The Battle of Malplaquet, 1709
The Duke of Marlborough’s fourth and final victory of the War of the Spanish Succession came at the Battle of Malplaquet, fought on September 11 1709 between the forces of the Grand Alliance and France.
The battle followed moves by King Louis XIV of France in the spring of 1709 to bring the war to an end. However, the terms offered by the Alliance proved unacceptable and the war dragged on. In the summer Marlborough captured the fortress city of Tournai in present day Belgium before advancing on Mons. The French, under the Duke of Villars, moved to protect the key city. Marlborough wanted to give battle immediately but was overruled by other senior Alliance generals and Dutch civilian leaders who preferred to wait for reinforcements. The delay allowed Villars’s army to fortify its defences into formidable positions. French morale was also boosted by the arrival of the old Marshal, the Duke of Boufflers.
The two armies finally met on September 11. Alliance forces, mainly Dutch and Austrian, and leavened with British and Prussian contingents, totalled some 100,000 troops and 100 guns. The French had about the same number of men and 80 guns. Initial attacks on the French wings resulted in heavy Alliance casualties, particularly that led by the Prince of Orange which left 6,000 men dead or wounded. The decisive moment came when Villars was badly wounded by a musket ball which smashed into his knee, forcing him from the battlefield. British infantry under the Earl Orkney, among them apparently Meredith’s, smashed into the French centre, paving the way for Alliance cavalry to advance and confront the French cavalry. Boufflers, who had assumed command of the French forces, led the elite Household Cavalry and managed to drive the Alliance cavalry back no fewer than six times. At 3pm, however, he realised the battle could not be won and ordered a retreat which was made in good order. The Alliance had lost so many men in the battle – some 20,000 – that they could not pursue the retreating enemy. French losses numbered about 13,000 and Villars later remarked: ‘If it please God to give your majesty’s enemies another such victory, they are ruined.’
Although the Alliance went on to capture Mons the following month, Malplaquet, proved a turning point in the war. The bloodiest battle of the 18th Century, it was also the least conclusive of Marlborough’s four victories and the only one for which he did not receive a letter of thanks from Queen Anne. He was later recalled to England as relations between his wife Sarah and the Queen collapsed and only returned to royal favour with the accession of King George I. Significantly, too, Malplaquet prompted the English Tory party to start pressing for a withdrawal from the Grand Alliance when they formed a government in 1710.
British casualties at Malplaquet numbered 143 officers and 1,640 men. Meredith’s suffered one officer killed and several wounded. In December 1709 the regiment needed 90 recruits to replace its casualties, some 60 fewer than the average for the Line units. This was despite significant losses both at the siege of Tournai, in which it played a leading role, and at Malplaquet. Nevertheless, these casualties were still the heaviest suffered by Meredith’s since the Schellenburg in 1704.
In 1710, Meredith transferred to the Scots Fusiliers, an older regiment and therefore better placed to escape cuts when peace came. He was succeeded as commanding officer by General Windress.