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The Blenheim campagn and the Duke of Marlborough

The Blenheim campaign was one of greatest feats of arms in British military history. Acting entirely on his own initiative, Marlborough marched his entire army 250 miles, down from Flanders and into Bavaria. It was an astonishing tour de force and a masterpiece of logistical planning, particularly given the international nature of his force. Of sixty-five battalions of infantry and one hundred and sixty squadrons of cavalry, only fourteen and nineteen, respectively were British.

Marlborough today tends to be overshadowed by Wellington, but properly considered his true importance becomes clear.  Marlborough's victory at Blenheim delivered a body blow to Louis XIV whose army had reigned effectively unbeaten in any major battle for fifty years. At a single stoke Marlborough save the Austrian Empire and drove the French onto the defensive. In real terms the allies killed or captured 40,000 French and Bavarian troops along with 1,150 officers, 50 cannon and 128 infantry colours. The allied losses ran to 6,000 killed and 8,000 wounded. The news reached London on 21 August and the city bells rang out to salute the victory.

Blenheim was the end of an era. In a single day of battle, Marlborough had elevated his queen to the unquestioned status of European monarch, demonstrated that a British-led army was fully capable of defeating the French and given Britain the confidence which would result in the forging of her Empire. In personal terms, despite the inevitable attempts to use Blenheim as a vehicle for party politics, Marlborough's political enemies were confounded and the balance of power in Parliament moved dramatically away from the Hight Tories in favour of the Whigs. The Duke's future prosperity was also assured with queen Anne's  reward of the manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire where he and his wife, Sarah,  set about the construction of a magnificent palace which would bear the name of his victory.

-- Man of Honor: Jack Steel: For Queen and Country, by Iain Gale, published by Harper


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