Year 5 History and Geography

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John Churchill: First Duke of Marlborough

It may seem boastful that this new country was called ‘Great’ Britain, but this was not the intention. The ‘Great’ was meant to distinguish it from the area of North-West France known as Brittany. However, it would prove to be a fitting description. The one hundred years after the Act of Union saw Britain grow from being an unstable, unimportant island off continental Europe to become the most powerful nation in the world. The first step was taken by a soldier called John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, who many say is the greatest military leader Britain has ever produced.

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During the reign of Queen Anne, the French King Louis XIV controlled much of Europe. He wanted his grandson Phillip to be king of Spain, but the Dutch, the English and the Germans did not want the power of Louis XIV to grow even greater. This caused the War of Spanish Succession. The Duke of Marlborough led an army of soldiers from several countries, who called themselves the allies because they were allied, or united, against Louis XIV. They won a famous victory at a German village named Blenheim in 1704.

The French army was camping outside the village, so Marlborough’s army marched through the night and surprised them by attacking at 8 A.M. In the battle, 20,000 French troops were killed, compared with 12,000 allies. The people of England were overjoyed by the news of Marlborough’s victory.

The Duke of Marlborough became a great national hero and was given land near Oxford to build himself a magnificent house. He called it Blenheim Palace. Nearly two hundred years later, a descendant of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, was born in that palace. He was named Winston Churchill. He was not the Duke of Marlborough, but he became a very important Prime Minister who led Britain and her allies to victory in the Second World War.

This activity is adapted from page 120-121 of What Your Year 5 Child Needs to Know. Other books in the Core Knowledge UK series can be purchased here.