by  Winston  Churchill


Marlborough: Blenheim and Ramillies

THE Age of Anne is righty regarded as the greatest manifestation of the power of England which had till then been known. The genius of Marlborough in the field and his sagacity in counsel enabled the growing strength of the nation to make its full effect on Europe. The intimate, long-developed friendships of the Cockpit circle now found their expression —in the smallest and most efficient executive which has ever ruled England. Sarah managed the Queen, Marlborough managed the war, and Godolphin managed the Parliament. The Queen, for five glorious years, threw herself with happiness and confidence into these capable hands, and as in the time of Cromwell, but on a far broader, stronger foundation, the whole force of England was applied to the leadership of the then known world.

There was at that time an extraordinary wealth of capacity in the English governing class. Not only the nobility but the country gentry produced a superabundance of men of the highest qualities in mind and body. All the offices of the State, military or political, could have been filled two or three times over by able, vigorous, daring, ambitious personalities. It was also the Augustan Age of English letters. Addison, Defoe, Pope, Steele, Swift, are names which shine to-day. There was a vehement outpouring of books, poems, and pamphlets. Art and science flourished. The work of the Royal Society, founded in Charles II's reign, now bore a largesse of fruit Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, physics, and astronomy completed the revolution of ideas which had begun with the Renaissance. Architecture was led to noble achievements by Wren, and to massive monuments by Vanbrugh.

All the time controversy ran to extremes. The religious passions of former years now flowed into the channels of political faction. Never was the strife of party groups so hot, so fiercely maintained, or more unscrupulous. Men and parties, conscious of their message and of the magnitude of the opportunity, strove furiously against one another for the control of the State or for a share in its governance. They carried then-rivalry to all lengths; but in the earlier years of the reign there was a common purpose of beating France. This was no small undertaking, for at that time England had but five million inhabitants, while the towering French monarchy was master of near twenty millions, united under the Great King. Moreover, during the wars, of King William there had been heavy cost and meagre results. Louis XIV stood triumphant, and, as it seemed, upon the threshold of unmeasured domination. He was now to be broken and humbled, and the later years of the reign of Anne were to be consumed mainly in disputes about the terms to be imposed upon him.

But all this wore a very different aspect when in March 1702 Anne ascended the throne. She presented herself to the Houses of Parliament in robes and insignia which revived memories of Queen Elizabeth. "I know my own heart," she said, "to be entirely English." She accepted Marlborough's impulse upon the whole policy of the State. In the first momentous days of her reign he was not only her chief but her sole guide. Both main parties admired him for his gifts, and for a time he stood above their warfare. It was understood in the Army that if he had the power he would pursue unswervingly the Protestant and warlike policy of King William III. The strong strain of Cromwellian and Puritan conviction which ran in the nation reinforced patriotic and national sentiments. The new reign opened in a blaze of loyalty. It was the "sunshine day" for which the Princess Anne had long waited with placid attention......

Queen Anne cherished the idea that her husband, Prince George, would become Generalissimo of the armies of the sea-Powers. There were forces in Holland which thought of a native commander for its troops. But all fell into Marlborough's hands. The office of Stadtholder and Commander-in-Chief was allowed to pass into abeyance and Marlborough was appointed Deputy Captain-General of Holland. He was thus in supreme command of the armies of the two Western Powers. Prussia, which had lately become a kingdom, and the Germanic States of the Rhine soon naturally »associated themselves with this system. But although the highest title and general deference were accorded to the English General his authority could only assert itself at every stage by infinite patience and persuasiveness. He was never in a position to give indisputable orders as Napoleon was to do. He had to procure assent for almost every act from diverse and often divergent interests, and to establish his ascendancy by subtle and ever varied methods. Moreover, he was never head of the Government in London. Marlborough and the able Lord Treasurer, Godolphin, who fulfilled many of the duties of a Prime Minister, worked closely and harmoniously together.

But in drawing up their plans both men had to consider the party stresses at Westminster and the powerful influence in the country of political grandees. Unquestioned authority was never granted to them; they always had to walk- warily. Marl borough's reputation as a soldier was good upon the ContInent, but he had never hitherto commanded a large army, and a dozen Dutch and German generals who must now work under him had seen far more service in the recent wars. The General of the Empire, Prince Eugene, at this time carrying on his successful campaign in Italy, stood forth as the fore most soldier of the Allies......

The beginning of Queen Anne's reign seemed to open a period of Tory prosperity. All King William's Whig Ministers were banished from power. In Godolphin's administration Rochester, the Queen's uncle, and Nottingham, King William's High Tory Minister played substantial and grandiose parts. But from the very outset a deep division opened between Marlborough, to whom Godolphin was inseparably bound, and their Tory colleagues. The traditional Tory view was that England should not aspire to play a leading part in the Continental struggle. Her true policy was to intervene only by sea-power, and amid the conflicts of Europe to gain many territories overseas in the outer world. The Tories regarded with aversion the sending of large armies to the Continent They looked with disparaging eyes upon victories in Europe. They groaned or affected to groan under the burden of Army expenses. They alleged that the interests which urged active intervention made great profits out of the war by subscribing to Government loans. They declared that the country gentlemen were being mulcted while the City of London, its bankers and its merchants, established an ever-growing mortgage upon the landed estates.

The Whigs, on the other hand, though banished from office, were ardent advocates of the greatest military efforts. They supported Marlborough in all his courses. They derided the false strategy of colonial expeditions, and declared that no British interest was safe without victory in the main and decisive theatre. This clash of opinion, in which on both sides there was massive argument, governed the politics of the reign. Marlborough and Godolphin found themselves continually at variance with their other Tory colleagues upon the crucial question of how the war should be fought. If England did not join whole-heartedly in the Continental war Louis XIV would win it. The issue was radical, and much to his regret Marlborough found it necessary to use his paramount influence with the Queen against the leaders of the Tory Party.

Moreover, there was a religious complication. Queen Anne, Marlborough, and Godolphin were all Tories born and bred, and all were Anglicans. Anne had long ago abandoned the conviction that her father's son, the exiled Prince of Wales, was not her brother. The Prince lived under French protection. He is known to British history as the "Old Pretender," but more gallantly in French annals as the Chevalier of St George. Queen Anne felt herself in her inmost conscience a usurper, and she was also gnawed by the feeling that she had treated her dead father ill. Her one justification against these self-questionings was her absolute faith in the Church of England. It was her duty to guard and cherish at all costs this sacred institution, the maintenance of which was bound up with her own title and the peace of her realm. To abdicate in favour of her Papist brother would be not only to betray her religion, but to let loose the horrors of civil war upon the land, she ruled, loved, and in many ways truly represented...... 

The the victory of Blenheim almost destroyed the French and Bavarian armies on the Danube. Over forty thousand men were killed, wounded, captured, or dispersed. The remnant retreated through the Black Forest towards the Upper Rhine. One-third of both armies lay stricken on the field. Thirteen thousand unwounded prisoners, including the most famous regiments of France, passed the night of the 13th in the hands of the British infantry. Ulm surrendered after a brief siege, and Marlborough marched rapidly westward to the angle of the Rhine, where he was soon able to concentrate nearly a hundred thousand men. With Eugene and the Margrave he drove the French along the bank towards Strasbourg and set siege to Landau, which surrendered in November. Finally, unwearied by these superb exertions, the Duke marched during October from the Rhine to the Moselle, where he closed a campaign ever a classic model of war by the capture of Trarbach and Treves.

All Europe was hushed before these prodigious events. Louis XIV could not understand how his finest army was not merely defeated, but destroyed. From this moment he thought no more of domination, but only of an honourable exit from the war he had provoked. The whole force of the Grand Alliance was revived and consolidated. The terror of the French arms, which had weighed on Europe for a generation, was broken. Marlborough stood forth, even above his comrade, the great Eugene, as the foremost soldier of the age; and as at the same time he conducted the whole diplomacy and life of the Alliance this English General became for a while the effective head of the great league of nations united against Louis XIV. England rose with Marlborough to the summit, and the Islanders, who had never known such a triumph since Crecy and Agincourt, four centuries earlier, yielded themselves to transports of joy. The Tory Opposition, who had been scandalized at the Duke's unpardonable incursion into the midst of Europe, and who had declared their intention, should he fail, of "breaking him up like hounds upon a hare," could not entirely restrain their patriotic admiration. Queen Anne, delivered from her perils, enchanted by her glory, loaded him with wealth and honours. On New Year's Day the scores of standards and trophies of victory were borne in stately cavalcade through the streets of London, to Westminster Hall. Marshal Tallard and other eminent French prisoners were distributed in honourable confinement in country houses, and for a space party spirit and even personal jealousies seemed stilled.

The same year had seen remarkable successes at sea. A recent treaty of alliance with Portugal made possible effective English intervention in the Mediterranean, since the harbour of Lisbon was now at the disposal of the English Navy. In May 1704 a powerful Anglo-Dutch fleet under Admiral Rooke entered the inland sea. This was the prelude to a lasting naval triumph, reinforced by a squadron under Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Rooke turned his attention in July to the Rock of Gibraltar. This fortress was then little more than a roadstead, but the possibilities of its commanding position at the gateway of the Mediterranean were already recognized. After bombardment the Rock was taken on August 4, in the same month as Blenheim, by a combined assault, led on land by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. The French and Spanish Governments were both perturbed by this eruption of a new Power into the Mediterranean. The naval balance of the war was threatened, and the whole French Fleet came out to offer battle. A long and bloody engagement, fought off Malaga, failed to give them the advantage. The French therefore decided that Gibraltar must be recovered by siege. Throughout the winter of 1704-5 the Anglo-Dutch garrison, under Darmstadt, withstood an arduous attack by heavy forces. Failure to take the Rock brought sour quarrels over strategy between France and Spain. But Gibraltar remained in English hands, and proved a sure key to maritime power.


.......The political passions of the seventeenth century had spent themselves in the closing years of Queen Anne. The struggle of Whig against Tory had brought the country to the verge of civil war. The issue was who should succeed to the crown, the Catholic son of James II or the Protestant Elector? Now all was settled. There were no more great constitutional issues. George I had come peacefully to the throne. The Tory Party was shattered, and England settled down, grumbling but safe, under the long rule of Whiggism. A rapid change in the atmosphere marked the decades following 1714. The wrath and venom of controversy were replaced by an apathetic tolerance. Great principles were no longer dominant. Political sentiment was replaced by political interest. Public life was degraded by materialism and politics became a mere striving for office and Crown patronage by rival groups of Whigs.

The monarchy too had lost its lustre. There was no pretense that the Hanoverian kings ruled by Divine Right They held their position by the express sanction of Parliament. Even the symbolism of royalty was curtailed. The Court was no longer the centre of beauty, rank, and fashion. A certain dowdiness creeps into the ceremonial and the persons of the courtiers. Life in the royal palaces is dominated by the panoply and surroundings of a minor German princeling. The dreary names of the German women are ever present in the memoirs of the time—the Kielmansegges and the Wallmodens, the Platens and the Schulenbergs—all soon to deck themselves out with English titles and wealth. Much is heard in political circles of the influences of the German "gang"—Bernstorff and Bothmer, advisers whom the first George brought with him, and Roberthon, his Huguenot private secretary.

The men who led the Whig Party in the days of Queen Anne were fast retiring from the scene. Wharton, long the party's great organizer, died in 1715. Charles Montagu, now Lord Halifax, who had done so much to reconstruct English finances during King William's wars, followed his colleague in the same year, and Burnet, the diligent historian and the staunchest of Whig Churchmen, was also gone. Lord Somers, the former Lord Chancellor, dragged his life out paralyzed and helpless for twelve months longer. And the greatest figure of them all, John Duke of Marlborough, lived on in splendid isolation in his houses at Blenheim and St Albans, stricken with a lingering paralysis, until he was released by death in 1722. His wife Sarah was doomed to live out her life for twenty years more, a croaking reminder of the high days of the Augustan Age. But she was alone.

A new generation of statesmen—Walpole, Stanhope, Carteret, and Townshend—were to ensure the peaceful transition from the age of Anne to the age of the Georges. Among this group Stanhope gradually became the leading Minister. He had commanded in Spain during the wars and had captured Minorca. Now his main interest lay in foreign affairs. In domestic matters he was less happy, and here the Government faced no tranquil task. The country had acquiesced in the imposition by Parliament of a German royal family. But there was strong feeling in many parts of England for the house of Stuart. In London, in Oxford, and in the West Country there were riots and shouting. The houses and meeting-places of the Dissenters were once more looted and wrecked as symbols of the new Whig regime. Portraits of King William were burnt in ceremony at Smithfield. The ablest supporter of the Jacobite Pretender, Marshal Berwick, the illegitimate son of James II and Marlborough's sister, estimated that in 1715 five out of six persons in England were Jacobite. This was certainly an exaggeration; yet, although the Government had very successfully managed the elections of the previous year, they had every reason to fear the feelings of the people. They had achieved their greatest victory by cooler leadership and better organization, but they had no illusion about commanding the general sentiment of the country. In the dual task of humouring a German king and a peevish nation their patience was  sorely tried.  Their first  actions  involved  England  in Northern Europe on behalf of the house of Hanover. The English Fleet was sent to acquire Swedish ports on the North German coast which had long been coveted by Hanoverian Electors. There were  angry mutterings  that England's resources were being used for German interests. But the Whig Ministers, though nervous, took good precautions. The British Ambassador in Paris kept them closely informed of the Jacobite movements in France. Plans were being hatched for a general rising not only in England but also in Scotland, restless and as yet disappointed at the results of the Act of Union. When the blow came the Government was ready. Moreover the Jacobites suffered a severe stroke by the death of Louis XIV on September 1. The Great King had been their protector and encourager. The Regent Orleans, now at the head of French affairs, was cool to their projects.

On September 6 the Earl of Mar raised the Jacobite standard at Perth. Within a few weeks ten thousand men were in arms against Hanoverian rule in Scotland. But they had no proper plans and no solid link with the exiles in France. The Government in London acted at once. Parliament passed the Riot Act to curb disturbances in the English towns. Oxford was occupied by a body of cavalry. Sellers of seditious pamphlets, talkers of seditious opinions, were swiftly arrested. Habeas corpus was suspended. A reward of £100,000 was posted for the apprehension of the Pretender, dead or alive. Dutch troops were demanded from Holland under the terms of the Barrier Treaty guaranteeing the Protestant succession in England, and the regular forces moved quietly northwards against the rebels.

In the North of England a small band of gentry, led by Lord Derwentwater, rose in support of the Stuarts. They were unable to form effective contact with Mar; but, reinforced with four thousand Scots, they made a rash and forlorn attempt to raise help from the towns and countryside to the south of them. The Duke of Marlborough was consulted by the military authorities. "You; will beat them," he said, marking Preston with his thumbnail on the map, "there." And on November 13 beaten there they were.

The Government forces in Scotland, led by the Whig Duke of Argyll, met the Jacobite army at Sheriffmuir on the same day. The battle was indecisive, but was followed by desertion and discouragement in the Jacobite ranks. With all hope of success gone, the Pretender landed in bad December weather upon the Scottish coast. He brought neither money nor ammunition. Assembling the leaders, he evacuated them in a French vessel and returned to France. The collapse was followed by a batch of treason trials and about thirty executions. Despite the incompetence of the rising, the Government perceived and feared the unorganized opposition throughout the country to the new regime. They felt they must strengthen their grip on the administration. A Septennial Act prolonged the life of the existing House of Commons for another four years and decreed septennial Parliaments henceforth. This was the boldest and most complete assertion of Parliamentary sovereignty that England had yet seen. Later the Lords took a further step. They tried to perpetuate the Whig monopoly in their House by a Bill to stop the Crown's creating more than six fresh peerages. But this was too blatant. Loud protests were heard in the Common^ fed by Walpole, who had left the Ministry and was now its chief critic. It was not the curtailment of royal power which they opposed, but their own eternal banishment from the ranks of the peerage. They rejected the Bill by a large majority.

Political power was henceforth founded on influence: in the dispensation of Crown patronage; stars, sinecures, pensions; the agile use of the Secret Service fund; jobs in the Customs for humble dependents; commissions or Church livings for younger sons. Thus the Whigs established control of the Parliamentary machine. Though they had split among themselves, there was no hope of an organized opposition to the Whig oligarchy. The first two Georges were preoccupied with European affairs and showed little interest in the home politics of their adopted country. The Tory Party had no focus in Parliament after the flight of Bolingbroke. The 1715 rebellion made it even more easy for the Government to brand all Tories as Jacobites and disturbers of the peace. With political power and influence barred except to the favoured few, men turned to other pursuits and new adventures.......