Blindheim, Germany (1704 AD)
The Battle of Blenheim was one of the most important, if not decisive, battle of the War of the Spanish Succession. It was also the largest military engagement in Central Europe between the Thirty Years War and the Napoleanic Wars. Essentially a showdown between the French and the Hapsburgs for influence in the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, it was one of the greatest victories of the Austrians during the Colonial era, and a sobering check to the military and political ambitions of France’s Sun King, Louis XIV. It also displayed the growing influence and strength that the British were wielding in continental affairs.
In the wake of the Thirty Years War, France became the most powerful state in continental Europe. The Holy Roman Empire and Hapsburg territories were a shambles, and after years of war with the British and Dutch the Spanish colonial empire was bankrupt and weakening. Louis XIV, whose reign began during the Thirty Years War, saw the chaos engulfing his neighbors as the perfect opportunity to expand his realm; and for most of the seven decades he ruled France was in a nearly perpetual state of war.
In the late 17th century, concerned about French ambitions, a Grand Alliance, the first in Europe’s history, was formed to oppose Louis XIV. It consisted of Great Britain, many of the smaller states of the Holy Roman Empire and Central Europe, Portugal and Spain. In 1701 a dispute over the dynastic succession in Spain led the French Bourbons and Austrian Hapsburgs to support different claimants, and not surprisingly war broke out between France and the Grand Alliance.
Fighting took place throughout Western Europe and at sea, but the major showdown took place in Southern Germany, the frontier between France and Austria. In 1704, the France, allied with Bavaria, launched a campaign with the intention to knock the Austrians out of the war. After a small but important defeat at Donauworh in July, the French assembled a major force with the hopes of finishing off the Hapsburgs once and for all by marching on Vienna.
The Alliance, under the brilliant leadership of the British commander John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, managed to assemble a roughly equal, if patchwork, army. The two sides met at Blindheim in Bavaria. Despite the seemingly overwhelming assaults, the allies managed to hold firm until the French exhausted themselves. Outmaneuvered, the French were surrounded and suffered nearly two-thirds casualties. The survivors were forced to withdraw from Bavaria, ending the French threat to Austria for the next century.
The Battle of Blenheim took place in a widely spread out area in the area between the city of Hochstadt and the smaller towns of Blindheim and Lutzingen. Today the battlefield is almost completely farmland. A memorial stone in Lutzingen commemorates the battle. The Hochstadt Museum has an exhibit on the battle, including a fairly massive diorama depicting the high point of the engagement.
The Blenheim battlefield is located in a wide arc approximately two miles northeast of Hochstadt and fifty miles northwest of Munich. The Hochstadt Museum is in the city center of Hochstadt. The battlefield is an open site. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the museum. Web: www.bavaria.by (official tourism website of Bavaria).