Paul Johnson

Battler for Britain

Marlborough: England’s Fragile Genius

By

HarperPress 512pp £25 order from our bookshop

John, Duke of Marlborough, was captain-general of the European coalition, which frustrated Louis XIV’s plan to create a French superstate and dominate the Continent, and was decisive in turning Britain from a marginal power into a great one. He has always aroused passion and controversy – among the politicians and the public during his lifetime, and among historians since. He was given a ferocious drubbing by Macaulay, who sometimes relied on biased and dodgy sources. Macaulay in turn was savaged by Winston Churchill, whose huge biography of his forebear put the Duke back on his pedestal. Then along came Trevelyan, with his three-volume England under Queen Anne. He thought ‘Macaulay was wrong in his reading of Marlborough’, but added that Churchill has no right to call Macaulay ‘a liar’. Trevelyan, it seems to me, got the balance about right, and his book, which I have been rereading while preparing this review, is a masterpiece. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It is one of those nice linguistic ironies that English should have attempted to make sex respectable by clothing… ,
    • 'He was to my mind the father of the idea that journalism – yes, even journalism – can have a moral dimension to it… ,
    • RT : Feeling old, as exhumes a piece I wrote 37 years ago. But a joy to see Kathy O’S there too. Here’s why:… ,
    • 'Enough of his character remains just out of reach for Barnes to relish the challenge of imagining him.' Patrick M… ,
    • RT : I did a thing about the new Penguin Book Of Oulipo for this month’s Literary Review: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Moore’s work has been so influential that the former ministers who provided him with much of his information now r… ,
    • 'Although he travels through time and space to find the best produce, his choices, delightfully, are not obvious.'… ,