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Marlborough, Angus Konstam

Marlborough, Angus Konstam

Marlborough, Angus Konstam

Marlborough, Angus Konstam

Command 10

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, is considered by many to have been Britain's greatest military commander, winning a series of major victories at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, each time defeating one of France's main armies in the main theatre of conflict during the War of the Spanish Succession. The first of these victories, at Blenheim, was the end result of a manoeuvre that took his army from Flanders to the Danube, a scale of movement entirely unexpected at the time (in contrast the Duke of Wellington won most of his victories in Spain, generally seen as less important than the campaigns in Russia, Germany and France that forced Napoleon's first abdication - only Waterloo was fought in the main theatre of the war).

This useful short biography of Marlborough looks at each of these major battles and the way in which each was won, as well as covering the less well known but equally impressive campaigns that saw the French forced out of their major defensive lines and Marlborough's successful sieges. Konstam also looks at the way in which Marlborough's career was affected by the political developments of the period, starting with his betrayal of James II and his falling out with William of Orange. His great victories came during a period when Marlborough and his wife were in favour at the court of Queen Anne, but when this faded his command career came to an end.

The text is well supported by battlefield maps, illustrations and contemporary paintings, complete with useful captions noting where the paintings are inaccurate (mainly due to the artistic conventions of the period, in which commanders are almost always show watching the battle develop from a convenient hill). There is also an interesting section looking at the way in which Marlborough's reputation has fluctuated over the years, perhaps reaching its peak in Winston Churchill's biography of his most famous ancestor.

Chapters
The Early Life
The Military Life
The hours of destiny
Opposing commanders
Inside the mind
When war is done
A life in words
Bibliography

Author: Angus Konstam
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 64
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2010



Marlborough: Leadership, Strategy, Conflict: No. 10 Paperback – Illustrated, 20 November 2010

Angus Konstam hails from the Orkney Islands, and is an acclaimed author of over 100 history books, 60 of which are published by Osprey. He has written widely on naval history, from Sovereigns of the Seas and Piracy: The Complete History to his most recent bestseller, Hunt the Bismarck. A former naval officer and museum professional, he worked as the Curator in both the Royal Armouries, Tower of London and the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. He now works as a full-time author and historian.

Graham Turner is a leading historical artist, specializing in the medieval period. He has illustrated numerous titles for Osprey, covering a wide variety of subjects from the dress of the 10th-century armies of the Caliphates, through the action of bloody medieval battles, to the daily life of the British Redcoat of the late 18th century. The son of the illustrator Michael Turner, Graham lives and works in Buckinghamshire, UK.


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John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was one of Britain's great soldiers. This slender Osprey volume, in the "Leadership-Strategy-Conflict" series, does a fine job outlining the basics of Marlborough's career.

He began his career as a foot soldier in Britain's army. Through his courage in battle and his quick wits, he rose to become an officer. In 1678, he advanced to brigadier rank, continuing his military rise. He escaped the turbulent politics of England unscathed. Eventually, he became commander of Allied Forces against Louis XIV of France. Here, he made his mark, defeating opposing armies, perhaps most famously at Blenheim.

The book does a solid job explaining the four major battles covered in this book--Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1707), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). He commanded an army made up of nearly a dozen countries, including fairly substantial contingents from Holland, Britain, Prussia, and Denmark.

The book concludes with a brief view of Marlborough's life after combat.

Maps are very helpful at getting a sense of the political geography of the time--as well as helping illustrate how the battles were played out. Many illustrations and photographs provide good context.

All in all, a pretty strong entry in this Osprey series.

The War of the Spanish Succession and indeed much of the early Eighteenth Century has faded into historical obscurity, with only two names really remaining in the public consciousness: Louis XIV of France and England's the Duke of Marlborough, arguably the best soldier of the age. Angus Konstam provides a concise biography of Marlborough in Osprey's Command No. 10. I found the volume interesting on a number of levels since this era receives much less attention than later warfare and the author's writing is engaging. The author concludes that Marlborough was probably England's greatest military commander, except perhaps for the later Duke of Wellington, and much of the volume is filled with supporting accolades. To be sure, Marlborough won three impressive victories at Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenarde, although his fourth battle at Malplaquet was closer to a draw. Yet was Malborough a "genius" as the author suggests? I'm not sure this volume provides that answer.

The volume begins with a quick look at Marlborough's early years and rise to prominence. Although Marlborough's father backed the wrong horse during the English Civil War, his son did not let this become a liability for his career. The young Marlborough aggressively used his families' contacts with the aristocracy (his sister was a royal mistress/whore and Marlborough himself jumped into bed with one of the King's mistresses) to gain first a commission and then cash gifts. After gaining some military experience on the continent - fighting as a mercenary for the French - Marlborough was able to finagle a promotion to general at age 28, after only 11 years in the army. The author presents all this with a straight face, although it would all seem pretty shabby and comic if it weren't for Marlborough's later battlefield victories. When the Glorious Revolution rolled around in 1688 (i.e. the last successful foreign invasion of England), Marlborough betrayed his king and received his title by siding with the invaders. When it comes to Marlborough, nothing succeeded like success. He did spend five months in the Tower on charges of treason, but managed to talk his way out of this unpleasantness.

As the author details, Marlborough's `hour of destiny' arrived when he was appointed head of the Allied(Dutch-German-British) army in Holland in 1702, with the goal of opposing Louis XIV's hegemony. Much of this section focuses on Marlborough's victories at Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenarde. While there is no doubt that these victories were impressive examples of Marlborough's battle command, his use of the term "genius" seem over-the-top. Marlborough's primary tactic was to begin attacks by probing on an enemy's flank in order to get entice them to transfer their reserves to the threatened sector, then hit their weakened center with the main attack, causing a collapse. While this worked at Blenheim and Ramillies, it did not work very well at Malplaquet and cost Marlborough nearly a quarter of his army. In 1815, Napoleon tried this at Waterloo by attacking Hougomont first, but Wellington did not weaken his center and the main attack failed. In 1863, Lee tried this at Gettysburg, but Meade did not weaken his center and the main attack failed. Indeed, feinting on the left (or right) then going for the center has been a common tactic in warfare and Marlborough did not invent it, nor is this tactic universally successful. Indeed, it is important to note that Marlborough's tactics relied heavily upon the enemy making significant mistakes, but if they did not, as Villars did at Malplaquet, then Marlborough was reduced to launching simple frontal assaults until he could bludgeon his way through the enemy line. Marlborough was no genius.

As the author mentions, Marlborough also employed deception, such as leaving regimental color parties in place but moving the troops, so as to deceive the French. Again, this type of tactic worked with foolish enemies, but was no different than George Washington leaving camp fires burning to deceive the British about American retreats in 1776 - and few call Washington a military genius. Going out on a limb, I think the case can be made the Marlborough was a good commander who benefitted from dumb opponents, luck, the fortitude of his infantry in not breaking under fire and some really good public relations in 1704-1708 to help concoct the myth that he was one of the greatest generals in British military history. The author suggests that he never lost a battle or siege, but this is not quite the truth. He never took Antwerp, though he made it "the centerpiece of his strategy" and Liege gave him more trouble than this volume suggests. Malplaquet was a bloody mess. Marlborough's stock fell rapidly afterwards and he was abruptly relieved of command in 1711. His wife's political networking eventually back-fired and helped to derail his military career, which was effectively over. Marlborough's victories greatly stressed the French military for a few years but after he was relieved, French fortunes revived and Louis XIV was able to secure a better peace than Blenheim and Ramillies would have suggested.

This biography is useful and well-written, but it supports the notion that Marlborough was a great military commander up there on a pedestal with Wellington, as well as the other great captains. Yet the narrative seems to indicate that as a commander Marlborough was something of a one-trick pony whose military fortunes declined as his opponents started to understand his methods. In virtually every battle, his enemy's sat on the defense and let him attack them. There is no indication that Marlborough introduced anything innovative in warfare or would necessarily have bested a more maneuver-oriented opponent like Marshal Turenne. There is no doubt that Marlborough was an early example of a successful coalition commander, which was well suited for the style of warfare that Britain preferred. At any rate, a good, short bio, but readers would be advised to consider alternative views, as well.


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Marlborough - Angus Konstam

INTRODUCTION

In the first decade of the 18th century John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, led an Allied army into battle. His opponents were the French troops of Louis XIV, whose military prowess had made France the superpower of the age. A decade before, a similar Allied army had suffered a string of ignominious defeats at the hands of Louis XIV’s French marshals. This time though, there would be no defeat – only a string of spectacular victories. Marlborough’s battlefield triumphs at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1707), Oudenarde (1708) and Malplaquet (1709) were all the more remarkable because they were won at the head of a polyglot army, with contingents from over two dozen European states, the largest of which were Holland, Britain, Prussia and Denmark. It wasn’t just the battles – he also conquered a string of Flemish and French cities through siegecraft, the most spectacular of which was the capture of Lille in 1708. In all respects he was a master of his art.

These great victories were certainly important, but if the Duke of Marlborough was merely a successful military commander then he would never have achieved what he did. He had to be a diplomat too, constantly pleading with these various states to send him troops and supplies, to reject overtures of peace from France and to agree to fight under a single Allied command. He became the archetypal coalition commander, a man whose skills in diplomacy, language, court etiquette and politics were almost as important as his undeniable genius on the battlefield. The result was that Marlborough almost single-handedly brought Louis XIV’s France to its knees – a remarkable achievement for a soldier who had once served the French king as a lowly young captain.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722), dressed for battle, in a painting by Adriaen Van der Werff. In fact, by Marlborough’s time, armour of this kind was reserved for heroic portraiture rather than worn while on campaign. (Bavarian Schlösserverwaltung, Höchstädt)

For much of his career, success was a double-edged sword. He gained his first commission through courtly patronage, and subsequent advancements were as much the result of favouritism as martial prowess. He became the friend and confidant of King James II of England and VII of Scotland, who helped move him up the social and military ladder. Marlborough then betrayed James’ trust at the crucial moment. Similarly, the friendship between Queen Anne and Marlborough’s wife Sarah meant that he enjoyed a similar trusting relationship with another monarch, which lasted until Sarah and the Queen fell out. Political and military rivals were always jealous of the ease with which the charming, handsome and intelligent officer won the trust and support of these two monarchs. Twice in his career – once under King William and again under Queen Anne – Marlborough was abandoned by his royal patrons, and his enemies took great delight in assisting his fall from grace. On both occasions he survived his downfall, and outlived the monarchs who rejected him to be restored to good grace by their successors.

Today, Marlborough is remembered as Britain’s greatest soldier – arguably more successful even than the Duke of Wellington. For six years, from 1704 until 1709, he fought four major battles, and defeated the very best commanders King Louis XIV of France had to offer. For the most part his campaigns were conducted in Flanders, but one of his greatest military achievements came in the summer of 1704 when he outfoxed his French rivals and led his polyglot army deep into Germany. There he succeeded in effectively knocking France’s leading German ally – Bavaria – out of the war. This was achieved through two spectacular victories at the Schellenberg and at Blenheim. As a result the military prestige of France was shattered, and Marlborough’s military reputation was assured.

King James II and VI (r. 1685–88) supported the young John Churchill, but a combination of the King’s divisive policies and his religion forced Churchill to switch his allegiance to James’ Protestant rival William of Orange. (Stratford Archive)

Very few military figures lend their name to an age of warfare. Historians talk about the ‘Napoleonic’ Wars, or the age of Alexander. The Duke of Marlborough is one of few great commanders of history who put such a firm stamp on warfare that their very name became an identifiable era in military history. As the leading military practitioner of the ‘Marlburian period’, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough, was not only the foremost soldier of his generation, but one of the greatest commanders in history. He was certainly worthy of this fulsome accolade.

THE EARLY YEARS

John Churchill may have ended his days living in one of the finest stately homes in England, but he was born into a family that lacked both wealth and status. His father was Winston Churchill, who had backed the wrong side during the English Civil War. Churchill had fought for the King, and as a former Royalist he was viewed with suspicion by the victorious Parliamentarians. When John was born on 5 June 1650, the young Churchill family were living in Ash House – the war-ravaged home of Eleanor, Lady Drake, Winston’s mother-in-law. Lady Eleanor had been a staunch supporter of Parliament, and as her son-in-law had little money, she provided her daughter’s family with a home. If relying on the charity of in-laws wasn’t bad enough, in 1651 the 31-year-old ex-soldier was fined £480 by the Parliamentarian authorities for ‘delinquency’ – a legal euphemism for being an unrepentant supporter of the late king.

John Churchill was one of five children, not all of whom survived infancy. We know little of his early childhood, but the fortunes of the family improved after the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, in September 1658. The son of the executed King Charles I returned to Britain in the summer of 1660, and in May 1661 he was proclaimed King Charles II. The joint realms of England and Scotland were kingdoms once more, and the Churchill family enjoyed a swift reversal of fortune. Winston Churchill became a Member of Parliament, a royal administrator, and was knighted in 1664. For his part young John was educated in Dublin, and then St Paul’s School in London. His elder sister Arabella became a maid of honour to the Duchess of York, the wife of the King’s brother James – the future King James II and VII. Arabella soon become the Duke of York’s mistress, and the 15-year-old John became a page in the ducal household.

John Churchill, pictured in the uniform of a French junior officer. In 1674 the 24-year-old Churchill was named a colonel in the French Army, and he went on to distinguish himself on the French side at the battle of Ensheim. (Stratford Archive)

In September 1667 John Churchill asked his patron for a favour – the gift of a commission in the English Army. It was duly granted, and he became an ensign in Colonel John Russell’s Regiment of Foot Guards. The regiment was sent to Tangier in 1668, and young Churchill almost certainly went with them. Tangier on the Barbary Coast of North Africa had been bequeathed to Charles II in a dowry, and it remained a British colony until it was abandoned in 1683. At any rate John Churchill was back in London by 1671, and as a handsome and tanned 21-year-old officer he began to be noticed. As Lord Chesterfield put it, ‘His manner was irresistible [to] either man or woman’. John’s first known admirer was Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, a royal mistress and an influential figure in court.


Review: Marlborough, Angus Konstam

I like the Osprey Command’s concise take on describing everything important. It works well, even ignoring some of the detail that has been lost, to give a broad overview. Having read Chandler’s ‘Marlborough as a Military Commander‘ before, not much here came as a surprise but rather renewed my memory in useful ways.

I also enjoy the biographies of the opposing generals as Osprey produces them. I think quite a few regular narrative biographies forget that bit, and it’s a relief Osprey insists on it. At the same time, the diplomatic aspect of Marlborough is mostly ignored here but one must accept that Osprey is a military history publishing house.

And, lastly, it was reading about Marlborough, remembering back to my visit of the Blenheim Palace, and the gracious feeling of the nation one can sense on that site. Perhaps Marlborough did not quite save Britain but he humbled France and saved the Dutch from a defeat they would have encountered under most different leaders. As a quick introduction, well worth it.

My only other major comment is that though in works on Marlborough the Lines of Ne Plus Ultra (though if I remember right, Chandler named them Non Plus Ultra) are mentioned, no one actually describes this system of fortifications in detail. I feel, for a place with such an imposing name, that is a pity.


Review: The Anarchy, William Dalrymple

This is a great overview with insightful analysis — including the author noting times when other researchers disagree with him — that is also written in an enjoyable style. There’s very little missing from here, and my biggest item of confusion with this book was the timeline and what it would cover. After reading it, the way it is set up makes sense — during the read I was not as certain.

The overview is chronological and we start with the founding of the East India Company and move through the 18th century to the final Anglo-Mysore and Anglo-Maratha wars. The reader is brought to the secondary presidencies of Madras and Bombay only a few times in the course of the work up to the final chapter — and I kept on wondering why that was, until it became eminently clear that the EIC’s expansion was entirely driven from Bengal.

Another aspect of this book I really enjoyed was the depth to which Mr Dalrymple tried to describe the Indian background to various positions and areas. This wasn’t always successful, and it could have been smoother — including footnoting local titles, etc… — but it was nevertheless much better than many authors ever try.

There was much else praiseworthy such as tangents on local culture and arts, excerpts of Shah Alam II’s poetry, and other descriptions which tried to bring 18th century India close to the reader. This attempt alone makes this a worthy introduction into the time and place.


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Marlborough: No. 10

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, is one of the great commanders of history. Using his great charm and diplomatic skills he was able to bind troops from various European states into a cohesive army that won a string of victories over the French armies of King Louis XIV, the first of which was perhaps his most spectacular triumph - the battle of Blenheim. Other great victories followed, but political and social turmoil proved harder opponents to defeat. This book provides a detailed look at the many highs and lows in the career of the most successful British general of his era.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

This useful short biography of Marlborough looks at each of these major battles and the way in which each was won, as well as covering the less well known but equally impressive campaigns that saw the French forced out of their major defensive lines and Marlborough s successful sieges. The text is well supported by battlefield maps, illustrations and contemporary paintings, complete with useful captions noting where the paintings are inaccurate (mainly due to the artistic conventions of the period, in which commanders are almost always shown watching the battle develop from a convenient hill). There is also an interesting section looking at the way in which Malborough s reputation has fluctuated over the years, perhaps reaching its peak in Winston Churchill s biography of his most famous ancestor. --HistoryofWar.org

Descrizione del libro:

The most successful British general of his era, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, flourished during the War of the Spanish Succession against Louis XIV.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Su questo libro" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.


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John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was one of Britain's great soldiers. This slender Osprey volume, in the "Leadership-Strategy-Conflict" series, does a fine job outlining the basics of Marlborough's career.

He began his career as a foot soldier in Britain's army. Through his courage in battle and his quick wits, he rose to become an officer. In 1678, he advanced to brigadier rank, continuing his military rise. He escaped the turbulent politics of England unscathed. Eventually, he became commander of Allied Forces against Louis XIV of France. Here, he made his mark, defeating opposing armies, perhaps most famously at Blenheim.

The book does a solid job explaining the four major battles covered in this book--Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1707), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). He commanded an army made up of nearly a dozen countries, including fairly substantial contingents from Holland, Britain, Prussia, and Denmark.

The book concludes with a brief view of Marlborough's life after combat.

Maps are very helpful at getting a sense of the political geography of the time--as well as helping illustrate how the battles were played out. Many illustrations and photographs provide good context.


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John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, is considered by many to have been Britain's greatest military commander, winning a series of major victories at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, each time defeating one of France's main armies in the main theatre of conflict during the War of the Spanish Succession. The first of these victories, at Blenheim, was the end result of a manoeuvre that took his army from Flanders to the Danube, a scale of movement entirely unexpected at the time (in contrast the Duke of Wellington won most of his victories in Spain, generally seen as less important than the campaigns in Russia, Germany and France that forced Napoleon's first abdication - only Waterloo was fought in the main theatre of the war).

This useful short biography of Marlborough looks at each of these major battles and the way in which each was won, as well as covering the less well known but equally impressive campaigns that saw the French forced out of their major defensive lines and Marlborough's successful sieges. Konstam also looks at the way in which Marlborough's career was affected by the political developments of the period, starting with his betrayal of James II and his falling out with William of Orange. His great victories came during a period when Marlborough and his wife were in favour at the court of Queen Anne, but when this faded his command career came to an end.

The text is well supported by battlefield maps, illustrations and contemporary paintings, complete with useful captions noting where the paintings are inaccurate (mainly due to the artistic conventions of the period, in which commanders are almost always show watching the battle develop from a convenient hill). There is also an interesting section looking at the way in which Marlborough's reputation has fluctuated over the years, perhaps reaching its peak in Winston Churchill's biography of his most famous ancestor.


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