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​A sense of place: James Falkner

Woodland in mist
In the first of a new series on a Sense of Place, we asked James Falkner, one of the UK's leading experts on the Wars of the Spanish Succession, to tell us where he feels the pull of history most strongly. 

"Of all the Duke's major battlefields, the one that I most often think about, and mull over, is that at Malplaquet, where the woods are still pretty well the same in extent and outline that they were in the Autumn of 1709. 

"The shady thickets, particularly on a sunny day (as in 1709) seem to give out a quiet sense of foreboding, and it is not too difficult, with eyes half-closed, to 'see' the woods thronging with armed men on their last day in this world. 

"The battle was badly handled, there is general consensus on that, and both Marlborough and Eugene could and should have manoeuvred for position rather than going full tilt as they did - even with Withers approaching to turn Marshal Villars' left flank. 

"This, together with the fine defence put up by the French, often gives me pause for thought, particularly when walking those woods."
 

About James Falkner

James Falkner served as a British Army infantry officer for 25 years and is today recognised as one of the leading modern authorities on 18th century warfare. He specialises in the campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough, who he has studied through a series of books.  
 

About the battle of Malplaquet

Malplaquet was the Duke of Marlborough’s fourth battle in Belgium against the French army of Louis XIV, fought during the Wars of the Spanish Succession, on 11th September 1709.

Marlborough was victorious, but his casualties were terrible and the fight was his bloodiest, leading to his recall to Britain. 

The Duke's forces were truly European, with British, Dutch, Austrians, Hanoverians, Prussians and Danes fighting against the French and Bavarians, and Scots, Irish, Swiss and Germans found on both sides. 

Marlborough urged a swift start to the fight before the French forces could reinforce their position, but his commanders argued to wait for reinforcements, allowing their foes more time to set their defences. 

The French commander, Marshall Villars, picked a position that allowed him to anchor his flanks in woods, and then used a mass of musketry and skilful artillery when the allies launched their assault. 

Both armies had around 100,000 men, with Marlborough losing around 20,000 by the end, double the number of the French. 

The French retreated, but Marlborough's forces were unable to follow. Although the Grand Alliance could claim victory at the end, the outcome of the bloody battle meant they were too weak to go on and invade France.  
 

Join our expert-led tour, Marlborough's Victories in Belgium

Would you like to walk in the footsteps of Marlborough during the Battle of Malplaquet? Our small-group tour, Marlborough's Victories in Belgium, is a five-day exploration of the locations and battles that played a moajor role in the Duke's campaign, with historian James Falkner bringing to life the personalities and events that shaped this momentous period.

Click here to see the dates, itinerary and tour details. 
 

More articles about Marlborough in Flanders on Promenades Travel:
>> VIDEO: Marlborough, the Great Commander
>> Malplaquet: the bloodiest battle of the 18th century
>> The Battle of Blenheim: France's invincible army defeated
>> Oudenaarde: a triumph for Britain's bold commander
>> Marlborough specialist talks history, tours and the thrill of being "there"
>> Marlborough in Ireland: the making of England's great military leader
>> ​How Marlborough used rivers to support his victories in Belgium
>> A reading list for Marlborough's Victories in Belgium
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