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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Found himself threatened by Maillebois


A

powerful intrigue was urging the king to war. Cardinal Fleury, prudent, economizing, timid as he was, had taken a liking for a man of adventurous, and sometimes chimerical spirit. "Count Belle-Isle, grandson of Fouquet," says M. d'Argenson, "had more wit than judgment, and more fire than force; but he aimed very high." He dreamed of revising the map of Europe, and of forming a zone of small states, destined to protect France against the designs of Austria. Louis XV. pretended to nothing, demanded nothing for the price of his assistance; but France had been united from time immemorial to Bavaria: she was bound to raise the elector to the imperial throne. If it happened afterwards, in the dismemberment of the Austrian dominions, that the Low Countries fell to the share of France, it was the natural sequel of past conquests of Flanders, Lorraine, and the Three Bishoprics. Count Belle-Isle did not disturb with his dreams the calm of the aged cardinal; he was modest in his military aspirations. The French navy was ruined, the king had hardly twenty vessels to send to sea; that mattered little, as England and Holland took no part in the contest; Austria was not a maritime power; Spain joined with France to support the elector. A body of forty thousand men was put under the orders of that prince, who received the title of lieutenant-general of the armies of the King of France. Louis XV. acted only in the capacity of Bavaria's ally and auxiliary. Meanwhile Marshal Belle-Isle,
the King's ambassador and plenipotentiary in Germany, had just signed a treaty with Frederick II., guaranteeing to that monarch Lower Silesia. At the same time, a second French army, under the orders of Marshal Maillebois, entered Germany; Saxony and Poland came into the coalition. The King of England, George II., faithful to the Pragmatic-Sanction, hurrying over to Hanover to raise troops there, found himself threatened by Maillebois, and signed a treaty of neutrality. The elector had been proclaimed, at Lintz, Archduke of Austria nowhere did the Franco-Bavarian army encounter any obstacle. The King of Prussia was occupying Moravia; Upper and Lower Austria had been conquered without a blow, and by this time the forces of the enemy were threatening Vienna. The success of the invasion was like a dream; but the elector had not the wit to profit by the good fortune which was offered him. On the point of entering the capital abandoned by Maria Theresa, he fell back, and marched towards Bohemia; the gates of Prague did not open like those of Passau or of Lintz; it had to be besieged. The Grand-duke of Tuscany was advancing to the relief of the town; it was determined to deliver the assault.

Count Maurice of Saxony, natural son of the late King of Poland, the most able and ere long the most illustrious of the generals in the service of France, had opposed the retrograde movement towards Bohemia. In front of Prague, he sent for Chevert, lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of Beauce, of humble origin, but destined to rise by his courage and merit to the highest rank in the army; the two officers made a reconnoissance; the moment and the point of attack were chosen. At the approach of night on the 25th of November, 1741, Chevert called up a grenadier. "Thou seest yonder sentry?" said he to the soldier. "Yes, colonel." "He will shout to thee, 'Who goes there?'" "Yes, colonel." "He will fire upon thee and miss thee." "Yes, colonel." "Thou'lt kill him, and I shall be at thy heels." The grenadier salutes, and mounts up to the assault; the body of the sentry had scarcely begun to roll over the rampart when Colonel Chevert followed the soldier; the eldest son of Marshal Broglie was behind him.

Fifty men had escaladed the wall before the alarm spread through the town; a gate was soon burst to permit the entrance of Count Maurice with a body of cavalry. Next day the elector was crowned as King of Bohemia; on the 13th of January, 1742, he was proclaimed emperor, under the name of Charles VII.


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