Sketch of the historical eulogy of the Duke of Berwick

Catherine Volpilhac-Auger

1Some weeks after the death of the Maréchal de Berwick, killed by a canonball on 12 June 1734 during the siege of Philipsburg, the Comte de Bulkeley, Berwick’s brother-in-law and a witness to his death, wrote to Montesquieu: I saw in the Holland gazette [= Gazette d’Amsterdam, 29 June 1734] a sort of pitiful eulogy of the deceased marshall. I would like for this subject to be treated by a more skillful hand; no one could do it as well as you, my dear Président. You knew him well and it seems to me that there would be fine things to say about his example and his disinterestedness. It could be done in a letter to a friend. I would like for people to be informed of his virtues, and for the justice which envy and ignorance refused him during his life to be rendered to his memory […]. (15 July 1734; OC, t. XIX, letter 400)J’ai vu dans la gazette de Hollande une espèce d’éloge bien pitoyable de feu M. le Maréchal, je voudrais que cette matière fût touchée par une main plus habile, personne ne pourrait le faire si bien que vous, mon cher président. Vous l’avez bien connu et il me semble qu’il y aurait de belles choses à dire sur ses mœurs et son désintéressement. Cela se pourrait traiter dans une lettre à un ami. Je voudrais que le monde fût instruit de ses vertus, et que l’on rendît à sa mémoire la justice que l’envie et l’ignorance lui ont refusée pendant sa vie […]. Montesquieu, very close to several of the marshall’s children (abbé de Fitzjames, Henriette de Renel) responded to this invitation; but never did he publish nor even complete this work, which appears from certain details to be posterior to 1751 (notably, he seems to speak in the past of Mme de Berwick, who died that very year). Nearly twenty years after the Duc de Berwick’s death, were there still reasons for publishing this eulogy?

2It was not until 1778 that abbé Hooke, closely tied to the Philosophes, published this document in its imperfect state (numerous passages remain blank), at the head of the marshall’s Mémoires; it is this edition, soon integrated into the Montesquieu corpus (beginning with Œuvres posthumes of 1783 published by Jean-Baptiste de Secondat) which is reprinted in the Œuvres complètes currently under way (t. IX, 2006). According to the editor, he had at his disposal only the “project for a discourse, a pure draft with words struck out, and scattered with blanks which he intended to fill in.” (“projet d’un discours, un pur brouillon raturé, parsemé de blancs qu’il comptait remplir”, Avertissement). Indeed, the list of manuscripts sent by Joseph Cyrille de Montesquieu to his cousin Charles Louis in England in 1818 includes “a notebook entitled: material for use in the History of the late Marshall of Berwik » (OC, t. I, p. lxxvi), which corresponds no doubt to the document used by Hooke. Laboulaye notes in his presentation of that work: “this draft exists; it is in the study of M. Boutron in Paris. M. Vian has taken the variants from the manuscript and the printed text, and has had the kindness to place them at my disposal” (Œuvres de Montesquieu, t. VII, 1879, p. 96). It has since disappeared.

3The text is comprised of two parts: the first, based on the Mémoires themselves, is devoted to the public man, to his career up to 1716, at which time his command in Guyenne made it possible for Montesquieu to meet him – the transition is ready-made for a second part, much more personal, devoted to the private man, and to a veritable eulogy of the man’s human qualities. The first part, punctuated by dates, briefly mentions the brilliant military career of the bastard son of Jacques II in the service of France, up to the War of Spanish Succession, which is much more detailed; its narrative is interrupted at the death of the Regent (nothing is said of the circumstances of his death, during the War of Polish Succession), and it is only at the end of part two (much shorter) that the sensitive matter of his absence from the Scottish expedition in 1715 in favor of the Pretender comes up – it is indeed this that concludes (provisionally?) this part, devoted to the manner (admirable) in which he fulfilled his duties: generous in every sense of the term, loyal in friendship, deeply religious, he had perfectly exemplified France, where he had arrived at the age of seven, and adopted its nationality. His presence in the Bordelais, also recounted in theCollectio juris, is evoked in these terms: “his reputation for seriousness frightened us; but he had scarcely arrived before he was beloved by everyone” (“la réputation de son sérieux nous effraya ; mais à peine y fut-il arrivé qu’il y fut aimé de tout le monde”). Montesquieu cannot conceal a certain gruffness of a man of war: “He never knew how to say the kinds of things we call nicely put” (“Il ne savait jamais dire de ces choses qu’on appelle de jolies choses”). But it is the better to emphasize his more solid qualities: candor, and the fact that he was “above all free from the numberless faults constantly committed by those who are too enamored of themselves” (“surtout exempt de ces fautes sans nombre que commettent continuellement ceux qui s’aiment trop eux-mêmes”).

4It is as a long-time friend, his junior by thirty years, that Montesquieu speaks: discreet about the great military feats which he denies the ability to judge, he appreciates his spotless virtue. While thus describing himself as close to a marshall of France, and hence of one of the most visible personages in Europe, Montesquieu shows no indulgence: he pursues with this personage of another century, this old Roman of the century of Louis XIV, a reflection on duty begun very early with the reading of Cicero. But he must also take history into consideration; little concerned with the great men in Romains, here he is interested in the “modest merit”of a warrior who has served France more than he has affected the destiny of Europe, even if he “saved Spain”. He was never greater than in 1707, when he avoided battle completely: “[…] this campaign was more glorious for him than any of those he did, because as the advantages did not depend on one battle, his ability was visible every day” ([…] cette campagne fut plus glorieuse pour lui qu’aucune de celles qu’il a faites, parce que les avantages n’ayant point dépendu d’une bataille, sa capacité y parut tous les jours).

5Montesquieu paid homage to the man who was also a discrete Mentor to himself: the main objective of his great travels in Europe (1728-1731) was doubtless at the outset to initiate him in European diplomacy so he could play a moderating role in it, at a time when the old marshall had perceived the imminence of a war – the very one in which he was to find his death (C. Volpilhac-Auger 2008, p. 10-28).



Mémoires du maréchal de Berwick, écrits par lui-même, Paris, Moutard, 1778, t. I, p. xvii-xlviii. [].

Œuvres complètes de Montesquieu (ed. Édouard Laboulaye), t. VII, 1879, p. 96-112 (with manuscript variants).

OC, t. IX 2006, p. 429-458 (ed. Edgar Mass, with the collaboration of Hélène Himelfarb).


Alix de Rohan-Chabot, Le Maréchal de Berwick, Paris, Perrin, 1990.

Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, Introduction to Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence, Paris: Gallimard, « Folio Classiques », 2008.