near Oudenaarde and thus cut off the besiegers of Lille. The French on September 28th succeeded in getting 60,000 pounds of powder into Lille in a surprise action. The allies still held Ostend and transported 6,000 infantry from England to Ostend. General Webb commanded a munitions convoy from there to Lille on the 28th and was attacked near Wijnendael by La Motte who had come from Brugge with 22,000 men. The French now attacked on a narrow front steadily held by Webb, the French loosing about 3,500 and the allies 1,000 in this attack. The convoy bringing 250,000 pounds of powder sealed the faith of Lille.

The Flanders campaign of 1708 taking Lille, Brugge and Gent

On 22 October 1708 the allies were obviously ready for the final assault on Lille. Boufflers now wisely decided to hand over the city and retreat into the citadel with about 4,500 men. The French then performed a failed march on Brussel. On 9 December 1708 the citadel of Lille capitulated. On the 18th Marlborough opened the siege of Gent, with the French surrendering on 29 December 1708. This probably demoralized the rest and so Brugge, Plassendael and Leffinghe were evacuated by the French. The allies thus concluded the Flanders campaign hugely successful.

The upper Rhine campaign of 1708

I do not have any info on this yet

The Hungarian campaign of 1708

Rakoczy now planned to invade Bohemia/Moravia, probably in order to get closer to the Rhine, France and Bavaria. Joseph was troubled not only by the weakness of his army, but also by Starhemberg leaving for Spain and Rabutin being too ill to campaign. This meant that feldmarschall Heister was again in command. Heister's 7,400 men met the rebels 14,000 to 22,000 at Trencin near the Moravian border where they were besieging Trencin. The rebels were soundly defeated, loosing about 3,500 men against the Imperialists 200.

After this victory Heister could leisurely occupy the northwest of the kingdom. He occupied all land west of the Ipel, with only Nové Zámky (Neuhäusel/Érsekújvár) resisting. What may be even more important is that the rebellious spirit had gone that had so often meant that territories conquered rose up again as soon as the army had left. The Austrians could now seriously start to reconquer Hungary.

The Italian campaign of 1708

I do not have any info on this yet

The Spanish campaign

On the Bourbon side the duke of Orleans would command and as a consequence Berwick was sent back to France. The duke of Noailles commanded a smaller force near the Pyrenees. The Bourbon plan centered on capturing Tortosa, as a step to securing Valencia and opening up the way to Cataluna. The French attempt against Scotland delayed the march on Tortosa, but in the beginning of May the Bourbon armies finally moved. The siege of Tortosa started on 12 June, the garrison leaving on terms on 15 July. The desertion on Charles III's side was however so heavy that of the 3,700 strong garrison only 1,200 rejoined his side.

Meanwhile Noailles had marched up to Gerona in order to join with the duke of Orleans for the siege of Gerona. On 23 June he however received an order to send a substantial to part of his army to the Provence to assist in the defense against the duke of Savoy. Not many initiatives could then be taken by the Bourbons. The Habsburg general Starhemberg did attempt to reconquer Tortosa on 4 December by taking one of the gates at night. He was however repulsed by the garrison. The chevalier d'Asfeld succeeded in further reducing Valencia by taking Denia and Alicante. All in all this was not a bad outcome for Felipe.

The Naval campaign of 1708

Admiral Leake took Sardinia on 15 August 1708. On 29 September Stanhope with forces from Barcelona then took the well-fortified harbor of Port Mahon on Menorca in coordination with Leake. This gave the allies a permanent all season base to dominate the Mediterranean, a strategic success of the first order.