Marlborough was leading an allied force from Britain, the Netherlands and Austria with the aim of preventing a union between France and Spain, part of a Europe-wide conflict that became known as the War of Spanish Succession.
The French had captured Brugge and Gent, and now turned their sights to Oudenaarde to complete their goal of taking Flanders.
The loss of Oudenaarde would cut Marlborough off from the coast and his English supply and communication lines.
The wide and powerful River Scheldt separated the two armies, with Marlborough needing to cross with 80,000 men plus equipment to engage the French.
Marlborough was a bold commander who aimed to bring his enemy to battle in the field. His quartermaster Cadogan raced his advance guard to the river, reaching his goal with such speed that one French general later said, "The devil must have aided them."
Cadogan built five pontoon bridges so that when Marlborough arrived with the main body of the army a few hours later, they were able to cross here rather than through the constricted and crumbling narrow streets of Oudenaarde itself.
The French were focused on besieging Oudenaarde and did not expect the allies to arrive so quickly. Marlborough attacked immediately. The first the French knew of his proximity was when Cadogan's advanced forces surprised French foragers.
As Marlborough's army crossed the river, the experienced French leader Marshal Vendôme saw an opportunity to attack. But his commander, the royal Duke of Burgundy, overruled him.
This caused confusion and a split in the French force, with several battalions continuing to execute Vendôme's original orders. They were exposed and decisively defeated by the allies.
The bulk of the French army that had been held back was now ordered to attack.
As the two armies engaged the line grew longer, with Marlborough receiving constant reinforcements as more troops crossed the Scheldt.
He sent 20 battalions of Dutch and Danish foot soldiers on a detour to the west, and they arrived to smash the French flank.
The Allies had control and the French army began to collapse. But the onset of darkness brought a halt to the rout, and the remaining French forces were able to escape under darkness.
Marlborough would go on to say, “Another hour of daylight would have enabled me to finish the war.”
Join our tour to discover more: Marlborough's Victories in Belgium is a four-day tour with the renowned historian and expert on the War of Spanish Succession, James Falkner. You'll visit the battlefield of Oudenaarde, plus the sites of other great engagements at Ramillies and Malplaquet.
For Marlborough's Victories in Belgium details and daily itinerary
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Picture credit: The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708) by JWootton, available for reuse on Wikimedia Commons
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