War and Politics in the War of the Spanish Succession

A Classic Dictum of Clausewitz

If we conside how badly located were the armies that England, Holland and Savoy could use against France how inconsequential were armed forces of the Holy Roman Empire and that Austria was compelled to divert part of her army to Hungary we will scarcely claim that their political authority over France was very great and that the cause of their eventual success lay in this superiority.


On the choice of leaders

[we learn from these letters] that although favor and caprice had far less influence on the appointment of senior commanders than is usually assumed, secondary considerations did often play too large a part which significantly damaged the king's cause.


Sexist, but a brilliant observer of character and subtle meaning of Louis XIV's France

On April 29th, 1708, Madame de Maintenon writes to the Princess des Ursins: "No madame, the king will not go to Flanders, for the same reason that the king of Spain will note place himself at the head of his armies. Their affairs are not in sufficiently bad shape to warrant desperate actions, nor sufficiently favorable to allow them to do something that is worthy of their greatness"

Elsewhere she praises the king of Spain for not having joined the army "because he would not have been able to do anything brilliant".

We should not be misled by the fact that these are the words of a woman, moreover a woman as Madame de Maintenon says of herself and as is evident, who has no talent whatever for matters of state and for war. She merely voices the opinion of the environment, but this environment is made up precisely of the individuals whose opinion and points of view matter to us; the king, the senior commanders, princes, ministers, etc. If we take Madame de Maintenon's statement as the considered opinion of these men, it becomes highly significant.

That a ruler who is not also a great man may quietly hold the view she expresses should surprise no one familiar with human weakness. But that such a point of view is openly stated, in a sense preached as a political principle is most remarkable! It is explained by the fact that in the conditions of the French state at the time,  war - even a very serious and dangerous war - appears to a matter of secondary importance not worthy of the king's personal involvement, unless the war, like some luxurious object can be used to glorify the monarch's person and his reign.

Carl von Clausewitz - Comments on Letters of Madame de Maintenon to the Princess of Ursins (written in 1826, on the War on the Spanish Succession 1701–1714)