|Fortifications at Lille|
Marlborough could not allow himself to be distracted by his wife’s antics back home. The Siege of Lille continued apace and an Allied assault on 9th September proved bloody and inconclusive. Heavy shelling of Dutch and English troops based at Entriers gave rise to the suspicion that the Duc de Vendôme intended to offer battle. But on the 15th the French decamped to Bruges, cutting off the Allied army from supplies coming from the coast.
Lille surrendered on 22nd October, the governor hanging out the white ensign. 1,700 French horse were conducted to Douai, the rest of the garrison of 6,000 retired into the citadel and the siege continued. Four days before the surrender Field Marshall Ouwerkerke died.One day while Christian was foraging for food and booty she was picked up by some soldiers of the French army. Christian, dressed in man’s clothing, appealed to their officer, claiming to be the son of an Irish officer fighting for the French. She was released.
Duke of ArgyleChristian immediately made her way to the Duke of Argyle’s quarters, where she found the Duke and Lord Mark Kerr[i] playing chess.
‘I asked them with some warmth, in a language which only became a soldier, and a freedom allowed my sex, what they meant by having no better intelligence, and idling their time at chess while the French were on the point of cannonading us.’[ii]Kerr assumed that Christian was drunk, but Argyle knew Christian and cross questioned her. While doing so, confirmation that the French were positioning themselves for an attack came in and two regiments were sent to clear the French out. The Duke’s quarters were demolished in the fighting, so Christian made him up a bed of straw.
Meanwhile the Duke of Bavaria had laid siege to Brussels, and the Duke of Marlborough marched to the town’s relief. Hearing of the march, the Duke raised the siege and retreated to Namur, leaving behind
‘Their wounded, to the number of eight hundred men, sixteen pieces of cannon, four mortars, and a great deal of baggage.’[iii]The siege works at Lille, suffering from a want of powder, were sapping the walls of the citadel. The governor beat the chamade[iv] on the 8th December and the capitulation was signed the following day. The Lille garrison surrendered on 10th December.
The Siege of Ghent
Eighteenth Century Ghent
Unable to leave the French in possession of Ghent, Marlborough decided to besiege the town. By the 18th December the Allies were ready to fire the town with bombs and cannonades. The French sent the Duc d’Enghien[v] to parlay with Marlborough, who allowed the French to depart the town with all signs of honour.
Christian’s husband Richard had been selected as a member of the forlorn hope during the siege. Before one night attack Christian found herself searching for Richard through the trenches to give him some beer, brandy and gin to fortify him during the assault. Used to being under attack, Christian was reckless and on one occasion, a soldier having both his arms blown off, she ran over to him and carried him off the field.
‘The place where he rashly exposed himself, was so very dangerous, that not a man would venture to go to his assistance. I ran, therefore, and carried him off to a surgeon, under whose care he was in a fair way of doing well, but a cold he got killed him.’[vi]When the siege was lifted Christian was able to enter the town to sell root vegetables from a garden she had commandeered. The townspeople, having had their supplies taken by the Allied soldiers, were forced to pay whatever price Christian demanded.
As happily as they made their submission to the French, the burghers now presented the keys to Ghent, in a gold basin, to the Duke of Marlborough,. This pragmatic approach was eyed with disfavour by Christian.
‘The burghers, who had received the French with open arms, changed sides with their fortune, and made public rejoicings with thanksgivings in the churches for their departure.’[vii]
In Bruges too, the magistrates sent to the Duke of Marlborough to submit once the French had quit their town. Richard’s regiment was quartered in Ghent for what remained of the winter. Christian made money by cooking for the soldiers and selling them beer. Her income was supplemented after she and Richard fell in with a local gin seller, Christian then took to smuggling gin, or geneva, into the town[viii].Christian during this period was pregnant again and stricken with a desire for eels. The man who was to become her second husband, one Hugh Jones; risked stealing eels from the nets in the town’s moat to appease her cravings. Even before Richard’s death Hugh attempted to seduce Christian on a number of occasions.
The Nadir of French Fortunes
The winter of 1708-9 was severe and people froze to death[ix]. The cost of provisions rose through the roof and in France the vines were killed off. Louis XIV had expended so much monies on his ambitious European policies that the French Treasury was almost empty and French trade was impeded by the Dutch and British navies.
Charles as Holy Roman Emperor
Louis sent an embassy to the Netherlands to set peace talks in train; he was even prepared to concede the throne of Spain to the alternate candidate, Archduke Charles[x], despite opposition from his grandson Philip. The Allies, feeling that their enemy was at their mercy, set such onerous conditions to any proposed peace that Louis was able to galvanise the French and the proposals were rejected with loathing. Amidst a general feeling that the honour of France was at stake, volunteers for the army poured in.The 1709 Campaign
The peace proposals had not stopped preparations to continue the war. So when Louis refused the harsh Allied terms, the Allies turned to Tournai[xi], the French being positioned in strength before Arras. The town was invested on 23rd June; the earthworks included the cutting of a new canal to deepen the River Scheldl; the river’s low water level delaying the arrival of the artillery.
The town capitulated on the 29th and the garrison withdrew into the citadel. The governor agreed to capitulate by the 5th September, if he was not relieved beforehand. Richard’s regiment was one of those attacking the citadel and Lord Cobham[xii] offered a guinea to anyone bringing down a windmill that stood between the artillery and the citadel.
‘I immediately snatched the match out of the man’s hand who was going to fire, clapped it to the touchhole, and down came the windmill. Major Petit, before I fired, bid me take care the cannon did not recoil upon me…..I was in too much haste to get the guinea, and not minding the caution, I was beat backwards……the officers could not refrain from laughing to see me set on my backside.’[xiii]The town was not relieved and, after a reassurance that no quarter would be given if the garrison continued to resist, the French surrendered.
Christian spent much of her time with her husband and his regiment. When she could Christian would go treasure hunting, armed with a sword and grappling iron, to go poking about in wells, walls and searching for buried chests. She had learned the tricks of the trade, as a young girl, from the habits of Dutch soldiers, whom William III had taken to Ireland to quell the uprising in support of James II.
Before the fall of Tournai the Prince of Hesse-Kassel, with a force of 16,000 marched to invest Mons; the remainder of the army followed after the capitulation. Christian elected to travel to Mons with the advance party, despite the danger, as there was more chance of rich pickings.Christian found a number of farm animals and birds, trussed ready for travel, and she appropriated these amongst other items. Then, arriving at the spot designated for the overnight halt, Christian made depredations from the inn where a Colonel Hamilton was to be quartered. On his arrival Hamilton found Christian camped outside admiring the provisions she had set in for herself and Richard. Christian lied to him;
‘Asked where I had got my barrel of strong beer. I told him, that falling in with some boors, I drove them before me, and made them bring me what I wanted; to which he civilly replied, ‘D—n you, you are a lying devil.’[xiv]Nonetheless Colonel Hamilton dined off the shoulder of one of Christian’s sheep that night.
Mother RossThe French were already camped before the town and on 11th September the two armies fought at the battle of Malplaquet, near the village of Taisnieres. The French were led by the Ducs de Boufflers and Villars, who were unable to prevail against the generalship of Marlborough and Prince Eugene. The French withdrew from the field, their army left relatively intact and a continuing danger to the Allies.
Richard Welsh was killed during the battle; according to Christian she had a premonition of his death. Taking some small beer[xv] to him in the wood where his regiment were fighting, Christian was disturbed when, unusually, her dog started howling.
‘A man near me, who was easing nature, said. ‘Poor creature, he would fain tell you that his master is dead’.’[xvi]Christian searched through the bodies, uncovering many of her friends before finding Richard’s body in the process of being stripped by a man. Christian’s grief was assuaged by a Captain Ross, who sympathised with her[xvii].
‘This compassion from the captain gave me the nickname of Mother Ross; by which I became better known than by that of my husband.’[xviii]Christian dug Richard’s grave herself and says that she was stopped from throwing herself in after him by his colleagues.
Mons was now invested; but the French had managed to get provisions, ammunition, money and 1,000 men into the town. The weather did not cooperate and the Allied trenches flooded. By the 20th October the besiegers were ready to invest the town, but were forestalled by the beating of the chamade. The following day the town and garrison surrendered, ending the Flanders campaign for that season.
BibliographyMother Ross – Daniel Defoe, Oakpast Ltd 2011
Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1980The Marlboroughs – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2002
Marlborough – Richard Holmes, Harper Perennial 2009Marlborough – JR Jones, Cambridge University Press 1993
[i] British general, Governor of Sheerness 1729-45 and Edinburgh Castle 1745-52
[ii] Mother Ross- Defoe
[iv] A beat of the drum or trumpet sound to inform the enemy that a proposal is about to be made.
[v] Son of the Prince de Condé and a Prince of the Blood
[vi] Mother Ross - Defoe
[viii] Duty was payable on goods transported into a fortified town; Christian’s supplier was attempting to evade the tax, payable to the customs officers at the gate.
[ix] There was a mini-ice age at this period
[x] Brother of the Holy Roman Emperor; Charles succeeded to his brother’s throne in 1711
[xi] Handed to the Austrians at the end of the war
[xiii] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xv] Low alcohol beer, as opposed to strong beer, was used instead of water which was usually not drinkable. Small beer was also produced in households for consumption by children and servants
[xvi] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xvii] There are intimations that Christian had an affair with Captain Ross
[xviii] Mother Ross - Defoe