Tuesday 12 April 2011

ABC Wednesday M is for Malplaquet and Marlborough

File:John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Malplaquet was fought on 11th September, 1709 in Flanders. It was one of the main battles of the War of Spanish Succession which continued from 1701 -1714 and concerned the potential unification of Spain and France under a French Bourbon monarch. Unification was a resolution supported by the Spanish loyal to Philip V of Spain, heir also to the French throne, but unacceptable to those Spanish loyal to Archduke Charles.

The allied army consisted mainly of Dutch and Austrian troops supported by British, Hanoverian, Prussian and Danish military who opposed French and Bavarian forces. Scots, Irish, Swiss and Germans fought on both sides of the action. The allies were commanded by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The opposing armies were led by Marshal Duc de Villars and Marshal Duc de Boufflers. It was said that every European nationality was represented in the combat.

The armies were of roughly equivalent size, 100,000 men taking to arms on each side.
In the spring of 1709 King Louis XIV made informal approaches to Marlborough hoping to end a conflict that had been calamitous for France. Marlborough was unable to offer terms acceptable to Louis XIV and so the war continued.

In the summer of that same year Villars had charge of a large army but Marlborough captured Tournai and advanced towards Mons. Villars took up position north of Malplaquet, where the main road to Mons passed through a gap in the thick forest.

By 29th August the armies were within sight and strike of each other. Marlborough wanted to attack immediately but was forced to defer to senior officers who wished to await reinforcements. Villars used the time to further fortify his position. The arrival of Boufflers boosted the morale of the French military. On August 30th the Dutch insisted that the attack be delayed again and so the French had yet more time to strengthen their defences.
File:Battle of Malplaquet, 1709.jpg
18th century engraving of the Battle of Malplaquet by Claude du Bosc
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Finally the assault began at 9:00 am on September 11th. At 1:00 pm Villars was seriously wounded by a musket ball that smashed his knee and passed command to Boufflers. After a fierce cavalry battle when the French drove back the Allies several times but were themselves driven back by infantry fire, Boufflers realised that further fighting was futile and ordered the withdrawal of his troops at 3:00 pm. They did so in good order but the allies had lost so many men that they could not pursue them.

Malplaquet was a pyrrhic victory. It was Marlborough’s fourth defeat of Louis XIV’s French army. It was also the bloodiest and most costly. Marlborough said, The French have defended themselves better in this action than in any battle I've seen.’ The allies lost 25,000 men – the French, 17,000. 

It was widely rumoured that Marlborough had been killed, giving rise to one of the most popular French folk songs, ‘Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre’ (Marlborough has left for the war) and is sung to the tune of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’.
Below is the first verse, in the original French with an English version of the time. There were also Spanish and German renditions.

Original French
Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,
mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre,
Ne sait quand reviendra.
       Marlbrook the Prince of Commanders
      Is gone to war in Flanders,
      His fame is like Alexander's,
      But when will he ever come home?
     Mironton, mironton, mirontaine
Villars informed his King, ‘If it please God to give your majesty's enemies another such victory, they are ruined.’ Nonetheless Mons fell to the allies in October.

The news of Malplaquet, the grimmest battle of the 18th century, shocked Europe and Queen Anne did not send Marlborough a personal letter of thanks as she had done after previous victories.

Marlborough was known informally as ‘The Great Captain’. To his soldiers he was nicknamed ‘Corporal John’ and recognised as a leader who was concerned for his men and attentive to their needs.

The Spanish War of Succession continued for a further five years. Eventually Philip V was recognised as the legitimate King of Spain but was forced to renounce his claim to the French throne. 
Many thanks to the Marvellous Denise Nesbitt and the Marvellous Members of her Magnificent team who organise and host this weekly Meme. Click here to see more Ms.


  1. Ah, the first great Churchill - not only Malplaquet, but Oudenarde and Blenheim, if my memory serves me right. Excellent, informative post.

  2. I imagine 100,000 was a really HUGE army in those days! And each side had that many? WOW!

  3. What is it about 9/11? Great post for the history and song. Thank you.

  4. Always love my history lesson each week!! Terrific post as always for the M Day! And that was a huge army indeed for those days! Hope your week is going well! Enjoy!

    ABC Team

  5. very interesting information.

  6. I realize how little History I remember from school days. Thanks for refreshing me and scraping the cobwebs from my mind.

  7. All of these battles are so...sad. And I love the word pyrrhic - so dead on, as it were.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  8. Had to get the old dictionary out for this one, I never heard of the word "Pyrrhic" before. Interesting post for M day.

  9. It is always sad when no compromise can be found to stop a war. As always, an interesting post.

  10. Great history lesson. It is sad to read about the loss of so many men.

  11. Another wonderful read Janice, thank you.

  12. Is it the artwork or the history that catches my fancy? Rather both I believe. Thanks so much for them.

  13. A fine read - thank you. It seems I've forgotten more than I knew. :)

  14. Very sad to think of all the battles that have been fought in quiet fields and woods of Europe, even until the middle of this last century.

  15. Interesting ! and then came Wellington and Napoleon apparently they all loved to fight in today's Belgium !

  16. Marlborough’s wine in New Zealand is very famous.

  17. Love history, loved your interesting post!
    ABC Wed: M

  18. An interesting turmoil of European tensions before France embarked on her own personal upheaval! The 18th century seemed to be an era that rocked with upheaval in Europe!

  19. I have no nothing about US history only a few

  20. What a good read, and so educational. The first Churchhill was quite handsome.

    Thanks again for being my History Teacher.

  21. A great read, Janice...history comes alive in your hands, and reminds us to be grateful for all we have...

  22. Nice pick for letter M! Magnificent info!

    My Letter M, hope you can come and see. Have a great Wednesday!

  23. Such an interesting and intriguing post for M. I did not know much about the Spanish succession wars. Fascinating read!

  24. Great entry for M day! I didn't know the story behind the song!
    Thanks for sharing;o)And thanks for following too;o)
    I'm following you also;o)
    Forgot to tell you i love your beautiful and colourful header;o)

    À bientôt****

  25. So many casualties. No matter the century or reason, war is such a waste of human life. Interesting post.


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