Battle of Blenheim Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Battle of Blenheim marked the greatest military triumph in the War of the Spanish Succession and the first English victory on the Continent since the Battle of Agincourt in 1315.

Summary of Event

When Charles II of Spain died in 1700, the struggle for his throne precipitated the War of the Spanish Succession. Louis XIV Louis XIV of France wanted to place his grandson Philip of Anjou on the throne as part of a larger plan to place members of his family on every throne in Europe. [kw]Battle of Blenheim (Aug. 13, 1704) [kw]Blenheim, Battle of (Aug. 13, 1704) Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) Blenheim, Battle of (1704) [g]Germany;Aug. 13, 1704: Battle of Blenheim[0200] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 13, 1704: Battle of Blenheim[0200] Marlborough, first duke of Churchill, Sarah Eugene of Savoy Maximilian II Emanuel Villars, duc de Tallard, comte de Marsin, Ferdinand de

The obstacle thwarting Louis was the Grand Alliance Grand Alliance of Austria, England, and the Netherlands. It had to be destroyed if he were to realize his ambition. The overwhelming strength of the combined Dutch and English fleets blocked France’s power at sea. On land, however, Louis held the potential key to power—the French army. The best in Europe, it had never suffered defeat since Louis became king. Louis’s goal of French hegemony depended upon the defeat of the Grand Alliance, and, he reasoned, a decisive blow against Vienna would destroy the Grand Alliance and leave Louis free to work his will in Europe.

Louis settled one army on the border of the Netherlands under the duc de Villars. The task of Villars’s army was to hold at bay the Grand Alliance army, under the command of the first duke of Marlborough, while the main French force under the comte de Tallard and Ferdinand de Marsin attacked Vienna. When his capital of Vienna was attacked, the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, Leopold I fled to avoid capture. Prince Eugene of Savoy was hastily recalled from Italy to intercept the French armies, now strengthened by the Bavarian forces commanded by Maximilian II Emanuel, elector of Bavaria. Eugene’s battle-hardened soldiers under his disciplined leadership rushed north to block the route to Vienna.

Among all the Dutch and English commanders, only Marlborough, captain-general of the armies, correctly assessed the true danger. Diplomats of both nations were shocked when Marlborough, who had been in secret contact with Eugene, left the Low Countries and marched his entire army south to join Eugene in defense of Vienna. It was a bold maneuver and daring strategy in an age in which warfare had settled into a pattern of sieges and indecisive field encounters. Marlborough’s genius for war, however, matched his skill at diplomatic intrigue, a skill for which he was already famous and would be again. As Will and Ariel Durant wrote in The Age of Louis XIV (1992), “He was sometimes merciless and often unscrupulous,” but he was “the organizer of victory.”

Marlborough’s march south to join Eugene was a masterful display of organized mobility. Nothing was left to chance. For six weeks, the army moved ten miles per day. Once in Bavaria, Marlborough destroyed everything of military value, and after a series of indecisive engagements, he joined forces with Eugene. The two captains, “one soul in two bodies,” prepared to fight a decisive battle with the French.

Meanwhile, Tallard, Marsin, and Maximilian of Bavaria were encamped at the convergence of the Nebel and Danube Rivers. They were surprised on August 13, 1704, when they discovered the Grand Alliance army deployed before them, ready to attack. Eugene of Savoy swung into the line before the French left flank, confronting Marsin and Maximilian. Marlborough faced Tallard where the rivers joined at Blenheim.

The allies attacked vigorously and were repelled fiercely. Two more attacks were equally unsuccessful, and the battle remained undecided until late afternoon, when both armies were close to moral and physical exhaustion. All day, Marlborough had watched a flaw develop in the French center, as the line was continually depleted to send troops to defend both hard-pressed flanks. At precisely the right moment, he slashed into the weak French center with a combined infantry and cavalry assault. Tallard’s cavalry broke before the charge.

The duke of Marlborough leads his troops during the Battle of Blenheim.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

Nine battalions of French recruits died where they stood, as Marlborough’s cavalry rode over them and his infantry killed the survivors. His troops hardly slowed down as they began a wheeling movement to the right. Thirty French squadrons were forced into the Danube River by this maneuver. Many drowned. Tallard was captured, and the remainder of his infantry was forced to crowd into Blenheim, where it suffered heavy losses before surrendering.

Meanwhile, Eugene held Marsin and Maximilian of Bavaria in evenly matched combat all day until Tallard’s army was destroyed. When Tallard’s defeat exposed Marsin’s flank, Marsin withdrew along with Maximilian. The battle ended shortly after 8:00 p.m.

Losses were heavy. The allies lost seven thousand men, and another seven thousand were wounded, out of approximately fifty-two thousand troops committed to the action. King Louis XIV’s army of some fifty-six thousand troops lost twenty-one thousand and also had seven thousand wounded. Fourteen thousand French troops were taken prisoner.

The battle was decisive. For the English, Blenheim was their greatest victory since Agincourt, and Marlborough was its genius. The battle demonstrated the superiority of concentrating power in active combat rather than engaging in extensive sieges, as offensive action won the day over defensive tactics. For the French, the defeat spelled the end of their prestige in arms, but it did not end the war. Neither side immediately realized the decisiveness of this event, and the war continued for another two years as a result.

Significance

In the Battle of Blenheim, the threat to Vienna was blunted. French hegemony in the south ended, the Holy Roman Empire remained in the war, and the Grand Alliance endured. The whole course of the war was altered: Louis XIV was forced to abandon his grand plan to control Europe. From that time until the end of the war, France was on the defensive. Bavaria ceased to be of any assistance to France and came under the administrative control of Austria. Marlborough was richly rewarded. Queen Anne, who had already raised him to a duke in 1702, gave him the manor of Woodstock in Oxfordshire and had the lavish and extremely expensive Blenheim Palace built for him on the land there. Also in commemoration of the Battle of Blenheim, Addison, Joseph Joseph Addison, a foremost British poet, wrote a poem in 1704 entitled “The Campaign.”

Blenheim has endured as one of the most decisive battles of all time. Marlborough had turned the tide of the war. All England supported the war and took Marlborough to its heart. He was at the height of his power and in complete control of military policy, but intrigue at home—he was forced to align himself with the Whig Party—and subsequent military reverses in France depleted his political strength. Nevertheless, Marlborough and Eugene were again able to recover the initiative for the allies with a victory at Oudenarde on July 12, 1708. They crowned this success with the most complicated military action of the century by going on to relieve Bruges and Ghent the following January.

The allied victory was then complete. French power was broken on land and sea, but in England the Whig Party was victorious over the Tories and Queen Anne. Treaty still eluded Europe, and Eugene and Marlborough attacked France at Malplaquet on September 11, 1709. This final carnage was the bloodiest the antagonists had fought and was a costly monument to the failure of either side to negotiate for peace.

Marlborough led the armies of the Grand Alliance for ten years and never suffered defeat. In 1711, Parliament did what no enemy could: It dismissed and censured him. When Sarah Churchill, Marlborough’s influential wife and favorite of Queen Anne, fell from royal favor, the Tories pressed for his downfall. He no longer controlled military policy and left England for the Continent in 1712. Parliament then withdrew the English army from combat. The French undid all Marlborough had accomplished by defeating Eugene’s weakened army and in the end emerged victorious. The Grand Alliance was shattered, and each state made peace as best it could in the Treaty of Utrecht Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) (1713). Marlborough returned to his former office in 1714 upon the death of Queen Anne.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chandler, David G, with Christopher L. Scott. Blenheim Preparation: The English Army on the March to the Danube—Collected Essays. Edited by James Falkner, foreword by the duke of Marlborough. Staplehurst, England: Spellmount, 2004. Chandler’s essays provide an overview of Marlborough’s military and diplomatic career, describing his role in numerous battles before, and including, the Battle of Blenheim.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. Marlborough: His Life and Times. 6 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933-1938. Marlborough’s famous descendant provides detailed coverage of the Battle of Blenheim.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Deane, John Marshall. A Journal of Marlborough’s Campaigns During the War of the Spanish Succession, 1704-1711. London: Society for Army Historical Research, 1984. Contains maps, including a large folded map, and illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dickinson, W. Calvin. The War of the Spanish Succession, 1702-1713: A Selected Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Contains listing of bibliographic sources on the Battle of Blenheim.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Durant, Will, and Ariel Durant. The Age of Louis XIV. Vol. 8 in The Story of Civilization. Reprint. New York: MJF Books, 1992. One of the true classic histories. Examines the art, politics, literature, military campaigns, and culture of the period from 1648 to 1715.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Falkner, James. Blenheim, 1704: Marlborough’s Greatest Victory. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword Military, 2004. A miliary guidebook, providing a detailed description of the course of the battle and the battlefield. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession: An Historical and Critical Dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Comprehensive dictionary of critical documents regarding the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714, including the Battle of Blenheim. Contains a comprehensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marlborough, John Churchill, duke of. The Letters and Dispatches of John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, from 1702-1712. Edited by Sir George Murray. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968. Part of the series of West Point Military Library. Covers the War of the Spanish Succession, including the Battle of Blenheim.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomson, George Malcolm. The First Churchill: The Life of John, First Duke of Marlborough. New York: William Morrow, 1980. A richly illustrated account of the Battle of Blenheim.

War of the Spanish Succession

Queen Anne’s War

Defeat of the “Old Pretender”

Battle of Malplaquet

Treaty of Utrecht

Treaties of Rastatt and Baden

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Joseph Addison; Queen Anne; Charles VI; Sarah Churchill; Eugene of Savoy; First Duke of Marlborough. Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) Blenheim, Battle of (1704)

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