The English foot at once forded it on the left and attacked the village of Blindheim in which the bulk of the French infantry were entrenched; but after a furious struggle the attack was repulsed, while as gallant a resistance at the other end of the line held Eugene in check. The centre, however, which the French believed to be unassailable, had been chosen by Marlborough for the chief point of attack; and by making an artificial road across the morass he was at last enabled to throw his eight thousand horsemen on the French cavalry which occupied this position. Two desperate charges which the Duke headed in person decided the day. The French centre was flung back on the Danube and forced to surrender. Their left fell back in confusion on Hochstadt: while their right, cooped up in Blindheim and cut off" from retreat, became prisoners of war. Of the defeated army only twenty thousand escaped. Twelve thousand were slain, fourteen thousand were captured. Germany was finally freed from the French; and Marlborough, who followed the wreck of the French host in its flight to Elsass, soon made himself master of the Lower Moselle. But the loss of France could not be measured by men or fortresses.
A hundred victories since Rocroi had taught the world to regard the French army as invincible, when Blenheim and the surrender of the flower of the French soldiery broke the spell. From that moment the terror of victory passed to the side of the allies, and "Malbrook" became a name of fear to every child in France.
In England itself the victory of Blenheim aided to bring about a great change in the political aspect of affairs. The Tories were resolved to create a permanent Tory majority in the Commons by excluding Nonconformists from the municipal corporations, which returned the bulk of the borough members. The Protestant Dissenters, while adhering to their separate congregations, in which they were now protected by the Toleration Act, " qualified for office" by the "occasional conformity" of receiving the sacrament at Church once in the year. It was against this "occasional conformity" that the Tories introduced a test to exclude the Nonconformists; and this test at first received Marlborough's support. But it was steadily rejected by the Lords as often as it was sent up to them, and it was soon guessed that their resistance was secretly backed by both Marlborough and Godolphin. Tory as he was, in fact, Marlborough had no mind for an unchecked Tory rule, or for a revival of religious strife which would be fatal to the war.
But he strove in vain to propitiate his party by inducing the Queen to set aside the tenths and first-fruits hitherto paid by the clergy to the Crown as a fund for the augmentation of small benefices, a fund which still bears the name of Queen Anne's Bounty. The Commons showed their resentment by refusing to add a grant of money to the grant of a Dukedom after his first campaign; and the higher Tories, with Lord Nottingham at their head, began to throw every obstacle they could in the way of the continuance of the war. At last they quitted office in 1704, and Marlborough replaced them by Tories of a more moderate stamp who were still in favour of the war: by Robert Harley, who became Secretary of State, and Henry St. John, a man of splendid talents, who was named Secretary at War. The Duke's march into Germany, which pledged England to a struggle in the heart of the Continent, embittered the political strife. The high Tories and Jacobites threatened, if Marlborough failed, to bring his head to the block, and only the victory of Blenheim saved him from political ruin. Slowly and against his will the Duke drifted from his own party to the party which really backed his policy.
He availed himself of the national triumph over Blenheim to dissolve Parliament; and when the election of 1705, as he hoped, returned a majority in favour of the war, his efforts brought about a coalition between the moderate Tories who still clung to him and the Whig Junto, whose support was purchased by making a Whig, William Cowper, Lord Keeper, and by sending Lord Sunderland as envoy to Vienna. The bitter attacks of the peace party were entirely foiled by this union, and Marlborough at last felt secure at home. But he had to bear disappointment abroad. His plan of attack along the line of the Moselle was defeated by the refusal of the Imperial army to join him. When he entered the French lines across the Dyle, the Dutch generals withdrew their troops; and his proposal to attack the Duke of Villeroy in the field of Waterloo was rejected in full council of war by the deputies of the States with cries of "murder" and "massacre." Even Marlborough's composure broke into bitterness at the blow. " Had I had the same power I had last year," he wrote home, " I could have won a greater victory than that of Blenheim." On his complaint the States recalled their commissaries, but the year was lost; nor had greater results been brought about in Italy or on the Rhine. The spirits of the allies were only sustained by the romantic exploits of Lord Peterborough in Spain. Profligate, unprincipled, flighty as he was, Peterborough had a genius for war, and his seizure of Barcelona with a handful of men, his recognition of the old liberties of Aragon, roused that province to support the cause of the second son of the Emperor, who had been acknowledged as King of Spain by the allies under the title of Charles the Third. Catalonia and Valencia soon joined Aragon in declaring for Charles: while Marlborough spent the winter of 1705 in negotiations at Vienna, Berlin, Hanover, and the Hague, and in preparations for the coming campaign.
Eager for freedom of action, and sick of the Imperial generals as of the Dutch, he planned a march over the Alps and a campaign in Italy; and though his designs were defeated by the opposition of the allies, he found himself unfettered when he again appeared in Flanders in 1706. The French marshal Villeroy was as eager as Marlborough for an engagement; and the two armies met on the 23rd of May at the village of Ramillies on the undulating plain which forms the highest ground in Brabant. The French were drawn up in a wide curve with morasses covering their front. After a feint on their left, Marlborough flung himself on their right wing at Ramillies, crushed it in a brilliant charge that he led in person, and swept along their whole line till it broke in a rout which only ended beneath the walls of Louvain. In an hour and a half the French had lost fifteen thousand men, their baggage, and their guns; and the line of the Scheldt, Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges became the prize of the victors. It only needed four successful sieges which followed the battle of Ramillies to complete the deliverance of Flanders.