The Battle of Blenheim, which was fought on August 14 1704, was a huge turning point in the balance of power in Europe. It was also a significant message to the rest of the World that Britain was a powerful military force.
The death of Charles II of Spain in 1700 had created a crisis of succession as he died without male heirs. He was the last monarch of the Spanish branch of the hugely powerful House of Habsburg. Charles II had named the teenaged Duke of Anjou as the next King of Spain. This sent shock waves through the rest of Europe as the Duke was the grandson of Louis XIV of France. To have such a close alliance between the powers of France and Spain was a threat to the balance of power.
Tensions increased when France occupied Spanish territories in The Netherlands as it seemed that they were taking over even more control of Spain and exerting what could be, if left unchecked, an unstoppable expansionist policy.
The British formed an alliance with the Austrians and the Dutch. Their plan was that Archduke Charles should be King of Spain. Against this background, the Spanish War of Succession began.
Vienna was the capital of the Habsburg Empire and by 1704 the French were confident that it was only a matter of time before they gained control of this crucial territory. It was thought that when Vienna fell, the rest of Europe would follow suit. The Allies knew that it was crucial that they did not allow Vienna to fall into the hands of the French.
The Duke of Marlborough showed exceptional skill and courage in his leadership. When it became clear that the Dutch did not want to engage in battle in Vienna and showed little support for an Allied attack, Marlborough tricked them into thinking that he was repositioning his troops no further than Cologne.
In reality Marlborough always planned to take decisive action to stop French expansion into Austria. His men made the 250-mile march towards Blenheim and consolidated their position. The French did not expect them to attack – they wrongly assumed that their supply lines would fail, that they would be intimidated by the size and prowess of their army, and that the Allies would eventually retreat. Price Eugene of Savoy provided considerable reinforcements for the Allied forces, and it was decided to launch an attack on the heavily fortified Blenheim.
There is no agreement about the size of each of the armies, but it is clear that the Allies were outnumbered by the French. The Allies had approximately 56,000 men and the French 60,000. Losses were particularly severe on the French side and it is reputed that more than 30,000 men died.
The victory at the Battle of Blenheim halted the French expansion into Austria. The Spanish War of Succession did not end for some time, but the Battle of Blenheim marked a turning point in the balance of power in Europe. Marlborough and Price Eugene had reinforced the Habsburg Empire. Perhaps most significantly the Battle showed the rest of the World that Britain was now a military force to be reckoned with.