Prince Eugene - George Upton




Last Days

After a peaceful interval of sixteen years, during which Eugene had devoted himself to the study of the arts and sciences, he was obliged once more to take up his sword. France was again menacing the peace of Europe. She was not willing that the Elector of Saxony should become King of Poland, but presented another candidate and seized this opportunity of picking a quarrel with Austria and Germany. Eugene therefore found himself promptly seated in the saddle once more, ready to show the King of France (now Louis the Fifteenth) that he still understood his profession. Unfortunately this war was begun and conducted in a very sleepy fashion, so that Eugene had only twenty thousand men to oppose the one hundred and twenty thousand Frenchmen, instead of the imposing army originally promised him by the Emperor; and even though this small number was gradually doubled by accessions of Prussians and other troops of the empire, it was not possible to undertake anything important with them. In spite of this Eugene maneuvered so cleverly with his little army that in a two-years' campaign (1734-1735) France gained no great advantage on the Rhine and took possession only of Philippsburg.

As things stood—the Emperor without money, the army unpaid and without bread—it was almost a miracle that France did not gain more advantages. It was Eugene, the conqueror at Zenta, Hochstadt, Turin, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, Peterwardein, and Belgrade who prevented it. In this war against France Eugene made the personal acquaintance of the Crown Prince of Prussia, later King Frederick the Great. Frederick greeted the noble Knight with the significant words: "I should like to be allowed to witness the manner in which a hero collects his laurels."

Eugene felt a real attachment for the Crown Prince. He regretted that he had not had the good fortune to become acquainted with him earlier, and said to him, "My Prince, everything about you convinces me that you will one day become a great military leader." Once when Frederick had cordially saluted the Duke of Wurttemberg, who was an old friend, Eugene turned to him with the words, "Will your Majesty not kiss my old cheek also?" a request with which Frederick immediately complied: a touching, token of the hearty esteem in which the aspiring young hero held the old retiring one.

In the late Autumn of 1735 peace was made. The Emperor Charles the Sixth suffered the loss of some territory in Italy, but had the great satisfaction of seeing France recognize the Pragmatic Sanction (the right of accession of the female line of the house of Hapsburg). Peace! For the present only a short earthly peace; but the noble Knight was not far from the eternal rest. But we must touch upon other things before bringing this sketch to a close.

We have intentionally described Eugene in the character of a soldier and hero first, and have thus passed over many events of his life. Let us now return several years into the past; it will show us how even the best and greatest of men are subject to enmity and slander. The reader may remember Marshal Villars's remark at Rastadt: "Eugene's enemies are not in the French camp, but in Vienna." Probably Eugene did not let these words trouble him much at the time, for who is without enemies? The man is still to be born who is able to please everybody. But Villars's remark had a significance which Eugene was to understand better some years later.

In the last two campaigns against the Turks, Eugene had conferred the greatest glory on the Austrian arms. He was the most admired hero in the imperial army, and possessed the undisputed love and esteem of his Emperor and of the whole German people. Although all this gratified the noble-minded Prince, it did not make him proud or arrogant, as fools in such a situation are apt to be. On the contrary, he pursued the even tenor of his way, flattering no one, though flattery is quite customary and expected at court. War and a long life spent in the camp had lent his manner a certain bluntness. He never tried to conceal his meaning, and he spoke as he felt. This did not please many of the courtiers; they took it for granted that it bespoke a high opinion of his own merits. The wings of this proud eagle, they thought, who in eagle fashion aspired to mount to the sun, must be clipped.

As president of the Royal Council of War—the highest dignity in the state next to the Emperor—Prince Eugene had a great, if not the greatest influence in all business of state. Whatever he had once decided was right and good he would carry out, whether he was looked askance at for it or not. He urged the regulation of the finances, which, as we know, were in bad condition at that time in Austria. He demanded great economy in all affairs, and abolished a great many abuses. Among other things he procured a decree that no one should be allowed to buy his rank as an officer in the army, but that only those should be chosen who were really capable and worthy of the position. Next, he turned his attention to the corrupt practice of favoritism shown to distinguished relatives, which at that time was much in vogue in Vienna. He provided better care for the soldiers, but demanded also stricter discipline and subordination in the army. Of course this was a slap in the face for many. It was especially uncomfortable for the higher classes, where the greatest abuses had become habitual.

Now, the best cure was a radical one—to remove the noble Prince Eugene. But how? It was not very easy to overthrow such a man as this. The Spanish party at court understood the matter, however, and applied the lever at the right point; in other words, they began with the Emperor Charles the Sixth, who guarded his prerogatives anxiously and jealously. He could not endure that any one should presume to exercise any control over him even from a distance. So the Spaniards and Frenchmen whispered in his ear that Eugene was seeking to become a second Wallenstein; that the army was on his side; that it was most dangerous to give him freedom to carry out his ambitious plans.

Furthermore, Eugene was accused of expressing himself very openly on political questions in favor of Hungary, at the house of Countess Batthiany, a Hungarian. Others declared that he was jealous of the fame of his subordinates. They said that in order to test Guido Starhemberg's intrepidity he had caused bombs to be placed under the table before a banquet and had them exploded at the moment when Starhemberg was just about to propose the Emperor's health; and that Starhemberg was not at all disconcerted, but had coolly emptied his glass. Not content with this, they accused Eugene of having needlessly sacrificed a great many soldiers in the last war, and of having favored the cavalry at the expense of the infantry. In short, they found abundant matter for malicious attacks on him for his desperate situation at Belgrade where he had allowed himself to be surrounded by superior numbers. Of course they prudently failed to recall his brilliant victory.

All this had its effect; these malicious slanders succeeded in undermining the Emperor's confidence, which had appeared to be so absolute, and in a short time produced such a complete revolution in his sentiments for the Prince that he suddenly regarded his deeds and aspirations with changed eyes. Indeed, distrust and entire estrangement took the place of his former grateful regard. The men who encouraged this wicked calumny because they wished to ruin Eugene at all costs and drive him from the court were miserable tools of the Spanish court party, particularly of a certain Tedeschi, a spend-thrift abbot, who played the clown and fun-maker at court, as well as the Count von Nimptsch, brother-in-law of the Emperor's favorite, Althan. Herr Althan himself and the Marquis von Thomas, the ambassador of Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy, were also secretly concerned in this disgraceful affair. But the truth of the old maxim proved itself in this instance: "It is a long road which has no turning."

This treachery came to light through another's treachery. The valet of Count von Nimptsch, an enthusiastic admirer of the high-minded Prince Eugene, discovered the tricks of his master, possessed himself of written proofs of his treachery, took them to headquarters, and laid them before Prince Eugene.

What a surprise all this vileness was to the Prince! At first he could not and would not believe it. He could not imagine that the party had sunk so low. But there it was, black on white, it was a fact. His enemies had basely slandered him in order to accomplish his ruin.

Eugene did not hesitate a moment, but went straight to the Emperor, not in order to justify himself—for with his high character he did not feel it necessary—but to demand just punishment of the miserable slanderers. "Your Majesty," he said, "a pernicious plot has been concocted against me. Miserable slanderers have conspired against my honor and robbed me of the precious favor of my beloved Emperor. I demand satisfaction!" Eugene then revealed what had been done behind his back and named the dishonorable traitors openly. He could speak in plain terms, for a good conscience was his best weapon.

The Emperor was seized with the most painful embarrassment; he was silent with surprise— and shame.

But this did not satisfy Eugene. "I demand full satisfaction," said he firmly. "If this should be refused me, I shall be obliged to lay all my offices and honors at Your Majesty's feet. But I shall call upon all Europe to sit in judgment on the terrible injury which has been done me in case such an insult shall remain unpunished."

The Emperor tried to soothe the aggrieved hero, embraced him, and expressed the hope that they might still remain the same good old friends.

But this did not satisfy Eugene. He repeatedly demanded full satisfaction. He affirmed that the affair had gone too far for him to be put off with mere words, and that otherwise he must demand his dismissal.

The Emperor could not refuse. He gave Eugene his hand and ordered, in the first place, the arrest of Nimptsch and Tedeschi. A short time afterwards a special commission was assembled to conduct the investigation of the affair. It went forward very slowly, for the commissioners were loath to compromise people in high stations. During this time Eugene did not engage in any business of state, so that all public affairs came to a standstill. At last the head of the investigation commission, Count von Windischgratz, made an end of the dilatory proceedings. He boldly informed the Emperor that it would be a perpetual disgrace to his Government if Prince Eugene, to whom the Austrian house owed eternal gratitude, should become the victim of a vile intrigue. He begged the Emperor to bring the guilty ones to justice and to carry out the sentence of the court without fear or favor. That was effective. The affair began to move rapidly. On the morning of the twelfth of December, 1719, the sentence of Tedeschi was read in front of the Corn Exchange, the Court House of that day, and was immediately executed. He was obliged to endure two hours in the pillory and received thirty heavy blows of the rod by the executioner. After this procedure he was driven in a cart outside the Karnthner gate to the Tyrol road, where he was made to take an oath never to return to Austria. Count Nimptsch was taken in a closed carriage to Gratz, where he had to suffer two years' imprisonment, after which he was forever banished from Vienna. Althan escaped with a black eye, so to speak, and the Savoyan ambassador, Marquis von Thomas, might consider himself lucky in escaping the excited populace of Vienna unharmed.

This was the atonement which the Emperor Charles the Sixth made to Prince Eugene. After these events they became as good friends as they had formerly been, and the Emperor took every opportunity of showing by word and deed the warmest devotion to the Prince, as hundreds of personal letters from the Emperor to his faithful paladin testify. Eugene's health was of special concern to the Emperor, to show which a single document will suffice. A letter from the Emperor, dated November 27, 1729, ended with the very cordial words: "I implore you, my Prince, to take care of your health. Remember that we are growing older and not younger. Be careful of yourself, therefore, out of consideration for me, for I love you and embrace you heartily."

There remains nothing more to tell except of our hero's peculiarities of temperament, his manner of life, his character, and his death.

First of all we must defend Prince Eugene from the suspicion that he loved war. He regarded it as a necessary evil, but when it was no longer to be avoided he did not fear it. He did not hate the French and fight against them because the King had caused him and his family much sorrow and disgrace in his earliest youth, but because he considered them Germany's most bitter enemies, as they were continually seeking at all costs to injure her. He fought the Turks as the enemies of Christendom. He had so often seen the horrors of war which these barbarians had inflicted on the country and its people that it was no wonder he gladly battled with them and did everything in his power to deliver the civilized world from them.

Prince Eugene was a religious man, but did not parade his piety, as so many do. His modesty and humility, his untiring care for his soldiers, his beneficence and charity, were the outpouring of his religious nature. Eugene never let fall a word in praise of himself, and was always just to his subordinates and all his officers. It was also a trait of his noble character that he never censured deserving men. If, however, his duty made this necessary, he did it privately or in the presence of the Emperor, to whom he was accountable. He was a real father to his soldiers. He cared for them in every possible way, visiting the sick and wounded, and comforting the dying. It was no wonder that they were devoted to him.

He exercised an almost magical influence over them, which we must the more admire, because Prince Eugene was lacking in all the externals which usually make the deepest impression on people of the lower classes and on great masses. For, as we already know, he was small and insignificant-looking; besides, he did not understand the German language any too well, and was lacking in the eloquence which inflames the soldier to deeds of valor and inspires him to hasten recklessly into danger. But his affability and impartiality, his personal courage and the abandon with which he would place himself at the head of a storming, column, sharing discomfort, want, misery, heat, and cold with his soldiers, compensated for the lack of external beauty. Under his leadership the troops felt themselves to be invincible. To use an old phrase: under him they would have undertaken to drive the devil out of hell.

At the same time Eugene had extremely clear judgment, not only amid the wild confusion of battle, where, as we have read, this quality very often inclined the victory to his side by means of prompt and energetic action, but also in his many other offices and affairs of state. He was always wise in the choice of his co-workers, gave them his full confidence, and scarcely ever was disappointed or deceived by one of them. As we have said, Eugene did not understand the German language well, and could scarcely write it at all. He always signed German reports or ordinances: "Eugenio von Savoy." This has been explained as follows: Eugene wished to indicate his extraction by the Italian word "Eugenio," his adopted fatherland by the German "von," and his birthland by the French "Savoy." However that may be, it is certain that Eugene devoted himself heart and soul to Germany and to the imperial house to the end of his days. He never forgot that, as an unknown and virtually banished youth, he had found a friendly and hospitable reception on German soil. Eugene's life was a perpetual expression of gratitude for this; and to Austria in particular he rendered imperishable services.

It is historic fact that not only the Emperor Charles the Sixth, but other competent judges, have acknowledged these services. King Frederick the Second of Prussia believed that the reign of Charles the Sixth closed much less brilliantly than it had begun, because of the death of Prince Eugene. Some years later, when that Prussian ruler declared war against Austria, and Silesia soon fell into his hands, the imperial chancellor, von Sinzendorff, who had so often opposed Eugene's counsels, is said to have declared, in his anxiety, "If Eugene were only alive we should know what to do!" Of course, no one can tell whether Eugene would have had better success if he had been opposed to Frederick, but it is certain that Austria could not produce a second Eugene from among her many warriors and statesmen. He remained "the only," "the great Eugene."

The last campaigns against the French (17341735) had shattered his already much impaired health. He was troubled with a bad cough, so that for days together he was not able to speak a word. Then a short period of relief would come, so that he could attend to public and private business or spend an hour with some old friend. One of his favorite recreations was to visit the venerable and gifted Hungarian Countess Batthiany of an evening for a game of piquet. His closed carriage passed slowly through the streets, and the horses are said to have known the house and to have stopped there of their own accord. But very likely no one would get out, for the master, the coachman, and the servant were all napping. Each one had then to be aroused separately, which no doubt caused a great deal of merriment each time. He had become very old and tired. The hardships of war had greatly weakened him, and the eighteen wounds which he had received in fourteen great battles and countless skirmishes also counted against him. He had passed the limit which the sacred book sets to human life.

On the twentieth of April, 1736, he had had his game of cards as usual in the society of the Countess Batthiany, but had been exceptionally quiet. On his arrival at home he complained that breathing was difficult, but refused to see a doctor and went to bed! About midnight, when his faithful old servant went in once more to look after his beloved master, he found him sleeping quietly, and softly withdrew. The next morning the servant noticed that his master was sleeping unusually late, also that he had not heard him cough. So he opened the door and approached the Prince's bed. He was dead; a congestion of the lungs had quietly ended his active and useful life.

When the news of the Prince's demise became known in Vienna, it produced general dismay and deep mourning. No one was more deeply grieved than the Emperor. He gave orders for a funeral such as no Austrian subject had ever had before, to honor the hero. "It shall serve to show," said the Emperor, "that the services of the departed shall never be forgotten by me."

Almost the whole population of Vienna flocked to see the Prince as he lay in state. Fourteen Field-Marshals were the pall-bearers, and the grateful Emperor himself attended the funeral services in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen. The eloquent Father Peickart preached the sermon on the text: "And departing, he has left us an example in his death which should be an inspiration to virtue, for the young as well as the old."