The "Decisive" Battle of Ramillies, 1706: Prerequisites for Decisiveness in Early Modern Warfare by Jamel Ostwald, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 649-677, Published by: Society for Military History
The English-speaking world's understanding of the War of the Spanish Succession has progressed little since the days of Winston Churchill. Minor changes have been made to the campaign narratives, but the underlying assumptions persist: the same partisan biographical format, the same narrow reliance on British sources, the same faith in battle's potential for decisiveness. Confronted with the reality of Marlborough's dismissal at the end of 1711, supporters must fall back on a litany of excuses in order to maintain their belief that battle could have won the war.
The laudatory literature forgets, however, that both sides had to willingly accept battle for it to occur, that Dutch contributions to the war effort far outweigh the minor squabbles they engaged in over military strategy, and that even when Marlborough fought his battles, the results were usually indecisive. The campaign of 1706 may have been Marlborough's most successful, but it also reinforced the limitations which even a general of his caliber could not overcome. The early battle led to the temporary elimination of the French field army. But the only towns that surrendered were those whose fortifications were in a state of disrepair or whose inhabitants actively opposed French rule.
Mirroring the 1704 campaign in Germany and the 1707 campaign in Spain,118 the 1706 Allied advance in Flanders after a successful battle stalled when they encountered adequately prepared fortresses which refused to submit. Ramillies did not eliminate the need for sieges in areas where sieges could otherwise be expected, and Marlborough was forced to embrace the strategy his supporters so detest.
A reexamination of Marlborough's campaigns reaffirms that the desire for battle and pursuit was not enough; battle could be decisive only in theaters which met the prereq- uisites of a willing opponent and indefensible towns. Placing Marlbor- ough's battles back into their operational context highlights the significant limitations a battle-seeking strategy faced in early modern Europe.
118. After the successful battle of Almansa in 1707, the Duke of Berwick's advance quickly stalled in Catalonia, while two lengthy sieges were required to recover Valencia.