a World Power.
Dr. Ronald Fritze
February 26, 2004
Between 1689 and 1714 England fought two great wars with the France of Louis XIV. These wars helped to transform England into a world power through its eventual victory over France. The nature of English government and social institutions helped to make the victory possible as did the character of William of Orange, its king for most of those years.
William of Orange was Dutch. He was highly focused and relatively austere. He was also an implacable foe of Louis XIV, who he bitterly hated.
Although William of Orange appears to have enjoyed the life of soldiering, he was actually a mediocre general. During the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697), however, he proved to a sort of military EverReady Bunny. He just kept going and going and going. It was not a chronicle of success. It was a chronicle of tenacity in the face of defeat. Mons, Namur, Steenkirk, and Neerwinden were all battles where William III personally led his army to defeat rather than victory. There were other discouraging defeats on land and on sea. But in spite of these setbacks, William and his allies fought France to a military stalemate as a financially exhausted Louis XIV was virtually forced to make peace at the Treaty of Ryswick.
One of the English diplomats at the negotiations leading up to Ryswick was Matthew Prior (1664-1721), who is better known today as a poet. Prior rose in the English government through the patronage of the Earl of Dorset. In 1691 he was secretary to the English delegation to the Hague where the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV was forged. Later he served as secretary for the English embassy at Ryswick, which helped to negotiate the treaty of 1697. Afterward he served as English diplomat at the French court with great distinction. During that time:
"He was one day surveying the apartments at Versailles, being shown the Victories of Lewis [Louis XIV], painted by Le Brun, and asked whether the King of England's [William III] palace had any such decorations; 'The monuments of my master's actions," said he [Prior], 'are to be seen everywhere but in his own house.'"
[Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets, (Everyman Edition) I: 381]
With that comment, Prior was asserting that William's plain style and practical leadership had brought a general prosperity to the English people that was notably absent in France, despite the ostentatious lifestyle of the French king. His French hosts probably appreciated his quick wit even if they disagreed with the national comparison. This difference in national styles helped bring England a decisive victory in the War of the Spanish Succession, which was soon to come.
The Sun King Burned.
February 12, 2004.
"Every time I make an appointment, I make one ungrateful person
and a hundred with a grievance."
The Moderns Won.
February 2, 2004.
By its nature, the human mind is indeterminate; hence, when man is sunk in ignorance, he makes himself the measure of the universe.
What Price Power?
January 21, 2004.
An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia regitur orbis?
[Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?]
The Old Regime.
January 9, 2004.
"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."