This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: France Aims for Dominance in Europe.
France under Louis XIV made its strongest bid for dominance until Napoleon. After gaining much ground in Europe in the previous wars, Louis began the War for the Spanish Succession with all his geographic and political goals already in his hands. His grandson was on the throne of Spain, Bavaria allied to him, his armies already occupied the ground in central Europe that he wanted to claim. Instead of attacking, this time the conqueror only needed to hold on to what he already had. It seemed like a sure thing.
This selection is from Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World by Sir Edward Creasy published in 1851. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Edward Creacy, among the greatest of military historians tells us what happened.
Place: Blenheim, Bavaria, Germany
Marlborough headed the allied troops in Flanders during the first two years of the war, and took some towns from the enemy, but nothing decisive occurred. Nor did any actions of importance take place during this period between the rival armies in Italy. But in the centre of that line from north to south, from the mouth of the Schelde to the mouth of the Po, along which the war was carried on, the generals of Louis XIV acquired advantages in 1703 which threatened one chief member of the Grand Alliance with utter destruction.
France had obtained the important assistance of Bavaria as her confederate in the war. The Elector of this powerful German state made himself master of the strong fortress of Ulm, and opened a communication with the French armies on the Upper Rhine. By this junction the troops of Louis were enabled to assail the Emperor in the very heart of Germany. In the autumn of 1703 the combined armies of the Elector and French King completely defeated the Imperialists in Bavaria; and in the following winter they made themselves masters of the important cities of Augsburg and Passau. Meanwhile the French army of the Upper Rhine and Moselle had beaten the allied armies opposed to them, and taken Treves and Landau. At the same time the discontents in Hungary with Austria again broke out into open insurrection, so as to distract the attention and complete the terror of the Emperor and his council at Vienna.
Louis XIV ordered the next campaign to be commenced by his troops on a scale of grandeur and with a boldness of enterprise such as even Napoleon’s military schemes have seldom equaled. On the extreme left of the line of the war, in the Netherlands, the French armies were to act only on the defensive. The fortresses in the hands of the French there were so many and so strong that no serious impression seemed likely to be made by the allies on the French frontier in that quarter during one campaign, and that one campaign was to give France such triumphs elsewhere as would, it was hoped, determine the war. Large detachments were therefore to be made from the French force in Flanders, and they were to be led by Marshal Villeroy to the Moselle and Upper Rhine.
The French army already in the neighborhood of those rivers was to march under Marshal Tallard through the Black Forest, and join the Elector of Bavaria, and the French troops that were already with the Elector under Marshal Marsin. Meanwhile the French army of Italy was to advance through the Tyrol into Austria, and the whole forces were to combine between the Danube and the Inn. A strong body of troops was to be dispatched into Hungary, to assist and organize the insurgents in that kingdom; and the French grand army of the Danube was then in collected and irresistible might to march upon Vienna and dictate terms of peace to the Emperor. High military genius was shown in the formation of this plan, but it was met and baffled by a genius higher still.
Marlborough had watched with the deepest anxiety the progress of the French arms on the Rhine and in Bavaria, and he saw the futility of carrying on a war of posts and sieges in Flanders, while death-blows to the empire were being dealt on the Danube. He resolved, therefore, to let the war in Flanders languish for a year, while he moved with all the disposable forces that he could collect to the central scenes of decisive operations. Such a march was in itself difficult; but Marlborough had, in the first instance, to overcome the still greater difficulty of obtaining the consent and cheerful cooperation of the allies, especially of the Dutch, whose frontier it was proposed thus to deprive of the larger part of the force which had hitherto been its protection.
Fortunately, among the many slothful, the many foolish, the many timid, and the not few treacherous rulers, statesmen, and generals of different nations with whom he had to deal, there were two men, eminent both in ability and integrity, who entered fully into Marlborough’s projects and who, from the stations which they occupied, were enabled materially to forward them. One of these was the Dutch statesman Heinsius, who had been the cordial supporter of King William, and who now, with equal zeal and good faith, supported Marlborough in the councils of the allies; the other was the celebrated general, Prince Eugene, whom the Austrian cabinet had recalled from the Italian frontier to take the command of one of the Emperor’s armies in Germany. To these two great men, and a few more, Marlborough communicated his plan freely and unreservedly; but to the general councils of his allies he only disclosed part of his daring scheme.
He proposed to the Dutch that he should march from Flanders to the Upper Rhine and Moselle with the British troops and part of the foreign auxiliaries, and commence vigorous operations against the French armies in that quarter, while General Auverquerque, with the Dutch and the remainder of the auxiliaries, maintained a defensive war in the Netherlands. Having with difficulty obtained the consent of the Dutch to this portion of his project, he exercised the same diplomatic zeal, with the same success, in urging the King of Prussia and other princes of the empire to increase the number of the troops which they supplied, and to post them in places convenient for his own intended movements.