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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Seven ships remained blockaded in the Vilaine


Madame

de Pompadour had just procured for herself a support in her obstinate bellicosity. Cardinal Bernis was superseded in the ministry of foreign affairs by Count Stainville, who was created Duke of Choiseul. After the death of Marshal Belle-Isle he exchanged the office for that of minister of war; with it he combined the ministry of the marine. The foreign affairs were intrusted to the Duke of Praslin, his cousin. The power rested almost entirely in the hands of the Duke of Choiseul. Of high birth, clever, bold, ambitious, he had but lately aspired to couple the splendor of successes in the fashionable world with the serious preoccupations of politics; his marriage with Mdlle. Crozat, a wealthy heiress, amiable and very much smitten with him, had strengthened his position. Elevated to the ministry by Madame de Pompadour, and as yet promoting her views, he nevertheless gave signs of an independent spirit and a proud character, capable of exercising authority firmly in the presence and the teeth of all obstacles. France hoped to find once more in M. de Choiseul a great minister; nor were her hopes destined to be completely deceived.

A new and secret treaty had just riveted the alliance between France and Austria. M. de Choiseul was at the same time dreaming of attacking England in her own very home, thus dealing her the most formidable of blows. The preparations were considerable. M. de Soubise was recalled from Germany to direct the army

of invasion. He was to be seconded in his command by the Duke of Aiguillon, to whom, rightly or wrongly, was attributed the honor of having repulsed in the preceding year an attempt of the English at a descent upon the coasts of Brittany. The expedition was ready, there was nothing to wait for save the moment to go out of port, but Admiral Hawke was cruising before Brest; it was only in the month of November, 1759, that the marquis of Conflans, who commanded the fleet, could put to sea with twenty-one vessels. Finding himself at once pursued by the English squadron, he sought shelter in the difficult channels at the mouth of the Vilaine. The English dashed in after him. A partial engagement, which ensued, was unfavorable; and the commander of the French rear-guard, M. St. Andre du Verger, allowed himself to be knocked to pieces by the enemy's guns in order to cover the retreat. The admiral ran ashore in the Bay of Le Croisic and burned his own vessel; seven ships remained blockaded in the Vilaine. M. de Conflans' job, as the sailors called it at the time, was equivalent to a battle lost without the chances and the honor of the struggle. The English navy was triumphant on every sea, and even in French waters.

The commencement of the campaign of 1759 had been brilliant in Germany; the Duke of Broglie had successfully repulsed the attack made by Ferdinand of Brunswick on his positions at Bergen; the prince had been obliged to retire. The two armies, united under M. de Contades, invaded Hesse and moved upon the Weser; they were occupying Minden when Duke Ferdinand threw himself upon them on the 1st of August. The action of the two French generals was badly combined, and the rout was complete. It was the moment of Canada's last efforts, and the echo of that glorious death-rattle reached even to Versailles. The Duke of Choiseul had, on the 19th of February, replied to a desperate appeal from Montcalm, "I am very sorry to have to send you word that you must not expect any re-enforcements. To say nothing of their increasing the dearth of provisions of which you have had only too much experience hitherto, there would be great fear of their being intercepted by the English on the passage, and, as the king could never send you aid proportionate to the forces which the English are in a position to oppose to you, the efforts made here to procure it for you would have no other effect than to rouse the ministry in London to make still more considerable ones in order to preserve the superiority it has acquired in that part of the continent." The necessity for peace was, beginning to be admitted even, in Madame de Pompadour's little cabinets.


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