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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Maillebois first retired on Egra


Cardinal

Fleury had not waited for confirmation of the King of Prussia's defection to seek likewise to negotiate; Marshal Belle-Isle had been intrusted with this business, and, at the same time with a letter addressed by the cardinal--to Field-Marshal Konigseck. The minister was old, timid, displeased, disquieted at the war which he had been surprised into; he made his excuses to the Austrian negotiator and delivered his plenipotentiary into his hands at the very outset. "Many people know," said he, "how opposed I was to the resolutions we adopted, and that I was in some sort compelled to agree to them. Your Excellency is too well informed of all that passes not to divine who it was who set everything in motion for deciding the king to enter into a league which was so contrary to my inclinations and to my principles."

For sole answer, Maria Theresa had the cardinal's letter published. At Utrecht, after the unparalleled disasters which were overwhelming the kingdom, and in spite of the concessions they had been ordered to offer, the tone of Louis XIV.'s plenipotentiaries was more dignified and prouder than that of the enfeebled old man who had so long governed France by dint of moderation, discretion, and patient inertness. The allies of France were disquieted and her foes emboldened. Marshal Belle-Isle, shut up in Prague, and Marshal Broglie, encamped near the town, remaining isolated in a hostile country, hemmed in on all sides by a savage foe,

maintaining order with difficulty within the fortress itself.

"Marshal Broglie is encamped under the guns of Prague," says Barbier's journal: "his camp is spoken of as a masterpiece. As there is reason to be shy of the inhabitants, who are for the Queen of Hungary, a battery has been trained upon Prague, the garrison camps upon the ramparts, and Marshal Belle-Isle patrols every night."

Marshal Maillebois was at Dusseldorf, commissioned to observe the Hollanders and protect Westphalia; he received orders to join Marshals Broglie and Belle-Isle. "It is the army of redemption for the captives," was the saying at Paris. At the same time that the marshal was setting out for Prague, Cardinal Fleury sent him the following instructions: "Engage in no battle of which the issue may be doubtful." All the defiles of Bohemia were carefully guarded; Maillebois first retired on Egra, then he carried his arms into Bavaria, where Marshal Broglie came to relieve him of his command. Marshal Belle-Isle remained with the sole charge of the defence of Prague; he was frequently harassed by the Austrians; his troops were exhausted with cold and privation. During the night between the 16th and 17th of December, 1742, the marshal sallied from the town. "I stole a march of twenty-four hours good on Prince Lobkowitz, who was only five leagues from me," wrote Belle-Isle, on accomplishing his retreat; "I pierced his quarters, and I traversed ten leagues of plain, having to plod along with eleven thousand foot and three thousand two hundred and fifty worn-out horses, M. de Lobkowitz having eight thousand good horses and twelve thousand infantry. I made such despatch that I arrived at the defiles before he could come up with me. I concealed from him the road I had resolved to take, for he had ordered the occupation of all the defiles and the destruction of all the bridges there are on the two main roads leading from Prague to Egra. I took one which pierces between the two others, where I found no obstacles but those of nature, and, at last, I arrived on the tenth day, without a check, though continually harassed by hussars in front, rear, and flank." The hospitals at Egra were choke full of sick soldiers; twelve nights passed on the snow without blankets or cloaks had cost the lives of many men; a great number never recovered more than a lingering existence. Amongst them there was, in the king's regiment of infantry, a young officer, M. de Vauvenargues, who expired at thirty-two years of age, soon after his return to his country, leaving amongst those who had known him a feeling that a great loss had been suffered by France and human intellect.


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