I have also read "Prince Rupert" by this author which is probably a better book if only because the subject is easier. A life, especially one as colourful as Prince Rupert's, has a natural structure and the episodes in a long life lend themselves easily to a narrative. Blenheim is rather more difficult: the first section describes the political conditions of Europe during the latter part of Louis XIV (the Sun King)'s reign; it goes on to describe the career of Marlborough and his partner general at Blenheim, Prince Eugene of Savoy; then there is the dash across Europe from the Netherlands to Bavaria; and finally the battle itself.
I am not an aficionado of military history (I know very little about army life) and consequently I am in no position to judge whether Spencer's verdicts on the armies, the generals and the battle have any validity at all. Certainly there seemed to be a significant element of luck in Blenheim and a certain amount of Marlborough's vaunted military prowess seemed to consist in sending squadrons (or are they battalions) of soldiers straight at an enemy position and then slogging it out. Had the opposing general attacked as Marlborough's men were crossing a marshy stream instead of waiting till they were firmly established on the near bank and had he not ordered a significant portion of his army to hold the little village of Blindheim (not Blenheim!) at any cost which allowed Marlborough to encircle them and pen them in until the rest of the battle had been won, things might have gone very differently.
When one reads books like this what you most realise is how incompetent everyone seems to be. The French general was so short-sighted he had to have his aides describe the battle to him. One of the Allied generals was so cautious he would only permit the army to besiege towns rather than fight battles; Blenheim was won while he was away besieging. Generals would refuse to combine their forces because they didn't like one another. I am sure (I think) that it is just the benefit of hindsight that allows this perspective but it does sometimes seem as if the world is run by fools.
May 2009, 342 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57