It was only by the threat of resignation that he had forced her to admit Sunderland to office; and the violent outbreak of temper with which the Duchess enforced her husband's will changed the Queen's friendship for her into a bitter resentment. Marlborough was driven to increase this resentment by fresh compliances with the conditions which the Whigs imposed on him, by removing Peterborough from his command as a Tory general, and by wresting from Anne her consent to the dismissal from office of Harley and St. John with the moderate Tories whom they headed. Their removal was followed by the complete triumph of the Whigs. Somers became President of the Council, Wharton Lord-Lieutenant of Irelend, while lower posts were occupied by men destined to play a great part in our later history, such as the young Duke of Newcastle and Robert Walpole. Meanwhile, the great struggle abroad went on, with striking alternations of success. France rose with singular rapidity from the crushing blow of Ramillies. Spain was recovered for Philip by a victory of Marshal Berwick at Almanza. Villars won fresh triumphs on the Rhine, while Eugene, who had penetrated into Provence, was driven back into Italy. In Flanders, Marlborough's designs for taking advantage of his great victory were foiled by the strategy of the Duke of Vend˘me and by the reluctance of the Dutch, who were now wavering towards peace.
In the campaign of 1708, however, Ven-d˘me, in spite of his superiority in force, was attacked and defeated at Oudenarde; and though Marlborough was hindered from striking at the heart of France by the timidity of the English and Dutch statesmen, he reduced Lille, the strongest of its frontier fortresses, in the face of an army of relief which numbered a hundred thousand men. The pride of Lewis was at last broken by defeat and by the terrible suffering of France. He offered terms of peace which yielded all that the allies had fought for. He consented to withdraw his aid from Philip of Spain, to give up ten Flemish fortresses to the Dutch, and to surrender to the Empire all that France had gained since the Treaty of Westphalia. He offered to acknowledge Anne, to banish the Pretender from his dominions, and to demolish the fortifications of Dunkirk, a port hateful to England as the home of the French privateers.
To Marlborough peace now seemed secure; but in spite of his counsels, the allies and the Whig Ministers in England demanded that Lewis should with his own troops compel his grandson to give up the crown of Spain. "If I must wage war," replied the King, "I had rather wage it against my enemies than against my children." In a bitter despair he appealed to France; and exhausted as it was, the campaign of 1709 proved how nobly France answered his appeal. The terrible slaughter which bears the name, of the battle of Mal-plaquet showed a new temper in the French soldiers. Starving as they were, they flung away their rations in their eagerness for the fight, and fell back at its close in serried masses that no efforts of Marlborough could break. They had lost twelve thousand men, but the forcing their lines of entrenchment had cost the allies a loss of double that number. Horror at such a "deluge of blood " increased the growing weariness of the war; and the rejection of the French offers was unjustly attributed to a desire on the part of Marlborough of lengthening out a contest which brought him profit and power.
A storm of popular passion burst suddenly on the Whigs. Its occasion was a dull and silly sermon in which a High Church divine, Dr. Sacheverell, maintained the doctrine of non-resistance at St. Paul's. His boldness challenged prosecution; but in spite of the warning of Marlborough and of Somers the Whig Ministers resolved on his impeachment before the Lords, and the trial at once widened into a great party struggle. An outburst of popular enthusiasm in Sacheverell's favour showed what a storm of hatred had gathered against the Whigs and the war. The most eminent of the Tory Churchmen stood by his side at the bar, crowds escorted him to the court and back again, while the streets rang with cries of "The Church and Dr. Sacheverell." A small majority of the peers found the preacher guilty, but the light sentence they inflicted was in effect an acquittal, and bonfires and illuminations over the whole country welcomed it as a Tory triumph.
The party whom the Whigs had striven to crush were roused to new life. The expulsion of Harley and St. John from the Ministry had given the Tories leaders of a more subtle and vigorous stamp than the High Churchmen who had quitted office in the first years of the war, and St. John brought into play a new engine of political attack whose powers soon made themselves felt. In the Examiner and in a crowd of pamphlets and periodicals which followed in its train, the humour of Prior, the bitter irony of Swift, and St. John's own brilliant sophistry spent themselves on the abuse of the war and of its general. "Six millions of supplies and almost fifty millions of debt!" Swift wrote bitterly; "the High Allies have been the ruin of us!" Marlborough was ridiculed and reviled, he was accused of insolence, cruelty and ambition, of corruption and greed. Even his courage was called in question. The turn of popular feeling freed Anne at once from the pressure beneath which she had bent: and the subtle intrigue of Harley was busy in undermining the Ministry. The Whigs, who knew the Duke's alliance with them had simply been forced on him by the war, were easily persuaded that the Queen had no aim but to humble him, and looked coolly on at the dismissal of his son-in-law, Sunderland, and his friend, Godolphin. Marlborough on his part was lured by hopes of reconciliation with his old party, and looked on as coolly while Anne dismissed the Whig Ministers and appointed a Tory Ministry in their place, with Harley and St. John at its head.
But the intrigues of Harley paled before the subtle treason of St. John. Resolute to drive Marlborough from his command, he fed the Duke's hopes of reconciliation with the Tories, till he led him to acquiesce in his wife's dismissal, and to pledge himself to a co-operation with the Tory policy. It was the Duke's belief that a reconciliation with the Tories was effected that led him to sanction the despatch of troops which should have strengthened his army in Flanders on a fruitless expedition against Canada, though this left him too weak to carry out a masterly plan which he had formed for a march into the heart of France in the opening of 1711. He was unable even to risk a battle or to do more than to pick up a few seaboard towns, and St. John at once turned the small results of the campaign into an argument for the conclusion of peace. In defiance of an article of the Grand Alliance which pledged its members not to carry on separate negotiations with France, St. John, who now became Lord Bolingbroke, pushed forward a secret accommodation between England and France. It was for this negotiation that he had crippled Marlborough's campaign; and it was the discovery of his perfidy which revealed to the Duke how utterly he had been betrayed, and forced him at last to break with the Tory Ministry. He returned to England; and his efforts induced the House of Lords to denounce the contemplated peace; but the support of the Commons and the Queen, and the general hatred of the war among the people, enabled Harley to ride down all resistance.