Politics: New Alliances, the Great Design

Preparations of the United Provinces

With regard to their own strategic position the United Provinces were very satisfied with the results of last year's campaign. The immediate danger of an invasion on their vulnerable southern and eastern borders was gone and the States General could now consider the ways to achieve the goals that had been laid down in the treaty of the Grand Alliance. In order to achieve these, the States General and England concerted to jointly hire about 20,000 extra troops. England made her approval conditional upon the United Provinces forbidding all commerce with the enemy and got her way when this was done on 11 May.

Conquests in the Spanish Netherlands and especially a siege of Antwerpen were the primary goals for 1703. A conference was held at The Hague in February 1703 with Obdam, Slangenburgh and representatives of the States and Raad van State. It deemed it necessary to conquer Bonn first. The reasons were that Bonn hindered communications to the Moselle and Upper Rhine, troubled the German States and hindered commerce. The plan was to have an observation army near Maastricht while a somewhat smaller army would besiege Bonn.

Other Dutch plans concerned naval warfare and supporting the empire. As regards naval warfare the States General were asked for means to equip 48 ships of the line and 12 frigates. As regards supporting the empire the emperor and several German states had asked for the siege of Bonn, but that would not be enough. Therefore General van Goor started to march to the Upper Rhine on 1 March with 15 infantry battalions and one cavalry regiment.

The United Provinces: Continuing trouble in Gelderland

Meanwhile problems in Gelderland continued. In January 1703 representatives of the Guilds and Gemeenlieden of Arnhem entered the city hall and organized a new election, which brought the 'nieuwe plooi' into power. The same happened in Nijmegen, here the magistrate of the 'Nieuwe Plooi' had recently been removed by the States of Gelderland. In January 1703 the population succeeded in reinstating them again.

The States General reacted by sending a commission under Van Welvelde. Its orders were to find a compromise which would suite the 'Oude Plooi' as well as the 'Nieuwe Plooi'. Even though things became a bit more peaceful after the sentences against the 'Nieuwe Plooi' were lifted, trouble would continue for a while.


In the House of Lords there were 30 peers created by William and partly of foreign origin. In the 1702-1703 session of parliament a law granting an income to Anne's husband Prince George of Denmark had been brought to parliament. In it there had been made a reference to an article in the succession law that barred foreigners from English peerhood and functions when the house of Hannover acceded. To this it said that George was excepted from the workings of this article. As George was already in England this meant that this piece of law incorporated in the income law could be explained thus that on accession of Hannover the (Whig) peerhoods granted to foreigners (e.g. Portland) by William would become void. Though the law got through the vehement protest of Sunderland (Marlborough's son in law) forever embittered Queen Anne to him.

Occasional Conformity meant that non-Anglicans took communion according to the Anglican rites, but afterwards practiced religion according to their own rites. This practice meant that (mainly) dissenters could be in politics and public service without actually belonging to the Church of England. The Tory party thought that by making a law imposing heavy fines on this practice it could deal the death blow to the Whig party, while on the other hand the Tories would have all the appearances of pious Church of England men. At the same time it would however alienate about half the nation form the government

The bill got through the commons, but was then stopped by the Whig majority in the House of Lords. The Tory faction led by Rochester put all its force behind the law, as was Queen Anne. Godolphin and Marlborough voted in favor of it in order not to grieve the queen. When the bill got to the Lords for the second time they proposed that communal and county dignitaries be excepted and made an amendment that lowered the fines to a level that was not prohibitive for men of means. The Commons got furious but also realized that a lot of Tories were absent when the law was to be supported and that a lot of government members were not serious about it. With that the law against occasional conformity was killed in February 1703. Godolphin and Marlborough did not forget these actions by Rochester and had him expelled from government in February 1703

Austria (and Hungary)

The Bavarian treason had brought Austria into a dangerous strategic situation, with Vienna now being threatened from Bavaria as well as Italy. Luckily for the allies Landau had fallen a day before Max Emanuel's attack on Ulm (a fact that of course was not known to Max Emanuel), and Bavaria was quite isolated. The strategic victory of Nordlingen then even opened up the possibility for reconciliation of Max Emanuel and the empire.

After the recent conquest of Hungary (the siege of Vienna took place only in 1683) the Austrians had ruled Hungary with a lot of insensitivity. Leopold I had ruled Hungary as if he were the owner by right of conquest, something quite just from a legal point of view, but also an attitude not at all fit to gain the hearts and minds of his new subjects. He had taxed the Hungarian nation without having the consent of the people. He had appointed non-Hungarians in government, filled garrisons with foreigners, and given out 'conquered' (as opposed to liberated) land to his favorites. All this and especially the religious prosecution against the numerous Protestants had made the country rife for rebellion.

Ferenc Rákóczi was the ideal candidate to lead a Hungarian rebellion. This because he descended from George and Sigismund Rákóczi who had been elected prince of Transylvania when it was more or less independent in the 17th century. Ferenc Rákóczi's father had been arrested for plotting against Leopold and Ferenc Rákóczi was then educated into an obedient Habsburg subject by the Jesuits.

When Ferenc Rákóczi was an adult his ideas soon changed to nationalist Hungarian ideas under the influence of count Miklós Bercsényi. Rákóczi also became a regular guest of the French envoy to Vienna, the duke of Villars. But then a letter from Rákóczi to Louis XIV about possible French assistance to Hungary was captured by the Austrians, and Rákóczi imprisoned. Rákóczi however escaped prison with Jesuit help and fled to Poland. Miklós Bercsényi had also fled there. Soon the two of them would start the Hungarian revolt. On 6 May 1703 they made a proclamation to the Hungarian people to urge them to rise up against Habsburg rule.


Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy had a key position on the strategic map of Europe. His duchy controlled the mountain passes from Italy to France, securing them with strong fortresses. Upon Philip being accepted as king of Spain, Savoy lay quite isolated and joined the two crowns.

By the campaign of Eugen in 1701 imperial power had however reappeared in Italy, and the rich sea powers had waged war successfully, in the mean time handing out vast sums to any who would join them. The French on the other hand were not prepared to give anything, and were acting like they occupied Savoy instead of being allied with it.

Victor Amadeus now started negotiations with the alliance. These became known to the French court, and it planned countermeasures that were also leaked. Upon learning of these plans to annex Savoy to France Victor Amadeus had disengaged most of his troops from the French troops when on 29 September 1703 Vendome arrested a number of Piemontese generals. This finally brought Savoy into open conflict with France and on 8 November 1703 a formal alliance with the alliance was concluded. This was all too late for the campaign season, but Savoy would become an important battleground in 1704.


Portugal had been blockaded by the Anglo-Dutch fleet in 1702, a situation that was quite damaging to the Portuguese. In May 1703 Pedro II concluded joined the alliance: 12,000 Anglo-Dutch troops would land in Portugal, the sea powers would pay for 13,000 Portuguese troops, bringing the total of Portuguese troops to 28,000, and Portugal would get parts of Estremadura and Galicia, while Archduke Charles would join the army.

On top of it the English included an article in the alliance treaty with Portugal stating that peace would only be concluded when Philips was evicted from Spain. Thus the allied war goals were greatly augmented: From a just division of the Spanish empire they were enlarged to getting Spain itself.

France (the Cevennes)

In the Cevennes there were still a lot of Huguenot farmers. In 1702 these rose against Louis XIV, and gave him a lot of troubles for years.


Cardinal d'Estrées, the new French ambassador to Spain who replaced d'Harcourt, arrived in Madrid together with his nephew the abbé d'Estrées and Felipe V on January 17th. While the princesse Des Ursins had adeptly maneuvered herself at the Spanish court, and was continually gaining more influence, cardinal d'Estrées was not so smart. Only days after arriving he sought to brutely gain the ascendancy over the Spanish courtiers, and was almost immediately in conflict with them. Together with his nephew and Louville he was afraid that the queen and Des Ursins wanted to exterminate French influence and rule Spain in the interest of the house of Savoy.

The trouble about the Despacho, the council that handled daily affairs and was named after the messages it sent, was the spark that ignited the affair. Porto-Carrero had almost immediately after Felipe's arrival retired from this council, and in response Felipe had decided to hold this council himself. D'Estrées wanted to enter in this council with the king, which would effectively have made him prime-minister of Spain. Felipe wisely refused this because it would have alienated the whole Spanish population. D'Estrées than thought it necessary that Felipe should first consult him on all affairs all affairs of the Despacho, a measure that would factually have the same effects.

Anyhow, D'Estrées got Louis XIV to give Des Ursins 'permission to leave' by letter of 9 February. The royal couple however, did not want her to leave but wanted to get rid of d'Estrées. As a consequence both representatives of France stayed in Madrid even though they were bitter enemies of each other. The Despacho was then dominated by D'Estrées and Porto Carrero who was persuaded to return to the government.

Another affair was the treasure fleet cargo not captured by the allies. This cargo was estimated at 12 milion piastres. Porto Carrero advised the king to confiscate 4 million of it and to 'loan' 2 million, and this was done. Of this sum 2 million was then sent immediately to Louis XIV, all without informing the council of the Indies. The Duke of Medina-Celi was so shocked by this action that he retreated from this council. The financial reform proposed by Orry was a project that soon turned to disaster because the Spaniards did not like his ideas and so did d'Estrées. In order to rid themselves of cardinal d'Estrées and Porto Carrero the royal couple then sent Orry to Versailles in order to inform Louis of the true conduct of his ambassador. Louville was also sent, but he a double agenda in wanting to get rid of Des Ursins as well as cardinal d'Estrées. Louis XIV then promised Felipe on 24 June 1703 to recall d'Estrées. Which left Louville and the abbé d'Estrées fighting Des Ursins.

Though Felipe V was blackmailed by Louis to let d'Estrées on a little longer he now began to take action himself. After the grand alliance had concluded the treaty with Portugal Felipe began to look much more seriously at the army, and concluded that Léganès and Rivas were not worth much. He then began taking measures without informing cardinal d'Estrées at all. With the assistance of Orry Felipe then began to form a camp near Madrid where he concentrated six regiments. The presence of cardinal d'Estrées meanwhile became so unbearable that Louis XIV on 16 September sent him an order to return to France immediately. Porto-Carrero the again left the Despacho, but this time Felipe had foreseen this and had the president of Castillia and the marquis de Mancera replace him. Felipe also had trouble with his confessor, père Daubenton, and wanted to send him to France, but upon confronting him about his behavior learned the true role played by Louville, and thus Louville was send back to France. Père Daubenton was sent back too, but would return shortly.

The abbé D'Estrées became the new ambassador entering the Despacho together with the president of Castillia and the marquis de Mancera. The government then seemed to regain some order, and even quickly handled the affair of recognizing the claim of D'Orleans to the Spanish crown should Felipe's house dye out. Even though Felipe, by seizing his correspondence soon found out that abbé D'Estrées was still intriguing against Des Ursins, he did not evict him because he thought new changes to the government would only damage its new found effectiveness. Measures where then taken to form a strong royal guard of 800 men, and funds were found for the upkeep of this and other regiments by taking them from other purposes. The unsatisfactory president of Castillia was replaced by count de Montellano.


In the beginning of 1703 a new treaty was concluded between France and Bavaria, by which France would have the provinces of Namur and Luxemburg, while Bavaria would have the rest of the Spanish Netherlands. Felipe secretly concurred in this treaty.


Situation of the front in early 1703

In northern Europe the campaign of 1702 had given the allies control of the Meuse up to Liege. Also they controlled the Rhine up to Philipsburg except for Bonn, making Bonn an obvious target. On the upper Rhine Louis of Baden hindered French communications to Bavaria

In Italy the allies had gained a valuable ally in Savoy, but would have to come to its aid soon if they did not want to loose it.

Possible strategic objectives for the allies were: taking Antwerp and or other parts of Belgium (also for commercial reasons); conquering Bavaria (this would save the empire); or (very unlikely) beating the French in Italy

Possible strategic objectives for the French were: a major conquest in the Low Countries (unlikely as these contained the strongest allied forces) or; opening up a route to Bavaria (only opposed by Louis of Baden and the weak Austrians) and; (very likely) beating the weak Austrian forces in Italy.

The northern campaign of 1703

The campaign opened with the allied siege of Bonn and a French attack on a small Dutch army under Ouwerkerk south of Maastricht. Ouwerkerk took cover under the walls of Maastricht and Bonn capitulated on 15 May 1703. This way the allies had won the first round.

After taking Bonn Marlborough wanted to implement his 'Great design' (as he called it in his letters). This plan was that the Dutch General Coehoorn (also a famous engineer) would march to Ostend and lay siege to it. Dutch general Van Sparre would march south west of Antwerp. Dutch General Obdam would march south from Bergen op Zoom, and Marlborough would march on Lier. This would either give the allies Ostend, Antwerp, or force the French to an open battle.

It is quite probable that the United Provinces were not that charmed by this plan, fearing that the ports of Antwerp and Ostend would be opened to (English) commerce and thus competition to Dutch trade. Therefore they did not order Coehoorn to take Ostend, but instead let him have a plunder campaign between Ostend and Antwerp.

On June 27th Coehoorn and Van Sparre marched south west of Antwerp. On June 28th Obdam marched to Antwerp from Bergen op Zoom, arriving at Ekeren 7km from Antwerp. Here Obdam stood with 10,000 men when he was attacked in the evening of 30 June by 40,000 French and Spanish. Obdam was cut off from his army but general Slangenburgh threw back the attackers, cut through the encirclement and became the hero of Ekeren. Both sides having lost about 2,000 killed and wounded and the Dutch also 900 prisoners and 6 guns. Effectively putting an end to the great plan as it had been conceived.

But the allies decided to give it another try: On 23 July the Anglo-Dutch marched against the French camp north of Antwerp, but the French withdrew inside Antwerp and their lines. With the Dutch refusing to attack the French in their well-fortified positions the allies settled for the siege of Huy on the Meuse south of Liege. Huy capitulated 25 August 1703, and it was decided to lay siege to Limburg east of Liege, still fearing to attack the lines of Brabant. Limburg was finally taken in October and the Prussians took Gelder.

This was not a good ending for the northern campaign. This because it was the only front where the allies were about equal to the French. Not accomplishing anything in the north while loosing on other fronts would be disastrous for the allied cause.

The German campaign of 1703

The Dutch sent 12 Battalions under Lt-General Van Goor to help Louis of Baden. While Tallard kept the Louis in check Villars on 11 March conquered Kehl opposite Strassbourg. On May 12 Villars then reached the Bavarian army. Bringing a superior army into the heart of the empire.

Villars wanted to turn the now 70,000 strong Franco-Bavarian army against Vienna. The elector wanted to march south to establish communications with the French in Italy. Louis XIV had to decide himself and supported Max Emanuel. So Max Emanuel left Villars in Bavaria and invaded Tirol with 16,000 men. Max Emanuel's march first went smoothly with him capturing Kuffstein, and on 25 June Innsbrück, and soon he was marching on the Brenner. The Tirolyan farmers and petty nobility then gave Europe a surprise: A general uprising forced the elector to retreat. Harassed all the way back Max Emanuel soon had only Kuffstein and about 8,000 men left when he came back into Bavaria in August, meaning the Tyroleans were quite victorious.

Louis of Baden then came east with some of his troops and occupied Augsburg. The other imperial army commanded by count Styrum was beaten 20 September 1703 at Höchstädt by the Franco Bavarian army. The Imperialists then retreated giving the Franco Bavarians Augsburg that capitulated 13 December 1703 and Regensburg. The incessant quarreling between Villars and Max Emanuel however meant a new French commander was needed and Marsin replaced Villars. The Bavarians ended their campaign by taking Passau on September 1 1703.

While Louis of Baden was away Tallard took Alt-Breisach (7-9-1703) and had again laid siege to Landau. An attempt to raise the siege under the command of the prince of Hesse led to the prince's defeat at Spirbach and the capitulation of Landau on 17 November 1703.

The Italian campaign of 1703

In Italy the superior French forces kept the weak Austrian forces under Starhemberg locked up in their fortified camp. Vendome started to march on Tirol and laid there waiting for max Emanuel who was being decimated by the Tyrolean farmers. He had to retreat when Max Emanuel did not arrive. When the rupture between France and Savoy became clear Starhemberg joined Victor Amadeus.

The Hungarian campaign of 1703

The Hungarian rebellion started in spring when the bondsmen of Rákóczi (who was in exile in Poland) rose up against imperial taxation. Rákóczi then entered Hungary in April? 1703, at first only finding a few hundred mostly Ruthenian serfs that rallied to his cause. Miklós Bercsényi arrived somewhat later with Polish mercenaries and French money.

Rákóczi then promised all farmers that wanted to join him freedom from servitude and taxation and soon his army swelled to 8,000 men. Soon not only Hungarians but also Slowaks, Lutherans from the German cities in Transylvania, and Romanians joined him, with only the Croats and the Serbs remaining loyal to the emperor. Large parts of the nobility and deserters from the army joined too, most notably Count Sándor (Alexander) Károlyi. Soon all of Upper Hungary (nowadays Slowakia and Ruthenia) and large parts of the rest of the kingdom were under rebel control. By the end of 1703 almost all of the kingdom except Transylvania was held by the rebels.

The Spanish campaign of 1703

With Felipe V and Orry working close together 1703 saw the first Spanish measures to defend herself. Later in the year the recall of cardinal D'Estrées gave them more power to handle affairs and therefore an increase in the Spanish army's effectiveness. Count 't Serclaes came from the Spanish Netherlands to take command and Puységur would shortly arrive from France to render technical assistance. Even more useful was the arrival of a French corps commanded by Berwick. (12,000 men according to Macaulay)

The naval campaign of 1703

On 22 Mai 1703 the combat of Cap de la Roque was fought when a convoy of about 110 ships transporting mainly salt, but also wine and some sugar was attacked by a French squadron. The 5 Dutch escorts (3 small ships of the line and 2 frigates) after signaling the merchantmen to save themselves fought heroically against 5 bigger French ships of the line and were taken or destroyed. The convoy got through intact, meaning this Dutch defeat had little impact on the allied cause. (This is a typical example of a tactical loss that is a strategic victory)