History of the
campaigns fought by the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, during the
late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Click on the battle name to view the potted history:
- Boyne River 1690
- Blenheim 1704
this brilliant victory the army went through several manoeuvres and
marches which eventually brought on the decisive battle of Blenheim, when
24 battalions of French infantry and 12 squadrons of cavalry were
captured. The village of Blenheim covered the right
of the enemy's line, and the Greys were ordered to attack and drive out
the enemy. Meanwhile the action became general along the whole line. The
French and Bavarian allies were driven from their position and routed with
immense slaughter. Marshal Tallard, the chief in command, was taken
prisoner. The Greys and their comrades in arms dashed at the village,
stormed position after position, charged and scattered its defenders. It
was a glorious sight, one eminently calculated to stir the blood to
madness and to nerve the army of the weakest. 8,000 allied cavalry, in tow
long lines, charged the opposing horsemen, 10,000 strong. The artillery
played so fiercely on the advance that they were at first forced to
retire. Then the enemy's gun fire slackened. Marlborough put himself at
the head of the Cavalry and with irresistible vehemence the line dashed
forward. The French horsemen wavered and then fled pell-mell. The action
was long and arduous, but British pluck and dash prevailed. The
enemy gave way, then rallied and attempted to force the cordon which was
being drawn tightly round them. Each successive attempt was repulsed,
until surrounded on every side they made on last desperate wild cat rush
to secure their retreat. They took advantage of one loophole. But in vain!
The Greys were too quick for them. They charged out, swooped down upon
them and headed them off. The French were caged like rats in a trap, and
sullenly threw down their arms. It was estimated at the time that our loss
was about 12,000 killed and wounded, while that of the enemy was at least
consequence of his brilliant victory he was made a Prince of the Roman
Empire, which caused him to assume quite a considerable amount of state.
He used to eat his meals alone, and made his son-in-law, the Duke of
Montague, stand in attendance upon him. But this exhibition of personal
vanity occurred only when he was abroad, where he was invariably
recognised and saluted by the title of Highness. Excerpt from the Navy and Army Illustrated January 15th
1897 by G F Bacon
- Blenheim was one of the few decisive battles of the world, and
must be studied in conjunction with its international and
political history if its effect is to be understood.
Europe, menaced by the aggressive power of Louis XIV, banded
itself in 1701 into an alliance headed by England, Holland, and
the Austrian Emperor. When the hour came to strike the
fateful blow it was an English soldier whose brain conceived,
and whose skill and resolution achieved, the ultimate
victory. To John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, "who
never fought a battle that he did not win, and never besieged a
place that he did not take," the British nation owes some
of its proudest traditions, and the British Army its brightest
laurels. The operations that preceded the great struggle
were cast in heroic mould. Central Europe was a
cockpit. Many nationalities were involved. The
Moselle, Rhine, Danube and Inn were lines of strategical
importance. With consumate enterprise, Marlborough centred
the issue at a point of his own choosing. Marching
rapidly, yet with good order, from Flanders to the Danube, he
cleverly deluded a part of the hostile force until he found
himself near the village of Blenheim, on the left flank of the
Danube, at the head of 56,000 Allies, with 52 guns, opposed to
about 60,000 of the Gallo-Bavarian Army, with 61 pieces of
artillery. Despite the parity of numbers the situation was
critical, for the Allies were obliged to attack, the French
troops were proved veterans, defeat meant disaster to
Europe. Marlborough had complete confidence in his men,
and his confidence was well placed. Advancing through a
thick morning haze, the Allies, their left and centre under
Marlborough, the right under the Gallant Prince Eugene, came
upon Marshal Tallard almost before he could turn his guns upon
them. Difficult ground hindered the deployment of the
right, but at length the assault on Blenheim was made.
This was repulsed, and, as the day wore on, the fortune of the
Allies was in constant jeopardy. Soon after five o'clock
Marlborough brought into line 8,000 horsemen, supported by guns
and infantry. The final struggle was sharp but
decisive. The French fired and fought, but the line
advanced; the fire slackened and the line charged. The
French horsemen, "discharging their carbines at an idle
distance," spurred from the field, their infantry was
ridden down, and Blenheim was won. Voltaire states that of
the conquerors about 5,000 were killed and 8,000 wounded, and
that the French army was almost entirely destroyed.
The political situation prior to the battle of Blenheim,
August 13th, 1704. The congress of Ryswick began its work
May 9th, 1697, and by September 10th France
with England, Holland, and Spain made three treaties.
Austria, England, and Holland, September 1701, formed a
coalition against Louis XIV and Maximilian, Elector of Bavaria.
William III died March 8th, 1702, but his policy
was continued by the Earl of Marlborough; by Heinsins, Grand
Pensionary, who directed the Republic of Holland with the powers of
a King; and by Prince Eugene of Savoy, a Successful General and
President of Council at Vienna.
The Earl of Marlborough was at this time all-powerful for he
had governed Queen Anne through the influence of his wife, he
manipulated the Houses of Parliament through his friends, and the
Ministry through his son in law, who was the secretary of State for
war, and through Godolphin, the Treasurer, who was the father in law
of one of his daughters. From
1701-4, the fortune of war alternated between France and the
with an army of eight cavalry regiments and 18 battalions, entered
the Netherlands in spite of two French armies, captured four
fortresses in 1701-2, and in 1703 took Bon and Luxemburg.
Marshal Villars gained a notable victory at Hochstadt, near
Blenheim, and Marshall Tallard beat the Imperialists badly near
Spiers, regaining Landau for France.
The Prince of Bavaria noew controlled the Danube from its
sources to Passau. The
French Marshal Marsin had 20,000 men, and Tallard 40,000 on the
Rhine, and the possibility of these joining the elector rendered the
Imperial Government at Vienna very anxious.
The Duke of Marlborough now reverted to a bold scheme, which
he had submitted to William III, but which the king had refused to
approve; but he preserved and carried it out.
Flanders was not so closely planted with fortresses as to
render successive and decisive victories impracticable, nor could
any success in the Low Countries relieve the situation of the
Imperialists at Vienna. Marlborough,
crossing the Rhine and Bonn and the Main at Frankfort, met Prince
Eugene buy appointment near Heilbronn.
The French now had another army on the Rhine, under Marshal
Villeroi, which Prince Eugene undertook to “contain,” while
Marlborough supported by the Prince of Baden, should invade Bavaria,
and coerce the Elector into abandoning his alliance with France. Marlborough,
July 2nd, 1704, attacked Marshal Tallard in his
entrenched camp at Schellenberg, immediately east of donauworth on
the Danube, and routed him with great loss, losing himself 1,500
killed and 4,000 wounded. The
Elector took refuge in Augsburg, while Marlborough wasted his
country down to Munich. He
then recrossed to the north of the Danube, and sent the Prince of
/Baden to invest Ingoldstadt, 35 miles east of Donanworth.
This plan succeeded, for the Elector, with Marshal Tallard,
passing the Dunube, took post at Hochstadt, near the scene of
Villard’s victory over the Imperialists, gained September 20th,
1703. Prince Eugene, demonstrating against Villeroi, so puzzled him
that the Prince was enabled to join Marlborough in time for the
battle of Blenheim before Villeroi ascertained where he had gone.
Battles on Land and Sea
- Donauwörth 1704
- One of the battles in of the War Spanish Succession.
Marlborough against Louis XIV. Marlborough marched his army of
52,000 up the Rhine from the Netherlands but turned suddenly
towards the Danube to arrive at Donauwörth on 1st July. Here
Marlborough met the forces of Maximilian II of Bavaria under the
command of Count D'Arco. On 2nd July, Marlborough's men were
ordered to a frontal assault and after losing over 5,000 men
took the fortified hill. The Bavarian army lost about 9,000 men.
- Ramillies 1706
- King Louis XIV of France ordered the Duc de Villeroi to attack
eastward from the Dyle river to the Meuse. They were intercepted
by the English, Dutch and German allied troops under Marlborough
who placed 50,000 men near the village of Ramillies directly in
the Duc's path. After a feigned an assault on the enemies left,
he attacked their right with determination. Marlborough's
cavalry outmanoeuvred the French cavalry while the infantry made
a direct attack on Ramillies. Villeroi's army was devastated
with 15,000 killed, wounded or captured. This victory led to the
surrender of Brussels and Antwerp.
- During the two years that followed Blenheim, Marlborough was
the soul of the Alliance. His great persuasive power and
personal charm were as much in requisition to soothe the
apprehensions and susceptibilities of his comrades in the
Netherlands, Vienna and Berlin, as were his military gifts to
teach Louis XIV that at length he had met his match. In
April 1706, events were in train for a second staggering blow at
the French power. Marlborough was at the Hague
contemplating a transfer of the theatre of war to Italy, partly
from disgust at the timidity of the Dutch policy, and partly
because he wished to join hands with Prince Eugene, the one
colleague who had proved himself worthy of confidence.
Circumstances, however, compelled him to remain in the
Netherlands, where the French, under Villeroi, were entrenched
in their camp behind the Dyle, and the campaign offered but
slight prospect of decisive result. By a bold stroke
Marlborough forced an issue. A threat to besiege Namur
brought Villeroi into the open in its defence. At the head
of the renowned household troops of France he took up his
position on the 23rd of May on Mont St Andre, a part of the
highest ground in Brabant. He adopted a crescent
formation, the tips of the half moon advancing towards the
Allies. This gave Marlborough, who lay facing the centre,
the supreme advantage of being able to strike where he chose
before his enemy could reinforce against him. Part of the
ground on the French right was an eminence called the "Tomb
of Ottomond", which commanded the whole field. This
was the key of the position. The opposing forces each
numbered about 60,000 men. The issue lay with superior
generalship and valour. Marlborough, whose objective was
the "Tomb of Ottomond," made a feigned attack on the
enemy's left, which Villeroi took seriously, only to realise,
too late, the true intentions of the Allies. Nevertheless,
a strudy fight was made for the retention of the Tomb. It
was held by the French household cavalry, in whose ranks fought
scores of young French nobles, who set fame before life.
These beat off the attack of the Dutch horse, and Marlborough
had to hasten up with fresh squadrons. In the turmoil he
was surrounded, thrown from his charger, and nearly captured,
but, taking the horse of his aide-de-camp, he renewed the charge
with such vigour that the enemy gave way and the height was
captured. The success was rapidly followed up in the other
part of the field, and three and a half hours after the first
encounter the French were in full flight, abandoning their
baggage and most of their guns. In killed, wounded, and
prisoners, they lost 15,000 men, whilst the Allies had over
year 1704 had been unfortunate for Louis XIV, whose schemes had
failed in every direction, and after it he was reduced to act for
the most part on the defensive.
As a result off the decisive battle of Blenheim the French
had to abandon the Elector of Bavaria and to re-cross the Rhine, and
the Elector was compelled by the conditions of Peace to disband his
aim in 1705 was to expel the French from the fortresses they had
seized in violation of the terms of the treaty of Ryswick, and he
manoeuvred trying to bring the French armies to action, but in vain.
His brilliant scheme to capture Saarlouis before the French
could concentrate for its defence, by operating in the valley of the
Moselle while Prince Eugene moved down the valley of the Saar to
join him, failed, because the Emperor Leopold and the German
Princes, once relieved of the French invaders of their country by
the result of the battle of Blenheim, had relapsed into their usual
state of apathy, and the British and Dutch Governments were
On Marlborough’s return to Holland, April, 1705, he
persuaded the Dutch to agree to his schemes for invading France, but
Eugene had now been sent to Northern Italy, to operate against the
Duc de Vendome, and so was no longer available.
When Marlborough took the field in the valley of the Moselle
he had only 40,000 men, but Marshal Villars, though he greatly
outnumbered him, fell back to a position whence he could cover
Thionville, Luxemburg, and Saarlouis.
It was too strong for Marlborough’s numbers, and he waited
for reinforcements from Germany.
General Overkirk, left in charge of the defence of the
Netherlands, had been obliged to retreat inside the entrenched
position of Maastricht. Marlborough, by a very long and rapid march, carried out in
deluge of rain, completely deceived Villars, who lost touch of him
and the Duke joined Overkirk, July 2nd, and then took Huy
within a few days.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Allies, by a skilful
strategically movement, penetrated the French fortified lines which
ran from Natwerp to Namur, a distance of 50 miles, breaking through
at Tirlemont, but the Dutch then, again later in August, declined to
utilise the favourable position which the Duke by his strategically
skill had obtained.
During the winter Marlborough visited Berlin, Hanover, and
Vienna, but failed to induce the respective Governments to undertake
any common action. The
Dutch had refused to allow their troops, and at last Marlborough
threatened the States-General that he would withdraw the British
contingent; this step they knew would involve the breaking up of the
Coalition. They then
gave way, and suggested not only that Marlborough should select the
Dutch Representatives who always accompanied the Allied troops but
that moreover those Representatives should have secret instructions
to comply with all his orders.
Marlborough was, nevertheless, doubtful of the possibility of
success when working with such Allies, but just then Villeroi gave
him an opportunity of gaining a great victory.
The French Marshal, although ordered to await the arrival of
Marshal Marsin, who was advancing from the Rhine, before undertaking
any operations, got the idea into his head that the Allies were
marching on Namur before they had effected their concentration, and
he moved out his entrenched lines behind the Dyle river, hoping to
crush the allies before they were ready to receive him, and
Marlborough, seizing the opportunity, advanced on Branchion.
He, however, had concentrated his army and was moving
Colonel the Earl of Cadogan, Quartermaster-General to
Marlboroughs British troops, rode forward at 1 a.m. on May 23rd,
1706, in order to lay out a camp at Ramillies, two miles from the
river Mehaigne, a tributary of the Meuse.
From a hill near Merdorp Cadogan sighted the French troops at
10 a.m. when a thick mist clearing away under a bright sun,
disclosed an army of 60,000 men coming on to the Ramillies plateau.
The country unpaved roads were from constant rain very deep;
the Allies guns were often up to their axletrees in mud, so Cadogen
halted the head of the column to allow it to close up.
The ground in which
Villeroi elected to fight is a slightly elevated tableland in a flat
country, on the slopes of which three streams rise: the Mehaigne,
flowing eastward, passes the village of Taviers, two miles lower
down, where the stream is 12 feet broad.
The great Gheete, rising close under Ottomond’s tomb, flows
in a north westerly direction; the Little Geete oozes out of the
ground at Rammilies, flowing in four small branches, generally in a
north-easterly direction, past Offuz and Anderkirk.
We are writing from memory, but after careful inspection
fifty years ago, are under the impression that the undulations on
the battlefield are not greater than those from the Marble Arch
across Hyde Park to Victoria Station, London.
Villeroi put hisd right in Taviers and a hamlet a little to
the east of it; his right centre stood at Ramillies, his left centre
at Offuz, and his left at Anderkirk, the two flanks being half a
mile in front of the centre, all facing eastwards, on a frontage of
about four miles.
Marlborough’s tactical skill in grasping the disposition of
an enemy’s troops was a remarkable as was his strategically
insight, and he noticed immediately the weakness of Villeroi’s
position, in that the posts of Taviers and Ramillies were too far
distant to allow the guns in those villages to cross their fire on
an assaulting column, and that, more over, though his left in and
near Anderkirk was secure, yet the troops on that flank could not
advance for a counter-attack without much difficulty in consequence
of the three streams of the little Gheete flowing in their front.
The Duke, therefore, decided to demonstrate against Anderkirk,
hoping to induce Villeroi to strengthen his left.
For this purpose an advance was made on the extreme right of
the Allies by the British contingent which moved forward formed in
two lines as if about to attack.
Sometime later these lines retired, the proper front line up
to the top of a rise of ground, where it halted, the rear line,
after passing out of sight, turning southwards, and marching rapidly
to reinforce Marlborough’s centre. The ruse had the desired effect, for Villeroi, who had
already occupied Anderkirk and Offuz strongly, now withdrew troops
from his right to his left, going there himself.
Ramillies was entrenched, and held by 20 battalions with 24
Advance of Marlborough
When Marlborough’s army was ready he advanced the infantry of the
Allies right in two lines, on a frontage of about three miles.
At 1.30 the artillery opened fire, four Dutch battalions
carried the hamlet in front Taviers, gaining that village, which was
defended by several batteries and a battalion, after a severe
struggle; while 12 German battalions attacked Ramillies, which was
stoutly held by the Irish Brigade.
General Overkirk moving up on the left bank of the Mehaigne,
charged as soon as the capture of Taviers enabled him to pass that
village. He routed the front line of French cavalry, destroyed two
battalions of Swiss, but was then driven back, being saved from
destruction by fresh squadrons, which were led forward by
Marlborough’s in person. In
the hand to hand fighting which ensued the Duke was surrounded, and
being recognised by French dragoons, was attacked by several men.,
and fell from his horse when attempting to cross a ditch.
His example, however, had greatly encouraged his squadrons,
which closed up around the Commander-in-Chief.
Now 20 fresh squadrons coming up from the Mehaigne bank,
Marlborough led them in a charge on the French right, and drove all
its cavalry away, they leaving infantry alone.
These were now ridden over and destroyed.
The Irish Brigade garrison of Ramillies, who had fought hand
to hand heroically, on seeing this disaster, gave way.
When Villeroi saw that its right flank was turned he gave
orders, “Change font, right back,” pivoting on Anderkirk and
trying to reform his right on Gerompont.
His baggage, which had been parked there, prevented the
troops from getting into the desired position.
The British regiments had at this time been halted on the
slope to the east of Offuz since the battle began four hours
earlier, and were now allowed freedom of action. They forded the Little Gheete, and carried Offuz with a rush.
This disheartened all the French troops near at hand, and
even some battalions which, having retreated earlier, were moving
back in good order, were ridden over by Marlborough’s victorious
squadrons and sabred. The
fugitive army fled to Jodoigne, and the British troops pursued them,
the cavalry only halting at Meldert, 15 miles from the battlefield,
at 2 a.m. next day.
The French casualties were over 13,000 in addition to 2,000
men made prisoners during the pursuit, while the British losses were
only between 4,000 and 5,000 men.
The effect of this disaster was great.
Louvain fell twenty-four hours after the battle, and then in
succession Brussels, Malines, and later forced contributions in
French Flanders, and Ostend surrendered July 6th.
The Duke had let his triumphant troops in one month from the
Meuse to the sea, and when the armies went into winter quarters
France retained only Charleroi, Luxembourg, Mons, and Namur.
- Toulon 1707
- The Duke of Marlborough launched an attack on the port
supported by the English fleet under the command of Admiral
Cloudesley Shovell. However, on the day of the assault, 17th
July, they were unsuccessful after the French massed forces to
defend the city and port.
- Lille 1708
- Marlborough sent Prince Eugene of Savoy to lay siege to the
fortress of Lille. Arriving on 12th August he invested the city
while Marlborough covered the siege. Marshal de Vendome and the
Duke of Berwick (nephew to Marlborough) sent a relief force but
couldn't penetrate the allied lines. The battle eventually came
down to supply lines and who could keep them open. Marlborough
managed to open a line to Oostende in Belgium and Lille finally
surrendered on 25th October, the citadel on 8th December.
- Marshal Louis Joseph (Duc de Vendome) was sent to retake
Bruges and Ghent in spring 1708. From Ghent he then marched
toward Oudenarde (or Audenaarde). This roused Marlborough to
march from Brussels to Oudenarde reaching the town on 11th July.
Marlborough used the surprise to attack the French lines
immediately, Prince Eugene attacking their right flank and the
Dutch under Marshal Overkirk attacking their left. Marlborough
took the centre of the French line and by the close of day the
French army hand almost been enclosed and surrendered. Allied
losses were 3,000 casualties, French losses were 6,000 killed or
- Malplaquet 1709
- On September 11th the allied army attacked both French wings
but only Eugene on the right managed to make headway while the
Dutch on the left were savagely held. Marlborough then used the
cavalry to strike a blow to the centre of the French lines and
slowly pushed the French cavalry back. The French army then
withdrew under Boufflers. This was the bloodiest of all the
battles with 24,000 men killed or wounded on the allied side and
12,000 on the French side.
- It was under very changed conditions, as compared with those
obtaining when Blenheim was fought, that Marlborough met the
troops of Louis at Malplaquet. France was well nigh worn
out by the prolonged war. Famine within her borders,
military disasters without, had caused her imperious ruler to
look anxiously for peace. To this end his craftiest
Ministers sought by offers of individual advantage to detach the
Allies from the pact. Their efforts failed. The
Alliance held fast, and demanded such humiliating conditions
that Louis was obliged to renew the struggle. On the other
hand, the political situation in England was such that
Marlborough felt the necessity of achieving some victory that
would justify the continuance of the war. Had he consulted
only himself, he would have welcomed a cessation of hostilities,
but he knew that France must be further stricken if the peace
was to be enduring. In September 1709, the capitulation of
Douai to the Allies, and the approaching investment of Mons,
brought the hostile armies closer together. The French, to
the number of 110,000 were under the courageous and capable
Villars, with whom was Marshal Boufflers, the brave defender of
Lille. Marlborough commanded much the same strength of
various nationalities, with his tried comrade and friend Prince
Eugene. Villars encamped in a strong position between two
woods near the little village of Malplaquet. The Allies
were drawn up opposite to him. For two nights and a day
the French General was allowed to strengthen his position by
digging trenches and clearing his front, till early on the
morning of the 11th September the Allied troops were led against
him, the soldiers expressing their contempt at being
"obliged to fight against moles". Villars
believed in his trenches and filled them with infantry, posting
his cavalry in the rear. The disposition of the Allies was
a frontal attack, with a threat to enfilade the enemy's
left. Led by Prince Eugene and Marlborough the line
advanced against the French left and centre. Several times
it was beaten back, but the attack was fiercely renewed.
Half an hour after the battle had opened the young Prince of
Orange, acting without orders, flung himself against the right
of the trenches, only to be repulsed with a loss of 2,000
men. Although the Allies had not made much headway their
onslaught on the flanks had withdrawn all the infantry from the
centre, leaving the French cavalry exposed. Instantly
Marlborough turned his cannon on the horsemen, following up the
fire with a cavalry charge headed by the Prince of Auvergne.
The charge had to be driven home no less than four times before
the French gave way, but in the end the line was pierced.
The French retreat was orderly, the Allies being too exhausted
for pursuit. The cost to the victors was 18,000 killed and
wouned; to the vanquished 14,000. Writing of the battle
many years afterwards, Bolingbroke said "A deluge of blood
was spilt to dislodge them, for we did no more at Malplaquet".
- Tournai 1709
- The peace negotiations of 1708-9 broke down and the war
resumed. The Duke of Marlborough decided to march an army to
Paris but first he had to get through the fortified city of
Tournai (in Belgium) which was defended by an army of 90,000
under the command of Marshal de Villars. On 27th June
Marlborough and Prince Eugene advanced on the city and the
fortress which eventually fell on 3rd September.