... we are all prompted by the same motives, all deceived by the same fallacies, all animated by hope, obstructed by danger, entangled by desire, and seduced by pleasure. — Samuel Johnson

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Duke of Marlborough

William III. reigned five years jointly with Mary and eight years after her death. Under his wise rule English law and liberty made great progress, and while he was never greatly loved, he was much respected. He was a stern, silent, but good and earnest man. He loved his wife dearly, and after his death a ring containing a lock of her hair was found tied to his arm.

Besides helping the country to become strong and prosperous, William founded two great institutions—the Greenwich Hospital for sick and disabled seamen, and the world-renowned Bank of England.

It had been decided by Parliament that if William and Mary died without children the crown should pass to Anne, the second daughter of James II. A good, gentle, and kind-hearted woman, the new queen was not well educated, nor clever, nor handsome. She had married a very insignificant Protestant, Prince George of Denmark, but although they had many children, all died when babies, except one son who lived to be eleven.

When Queen Anne came to the throne, in 1702, all the preparations had been made to carry on the war which in Europe was called the "War of the Spanish Succession," and in the colonies "Queen Anne's War." In this contest the English, Dutch, and Germans banded together in the Grand Alliance, to punish the French king, Louis XIV., for placing his grandson upon the throne of Spain.

The Germans were commanded by Prince Eugene; but the Dutch and English forces were in charge of the Duke of Marlborough, who had already fought under James and William. This general, who never lost a battle or failed to take a town, was always calm and deliberate, forming a great contrast to the impetuous Prince Eugene.

One day, we are told, when a council of war was called, Prince Eugene and the other officers were all in favour of attacking the enemy on the morrow, but Marlborough would not consent. Prince Eugene argued for a while, then flew into a passion, taunted Marlborough with cowardice, and finally challenged him to fight a duel. But the duke remained perfectly cool, refused the challenge, and allowed the prince to depart in anger. Early the next morning, however, Marlborough came to Prince Eugene's tent to awake him and bid him prepare for battle. The prince sprang up joyfully, saying, "But why would you not consent to this last night?"

"I could not tell you my determination last night," answered Marlborough, "because there was a person present who, I knew, was in the enemy's interest and would betray us. I do not doubt we shall conquer, and when the battle is over I will be ready to accept your challenge."

Prince Eugene, like a true gentleman, seeing that he had been in the wrong, now promptly apologized for his passion on the night before; and when he and the duke parted amicably, the latter said: "I thought, my dear prince, you would in time be satisfied."

This strangely assorted couple of commanders was very successful, and although the French tried to make the duke ridiculous by writing a long ballad about him, they were thoroughly beaten in the four battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. The news of these victories was received with joy in England, and after each new triumph the queen bestowed some new reward upon her brave general.

It was thus that Marlborough received the Woodstock estate, where the grateful English people built him a palace which is still called Blenheim, in memory of his greatest victory. He also received the Garter, which was generally given only to kings or princes, and large sums of money. It is said that the greater part of these gifts were bestowed at the suggestion of his wife, Lady Churchill, who was Anne's most intimate friend. This woman was very clever and imperious, and had a great influence over the gentle queen; but she became so proud that at last she treated even the queen with scorn.

After patiently submitting to all Lady Churchill's caprices for a long while, Anne finally grew very tired of her. She therefore made a friend of her lady of the bedchamber, Mrs. Masham, and sent the Duchess of Marlborough away. The gifts bestowed upon the duke now became fewer; but those he and the duchess had already received have belonged to their family ever since.

The Duke of Marlborough, who was one of the greatest generals that ever lived, and one of England's military heroes, was nevertheless a strange mixture of all that was great and noble, and, alas! of all that was mean and small. The great qualities which make every one admire him were spoiled by the fact that he was so fond of money that he would do the meanest things to increase his fortune. Besides, he was not always faithful to his king, and did not consider his promises sacred.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee