Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815, Author(s): Jeremy Black
Source: The Journal of Military History, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 159-177
Published by: Society for Military History
There is, of course, a thesis that the warfare of the period was indecisive. Geoffrey Parker has argued that "wars still eternalised themselves . . . the Great Northern War endured from 1700 to 1721 in spite of Poltava; the War of the Span- ish Succession continued ... in spite of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oude- naarde and Malplaquet" (The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988], 33).
This, however, owed much to their being umbrella wars that comprehended a number of different conflicts-Hanover and Prussia did not attack Sweden until after Poltava-and to the failure to reach negotiated settlements even after one side had been driven by defeat to negotiate, as Louis XIV was in 1709. The battles themselves were decisive. Blenheim (1704) was followed by the capture of the Franco-Bavarian positions in southern Germany, particularly Ingolstadt and Ulm, and by the withdrawal of the French from Germany, while Marlborough's victories at Ramillies (1706) and Oudenaarde (1708) drove the French from the Low Countries. Other battles in which Marlborough was not involved were also deci- sive. Eugene's victory at Turin (1706) drove the French from Italy, French victories at Almanza (1707) and Brihuega (1710) won Spain for the Bourbon dynasty, and Poltava (1709) was followed by the Russian conquest of Livonia. The military history of the period is well worth the attention of the specialist in international relations, for it is clear that the often bold diplomatic plans of the period were not impossible from the military angle.
The armies of the period were more effective than those described by Michael Roberts, the governments better able to sustain wars in which reasonably well-supplied forces could be directed to obtain particular goals, rather than have to search for food. J. R. Jones offers a good account of Marlborough's generalship in which he emphasizes the duke's belief in the practical possibility of total victory. Jones does not gloss over his failures, but there is also an appre- ciation of his characteristic mobility and his combination of strategic insight and tactical flexibility. Marlborough was a master of the delivery of well-timed concentrated force on the battlefield but, as later with Frederick the Great, his opponents learned to a degree to predict his plans. Marlborough was thwarted at Malplaquet (1709) and, as Jones points out, this led to a change in his generalship: "Marlborough in the course of his last two campaigns, in 1710 and 1711, did not choose to attack the opposing army on the occasions when he faced it in strongly prepared positions, and he failed to out-manoeuvre the French into hav- ing to give battle on ground of his choosing" (p. 183). This was obviously crucial for the likely terms on which the war would end. Marlborough, it was clear, would not be able to compel Louis to agree to peace on allied terms. Jones is not strong on Marlborough as a politician, despite the Duke's major role in British domestic politics between 1702 and 1710, and has far too little to say about Marlborough's intrigues in 1713-14 and about his position in George I's early years. It would be useful, for example, to know how far Marlborough's view between 1714 and 1716, particularly with regard to the army and to foreign policy, paved the way for the dissensions that split the Whigs in 1717. Nevertheless, this is a good introductory work (Marlborough (Cambridge: Cabridge University Press, 1993),and a lively and satis- factory read.