News | Sept. 10, 2020

The Duke of Marlborough and the Paradox of Campaigning in Long Wars

By Gordon Muir Joint Force Quarterly 98

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Major Gordon Muir is an Infantry Officer in the British Army with the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Battle of Blenheim, oil on canvas, by Joshua Ross, Jr.,
ca. 1715 (Courtesy Government Art Collection, London)
Battle of Blenheim, oil on canvas, by Joshua Ross, Jr., ca. 1715 (Courtesy Government Art Collection, London)
Battle of Blenheim, oil on canvas, by Joshua Ross, Jr.,
ca. 1715 (Courtesy Government Art Collection, London)
Battle of Blenheim, oil on canvas, by Joshua Ross, Jr., ca. 1715 (Courtesy Government Art Collection, London)
Battle of Blenheim, oil on canvas, by Joshua Ross, Jr., ca. 1715 (Courtesy Government Art Collection, London)
Photo By: Government Art Collection, London
VIRIN: 200910-D-BD104-018

The Duke of Marlborough was a commander for the ages. For 10 campaigns during the War of the Spanish Succession, stretching from 1702 to 1711, he was never defeated on the field of battle. However, the war ended in the failure of the Grand Alliance’s war aim to prevent Louis XIV’s Bourbon dynasty from taking the throne of Spain. Marlborough’s campaign in 1711 provides a potent source of understanding for joint military commanders and practitioners on the complexities of campaigning. Using the U.S. Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC), this article argues that the Duke of Marlborough adhered to many of the sound practices and concepts in JCIC but ultimately failed in two core areas by 1711.1 First, he did not adequately adapt his campaign to changed circumstances and continued to seek decisive effect and a military outcome when neither was possible. Second, Marlborough ceased to have honest and open dialogue with his newly elected political masters. These two failings could significantly contribute to defeat and disaster for any military commander. However, there is an underlying paradox to Marlborough’s campaign: Despite these failures, he secured the elusive endstate of an advantageous political settlement. Marlborough’s last campaign in 1711 illustrates the paradox of achieving national political advantage through military strategic failure.2

This article uses the JCIC as a handrail to discuss Marlborough’s exploits and extrapolate lessons for the joint force. It examines the four interrelated elements of campaigning and discusses certain concepts such as the competition continuum, demonstrating that there is great historical continuity to not only what constitutes sound campaigning but also a warning that the complexities the JCIC identifies can lead to nonlinear outcomes. There is also an inherent risk of transposing the Duke of Marlborough’s exploits to the modern day. His successes are over 300 years old and certain aspects of integrated campaigning simply are not applicable. Concepts such as multidomain and the interagency community, among others, are not discussed and are out of scope for this discussion. Nevertheless, Marlborough’s experiences in his long war continue to resonate during a period of ongoing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The Continuing Relevance of 1711

The Duke of Marlborough’s campaign in 1711 is one of the best cases for the study of campaigning in long wars amid drifting political aims. Marlborough suffered the changing political landscape and the effects it was having on operations. His diminished personal and political power after 9 years of campaigning meant his role more closely resembled that of a modern commander. Therefore, the campaign of 1711 and Marlborough remain relevant due to three factors.

First, there is a persistent relationship between war and politics. Marlborough was more than a general and wielded greater political power than many of today’s generals. Yet due to England’s burgeoning representative political control, this power was always constrained and at risk. He was not an absolute ruler and military commander like Napoleon Bonaparte or Frederick the Great; consequently, his role in the dialogue with political leaders and subsequent creation and execution of a campaign are worthy of analysis. Second, the operational context of Marlborough’s campaigns is pertinent in the contemporary world. Joint, multinational operations subservient to evolving political aims and coalition intricacies are not modern or emerging phenomena. Marlborough dealt with these considerations continuously in the War of the Spanish Succession. Third, the war was long, 11 years in duration—300 years before the term was coined to explain the struggles in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom’s recent experiences are indicative of long war political expediency. Involvement in Afghanistan began because of terrorism and al Qaeda, but it morphed into a drugs eradication quest, then a training mission—all while pursuing Western normative ideals. Modern-day joint force practitioners have much to learn from this general who served at the turn of the 18th century.

Understanding 1711 Through the Competition Continuum

According to the JCIC, a common understanding is the “unifying start point” for campaigning.3 When war broke out in 1702 against France and Louis XIV, England was a small land power. Cooperation was therefore vital for the subsequent prosecution of the war. However, as General Rupert Smith stated 300 years later, “The glue that holds a coalition together is a common enemy, not a common desired political outcome.”4 This was especially true for the Grand Alliance that united against Louis XIV. The succession of the dying and childless Charles II of Spain reinvigorated the alliance in 1701 after he bequeathed his throne to Philip, Duke of Anjou. Louis XIV’s grandson had the Spanish inheritance in his grasp, and France’s strategic position therefore became “exorbitant.”5

European powers were in a constant state of competition during this period, utilizing the full spectrum of competition mechanisms outlined in the JCIC, yet war was by no means inevitable. However, Charles II’s revelation was followed by Louis’s hubris. Following aggressive maneuvers in Flanders, Louis recognized the Catholic heir to the English throne in what Correlli Barnett describes as “one of the more notable achievements of Louis XIV’s statecraft.” This blatant threat to the Protestant succession united all but the fervent Jacobite sympathizers in England. It was “a distinct and public declaration of war, not only against the reigning monarch, but [also] against the established religion of Great Britain.”6

The unifying starting point and aims of the Grand Alliance were to control French power and partition the Spanish inheritance to this effect. An alliance treaty clause articulated this clearly: “The sovereignty of Spain and its Indian possessions should never appertain to any prince who should be, at the same time Emperor or King of the Romans, or either King or Dauphin of France.”7 The religious struggle is highlighted frequently by many sources. However, this was not the only, nor overriding, consideration. Alliances were made irrespective of religious beliefs, rooted, as the clause suggests, in preserving the balance of power.

As the designated allied commander, the Duke of Marlborough fully understood the political concerns and need for cooperation. Furthermore, he was at the forefront of coalition negotiations. His political and courtier skills were in evidence as he sought to find consensus. Marlborough thus was “proclaimed Ambassador-Extra-ordinary and Plenipotentiary, with the right to ‘conceive treaties without reference, if need be, to King or Parliament.’”8 This gave him tremendous power, but he also needed to remember that the English narrative for war was unique and the English had their own desired political outcomes.

English involvement in the war was not solely due to religion or balance of power. According to Brendan Simms, the defense of England, which rested in the security of Flanders, stood above economic or religious factors. France was the major threat to Europe. A union with Spain would mean the already-dominant French power would become overwhelming. England in the war acted to oppose the French as it threatened to gain a “position of predominance” in the European system, which threatened England’s liberties, trade, and very existence.9

Campaigning in a State of Cooperation

The JCIC recognizes the need to maintain the coalition during integrated campaigning. It further stresses the transactional nature of the relationship, a facet of cooperation that Marlborough also endured.10 As 1702 got under way, England along with the rest of the Grand Alliance sought to defeat and consequently “impose [their] desired policy objectives upon” the French.11 However, Marlborough’s approach to accomplish the defeat was at odds with the wider coalition. His campaigns of 1702 and 1703 showed not only his skill at maneuver but also the struggles he endured fighting in a coalition. The coalition was a necessity for England, yet the understandable, although inherently contrasting, views and acceptance of risk led to missed opportunities. Frank Taylor describes the years of 1702 and 1703 as the most divisive of the war. However, alliance concerns cannot be idly dismissed; they too had pertinent strategic considerations and Marlborough was on his first independent command. As David Chandler states of missed opportunities and the valid obstinacy of the United Provinces in the alliance in particular, “Here we see the conflict between military and political priorities; an aspect of these ten campaigns which will all too often recur. As a soldier Marlborough was wrong to throw up the opportunity; as a statesman, he chose the right course.”12

That is not to say Marlborough and the alliance were unsuccessful in this approach, merely that campaigning in a state of cooperation leads to compromise and frustration and requires significant diplomatic skill. The root of Marlborough’s personal frustration lay in his design and construct of the campaigns.

Marlborough’s Campaign Design and Construct

The Duke of Marlborough’s outlook on warfare and visualization of campaigning was to destroy the enemy through battle and a decisive strike. His approach caused friction within the coalition and was firmly at odds with the prevailing consensus of warfare. The balance between “risk tolerance and willingness to expend resources”13 was acute in Europe as battles were costly, robbing European rulers of the military means to hold onto power. Warfare was attritional and diplomatically focused, with “slow operational tempo” and short campaign seasons. Indeed, Marlborough conducted far more sieges than battles, and although he “displayed [warfare’s] full potential,” he also, as John Lynn argues, represents warfare’s “abiding limitations.”14

Moreover, decisive strategic victory, as it is today, was an oxymoron, an anomaly incongruent with warfare at this time. This was not through preference, a lack of campaign visualization, or seeking to change this paradigm by Marlborough.15 Blenheim in 1704 represented this illusion of decisiveness. In one of the greatest campaigns in the history of war, Marlborough achieved a decisive tactical victory, with the clear strategic aim of keeping Austria in the Grand Alliance. Furthermore, in defeating the perceived invincible French, he heralded a new era in European history. However, it was not enough to secure a political settlement, and the war continued. He followed Blenheim with several other great tactical victories: Ramillies (1706), Oudenaarde (1708), and the Pyrrhic victory at Malplaquet (1709). The JCIC alludes to this conundrum of military victories when it states that “tactical and operational successes do not possess intrinsic value but are worthwhile only to the extent that they support larger policy aims.”16 Ultimately, although each battle gave strategic advantage to the allies, and in the case of Blenheim certainly supported the larger policy, none proved decisive in ending the war.

Changing Conditions Over Time

The war continued not only as a result of warfare’s characteristics or the interstate order in Europe; the conditions also evolved in three core areas by 1711. The JCIC notes the complexities caused by changing conditions but should place greater emphasis on the profound effect they can have. Marlborough suffered at the hands of a series of far-reaching effects caused by the erosion of the Grand Alliance’s war aim, the primacy of national political outcomes, and overcooperation.

The Erosion of the Grand Alliance’s War Aim. Spain would also ultimately demonstrate how the aims of long wars can end up being self-defeating. In April 1711, the Habsburg Emperor died, giving the Grand Alliance’s claimant to the Spanish throne, Charles, his own throne in Austria. The overarching aim that the allies had been fighting for—to prevent hegemonic rule over Spain and Europe by a universal monarchy—would occur if Charles was to remain the preferred allied candidate. It would merely mean trading Bourbon for Habsburg dynasties. Therefore, a Grand Alliance victory in Spain would equally upset the balance of power in Europe. Indeed, Ivor Burton describes war aims at this point as being “absurd.”17

National Political Outcomes. The passage of the War of the Spanish Succession also evinced further truth in General Rupert’s statement by 1711. Within Great Britain, political calculus shifted significantly with the removal of the moderate Tory Sidney Godolphin from power as Lord Treasurer in August 1710. Godolphin was a vital cog in the war machine; he was willing to work with the Whigs and was an extremely close ally of Marlborough. The Tories led by Robert Harley now commanded the agenda, and they sought a secretive, unilateral peace with France.

For Great Britain, national political aims were valued more than cooperation by this stage. The logic and appeal of this Tory position attracted popular support. The Tories came to power based on an election, regardless of the limited franchise. Furthermore, the unique free press, a wide-circulation, evident public interest, even “natural obsession,” with containing Louis in Great Britain resulted in an informed audience. Marlborough remained popular, however, and as 1711 began, the Tories needed him to both hold the alliance together and put pressure on France to negotiate. Great Britain’s allies also must not have suspected any foul play, or they might have been tempted to seek their own peace.18 These factors led to a changed operational environment by 1711. This, in turn, should have led to the refinement of Marlborough’s operational-level logic and the mechanism employed.19 As Marlborough’s employment of forces would show, however, neither his logic nor his defeat mechanism evolved. He was certainly limited by the warfare of his age, but that alone cannot account for his inaction. A key factor of integrated campaign design reveals Marlborough’s struggles and why in 1711 he stuck to the operational-level logic and mechanism that he had employed throughout the war.

Overcooperation. The unifying starting point of the coalition and basis for cooperation evolved during the course of the war. In negotiating Portugal’s inclusion into the Grand Alliance in 1703, the allies became committed to “no peace without Spain.” The “moderate” aims and strategy established at the war’s outbreak expanded significantly. This committed the allies to winning Spain and placing their favored Austrian candidate on its throne. Politics emplaced the military in a war that now stretched the length of Western Europe. With hindsight, this overcooperation and need to secure Spain meant the war became unwinnable.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by John Closterman, ca. 1685–1690 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by John Closterman, ca. 1685–1690 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by John Closterman, ca. 1685–1690 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by John Closterman, ca. 1685–1690 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by John Closterman, ca. 1685–1690 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
Photo By: National Portrait Gallery
VIRIN: 200910-D-BD104-019

The Breakdown in Civil-Military Dialogue

JCIC defines effective civil-military dialogue as a “continual round of engagement featuring discussion, feedback, adaptation, and refinement of policy and actions to achieve an evolving set of desired strategic outcomes.”20 Marlborough recognized the political support and economic underpinnings of war. However, his successes during the War of the Spanish Succession are attributable in no small measure to the Lord Treasurer Godolphin. Godolphin had to conduct the arduous process of political agreement and funding every year to raise the troops and pay for the allies. It was Godolphin who dealt with the Tory-Whig differences, Queen Anne, other British interests worldwide, and state and financial complexities, all while Marlborough fought. The formulation of policy and strategy in England, therefore, was “formulated through a complex interchange of ideas and perceptions.”21

The Godolphin-Marlborough partnership was a great example of military and political integration. Their working relationship as political leader and military commander spanned 8 years before Godolphin’s dismissal in 1710. By the following year, the disintegration of Marlborough’s political power was almost complete, and he returned for the 1711 campaign under much different circumstances.

The Tories distrusted Marlborough’s motives and had their own agenda.22 Civil-military dialogue and transparency were significantly eroded and the foundations of his operational-level logic and mechanism gave way. Modern joint force commanders will likely not enjoy as close a relationship as Marlborough and Godolphin, but they, too, expect transparent and honest dialogue. This is especially important in a long war, as circumstances change and political aims evolve. The concept of follow-through also then comes to the fore. Military aims are subordinate, while political outcomes must be clearly articulated to allow the joint force to plan appropriately. Follow-through, an “essential ongoing task,” would simply not be achievable without dialogue. The national interests the joint force is striving for need to be known to ensure a commander does not end up in the same predicament as the Duke of Marlborough.23

The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708), oil on canvas, by John Wootton (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708), oil on canvas, by John Wootton (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708), oil on canvas, by John Wootton (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708), oil on canvas, by John Wootton (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (1708), oil on canvas, by John Wootton (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
Photo By: Sotheby's
VIRIN: 200910-D-BD104-020

The Employment of Force: Marlborough’s Final Flourish

In 1711, Marlborough consequently faced an extremely difficult situation. The aims of the French by this stage have modern connotations for Western powers. Suffering from supply shortages, Louis attempted to wear down the allies, break the alliance by diplomacy, and sicken them through huge casualties—the embodiment of the definition of degrade provided by JCIC.24 To do so, the French constructed a series of defensive fortifications, coined Ne Plus Ultra, to protect France. It was the last line before Paris and the French commander described them as perfect.25

Marlborough subsequently performed masterful operational art. He outmaneuvered a larger force, achieved complete tactical surprise, and crossed the perceived impregnable lines of Ne Plus Ultra with virtually no casualties. He took the fortress at Bouchain while keeping logistical lines of communication open and fending off any French attempts to relieve the city.26 Marlborough achieved this after 10 years of campaigning, with dwindling support at home, while out of favor with the Crown, and with peace being clandestinely sought. Although there was no great battle such as Blenheim in 1704, 1711 was undoubtedly one of Marlborough’s finest campaigns and one where he was “only” a military commander.27

The military successes of 1711 were his last. He was removed from command as peace negotiations continued during an abbreviated and convoluted campaign season in 1712 that saw the French regain ground. The Treaty of Utrecht followed in 1713. Despite missed peace overtures in 1706 and 1709, the eventual peace met the majority of the original British policy objectives. Territorial gains in Gibraltar and Nova Scotia gave great national strategic advantage, and the recognition of the Protestant succession eliminated the threat to the state itself. Great Britain maintained control of the balance of power and valuable trade rights were secured. The outcome was not accomplished militarily, regardless of the conditions it may have set.28 This was the epitome of achieving an “advantageous political settlement” as the JCIC discusses.29 Marlborough was not in command when this outcome was secured.

Assessment and Adaptation

The last factor of integrated campaigning discussed in the JCIC, assessment and adaptation, played a role in Marlborough’s removal. To assess and adapt, the mindset and willingness of the staff and commander to analyze appropriately are paramount. They must heed the changing conditions and ensure their outlook is not clouded by their experiences or biases. Marlborough’s outlook in 1711 is hard to discern. He was, as always, set on battle with the French to compel them to peace terms. Despite the few previous battles resulting in great tactical success and some strategic exploitation, they did not manufacture peace. The war, typified by siege and positional warfare, raged on. Nevertheless, neither his frame nor outlook truly changed.

Marlborough did appear more methodical by 1710. He was certainly limited by politics and a French unwillingness to fight, yet the 9 years of campaigning undoubtedly had an effect on Marlborough himself. The Pyrrhic victory at Malplaquet in 1709 weighed heavily on a commander renowned for his concern for the welfare of his soldiers. More critically, that battle’s costly and bloody stalemate eroded support from the coalition. He was also an old man by the standards of his time, entering his 61st year in 1711. Marlborough was human, and all these factors had to affect his outlook. However, he returned and once again sought to engage the French. He failed to adapt his operational-level mechanism and sought success on the battlefield even though his previous hard-won victories had not ended the war.

Marlborough’s assessment was that one more campaign would herald results. Although his execution in changed conditions remained brilliant, it would not secure the Grand Alliance’s aim. The JCIC identifies as a required capability “the ability to respond to changes in policy with multiple approaches/options in the integrated campaign design, construct, and employment.”30 Marlborough did not respond adequately, irrespective if he was shorn of political influence and his dialogue with civilian leaders had broken down. However, his failure to assess and adapt and his overall steadfastness of approach led to numerous advantages for Great Britain. This dichotomy consequently reveals several lessons for the joint force.

The Limitations of Military Action

The instrument of military action could not achieve the policies as devised by politicians. Political calculus is decisive; military conditions are not. This is the critical deduction of Marlborough’s long war. The enlargement of allied war aims to include the conquest of Spain, combined with newly elected masters in 1711, fatally undid the Duke of Marlborough. As Ivor Burton alludes, diplomacy “should always be conducted within the limits set by military possibility.” Spain’s war aim became unachievable, yet the war continued regardless. It is testament to Marlborough’s skill that “he almost succeeded in achieving the impossible.”31

Furthermore, with historical hindsight, the War of the Spanish Succession must be seen as a part of a continuum of wars during this period. Continuing advantage with accrued benefits was the best that could be achieved with the limiting character of warfare. In addition, the European system at this time was in a state of competition, which meant cooperation was transient and firmly based on national aims. The way the war ended was also not the fault of the politicians. The 10 years of campaigning had come at a vast cost. The manner in which peace was sought was poor and harmful; however, the Tories acted out of the interests of the state. The result and gains from the Treaty of Utrecht vindicated this approach.

Reframing Requires Civil-Military Dialogue

Political masters masked their true intentions in 1711; policy evolved, but the operational logic and design remained static. Therein lies the fundamental flaw in Marlborough’s final campaign: Politicians ceased to have open and transparent dialogue with Marlborough, a fact made apparent by his commitment to a political aim that was unaccomplishable. If he had known of the peace overtures, then his military strategy could have been to attain a better negotiating position. In this regard, Marlborough would have been vastly successful. However, this was not the policy he strategized. He may have wished for peace, yet he fought for a peace secured by decisive French defeat. Continually since 1704 and Portugal’s entry into the alliance, policymakers asked for more than a military campaign could deliver. Despite Marlborough’s skill and results, he faltered as he forsook the evolution of policy. He conducted military operations in isolation from the new political reality that the Tory electoral triumph brought.

To reframe, joint force commanders and their staffs must know the aims of their political masters. Dialogue does not automatically eliminate the possibility that the military will be used in roles alien to its makeup or will have to pursue ambitious or ambiguous policies. Dialogue may, however, remove from the table unachievable aims and highlight the need for continual reassessment while seeking the desired outcome.

The use of military force was misapplied in 1711 for the purpose of the policy Marlborough envisaged. He was certainly bereft of influence, yet he must shoulder some of the responsibility for the strategic failure of the allied war effort.32 The means—sieges and attrition—were unlikely to win the war. The human element of military command and analysis was revealed by his own flawed outlook, framed by the battlefield destruction of the French, requiring time and coalition support he simply did not have. He faltered as he sought decisive strategic victory through epochal constrained military operations in a single theater of war.

Embrace War’s Paradoxes

Nevertheless, irrespective of the flaws in Marlborough’s understanding, design, construct, adaptation, and assessment, there is a great paradox to 1711. The 1711 campaign worked brilliantly for the British politicians. A military commander does not need to win the war to achieve the political aim. There was no decisive victory, rather a pure example of Dolmanian strategy.33 As Donald Barr Chidsey notes, “It was called the War of the Spanish Succession, and its principal object was to keep a Bourbon from occupying the throne of Spain. But a Bourbon sat upon that throne even after the Peace of Utrecht. A Bourbon sits upon it today.”34 The year 1711 represented political advantage, achieved by military brilliance seeking an unaccomplishable purpose.

Paradoxes abound and endure in war, and it is certainly mendacious to suggest military victories are inconsequential. Indeed, the War of the Spanish Succession showed that although great military success may not achieve victory, it attains great advantages, which must be seized by politicians. Things have changed; the means and technology are seismically different. However, the assessment remains: Military strategy must be pursued in accordance with policy and national interest. If the policy drifts, as it has in Iraq and Afghanistan, and loses sight of the original national aim, then politicians must be brave and decisive enough to secure an advantageous settlement.

Joint force commanders and planners may feel undermined by political aims generated in a long war. This is further compounded in a democracy when a change in government or president may decisively change political aims or reinforce failure, making military strategic coherence even harder. Further analysis of campaigns such as Marlborough’s will assist a joint force in the most critical aspect and starting point of a campaign: understanding an operating environment in which military success fails to secure overall victory.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1706 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1706 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1706 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1706 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, oil on canvas, by Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1706 (Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London)
Photo By: National Portrait Gallery
VIRIN: 200910-D-BD104-021

Nonlinear Campaign Outcomes

Joint force practitioners must therefore study appropriate examples of campaigning. As the JCIC states, “The acknowledgement that campaigning will occur over long periods to achieve evolving policy objectives under challenging conditions is the actual historical experience of American wars.”35 The example used in the JCIC of World War II is apposite. Too often case studies depict a fraught process but one that still suggests there is a coherent flow from policy to tactics to national success. However, Marlborough’s exploits demonstrate that there is a gap between military successes or failures and the attainment of an advantageous political settlement. Understanding this nonlinearity is vital for joint force commanders and staffs.

Commanders and staffs must consequently acknowledge the nonlinearity between any measurement of success and military outcomes. Military action’s interpretative structure is vital. This is as relevant now as it was in 1711. If military strategy’s perceived failures, let alone successes, result in a better national outcome, then commanders should accept and indeed embrace this reality. Integrated campaign design would benefit greatly from this approach and ensure the construction of a far more persuasive narrative and interpretive structure. This approach would ensure that national advantage, rather than tactical action, is paramount in military minds.

In correspondence with Godolphin, the Duke of Marlborough stated, “Whatever is good for my country I shall always wish and pray for.”36 Marlborough failed to secure a decisive military result in the War of the Spanish Succession. National political aims and those of the coalition evolved and drifted throughout his long war. He lost honest and transparent dialogue with political masters. He also failed to reframe. However, Marlborough’s successes in defeating the armies of Louis XIV transcended the events of 1711. He secured national advantage and created power for Great Britain. There is much contemporaneous discussion in the United States and the United Kingdom of conditions-based missions or drawdowns in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Military commanders campaigning in today’s long wars continue to mistake a conflict’s end and military stalemate for failure. There is only one condition for a successful campaign. The Duke of Marlborough’s experiences with war’s paradoxes prove campaign success can be measured only by achieving national advantage. JFQ


1 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC) (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, March 16, 2018).

2 The Acts of Union in 1707 complicate the use of England vs. Great Britain, especially as some authors interchange the term. For ease, England will be used prior to 1707, and Great Britain thereafter.

3 JCIC, 7.

4 Rupert Smith in Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First-Century Combat as Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 34.

5 James W. Gerard, The Peace of Utrecht (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1885), 77–79.

6 Correlli Barnett, Marlborough (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), 27; John B. Hattendorf, England in the War of the Spanish Succession: A Study of the English View and Conduct of Grand Strategy, 17011713 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987), 226–229.

7 Gerard, The Peace of Utrecht, 65.

8 J.R. Jones, Marlborough (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 60; David Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973), 54.

9 Brendan Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 16–18, 45, 48–49; Morton A. Kaplan, System and Process in International Politics (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1957); Per Maurseth, “Balance-of-Power Thinking from the Renaissance to the French Revolution,” Journal of Peace Research 1, no. 2 (1964), 127.

10 JCIC, 9.

11 Ibid., 8.

12 Chandler, Marlborough as a Military Commander, 101.

13 JCIC, 11.

14 John Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV 16671714 (Essex, UK: Longman, 1999), 286, 370–375.

15 Ibid., 370–375; Chandler, Marlborough as Military Commander, 62–64.

16 JCIC, 23.

17 Ivor F. Burton, The Captain General: The Career of John Churchill from 1692 to 1711 (London: Constable, 1968), 180; Henry L. Snyder, ed., The Marlborough-Godolphin Correspondence, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 1665; Donald Barr Chidsey, Marlborough: The Portrait of a Conqueror (New York: John Day, 1929), 267.

18 Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat, 53, 54; Burton, The Captain General, 177; Hattendorf, England in the War of the Spanish Succession, 219. Public opinion did not amount to “serious consideration” of “war strategy” but rather concerns rooted in simultaneously pursuing a “policy of defence of the nation, trade and offensive with France.” See Barnett, Marlborough, 252.

19 JCIC, 12.

20 Ibid., 13.

21 “England beat France with the purse as much as the sword, and great credit is due to Godolphin’s finance.” See George Macaulay Trevelyan, England Under Queen Anne: Blenheim (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1948), 187; Hattendorf, England in the War of the Spanish Succession, 53.

22 Marlborough is a complicated figure. He “betrayed” his Catholic sponsor in 1688 and, as many characters of the time, led a delicate balancing act; he remained in correspondence with the Jacobites, and the war did much to further his own wealth and position. Duplicitous and self-serving he may undoubtedly have been, or merely a canny operator, a survivor in tumultuous times.

23 JCIC, 16: “Leaders and planners ensure proper follow through so campaigning yields acceptable and sustainable outcomes. Military operations are subordinate to policy and must remain orientated on the achievement of acceptable political outcomes.”

24 Claude C. Sturgill, Marshal Villars and the War of the Spanish Succession (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1965), 103, 104–107; Chidsey, Marlborough, 271.

25 Ne Plus Ultra figuratively means “thou shalt not pass.” Some sources also use non plus ultra. The term originates from a boastful letter from Commander Claude Louis Hector de Villars to Louis XIV. Chidsey, Marlborough, 266; Archibald Alison, The Life of John, the Duke of Marlborough, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1852), 280; John Hussey, “Marlborough and the Loss of Arleux, 1711, Accident or Design?” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 70, no. 281 (Spring 1992), 7.

26 Success is never due solely to one factor, the “genius of Generalship.” Marlborough benefited greatly during the war from several factors: Earl Cadogan’s logistical exploits, his partnership with Prince Eugene, the strong Dutch contingent, and an increasingly well-trained army.

27 Chidsey, Marlborough, 281; Simms, Three Victories and a Defeat, 55.

28 Hattendorf, England in the War of the Spanish Succession, 269–271: “Although the means [military to political/diplomatic] to this goal were altered in 1711, the goal was achieved.” The English/British method in the war was also to become the “British way of warfare” for the next two centuries.

29 JCIC, 25

30 Ibid., 30.

31 Burton, The Captain General, 193–194.

32 Jones, Marlborough, 194196.

33 The formation of strategy is, according to Dolman, “unending” and “a plan for attaining continuing advantage.” It is, furthermore, fluid and flexible. See Everett Carl Dolman, Pure Strategy: Power and Principles in the Space and Information Age (New York: Routledge, 2005), 1–10.

34 Chidsey, Marlborough, 283.

35 JCIC, 26.

36 Snyder, The Marlborough-Godolphin Correspondence, 1680.