Sunday, March 12, 2006

Queen Anne: 5 The war turns sour

The Tory commitment to the Grand Alliance was rarely more than carping and half-hearted. Tories argued that England was paying a disproportionate price led them to advocate a ‘blue-water strategy’ rather than the large-scale Continental operations to which Marlborough was committed. The queen’s belief in the need for a firm prosecution of the war made her more dependent on the Whigs and by 1708 she was forced to bring Whigs into office. One of these was Marlborough’s son-in-law, Sunderland, who became Secretary of State for the Southern Department. The general election of July 1708 returned a Whiggish House of Commons.

1708 was a bad year for Anne. She was left desolate by the death of her husband, George of Denmark, in October 1708 and by the cooling of her friendship with the duchess of Marlborough, her Groom of the Stole. She had come under the sway of her bedchamber woman Sarah’s cousin Abigail Hill (who in 1707 secretly married Samuel Masham), and Abigail provided a conduit for her distant relative the Tory politician Robert Harley. Sarah’s resentment at her loss of influence was shown dramatically when she publicly insulted the queen at the Oudenarde thanksgiving service at St Paul’s.

On 31 August (11 September NS) 1709 Marlborough won another victory at Malplaquet. The cost in casualties was probably the highest for the entire eighteenth century (and it followed an exceptionally grim winter in France). No exact figures are known, but it is estimated that c. 24,000 allies were killed and wounded, and c. 15,000 killed and wounded among the French. Marlborough was appalled to have ‘so many brave men killed with whom I have lived these eight years, when we thought ourselves sure of a peace’. The experience shook the allies and led to a great loss of confidence.