Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Female Soldier - Mother Ross II

Campaigning in Bavaria
Battle of Schellenberg
In March 1703 Marlborough returned to the Netherlands for the beginning of the spring campaign and by 24th April the army was preparing to besiege Bonn[i]. The French capitulated on 12th May when the walls had been breached, prior to the assault planned for the following day.

The troops then marched to join the main Allied army at Maastricht, following the manoeuvres of Boufflers and Villeroy. The Dutch army was defeated at the Battle of Ekeren on 30th June; but much of the summer was spent observing the French.
The following campaigning season saw the Allied army divided into two; one under Field Marshall van Nassau Ouwerkerk was to fight the French in the Low Countries[ii]. The other under Marlborough set off for the Danube. During the march the Duke of Marlborough took soldiers, unable to march further, into his own coach. Villeroy took 20,000 men to reinforce the Elector of Bavaria, who installed himself in a strong position at Donauwörth[iii].

Duke of Wurttemberg
The Battle of Schellenberg was fought on 2nd July 1704; Marlborough’s intention was to reduce the threat of Villeroy’s army to Vienna.
‘The slaughter, which was very great, had lasted above an hour, when the Duke of Wirtenberg had the good fortune, with seven squadrons, to enter the enemy’s trenches, by the covered way of Donawert, and fell upon their rear.’[iv]
During the fighting Christian was wounded;

 ‘In the second attack, I received a ball  in my hip, which is so lodged between the bones that it can never be extracted; to this day the wound is open, and has almost deprived me of the use of my leg and thigh.’[v]
Christian was taken to a hospital near Schellenberg, but the issue of her sex was not discovered by her doctors. She received her share of the plunder, which the Duke of Marlborough had ordered was to be distributed amongst all the soldiers.

Blenheim and After
Battle of Blenheim
Following this victory the Allies took the towns of Rain and Aicha[vi] and laid waste to the Bavarian countryside. The French arrived at Augsburg at the beginning of August. The Allies were joined by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who had been shadowing the French troops. Part of the army besieged Ingolstadt, drawing the French from their entrenched positions. The resultant battle at Hochstadt[vii] ensured that the French would not capture Vienna.
Christian was used to guard prisoners after the battle, having survived coming under heavy fire. The prisoners were marched towards Breda; en route the column halted, allowing the prisoners to refresh themselves. The prisoners and their guards were greeted by their womenfolk; one of whom caressed a man who Christian thought she recognised.

‘I observed a woman, with visible joy in her face, make up to a man, whom, by his side face, I fancied I had known……and perfectly knew him, to my unspeakable grief, to be my perfidious husband.’[viii]
With the realisation that her husband did not know that she had been searching for him since 1693, albeit desultorily, Christian overcame her sorrow. She told her comrades that she had just caught sight of her brother, to explain her confusion. One of them approached Richard Welsh for her, who had been fighting in the Earl of Orkney’s foot regiment, to ascertain his identity. At this point the prisoners were ordered to fall in; the march to Breda restarted.

Face to Face
There were so many prisoners that many were placed in work houses. Many of the Allied soldiers were housed in public houses. Going to the public house where Richard Welsh was quartered, Christian found him with his Dutch partner. Hiring a private room Christian had Richard shown in to see her. Recognising his wife Richard was, naturally, astounded.

‘’Oh heavens!’ cried he. ‘Is this possible? Is it not a delusion? Do I really see my dear Christian? May I believe my eyes?’ He ran to me, clasped me in his arms, kissed me in raptures, and bedewed my cheeks with tears of joy.’[ix]
Richard was engaged to marry the Dutch woman and Christian informed her that Richard was already married with three children. Once the poor woman had departed in floods of tears, Christian informed her husband that she enjoyed soldiering and was resolved to stay in the army, passing as her husband’s brother.

Richard was not pleased that Christian was not prepared to take up her duties as his wife again
‘[I] gave my husband a piece of gold, telling him, he would find me a kind and generous brother, but that he must not think of enjoying his wife, while I could remain concealed, and the war lasted.’[x]
To Winter Quarters

Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria
After the great victory at Hochstadt imperial troops were left to invest Ulm[xi], whilst leaving a detachment of the Allied army continuing the siege at Ingolstadt. Marlborough and Prince Eugene moved on to Landau, which was invested on 13th September. Gradually the Elector of Bavaria’s possessions were seized from him and his family were taken prisoner. The Electorate was placed under the imperial governor, Count Löwenstein-Wertheim.
Christian was involved in this despoiling of the region;

‘We miserably plundered the poor inhabitants of this electorate, I had left the hospital time enough to contribute to their misery, and to have a share in the plunder. We spared nothing, killing, burning, or otherwise destroying whatever we could carry off. The bells of the churches we broke to pieces that we might bring them away with us.’[xii]
The dragoons went into winter quarters in Holland, while Richard was left in Germany with his fellow foot soldiers. Christian visited Den Haag, flirting with a pretty girl on the boat to Delft and thence to Amsterdam[xiii].

The 1705 Campaign
The 1705 campaigning season started with the fall of Huys to the French and their besieging Liège. The main Allied army had marched off to the Moselle, to join the Germans. On arrival in the Moselle area the Duke of Marlborough found a want of ordinance; this coupled with the news from the Low Countries resulted in him returning back with his troops.
With the arrival of the Allies the French raised the siege of Liege and withdrew back behind their lines. Huys was retaken in a few days. An attack by the Allies on the French lines in late July caused the French to retreat towards Namur and Louvain.

At the end of August the Allies invested Leeuwen[xiv], which capitulated on 5th September. Sanduliet[xv] was besieged on 26th October and three days later too capitulated. The Dutch were turning against the war; much of the fighting was taking place on their lands. Many of the engagements this season were inconclusive and Marlborough was battling his Tory enemies at home, only too willing to belittle his achievements. 
Campaigning in 1706

Leopold Duke of Lorraine
The French had been reinforcing their entrenchments over the winter and when Marlborough arrived in Holland on 25th April he received a letter from the Duke of Lorraine, who hoped that his country would be left in peace. Lorraine claimed to have no interest in the Spanish succession and hoped to avoid the horrors of war and the resultant loss of income.
The Allies were not inclined to accept the Duke’s proposition, being aware that the French had been fortifying Nancy. Garrisons were placed in all the region’s fortified towns and the Duke was obliged to pay the French subsidies towards the cost of the war.

Prince Eugene of Savoy
In Italy Prince Eugene and the imperial army were being held in Turin, while the French overran Savoy and were laying siege to Eugene’s capital Turin. The loss of Savoy would leave the French able to concentrate the majority of their forces on fighting in the Low Countries and Germany. But Marlborough was unable to overcome the logistical problems of transporting an army overland nearly one thousand miles and had to leave Savoy to fight on his own.

Initial Positions
The French advance in the Low Countries, under the generalship of Villeroy, led them to Ramillies[xvi].The battle, which was fought on 23rd May, was the second of Marlborough’s great victories. The French lost 13,000 dead and 6,000 prisoners, to the Allies 1,066 dead and just over 2,500 wounded; one of whom was Christian.
‘I escaped unhurt, though in the hottest of the battle, till the French were entirely defeated; when an unlucky shell from a steeple, on which, before the battle, they had planted some mortars and cannon, which played all the time of the engagement, struck the back part of my head, and fractured my skull.’[xvii]
Christian was carried to a small town near Louvain, where she was trepanned; taking ten weeks to recover.

‘Though I suffered great torture by this wound, yet the discovery it caused of my sex, in the fixing of my dressing, by which the surgeon saw my breasts, and, by the largeness of my nipples, concluded I had given suck, was a greater grief to me.’[xviii]
News of the discovery rapidly spread and it was not long before Lord John Hay visited Christian and then questioned her closest comrade, who had no suspicion of Christian’s gender. Lord John then cross questioned Richard Welsh, who recounted his and his wife’s adventures. Lord John ordered that Christian’s pay be continued while she recovered from her wound.

Mother Ross – Daniel Defoe, Oakpast Ltd 2011

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1980
The Marlboroughs – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2002

Marlborough – Richard Holmes, Harper Perennial 2009
Marlborough – JR Jones, Cambridge University Press 1993

[i] The Elector of Cologne had allowed the French to garrison the city
[ii] The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg
[iii] In Swabia, where the Danube and Wörnitz rivers meet
[iv] Mother Ross- Defoe
[v] Ibid
[vi] These two towns, along with Neuberg and Donauwörth, gave the Allies flexible means of crossing the Danube and Lech rivers
[vii] Known in England as the Battle of Blenheim
[viii] Mother Ross – Defoe
[ix] Ibid
[x] Ibid
[xi] Which capitulated once the besiegers batteries were in place
[xii] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xiii] Claiming to be a virtuous girl of good family, a friend of Christian’s unmasked the girl as a prostitute, much to Christian’s annoyance
[xiv] A former municipality in Dutch Gelderland; now divided into two villages
[xv] In Flanders, presumably in the vicinity of Herentals; I have been unable to positively identify where this town and the town of Huys were located.
[xvi] In the Walloon province of Brabant
[xvii] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xviii] Ibid

1 comment:

  1. Dear Helen, many thanks for this great series on a very special person. I enjoyed reading it very much. It's so amazing how brave Christian was.
    I believe we must rethink the role of women in history as the passiv sex. When one starts recherching on women in the army, one soon comes across several women dressing as soldiers, many, like Christian, to find their loved ones. What an exciting thing history is!