Charles Spenser is certainly correct in his assertion that the Battle of Blenheim is one of the more important battles of history that is not well remembered today. This is more surprising in the English-speaking world since it was an English commander in charge, and English troops played an important part in the battle.

I’m not so sure how much I can go for his subtitle, “How Two Men Stopped The French Conquest Of Europe“, however. It’s not just a tag put on by the publisher, as it is certainly an idea present in his book, but it’s not that well supported. The immediate consequences of a (likely) French victory in the War of Spanish Succession are obvious enough, but after some good analysis of  internal French troubles one wonders just how well they could have done. Finally, I felt through the entire book that the story of the second man, Prince Eugène of Savoy, was not very well served by the narrative.

In fact, Blenheim suffers most from being too close to typical English accounts of the battle, instead being much more about the story of Marlborough than anything else. There are good reasons for this, but I was hoping that the book would move its center of gravity a little further away from the instinctual ‘how great our man is’ mode.

Thankfully, the book is at the same time much more than that, and very handy for the casual history reader. Spenser does spend quite a bit of time laying the groundwork, presenting the career of Louis XIV as whole, as well as William of Orange’s resistance to his territorial aims in the Low Countries, and an account of the War of the League of Augsburg. So the background is very good, and takes up a fair chunk of the book.

The War of Spanish Succession itself is centered around Marlborough’s campaigning, and isn’t an account of the war as a whole; coverage after Blenheim drops off dramatically. That said, as with much else with the book, what is there is well done, and the Marlborough’s move from the Low Countries to the Danube is handled very well.

As a casual history book, centered around Marlborough, it’s very good, and other viewpoints from contemporary diaries are included to good effect, and I recommend it, but on that basis only. Prince Eugène’s story is given, but not in as much detail. As a history of the War of Spanish Succession it fails from not giving proper attention to the rest of the war, and as a history of the Battle of Blenheim, it spends too much time on the rest.