Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Never mind the Bellocs, Here's the Battle of Malplaquet ...

The Battle of Malplaquet by Hilaire Belloc 1913

The last week or so has seen me doing quite a bit of reading while in A&E departments and the like. I used to be quite manic about always having a book about my person, though the advent of the IPhone has weaned me off the habit. That said, honest to God paper and pasteboard reading material trumps a screen every time.

I read the following recently and was pleasantly surprised. I bought it as a curiosity as I've never given Mr. Belloc much thought, treating him as a satrapy of the Chestertonian Empire. While I've always been fond of the lines;

"What ever happens,
we have got,
the Maxim gun,
and they have not."

I would have been hard pressed to name the author.

British Battles: Malplaquet is a compact little battle book and quite distinct from the genre as it is understood today. There is no detail on the impedimenta armies involved, Mr. Belloc does not give a fig for what manner of hat the French infantry wore or the colour of the facings of the Dutch Guards. What you do get for your money is an admirably brief outline of the geo-political background of the battle, a thorough description of the ground and some interesting musings on the outcome.

The battle itself is described in thirty pages and is a bloody and desperate affair. I have read a little of David Chandlers work on Marlborough, but the War of the Spanish Succession appears to have been a particularly sainguinary business.

Bellocs thesis appears to be as follows; Louis XIV was put in an intolerable position by Allied demands that he make war on his grand nephew (the relationship is clear, while the nomenklature is not) and therefore peace was not worth negotiating for. Essentially a Treaty of Versailles situation, but one where the Germans didn't swallow the bitter pill and decided to fight on in the hope of negotiating a more advantageous peace.

The French dodged battle for as long as they could, leaving Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy to attack the fortress of Tournai. Tournai held out for rather longer than expected and by the time it fell, the French under Marshall Villars were in a position to give battle, albeit defensicely. The Allied forces attacked them in prepared positions at
Malplaquet and were drawn into a long and bloody fight. The French quit the field, thus losing on points, but the Allies suffered far higher casualties and found pursuit impossible. Their habit of victory was tarnished and Marlborough was recalled as a result.

Bellocs summation; a battlefield victory for the Allies, but a political victory for the French.

I enjoyed this book, though it lacks many of the standards of the contemporary battle book, because of its emphasis on politics. An intriguing read and for a book that cost a shilling in Newman & Co Booksellers of Calcutta, well worth the money.

Mrs. Kinch update: Mrs. Kinch has endured her second operation and we are tentatively optimistic. She is no longer leaking spinal fluid from her back, nor is she suffering the appalling headaches brought on by an insufficency of liquid to cushion the brain. She is still in hospital and will remain there for a few more days. She has asked me to pass on her thanks for your good wishes and is up and demanding Harry Potter books, which is definately a good sign.


  1. Continued best wishes to Mrs. Kinch and hope for a speedy recovery!

  2. My very best wishes for your dear lady wife's rapid and complete recovery.

    I have been through something similar ten years ago when my wife had brain surgery to remove a tumor.

    Afterward she had a number of follow-up operations (and several infections) . . . very stressful, but in time it passed and she is now much improved (one doesn't really fully recover from her type of brain surgery . . . but all of the necessary follow-ups are distant memories).

    The important thing right now is to just "be there" for your bride; and to urge her to give herself permission to take the necessary time to recover.

    -- Jeff

  3. I've always liked Belloc as a historian. I have his English Warfare monograph as well as his British Battles- a combination of those little books he's a bit traditional now but still worth sa read.
    Hope good lady recovers well.