We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Reference group
Marlborough's staff (act. 1702–1711) were the generals and senior civilian officials who played an important supporting role to John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the British and allied forces in the Netherlands during the War of the Spanish Succession.

The ‘grand alliance’ of Britain, the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman emperor—later joined by Prussia, Hanover, and other German states—was engaged in an offensive conflict with France to prevent a union of the French and Spanish crowns under the control of Louis XIV of France. The worrying spectre of an enlarged Franco-Spanish monarchy had arisen on the death of Spain's childless king, Carlos II, in November 1700, when Louis had used military force to implement the terms of the late Spanish king's will bequeathing the entire Spanish inheritance to Louis's own grandson, Philippe, duc d'Anjou, thereby rejecting the second partition treaty, which had envisaged Spain and most of its empire passing to Archduke Charles, son of the emperor Leopold I. Within a matter of weeks he had installed Philippe as Felipe V of Spain, invaded the Spanish Netherlands, and occupied Spain's Italian dominions. The allied powers declared war on France in May 1702. Each had its own interests to fight for, but they were jointly committed to preserving the ‘liberties of Europe’ from French hegemony.

Most of Marlborough's campaigning activity during the course of the war was concentrated against the French in the Low Countries. Britain's commercial interests depended heavily on the fate of the United Provinces, which initially had dreaded that it too would be overrun. British security also lay under threat, the French king's declaration of support in 1701 for the Stuart pretender, James III, having signalled the possibility of a Franco-Jacobite invasion of Britain. Thus the reduction of France's military might in this region was crucial to the very survival of Britain and the United Provinces. Britain was also heavily involved in the war in Spain, which aimed to replace Felipe V with the Habsburg claimant, the archduke Charles, as Carlos III, though these campaigns were directed by a separate British high command in which Marlborough played little part.

During the preparations for the war William III appointed Marlborough captain-general of the British forces in June 1701. The appointment was renewed by Queen Anne on 9 March 1702, the day after her accession, and he retained the position until his dismissal at the end of December 1711. In May 1702 he was chosen generalissimo of the combined British, Dutch, and German forces in Holland, although his control over Dutch forces was somewhat restricted by the supervision of four Dutch ‘field deputies’ accountable to the states general. The army he led was distinctly international in character, consisting of British, Dutch, Danish, Austrian, and German troops. Marlborough's strength and success as a military commander depended considerably on the effectiveness of his field administration. He relied on generals of high calibre, and on key individuals whose functions, expertise, and advice were vital either to the support of his immensely varied concerns as commander or in maintaining the organization and operation of his army. Through such personnel he was able to galvanize his huge military machine into carrying through the challenging strategies drawn up by himself and Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Pre-eminent among Marlborough's staff was Colonel (later Brigadier-General) William Cadogan, his outstanding quartermaster-general. Cadogan's role approximated to that of a modern chief of staff, and his responsibilities extended into many of the organizational and logistical aspects of the campaigns, such as troop movement and intelligence gathering. He was also an able field commander in his own right, and on the battlefield was usually at Marlborough's side. His calm efficiency made him indispensable to the duke, who, increasingly as the war progressed, treated him as his close confidant and aide. When not on campaign he assisted Marlborough in the constant round of diplomatic activity needed to keep the alliance together, and in the Anglo-Dutch ‘condominium’ that governed the Spanish Netherlands from 1706 after its recapture from the French.

The duke's dedicated secretary was Adam de Cardonnel, formerly a senior clerk to William III's secretary at war, William Blathwayt. Cardonnel, assisted by a small staff of clerks, handled all administrative aspects of Marlborough's command. He was devoted to the duke as ‘the best of masters’ (HoP, Commons, 1690–1715, 3.460), but frequently complained of the discomforts and dangers of campaigning, and longed for peace. Another key figure in the duke's secretariat was Henry Watkins (c.1666–1727), also schooled under Blathwayt, and who as judge-advocate-general of the army had a wide range of duties concerned with the legal aspects of army administration and discipline, including courts martial. The complexities of army finance were handled by the deputy paymasters general, Benjamin Sweet and Henry Cartwright, based respectively at Amsterdam and Antwerp, under the direction of the paymaster-general James Brydges (later first duke of Chandos) in London. They liaised closely with Cadogan and Cardonnel on such matters as subsidies to foreign troops in British pay, the payment of army contractors, and the payment of British troops. Marlborough attached enormous importance to, and gave much attention to, the details of artillery. His chief artillery and engineering adviser was Colonel (later Brigadier-General) Holcroft Blood, who served until his death in 1707, when he was succeeded by Colonel John Armstrong. The duke later commissioned a painting of himself with Armstrong, the latter displaying a plan of the French fortress of Bouchain, which was taken by Marlborough in September 1711, and was his final military success.

The duke's civilian staff included the chaplain-general to the forces, Francis Hare, a future bishop of Chichester. Hare, who had been tutor to the duke's only son, John, marquess of Blandford, was also the duke's personal chaplain and administered the sacrament to him on the eve of Blenheim. He also acted as official chronicler of Marlborough's campaigns, and ensured that authentic reports approved by the duke were filtered through to the government in England, though the accuracy of these has since been questioned by military historians. The army's medical needs and services were supervised by Thomas Lawrence (1655–1714), the army's physician-general, and Isaac Teale (d. 1712), the apothecary-general, though they no doubt deplored the low priority given to medical matters by army commanders. In a somewhat different supporting position to the duke was James Craggs (the elder), who officially was secretary to the duke in his capacity as master-general of the ordnance, but played a far more important role as his main confidential source of inside information about the political scene at home.

Marlborough's travelling entourage invariably included his aides-de-camp, of whom there were usually three, but in battle might be as many as eight. Primarily they were the duke's personal assistants who were entrusted to assess and report accurately on local military situations, and who in battle acted as liaison officers conveying his orders and messages to subordinate generals and brigadiers. Among the officers who at some stage in their careers served as the duke's aides-de-camp were Robert Hunter, Daniel Parke, Richard Molesworth (later third viscount), Harry Trelawney, William van Nassau van Zuylestein, Viscount Tunbridge (later second earl of Rochford), John Dalrymple, second earl of Stair, and Metcalfe Graham. Molesworth was one of his longest serving aides, remaining with Marlborough until he was appointed a colonel of foot in Spain in 1710. He succeeded as the duke's principal aide-de-camp in 1706 after Colonel Bingham (or Bringham) was decapitated by a cannon shot at the battle of Ramillies while helping Marlborough to remount after being thrown from his horse. The episode was afterwards graphically commemorated on packs of playing cards. Parke was entrusted with Marlborough's hastily scribbled dispatch containing news of the Blenheim victory which, after riding post haste for eight days, he delivered to the queen at Windsor.

At the time of his appointment as commander-in-chief of the allied forces in 1702 Marlborough possessed less military experience than most of his senior British generals. After brief periods of generalship in Ireland and as commander of the British forces in the Spanish Netherlands in the early 1690s his deteriorating relations with William III resulted in his exclusion from high command for the rest of the Nine Years' War. It was partly due to this inexperience that the Dutch imposed restrictions on his control over their forces in 1702. Marlborough complained often of Dutch obstruction and their insistence that he keep his forces engaged against France in the Low Countries. The generals Marlborough took with him on his early campaigns included several key figures who had already gained considerable experience of military command in this terrain, and who would feature among his ablest and most prominent generals in the course of the war. They were George Hamilton, first earl of Orkney, John Cutts, Baron Cutts, Charles Churchill, Henry Lumley, and Richard Ingoldsby. Orkney was probably Marlborough's most distinguished and effective lieutenant, though his achievements are frequently overlooked in the annals of Marlborough's campaigns. He was almost invariably successful in the tasks assigned him and provided crucial leadership in all four of Marlborough's great victories. Churchill was Marlborough's youngest brother, a full general, and reckoned one of the ablest commanders of foot in Europe. Until ill health ended his career in 1708 he was Marlborough's main commander of infantry and artillery. Cutts had the reputation of being a fearless commander and was the senior of the four British lieutenant-generals at Blenheim in 1704 (with Orkney, Lumley, and Churchill). Ingoldsby, whose bravery and integrity Marlborough particularly valued, held the command of an infantry division from 1702 to 1706, but in 1707 was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland in succession to Cutts.

In a different category were those who entered the war as field officers and whom Marlborough raised to seniority during its course. He promoted Charles Ross (1667–1732) and Henry Withers to major-general in 1704, and each to lieutenant-general in 1707. James Ferguson, one of his favourite officers, was advanced to major-general in 1705, but died shortly afterwards in suspicious circumstances. John Campbell, second duke of Argyll, John Richmond Webb, and Sir Richard Temple (later first Viscount Cobham) were each promoted to major-general in 1706, while Argyll and Temple were further advanced to lieutenant-general in 1709. George Hamilton (b. in or after 1658, d. in or after 1728), who had previously commanded in the Dutch army, was appointed a major-general in the British army in 1707 along with Francis Palmes (d. 1719) and Thomas Meredyth (b. after 1661, d. 1719). Lord Stair, formerly one of Marlborough's aides-de-camp, and William North, sixth Baron North and second Baron Grey, received their promotion to major-general in 1709, and Stair to lieutenant-general in 1710. One of the duke's last promotions was of Joseph Sabine from brigadier to major-general in 1710. Marlborough was renowned for his reliance on ambitious young protégés whom he himself had raised rather than on those of higher rank and experience. His favouritism towards a few, especially officers of Irish background such as Cadogan, Palmes, Sabine, Ingoldsby, and Meredyth, attracted unfavourable comment from those who found themselves excluded from Marlborough's patronage.

Marlborough was evidently responsible for advancing others among his general officers whose military careers have yet to be investigated, like lieutenant-generals Robert Murray and Cornelius Wood, and Archibald Rowe, the brigadier-general who valiantly led the five infantry brigades in the initial attack on the French and Bavarian forces near Blenheim before being mortally wounded, the only general officer to die in the battle.

Marlborough's involvement in the war ended on 30 December 1711 when he was dismissed by Queen Anne from command of the British forces amid the collapse of his credibility at home. The breaking up and replacement of his coterie of generals and staff soon followed as a matter of course. His successor, James Butler, second duke of Ormond, beholden to the new tory administration in London, replaced many of Marlborough's more whiggish generals with men of tory stamp, while retaining the few tory generals whom Marlborough had promoted, such as Webb and Withers. Marlborough went into exile in November 1712 and returned to Britain on 1 August 1714, the day of Queen Anne's death. He was restored as captain-general of the army, but took no further part either in politics or military affairs.

A. A. Hanham


R. D. Horn, ‘Marlborough's first biographer: Dr. Francis Hare’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 20 (1956–7), 145–62 · R. E. Scouller, The armies of Queen Anne (1966) · I. F. Burton, The captain-general: the career of John Church, duke of Marlborough from 1702 to 1711 (1968) · D. Chandler, Marlborough as military commander (1973) · The Marlborough–Godolphin correspondence, ed. H. L. Snyder, 3 vols. (1975) · E. L. Furdell, ‘The medical personnel at the court of Queen Anne’, The Historian, 48 (1986), 412–29 · J. R. Jones, Marlborough (1993) · HoP, Commons, 1690–1715