It is a trait of any nation’s regard for it’s great men that its focus falls upon few and each eclipses those that precede it. Exceptionally, for the British, the fame of Duke of Wellington, who brought to book the great tyrant of his age, has thus far endured where fine commanders who came after him are all but forgotten in the popular mind. The names of Clive, Roberts and Kitchener are now seldom celebrated despite their deserved fame in their lifetimes. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, perhaps suffers from belonging to an age nearly a century before Arthur Wellesley began his career. Yet in Marlborough the nation has certainly its first great military man and almost certainly one who stands equal, if not higher, than any who came after him. A political genius as well as a military one, Marlborough often managed to achieve victory when his own allies conspired to prevent him. Yet more remarkable was that Marlborough was able to cooperate with another great commander of his time, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Marlborough’s Wars were fought against the ancient enemy—the military might and the pervasive influence of the France of the Bourbons.
Taylor’s brilliant, substantial, detailed and comprehensive history of the campaigns of the early 18th century bring this vividly to life and takes us in volume 1, in company with Marlborough himself, his chroniclers and those who experienced the marches and battlefields of Europe with him, to the victories of Blenheim and Ramilles. This highly recommended book is essential for every student of the period. Available in soft cover or hard cover with dust jacket.
No mounted fugitive could have carried the tidings to Gossoncourt, for it was 6 o’clock before they reached Roquelaure, the general officer commanding on the extremity of Villeroi’s left. Roquelaure sped it back to Merdorp, and then with d’Alègre and Horn got instantly to horse. The trumpets pealed; and the Life Guards of Bavaria mounted, and the Life Guards of Cologne; and the Spaniards mounted, the Black Troop, the White, and the Bay, and the Walloons, and the French, and they all rode on at the gallop, five and thirty squadrons of them, and their steel cuirasses shone like silver in the rising sun.<br>
And after them came Caraman with two brigades of foot, and after them two more. And a battery of triple-barrelled cannon of marvellous design, that fired three balls at once, rushed without orders to the front, the gunners burning to display the prowess of their new machine. Four squadrons that drew first into the field perceived with amazement that within those vaunted works, which they had grown accustomed to regard as inexpugnable, a hostile army was rapidly deploying. Low down beside the Geete, the village of Elixem was swarming with the allied foot, and all the hedges to Wanghe were alive with marksmen.<br>
Across the water-meadows, and up the long rise that stretched away to where, above the horizon, grew the towers of Tirlemont, the allied cavalry sat motionless in double ranks, which like some magical serpent continually lengthened as troop after troop cantered up from the riverside, and wheeled into the line. Behind them, the infantry, two deep, were forming fast. All Noyelle’s men were there. And Marlborough’s were close at hand.<br>
The first rank of the allied horse was entirely British. Their officers marked the sparkle of Roquelaure’s breastplates in the south-west, and counted his squadrons as they galloped up. The word was passed back to Wanghe that the enemy’s cuirassiers were at hand. Marlborough’s advance-guard had already reached the Geete, and the news was immediately brought to the Duke. Pressing on to the head of the column, he passed the river with his leading squadrons, and dashed forward to the front.<br>
The enemy were forming rapidly. They had thirty-five squadrons; but those of Bavaria, which numbered three-fourths of the total, had been poorly recruited, and had fallen in some cases to only sixty men. It was obvious to Roquelaure that, unless he extended them in a single line, his left would be outflanked. It would probably be outflanked in any event, for Marlborough’s horse were pouring fast across the Geete. His strongest chance was to impose upon the allies, and to hold them till his infantry arrived. The head of Caraman’s column was already visible. Roquelaure decided to play for time.<br>
Though the country as a whole was open and undulating, the ground which intervened between the hostile forces was by no means favourable to cavalry, because it was traversed by the hollow road running up from Elixem to Tirlemont. This hollow road was a deep, steep-sided cutting; indeed, for the first half-mile of its course, it was a veritable chasm. Judging that with so serious an obstacle before them, his guns would be secure against a sudden dash, Roquelaure posted them between his squadrons and opened fire at very close range upon the English horse. Marlborough, who had quickly taken in the situation, determined to attack at once. He immediately occupied the hollow road with five battalions, whose first volley compelled the enemy to recede. Then he ordered his cavalry to pass the precipitous ravine. Protected by the fire of the foot, they executed this difficult movement with a degree of success that bespoke a high standard of horsemanship.<br>
On the extreme right, where the passage was simpler, they were no sooner over than the Scots Greys were seen to be outflanking the enemy. The trumpets sounded, and in close array the long line of British men and British horses swung in upon the foe. Roquelaure’s cavalry, it would seem, did not spring forward to meet shock with shock; or if they moved at all, they moved too late. All who waited for the impact went down before it. But the great majority fled without striking a blow. The Duke himself rode in the charge. He instantly rallied his men, re-formed them, and, supported by his second line and by the infantry, again advanced.<br>
Galloping headlong over another hollow road, much shallower than the first, the mob of fugitives drew rein before Caraman’s two brigades of foot, which had already deployed across the plain, resting their right upon the river at the village of Esemael. Marlborough came on at a smart pace, and overtaking the guns and ammunition wagons, which had narrowly escaped in the first charge, captured them all. They had not fired more than thirty rounds, and had scarcely justified that pathetic confidence which the French soldier is too apt to repose in mechanical inventions. But now the English on the left began to suffer from the fire of some of Caraman’s infantry who had occupied the hedges of Esemael.<br>
Marlborough halted, ordered his squadrons to take ground to the right, and brought up six battalions to clear the village. This manoeuvre, while it threatened to deprive the right of the enemy’s cavalry of the support which they had obtained from the troops in Esemael, tended still more to outflank their left. Nevertheless, reinforced by five squadrons, and encouraged by their officers as well as by the proximity of Caraman’s two brigades, they seem to have attempted a charge. But the British line, which was already once more in motion, struck them with a weight and an impetuosity superior to their own. In the brief struggle that ensued, a squadron which Marlborough himself was leading gave back a little.<br>
A Bavarian officer dashed forward to cut him down, but overbalancing in the very act, tumbled from his saddle, and was secured by the Duke’s trumpeter. “I asked my Lord if it was so,” says Orkney;” he said it was absolutely so. See what a happy man he is.”