Battle of Blenheim - History

Battle of Blenheim - History

The English and the Dutch won a stunning victory over French and Bavarian forces in the Battle of Blenheim on August 13, 1704. England’s Duke of Marlborough led the British. He led a cavalry charge that broke the French lines and forced many of their soldiers into the Danube, where hundreds died. The French and their allies lost 4,500 dead and 11,000 wounded. The British captured 11,000 prisoners. They suffered 670 dead and 1,500 wounded.

War of Spanish Succession and the Battle of Blenheim

Ostensibly the War of the Spanish Succession was a dynastic struggle to decide whether the crown of Spain should rest on the head of a Hapsburg or of a Bourbon, a question of the balance of power to prevent the undue preponderance of France in Europe, a question in which England would hardly have been concerned but for the wound inflicted on her amour propre by the French king's recognition of a king of England whom England herself had rejected - another dynastic question.

But in actual fact matters of vital interest were at stake. If England had stood aside, France and Spain between them would have taken complete pos­session of Italy and the Netherlands, and there would have been very little left of Holland. France and Spain would have been so closely united that they would have counted practically as a single power, and might have developed a maritime strength which would have become more than a menace to English naval supremacy.

The whole of the Bourbon dominion would have been closed for British commerce, while the British colonies in America and the British trade in the East would have been seriously endangered. These possibilities had passed long before the war was actually over but when the war began they were imminent perils.

Neither statesmen nor merchants probably had any very definite idea of a British Empire as the stake for which the nation was fighting but the mercantile interest, which was chiefly associated" with the Whig party, was very much aware that unless the nation fought its commerce would be in jeopardy.

Fighting between France and Austria had already begun in Italy and the allies whom William had brought together were much relieved to find that William's death would not withdraw England from the alliance. William himself, at the close of his reign, had settled upon Marlborough as the man to carry out his policy.

Marlborough, conscious where his own supreme genius lay, was certain to feel that the road of his ambitions lay through European battlefields and Marlborough's influence at home was ensured by the relations between the Countess Sarah and Queen Anne. War was declared in May, and William's nominee occupied his place as commander-in-chief of the allied army.

The new chiefs operations were seriously hampered by the fact that instead of his having a free hand his plans were liable to be vetoed by a body of Dutch commissioners or "field deputies," who were not by any means military experts, while their views of the purposes to be served were strictly confined to the immediate securing of Holland against invasion.

Marlborough, prohibited by them from seeking to destroy the French army in the field, had to content himself with manoeuvres which forced the enemy back from the line of the Meuse. A series of forts were captured and Marlborough's reputation, which had hitherto been called in question, was established by the campaign, though his accomplishment fell far short of what he would have aimed at achieving if his hands had not been tied. In England his success was rewarded by his elevation to a Dukedom.

The Vigo Raid
Meanwhile, an expedition had been despatched to Cadiz under Sir George Rooke, which failed there ignominiously but his fleet redeemed his credit by breaking the boom of the harbour of Vigo, where it destroyed a powerful French squadron, and sank the most part of a great treasure fleet after securing booty to the value of about a million sterling.

The Blenheim Campaign
[Again, in 1703], the French confined themselves to a campaign in the Netherlands, and again the Dutch sought to confine Marlborough to a campaign 6f sieges. His operations were marred by the disobedience to orders of the Dutch generals, and the flat refusal of the Dutch field deputies to sanction his design of falling upon the main French force.

The campaign, therefore, was marked with no striking results. Meanwhile France had designed what should, have been a paralysing blow to the Grand Alliance. Marshal Villars from the Upper Rhine, the Elector of Bavaria, and Vendome from Italy, were to effect a junction and strike straight at Vienna.

The plan was frustrated by the unforeseen. Villars and the Elector joined hands but then the latter proceeded into the Tirol, a province of Austria which had been promised to him with careless generosity by the French king. He meant to secure the Tirol and to join the French as they came up from Italy by the Brenner Pass. But the Tirolese, who were not parties to this arrange­ment, handled the electoral troops so roughly that Max Emanuel evacuated the country and declared himself unable to proceed to Vienna.

Moreover, no French column came from Italy, because Victor Amadeus of Savoy played his favourite game of changing sides at the critical moment. He fell upon Vendome's communications, and the French general had to turn back instead of advancing to join hands with Villars.

Now Austria was in no plight to resist a French invasion in force, supported by Bavaria. On the east she was harassed by a Hungarian rebellion and her military organisation was in a state of desperate disorder, which Prince Eugene was patiently struggling to remedy. Austria owed .the services of that brilliant commander to the fact that when he offered his sword to France some years before, when his talents were still unknown, she had' declined.

Though the French scheme of invasion had been baulked in 1703, it was to be carried out next year on a less complicated plan of campaign. Vienna was doomed, unless England and Holland came to the rescue, and neither England nor Holland would dream of withdrawing forces from the Netherlands in order to take care of Austria.

It was true that if the power of Austria were shattered France would be able to concentrate the whole of her force on the Netherlands but English Tories had a vague conviction that English troops ought not to be fighting on the continent at all, certainly not further off than Holland and the Dutch did not look further than the defence of their own frontier.

The Battle of Blenheim
Marlborough appreciated the situation and formed his own plan, which had to be carried out without being suspected either in England or in Holland, to say nothing of France. He required a confidant in Holland and another in England to hoodwink the two governments while he con­certed his scheme with Eugene.

From Eng­land he obtained an authority which sufficed for his purpose from the Dutch he procured permission to conduct a campaign on the Moselle with a large force. To the Moselle went Marl­borough with his army the great French force still on the Upper Rhine awaited developments. Suddenly Marlborough banished he was racing through Germany to Bavaria to join Eugene, and was fairly out of reach before Dutch or English could make any attempt to stop him. On the way he joined a German force under Lewis of Baden.

Bavaria was commanded by a hostile force holding the heights of Schellenberg, by Donauwerth the position was stormed and carried, Meanwhile Tallard, who had taken the place of Villars as commander of the army of invasion on the Rhine, had started on his march to join the Elector of Bavaria and the French forces under Marsin which were already in that region.

By August 12th Marlborough had effected his junction with Eugene, and the hostile armies lay facing each other, the river or stream of the Nebel flowing between them into the Danube. The French right was in the village of Blenheim on the bank of the great river.

It was the task of Eugene on the right of the allies to keep the French left in play when the great battle was fought on the 13th. It was not till mid-day that the allies opened the attack, which was developed on the two wings. At four in the afternoon every attack had been beaten back, but the French centre had been weakened to strengthen the wings.

It was at this point that Marlborough reconstructed his lines for a furious assault upon the French centre, which was pierced. The French right was rolled up, and nearly the whole of it was cut to pieces, driven into the Danube, or forced to surrender the left, principally the Bavarian contingent, for the most part made its escape, since the victorious army was unable to follow up the pursuit But the victory was absolutely decisive and crushing. The French were driven back behind the Rhine, and there was no more thought or talk of a French army threatening Vienna. Marlborough returned to the Netherlands.

The Taking of Gibraltar
Meanwhile Admiral Rooke had been despatched with intent to an attack upon Toulon, the naval control of the Mediterranean being very definitely a part of Marlborough's conception of the war policy as a whole. He did not attack Toulon, because the Duke of Savoy was unable to co-operate as had been intended.

Though he had a great fleet it appeared that he would have made no use of it at all if he had not been goaded into trying what could be done with Gibraltar. When the attack was made it was found that the place was practically incapable of offering resistance. It was seized in the name of King Charles III - that is, the Austrian Archduke Charles, the son to whom the Austrian Emperor had finally made over his own claim to the Spanish throne - and was garrisoned with English troops.

Little general importance seems to have been attached to the capture at the time except by Marlborough, who declared that no cost should be spared to make it secure. Thus accidentally the great fortress passed into English control.

Political Turmoil
The last parliament of William III was also the first parliament of Queen Anne's reign. It was dissolved in the summer of 1702, and the new House of Commons, which met in the autumn, showed a large Tory preponderance. The small Whig majority in the Lords was due to the presence of the latitudinarian bishops appointed under William - men who were in sympathy with the principles of toleration.

The queen and the Tories were antagonistic to the Nonconformists. The bulk of the Tories were opposed to Marlborough, not on the general principle of main­taining the war, but because they wished to restrict it to the sea so far as England was concerned whereas Marlborough, like William, while he understood better than the Tories themselves the importance of naval supremacy and the way to secure it, was also determined that England should take the lead upon land as well.

Thus practically from the outset there was a growing estrangement between Marlborough and Godolphin on the one hand and the Tories on the other, while the duchess exerted herself to ally her husband with the Whigs, and to manage the queen on the same lines. The advanced Tories for their part endeavoured to establish a complete Tory ascendency, increasingly antagonistic to Marlborough himself.

The struggle between Tories and Whigs was to a very considerable extent a contest between the Commons and the Lords. In this contest the Lords were victorious. They were able to defeat the attempt of the Commons to apply the late Act of Succession so as to exclude from the House of Lords the Dutchmen who had received peerages from William. They defeated also an Occasional Conformity Bill, which now became a favourite scheme of the Tories.

Church struggles
William's Toleration Act had conceded freedom of worship to the Nonconformists, but retained the tests which required all office-holders to participate in Anglican services. Nonconformists in general, while habitually attending their own places of worship, did not find it-against their consciences to make the necessary attendances at the Anglican rites, so that the still valid Corporation and Test Acts did not in effect preclude them from taking office.

The object of the High Churchmen was to disqualify these Occasional Conformists by penalising them heavily if they attended the religious services of any body other than that of the Church of England while they held office.

This attempt also the Lords were able to frustrate. Popular sentiment was at first on the High Church side, but a strong reaction was produced, in part at least by an ironical pamphlet entitled The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, which pretended to be an inflammatory appeal to all good Churchmen to insist on the extirpation of the enemies of Church and State.

The satire on the Tory programme was convincing, and the Tories only made matters worse for themselves by having the author, Daniel Defoe, set in the pillory. The punishment provided the audacious pamphleteer with a popular ovation.

Consequences of Blenheim
The Blenheim campaign saved what may be called the Marlborough Administration. The Tories had been studiously minimising the Duke's doings on the continent but the attempt to belittle Blenheim itself recoiled on their own heads. The victory was in effect a Whig triumph.

A general election in the spring of 1705 gave a small Whig majority in the Commons, where Harley, the leader of the moderate Tories, alone of that party remained firmly attached to the Ministry, since Marlborough and Godolphin must now be reckoned as Whigs. But the administration was also rein­forced by Henry St. John, the most brilliant of the younger Tories.

The remaining members of the party were soon displaced by pronounced Whigs. The Government thus formed devoted itself to the whole-hearted carrying out of Marlborough's war policy but it achieved something still more vital to the future of the British Empire in carrying through the Incor­porating Union between England and Scotland.

A History of Britain

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

Blenheim Palace

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Blenheim Palace, residence near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, built (1705–24) by the English Parliament as a national gift to John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough. During the War of the Spanish Succession, he had led the English to victory over the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim in Germany in 1704. The palace was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, with a great deal of involvement by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and is regarded as the finest example of truly Baroque architecture in Great Britain.

In the early 18th century Queen Anne’s gardener, Henry Wise, designed the grounds of the palace in the formal style of André Le Nôtre’s famed gardens for Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles in France. Little remains of Wise’s landscaping, however, because tastes changed in the mid-18th century, and Lancelot (Capability) Brown was asked to redesign the grounds in his pastoral style of informal or seemingly natural landscapes of woods, lawns, and waterways. Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace.

In 1987 the palace and its surrounding property were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 2,100-acre (850-hectare) estate, which has remained in the Churchill family, is open to the public.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

One thought on &ldquo The Battle of Blenheim and British Politics &rdquo

Blenheim was of course, only the first of a series of Marlborough’s victories against the French during the “Wars of the Spanish Succession”. Later came Ramillies (1706), Oudenaarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709). It was the first battle which was one of the contributory factors to the failure of the French seige of Turin (April-September 1706), one of the turning points of the War. The major contributor to this was undoubtedly Ramillies, seeing the defeat of the Duke of Villeroi. The Duke of Vendome (Louis XIV’s illegittimate cousin), and undoubtedly one of the finest of the French Generals of the period had been detached from his task of subduing the Duchy of Savoy, with the capture of Turin almost taken for granted. He relinquished command to Louis d’Aubusson, Duke De La Feuillade, whose main claim to the position was that he was the son-in-law of Chamillart, the Minister for War. La Feuillade’s decision to proceed with the seige against the heavily defended citadel, contrary to the advice being offered by Vauban himself (who publicly offered to have his throat cut of La Feuillade succeeded in capturing the citadel) provided the necessay time for Prince Eugene of Savoy to bring an Imperial army all the way across the North of Italy to aid his cousin, Victor Amadeus II. The actual battle took place on the 7th of September 1706. When news of the unexpected victory at Turin reached Marlborough, he wrote: It is impossible to express the joy it has given me for I not only esteem, but I really love that Prince [Eugene]. This glorious action must bring France so low, that if our friends could but be persuaded to carry on the war with vigour one year longer, we cannot fail, with the blessing of God, to have such a peace as will give us quiet for all our days. And despite Vendome’s fame as a General, he also was defeated by Marlborough at Oudenaarde (July 1708). While acknowledging Marlborough’s tactical superiority, it is also fair to say that once again, interference by Louis XIV in the battle strategy and the presence of the Duke of Burgundy (the King’s grandson) were significant contributors to Vendome’s defeat.


Origins Edit

In early 1934, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, challenged the British aviation industry to build a high-speed aircraft capable of carrying six passengers and two crew members – he referred to the ambition as seeking "the fastest commercial aeroplane in Europe, if not the world". [1] At the time, German firms were producing a variety of record-breaking high-speed designs, such as the single-engined Heinkel He 70, and Rothermere wanted to recapture the title of fastest civilian aircraft, as well as to purchase such an aircraft himself. Rothermere also intended to encourage businesses and key figures to make greater use of civil aviation, and to demonstrate to the British Air Ministry how their fighter aircraft may not be able to match modern transport aircraft, which may be easily converted to, or used as the basis for, a bomber aircraft. [1]

Since July 1933, Frank Barnwell, Bristol's chief designer, had been working on a small twin-engine low-wing monoplane design, initially intended to be powered by the sleeve-valve Bristol Aquila radial engine, designated as the Type 135. [1] Rothermere became aware of Bristol's proposal and, in response to his inquiry, on 3 March 1934, Barnwell issued him with a quote of the specification and performance statistics of the design, including an estimated top speed of 240 mph (390 km/h) at 6,500 ft (2,000 m). [1] By this point, proposed use of the Aquila engine had been shelved in favour of the supercharger-equipped, poppet-valve Bristol Mercury engine. Deeming it suitable for the issued challenge, the design of Type 135 was further adapted to produce the Type 142 in order to meet the requirements outlined by Rothermere. [1] In late March 1934, Rothermere placed an order for a single Type 142 aircraft, under which he paid for half of the estimated £18,500 cost up front and the remainder upon the aircraft's first flight in the following year. [1]

On 12 April 1935, the Type 142, which had been given the name Britain First, conducted its maiden flight from Filton Aerodrome, South Gloucestershire. [2] [1] Flight tests soon proved that the aircraft was in fact faster than any fighter in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the time, having demonstrated a top speed of 307 mph (494 km/h). [3] [4] Rothermere presented the aircraft to the nation for a formal evaluation at a potential bomber. [5] By June 1935, the Air Ministry had become interested in the project due to its high performance. On 9 July 1935, a design conference was held by Bristol at the ministry's request into the question of converting the Type 142 into a suitable medium bomber. [5]

Based upon talks from the conference, the Air Ministry quickly formalised Specification B.28/35 for prototypes of a bomber version the Type 142M (M for military). [5] One principal change between the Type 142M bomber and its Type 142 predecessor was the repositioning of the wing from a low-wing to a mid-wing position, which allowed for more internal space within the fuselage underneath the main spar to accommodate a sizable bomb bay. Other modifications included the addition of a bomb-aimer's position and a Browning machine gun in the nose along with provisions for a semi-retractable gun turret in the dorsal position. [5]

Production Edit

In September 1935, an initial contract for 150 aircraft was placed. The Air Ministry had chosen to order the type directly from the drawing board, having been urgently sought as one piece of a wider and rapid expansion of the RAF. [5] The first aircraft built of this production model, K7033, served as the only prototype on 25 June 1936, K7033 conducted its first flight from Filton. [6] [5] The service name for the aircraft became Blenheim Mk I after the famous battle during the War of the Spanish Succession. On 10 March 1937, production deliveries to the RAF formally started 114 Squadron became the first squadron to receive the Blenheim. [6] [5] On 13 January 1938, the Blenheim entered service with No. 30 Squadron, the first overseas squadron to receive the type in early 1939, the first Blenheims arrived in India. [7]

From July 1936 onwards, various additional orders were placed for the Blenheim Mk I, including multiple orders for the export market. [5] By the end of 1936, 1,568 aircraft were on order. [8] In order to meet the demand, secondary assembly lines were established at Chadderton by Avro and at Speke by Rootes Securities. [5] The aircraft was built under licence by overseas countries, including Finland, who completed a total of 55 aircraft, and Yugoslavia, which completed 16 aircraft with a further 24 in advanced stages of completion when Germany invaded Yugoslavia. [9] Other countries also procured the Blenheim, including Romania, Greece and Turkey. [10] [8] By September 1939, orders for the Blenheim had risen to 2,088 aircraft. [8] Total production of the Blenheim Mk I in England was 1,351 aircraft prior to the end of the production run in 1939 production had been terminated in favour of more advanced variants. [6] [7]

The Blenheim production programme saw several shifts in requirements and in capacity. [8] A modified Blenheim design, given the name Bolingbroke, was manufactured under licence in Canada by Fairchild Aircraft. [11] The Bolingbroke, which had been developed in response to Air Ministry Specification G.24/35 to procure a coastal reconnaissance/light bomber as a replacement for the Avro Anson, had substantial improvements that would serve as the basis for improved variants of the Blenheim. [12] According to aviation author James D. Oughton, both the navigator's station and range limitations of the Blenheim Mk I had been subject to considerable criticism, thus an improved model of the aircraft was desired in order to rectify these shortcomings. [12] On 24 September 1937, an experimental Blenheim Mk I, modified with an extended forward fuselage beyond its original stepless cockpit, smooth-fronted nose enclosure, made its first flight from Filton. [12]

Further development Edit

Formal work on an extended-range reconnaissance version started as the Blenheim Mk II, which increased tankage from 278 to 468 imp gal (1,260 to 2,130 l 334 to 562 US gal). Only one Blenheim Mk II was completed, as flight tests revealed the increase in speed to be marginal and not warranting further development. [13] Another modification resulted in the Blenheim Mk III, which lengthened the nose, dispensing with the "stepless cockpit" format of the Mk.I, introducing a true windscreen in front of the pilot, to provide more room for the bomb aimer. This required the nose to be "scooped out" in front of the pilot to maintain visibility during takeoff and landing. Both modifications were combined, along with a newer version of the Mercury engine with 905 hp (675 kW). The turret acquired a pair of Brownings in place of the original single Vickers K gun, creating the Blenheim Mk IV. [14]

In early 1939, the first batch of Blenheim Mk IVs were accepted into service these lacked outer fuel tanks but were accepted due to the urgent demand for the type. Early Blenheim Mk IVs were also equipped with the Mercury VIII engine, most were fitted with the more powerful Mercury XV or Mercury 25 models. [15] Further aircraft deliveries were made to the production standard and were primarily manufactured by Avro and Rootes. [16] Production of the Blenheim IV continued until June 1943, when newcomers such as the Beaufort-derived Beaufighter had succeeded the type. [8] A total of 3,307 were produced.

A long-range fighter version, the Blenheim Mk IF, was also developed. For this role, about 200 Blenheims were fitted with a gun pack under the fuselage for four .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings. [7] Later, the Airborne Intercept (AI) Mk III or IV radar was fitted to some aircraft in use as night fighters these were the first British fighters to be equipped with radar. The Blenheim had been selected as the first aircraft to be adapted for this role as its fuselage was sufficiently roomy to accommodate the additional crew member and radar apparatus. [7] Their performance was marginal as a fighter but they served as an interim type pending availability of the more capable Beaufighter derivative. About 60 Mk IVs were also equipped with the gun pack as the Mk IVF and were used by Coastal Command to protect convoys from German long-range bombers.

The last bomber variant was conceived as an armoured ground attack aircraft, with a solid nose containing four more Browning machine guns. Originally known as the Bisley, (after the shooting competitions held at Bisley), the production aircraft were renamed Blenheim Mk V and featured a strengthened structure, pilot armour, interchangeable nose gun pack or bomb-aimer position and another Mercury variant with 950 hp (710 kW). The Mk V was ordered for conventional bombing operations, with the removal of armour and most of the glazed nose section. The Mk V (Type 160) was used primarily in the Middle East and Far East. The Blenheim served as the basis for the Beaufort torpedo bomber, which led to the Beaufighter, with the lineage performing two evolutions of bomber-to-fighter.

The Bristol Blenheim was a twin-engine high performance all-metal medium bomber aircraft, powered by a pair of Bristol Mercury VIII air-cooled radial engines, each capable of 860 hp (640 kW). [17] Each engine drove a three-bladed controllable-pitch propeller, and were equipped with both hand-based and electric engine starters. [17] To ease maintenance, the engine mountings were designed with a split-segment to facilitate rapid engine removal without disturbing the carburettors. A pair of fuel tanks, each containing up to 140 gallons, were housed within the centre-section of the fuselage. [17]

The fuselage of the Blenheim employed a light-alloy monocoque structure using open-section stringers, and was constructed in three sections. [17] The wing is also built in three sections, the centre-section of which is bolted and rivetted to the fuselage. The outer wing sections are tapered in chord and thickness. [17] Extensive use of Alclad sheeting is made in elements such as the ribs, skin, flaps, and web reinforcement of the spars. The tail unit is of a cantilever monoplane style, using an all-metal tailplane and fin while the aerodynamically-balanced rudder and elevators use a metal frame covered with fabric. [17] The undercarriage was hydraulically-retracted, with an auxiliary hand-pump for emergency actuation medium-pressure tyres were used, complete with pneumatically-actuated differentially-control brakes. [17] [18]

The Blenheim typically carried a crew of three – pilot, navigator/bombardier and wireless (radio) operator/air gunner. [19] The pilot's quarters on the left side of the nose were so cramped that the control yoke obscured all flight instruments while engine instruments eliminated the forward view on landings. Most secondary instruments were arranged along the left side of the cockpit, essential items such as the propeller pitch control were actually placed behind the pilot where they had to be operated by feel alone. [20] [21] The navigator/bombardier was seated alongside the pilot, and made use of a sliding/folding seat whilst performing the bomb aiming role. Dual flight controls could be installed. [17] The wireless operator/air gunner was housed aft of the wing alongside the aircraft's dorsal gun turret. [17]

Armament comprised a single forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun outboard of the port engine and a .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun in a semi-retracting Bristol Type B Mk I dorsal turret firing to the rear. From 1939 onwards, the Lewis gun was replaced by the more modern .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers VGO machine gun. A 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb load could be carried in the internal bomb bay set into the centre section of the fuselage. [17] Like most contemporary British aircraft, the bomb bay doors were kept closed with bungee cords and opened under the weight of the released bombs. Because there was no way to predict how long it would take for the bombs to force the doors open, bombing accuracy was consequently poor. [20] The bomb bay could be loaded using a hand-operated winch incorporated into the fuselage. [17]

To achieve its relatively high speed, the Blenheim used a very small fuselage cross-section, with its upper front glazing all at one angle in the form of a "stepless cockpit" that used no separate windscreen panels for the pilot, a notable feature of a substantial majority of German bomber designs, first conceived during the war years. [20] Both fixed and sliding window panels were present, along with a transparent sliding roof. [17] Other onboard equipment included a radio, cameras, navigation systems, electric lighting, oxygen apparatus, and stowage for parachutes and clothing. [17]

Outbreak of war Edit

In September 1939, the month in which the Second World War broke out, the Blenheim Mk I equipped two home-based squadrons and 11 overseas squadrons in locations such as Egypt, Aden, Iraq, India, and Singapore. Further RAF squadrons had received, or were in the process of converting to, the more capable Blenheim Mk IV 168 Blenheim Mk IV aircraft had entered RAF operational strength by the outbreak of war. [22] [8]

On the day that war was declared on Germany, a Blenheim Mk IV, N6215, piloted by Flying Officer Andrew McPherson was the first British aircraft to cross the German coast to perform a high altitude reconnaissance mission upon the German Navy in the vicinity of Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony. [8] The following morning, 15 Blenheims from three squadrons set off on one of the first bombing missions to attack the ships spotted on the previous day. [23] [24] RAF Coastal Command were soon using the Blenheim with the stated mission of protecting British shipping convoys off the east coast. [25]

Shortly after the conflict's start, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) was deployed to numerous airfields in France, allowing for shorter range bombing missions against German targets, including industries. [25] Several squadrons of Blenheim IVs were assigned to the AASF, being frequently used against targets in France and the Low Countries once the Battle of France had begun. [26] Blenheims were also assigned to the air component of the British Expeditionary Force of the Army. [26]

In May 1940, AASF and BEF Blenheims participated in the Battle of France, being sent against German forces moving towards Brussels, resulting in many aircraft quickly sustaining heavy damage or being lost to enemy fire. [27] German attacks upon the French airfields also damaged a considerable number of Blenheims on the ground. On 14 May, a combined force of Fairey Battles and Blenheims was dispatched on a counter-attack upon German forces as they broke through defensive lines: 40 out of 71 aircraft were lost in this sortie. This is claimed to be the highest ever losses known to the RAF. [27] Further action by Blenheims of Bomber Command that day sustained a 25% aircraft loss despite a high level of British fighter cover. [27] Shortly thereafter, the mostly-depleted squadrons were withdrawn to Britain. [28] Around 50 Blenheims supported the Dunkirk evacuation by harassing enemy forces. [29]

Rapid advances in technology which had taken place in the late 1930s had rendered the Blenheim mostly obsolete by the outbreak of the war. In particular, it had become heavier as extra service equipment was installed much of this was found to be necessary through operational experience. This, coupled with the rapid performance increases of the fighters that would oppose it, had eclipsed the Blenheim's speed advantage. [30] In January 1941, the Air Staff classified the Blenheim as inadequate in terms of performance and armament for current operations. [31]

The light armament was seldom able to deter fighter opposition. Squadrons were forced to use several different improvisations in an attempt to provide better defensive armament, until officially sanctioned modifications were able to be introduced in early 1940. [29] The Blenheim also proved to be vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery, especially around the rear fuselage. Flexible, self-sealing liners had been fitted to the fuel tanks but they were still not fully protected against the 0.79 in (20 mm) MG FF cannon carried by the Luftwaffe ' s Bf 109 and Bf 110 fighters. [32]

Home front Edit

Blenheim squadrons were still in immediate and high demand after their withdrawal from France as part of the British action during the Norwegian Campaign. [33] Typically operating from bases in the northern areas of the British mainland, such as RAF Lossiemouth, flying for extended periods over the North Sea led to the weather posing almost as much of a risk as enemy combatants, particularly as most of the Blenheim IVs lacked any heating or de-icing systems in response, some aircraft were later equipped with boilers fixed onto the starboard engine exhaust. [34] A sizeable number of losses occurred, caused by both enemy action and mid-air engine failures due to icing. [34]

After the fall of France in June 1940, the Free French Air Force was formed at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, in the form of Groupe Mixte de Combat (GMC) 1, consisting of a mixed bag of Blenheims and Westland Lysander liaison/observation aircraft, which were later dispatched to North Africa and saw action against Italian and German forces. [13]

Blenheim units operated throughout the Battle of Britain, often taking heavy casualties, although they were never accorded the publicity of the fighter squadrons. From July to December 1940, Blenheims raided German-occupied airfields both in daylight and at night. Although most of these raids were unproductive, there were some successes on 1 August five out of twelve Blenheims sent to attack Haamstede and Evere (Brussels) were able to bomb, destroying or heavily damaging three Bf 109s of II./JG 27 and apparently killing a Staffelkapitän identified as Hauptmann Albrecht von Ankum-Frank. Two other 109s were claimed by Blenheim gunners. [35] [f] Another successful raid on Haamstede was made by a single Blenheim on 7 August which destroyed one 109 of 4./JG 54, heavily damaged another, and caused lighter damage to four more. [36]

There were also some missions which produced an almost 100% casualty rate amongst the Blenheims. One such operation was mounted on 13 August 1940 against a Luftwaffe airfield near Aalborg in north-western Denmark by twelve aircraft of 82 Squadron. One Blenheim returned early (the pilot was later charged but was killed on another operation before a court martial was held) the other eleven, which reached Denmark, were shot down, five by flak and six by Bf 109s. [37] Blenheim units had also been formed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions over Germany and German-occupied territories. In this role, the Blenheims once again proved to be too slow and vulnerable against Luftwaffe fighters and they took constant casualties. [38]

On 12 August 1941, an action described by The Daily Telegraph in 2006 as being the "RAF's most audacious and dangerous low-level bombing raid, a large-scale attack against power stations near Cologne" took place. [39] The raid was a low-level daylight raid by 54 Blenheims under the command of Wing Commander Nichol of No. 114 Squadron RAF. They hit their targets (Fortuna Power Station in Oberaußem-Fortuna and the Goldenberg Power Station in Hürth-Knapsack), but twelve of the Blenheims were lost during the raid, 22% of those that took part, which was far above the sustainable loss rate of less than 5%. The England cricketer Sqn Ldr Bill Edrich was awarded the DFC for his part in the raid. [39] [40] [41] [42] [43]

Starting on 5 September 1940, Blenheims of Bomber Command began a bombing campaign targeting German-occupied ports along the English Channel, alongside heavier bomber types. [44] Bomber Command Blenheims also performed anti-shipping patrols due to Coastal Command's own strike squadrons being heavily depleted throughout the latter half of 1940. [45] On 11 March 1940, a Blenheim IV, P4852, became the first RAF aircraft to sink a U-boat, having scored two direct hits on U-31 in the Schillig Roads. [31] In April 1941, a campaign aiming to completely close off the Channel to enemy shipping was launched using an initial flight of Blenheims stationed at RAF Manston. Between April and June that year, a total of 297 Blenheims of No 2. Group attacked German shipping at sea, losing 36 aircraft, while Coastal Command launched 143 attacks in the same period, losing 52 aircraft by the end of the year, 698 ships had been attacked and 41 of these sunk for the loss of 123 aircraft. [31]

Fighter operations Edit

The Bristol Blenheim was used by both Bomber and Fighter Commands. Some two hundred Mk I bombers were modified into Mk IF long-range fighters with 600 (Auxiliary Air Force) Squadron, based at Hendon, the first squadron to take delivery in September 1938. By 1939, at least seven squadrons were operating these twin-engined fighters and within a few months, some sixty squadrons had experience of the type. The Mk IF proved to be slower and less nimble than expected, and by June 1940, daylight Blenheim losses were to cause concern for Fighter Command. It was decided that the Mk IF would be relegated mainly to night fighter duties where No. 23 Squadron RAF, which had already operated the type under nighttime conditions, had better success.

In the German night-bombing raid on London on 18 June 1940 [ clarification needed ] , Blenheims accounted for five German bombers, thus proving that they were better-suited for night fighting. In July, No. 600 Squadron, by then based at RAF Manston, had some of its Mk IFs equipped with AI Mk III radar. With this radar equipment, a Blenheim from the Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) at RAF Ford achieved the first success on the night of 2–3 July 1940, accounting for a Dornier Do 17 bomber. [7] More successes came, and before long the Blenheim proved itself invaluable as a night fighter. Gradually, with the introduction of the Bristol Beaufighter in 1940–1941, the Blenheim was supplanted by its faster, better-armed descendant.

Mediterranean and Middle East Edit

On 11 June 1940, only hours after Italy's entry into the war on Germany's side, several Blenheim IVs bombed Italian positions. [31] In mid-1940, reinforcement ferry routes were established throughout Africa, starting in Takoradi on the Gold Coast. By the end of 1940, a total of three RAF squadrons equipped with Blenheim IV aircraft were performing anti-shipping, bombing, and reconnaissance missions in support of Allied ground forces in North Africa. [45]

By July 1941, it had been recognised that, in response to the increasing intensity of combat in North Africa and in the Middle East theatres, additional squadrons were urgently required. [31] In the latter half of 1941, several Blenheim squadrons were flown out to Malta, many being stationed there into early 1942 before mainly being absorbed in the Western Desert air operations. [31] As Bomber Command gradually took Blenheims out of the Northern Europe theatre, they were often dispatched to other areas such as North Africa. [46] Upon the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, some Blenheim squadrons in the Middle East were relocated from the theatre to the Far East in response to the new threat from Japanese forces. [47]

South East Asia Edit

Blenheims continued to operate widely in many combat roles until about 1943, equipping RAF squadrons in the UK and at British bases in Aden, India, British Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies. Many Blenheims were lost to Japanese fighters during the Malayan Campaign and the battles for Singapore and Sumatra. [31] By that point, the traditional daylight light bomber role was more effectively carried out by suitable fighter-bombers, and the surviving examples were relegated to training duties. Nonetheless, the Blenheim played a role in preventing India from falling and in recapturing Burma, destroying over 60 aircraft on the ground in raids on Bangkok early in the campaign. [48]

One Blenheim pilot, Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack on Singora, Thailand, on 9 December 1941. Another bomber of No. 60 Squadron RAF was credited with shooting down Lt Col Tateo Katō's Nakajima Ki-43 fighter and badly damaging two others in a single engagement on 22 May 1942, over the Bay of Bengal. Katō's death was a severe blow to the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. [49]

The Air Ministry's replacement for the Blenheim as a daylight bomber, another Bristol design, the Buckingham, was overtaken by events and changes in requirements, and considered inferior to the de Havilland Mosquito, and as such did not see combat. The final ground-attack version – the Blenheim Mk V – first equipped 139 Squadron in June 1942. Eventually thirteen squadrons – mainly in the Middle East and Far East – received this variant but operated them generally only for a few months. [50]

Finland Edit

In 1936, the Finnish Air Force became the first export customer for the Blenheim, ordering 18 Blenheim Mk Is, which were delivered from Britain between June 1937 and July 1938. [9] Two years later, Finland obtained a manufacturing licence for the Blenheim. Before any aircraft could be manufactured at the Valtion lentokonetehdas (State Aeroplane Factory) in Finland, the Winter War broke out, forcing the Finns to order more aircraft from the UK. A further 24 British-manufactured Blenheims were ordered during the Winter War and were delivered from the RAF's own stocks. [9]

In the aftermath of the Winter War, 55 Blenheims were constructed in Finland, the final aircraft being completed in September 1944 this brought the total number of Blenheims in Finnish service to 97 (75 Mk Is and 22 Mk IVs). [51] [9] The Finns also received 20 half-completed ex-Yugoslavian Mk IV Blenheims captured by Germany, together with manufacturing tools, production equipment, and a huge variety of spare parts, although some of these had been damaged or otherwise destroyed through sabotage. Yugoslavia had ceased production of the Mk I and commenced a production run of Mk IVs just prior to the April 1941 invasion. [52] [9] The British-made Blenheims had RAF green interiors, RAF seat belts and instruments on imperial units, while Finnish-made Blenheims had medium grey interiors, Finnish-style seat belts and metric instruments. [53]

The Finnish Blenheims flew 423 missions during the Winter War, and close to 3,000 missions during the Continuation War and Lapland War. Blenheim machine-gunners also shot down eight Soviet aircraft. Thirty-seven Blenheims were lost in combat during the wars. [51]

The Finnish Blenheims were divided on six series (sarja):

Series I (BL-104..BL-121): 18 British-made Blenheim I bombers with doorless bomb bays. Arrived in 1938 Series II (BL-146..BL-160): 15 Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers with deepened bomb bay doors. In service by 1941. Series III (BL-122..BL-133): 12 British-made Blenheim IV bombers ("long-noses"). Arrived in January 1940. Series IV (BL-134..BL-145): 12 British-made Blenheim I bombers. Arrived in February 1940. Series V (BL-161..BL-190): 30 Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers. In service by 1943. Series VI (BL-196..BL-205): 10 Finnish-made Blenheim IV bombers. In service by 1944.

Seventh series, VII (BL-191..BL-195), six Finnish-made Blenheim I bombers, was cancelled in 1944.

Series I with doorless bomb bays could carry 1,800 lb (800 kg) bomb load in the bomb bay and up to 220 lb (100 kg) in wing cells. Series II, V and VI could carry 1,800 lb (800 kg) load on bomb bay and 379 lb (172 kg) on wing cells and fuselage racks. Series III and IV had the original RAF bomb bays and racks and could carry only 1,000 lb (450 kg) load on bomb bay and 200 lb (91 kg) on wing cells. The bomb bays, bomb bay doors and bomb racks of various series were modified on major overhauls to host bigger bombs., [53] [54]

After the war, Finland was prohibited from flying bomber aircraft by the Paris Peace Treaty, with Finland's Blenheims being placed into storage in 1948. However, in 1951, five Blenheims were re-activated for use as target tugs, with the last flight of a Finnish Blenheim taking place on 20 May 1958. [55]

The usual nickname of Blenheim in the Finnish Air Force was Pelti-Heikki ("Tin Henry").

Battle of Blenheim – the fate of Europe and a church tower

In 13th of August 1704 the combined Anglo-Dutch forces led by John Churchill – also known as the First Duke of Marlborough – defeated the French-Bavarian army at the plains of Blenheim. Some scholars pointed out that this was the first time when Louis XIV’s soldiers lost to other enemy even though they had the tactical advantage. Some others stressed the importance of a single battle deciding the whole conflict of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Truly Marlborough saved the Holy Roman Empire that day but the Allied cause itself. But how history come to this major battle? Let’s see

The War of the Spanish Succession

After a long and miserable life, Charles II of Spain was died in 1700. Even though the two sides (France, Holy Roman Empire) and other European powers made treaties about the partition of the Empire several times, but the local administration did not accept them. After the death of the king they offered the crown to the French side and the casus belli created in no time. The maritime powers (sometimes referred as “Grand Alliance” consisted of England, from 1707 Great-Britain and the Dutch Republic) and the Holy Roman Empire formed an alliance versus the French-Spanish coalition, who were joined by the Bavarian leader Maximilian Emanuel.

The Year of 1704

The campaign of 1704 consisted two major parts: the “March to the Danube” and the exact battle of Blenheim in August. The logistical masterpiece of 1704 was the March itself. They transferred nearly 20 thousand troops using 1700 carts, five thousand animals to transport. Marlborough’s men paid for the campaign ahead of the army buying clothes, food and other supplies so the soldiers had to march only. The logistical success provided the strong basis to the upcoming battles. Marlborough later joined Louis of Baden near Ulm and sent Eugene of Savoy to check on Villars’s position. As they found out about a small contingent of Bavarian troops near Schellenberg Marlborough decided to attack (2nd of July). In this small fight the British troops suffered heavy casualties (five thousand men), although the Bavarians lost twice of that number and fifteen guns.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
Author: Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt and studio

After the battle Marlborough tried to get in touch with Eugene, whose task was to watch the French movements. His army was nearly two times smaller than his counterparts so he retreated from Höchstädt to Blenheim to wait for Marlborough. Although the Allied forces had to upper hand by mobilizing first, the French had the tactical and numerical advantage. Tallard – who followed Marlborough from the Netherlands to the Danube – was sure, that he could corner the British Lion into a cage of the Bavarian forest. Marlborough surprised his advisors and partners by ordered to join ranks with Eugene and left Louis of Baden behind with the assault of Ingolstadt. We can see that the tactical decision was made on the French threat: the Allied high command was afraid they would be locked from the Danube, which was the main supply line for them. Many historians pointed out that Marlborough had nearly no choice but fight: he had to prove results – otherwise he would be moved from his position as leader of the Allied army. But he did not accept the classic ways of war: he risked everything on the line and prepared to attack.

March to the Danube, 1704

One thin clock tower and the future of Europe

On 12th of August Eugene and Marlborough climbed the church tower in Tapfheim to watch the French-Bavarian positions. The sources said after this Marlborough had a clear vision about the enemies intentions and pulled a plan out of his pocket. As they marched to Blenheim (sometimes called Blindheim) the Allied army were divided into two major groups. Eugene was about to take the lead the right flank and Marlborough was left with the task to crush the enemy’s centre near Blenheim. On the other side the French-Bavarians were on a pause and waited on Marlborough to act. In a strategic view they only had to hold their lines as the end of the military season approached. Without provision and supplies the combined Austro-British would be crushed and Vienna should fall into their hands. As we saw in the beginning the master plan of the 1704 campaign relied on the deceive blow to the French Armies and save Vienna from any threatening.

Battle Plans

As we mentioned before the Allied forces were divided into two separate groups (Marlborough in the centre and left, Eugene on the right flank). What about the French-Bavarian battle plans? They relied their positions on both cultural and natural barriers. Their forces and command were cut between three commanders: Tallard (controlling the campaign and the French armies by his name), Marsin (leading a large portion of cavalry) and the Bavarian Maximilian Emanuel. They stationed the army focusing on towns and hills, but the control became isolated as the first shots were fired. Tallard leaded the right and centre (mostly with cavalry) and joined forces of Marsin and Emanuel defended the left flank.

According to historical literature the two armies consisted the following numbers:

French-Bavarian forces: 84 battalions (infantry), 147 squadrons (cavalry), 90 cannon. App. sixty thousand men.

Allied forces: 66 battalions, 160 squadrons, 66 cannon, app. fifty-six thousand men.

We can see the difference between the armies, as the Allies had a slight advantage in cavalry and the Frenchs greater infantry. The latter explains why the French had occupied the major towns of the battlefield (Blenheim, Lutzingen, Oberglau) – they had enough numbers to do that. The only disadvantage the French-Bavarians had related to the cavalry: not only they lacked the numbers, the horses were infected with disease and were unable to fight. The personnel had to serve on foot – some historian said they became dragoons but this is mere a concept, because they lacked the training and this backfired during the battle.

Battle Plan of the Battle (French version)

The main Allied battle plan lied on Marlborough: he ordered Eugene to attack and pin down the French’s left flank in order to draw away the reinforcements. Then the combined Allied forces (middle and right flank) would deliver the deceive blow and finishing the battle. The first British troop leaded by Rowe were on their way on Blenheim – the French troops saw them by surprise as the fog mist disappeared by the morning wind. The battle was about to start to “change the fate of Europe”.

Attack on Blenheim – a Magician’s code?

We can read a perfect summary of the battle in many books like Churchill, nowadays by Falkner. I would like to give you a little summary and focus on the most interesting parts of this incident.

I have to point out that this battle was quite atypical. In the 17th century, wars would go for years without major battles, manoeuvring and attacking food supplies and making peace treaties. If a battle was about to start the leader would assemble his troops like the following.

We can see the infantry would be the centre of the army and the cavalry were found on the sides. Cannons were found between the ranks of the infantry or in front of them, but we can find evidence of moving them into batteries.

In attachment X we can see the shortcut version of the battle. It seems actually simple: the Allied troops attacked the towns made the French send their reinforcements into that area. After the mostly British and Hessian centre broke through the weakened French centre and cut their in half. Later they turned their attention to the towns as the French left side were escaped from the scene and Tallard was captured. The simplicity of this battle would go into the most easiest Allied win in the War of the Succession: superior tactics and engagements guaranteed the victory. But is it that simple? If we dug into the historical literature we would find interesting and questionable scenes.

Start of the Battle After Marlborough’s move

The first is the move on Blenheim – the Allied strike force was stopped and lured more and more troops from each side without any result. If we check the Allied plans we would say that Marlborough failed at his first objective and have to improvise on the field. His actions gave them the victory later as the French centre collapsed. But there are questions about that: what if Marlborough used “magic” in order to ensure the French reinforcements go to Blenheim itself? In magic I would refer “strategic planning” or a fake attack, although many lives lost near the town Marlborough gained the upper hand!

Going back to the first illustration we can see why many historian call him a genius: he used his forces to lure the enemy into the town and later he pulled out a surprise attack on the French centre with cavalry and infantry as well. Using the cavalry to deliver a deceive blow refers to the famous Swedish horse usage and the “reforms” of Gustavus Adolphus.

Marlborough had two big advantages. First he scouted the enemies camp and memorized the battlefield relative easily. He also had Austrian officers helping him about the terrain – those who lost against a French a year ago not far from there. From that knowledge he could make an easy but atypical battle plan by crushing the French line in half and made fake attacks on the towns.

The second one is simply strategy and communication. He and Eugene could work together relatively well by giving separate battles to every commander (they had to fight their own part of the bigger battle!). On the other side the defensive French-Bavarian commanders had isolated command posts and disputes about the battle. For example the French general in Blenheim ordered the reserves into the town without Tallard’s permission Tallard did not get Marsin’s reserving cavalry in the counter push and so on. The historians tend to vádolni Tallard on losing the battle because of the numerical fölény and the terrain positions using the earlier examples.

On the psychological side the Allied troops had high morale and faith in the commander as Churchill pointed out. The French’s morale could be less or more (without enough sources we cannot be sure), their army were unbeatable in that period and this was their first defeat! Sources reported that after the fall of Blenheim (late in the night) the French soldiers were crying as they handed their flag to the British officers.

The Aftermath

The famous dispatch about the battle was wrote on the side of a hotel check. The classy message was this: “I have not time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her Army has had a glorious victory”. We should see that he did not informed the Queen herself but his wife about the battle. The famous letter he wrote about the situation is also worth mentioning.

After the battle Vienna was saved from direct Bavarian assault and kept the Austrian allies in the war for long time. Marlborough had achieved his goal: saved his allies and delivered a fatal blow to the French-Bavarian forces. The necessity of battle proved its valuable and became an example to the rest of the conflict. The casualties were raised high: the Allied losses amounted to nearly twelve thousand, but the French army suffered a huge blow with almost thirty-nine thousand lost.


In the War of the Spanish Succession Blenheim was a turning point. Before that it seemed the French already won the war: Vienna was under threat and the Anglo-Dutch forces could not made any progress in Flanders. Marlborough had to take the risk and offered a battle the unbeaten French troops in Germany and he won. In this atypical battle he pulled out an extremely simple, elegant and magnificent plan to crush the French-Bavarian forces. With his cooperation with Eugene he managed to play with the enemy’s mind and gained strategic advantage where he wanted. By sacrificing the element of surprise with the attack on Blenheim he made the French commanders to act and they fallen into his trap. As the French general Tallard was captured and the last battalions of his troops surrendered in Blenheim the fate of Europe had changed – but the war was not about to end.

The Duke of Marlborough accepts the French surrender at Blenheim, 1704
Artist: Lambert de Hondt, Judocus de Vos

Churchill, Winston S: Marlborough. His Life and Times. London, 1947.

Falkner, James: Blenheim, 1704. Battle Story. Stroud, 2014.

Haythornthwaite, Philip J: Invincible Generals. Firebird Books, 1991.

Holmes, Richard: Marlborough. England’s Fragile Genius. London, 2008.

Kearsey, Alexander H. C.: Marlborough and his campaigns, 1702-1709. 2. ed. Aldershot, 1960

MacFarlane, Charles: A life of Marlborough. London, 1852.

Périni, Édouard Hardÿ de: Les armées sous l’ancien régime, 1700 à 1789.

Battle of Blenheim

Place of the Battle of Blenheim: On the Danube in Southern Germany.

Combatants at the Battle of Blenheim: British, Austrians, Hungarians, Hanoverians, Prussians, Danes and Hessians against the French and Bavarians.

John Churchill Duke of Marlborough: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

Generals at the Battle of Blenheim: The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy against Marshall Tallard, Marshall Marsin and the Elector of Bavaria.

Size of the armies at the Battle of Blenheim: There is considerable dissent on the size of the respective armies.

The French and Bavarian armies probably comprised 60,000 men (69 battalions of foot and 128 squadrons of horse) and around 60 guns. The Allied army comprised 56,000 men (51 battalions of foot and 92 squadrons of horse), of which 16,000 (14 battalions of foot and 18 squadrons of horse and dragoons) were British and 52 guns.

There is considerable variation in the numbers attributed to the French and Bavarian armies: some authorities put their strength as high as 72,000 men with 200 guns.

French sources quoted by Sullivan in his book “The Irish Brigades” give the relative strengths as:
French and Bavarians: 43,900 men, in 78 battalions and 127 squadrons, with 90 cannon.
British and Allies: 60,150 men in 66 battalions and 181 squadrons, with 66 cannon
(French battalions having 400 men to the Allied 500 and the French squadrons 100 to the Allied 150).

Prince Eugene of Savoy: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Blenheim:
The British Army of Queen Anne comprised troops of Horse Guards, regiments of horse, dragoons, Foot Guards and foot. In time of war the Department of Ordnance provided companies of artillery, the guns drawn by the horses of civilian contractors.

These types of formation were largely standard throughout Europe. In addition the Austrian Empire possessed numbers of irregular light troops Hussars from Hungary and Bosniak and Pandour troops from the Balkans. During the 18th Century the use of irregulars spread to other armies until every European force employed hussar regiments and light infantry for scouting duties.

Horse and dragoons carried swords and short flintlock muskets. Dragoons had largely completed their transition from mounted infantry to cavalry and were formed into troops rather than companies as had been the practice in the past. However they still used drums rather than trumpets for field signals.

Infantry regiments fought in line, armed with flintlock musket and bayonet, orders indicated by the beat of drum. The field unit for infantry was the battalion comprising ten companies, each commanded by a captain, the senior company being of grenadiers. Drill was rudimentary and once battle began formations quickly broke up. The practice of marching in step was in the future.

French soldiers marching to join their regiment: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Jean Anthoine Watteau

The paramount military force of the period was the French army of Louis XIV, the Sun King. France was at the apex of her power, taxing to the utmost the disparate groupings of European countries that struggled to keep the Bourbons on the western bank of the Rhine and north of the Pyrenees.

Marlborough and his British regiments acted as an uncertain mortar in keeping the edifice of the Imperial cause in Flanders intact.

Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: Blenheim Palace Tapestry

The War of the Spanish Succession was an early outing for the new British Army established after the Restoration in 1685. The regiments that took the field were the forebears of powerful Victorian institutions Foot Guards, King’s Horse, Royal Dragoons, Royal Scots, Buffs, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Cameronians, Royal Scots Fusiliers and several other prestigious corps.

Britain fell behind its continental enemies and allies in many respects. There was no formal military education for officers of the Army, competence coming from experience on the field of battle. Commissions in the horse, dragoons and foot were acquired by purchase, permitting the wealthy to achieve often unmerited promotion.

French Infantry on the march: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: print after Jean Anthoine Watteau

Support services were not formally established and depended on the commander. A major contributing feature to the Duke of Marlborough’s success in the field was his concern that his soldiers be properly supplied and by his consummate ability to organise and administer that supply.

While every army had formal and explicit rank structures the realities of command and influence were still largely decided by social standing, particularly between armies of different nationality. It was a matter of necessity for John Churchill to have the status of Duke of Marlborough to enable him to exercise decisive influence over the fractious foreign officers he had to work with and over some of his own nationality. In reality his status as duke, while probably of greater significance than his military rank of Captain General, was insufficient to enable him to act as a true commander-in-chief rather than as quasi-chairman of a committee of Dutch, Austrian and British generals.

Marlborough’s cavalry attacks: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by John Wootton

The uniform of the British Regiments was the long red coat turned back at the lapels and cuffs to show the facings of the regimental colour dark blue for guards and royal regiments yellow, green, white or buff for many of the others. The Royal Horse Guards wore blue uniforms as did the artillery, an organization not yet incorporated into the army proper.

Headgear was the tricorne hat, except for the company of grenadiers in each battalion of foot, the Horse Grenadier Guards, the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys), the three regiments of fusiliers (Royal, Royal North British and Royal Welch) and the drummers of dragoons and foot, all of whom wore the mitre cap.

For the infantry a cross belt carried the cartridge case hanging on the right hip. A second cross belt carried the bayonet and hanger sword. Ammunition, carried in the cartridge case, comprised cartridges of paper wrap containing the ball and gunpowder.

Surrender of Marshal Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

Winner of the Battle of Blenheim: Decisively the army of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene.

British Regiments at the Battle of Blenheim:
King’s Regiment of Horse later the King’s Dragoon Guards and now the 2nd Queen’s Dragoon Guards.
3rd Regiment of Horse later the 3rd Carabineers and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
5th Regiment of Horse later the 5th Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
6th Regiment of Horse later the 3rd Carabineers and now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
7th Regiment of Horse later the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
Royal North British Regiment of Dragoons, the Royal Scots Greys now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
5th Dragoons later the 16th/5th Royal Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers.
1st Regiment of Foot Guards now the Grenadier Guards.
The Royal Regiment now the Royal Scots.
3rd Foot, the Buffs now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
8th King’s Foot now the King’s Regiment.
10th Foot later the Lincolnshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment.
15th Foot later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of Wales’s Regiment of Yorkshire.
16th Foot later the Bedfordshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment.
Royal Irish disbanded in 1922.
Royal Welch Fusiliers.
24th Foot later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales.
26th Foot, the Cameronians later the Scottish Rifles, disbanded in 1968.
37th Foot: later the Royal Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
Royal Artillery.

Officer of the 21st Royal Scots Fuzileers: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: statuette by Pilkington Jackson

British Foot’s Order of Battle:
Row’s Brigade:
10th Foot
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
24th Foot
21st Royal North British Fuzileers
3rd Buffs

Hamilton’s Brigade:
8th King’s Foot
20th Foot
16th Foot
1st Battalion, 1st Royal Regiment
1st Foot Guards

Ferguson’s Brigade:
15th Foot
37th Foot
26th Foot
2nd Battalion, 1st Royal Regiment

Background to the Battle of Blenheim:
In November 1700 Charles II, King of Spain, died leaving his throne in his will to the Duke of Anjou, grandson to Louis XIV, King of France. Louis XIV permitted his grandson to accept the throne of Spain, thereby plunging Europe into a general war. The main antagonists were France and the Austrian Habsburg Empire, whose emperor would not stand by and see the Bourbons absorb Spain. The Low Countries, comprising Flanders and Holland, as in so many wars became one of the main theatres of military operations. The Dutch turned to Britain for troops and money under its treaty commitments and the British Army prepared to join its allies in the Low Countries.

In June 1702 John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough took up his appointment as commander-in-chief of the allied armies in Flanders. During the campaigns of 1702 and 1703 Marlborough grappled with the lack of co-operation from his Dutch allies and their apparent determination to avoid full-scale battle with the French armies attempting to overrun Flanders.

Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Harry Payne

In 1704 Louis XIV turned away from the Low Countries. He intended this to be a year of overwhelming conquest for the French over the Austrian Hapsburgs. His plans saw the French commander, Marshall Villeroy assuming the defensive in Flanders as an army under Marshall Tallard advanced across the Rhine, another under Marshall Marsin and the Elector of Bavaria moved against the Hapsburgs from the Danube and the French army in Italy attacked through the Tyrol, thereby bringing Austria to her knees and suing for peace.

Consumed with anxiety over French intentions Marlborough took the field in April 1704, implementing his scheme to counter Louis XIV’s strategy by taking his army to Southern Germany. Drawing up his plans over the preceding winter and expecting the usual obstruction-the Dutch could be expected to put up fierce resistance to removing the army from the Low Countries-Marlborough revealed his full intentions to only a select few.

In May 1704 Marlborough began his march south. In early June 1704 he halted in southern Germany to allow his various forces to catch him up his brother Charles Churchill with the British infantry, Prince Lewis of Baden with the Hessians, Hanoverians and Prussians and Prince Eugene of Savoy with the Imperial troops. Prince Eugene marched on to block any French attempt to cross the Rhine while Marlborough and Prince Lewis moved against the Elector of Bavaria, positioned on the Danube and barring entry into his country.

Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Henri Dupray

On 21st June 1704 British and allied troops stormed the position known as the Schellenburg held by the French and Bavarians, forcing the Elector to retire into the fortified city of Augsburg.

The French general Marshall Tallard marched south to reinforce the Bavarian and French troops, meeting the Elector north of Augsburg. Prince Eugene hurried to join Marlborough on the Danube, arriving at Hochstadt. These generals made their rendez-vous on 26th July 1704.

British Engineer Officer: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Richard Simkin

On 29th July 1704 Prince Eugene received the alarming news that the French and Bavarian armies were crossing the Danube some three miles to the west of his position. He hurriedly moved east to the Kessel River, a tributary of the Danube, sending urgent requests for support to Marlborough, still marching up to the south bank of the Danube.

On 31st July 1704 Marlborough’s army crossed the Danube at Donauworth, turned west to cross the Wornitz and marched to join Prince Eugene on the Kessel tributary of the Danube. The combined army of Marlborough and Prince Eugene was now some 5 miles short of the French and Bavarians.

Tallard’s army held a position stretching north from the village of Blenheim on the Danube. Tallard, Marsin and the Elector had no expectation that Marlborough and Prince Eugene would seek battle against their more powerful army, well positioned behind the marshy Nebel, with its flanks secured by the Danube and the fortified village of Blenheim on the right and the fortified village of Lutzingen and rising hills on the left. Their expectation was that the British and their allies as they ran short of supplies would retire north without a fight. Marlborough and Prince Eugene planned otherwise.

The axis of Tallard’s position was Blenheim with its garrison of 26 battalions and 12 squadrons. Marsin and the Elector concentrated the strength of their separate army protecting the villages of Lutzingen and Oberglau 22 battalions and 36 squadrons masking Lutzingen on the far left. Positioned forward of the line the hamlet of Oberglau was held by 14 battalions including the three Irish regiments in the French service. Between Oberglau and Blenheim, where the division fell between Tallard’s army and the army of Marsin and the Elector, lay 80 squadrons of horse and 7 battalions of foot.

If an attack had been expected it may be that more troops would have been moved out of the villages into the intervening ground. The lack of infantry and a unified command at this point was to prove fatal for the French and Bavarians.

Map of the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Blenheim:

On the evening of 1st August 1704 the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene studied the terrain between the armies from a church steeple. They saw that the ground was cut by a number of tributary streams flowing North West to South East into the Danube and that the village of Blenheim lay beyond the point where one of the streams, the Nebel joined the main river. The French and Bavarian troops were encamped on the ground behind the Nebel between Blenheim and Lutzingen, a distance of some 2½ miles. The road from Donauworth to Dillingen passed through Blenheim, crossing the Nebel by a stone bridge now partly destroyed.

At 2am on 2nd August 1704 the British and their allies broke camp, crossed the Kessel stream in eight columns and began their advance against the French and Bavarians. Once on the plain the army formed up with the cavalry in the centre and the infantry on the flanks, the ground by the river being unsuitable for mounted action. The artillery column wound its way along the highway.

With one third of the approach march completed a further column of infantry formed on the bank of the Danube comprising among other nationalities 14 British battalions. Command of this column fell to Lord Coutts.

16th Foot advances to attack Blenheim: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

As Marlborough’s army approached the French lines Prince Eugene marched his Imperial contingent away to the right to make his attack on the Elector’s Bavarians.

At around 6am the first skirmishes of the battle took place with the French pickets driven in. It was a foggy morning and in spite of the fights between the cavalry vedettes Marshall Tallard remained convinced that Marlborough was on the march north to restore his lines of communications, not seeking a general action. Many of the French and Bavarian cavalry regiments were dispersed across the countryside on the perennial chore of gathering forage for their horses.

Brigadier Rose’s brigade advances: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

At 7am the fog lifted revealing to the French commanders the attacking army deployed on the far side of the Nebel River, just half a mile distant. Drums beat, trumpets sounded and the cavalry foragers were hastily recalled as the regiments formed up and the artillery bombardment began.

“Salamander” Coutts’ column of British and German foot moved forward on the extreme left, preparing to attack Blenheim while in the centre Marlborough’s engineer officers repaired the stone bridge over the Nebel and threw five pontoon bridges across the stream for the passage of the attacking columns.

Duke of Marlborough and the Earl of Cadogan at the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Pieter van Bloemen

Coutts advanced with his contingent in six lines Row’s British Brigade followed by a brigade of Hessians, Ferguson’s British Brigade, a brigade of Hanoverians and two further lines of foot. Marlborough deployed the rest of his force away to the centre and right in four lines foot, cavalry, foot and then again cavalry.

On the extreme right Prince Eugene hurried to complete his extended deployment against the Bavarian flank, finding his movement impeded by the irregular nature of the ground.

At 8am the French artillery opened fire returning the bombardment from the British and German guns. Marlborough waited impatiently for news that Prince Eugene’s Imperial troops were in place so the attack could begin.

French supply column: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: picture by Jean Anthoine Watteau

At 12.30pm Prince Eugene reported that he was in place and ready and Marlborough ordered Coutts to assault Blenheim. By 1pm Row’s Brigade of 1st Guards, 10th Foot, 21st Foot, 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 24th Foot were advancing on the village under heavy fire. The British Foot was ordered not to return the fire, so as not to delay the advance, until the brigadier himself struck the first fortification. The Foot was then to storm the village at the point of the bayonet.

Memorably Brigadier Row stuck his sword into the wooden barricade and was promptly shot down together with his staff and around one third of his battalions. As the remnant of the brigade fell back they were charged in flank by the French Gens D’Armes, who were in turn repelled by the following Hessians.

At Coutt’s request five squadrons of British Horse and Dragoons came up on his left, struggling across the Nebel and repulsed the Gens D’Armes with a charge.

First Foot Guards advance to attack Blenheim: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

Ferguson’s British Brigade of Foot resumed the advance with the remnants of Row’s Brigade. Storming into the outskirts of Blenheim they engaged in hand to hand fighting with the French Foot but were unable to make further progress into the village.

On the right centre the Prince of Holstein-Beck launched his infantry assault in the direction of the fortified village of Oberglau. Holstein-Beck led forward the German Brigades of Wulwen and Heigdenbregh, but had considerable difficulty crossing the Nebel stream, here closely defended by French Foot positioned behind the stream, well forwarded of the main French position in Oberglau. Four battalions managed to cross the Nebel including Benheim’s and Goor’s Regiments, only to be attacked by several battalions of foot from the Oberglau garrison. The two German regiments were nearly annihilated.

Conducting the assault were Irish Regiments in the French service (the battalions of Lee, Dorrington and Lord Clare) with the French Regiments of Champagne and Bourbonnois. The Prince of Holstein-Beck was severely wounded and some 2,000 Allied soldiers captured during the attempted assault on Oberglau.

No real progress was made in taking Oberglau and the hamlet held out until the collapse of Tallard’s army brought about the precipitate retreat of the French and Bavarian left wing.

Further to the Allied right Prince Eugene struggled to maintain his position against the Elector of Bavaria, three vigorous attacks being beaten back by the Bavarian troops, also positioned well forward on the edge of the Nebel River.

In the centre of the battlefield Marlborough’s main force crossed the Nebel, the first line of foot followed by a second line of cavalry. Tallard launched his horse on the British cavalry, disordered after the troublesome river crossing. The British were relieved by the counter attack of the Prussian cavalry of General Bothmar, driving the French back from the stream.

26th Foot ‘the Cameronians’ advance to attack Blenheim: Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

In spite of the setbacks in the attacks on Blenheim, Oberglau and Lutzingen, the French and Bavarians in the three villages were contained sufficiently to enable Marlborough to bring the whole of his cavalry force across the Nebel and launch them at the French troops positioned in the open ground between Blenheim and Lutzingen, the site of the join between Tallard’s and Marsin’s commands. Marsin’s regiments fell back towards their infantry in Oberglau leaving Tallard’s force isolated and exposed. In the face of a further mass charge by Marlborough’s squadrons, Tallard’s cavalry fled behind Blenheim and on towards the River Danube. In the confusion Marshall Tallard was wounded and captured and many of his men drowned in their attempt to escape across the Danube. Marsin and the Elector, witnessing the collapse of Tallard’s army set fire to Oberglau and Lutzingen and retreated precipitously to the North West.

Surrender of Marshal Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession: Blenheim Palace Tapestry

Marlborough’s troops swept around the rear of Blenheim surrounding the large French garrison. Charles Churchill, Marlborough’s brother was preparing to assault the village when the French proposed a parley. The French sought terms that would enable their regiments to leave with honour but only complete submission was acceptable and 24 battalions of French Foot with 4 regiments of dragoons surrendered to Marlborough, the Regiment of Navarre burning its colours rather than deliver them to the British.

The overthrow of the French and Bavarian army was absolute.

Duke of Marlborough signing his dispatch to Queen Anne:Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

Casualties at the Battle of Blenheim: Total allied losses were 12,000 killed and wounded. Of these, British casualties were 200 officers and 2,000 soldiers. French and Bavarian casualties were 40,000 killed, wounded and captured. Marshall Tallard went into captivity in England. The French lost 11,000 prisoners, including 2 generals, most of their guns, 129 colours, 171 cavalry standards and the whole of their camp.

Follow-up to the Battle of Blenheim: The immediate result of Blenheim was the collapse of Louis XIV’s assault on Austria. The war continued for some years in Flanders, but Louis XIV’s grand strategy was thwarted.

Regimental anecdotes and traditions of the Battle of Blenheim:

  • At the order of Queen Anne a medal was struck to commemorate the battle.
  • An inn-keeper in England greeted the captive Marshall Tallard with the words “Welcome sir. We have another room prepared here for your master.”
  • The house built by the Duke of Marlborough at Woodstock in Oxfordshire is named Blenheim Palace after the battle.
  • One of the regiments in Brigadier Row’s brigade was his own regiment, the Royal North British Fusiliers (21st Foot-later the Royal Scots Fusiliers). When Row fell, shot down as he stuck his sword in the French ramparts, his two field officers, Lieutenant Colonel Dalzell and Major Campbell, rushed to his assistance only themselves to be killed. The regiment lost all three senior officers along with an unknown number of other officers and soldiers.
  • See the British Battles blog on the tapestries commemorating the Duke of Marlborough’s victories during the War of the Spanish Succession at Blenheim Palace.

Triptych of the Battle of Blenheim 2nd August 1704 in the War of the Spanish Succession

References for the Battle of Blenheim:

  • Marlborough as military commander by David Chandler
  • Fortescue’s History of the British Army Volume 1.
  • Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World.
  • Sullivan’s Irish Brigades in the Service of France.

The previous battle in the British Battles series is the Siege of Basing House

The next battle in the War of the Spanish Succession is the Battle of Ramillies

1704 – The Battle of Blenheim

By the turn of the Eighteenth Century, Louis XIV, Bourbon King of France, had every reason to be smug. At only four years of age, he had inherited a backwards, feudal state, dominated by powerful nobles and rent by civil war. Sixty years later, he was the most powerful, feared and respected monarch in Europe. He had appointed able ministers to govern his kingdom, reformed her system of banking and finance, broken the power of the unruly nobles and concentrated power in Paris. France’s colonies had multiplied, her border was ringed by fortresses, and her enemies felt the tramp of her large, well-led and professional army. Such was the might and splendour of Louis’ reign that he became known as Le Roi Soleil, the Sun King. He was a far-thinking and progressive ruler who bought prosperity and stability to France, but also a militarist and an autocrat who famously declared that “I am the state” (L’Etat, c’est moi) and who had ambitions to dominate Europe.

These ambitions soon saw Louis at odds with the Hapsburgs, who had been the most powerful family in Europe since the late middle ages. The Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), had been the most powerful European sovereign since Charlemagne. He inherited Spain and its empire in the Americas from his mother (which he ruled as Charles I), Burgundy and the Netherlands from his father, and Austria from his paternal grandfather. Upon his death, his empire had been split between his descendants, with one line of the family ruling Spain and her colonies and the Empire’s lands in Italy and the Netherlands, and the other ruling in Austria and effectively holding the Crown of the Holy Roman Empire.

In order to keep their vast lands within their family the Hapsburgs were notorious inbreeders, and uncle-niece and first cousin marriages were alarmingly common among them. This was the cause of the infamous ‘Hapsburg lip’, a deformity of the lower jaw which ran in the family. More importantly, it would eventually plunge Europe into war. In 1665, the crown of the Spanish Empire passed to Charles I’s great-great grandson, Charles II. He was descended through the last five generations from only seven individual people, and so suffered from such severe genetic illnesses that he could hardly eat or speak, was physically disabled and apparently mentally retarded. It was soon clear that he could not possibly father an heir, and as he was the last male Spanish Hapsburg (in effect, the entire family tree converged on him) Spain needed to look elsewhere for a potential king.

Charles’ aunt, Maria Theresa, was somewhat soft in the head but nowhere near as badly disabled as he was. And in 1660, the ambitious and far-sighted Louis XIV had married her, made her Queen of France and fathered a son and heir by her. She had since died, but Louis, Le Grand Dauphin of France (so-called for his large physical size rather than for any great achievement) was now the most direct descendant of the Spanish Hapsburgs and a likely heir to the Spanish throne.

This state of affairs was of little liking to the Austrian Hapsburgs, who would have preferred to inherit Spain themselves, or indeed to the rest of Europe, which had little desire to see a vast Franco-Spanish Empire with the Sun King as its effective ruler. The Protestant nations of Northern Europe – Britain, the Dutch Republic, Hanover, Denmark, Prussia and Sweden – were especially concerned that they would be the first to feel the clout of the Catholic superstate. Louis XIV had little love of Protestantism, having revoked the Edict of Nantes and expelled thousands of Huguenots.

Leopold I, the ruler of the Austrian Hapsburgs and Holy Roman Emperor, was eager to secure the Spanish crown for himself or one of his successors. This was less than ideal for the Protestant nations, as it would revive the Empire of Charles V. However, it was still preferable to a Bourbon on the Spanish throne, and the new Hapsburg Empire would balance the French behemoth. In addition, Louis XIV and Leopold were already rivals. The Holy Roman Emperor was notionally elected by the rulers of the German states (the Electors) from among Princes who ruled lands within the Empire’s traditional borders (Germany, Northern Italy, the Netherlands and parts of France and Eastern Europe). For the last couple of centuries, the Emperor had always been the Hapsburg ruler of Austria. However, as parts of France were within the Empire’s borders, Kings of France had not been above claiming the crown for themselves. Naturally, Leopold was suspicious that Louis might try his luck. He had already expanded France eastward into Imperial lands using guile, bribery and outright conquest, and had begun to seek allies among the Electors. Unlike France, the Empire was extremely decentralised, with many of its lands effectively autonomous kingdoms. The Hapsburgs had been unable to centralise their power as Louis had.

In 1688, Leopold I formed an alliance against the Sun King with the ambition of rolling France’s borders back to where they had been at the start of Louis XIV’s reign and putting a permanent dent in his power. It included the new Protestant king of England, William III, Sweden, Spain, the United Provinces (those part of the Netherlands that were independent) and several other states. Louis proved a match even for this formidable ‘Grand Alliance’ and the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) ended in stalemate. With Charles II’s health failing, the issue of the Spanish succession was becoming critical. In 1692, a new claimant was born, Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria. His father was the Elector of Bavaria, and his mother, Maria Antonia of Austria, was the daughter of Leopold and Charles II’s sister, Margaret Theresa of Spain. Yes, even at this stage, the Hapsburgs were still marrying each other. England and France agreed that Joseph Ferdinand could inherit the Spanish crown, and that the rest of Spain’s European territories would be divided between France and Austria. The Spanish, however, resisted the dismemberment of their Empire and the Austrians were angry that they hadn’t been consulted. The whole thing became academic when Ferdinand died of smallpox in 1699. Before any other arrangement could be reached, Charles himself died on November 1, 1700, leaving his entire Empire in a will to his great-nephew, Philip of Anjou, the son of the Grand Dauphin.

Some of Louis’ advisors suggested that he accept the partition treaty. But the Austrians would not accept French inheritance of any Spanish territory, and Charles’ will forbade any division of the Empire – one of Louis’ grandsons would need to accept the will in its entirety otherwise Leopold would inherit the empire. Louis decided to go all or nothing – he packed his grandson off to Madrid, where he was crowned King Philip V in early 1701, and prepared for war.

Cries of indignation and fear swept across Europe, followed by the steady beat of drums. Leopold and William of Orange began to form an alliance against France. The Dutch in the United Provinces had long been Louis’s bitterest foes, and they had shown themselves willing in their long wars against him to flood their own lands rather than yield them to his armies. The Kingdoms of Britain (England, Scotland and Ireland, while under the same sovereign, were still separate kingdoms at this time) were still weak from civil war and the repressive rule of James II, but under William they had begun to grow into a potential European power. He died in March 1702, but his successor, Queen Anne, proved just as willing to fight. The King of Prussia, the Elector of Hanover and the Duke of Savoy all proved loyal to the Emperor, and pledged their troops to the alliance. They were subsequently joined by Denmark and Portugal. On May 4, 1702, the allies formally declared war.


It was a brave move. The Grand Alliance of 1702 was somewhat less grand than the one which had tried and failed to stop the Sun King in the previous decade. For a start, Spain was now an ally rather than an enemy of France. And Sweden, one of the most powerful Protestant nations, was now occupied with its own war against Russia and unable to aid the allies. In addition, Louis was not content to merely attack the Empire from without, but also set himself to tearing it apart from within. He won the support the Elector of Cologne, and more seriously for the allies, the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel. The Elector had ambitions to displace the Hapsburgs as Holy Roman Emperors, and saw an alliance with his old enemy, Louis XIV, as a means of achieving it. His defection was a cruel blow, as he was an able general and had at his command one of the best armies in Germany. Furthermore, his lands lined up directly with Austria, allowing him to threaten the heart of the Empire. The Sun King also helped stir the people of Hungary to revolt against Austrian rule, besetting the House of Hapsburg from east as well as west.

But the allies had to do the best with what they had. England had not committed an army to the continent since its defeat in the Hundred Years’ War in 1453. It had fought in the Nine Years’ War, but had limited its involvement to raids, naval warfare and fighting in the colonies – Louis XIV no doubt viewed it as more of an irritant than a serious revival. Now, though, it could see that it could only make a meaningful contribution to the allied war effort by challenging France in continental Europe itself. It would land an army in the Low Countries – but who would command it?

For a future national hero, the Duke of Marlborough had a decidedly chequered past. Born in 1650 of a landed yet impoverished family, he became a page at the court of Charles II. His good looks attracted one of Charles’ mistresses, the Duchess of Cleveland, who gave him money and influence in exchange for…certain services (this method of career advancement is not recommended). He went on to build up a formidable military career in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, and eventually earned an Earldom. He served King James II in the Monmouth Rebellion, then abandoned him to support William of Orange (later King William III) in the Glorious Revolution. He proved no more loyal to his new master as his old, and actually slipped to the French the details of an English plan to assault Brest during the Nine Years’ War. He ended up disgraced, locked in the Tower of London, and then exiled. There was, however, reconciliation between Churchill and King William around the time of the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession – it was rumoured that the dying William called for him to be placed in command of Britain’s armies. Regardless, his wife had huge influence with the new Queen, and he was placed in charge of the army that Britain landed in the Low Countries in 1702. His famous charm won him complete command of all the allied armies in that theatre, with the United Provinces and the Empire agreeing to place their forces under him. And their trust was not misplaced – he won a string of victories against the French and even defeated the Elector of Cologne. However, the French forces in Flanders remained strong, and he was unable to win a decisive victory, nor capture the Spanish Netherlands, nor end the French threat to the United Provinces.

The second major theatre of operations was in the Spanish territories in Italy. There, Imperial forces were commanded by one of Leopold’s best generals, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Born and raised in Paris in Louis XIV’s own court, he had transferred his loyalty to the Emperor. He had won renown in both the Nine Years’ War and against the Ottoman Turks, whom he decisively defeated at Zenta in 1697. He proved himself a match for the French General Villeroi in Italy, but lacked the numbers or supplies to make serious progress.

So it was that the skill of Marlborough and Eugene denied Louis mastery of the Netherlands and Italy, but the war in those regions remained slow-moving and cautious. Between the Alps and Luxembourg however, the story was different. There the allies lacked another skilled commander, and the superiority of the French army and its generals was proven again and again throughout 1702 and 1703. Camille D’Houston, the Duc de Tallard, made the French masters of the Upper Rhine. At the same time, Elector Maximilian II of Bavaria and another French army under Marshal Villars were victorious along the Danube, and were able to threaten Austria itself. By 1704, the French and Bavarians had taken Augsburg and Landau, Imperial armies in southern Germany were on the verge of collapse, the Hungarian revolt was gaining momentum and the very survival of the Empire was in doubt. Eugene was recalled to Vienna.

Louis then saw an opportunity to deal the allies a single, fatal blow. His forces in the Netherlands under Marshal Villeroi would stand on the defensive, where the French fortresses were too numerous and strong to be overcome in a single year. As such, 46,000 French troops could tie down 70,000 allied. At the same time, Tallard would lead his victorious army, totalling 35,000 men, out of Strasbourg and march to the Danube. He would join up with the Elector and Marshal Ferdinand Marsin, who had replaced Villars, and their combined 40,000 men. Another French army under Marshal Vendôme would move up from Italy and further swell his forces, while other French troops would be dispatched to Hungary to stiffen the rebels. Tallard would then strike straight into the heart of the Empire, seize Vienna, and dictate Louis’ terms of peace to the Emperor. All that stood in his path were 36,000 shaky Imperial troops under the short-tempered Count Baden and another 10,000 men under Count Styrum on the Danube itself. Marlborough and Eugene could thwart his designs all they liked in the Low Countries and Italy – the war would be decided elsewhere.

Marlborough clearly saw the danger that the allies were in, and resolved to do something about it. But he knew that the northern allies, especially the Dutch, would never consent to him taking an army away from the Netherlands. As such, he simply lied and said he wanted to go on the offensive a little to the south, promising to return if there were any fresh French attacks, and asked them all to lend him troops. Such was his diplomatic skill and charm that he succeeded, was placed in command of an army totalling 21,000 men, and then promptly absconded with it.

Marlbourough’s march was an outstanding achievement of logistics, diplomacy, and deception. He managed to maintain excellent discipline in his growing multinational force, keep it supplied, and keep the enemy guessing as to where he was going. He was constantly pressured by the allies to turn aside and fulfil some or another military objective in their own region, but kept to his course and was also able to keep his force together. He had left 50,000 men under General Overkirk to defend the Netherlands but Villeroi chose instead to follow him with a force of some 30,000.

Marlborough set out from Bedburg on May 19 with 16,000 Englishmen and Scotsmen and 5,000 Dutchmen. At first Villeroi thought he was planning to invade France in the area of the Moselle River, but instead he crossed the Rhine at Coblentz into Germany on May 26 (picking up 5,000 Hanoverians and Prussians). He then began constructing bridges across the Rhine at Phillipsburg in order to trick the French into thinking he was going to attack Strasbourg. This paralysed Tallard, who was unable to leave with his own army until he was sure the danger had passed. Marlborough continued to march through Franconia, swelling his army with 14,000 Danes and Prussians at Ladenberg on June 3, before joining up with Prince Eugene and 28,000 Imperial troops at Mundelsheim. It was the first meeting between the two men, and was the start of a lifelong professional and personal relationship. They reached Launsheim on June 22, making the final addition of Baden’s 35,000 men. In five weeks, Marlborough had put over 100,000 allied soldiers between Tallard and Vienna.

Neither Tallard or the Elector knew where the allies were, and so they got a rude shock when he suddenly attacked and stormed the fortress of Schellberg on July 2, gaining control of the Danube crossing at Donauwörth. Outnumbered 2 to 1, the Elector and Marsin fortified themselves near Augusburg, which Marlborough could not attack for lack of siege artillery (Baden had promised to supply some but not come through), and waited for Tallard. Marlborough tried to draw them out to battle by systematically ravaging Bavaria, burning more than 400 towns and villages. This policy of spoliation was controversial even at that time, and not to the liking of many of his officers.

In the meantime, Tallard had set out from Strasbourg on July 1 with his 35,000 troops. He was able to outwit the Imperial commanders in his path and get through the Black Forest in fairly good order, but he suffered losses from enraged Germans peasants angry at his army’s plundering and from an ill-timed five-day siege of Villingen.

Tallard finally reached the Danube at Ulm and joined with the Elector and Marsin at Augsburg on August 5. The former had dispersed his army in response to Marlborough’s spoilage, and so he needed to wait for it to be re-assembled. The allies, for their part, pulled their force together on some heights north of the Danube, near where it joins the Nebel at Blenheim. Baden’s short temper proved too much even for Marlborough, and Eugene had suspicions about his close friendship with the Elector of Bavaria, so they decided to find another job for him. He was sent to take Ingolstadt, some 30km (20 mi) further down the Danube, and secure for them another crossing in case they lost Donauwörth. Now all that remained was for Tallard to join the party, and he moved swiftly. He bridged the Danube on August 9, and by August 13 his entire army had crossed and was camped on the fields around the Hochstadt road between Blenheim and Lutzingen. According to British historian Sir Edward Creasy, the army of the Grand Alliance had 52,000 men and 66 guns the Gallo-Bavarian army, 56,000 men and 90 guns.


Tallard was not particularly concerned about the allied army blocking his path – he expected it to withdraw towards Vienna. And his belief was hardly an unreasonable one – most prudent commanders would have done so. The difference in numbers between the armies was not huge, but it was not insignificant either. Tallard had a core of 45,000 French soldiers who had served under him before, and the Bavarian army was a formidable fighting force in its own right. In contrast, Marlborough’s multi-national, multi-cultural force could prove extremely unwieldy, as many of its officers owned no personal loyalty to the Empire that they were defending, nor to the English Duke commanding them. Most had never fought under Marlborough before, and some had never fought at all. Orders given in English would need to be relayed down lines of command in German, Danish or Dutch, creating the possibility of havoc. Being prudent, Tallard nevertheless fortified the three villages around which his army was camped.

That evening, the allied commanders held a council of war. Most were no doubt deeply concerned – they knew Tallard by reputation, and knew of the superiority of his army. They knew of their disadvantages, and knew also that the defeat of Marlborough’s army could see the collapse of the alliance against France. Some suggested that they should stand and fight where they were, as their defensive position was fairly good. Some suggested that they should fall back.

Marlborough, however, had other ideas – he would attack at daybreak. It was a very bold course of action, but not irrational. The allies’ supply and communication lines were in danger and the French and Bavarian armies would prove far more resilient to a long campaign than his. Now that now his location was known the French could concentrate more forces in the area, either building up Tallard’s army to undefeatable proportions, or else cutting off the allied supply lines through Franconia. He did not want to risk handing the initiative to Tallard, knew that the French commander could use his superior artillery to devastating effect in an attack, and had reason to doubt that many of his troops could stand their ground in the face of the rapid and deadly volleys of French regulars. Prince Eugene agreed with him completely, and he silenced his dissenters with the famous speech – “I know the danger, yet a battle is absolutely necessary, and I rely on the bravery and discipline of the troops, which will make amends for our disadvantages”. Orders were issued that night, and were, surprisingly perhaps, met by the soldiers with confidence and enthusiasm. The next day would see a decisive battle.


Early in the morning of August 13, 1704, the allied army left its camp and began marching downhill towards the Nebel and the enemy. Marlborough commanded the left wing, closest to the Danube, and Prince Eugene commanded the right. Lord Cutts would lead four infantry brigades against Blenheim itself, while the allied middle, commanded by Marlborough’s brother, John Churchill, would force a crossing of the Nebel. Two infantry divisions, commanded by Generals Horn and Ingoldsby, would lead, followed by three cavalry divisions. The Prince of Württemberg-Neuenstadt’s infantry division would bring up the rear. On Eugene’s side, Danish, Prussian and Imperial Infantry under General Scholten and the Prince of Anhalt-Dessau would attack Lutzingen, while the remaining three allied cavalry divisions would support them.

The morning was foggy, and the first Tallard knew of his foe’s approach was when the allied army began to emerge from the mist at around eight o’clock, only about a mile away. He had not positioned his men to fight a defensive battle, and had he more time he would have probably removed some troops from Blenheim and Lutzingen and placed them between the villages where his lines were weak. As it stood he needed to rely on the swampy ground around the Nebel to hinder the allies’ advance and allow him to bring his superior artillery to bear. He hurriedly recalled his foragers and pickets and arrayed his men as best as time allowed. The bulk of his forces were in the three villages, with most of the artillery covering them. On the left, the Marquis de Clérambault commanded a total of twenty-seven infantry battalions and twelve squadrons of dragoons in and around Blenheim itself. In the centre, the Marquis de Blainville had fourteen infantry battalions in Oberglau, including the renowned Irish Brigade, known as the ‘Wild Geese’. On the right, on the Bavarian side, the Marquis d’Maffei had five infantry battalions in front of Lutzingen, while the Marquis d’Rossel had a further seventeen in the woods to the side. There were also two Bavarian and one French cavalry divisions between Lutzingen and Oberglau, effectively commanded by Marshal Marsin, and three cavalry and one infantry division under the Marquis de Montpeyroux between Oberglau and Blenheim. The French and Bavarian guns started a spirited barrage as soon as the allies moved into range – the Battle of Blenheim had begun.

The allies found progress through the swampy valley difficult, especially for their artillery. Nevertheless, the allied guns responded to the French and Bavarian in kind, and soon the dissipating mist was mixed with smoke as the barrage intensified. Marlborough had his 36,000 men in position by mid-morning, facing the 33,000 under Tallard on the Gallo-Bavarian right. Prince Eugene, however, found progress much harder, and it was nearly midday before his 16,000 men were ready to attack the 23,000 under the Elector and Marsin. Finally, with the allied troops growing impatient, all was ready.

Marlborough gave the order to attack at about 1 O’Clock. On the left, Lord Cutts sent forward two brigades against Blenheim. They advanced in good order despite the pounding they had taken from the French artillery, but at fifty yards from the palisades they came under rapid, accurate volleys from the French regulars and dismounted dragoons defending the village. Brigadier Archibald Rowe fell before he could even order his own brigade to fire, and they were driven back. They reformed in good order and Cutts sent them forward for a second attack, but were again unable to win through the firestorm.

As the battle for Blenheim raged, Marlborough was pushing his main force across the Nebel. Most of the French and Bavarian troops, especially the infantry, were in the villages where they were staying when the allies attacked. This left Tallard’s centre fairly weak, and Marlborough intended to take advantage of it with his cavalry. But first, he needed to get his army across the stream. Charles Churchill’s two infantry divisions picked their way across, but were attacked by the French cavalry roaming the far bank before they could properly reform. Nevertheless, they managed to hold their ground and drive the horsemen back. Their success was short-lived, however. The Irish brigade, based in Oberlgau, threw themselves against the flank of General Horn’s division. At the same time, the three battalions of the Regiment de Roi opened fire on Churchill’s other flank from the field beside Blenheim, and the French cavalry launched another attack.

Meanwhile, Prince Eugene was having no more luck against the French and Bavarian defenders of Lutzingen. General Scholten and the Prince of Anhalt-Dessau ordered their divisions forward, but the four allied brigades came under devastating fire from the sixteen Bavarian guns defending the village, as well as from the muskets of the troops in both Lutzingen and the woods to the west. Eugene then sent Prince Maximilian’s cavalry division across the Nebel in support, but they were charged by Marsin’s cuirassiers.

The situation was now critical. Repulsed from both Blenheim and Lutzingen, the allied army was wavering. At the same time, the Irish threw the Prince of Holstien-Beck’s brigade into complete confusion, mortally wounding the prince has he tried to rally his fleeing troops. Marsin’s cavalry was also triumphant, and the entire right wing of the allied army was thrown back. The French and Bavarians advanced, capturing ten colours and hundreds of prisoners. From their vantage points above the valley, Marlborough and Eugene could see the allies retreating, could see that Marsin and the Irish Brigade were now on the verge of winning through all the allied troops in their path and splitting the entire army in two, and recognised that, if they did not act quickly, the doom of the Grand Alliance could be upon them.

Marlborough quickly rallied about him all the cavalry squadrons he could readily call to, and personally led a charge into the flank of the advancing Irish. On the right, the day was saved by Prince Eugene, who showed great leadership in personally rallying many fleeing battalions, and the Prussians, who resolutely stood their ground. But the battle still hung in the balance, as Marsin was threatening to charge the remaining allied battalions still on the south bank of the Nebel. Marlborough urgently requested that Eugene release his last reserve, Count Heinrich Fugger’s Brigade of Imperial Heavy Cavalry, to repel them. Despite his own desperate situation, Eugene complied instantly. Marsin saw them approach, and was forced to abandon his proposed attack to wheel and meet them. But Fugger’s cuirassiers were fresh, and still in good order, and they hit Marsin before he could properly reform and threw his squadrons back. Churchill’s infantry rallied, pushed back, and drove the French and Irish battalions back into Oberglau. The Marquis d’Blainville himself fell trying to organise the defence, and by 4 O’Clock the threat to the allied army had passed.

In the meantime, seeing that he was taking the worst of the allied attacks, Tallard left Clérambault in command of Blenheim and rode across the battlefield to ask the Elector to send him some troops. In a stark contrast to Eugene’s willingness to help Marlborough, and even though his soldiers had proved more than ample to repel allied attacks in his area, he refused. And worse, while Tallard was away, Clérambault saw that Cutts was preparing for a third attack and pulled every French unit he could lay hands upon into Blenheim to defend it. It was a foolish move – the troops he had defending the village already had no difficulty repelling the first two attacks. And now the sector between Oberglau and Blenheim, where Marlborough was concentrating his main attack, was left woefully undefended. Not only that, French troops were packed so tightly in the village that they were getting in each other’s way. The soldiers of such elite units as the Gens d’Armes and Regiment de Roi were hardly able to move, yet alone fire their weapons or make any contribution to the battle. Marlborough noticed this, and ordered Cutts to hold his attack back and simply contain the enemy. He had now more troops for his decisive breakthrough.

Over the next hour, the allied cavalry were steadily crossing the bloody Nebel. First by fords, then by makeshift bridges, squadron after squadron, brigade after brigade. Slowly but steadily, formed up on the fields beyond the marshes behind the covering infantry. Tallard could see the danger he was in but could do nothing – the infantry he needed to repel the assault were shut up in Oberglau or else in a confused mass in Blenheim. He had only nine infantry battalions to stop the allied breakthrough. His cavalry made a gallant effort to push the allies back (at this point Marlborough allegedly needed to turn back a cavalry officer furtively trying to make his way back across the stream with the words “Sir, you are under a mistake, the enemy lies that way…”) but Churchill’s infantry stood firm and covered them.

Finally, Marlborough had managed to get his four cavalry divisions ready to attack. The rest of the article can be summarised like this – at half past five on the afternoon of August 13, 1704, the Duke of Marlborough launched a massive cavalry charge at the French army, broke it, won the Battle of Blenheim and put an end to Louis XIV’s plan to dominate Europe. Marlborough loved cavalry, and used it to achieve many of his decisive victories. As the French attacks began to peter out, he moved his own cavalry through the gaps between his infantry and ordered a general charge. Almost eight thousand allied cavalry surged forward in a single, great mass. The French cavalry fired their pistols wildly and fled. Tallard stood his ground with his nine remaining infantry battalions, but they were overrun. Tallard himself was caught up in the rout, but made a final effort to rally his fleeing troops near Hochstadt. There, while standing among the tents yelling entreaties at the wildly running men to stand their ground, he was surrounded by Hessian dragoons and taken prisoner. Clérambault, recognising what he had done, entrusted the defence of Blenheim to his deputy, the Marquis de Blanzac, and fled the field as quickly as his horse could carry him. He, and some two or three thousand other French soldiers, drowned trying to escape across the Danube. The Elector also decided then that discretion was the better part of valour, and the Bavarian army retreated in as good order as it could manage.

Cutts and Churchill now completely surrounded Blenheim with their infantry. They turned artillery on the village, setting many of the houses on fire. Smoke obscured the battlefield in the gathering dusk, as the French infantry desperately stood their ground among the burning houses. Recognising that the result of the fight for Blenheim could only be mass slaughter, one of the British Generals, the Earl of Orkney, offered Blaznac a chance to surrender. At 9 O’Clock, he reluctantly accepted, and ten thousand of France’s finest troops laid down their arms. After seven hours of fighting, the Battle of Blenheim was over.

Marlborough, who had been leading the cavalry in pursuit, met up with Eugene, who had been securing Lutzingen and Oberglau. The former had sent a brief dispatch to his wife on the back of a tavern bill – “I have no time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her army has had a glorious victory.” And a glorious victory it had been, if war can ever be glorious. Barely 20,000 French and Bavarian soldiers made it back to Strasbourg. Tallard had lost 30,000 men killed, captured, wounded or missing, and the allies had captured 110 cavalry and 128 infantry standards. It had nevertheless been a costly battle – some 12,000 allied soldiers were also killed and wounded.

Within three months, the allies had overrun Bavaria, placing it under Austrian military rule and forcing the Elector in exile. Louis XIV was never again in a position to threaten Vienna or gain a quick victory, and the war settled into one of attrition.


Victorian English historian Edward Creasy included Blenheim in his famous book, Fifteen Decisive Battles. He claimed that Marlborough had denied Louis XIV from conquests matching those of “Alexander in scope and the Romans in duration”. He probably overstates the case, but it is very likely that, had Tallard won through at Blenheim, he would have taken Vienna, and France would have won the War of the Spanish Succession and become the most powerful state in Western Europe since the Empire of Charlemagne. That superstate may have persisted to the present day, radically altering the entire course of European (and world) history. This is the view of Earl Charles Spencer in his modern critically-acclaimed work, Blenheim: The Battle for Europe, where he credits the co-victors with stopping “the French conquest of Europe”. Certainly the Queen and Parliament of England thought so, and Marlborough was rewarded with a massive new house – Blenheim Palace. It remains the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough to this day.

Blenheim is more notable for what it prevented than what it caused. Even with their decisive victory in southern Germany, the allies were not able to break the stalemate in the Low Countries and Italy. And when Marlborough did try to invade France, he only won the field at Malplaquet at a cost of 21,000 men. Louis had been denied his decisive victory, but he remained too powerful to be clearly defeated. The conflict continued for another decade, outliving even Le Grande Dauphin of France. In the end, the exhausted combatants came to the table in 1714 and agreed that Philip could retain the Spanish crown provided he renounced his claim to the French one (and his descendant sits on the Spanish throne today), and that Austria could have the bulk of Spain’s territories in Italy and the Low Countries. France had lost no territory, and had a friendly monarch in Spain, but she was bankrupt. The Sun King died the next year with his dreams of European dominance unfulfilled – dashed on the fields around Blenheim.

Bibliography and further reading

Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

James Falker, Blenheim 1704: Marlborough’s Greatest Victory

Charles Spencer, Blenheim: The Battle for Europe

Portraits of Louis XIV, Charles II, Leopold I, the Elector, Marlborough, Eugene and Tallard are from Wikimedia commons, along with the map of Marlborough’s march and the Hillingford painting. All other images are the author’s own work. All dates in the article use the Gregorian ‘New Style’ Calendar, which had not yet been adopted in Britain.

A Challenging Army

The material of which Marlborough’s army was made was challenging in itself. Neither England nor Scotland – the two countries were constitutionally separate until 1707 – had a standing professional army on anything like the scale required for this war.

As a result, the ranks were often filled with prisoners, from the most hardened felons to malnourished debtors, none of them particularly inclined to good military discipline.

An English grenadier with a captured French colour at the Battle of Blenheim.

The officer corps was little better. Commissions in the British armies were bought and sold rather than being awarded on the basis of merit. Though many officers were consummate professionals, just as many spent their time drinking, gambling, duelling and generally neglecting their duties.

This was the force that Marlborough whipped into shape and then marched across Europe.

Marching to Victory

At the end of the march, Bavaria lay exposed before the British and Austrians. When the Bavarian leaders could not be convinced to abandon their French alliance, Marlborough and his allies forced them to battle. On the 13th of August, at the Battle of Blenheim, Marlborough achieved one of his most famous victories.

The Bavarian threat was neutralized, Vienna was saved, and the precarious Grand Alliance was preserved. He would go on to name his vast country house – the most spectacular non-royal residence in Britain – after the battle. It was all possible thanks to the march on the Danube.

Watch the video: War of the Spanish Succession. Animated History