Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1704, took place the Battle of Blenheim.

The Battle of Blenheim was a major British victory against combined French and German forces, which succeeded in countering French plans for a united Europe, under French control.

The Battle of Blenheim was the decisive point in the War of the Spanish Succession. This war had come about when the king of Spain, Charles II, Charles the Mad, had died in 1700, without issue and the Spanish crown became disputed. The French king, Louis XIV, had looked into the matter of the succession and the various merits of the claimants and decided, after much thought, that his own grandson, as yet only a boy, was the true king of Spain. Louis thereupon declared the young man king, and pompously declared that he, Louis, would rule Spain while the lad was growing up, and for a while after that.

The prospect of two of England’s oldest enemies, France and Spain, joined together in a union of crowns, did not go down well in England, or indeed in parts of Europe. There were calls for war and a Grand Alliance was made between England, Austria, Holland and some of the minor German princely states. War was declared in 1703. 

The English army under Marlborough was dispatched to protect the Netherlands but the French were already attacking the Austrian capital, Vienna, which was about to fall. Marlborough, upon hearing the news, set off with his army on the long march to relieve the Austrian allies. Winston Churchill, in his biography of his famous ancestor Marlborough, wrote of this trek ‘A scarlet caterpillar, upon which all eyes were at once fixed, began to crawl steadfastly, day by day, across the map of Europe, dragging the whole war with it.’

On arriving at the town of Blenheim, in Bavaria, Marlborough, with the assistance of Eugene of Savoy, an Austrian general, attacked the surprised and unprepared French army, as they were endeavouring to cross the broad waters of the Danube as a prelude to an assault on Vienna.  The French were caught in a bottleneck between the Danube and its tributary, the Nebal. Marlborough, who the French thought was still in Holland, had the advantage of the high ground. Although, Marlborough had less troops than the French, he planned his attack to split the French down the centre and, having cut the enemy ranks into two segments, turned and attacked them from behind. The result was inevitable. The French were routed and Marlborough captured the French general, Tallard.

Marlborough had delivered a crushing strike from which the French never recovered. Although the war was not yet over, France could not now control the Continent at will and any threatened invasion of Britain was forestalled. Queen Anne and Parliament were delighted with Marlborough’s achievement and voted him a present of a country house, Blenheim Palace, ironically decorated in the tenor of formal grandeur characteristic of the French king, Louis XIV, and now one of the grandest houses in the country. [Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX20 1PX]

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