The Battle of Minorca 1756 Thursday, Feb 12 2015 

Sea motive

Battle of Minorca 1756 banner

Sea motive

The Battle of Minorca, fought between the English and the French was the first major naval battle of the Seven Years War. Although tactically indecisive, the result led to a major strategic victory for the French, with the capture of the Island of Minorca.


The Island of Minorca was invaded by troops from Great Britain in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession, and was acceded to it, together with the island of Gibraltar as part of the negotiations between Spain and Great Britain in the peace of Utrecht.

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The islands deep natural harbour of Port Mahón offered a naval base for British interests to rival the French port of Toulon, home of their Mediterranean fleet. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the island remained under British rule. At the end of the war, the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) left the strategic situation in the Western Mediterranean thus:-

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The death of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Henry Pelham led to the succession of his brother, the Duke of Newcastle. Having long served as Secretary of State, he understood the need to preserve the balance of power in the European state system to prevent a widespread war.

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He had hopes of helping reduce Britain’s national debt, but actions in the French and Indian war intervened, resulting in expediture on the military as war beckoned again. The political tensions between France and Great Britain in the War of the Austrian succession were only partially resolved. During the 1750’s, they were unofficially at war in a series of border conflicts in North America, along the Ohio river valley, with the settlers of both nations claiming the vast land between the Appalachian mountains and the Mississippi.

A battle at Fort Necessity in 1754 between The French, and their Indian levies, defeated the British under the command of George Washington.

“I fortunately escaped without any wound, for the right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire, and it was the part where the man was killed, and the rest wounded. I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me there is something charming in the sound.”

George Washington, 1754.

The French and Indian War threatened the peace of Europe at a time when peace between France and Great Britain was the declared intent. Despite this, the cold war between their colonists continued, as both sides transferred troops to America. Gathered intelligence led the British to ascertain when a French Atlantic fleet set sail for America.

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The Royal Navy, under the command of Vice Admiral Edward Boscawen and 11 ships pursued the French Navy and their troop transports. Most managed to land their men at Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, but three separated from the fleet in fog.

On 8th June 1755, HMS Dunkirk, HMS Defiance and HMS Neptune found the French ships Dauphin Royal, Alcide and Lys.

The French called out to the commander of the Royal Navy vessel “Are we at war, or at peace?” to which the English replied, “At peace, at peace.” After a brief discussion, the Royal Navy ships opened fire on the three French ships.

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After a five hour battle, the Alcide and Lys were captured, along with some 2,000 prisoners; troops from the Régiment de la Reine and the Languedoc regiment. News returned to London, causing concern.

‘It gives me much concern that so little has been done, since anything has been done at all… Voilà the war has begun.’
Hardwicke to Anson, 1755.

Worse news was to follow. The arrival of two regiments of foot under the command of Major General Braddock led the British to try to take Fort Duquesue in the disputed Ohio country. His expeditionary force was heavily defeated by a combination of French regulars, Canadien irregulars and Indian levies at the Battle of the Monongahela on 9 July 1755, due to their superior tactics of frontier fighting.

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General Braddock’s last words were reported to have been: “We shall know how to fight them next time.”

The resulting French victory ensured the Ohio country remained under their control. These two actions, together with continued aggressions on the American continent, and at sea propelled both nations towards war, which would inevitably involve the European theatre.

Where could France fight the British? In terms of its navy, with both Atlantic and Mediterranean ports, options could include furthering the war in the Americas, and possibly the Caribbean; a direct invasion of Great Britain (the Atlantic options), or an invasion of Minorca (the Mediterranean option). The time of expansion for the French Navy had long passed from its prime under Colbert in the 1680’s, so it was outnumbered by the Royal Navy. Nonetheless, it had undergone a second renaissance under Maurepas in the 1740’s. By concentrating what fleet it had, it could gain local superiority in any action, provided the British were prevented from concentrating their own.

In terms of its army, French troops would be required for all the options above, with a further option for war against Hanover, and the Crown interest of George II, its Elector in the mainland European theatre, provided that Austria would remain neutral, and break its historical alliance with Great Britain.

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More so than Britain, the French naval strategy would follow the strategy for their army, due to the constraints of numbers. Conversely, the Royal Navy also faced challenges. Its strength in terms of numbers of ships and men had been run down since the end of the War of the Austrian Succession by the Pelham administration. Nonetheless, on paper it enjoyed at least a superiority over the French Navy in terms of ships. It would need this, given its territorial duties included three distinct regions. Firstly the Atlantic Ocean, with the American and Carribean colonies. Secondly, the Mediterranean Sea, and the bases at Gibraltar and Minorca. Finally control of the Western Approaches, and the English Channel, which were key to safeguarding Great Britain from potential invasion. Together these vast areas of sea could swallow up the available resource.

The following reports received by the Admiralty demonstrate the confused picture emerging of the French threat.

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The blow, when struck, could come anywhere according to the intelligence. Sparring between the two nations continued at sea.

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War became more certain as the French Crown made its plans.

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In response, the Admiralty prepared for either invasion, or a possible assault on Minorca from the French fleet in Toulon. Caution urged that the Royal Navy should protect against invasion.

“I think it would be a dangerous measure, to part with with your Naval strength from this country, which cannot be recalled if wanted, when I am strongly of the opinion that whenever the French intend anything in earnest, their attack will be against this country.”  
Anson to Hardwicke, December 1755. 

Diplomatic events in early 1756 accelerated the move to war. The Treaty of Westminster between Britain and Prussia was signed in January 1756.

Leuthen 1757 (7)

Each party guaranteed the neutrality of Germany, thus hopefully securing the borders between Hanover and Prussia. In response, and unbeknown to Great Britain, a diplomatic revolution (Renversement des Alliances) was underway within Europe. Centuries of animosity between Hapsburg Austria and Bourbon France were being addressed to one of mutual support in times of war, with the lead coming from the Austrian State Chancellor, Count von Kaunitz. Such a system would lead to France being free to attack British interests globally wherever suited, whilst leaving Austria to settle its score with Prussia. The first treaty of Versailles between Austria and France was signed on 1st May 1757. Before then, France would strike a blow at Britain.

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With these diplomatic moves in motion, the French fleet made ready for an invasion of Minorca, with the decision being made on 15 March 1756.

At this point, the French plan was unknown to the British, who in turn had decided to sail a small squadron of ten ships to the Mediterranean, under the command of Vice Admiral, the Hon. John Byng.

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Having served in the Mediterranean during the War of the Austrian Succession, he knew the sea and its conditions. His father, George Byng, viscount Torrington, had also fought with success against the Spanish in the Mediterranean in 1718. Given his experience and connections, Byng was formally appointed commander of the Mediterranean fleet on March 11, 1756.

Anson had his reservations regarding Byng, considering him weak on leadership and initiative.

“I don’t know how it comes to pass that unless our commanders-in-chief have a very great superiority of the enemy, they never think themselves safe”
“Byng’s squadron could beat anything the French had”
Anson, 1756.

Nonetheless, he was promoted from Vice-Admiral to Admiral of the Blue on March 17, 1756. Upon reaching his command, and making his flagship HMS Ramilles, he found his fleet short of men, and a few ships decrepit. He was not permitted to take sailors from other ships, and his orders received on April 1, 1756 indicated that soldiers were to be taken instead of the normal complement of Marines.  Byng’s orders from the Admiralty had three instructions; to watch for any French fleet which would pass by Gibraltar, and detatch as many ships required from his own fleet to shadow them (if necessarily all the way to the Americas, their suspected target), secondly to ascertain the state of affairs in Minorca and to relieve any siege taking palce, and finally if neither of these events had occurred to move to Toulon and commence a blockade of the French fleet. Byng sailed on 6 April, 1756, reaching Gibraltar on 2 May 1756.

Unbeknownst to Byng, the French had set sail from Toulon on 10 April, with an invasion fleet of 12 ships of the line, escorting 176 transports and 12,000 men.  The fleet was commanded by the Marquis de La Galissonière, a commander unproven in combat, with the invasion troops led by the duc de Richelieu.

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Arriving on 18 April, the French immediately invaded Minorca, and succeeded in taking all the island, except St Philip’s Castle, which was held by the British under the command of General Sir William Blakeney. St Philip’s Castle guarded the entrance to Port Mahón, and thus a siege began.

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Admiral Byng and the governor of Gibraltar, Lt. General Folke, received news of the invasion of Minorca and the siege of the remaining British troops on the island. Despite orders to supply troops to Byng, Folke kept his troops on Gibraltar, and offered little assistance, in the hope to keep the island ready for an expected invasion. Both Byng and Folke wrote to the Admiralty offering their explanation for the impasse between the two commanders. Byng’s letters were poorly received by the Admiralty, where his downbeat tone regarding his difficulties and chances gave the impression of a man not willing to fight.

Byng was reinforced by Captain Edgecombe and the small Mediterranean squadron, and the combined fleet set sail for Minorca on 8 May.  It comprised of 13 ships of the line, and 4 frigates.

By 19 May, Byng’s squadron arrived off the coast of Minorca, to the consternation of the French troops besieging St. Philip’s Castle. The duc de Richelieu, commanding the French remarked.

“Gentlemen, there is a very interesting game being played out there. If Monsieur de La Galissonière defeats the enemy, we may continue our siege in carpet slippers. But if he is beaten, we shall have to storm the place at once, at any cost.”
duc de Richelieu, 1756.

Attempts to communicate between the besieged British force and the relief squadron failed when the French fleet led by the Marquis de la Galissonniere, was sighted and Admiral Byng gave the signal to his squadron to chase the enemy. The wind became light and the two fleets did not engage until the following morning.

The following account of the battle was given by Admiral Byng on May 25, several days after the battle had concluded. It was addressed to the Admiralty Board.

SIR, I have the pleasure to desire that you will acquaint their Lordships that, having sailed from Gibraltar the 8th, I got off Mahon the 19th, having been joined by his Majesty’s ship Phoenix off Majorca two days before, by whom I had confirmed the intelligence I had received at Gibraltar, of the strength of the French fleet, and of their being off Mahon. His Majesty’s colours were still flying at the castle of St. Philip; and I could perceive several bomb-batteries playing on it from different parts. French colours I saw flying on the west part of St. Philip. I dispatched the Phoenix, Chesterfield, and Dolphin ahead, to reconnoitre the harbour’s mouth; and Captain Hervey to endeavour to land a letter for General Blakeney, to let him know the fleet was here to his assistance; though every one was of the opinion we could be of no use to him; as, by all accounts, no place was secured for covering a landing, could we have spared the people.

The Phoenix was also to make the private signal between Captain Hervey and Captain Scrope, as this latter would undoubtedly come off, if it were practicable, having kept the Dolphin’s barge with him: but the enemy’s fleet appearing to the south-east, and the wind at the same time coming strong off the land, obliged me to call these ships in, before they could get quite so near the entrance of the harbour as to make sure what batteries or guns might be placed to prevent our having any communication with the castle.

Falling little wind, it was five before I could form my line, or distinguish any of the enemy’s motions; and could not judge at all of their force, more than by numbers, which were seventeen, and thirteen appeared large. They at first stood towards us in regular line; and tacked about seven; which I judged was to endeavour to gain the wind of us in the night; so that, being late, I tacked in order to keep the weather-gage of them, as well as to make sure of the land wind in the morning [20 May], being very hazy, and not above five leagues from Cape Mola. We tacked off towards the enemy at eleven; and at daylight had no sight of them. But two tartars, with the French private signal, being close in with the rear of our fleet, I sent the PRINCESS LOUISA to chase one, and made signal for the Rear-Admiral, who was nearest the other, to send ships to chase her. The PRINCESS LOUISA, DEFIANCE, and CAPTAIN, became at a great distance; but the DEFIANCE took hers, which had two captains, two lieutenants, and one hundred and two private soldiers, who were sent out the day before with six hundred men on board tartars, to reinforce the French fleet on our appearing off that place. The PHOENIX, on Captain Hervey’s offer, prepared to serve as a fire-ship, but without damaging her as a frigate; till the signal was made to prime, when she was then to scuttle her decks, everything else prepared, as the time and place allowed of.

The enemy now began to appear from the mast-head.

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I called in the cruisers; and, when they had joined me, I tacked towards the enemy, and formed the line ahead. I found the French; were preparing theirs to leeward, having unsuccessfully endeavoured to weather me. They were twelve large ships of the line, and five frigates.

As soon as I judged the rear of our fleet the length of their van, we tacked altogether, and immediately made the signal for the ships that led to lead large, and for the DEPTFORD to quit the line, that ours might become equal to theirs.

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At two I made the signal to engage: I found it was the surest method of ordering every ship to close down on the one that fell to their lot. And here I must express my great satisfaction at the very gallant manner in which the Rear-Admiral set the van the example, by instantly bearing down on the ships he was to engage, with his second, and who occasioned one of the French ships to begin the engagement, which they did by raking ours as they went down.

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[When the signal to engage was made, the van under rear-admiral Temple West kept away in obedience to it, and sailed towards the French, thus reducing their cannon fire. They received three raking broadsides from the French, and were seriously dismantled aloft. The sixth British ship (Intrepid) counting from the van, had her fore-topmast shot away, flew up into the wind, and came aback, stopping and doubling up the rear of the line.]

The INTREPID, unfortunately, in the very beginning, had her foretopmast shot away; and as that hung on her foretopsail, and backed it, he had no command of his ship, his fore-tack and all his braces being cut at the same time; so that he drove on the next ship to him, and obliged that and the ships ahead of me to throw all back. This obliged me to do also for some minutes, to avoid their falling on board me though not before we had drove our adversary out of the line, who put before the wind, and had several shots fired at him by his own admiral. This not only caused the enemy’s centre to be unattached, but the Rear-Admiral’s division rather uncovered for some little time. I sent and called to the ships ahead of me to make sail, and go down on the enemy; and ordered the Chesterfield to lay by the INTREPID, and the DEPTFORD to supply the INTREPID’S place.

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I found the enemy edged away constantly;

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and as they went three feet to our one, they would never permit our closing with them, but took advantage of destroying our rigging; for though I closed the Rear-Admiral fast, I found that I could not gain close to the enemy, whose van was fairly drove from their line; but their admiral was joining them, by bearing away.

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By this time it was past six, and the enemy’s van and ours were at too great a distance to engage, I perceived some of their ships stretching to the northward; and I imagined they were going to form a new line.

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I made the signal for the headmost ships to tack, and those that led before with the larboard tacks to lead with the starboard, that I might, by the first, keep (if possible) the wind of the enemy, and, by the second, between the Rear-Admiral’s division and the enemy, as he had suffered most; as also to cover the INTREPID, which I perceived to be in very bad condition, and whose loss would give the balance very greatly against us, if they attacked us next morning as I expected.

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I brought to about eight that night to join the INTREPID, and to refit our ships as fast as possible, and continued doing so all night. The next morning we saw nothing of the enemy, though we were still lying to. Mahon was N.N.W about ten or eleven leagues. I sent cruisers to look out for the INTREPID and CHESTERFIELD, who joined me next day. And having, from a state and condition of the squadron brought me in, found, that the CAPTAIN, INTREPID, and DEFIANCE (which latter has lost her captain), were much damaged in their masts, so that they were in danger of not being able to secure their masts properly at sea; and also, that the squadron in general were very sickly, many killed and wounded, and nowhere to put a third of their number if I made an hospital of the forty-gun ship, which was not easy at sea; I thought it proper in this situation to call a council of war, before I went again to look for the enemy. I desired the attendance of General Stuart, Lord Effingham, and Lord Robert Bertie, and Colonel Cornwallis, that I might collect their opinions upon the present situation of Minorca and Gibraltar, and make sure of protecting the latter, since it was found impracticable either to succour or relieve the former with the force we had. So, though we may justly claim the victory, yet we are much inferior to the weight of their ships, though the numbers are equal; and they have the advantage of sending to Minorca their wounded, and getting reinforcements of seamen from their transports, and soldiers from their camp; all which undoubtedly has been done in this time that we have been lying to to refit, and often in sight of Minorca; and their ships have more than once appeared in a line from our mast-heads.
Admiral John Byng, 25 May, 1756.

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The battle was notable for the first time the French had targeted rigging. It was an minor tactical victory for the French (in as much as both fleets were still in being, but the British had failed to dislodge the French from the Mediterranean). However, Byng’s next move turned it into a strategic victory for the French.

The next day, the two fleets had lost contact. Admiral Byng called a council of war on his flagship, HMS Ramilles, which the officers of the fleet attended. The council of war resolved:-

Whether an attack on the French fleet gave any prospect of relieving Mahón ?
– Resolved: It did not.

Whether, if there were no French fleet cruising at Minorca, the British fleet could raise the siege ?
– Resolved: It could not.

Whether Gibraltar would not be in danger, should any accident befall Byng’s fleet?
– Resolved: It would be in danger.

Whether an attack by the British fleet in its present state upon that of the French would not endanger Gibraltar, and expose the trade in the Mediterranean to great hazards ?
– Resolved: It would.

Whether it is not rather for His Majesty’s service that the fleet should proceed immediately to Gibraltar ?
– Resolved: It should proceed to Gibraltar.

Byng’s fleet sailed for Gibraltar, leaving Port Mahón to its fate. On 27 June, it fell to the French when General Sir William Blakeney surrendered St Philip’s Castle.

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Minorca fell to the French, together with the strategically important port of Mahón.

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“What a scene Byng had open to him, and to throw it all away!”
Boscawen, on hearing of Byng’s withdrawal to Gibraltar.

Unbeknownst to the defeated fleet, Sir Edmund Hawke had sailed on 16 June to Gibraltar to take over the fleet from Admiral Byng, carrying the following orders.

Sir Edward Hawkes instructions
By the commissioners for executing the office of Lord high Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland &c.

Instructions for Sir Edward Hawke, Knight of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White, hereby appointed commander-in-chief of His Majesty’s ships and vessels employ’d in and about the Mediterranean.

Whereas the King’s pleasure has been signified to us that we should give you directions to repair, without loss of time, to the Mediterranean, to supersede Admiral Byng in the command of His Majesty’s ships there; and that we should appoint some proper flag officer to serve under you in the room of Rear Admiral West: You are hereby required and directed forthwith to repair to Portsmouth, and embark on board His Majesty’s ship the Antelope together with Rear Admiral Saunders, whom we have directed to proceed with you and served under your commands and it being intended that Lord Tyrawley, whom the King has appointed Governor of Gibraltar in the room of Lieut. General Fowke, together with the Earl of Panmure (who is going thither in the room of Major-General Stewart, who is ordered to be recalled), shall proceed in the same ship: you are, as soon as those officers are on board, not to lose a moment is time in proceeding to Gibraltar (the captain of the Antelope being directed to follow your orders), and upon your arrival there, you are to deliver the enclosed packets to Admiral Byng and Rear Admiral West, and immediately take upon you the command of all of His Majesty’s ships, which you may find at Gibraltar, and any others that may be the Mediterranean, all their officers and companies being hereby enjoined to a strict obedience to your orders: and hoisting your flag on board such ship as you shall find from time to time find convenient, you are to assign any other, which you shall judge most fitting for Rear Admiral Saunders, and to take him also under your command.
You are to make an immediate and expeditions inquiry into the conduct and behaviour of the Captains of the ships hereby put under your command: and if you find any reason to believe any of them to have been tardy, and not to have acted with due spirit and vigour for the honour and service of the King and nation, You are forthwith to suspend such Captains and appoint others in their stead, in whom you can confide for properly executing their duty.
     You are to order the Captain of the Antelope to receive Admiral Byng and Rear Admiral West on board, and return them to Spithead, and if you shall suspend any of the Captains, you are to send them also home in her.
     Having done this, if you shall not be well assurance that Fort St. Philips upon the island of Minorca is in possession of the enemy, you are to use the utmost dispatch in repairing thither with your Squadron, and to exert yourself in doing everything that is possible to be done by you for its relief, and to attack, and to use your utmost endeavours to take, sink, burn or otherwise destroy any squadron of the Enemy’s ships, that may be employed to favour and assist in their attack upon that Fort.
If you shall find the enemy having succeeded, and are in the full possession of Minorca, you are however to endeavour by all means to destroy the French fleet in the Mediterranean, and for that purpose to employ the ships under your command in the most effectual manner you shall be able, and constantly to keep sufficient cruisers round the island of Minorca, and take great care that they exert all possible diligence to prevent the Enemy landing any troops, ammunition, stores or provisions upon that Island, and to annoy and distress them as much as possible: And, in general, you would you are to employ the most utmost vigilance and vigour to annoy and distress the Enemy everywhere within the Extent of your Command, and by every method in means in your power to protect Gibraltar from any Hostile attempts, and also Minorca, should the present attack upon it miscarry: And you were likewise to give all possible attention to the security of the trade of the King’s subjects in and about the Mediterranean and the taking of destroying of any privateers belonging to the Enemy.
     If any French Ships of War should escape your Squadron, and proceed out of the Mediterranean, you are forthwith to send to England a proportionable part of the ships under your command observing that you are never to keep more ships in the Mediterranean than shall be necessary for the performance of what is before recommended to you: And, that you may be better in able to perform the services expected of you, you are to take care and keep ships and vessels under your command in constant good condition, and to have them cleaned as often as shall be requisite for that purpose: and to do the same (if Minorca should be in the Enemy’s possession) either in some port in the King of Sardinia’s Domininions or at Gibraltar, as shall be most convenient.
     And whereas the King’s pleasure is signified to Lord Tyrawley, to cause the troops under his command to be disposed of as he shall see best for His Majesty’s Service, and the preservation of his possessions in the Mediterranean and that his Lordship does from time to time embark such Detachments, Stores, Arms and Ammunition, and provision for the relief of Minorca, as the commanding sea officer in the Mediterranean shall undertake to carry thither, and that he gives other assistance to the garrison of St Philip and the island of Minorca as shall be in his power, consistent with the safety of the Garrison of Gibraltar: you are to consult with Lord Tyrawley in relation to the said particulars, and to co-operate with him in everything that may tend to the good of the King’s service and the preservation of the possessions in the Mediterranean: And Lord Tyrawley being directed to establish an Hospital at Gibraltar, for the relief of sick and wounded men that may be sent thither from time to time from Minorca: you are to call such men to be transported from that Island to Gibraltar as often as possible.
And Whereas a number of transport will shortly depart from Plymouth, with two Battalions on board for Gibraltar and will be convoyed thither by the Jersey and Gosport: if the situation of matters shall be such as to require your detaining them or any of them for transporting forces from Gibraltar to Minorca, you are at liberty to keep them as may be wanting, taking care to dismiss and send them to England as soon as the service would admit of so doing, either under convoy of the Antelope, or if she shall be departed, of the first shall sell afterwards.
     In cases your disability, by sickness or otherwise, you are to leave these instructions, or any others which you shall receive from us, with Rear Admiral Saunders, who is hereby required to put the same in execution: And if this case should happen, every commander of His Majesty’s ships and vessels at Gibraltar, and in the Mediterranean, is hereby required and directed to put himself under the command of Rear Admiral Saunders, and follow his orders given, &c, the 8th June 1756

It seems inconceivable that had Admiral Byng had these orders, he would have give up the chase against the French fleet and return to Gibraltar. But sail to Gibraltar he did, to be relieved of his command by Sir Edmund Hawke, and thence to be returned forthwith to England.


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Byng’s Plea

With thirteen ships to twelve says Byng
It were a shame to meet ’em
And then with twelve to twelve a thing
Impossible to beat ’em
When more to many less to few
And even still not right
Arithmatic will plainly shew
T’were wrong in Byng to fight.

The trial of Admiral Byng forms an important footnote to the Battle of Minorca.

News of the fleet action off Minorca reached Britain from de la Galissonniere’s published account on 2 June. Galissoniere reported that on 19 May the English “seemed unwilling to engage” and that on 20 May, “the English had the advantage of the wind, but still seemed unwilling to fight”; he expected to be attacked on 21 May, but “the English had disappeared”. This, and the loss of Minorca divided British public opinion on Byng’s conduct. His own account reached the Admiralty on 23 June, and a much edited version appeared in the London Chronicle on 26 June.

Byng returned to England in July 1756, where he was promptly arrested, pending a court martial. His trial began on board the St. George in Portsmouth Harbour on December 27th, and continued until January 27th, 1757.

Public opinion divided ahead of the trial.

Byng in horrors

“To the block with Newcastle and the yard arm for Byng”

Block and Yard arm

Alternatively, as a riposte to “Sing Tantararara, Hang Byng” a supportive popular ballard was sung by the London ballard singers.

Sing tarantara



The furore resulted in the fall of the Government in December 1756, to be replaced by a new one led by William Pitt, with the Duke of Devonshire as Prime Minister.

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The trial of Admiral Byng began on board the St. George in Portsmouth Harbour on December 27th


and continued until January 27th, 1757. Crucial to the outcome would be the opinion of his brother officers in the Royal Navy. The public utterings were against him.

“No doubt but Mr Byng’s behaviour on the late occasion off Mahon must surprise and anger you and every right thinking man in the kingdom”

Captain S Faulknor

“Sad indeed: He’s brought more disgrace on the British flag than ever his father the great Lord Torrington did honour to it”.
Admiral Boscawen


The court-martial, summoned to try Byng, consisted of Vice Admiral Thomas Smith, who was president, Rear-Admirals Francis Holburne, Harry Norris and Thomas Broderick, and nine captains. After hearing the evidence, the court agreed to a number of resolutions or conclusions, including:

That when the British fleet, on the starboard tack, was stretched abreast, or was about abeam, of the enemy’s line, Admiral Byng should have caused his ships to tack together, and should have immediately borne right down on the enemy; his van steering for the enemy’s van, his rear for its rear, each ship making for the one opposite to her in the enemy’s line, under such sail as would have enabled the worst sailer to preserve her station in the line of battle.

That the Admiral retarded the rear division of the British fleet from closing with and engaging the enemy, by shortening sail, in order that the Trident and Princess Louisa might regain their stations ahead of the Ramalies; whereas he should have made signals to those ships to make more sail, and should have made so much sail himself as would enable the Culloden, the worst sailing ship in the Admiral’s division, to keep her station with all her plain sails set, in order to get down to the enemy with as much expedition as possible, and thereby properly support the division of Rear-Admiral West.

That the Admiral did wrong in ordering the fire of the Ramillies to be continued before he had placed her at proper distance from the enemy, inasmuch as he thereby not only threw away his shot, but also occasioned a smoke, which prevented his seeing the motions of the enemy and the positions of the ships immediately ahead of the Ramillies.

That after the ships which had received damage in the action had been refitted as circumstances would permit, the Admiral ought to have returned with his squadron off Port Mahon, and endeavoured to open communication with the castle, and to have used every means in his power for its relief, before returning to Gibraltar.

Thus Admiral Byng stood accused of violating article 12 of the Articles of War of the Royal Navy.

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At the trial, the testimony of two witnesses bore heavily against Admiral Byng; that of General Sir William Blakeney, commander of St Philip’s Castle on Minorca, and Captain Everett of the Buckingham, the flagship of Rear Admiral West. General Blakeney suggested that Byng could have landed troops at Port Mahon to help him defend St Philip’s Castle. Captain Everett suggested that Byng’s division in the Battle of Minorca has insufficent sail to close down upon the French, and thus lost the battle.


Byng conducted his own defence, and gave a spirited response.

Now instead of my retreating from an inferior Force, that a superior Force retreated from me, when the Fleet was unable to pursue, I shall manifest beyond all contradiction, and cannot help observing, that perhaps I am the first Instance of a Commander in Chief, whose disgrace proceeded from so unfortunate a mistake.

The court found that Byng had failed in his duty to relieve Minorca, specifically St. Philip’s Castle, and that he had failed to destroy the French squadron in battle.  They sentenced him to death on 27 January 1757 for failing to abide by the Articles of War according to Article 12.

The change in government had brought supporters of Byng to power, and he had hope that the conviction would be overturned, despite the fury of the public, and the hostility of his Naval colleagues. Unfortunately, a letter from Voltaire to Byng was found and suggested treason.

Voltaire Richlieu

An appeal for clemency to King George II was rejected, and Admiral John Byng died by firing squad at noon on the quarterdeck of Monarch on 14 March 1757.

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SpacerPublic outrage at the execution of Admiral Byng


Observation on article 12


led to the fall of the government.

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The two great opponents, the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt joined together to make a new government, lasting until 1763, with Pitt leading matters relating to defence and foreign policy, and The Duke of Newcastle leading the Commons, finance and patronage.

Voltaire commented in his novel Candide an ironic witticism on the fate of Admiral Byng.

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with the phrase “pour encourager les autres” entering into English sayings.

Dr Johnson, in Boswell’s Life of Johnson commented that “the nation has long been satisfied that his life was sacrificed to the political fervour of the times”, and reports the epitaph for Admiral Byng in the Torrington family vault in All Saint’s Church, Southill, Bedfordshire.

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1756 The Battle of Minorca Redux Thursday, Feb 12 2015 

Sea motive

Battle of Minorca redux 1756 banner


Sea motive

This restaging of the fleet action during the Battle of Minorca  has the number of ships used in the battle, with 12 Royal Navy ships of the line engaging 12 French ships of the line. The rules for the battle can be found here.

One difference to the real battle is to allow the winds (represented by the gods of the winds, the Venti) to change according to a dice roll at the end of each move. If the score is 1, the wind changes 1 point anticlockwise, 2-5 gives no change to the direction, and if a 6 is thrown, the wind changes 1 point clockwise. Likewise the strength of the wind may change, with a die roll of 1 decreasing it by one unit, 2-5 gives no change, and 6 increases it by one unit. Thus the capriciousness of the Venti can decide the fleet action on the day as the winds work in favour of one or other fleet, due to their possession of the weather gauge.

The fleets assume the positions used on the day, approximately those before the battle began at 13:45. The French ships form line ahead, and sail West. The English also form line ahead, intercepting them on a course heading North West.

The initial weather conditions match those at the start of the battle, with Afer Ventus, the south west wind blowing, at a mild strength.



Move 1

The white squadron of France (L’Orphee, Hippopotame, Redoutable & Triton) lead, sailing close hauled, followed astern by their red squadron, headed by Admiral de la Galissonière in his flagship, the Foydroyant. If the ships continue on their present course, the French will be able to ensure they overlap the English fleet, sailing beam reached, unless they change tack.

Aboard HMS Captain, leading the white squadron, the fighting instructions make clear their duty.

“As soon as the Admiral shall hoist a Red Flag on the Flag-staff at the Fore-top-mast-head, and fire a Gun, every Ship in the Fleet is to use their utmost Endeavour to engage the Enemy in the Order the Admiral has prescribed unto them.”

Sail at’em to intersect, and begin an action. Astern, HMS Intrepid, and the rest of the fleet follows. So far, only the L’Orphee and Hippopotame are visible from the French fleet at the bottom left hand side.

The Venti are consulted, and Afer Ventus tires a little, and the wind drops back a notch, which will slow the approach of each fleet.


Move 2



HMS Captain, leads the white squadron, followed by HMS IntrepidHMS Revenge and HMS Trident, sailing on a course to intersect the French fleet, led by L’Orphee, Hippopotame and Redoutable. The sailors have their sails set, and unless the winds change their mind, they must wait until they close the range and the battle can begin. The Venti are consulted, and the wind reduces by one.


Move 3


The fleets continue, with the Royal Navy red squadron now seen behind the white, led by HMS Ramillies, the flagship of Admiral Byng, and HMS Culloden. Behind the main fleet,  sails the frigate HMS Phoenix.

Afer Ventus tires, and the wind swings from the South West to West, as Favonius takes up the cudgel, at the same strength.

W D&S (1)

Move 4


Onwards the fleets sail, as slowly the gap is closed. Le Guerrier joins the rear of the French line. The wind remains the same.

W D&S (1)

Move 5


The French line is joined by the frigate Topaze to the lee of their line.  The Engish red squadron is now joined by another ship, HMS Kingston, behind HMS Culloden.

Time still for a sailors utterance from the Common Book of Prayer; Special Prayers with respect to the Enemy.

THOU, O Lord, art just and powerful: O defend our cause against the face of the enemy.
O God, thou art a strong tower of defence to all that flee unto thee: O save us from the violence of the enemy.
O Lord of hosts, fight for us, that we may glorify thee. O suffer us not to sink under the weight of our sins, or the violence of the enemy.
O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for thy Name’s sake.

Favonius strengthens; slowly, steadily, bringing the fleets together.

W D&S (1)

Move 6


The red squadron for the Royal Navy is now on the board as HMS Deptford is seen. In La Royal, the Fier & Foudroyant join their red squadron on the board.

Favonius continues, stronger still.

W D&S (1)

Move 7


In La Royal, the Temeraire join their red squadron on the board.

Afer Ventus takes over again, at the same strength.

W D&S (1)

Move 8


W D&S (1)

Move 9


W D&S (1)

Move 10


Move 11


Move 12


Move 13


Move 14


Move 15


Move 16


Move 17


Move 18


Move 19


Move 20


Move 21


Move 22


Move 23


Move 24


Move 25



Battle of Minorca 1756 redux


The Battle of White Mountain 8 November 1620 Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 

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Battle of White Mountain 1620 Header

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The battle of White Mountain 1620 was fought outside Prague in the Kingdom of Bohemia between forces loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, and troops of the Catholic League against forces loyal to Frederick V, the King of Bohemia, and Protestant allies, including Hungarians. The battle was a major victory for the Catholics. It was the opening battle in the 30 Years War, a devastating conflict that eventually drew in most of the countries of Europe.  The causes for the start of this war, the Bohemian revolt and the battle that ended it are explored below.

In the sixteenth century, the Habsburg Dynasty ruled much of Europe, and the New World from the Kingdom of Spain, and the Kingdom of Austria, though the office of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire in the early seventeenth century was an institution that bound together much of central Europe. It had a Byzantine structure, ruled in name by an Emperor, who was elected by a group of seven electors.

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Three of the electors were ecclesiastical, four were secular. In practice, the position was hereditary, with the post going to the chosen Habsburg candidate who was the King of Bohemia, also the King of Hungary and the Archduke of Austria. Given that he was a Catholic, this meant a natural majority of Electors were Catholic.

Beneath this structure were three principle groups; the circle of Electors, the circle of Princes and the circle of free cities within the empire. The empire governed itself in a slow manner, designed to reach accommodation and consensus where it could. One kingdom within this structure, Bohemia claimed a special place, due to it’s geographical position and it’s electoral position. The map below (called Europa Regina) purports to show Bohemia at the heart of European affairs

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with the head being the kingdom of Spain. Thus the continent, and much of the New World was under the sway of the two great Habsburg powers, related by family. In the age of rule by Dynasty, much depended upon the wisdom of the individual rulers and their councilors.

After the end of the Jagellion dynasty, the crown of Bohemia was made elective by the Estates of the kingdom of Bohemia. In practice the position was seen as hereditary by the chosen Habsburg candidate to become the Holy Roman Emperor from the Austrian branch of the family. Nonetheless, the potential for a dynastic dispute lay within the dilemma of an elected king.

Bohemia under the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1576-1612)

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was at the centre of European affairs. The Emperor based his rule in Prague after 1583 and busied himself in establishing his Kunstkammer, a collection of curios.

Bohemiae_Moraviae_et_Silesiae_(Merian)_106                                                   Prague, Topographia Germaniae , Matthäus Merian

By nature scholarly, melancholic, his marriage bought forth no heirs, which promised future instability.

Across the Holy Roman Empire and its patchwork of nationalities, languages and loyalties lay another fundamental choice; religion.

By the reign of Rudolf II, the Protestant reformation and the Catholic counter reformation had come to a weary acceptance of each other. This was firstly confirmed in the Peace of Augsburg 1555, which established certain territories within the holy Roman Empire as being Lutheran, with the majority remaining Catholic, under the principle (Cuius regio, eius religiothat the Prince of a territory chose the religion and all within had to conform, or leave. At the time of this peace treaty, Lutheranism was the only major choice to become a Protestant within the empire.


However Bohemia had a diverse religious settlement stemming from the end of the Hussite revolution in 1436. A separate branch of Catholicism, the Ultraquists were the heirs to this movement, and lived side by side to the Catholics.

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The Fraternity of the Brethren also emerged from the Hussite revolution. They had become reconciled to the Lutheran confession of Ausburg. The Lutherans were the largest section of the Bohemian community. Finally, the Calvinists were the latest Protestant confession to emerge towards the middle and end of the sixteenth century. The Calvinists had an undue representation among the nobility, with only 3% of the population being Calvinist. 15% of the Bohemians were Catholic; the rest one of the Protestant confessions. Thus the kingdom of Bohemia had five churches. It had been originally excluded from the peace of Ausburg, since it was under the personal rule of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Rudolf II and his ruling Habsburg family began a slow process of Catholic renewal, in an attempt to rebuild their faith within the lands they controlled. The most successful of these lay with the cousin of the Emperor, Archduke Ferdinand of Styria.

War with the Ottoman Empire began in 1593, lasting until 1606.

Battle_of_Mezokeresztes_1596                                                   Battle of Mezokeresztes, 1596

During this inconclusive border war which encompassed Hungary Wallachia and Transylvania, a successful revolt by the Calvinist Stephen Bocskai guaranteed religious freedom for Hungary and Transylvania in the peace of Vienna 1606. Thus the Protestants had forestalled Catholic renewal in these lands. In turn, this precipitated a crisis of confidence in the rule of Rudolf II, bringing the question of his succession, and his ability to rule to the forefront.

In 1607, events began to quicken in pace. The Emperor’s younger brother Matthias managed to exploit a Hungarian rebellion and consolidate a power base there, in exchange with concessions to the Hungarian Protestants. He encouraged Bohemia to follow suit, with the aim of restoring stability within the Empire.

In exchange for continued support, the Bohemian protestants extracted concessions from Rudolf II, in the form of a Letter of Majesty, signed in 1609. This granted tolerance for all religions in Bohemia, and acceptance of the various Protestants. Given the majority of the ruling classes in Bohemia were Protestant, the Catholics were now firmly in decline.

In the broader Empire, tensions between the two religious confessions rose, with the formation of a Protestant Evangelical Union, formed in 1608 around the Palatine with other regions, including Württenburg and Brandenburg. In response, the Catholic league was formed in 1609, led by Maximillian I, Duke of Bavaria. At this point, both were defensive, and stood for their own interests. Tensions rose between the two camps over the Jülich-Cleves inheritance, but the quarrel did not escalate into a large war.

In 1612, Rudolf II died, and the Holy Roman Empire passed to his younger brother, Matthias .

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Matthias had no successor, thus the problem of stable inheritance still existed for the Habsburgs. He reconfirmed the privileges won by the Bohemian Protestants in the Letter of Majesty, 1609. In practical terms, the strongest Austrian Habsburg candidate to succeed Matthias was his cousin, Ferdinand, Archduke of Styria. A secret treaty was made between Ferdinand and the Spanish ambassador to the Imperial court, Oñate, leading to a treaty that bore his name. Spain would support Ferdinand’s claim, in exchange for  Alsace and the Tyrol, so allowing the movement of Spanish troops on the ‘Spanish Road’. This allowed rapid movements of troops from the Italian territories under Spanish control to the north, into the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium).

Ferdinand of Styria was raised by Jesuits and was a staunch Catholic. Personally devout, he made no secret of his wish that he would rather rule over a desert than over a land full of heretics, and forcefully began the process of re-Catholicisation in his own lands in the late 1590’s. He managed by force to reconvert this territory, earning the sobriquet Ketzen-hammer (hammer of heretics) in the town of Brenner. He was as much guided by faith as reason in this risky policy, which paid off for him.

Despite the Oñate Treay, the path to the Imperial throne for Ferdinand wasn’t guaranteed, for he needed to become king of Bohemia and become an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire this crown gave him. The electoral nature of the King of Bohemia was disputed, with the Habsburgs assuming this was a mere formality, but the nobles of the Bohemian estates wishing to exert their authority.

An illness befell Matthias in 1617, impelling the necessity for the election. The Grand Chancellor of Bohemia, Lobkowicz, summoned the Bohemian Diet in June 1617. Matthias addressed the Diet, calling for the assembly to back Ferdinand’s accession to the crown of Bohemia. The next day a vote was taken. The magnates confirmed Ferdinand in a public vote, with the exception of one, Count von Thurn. One by one the remaining nobles, and knights followed the majority will and confirmed Ferdinand as the King of Bohemia. He was crowned on 19th June 1617, and despite his inner qualms, confirmed the Letter of Majesty.

Emboldened by the apparent ease with which Ferdinand had succeeded, Lobkowicz began a process of re-Catholicization. Firstly, areas of Prague were no longer allowed to administer themselves, but were forced to accept royal magistrates. Then Count von Thurn was forced to accept a less lucrative position within Bohemia. The Protestants found that their literature was subject to censorship by the royal Chancellery, Taken in all, this appeared to be a direct attack on the rights in the Letter of Majesty, confirmed by Ferdinand. Consequently, discontent grew in the ranks of the Protestant nobles.

At the end of 1617, Matthias left Prague for Vienna to aid the election of Ferdinand to the throne of Hungary. taking Lobkowicz with him. Royal power now resided in a circle of regents, who managed Bohemia in the King’s absence. Further infringements on the privileges granted in the Letter of Majesty forced the Protestant magnates to call an assembly in early May 1618 to discuss their grievances. A letter was forwarded to the King, with a view to hearing his reply at another meeting on 21st May. The reply, drafted by Lobkowicz stated that the Protestant assembly had overstepped their authority, and was forbidden to meet again. This was badly received by the members of the Protestant assembly, who suspected that the letter was not genuine, and had been written by the circle of regents in Prague. The meeting on the 21st received another letter, instructing the assembly to dissolve. After a day’s furious debate by the assembly, a meeting of the electors, including Count von Thun

White Mountain 1620 (5)

decided that open revolt was the best course of action, and the salvation of their faith would be put to public test.

The following day, the 23rd May, saw a group of the Protestant electors marched to the royal castle, the Hradčany, their to confront the royal regents. Lobkowicz, Martinitz, Slavata and their secretary, Fabritius, with a charge of high treason. After heated debate, the accusations settled on Martinitz, Slavata and Fabritius, who were thrown from the window in the defenestration of Prague.

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Despite falling some 20m, all three men survived, after falling onto a pile of dung.

White Mountain 1620 (9)

Thus the defenestration of Prague made revolt, and an open breach with the King of Bohemia and the Emperor certain.

White Mountain 1620 - 16

The war began slowly, with neither side militarily prepared for the ensuing conflict.  The Imperialists appealed to the wider empire for help, with Saxony acting to seal its borders with Bohemia, despite being a protestant state. The Evangelical Union was slow to respond to help the Bohemians. Thus despite a religious element to the rebellion, the wider Protestant community were reluctant to join in the fray.

Left to their own resources, small Imperialist (under the command of Bucquoy), and Bohemian (under the command of von Thun) armies began to confront each other in Moravia, between Bohemia and Upper Austria. By September, 1618, the rebel Bohemians had more men in the field, having been reinforced by Count Mansfield and 2,000 Swiss mercenaries, and another 3,000 Silesians. The Imperialists fell back to Budweis, and Krems. The offensive broke down during the winter, with both sides going into quarters.

During March 1619, Emperor Matthias died, and the Bohemian revolt had new implications. No longer were the rebels fighting the King of Bohemia, for Ferdinand was now Emperor elect.

With the die cast, the Bohemians renewed the offensive in April, invading Movaria with 9,000 men, to reach Znaim, the seat of the Moravian Estates. Caught off guard, the Imperialists could do little to stem this attack. Buoyed up by success, von Thun pressed on to try to take Vienna, reaching the outskirts by June 1619. Reinforcements reached Ferdinand, and soon 5,000 men were prepared to defend the city. von Thun’s army was not strong enough to besiege the city, let alone storm it, and he retreated northwards by mid June, lifting the immediate threat to Ferdinand. At the same time the Protestants under Count Mansfield and 3,000 men were caught by 5,000 Imperialist under the command of Bucquoy, and defeated at the battle of Netolitz. Most of the Protestant men were cut down , or captured, with Count Mansfield escaping. The Bohemian advance into lower Austria had failed.

By mid July, the military position for Ferdinand has settle sufficiently for him to call the Imperial Electors together, and he duly became Emperor in August, with a complete majority voting for him, including the Calvinist Palatine.

White Mountain 1620 (7)

Now, as Ferdinand II, he could command loyalty across the Holy Roman Empire.

The Bohemians did not seek reconciliation at this point, but sought to distance themselves even more, by reaffirming the Letter of Majesty, and that the Bohemian monarchy was elective, and including the whole of the kingdom (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia) in the process. The elective crown was then offered to Johann Georg, Duke of Saxony, who rejected it, and then to Bethlen Gabor of Hungary. Bethlen was too involved in unrest in Hungary to accept. Finally after election by the Bohemian Estates in August, the crown was offered to the Calvinist Imperial Elector, Frederick V of the Palatinate.

White Mountain 1620 - 14

Frederick received a letter from the Bohemians announcing his election, married to Princess Elisabeth, daughter of James I of England, he sought advice from his Father in law. The English Ambassador expressed his belief that “the Count Palatine hath a disposition to accept of that crown.”  Frederick V accepted the offer in October, and moved to Prague. In December, his wife gave birth to a son, Prince Rupert.

Ferdinand II had complications of his own. He had inherited a huge debt from Matthias II, which restricted his own military capabilities, having no standing army to count on.

Frederick V, as head of the Evangelical Union, hoped for direct assistance from the princes in the Union. He could also reasonably hope for help from his father in law, King James I. But no help was forthcoming from either quarter, despite pleas from his wife.

White Mountain 1620 - 15

Moreover, even the troops he had in the Palatinate would have to defend this territory in any larger conflict that might ensue. Thus external help, in terms of allies with troops or money, could tip the balance in this conflict.

The Bohemian estates, looking to their own resources could field a small army in March 1620. Their hopes lay with Bethlen Gábor, who continued the struggle against the Habsburgs.

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Polish mercenary (Lisowczycy) intervention on the side of the Imperialists tied down this second rebellion, with only a limited number of Hungarian troops being available to the Bohemians.

Spain offered troops to Ferdinand II once he became Emperor, but the real advance for the Imperialist cause came with the resurrection of the Catholic League in October 1619, under the direction of Maxillian, Duke of Bavaria. In exchange for territorial concessions in the Palatinate after the expulsion of Frederick V, and all expenses incurred to be paid to Bavaria, a Catholic army was raised, under the field command by Count Tilly. Thus another level of dynastic ambition lay in the quarrel, between cousins Maximilian and Frederick.

The final piece of the military jigsaw came with French led diplomacy in July 1620 between the Evangelical Union and the Catholic League. Neither side wished to start a wider war in Germany, guaranteeing the territorial status quo, but allowing either side to engage in Bohemia. Even the Lutheran Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg, failed to support the Bohemian rebels. He preferred instead to police the borders of Saxony and frustrate Bohemian attempts to gain more support for their army. Thus the quarrel, for now, would be settled in Bohemia, with no hint of the wider conflict that was to come.

Five separate armies began the Imperialist counteroffensive. A small army of 5,000 was left to defend Vienna against Bethlen Gábor, whilst a larger force of 21,000 under Bucquoy moved against Prince Anhalt in Lower Austria. Meanwhile three other armies from the Catholic League pressed the Palatinate. The revolt in Lower Austria collapsed, and Prince Anhalt’s army withdrew to Moravia.

Military discipline was likely to be poor from armies that contained significant numbers of mercenaries, and were subject to infrequent pay. The Catholic League’s army in Lower Austria acted with little discipline, ransacking both Protestants and Catholics alike. Likewise irregular Hungarian cavalry behaved so poorly that Ferdinand was reported to say

‘Indeed, the enemy has behaved so terribly everywhere that one can almost not remember whether such tyranny was ever heard of from the Turks.’

Religious hatred was also part of the fierce response from the troops, as the priests in the Catholic League’s army, led by the Pope’s special representative Father Dominic de Jesus-Maria continued their preaching against the heretics.

The Imperial – Catholic League army joined near Budweis, and began to move towards Prague by way of Pilsen. The Bohemian force retired back to shadow them. The Imperialists decided to force a battle before the onset of winter, and marched on Prague.

Frederick V joined his army, suffering a mutiny over pay, and lifted morale enough to keep them in the field. They forced marched their army back, overtaking the Imperialists, to reach the White Mountain before Prague on 8th November, 1620.

The narrative of the battle was recorded in a letter from the Bohemian commander, Christian of Anhalt to Frederick V.

As it was your Majesty’s order for me to relate the events of the battle of Prague, it is my duty to obey you promptly and to present briefly what I could observe and recognise.

I remember that on Thursday, 5 November, the enemy had started to break camp before ours, which we noticed at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Your Majesty gathered the main commanders together and asked me what to do. I gave my advice, to wit is that we should head towards Prague as it was our intention, and no doubt also that of the enemy. Upon this, the elder Count Thun interrupted and said he would bet the enemy had no intention of entering Prague as it was completely impossible, and that instead we should come to the aid of the surrounding villages in order to prevent the enemy from conquering them so forcing Prague to surrender. When evening came, however, we clearly understood what the enemy’s intentions were. Then our deliberations shifted how best to prevent the enemy from advancing. We decided that the aforementioned Count Thun, as guardian of the Crown, would march through the night towards Prague with his son’s infantry regiment, and that your Majesty would follow the next morning with the army. Both these decisions were implemented despite the road being long and arduous and not made practicable. We did so well that we arrived at the place two leagues from Prague half a day before the enemy; it was a village called Anhost. It was Saturday, 7 November and your Majesty arrived around midday.

I gave orders to secure billets for the army, and you decided to make a short trip to Prague. Just after you departed, the enemy started to appear and skirmish and that we heard that all the enemy armies had rejoined each other and were making their swift way straight towards Prague. They were surprised to see we had arrived before them. Upon this, I immediately sent 500 musketeers to keep the passage open, which, if the enemy had known about, would have made our arrival difficult.

So it was that at 8p.m., I started the whole army on the night march, and at 1a.m. we arrived at the so-called White Mountain in front of the city of Prague. I set up camp to rest until daybreak. The Hungarians were alarmed by the din made by some of the Cossacks who had pursued them part of the way. Some of our own infantry regiments also seen perturbed and I wasn’t used to that, so I talked to them but it filled me with dread.

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There was fog at dawn on 8 November. When it was gone, we chose the battlefield between the so-called park of the Star Palace and the slope on the other side, so that we had the advantage of the high ground: the park was on the right hand side and the slope on the left, so that the enemy could only attack us from the front.

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The field having been chosen, the Count Hollach as lieutenant and general chief of staff, ordered the troops to form the order of battle according to the sketch that I enclose .

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The enemy had noticed, (a bit late) that we had started to move; as soon as they heard us they followed us and the vanguard arrived at around 9a.m. I had called Count Thun to ask his advice as he knew this place very well. He confirmed that it was the best place, and called his son’s regiment back from Prague. Meanwhile, Count Hollach had ordered the infantry regiments to guard the park at various points, to wit that of the Count of Weimar, of my son and the company of guards of your Majesty. He ordered the cannon of the Duke of Bavaria to be entrenched, but the spades that I had brought to the camp at my expense had been damaged so much at Rackonitz, that we only had 400 usable ones left. This meant we can to fetch some from Prague, but it took so long that our entrenchment was hindered and remained far from perfect. The Count Thun decided that the two cannon would be taken to the left flank which damaged the enemy greatly but said pieces were positioned too far away. The Hungarians, that is Colonel Cornis and 300 men, were posted on the right flank. The remaining Hungarians stayed at rearguard, because they wanted to be away from the cannon. They were under orders to advance through the gaps when the battle started and to strike the enemy in the flank. I ordered particularly that 1500 Hungarians had to remain on the left flank, as marked on the plan and I dispatched this order three times to the commander.
The Count Hollach had ordered them similarly and the Count Thun took the above named Colonel Cornis to the very place and showed him personally how they were outside the range to cannon and with which advantage they could do a signal service, but nobody came there. The enemy came through a village of the foot of the mountain where the path was bad but wide enough to allow the passage of formed troops on the right flank. But they would have been seen by us, which they wanted to avoid. So, they moved as I described before.

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The enemy formed the order of battle at the foot of (and partially behind) the mountain, practically the same forms as us, as they mixed infantry and cavalry regiment left very little space on the front. We could see most ground where our cannon were positioned on the left flank. We damaged them so much that they were obliged to their front back towards their left hand flank.

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When I saw them moving, I thought they were going to try something more and, finding the Count Hollach of the same opinion, I immediately informed the troops by the two adjutants to the chief of staff and other first officers.

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In the end I saw that the enemy’s vanguard was safely climbing the aforementioned mountain. I was near the two cannon on the left flank, and from there I galloped at the head of Count Hollach’s cavalry where my war horses were, and in no time I could see a large troop of cavalry accompanied by two infantry battalions coming straight at us. This gave me hope as the enemy coming so fast had to have lost order and was going to find us standing firm, in good order, our chiefs in agreement and ready to fight them. Our cannon were flanking their army, we had already dislodged theirs and, although they outnumbered us, they couldn’t see this because of the narrowness of the passage. Moreover, I was well aware that the Count Bucquoy, who was experienced and wise captain, would never advise to start a battle under such circumstances. This made me quite sure I was able to hope for certain victory.

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But God, who in his divine wisdom weighs human events, demonstrated his anger at our lack of piety and the offences of which we are all guilty. It must be God who withdrew bravery from our soldier’s hearts, because otherwise it was impossible to believe that such a sudden effeminate terror would sieze so many men as I had seen performing duties so well before. As soon as the enemy arrived at about 300 or 400 paces from Count Thun’s infantry, our soldiers started to shoot without order or sense and, even against expressed orders, shot in the air and immediately started to flee, seemingly in the grip of fear. I then told my cousin Count Solms, your court chamberlain (who was that day honouring me with his presence) that although this didn’t begin auspiciously, I was still hoping for a positive outcome.

White Mountain 1620 (35)

At the same moment, and being only just armed, I saw before me my cavalry, which had been levied by Lieutenant Colonel Streiff, with some caracolling and others galloping away. So, I ran towards them and stopped them with my sword to make them returned to the charge. The captains obeyed me, but most of them didn’t really persevere.

Count Hollach arranged his troops so that the ones on the left flank should charge and he told them what to do. The troops of counts Solms and Bubna were engaged with the enemy but with little strength or resistance, so that I could see everything of the vanguard on my left, including the three companies of the estates of Bohemia and the one coming after. Everyone was fleeing, some with the infantry which was running the fastest. My son charged with his cavalry, fought and pushed the enemy back to where they had their cannon.

White Mountain 1620 (36)

There, he was wounded twice, as was his brave lieutenant-colonel. My son was then taken prisoner. Count Styrum with Mansfield’s troops charged on the enemy’s musketeers on the side of the park and afterwards he attacked the cavalry. He did his duty with bravery and gained a good reputation. Colonel Stubenvoll also led two or three good charges.

White Mountain 1620 - 45

I led the Austrian cavalry charge and they did well. Lieutenant-Colonel Baron Hofkirchen stayed put. But the latter also performed the bad caracole. It was then that I also ordered the major of the Silesians to attack as well, which did well with the aid of his troops, but the resistance was too great. The enemy, however, was stopped and pushed back, so that some of their troops galloped away to regroup.

White Mountain 1620 (37)

Two enemy infantry battalions fired a great salvo which killed the horse of my chamberlain. One of my gentlemen, Keydel, was also wounded at my side. Those two battalions decided to withdraw too. Our artillery did well and greatly damaged the enemy, which left them perplexed. The regiment of Moravia commanded by Colonel Schlick, as well as the five infantry companies of Lieutenant-Colonel Pechmann showed bravery and remained until the last. As I could see no cavalry coming to our help, and as I had only 16 horsemen near me, and as the enemy was returning with many troops (both cavalry in infantry) I didn’t dare to remain, but withdraw towards the main road that goes towards Prague. I went slowly, hoping that I would find some of our troops waiting, but this was in vain.

White Mountain 1620 (38)

When the elder Duke of Weimar went to stop the Hungarians, he found Colonel Cornis accompanied by the very few of his Carey is asked to stand firm he answered ‘the Germans are fleeing’; the Duke and answered ‘they are Germans in the evening, but by morning there will be the same as the Hungarians’; but Cornis although he had turned a little did not want to understand the Latin phrase. Then, the aforesaid Duke came upon another officer who was fleeing and shouted to him that if he didn’t turn back he would shoot him through the head. When he turned, the Duke realised it was one of the colonels who didn’t stop his flight continued fleeing the enemy.

White Mountain 1620 (39)

So, I can confirm that when I withdrew, of all our Hungarians, only a hundred were left of the ten thousand, such was the diligence they showed. It was now impossible to stop the troops.

White Mountain 1620 (40)

I reached the New Gate where I found Your Majesty together with the routing infantry who had fled before and had already climbed the ramparts. I could only recover six of them who agreed to defend the city walls. The fear was overwhelming in all ran through the Little Side (i.e. the western part of Prague) towards the Old and New Town. Some of them were swimming, especially the Hungarians, some of whom were drowned.

Some of our worst mistakes was that most of our cavalry would not engage properly. The proper way, which I often explained to them, was to reject the bad habit of caracolling when facing the enemy. Those who listened my advice, although defeated, covered themselves in glory, the others in blame. I want to stress this point strongly here, so that this custom of charging without properly engaging is avoided like the plague.

White Mountain 1620 - 46

Your Majesty will understand from this account the real reasons for our defeat, and will also understand the defeat was caused not by the enemy’s valour, but by their good fortune and the divine help they received. Surely, God wanted to punish us for our sins, mostly because of the awful treatment and bad pay bestowed upon our soldiers; seeing that the estates of Bohemia wanted their ruin and disbandment, those soldiers were reduced extreme despair and bad behaviour, such that no chief or officer could order them to fight anymore. For me to start of proper explanation of those of those matters, the aforesaid imperfections (and why I wanted to separate from the aforesaid estates and provinces), I would need reams of paper to do them justice. Your Majesty knew about this, even if you couldn’t remedy the matter in any way possible to you. However, for this generation of people, all was in vain as the unhappy outcome proved.

Since the Hungarians were useless that day, and 1,800 killed in the game parks, though no more than 500 cavalry and around 8000 infantry along with six large guns at the battle. If only our men held their grounds, we would have been strong enough with God’s help, thanks to thanks to the advantages we had.

Christian of Anhalt, Letter to Frederick V, after the Battle of White Mountain.

White Mountain 1620 - 40

The collapse of the Bohemian army led swiftly to the collapse of the rebellion

The Bohemian rebels suffered the full weight of Ferdinand II wrath.

White Mountain 1620 - 44

White Mountain 1620 - 47

The end of the reign of Frederick V, swiftly led to his banishment within the Holy Roman Empire, and the confiscation of the Palatinate, with the electoral title conferred on Maximillian I, Duke of Bavaria. This act alone ensured the broadening of the conflict into what became the Thirty Year Wars, as re-Catholicisation loomed over Protestant Germany.

Frederick V was soon to be mocked as the Winter King, due to the brevity of his rule.

White Mountain 1620 - 30

A popular song at the time in Germany lamented his fate.

“Oh! Poor winter king, what have you done?
How could you steal the emperor’s crown
By pursuing your rebellion?
Now you do well to flee
Your electoral lands and Bohemia.
You will pay for your mistake with grief
And suffer mockery and shame.
Oh! Pious Emperor Ferdinand, grant him pardon!
Do not hold his folly against him.
He’s a very young man,
Who did not realise beforehand
How much a crown weighs.
Now it is weighing very heavy on his head.
If he had known, he would not have done what he did.”

Yet history would confer on their line great blessings, for their heirs included George I, King of England, who founded the Hanoverian dynasty.



White Mountain 1620 - 50

White Mountain 1620 - 51

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The Battle of White Mountain 8 November 1620 Redux Wednesday, Jan 22 2014 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Battle of White Mountain Redux 1620

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

A wargame exploring the Battle of White Mountain is described below.

White Mountain 1620 (31)

The schematic of the battlefield above have been scaled down to fit our beloved bit of 5′ by 4′ for the wargame recreation. The scale used is board 1mm = battlefield 2 m; each move represents 5 minutes, and each figure represents 100-120 men using 25mm figures. Thus our 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefields. The rules used in the games are here.

The number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Battle of  White Mountain  had 23,000 Imperialist and Catholic League troops, facing 17,000 Bohemian and allied troops. Reducing the scale down by a factor of approximately 2 gives an order of battle for White Mountain thus.

Battle of White Mountain  Redux Order of Battle

In these battles, we use the principle of Sauve qui peut to define the level of losses (in terms of base units of 1 figure) sustained by each side before mass panic sets in. The levels are shown below for the battle.

White Mountain Sauve Qui Peut

In the battle, the Bohemians suffered a collapse in morale, despite relatively few casualties. In this re-enactment, the morale of each side is equivalent. This examines the defensive nature of the ground chosen by the Bohemians, and the ability of the larger formation tercios used by the Imperialsts to penetrate the Bohemian line of battle.

For both sides, once the threshold of base unit losses exceed the following total percentages at the specified time on the battlefield, a random number is created (by the linked excel spreadsheet, or a scientific calculator) to ascertain if mass panic has set in, and the rules of Sauve qui peut apply to mass panic.

The generals re-fighting the battle use suspension of disbelief, so that if enemy troops are bearing down unseen upon your own because of the restriction in visibility due to dead ground and hills, you cannot react until they would emerge… as happened during battles of the period.

The account of the wargame is given at quarter hour intervals across the battle; the high view shared by our Olympians who reflect on the action below.

Reference is made to the soldiers pocket book Bible, with quotes appearing before the description of each move. This explores the nature of faith in fighting for the period, especially for the Calvinists.


White Mountain 1620 Wordle


A soldier must be valiant for God’s cause

Be thou valiant for me, and fight the Lord’s battles.
1 Sam. 18:17.

The morning’s fog has long since risen, and revealed the heretics army to the commanders of the Catholics, Count von Tilly and Count Buquoy. After mass, led by Father Dominic de Jesus-Maria who preached against the heretics, their army draws up in mixed formation; the infantry in tercios, mixed with supporting cavalry. Count von Tilly takes the left wing and leads the Catholic League and their Bavarian blue and white chequerboard flags. Count Buquoy takes the right, and leads the Austrian Imperialists, with their flags of double headed eagles.

Atop the hills of the White Mountain before Prague lies the Star Palace, which acts as the anchor point for the defensive line chosen by their commanders. To the right lies the Star Palace and its walls, held by Count von Schlick and his men. In the centre are Prince Christian of Anhalt, and to the left Count von Thurn. Their army would tax a polyglot, comprised of Bohemians, Movarians, Hungarians. But most confess with Calvin’s faith, and as such they already know that God has determined the outcome of this battle through predestination. No probability for them, providence is all; they stand or fall on the sins they have, or are about to commit and how they atone for them.

Fortuna Belli is less certain about providence. Her domain is probability, mixed with a little capricious whim. Minerva also looks on with interest at the dispositions chosen by the generals. Large, dense tercios have punch, but little manoeuvrability. This contrasts with a double linear line atop a hill, mixed with a  few strongpoints. Mars always revels in the fight regardless of who will win.

The Catholic cannons open their barrage, and Calvinists fall. The Bavarian Catholic league begin their Hail Mary’s.

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

The order to advance is given, and the Tercios move forward; pikes to the sky, matchlocks lit, horses at the walk.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Battle of White Mountain (1215)


A Soldier must not fear his enemies

O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou
their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.
Isa. 33: 2.

Atop the hill, the Bohemians see the tercios slowly march towards them. It will take many minutes before the moments of truth begins. Time enough to return fire with their own cannons. Catholics fall to the shot,

… Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

and in return, so do the Protestants on the hill.

Onwards the Bavarian banners to the Holy Virgin flutter alongside the double eagled flags of the Austrian Imperialists, amidst their pikemen in the tercios.

Battle of White Mountain (1230)


A soldier must pray before he goes to fight

Ye shall not fear them; for the Lord your God he shall fight for you.
Deut. 3:22.

Count von Thurn has had plenty of time to consider how to respond to the tidal wave about to break over the left wing of the Bohemians. Cavalry from behind their main battle line swings round to the extreme left, with orders to flank the advancing Imperialists. The first Austrian tercio, steadied by Count Buquoy has almost reached the redan holding the cannons on the Bohemians left. So far their cannonballs have failed to stop the advance, and the gunners are beginning to face the wall of pikes levelled at them. Soon the tercio’s muskets will be firing out.

Battle of White Mountain (1245)


A soldier must put his confidence in God’s wisdom and strength.

God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.
Psa. 46: 1.

On the left flank, the approaching Protestant cavalry draw the Imperialists out, and outnumbered, they eventually break, leaving the Bohemians free to pursue and engage the tercios. Count Buquoy urges his men onwards, and they storm the redan and capture the cannon from the Bohemians. Those gunners who did not flee are not spared, much to the delight of Mars. A fierce battle ensures, with the second line of the Bohemians pressing forward to retake the redan before the Imperialists can use the captured cannons. To their right, the second Imperialist tercio has fared worse, after a brave cavarly charge threw it into disorder. The tercio tries to reform, but this is difficult under fire. A counterattack by Imperialist cavalry in turn throws back the Bohemians.

On the right wing, the Catholic League led by Count von Tilly continue their steady advance. Maybe the battle will be resolved before they get to engage. The battle on the left is held in the balance. Whom will Fortuna Belli favour?

Battle of White Mountain (1300)


A soldier must not rely on his own wisdom, his own strength, or any provision for war.

There is no king saved by the multitude of a host; a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.
Psa. 33, 16:17.

Count von Thurn‘s gambit has paid off, and the cavalry on the left routs the tercio attempting to storm the redan. The Imperialist attack on the left has faltered, as both tercios fall back. The redan has been recaptured at some cost by the Bohemians, but lost at even more cost by the Austrians.  Despite their success, the Bohemians do not pursue.

In an inspired move, von Schlick has gathered the cavalry reserve of the right wing and brought it to the centre, where it forms a new reserve.

The Catholic League’s leading two tercios press the redan in the centre, in an attempt to break through and secure victory for the Bavarians. Emboldened by success on the left wing, a regiment of Bohemians marches forward to engage one of the tercios, and a fierce fight ensures.

Battle of White Mountain (1315)


A soldier must consider and believe God’s gracious promises

The Lord your God ye shall fear, and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.
2 Kings. 17: 39.

The battle for the central redan rages, with one of the Catholic League tercios breaking under the weight of a cavalry charge. They flee for their lives, whilst their colleagues in the other tercio do better on the other side of the redan. The Protestant regiment supporting the artillery retreat, the Catholic League troops storm the barricades and take the guns. If they can hold on, and turn them against their former owners, they may yet tear a whole in the centre of the Protestant army through which they may pour in.

Alert to this threat, Christian of Anhalt sends forward his cavalry to outflank any breakthrough.

On the left, Count von Thurn‘s men will not advance off their ridge, as the Imperialists slowly retire.

Battle of White Mountain (1330)


A Soldier must not fear his enemies.

 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses and chariots and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them, for the Lord thy God is with thee.
Deut. 20:1.

The Catholic League attack on the central redan has failed, and the tercios retreat after being pressed hard by the Protestant cavalry. Only a few tercios remain in good order, and they shield their less fortunate comrades from further attack.

The Bohemian Protestants seem reluctant to press fowards and to claim an even bigger victory.


Battle of White Mountain (1345)


A Soldier must Cry unto God in his heart in the very instant of battle.

When Judah looked back, behold the battle was before and behind; and they cried unto the Lord.
Chron. 13:14.

The Protestant cavalry moves forward to engage with the tercio ‘sacrificial lamb’ before the town of Ruyzene on the right of the battlefield. The men in the tercio call out to each other, and for the moment they hold back the horsemen who surround them, firing their pistols before wheeling away again.

Count von Tilly can do little to save them; their duty is to save the remainder of their army for another day, and another trial of strength. Slowly, the remainder of the Catholics retire.

Battle of White Mountain (1400)


And let Soldiers and all of us know, that if we obtain any victory over our enemies, it is our duty to give all the glory to the Lord, and say:-

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
Psa. 118: 23.

Even the bravest of men cannot withstand an endless onslaught, and so the final tercio yields. Men fall, flee, and are pursued by their antagonists, with Mars amongst them. In the centre, another tercio is pushed back. Elsewhere the remainder of the Catholic army still pulls back. They know that the field belongs to the heretics.

The Protestants on the hill watches the Catholics retire. Time to tend to the wounded or sing out a song of praise for having been spared.

Minerva approves at such caution from both armies. Despite the dreams of generals, wars are rarely won in a day, and decisive battle remains the Fata Morgana of strategists. A string of victories will bring an opponent to their knees, and for that you need a cohort of veterans.


Battle of White Mountain (1415)


A Soldier must Consider that sometimes God’s people have the worst in battle as well as God’s enemies.

The sword devoureth one as well as another.
2 Sam. 11:25.

The combat is complete; the battle has ended. Having lost fully one third of their men, the Catholic assault was firmly rebuffed, and the Bohemian revolt will last one more winter. Perhaps even the new king on the throne in Prague can rest more easily tonight. The Holy Roman Emperor will not receive the news well, and promises to raise an army to devastate Bohemia next spring. Cooler heads in other cities will take note of these threats, and will pull their men back from the coming conflict, better to defend their own when the tidal wave strikes them.

Fortuna Belli favoured the defence today. On the field, the Catholics dazed by their defeat will sing a Te Deum tonight for surviving the battle, and to ask forgiveness for their sins. The Protestants will sing the 68th Psalm and recite the following passage from Exodus.

The Lord is a man of war; Jehovah is his name. Thy right hand, Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee.

Exod. 15, 3,6,7.

Battle of White Mountain (1425)



Here’s an animated gif for each move in the battle.

Battle of White Mountain Redux


The Generals fighting this battle were

Tilly Redux

Count von Tilly

Anhalt Redux

Christian of Anhalt

Battle of White Mountain Redux Colours


The Battle of Leuthen 5 December 1757 Wednesday, Dec 5 2012 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

The Battle of Leuthen was fought in Silesia between the Prussian army under the command of Frederick the Great and the Austrian and Imperialist army under the command of Prince Charles of Lorraine. It is a textbook example of how a smaller army may defeat a larger opponent given guile and audacity. The battle formed part of the start of the Seven Years War, the first global conflict of the modern era fought in Europe, America and in the far east.

The story begins in the settlement from the earlier War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) which led to the rise of Prussia.

Leuthen 1757 (2)

The Prussians under Frederick the Great had conquered Silesia in the Silesian Wars fought against Austria. The capture of this rich province reduced the Hapsburg Austrian Monarchical lands and made their strategic position harder in maintaining their role as a powerful state in Europe, with territorial interests in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium), Lombardy and other regions of Italy, complicated further by the exposure to the Ottoman Empire to the south. Clearly Prussia would have to be tackled in a future conflict. Britain had been a strategic ally of Austria since the accession of William of Orange sparked the long duel in Europe with Louis XIV (which would eventually culminate in 1815). Its help to Austria in the recent war was limited, and certainly couldn’t be counted on in a new struggle to regain Silesia from Prussia. The problem to Austria festered like a sore.

Frederick was a noted Francophile and welcomed all things French, including their support in the war. His Uncle George II of England and Elector of Hanover disliked Frederick. The two had minor territorial disputes in parts of Germany between Hanover and Prussia and familial disagreements.

“A bad friend, a bad ally, a bad relation, a bad neighbour, the most ill disposed and dangerous Prince in Europe.”
George II on Frederick the Great

With no love between them, Frederick looked to France to guarantee Prussia against any possible interventions, especially on their exposed borders with Hanover. Likewise, sandwiched between France and Prussia, Hanover and George II looked to Austria and Russia for diplomatic security based on armed forces. France and Britain, were implacable enemies, and faced each other across the globe as colonial rivals.

These amities and enmities set the Quadrille of power which governed the European peace after the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748).

Leuthen 1757 (3)

Frederick the Great extended Prussia’s military capabilities in the ensuing peace, but also developed his interests in philosophy and in music, being the very model of an enlightenment ruler, who both made and wrote history. He published his thoughts on politics and warfare (Histoire de mon temps, Discours sur la Guerre, Instructions du Roi de Prusse pour ses Généraux among many other works), always using French. He took his fathers main inheritance seriously, ensuring that the army was drilled to perfection; an instrument of state to be used whenever required.

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Peace between Britain and France could not last forever. Conflict broke out in 1754 in North America between French and British colonialists in the French and Indian war, which eventually merged into the Seven Years War.

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At the outbreak of the second Silesian war between Prussia and Austria, a secret treaty had been signed between Prussia and France in 1744. This was due to expire in ten years time, and acted as a guarantee to Prussia and its antagonisms with Austria. France and Austria had been rivals for centuries due to strategic encirclement between Hapsburg Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, leading to the state expansions of Louis XIV and the series of wars he triggered. Frederick the Great could not believe that this enmity could be overcome.

The Appointment of Count von Kaunitz was to prove the trigger for the diplomatic revolution between Austria and France. Despite the rivalry, Kaunitz planned on a rapprochement which would seal Prussia’s fate.

Leuthen 1757 (6)

Perhaps France could be enticed with the Austrian Netherlands, the old battle ground of Louis XIV‘s wars. This would be bound to provoke a response from Britain and the Netherlands, the Maritime powers that stood against Louis XIV.

In addition, Russia could absorb Eastern Prussia. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia  had deep personal animosity towards Frederick, given the personal slights he had made to her. Finally, Sweden could be tempted to take Pomerania.

Despite these obvious gains for all parties, France would not yet come to terms with Austria.

Britain looked to Russia in 1755, with a subsidy convention to station Russian troops near the Prussian borders as a means of preventing Frederick the Great from interfering with Hanover. Despite this, Britain felt compelled to court the Prussians directly, which led to the Treaty of Westminster in January 1756, between Britain and Prussia.

Leuthen 1757 (7)

Each party guaranteed the neutrality of Germany, thus hopefully securing the borders between Hanover and Prussia.

The effect of this treaty was immediate. France finally responding to overtures from Austria. Russia failed to ratify the agreement with Britain. and with the prize of territorial gains in East Prussian, sought to join any likely coalition against Prussia, even if it meant war with Britain.

Nivernais, the French ambassador sent to Prussia to assess the situation gave the following character assessment of Frederick .

“Impetuous, vain, presumptuous, scornful, restless, but also attentive, kind and easy to get on with. A friend of truth and reason. He prefers great ideas to others – likes glory and reputation but cares not a rap what his people think of him… He knows himself very well but the funny thing is that he is modest about what is good in him and boastful about his shortcomings. Well aware of his faults, but more anxious to conceal them to correct them. Beautiful speaking voice… I think that, both as a matter of principle and character, he is against war. He will never allow himself to be attacked, as much from vanity as from prudence – he will find out what his enemies are planning and attack them suddenly before they are quite ready. Woe to them if they are not strong, and woe to him if a well organised league should force him into a sustained effort of great length.”

Duc de Nivernais, 1756

These prescient words spoke of the future, unknown at the time.

The quadrille of European power play had resulted in a change of partners.

Leuthen 1757 (9)

Austria and France now pledged mutual support in the event that either was attacked, with France pledging not to attack the Austrian Netherlands, and Austria to remain neutral in an war between France and Britain.

Events now moved swiftly. The renversement des alliances between France and Austria as envisaged by Kaunitz was formalised in the Treaty of Versailles in May 1756.

Leuthen 1757 (8)

But still France could not be persuaded to attack Prussia.  War broke out in 1756 between France and Britain, with the capture of Minorca in June. Austria and Russia had planned invading Prussia in 1756, but the diplomacy exceeded the dilatory nature of military preparations, so the attack was postponed until 1757.

Prussia had some 5 million to fight a combined strength of some 100 million between the three main enemies drawn up against him, and would be outnumbered in strategic manpower by 20:1. In a short war, Prussia could prevail; in a long war, only endure. The borders of Saxony, to the south of Prussia, were only a few days march to Berlin. Attacking and conquering Saxony, an independent state would be an act of war, but would buy the Prussians space in a defensive war, together with potential recruits to their army, material and money. Frederick’s maxim ‘Better to anticipate than to be anticipated’ hinted at his intentions.

‘Negotiations without arms are like music without instruments’
Frederick the Great

Final diplomatic overtures with Vienna in August 1756 failed to resolve any issues between Prussia and Austria. Frederick pointed to picture of Maria Theresa in his study and said to the British ambassador ‘That Lady wants war, and she shall soon have it’.

Seizing the initiative, Prussia launched a pre-emptive attack on Saxony on 29 August 1756. This cast Prussia in the role of aggressor and pushed the diplomatic revolution to its final conclusion. A major European war was now certain.

Leuthen 1757 (10)

The battle of Lobositz was fought on 1st October 1756 by 35,000 Austrian troops under the command of von Browne. He arranged his army to hold strong defensive ground; hilly ground to secure his right flank, the village of Lobositz in the centre, and the left flank with the bulk of his force behind marshy ground.

Leuthen 1757 (11)

The Austrian artillery made a deep effect on the Prussians, who had never experienced such fierce bombardment, as this account recalls.

‘When the cannon at first spoke out, one of the shots carried away half the head of my comrade Krumholtz. He had been standing right next to me, and my face was spattered with earth, and brains and fragments of skull. My musket was plucked from my shoulder and shattered in a thousand pieces, but in spite of everything, I remained unscathed, thanks be to God.’
Musketeer Reiss

The cannonade even took staff members near Frederick. After being urged to seek shelter, he replied ‘I did not come to avoid them’.  The battle went initially badly for the Prussians, who were unable to dislodge the Austrians on their right flank, and conducted wasteful cavalry attacks on the Austrian centre against Lobositz. Eventually the Prussian infantry, under Augustus William, Duke of Brunswick-Bevern, broke the Austrian right flank on the hill, and the village of Lobositz fell after further determined combat. The Prussians were victorious, but suffered 10% casualties in the battle, the Austrians 8%.

Chastened by the experience  Frederick wrote:

‘We will have to be very careful not to attack them like a pack of Hussars. Nowadays they are up to all sorts of ruses, and, believe me, unless we can bring up a lot of cannon, we will lose a vast number of men before we can gain the upper hand’.

The Austrian army retreated, and the Prussians closed in on the isolated, starving Saxon army, who surrendered on the 15th October 1756.

Leuthen 1757 (12)

The soldiers of the Saxon army were enrolled into Prussian service en mass.

Frederick was present in person while they forced the soldiers to swear allegiance to him. The auditors murmured the words of this so called oath of loyalty in front of the men, and those who refused were punished by the Prussian soldiers… The king so far forgot himself as to use his own stick on a young nobleman, an ensign in the regiment of Crousatz, and he told him: ‘You must be totally devoid of ambition and honour, not to wish to enter the Prussian service!’
Lieutenant General Vitzthum

With his army surrendered, the Elector of Saxony and king of Poland Augustus III fled to Warsaw. Frederick‘s Gambit had paid off, describing the opening of the war as‘setting out the pieces in a game of chess’. Later he remarked ‘To read the newspapers you might think that a pack of kings and princes was bent on hunting me down like a stag, and that they were inviting their friends to the chase. As for myself I am absolutely determined not to oblige them in that respect. In fact, I am confident that I am the one to do the hunting.’

The price that Saxony paid was harsh; the country was heavily taxed for the duration of the war, to an extent that even Frederick acknowledged privately was burdensome.

‘I spared that beautiful country as far as possible but now it is utterly devastated. Miserable madmen that we are: with only a moment to live we make that moment as harsh as we can; amusing ourselves with the destruction of the masterpieces of of industry and of time, we leave an odious memory of our ravages and the calamities which they cause’.
Frederick the Great to Algarotti, 1760.

The armies of Europe went into winter quarters, preparing for the trials that 1757 would bring.

The states of Europe at the critical juncture of 1757 are shown in the satirical cartoon below.

Leuthen 1757 (100)

Maria Theresa  “Now, sir, mind what you are about. I have a notch more than you”

Frederick the Great  “I don’t mind your notch, madam, though I design to have a good stroke at you this time, so mind your eye. Stand out of the way monsieur (Louis XV). I design to send this ball to the She-Bear yonder”

Elizabeth of Russia  “I am coming to help you, madam. If you are tired, I will bowl for you.”

Francis I  “Ah, Boy, there was a time when I could play with the best of them.”

George II  “Ay, ay, never mind. I warrant I’ll get some notches. And if I find the odds against, I’ll hedge off. I can’t say I like her bowling. She seems not to tire.”

Augustus III  “I can play no more, I have had such a dam’d knock.”

In the background are Turkey and the umpires; the neutral powers of Holland and Spain. The scorers (the King of Sweden and Duke of Brunswick) are seated on the ground, notching the sticks to count the tally.

Leuthen 1757 (13)

Mitchell, the British Ambassador, met with Frederick on 4 May 1757, shortly before the battle of Prague. He found Frederick in good spirits.

‘He was very hearty and cheerful, and told me in a day or two the battle of Pharsalia between the Houses of Austria and Brandenberg would be fought’.

Clearly Frederick had in mind some decisive battle that would settle the war between Austria and Prussia.

The Austrians, under the command of Archduke Charles and von Browne had some 60,000 men, placed on the western hills to the city of Prague. Frederick commanders had some 115,000 men at his disposal, after the second main army under  Schwerin and Winderfeldt joined forces with his. 30,000 men under Keith marched to the west to cut off any Austrian retreat, and these troops played no part in the battle. having learnt from their experience at Lobositz, the Prussian main army did not assault the Austrians in a frontal attack on mountainous ground, but sought to attack in the flank by marching around the Austrians and approaching by the more gentle slopes of the Tabor Berg.

The Prussians began marching around their enemy at 7am, but were not in position until late morning, giving the Austrians time to move some troops to counter this threat.

At this point in the war, the Prussian infantry assaulted with their muskets shouldered, to intimidate their opponents. The vanguard attacks were swept by Austrian cannon fire, and the leading Prussian regiments lost up to 50% casualties, including Generals Schwerin , who was decapitated by cannister.

Under this heavy fire the initial Prussian assault fell back, then broke; at 10:30 the battle was evenly balanced. von Browne, the Austrian commander facing this assault ordered his men forward, but in the process opened up a gap between his force and the main Austrian army, still facing along the Ziska Berg under the command of Archduke Charles. von Browne lost his leg to a cannon shot and fell mortally wounded, and so leaderless, the Austrian counterattack broke down. The Prussians found the gap between the two wings in the Austrian line, and began to roll up the main Austrian army, causing them to retreat.

‘Now our fine and agreeable day was plunged into gloom. The whole air was darkened by powder smoke, and by the dust thrown up by the thousands of men and horses. It was like the last day of the world’.
Anhalt Musketeer

The Prussian assault pressed on, causing more chaos and casualties in the Austrian army. Archduke Charles became stricken with a paralysis, and leaderless, their army began to fall back into the city of Prague. The Prussians had won the battle.

Leuthen 1757 (14)

The Austrian army lost 14,000 men, with some 5,000 of these captured. The Prussians lost 14,300 casualties, about 21% of the initial force.

‘The battle at Prague must be the greatest and bloodiest in history.’

‘Hardly any battle up to the present time has been more murderous. We are condemned to the lamentable fate of  earning our laurels with the blood of multitudes of brave men, with tears and endless affliction.’
von Donnersmarck

The price of victory had been high. The highly trained Prussian officers and infantry were being bled to death by the rate of casualties in the battles fought so far.

The remaining Austrian force under Archduke Charles was inside the city of Prague. Frederick hoped to repeat the fate of the Saxon army, and force the capitulation of the Austrians by starvation. The heavy siege artillery made its way to Prague and opened up the attack on 29 May.

Leuthen 1757 (15)

By 4 June, it was clear that insufficient damage had been done to the city to cause the much sought surrender, despite the damage inflicted. Reports came in of an army of relief under Marshal von Daun, moving into eastern Bohemia.  Bevern was given an army of 25,000 men with orders to push von Daun‘s men away from Prague.

On 13 June, Frederick marched with more troops towards Bevern and his men. By the 16 June, the Prussian strength had risen to some 33,000 men. Close by were the Austrians, with 53,000 men, although this number of troops were not known by the Prussians. On 18 June, the Austrians took position along a series of hills above the Kasier Strasse, the main road in central Europe. von Daun‘s army deployed along the Przerovsky and Krzeczhorz hills. Despite being outnumbered, Frederick would attempt the flanking maneuver of Prague, some six weeks earlier, and wheel the army around to attack the Austrians on the Krzeczhorz hills. These movements were seen by von Daun, who moved part of his reserve to meet the attack.

Leuthen 1757 (16)

Major General Hülsen led the Prussian assault, which started to engage at 2pm. Initially successful, Hülsen’s men ran into the Austrian division of Wird, sent by von Daun

Instead of waiting for more progress from Hülsen’s attack, Frederick ordered the troops of Prince Moritz to attack the main ridge, deviating from the initial plan.

‘For the third time Frederick called out: ‘Prince Moritz, form into line!’ The prince repeated: ‘Forwards, forwards!’ At this the king galloped up and halted with the muzzle of his horse against the Prince’s saddle: ‘For God’s sake’, he shouted, ‘form front when I tell you to do so!’ The Prince at last gave the appropriate order in a sorrowful tone of voice, and he commented… ‘now the battle is lost!’

Frederick’s change of mind may have been prompted by him detecting the movement of Austrians towards their right flank, thus denuding their centre. But von Dauns men were more plentiful than Frederick knew, and the Prussians advanced into the prepared killing grounds of the Austrian army. Survivors recall hearing the sound of canister balls sounding like hailstones on the bayonets on the infantry, which pointed skywards, as they advanced with shouldered arms.

The Prussian assaults continued throughout the afternoon to no avail. Some progress was made by the cavalry under Major General von Krosigk, south of Krzeczhorz, until the commander fell.

His courage and zeal for the service were undiminished by two bad sword cuts which he received in the head. But a lethal canister shot, which took him in the stomach below the breastplate, at last threw him to the ground… A dragoon saw him fall. He testified that he was still able to call out: ‘Lads, I can do no more. The rest is up to you!’

The command was taken up by von Seydlitz.

Leuthen 1757 (17)

Frederick rallied unit after unit, imploring them to achieve the seemingly impossible. By  Krzeczhorz, one last push by the Prussian cavalry and infantry almost carried the day, until a counter attack by the Austrian de Ligne Dragoons won the day for von Dauns men.

The Austrians had finally beaten the Prussians, after losing the previous eight previous battles across two wars. The Austrians had suffered 8,000 casualties, or 15% of their total, whereas the Prussians had 14,000 casualties, or 44%.

Frederick was temporarily stunned by the failure.

Leuthen 1757 (18)

The remainder of the Prussian army withdrew, and lifted the siege of Prague on 20 June, falling back into northern Bohemia.

In contrast, on receiving the news of the victory of Kolin, Empress Maria Theresa declared 19 June as the founding day of the Militär Maria-Theresien-Orden, with Marshal von Daun its first recipient.

Leuthen 1757 (19)

After the battle of Kolin, Frederick took to writing poetry to console himself.

Pour moi, menacé du naufrage,
Je dois, en affrontant l’orage,
Penser, vivre et mourir en roi.

In the face of the storm,
and the threat of shipwreck,
I must think, live and die like a king.

An even more telling poem he wrote to his sister, Wilhemina, reveals his inner turmoil. The metre is lost in translation from the original in French, but the meaning is plain.

Discord, charmed to see such an America, and feeble mortals crossing the Ocean to exterminate one another, addresses the European Kings: ‘How long will you be slaves to what are called laws? Is it for you to bend under worn-out notions of justice, right? Mars is the one God: Might is Right. A King’s business is to do something famous in this world.’

And thou, loved People, whose happiness is my charge, it is thy lamentable destiny; it is the danger which hangs over thee, that pierces my soul. The pomps of my rank I could resign without regret. But to rescue thee, in this black crisis, I will spend my heart’s blood. Whose IS that blood but thine? With joy will I rally my warriors to avenge thy affront; defy death at the foot of the ramparts, and either conquer, or be buried under thy ruins.

Frederick the Great

But events were no longer his to dictate, and a French army under the command of the Duc d’Estrées put to the field, defeating a combined Anglo-Prussian army under the command of the Duke of Cumberland at the battle of Hastenbach on 26 July. On August 30, the Russian army defeated the Prussians in East Prussia at the battle of Gross-Jägersdorf. Another Franco-Imperialist army began to march towards Thuringia. The Imperialist army contigent, the Reichsexecutionarmee, comprised of men from different states within the Holy Roman Empire in Germany that owed allegiance to Austria.

‘Prudence and audacity may be alternated but not mixed. Having gone to war, it is vain to shrink from facing the hazards inseparable from it.’

Frederick needed a decisive victory over the Franco-Imperialist army to regain the strategic initiative. Only audacity would serve this, so on 25 August he divided his army, and took 25,000 men to pursue the approaching Franco-Imperialists, leaving some 41,000 men to face the Austrians in Bohemia. von Seydlitz led the Garde du Corps, having been promoted by Frederick, who recognised in him his coup d’œil, so necessary for cavalry command in this era.

Leuthen 1757 (20)

The army marched west, across Saxony, attempting to close with the Franco-Imperialists under the joint command of Soubise and Hildburghausen. The two armies nearly engaged at Gotha on 16 September, but the Franco-Imperialists withdrew when threatened. A raid on Berlin by a small Austrian force caused the Prussians to withdraw back across the river Saale to Torgau. The Franco-Imperialists pursued him, crossing the Saale, and presented Frederick, with his chance of decisive battle. The pursuit began in earnest, and the Reichsexecutionarmee just cleared the Saale at Weissenfels on 30 October.

The Prussians again crossed the river, and by 5 November the long sort combat came to fruition at Rossbach. The Reichsexecutionarmee comprised some 10,900 men; the French some 30,200, a total of 41,100. The Prussians had 21,000 men to oppose them. Again, Frederick would be outnumbered, this time by 2:1. On the morning of the battle, the Franco-Imperialist army formed into 3 columns of march, with the intention of attacking the flank of the Prussian army, still in camp upon the hills above Rossbach.

Leuthen 1757 (21)

The move was spotted by midday, and the Prussians swiftly reacted by pulling up their tents and forming into battle order. The Franco-Imperialists saw the Prussian reaction to their move, and took it as a sign that the Prussians were retreating. Instead, taking advantage of the hilly ground, the Prussians were marching to ‘cross the T‘ of the Franco-Imperialist advance.

von Seydlitz, in command of the Prussian cavalry, attacked the advancing Franco-Imperialist cavalry, routing them.

Leuthen 1757 (22)

Rather than following them, von Seydlitz reorganized the victorious Prussian cavalry, ready for another attack in the next stage of the battle.

Frederick wheeled the Prussian infantry into a line of battle, forming a shallow ‘V’ at the point of intersection to the advancing Franco-Imperialist columns. The Prussian infantry shattered the front of this attack, and the Franco-Imperialist infantry reeled back in retreat onto their advancing troops, spreading confusion. Soon the entire Franco-Imperialist army was in confusion, and at this moment, von Seydlitz led the Prussian cavalry in for another devastating flank attack.

Leuthen 1757 (23)

The Franco-Imperialists ran for their lives, and the battle was won for the Prussians. For the loss of some 550 men, the Prussians had inflicted some 10,000 casualties, the majority captured. Frederick had his desired victory.

Darkness fell about 5pm, and Frederick intended on staying in a nearby castle. It was full of wounded French officers, so the King, an avowed Francophile moved to a house close by, and lodged in the servants quarter.

‘I can now die in peace, because the reputation and honour of my nation have been saved. We may still be overtaken by misfortune, but we will bever be disgraced.’

All Europe recognised the scale of this victory, and the inspirational force behind it.

‘We must not forget that we are dealing with a prince who is at once his own commander in the field, chief minister, logistical organiser, and, when necessary, provost-marshal. These advantages outweigh all our badly executed and badly combined expedients.’
Cardinal Bernis

Having dealt with the threat from the west, the Prussians could turn once again to the Austrians in the east.

Leuthen 1757 (24)

The strategic situation deteriorated for the Prussians in Silesia during November. The Austrian army, under the command of Prince Charles and von Daun managed to outmaneuver the outnumbered Prussian army under the Duke of Bevern. At the battle of Breslau on 22 November, the Prussians suffered a heavy defeat, and the remainder of this force retreated.

Leuthen 1757 (25)

Frederick had to engage and defeat the numerically superior Austrians before winter set in, and drive their army from Silesia. One more supreme effort would be needed from his men. Normally a strict disciplinarian, Frederick changed his style of leadership before the battle of Leuthen, offering atonement to the remainder of Bevern’s army, in exchange for future good conduct in the forthcoming battle. He circulated freely among his troops to hear their stories and offer his encouragement.

He called his general staff to his tent on the morning of 4 December, to give the Parchwitz address.

Leuthen 1757 (26)

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The do or die sentiment made the situation plain to all, and the address survived long after the event as a reminder of the nature of the struggle that the Prussians faced.

The Prussian army moved forwards to Breslau, with the aim of bringing the Austrians to battle. Prince Charles and von Daun concurred and moved their army towards Leuthen, occupying the ridge across the town. With 66,000 men  and 210 guns, the Austrians believed they could defend against attack from the impetuous Prussians. Frederick had only 39,000 men and 170 guns. Once again, he would have to defeat an enemy superior in numbers on chosen ground, suited to defence.

Leuthen 1757 (102)

Early on the morning of 5 December, the Prussian army rose, with light snow on the ground.

The troopers were standing by their horses and clapping their hands to keep warm. ‘good morning Gardes du Corps!’ ‘The same to you, Your Majesty!’ replied an old cavalryman. ‘How goes it?’ enquired the king. ‘Well enough, but its bloody cold!’ ‘Have a little patience, lads, today is going to be a little too hot!’

The Prussians moved towards the Austrian position, with infantry columns in the centre, flanked by cavalry on each side, and an advance guard ahead, with Frederick.

Leuthen 1757 (103)

Leuthen 1757 (29)

Leuthen 1757 (104)

The advance guard drew up before the village of Borne, and the Prussians attacked and scattered or captured the Austrian Hussar outposts.  At leisure,  Frederick surveyed the Austrian position. His army had emerged about the centre of the Austrian army, deployed along the hills that straddled the town of Leuthen. The Austrian right wing was secure against woods, but their left wing was exposed, with no cover. The Prussians knew this ground intimately, as it was the place the army performed its autumnal pre-war maneuvers. Once again, Frederick would employ a flank attack to compensate for his lack of men. To aid this, the Prussians launched the advance guard beyond the village of Borne, which convinced Prince Charles that the Prussians would attack his centre.

Leuthen 1757 (105)

He correspondingly moved reserves to counter this apparent threat. Late in the morning, the Prussian army swung south and marched out of view from the Austrian high command, their movements being shielded by a series of low hills.

Leuthen 1757 (30)

The Prussians had disappeared, apparently retreating before a superior force. The Austrians did not move from their ridge, and were content to let the Prussians go.

Leuthen 1757 (106)

But the Prussians were working their way South, towards the village of  Lobetinz, before swinging their way back to the North East. During the later stages of the march, the Prussians managed to convert their columns of march to lines of attack in their formidable oblique order as the army swung around between the villages of Lobetinz and Sagschutz.

Leuthen 1757 (101)

Leuthen 1757 (31)

The Austro- Imperialist troops were largely unaware of the storm about to break on them. At the extreme left of the  Austro- Imperialist left flank were Württemburgers and Bavarians, not the best troops in their army.

Leuthen 1757 (107)

Facing them in the vanguard, were elite Prussian units of the 26th (Meyerinck) and 13th (Itzenplitz) infantry regiments. Prior to the attack, Frederick addressed the men, and let them know of the importance of success.

Leuthen 1757 (32)

After an initial resistance by the Württemburgers, the  Austro- Imperialist infantry retreated.

Leuthen 1757 (108)

A cavalry counter attack led by Nádasdy was repulsed by the Prussian cavalry of the right, led by Zieten, with the Prussians victorious.  The Austrian cavalry fled, and the Prussian cavalry pursued the easier target of the routing Austro- Imperialist infantry.

Leuthen 1757 (109)

The Austrian army faced the collapse of their left wing.  Prince Charles ordered the army to take up a new position at right angles to its original line, to face the Prussians square on.  The line would run either side of the town of Leuthen, which would become the linchpin of the new position.

Leuthen 1757 (110)

Leuthen 1757 (33)

The redeployment was slow, with the second Austrian line moving first, then reserves, and finally the troops to the north of the original position. This led to a unsteady delivery of troops to the new front.

Leuthen 1757 (111)

The Prussian infantry stormed the town of Leuthen after fierce fighting. The position for the Austrian army was now critical, and a counterattack urgently needed.

Leuthen 1757 (34)

The Austrian cavalry of the right flank, under the command of Luchasse was originally deployed to the North. They swept down across the plain towards the left wing of the Prussian army, extended around the Butter Berg, along the new line of battle by Leuthen.

Leuthen 1757 (112)

This was intercepted in turn by the Prussian cavalry of the left wing, under the command of Dreisen.

Leuthen 1757 (113)

A fierce mêlée broke out, with the Prussian Bayreuth Dragoons, the heroes of the Battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745 just holding their own, until the second line of Prussian Cuirassiers arrived to scatter the Austrians.

Leuthen 1757 (35)

The Prussian cavalry then ploughed into the exposed flank of the Austrian infantry, and their army collapsed, and routed.

Leuthen 1757 (114)

Whole units ran for their lives, being pursued by Prussian cavalry and infantry.  Only darkness saved the Austrians from a greater disaster from that which befell them, with over 33% of their army casualties by the evening. Frederick ordered a small pursuit force of cavalry and infantry to follow the fleeing Austrians, reaching a bridge across the river Wistritz.

Leuthen 1757 (36)

As the snows fell,  Frederick entered a nearby castle, to find it full of wounded Austrian officers. ‘Good evening gentlemen; certainly you weren’t expecting me here.’ he said by way of introduction, before making off for another location.

In the darkness, the victorious Prussian army marched and reorganised. A lone Prussian soldier began singing Rinckart’s Lutheran hymn ‘Now we all thank our God’ (based on Sirach:50 v22 – 24), and the song was taken up by the army.

Leuthen 1757 (37)

Described by many later, this vivid experience of survival, and thanks in the face of the adversities of the eighteenth century battlefield became the legend of the Leuthen Chorale.

The pursuit proper of the Austrian army began on the 7 December, with the Austrians fleeing towards Bohemia.

Leuthen 1757 (38)

‘Just imagine a cloudburst descending from the hills with thunder and lightning, and flooding the valley at the foot. In the same way we saw countless troops flowing under our eyes. Every street became a river of men, and every lane a torrent.’

By the 21 December, further Austrian troops surrounded in the Schweidnitzer Tor surrendered, a total of 17,000 men.  The Austrian army had lost over 66% of their total, and Frederick had won the most famous victory of the age.

Leuthen 1757 (200)

The battle has kept the Prussians in the war, although no-one knew at that time the conflict would continue until 1763.

Leuthen 1757 (39)

With joy will I rally my warriors to avenge thy affront; defy death at the foot of the ramparts, and either conquer, or be buried under thy ruins.

Frederick the Great


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The Battle of Leuthen 5 December 1757 Redux Wednesday, Dec 5 2012 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

A wargame exploring the Battle of Leuthen is described below.

Leuthen 1757 (102)

The schematic of the battlefield above have been scaled down to fit our beloved bit of 5′ by 4′ for the wargame recreation. The scale used is board 1mm = battlefield 2 m; each move represents 5 minutes, and each figure represents 100-120 men using 25mm figures. Thus our 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefields. The rules used in the games are here.

The number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Battle of Leuthen  had 66,000 Imperialist troops (mostly Austrians, with some Bavarians and Württembergers) facing 39,000 Prussians. Reducing the scale down by a factor of approximately 2 gives an order of battle for Leuthen thus.

Battle of Leuthen Redux Order of Battle

In these battles, we use the principle of Sauve qui peut to define the level of losses (in terms of base units of 2 figures) sustained by each side before mass panic sets in. The levels are shown below for the battle.

Leuthen 1757 Sauve qui peut

For both sides, once the threshold of base unit losses exceed the following total percentages at the specified time on the battlefield, a random number is created (by the linked excel spreadsheet, or a scientific calculator) to ascertain if mass panic has set in, and the rules of Sauve qui peut apply to mass panic.

The generals refighting the battle use suspension of disbelief, so that if enemy troops are bearing down unseen upon your own because of the restriction in visibility due to dead ground and hills, you cannot react until they would emerge… as happened during the original battle.

The account of the wargames is given at quarter hour intervals across the battle; the high view shared by our Olympians who reflect on the action below.


Leuthen Wordle

1:00 pm

“In War, the skin of a fox is at times as necessary as that of the lion, for cunning may succeed when force fails. Since, therefore, force may at one time be repelled by force, and at another be obliged to yield to stratagem, we ought to be well acquainted with the use of both, that we may on occasion adopt either.”

Of the Tricks and Stratagems of War, Military Instructions, Frederick the Great.

The Prussians led by their cunning fox and lion, Frederick the Great, have moved forward to engage the Austrians and sundry Imperialists in an attempt to destroy their army and drive them from Silesia. the same territory he stole from his antagonists some ten years earlier.  With the great victory of Rossbach barely a month ago, morale is high in the Prussian army.

The Austrians led by Charles of Lorraine, and his subordinate general Count von Daun are confident that the ridge they have chosen to occupy across the village of Leuthen can be defended against this impulsive foe.  The Battle of Kolin in June was proof enough of this, surely?

Above the ground chosen for battle, the Olympians look on. Minerva heard with avid interest the wise words Frederick penned to her in his paen to war, L’Art de la Guerre.

“Much more from MINERVA the chief requires,
Wisdom should guide his breast while courage fires,
There valor cool with temperate ardor lies,
Swift without rashness, without weakness wise,
His prudent care should o’er his troops preside,
And ‘midst the battles rage their efforts guide…”

So rare, a Captain of the field, who even thinks this, let alone commits it to epic verse. Through the long river of history, the last such she recalled was Caesar and his commentaries, some eighteen centuries earlier. And now by a coincidence of fate, he faces the army of the daughter of Caesar.

Fortuna Belli favours the bold, provided they are successful. Although blindfolded, so her favours and frowns are scattered impartially across the field of battle, she also heard her name called in Frederick‘s poem.

“Always attack so shall BELLONA kind,
Smile on your banners waving in the wind,
And favoring fortune aid the daring arms,
Whose rapid charge the expecting foe alarms…”

Again, so wise in a mortal.

Mars will revel in the fight regardless of who will win, and he looks on favourably towards Frederick’s willingness to raise the sword and use it.

Bridled by an exhortation to one supreme effort, his officers know the stakes before them in this battle.

Fate has been kind to the Prussians. Unbeknownst to Prince Charles of Lorraine and the Austrians, they have chosen to occupy a ridge used by the Prussians for their annual war game exercises. Frederick and his men know this land like the back of their hand. Rather than engage in a suicidal advance from Borne to the ridge, and obligingly attacking the Austrians head on whilst outnumbered 1:2, Frederick leads the bulk of his men due south in three columns, whilst a small advance guard cautiously advances beyond the village of Borne. Bewitched by this maneuver, Prince Charles moves some reserves from his left flank to his centre to counter this apparent threat from Borne, whilst watching the bulk of the Prussians march away, in apparent retreat.

But this is no retreat, or exercise. Under the watchful eye of Frederick, the Prussians swing south under the cover of low hills, then with a discipline that comes from constant unthinking practice, the vast whole swings back North, wheeling from column to line, into an attack by oblique order. Frederick has his men where he wants them, in the desired formation.

All this time the Austrian high command is oblivious to the storm about to strike them. At the extreme left of the Austrian line are Bavarians and Württembergers. These men fight for the Holy Roman Empire and her Empress Maria Theresa, but they are not the same quality of men as the Austrian army that they owe allegiance too. They too have seen the Prussians march South, then disappear. But later, much later, a deadly apparition appears before them. The Prussians have returned in full battle array, and are steadily marching towards them in deadly earnest. They have enough time to swing their portion of the line round from the village of Leuthen to face square on to the coming onslaught.

Frederick has placed his best troops at the right hand side of his oblique order, at the point of contact with the Imperialists.

He gives one last exhortation to the strike force of hand picked regiments.

‘Boys, you see the whitecoats there. You’ve got to drive them out the redoubt. All you’ve got to do is go for them with the bayonet and run them out. I’ll support you with five grenadier battalions and the whole army. It’s win or die! In front of you you have the enemy and behind you you have the whole army, so you can’t find a room forward or back except as victors.

The men nod, knowing their task.

In the distance, the Bavarians and Württembergers know this afternoons peace will soon be shattered. But they stand firm for now.

Minerva smiles in approval at Frederick‘s guile and daring.

Leuthen Redux # (1)

1:05 pm

The Prussian cannonade sings out, and their deadly balls plow through the Imperialists. The Prussian line engages them in a series of volleys. It is too much for the Imperialists; they break and flee past the village of Sagschutz without occupying it. Frederick urges his men onwards.

The nearest senior Austrian to this mayhem, General Nádasdy looks on in horror at what is unfolding before him. The cannons roar, the musket volleys fire, sounding like waves breaking on a distant pebble beach.  He swings his own cavalry reserve around to face the sounds, and urges the infantry between Sagshutz and Leuthen to do the same. But by then the Imperialist infantry is falling back in disarray, disrupting these troops, adding to the mayhem and fear and some break as the Prussian cannonade straddles them. He sends a messenger to Prince Charles  and von Daun to break the news to them. They have heard the sounds to their left, and can guess at what it means. But they cannot see anything yet, so the Austrian main line remains in place, facing a threat from the village of Borne that remains elusive.

Leuthen Redux # (2)

1:10 pm

The Bavarians and Württembergers try to wheel a new line of defence round to face the Prussian infantry who continue to sweep forwards. General Nádasdy leads his troopers forwards to stem this tide, but his first line is thrown into confusion by fleeing troops and cannon balls from the Prussian guns..

Behind the Prussian infantry, Count von Zieten leads the Prussian cavalry reserve forwards to counter the emerging threat from the Austrian cavalry.

The messengers from the Bavarians ride on, but haven’t reached Prince Charles yet, who hears the sounds of strife with unease. von Daun is closer to the action, but still awaits orders.

Leuthen Redux # (3)

1:15 pm

The Prussians pour out of Sagschutz, still in perfect oblique order. The Bavarians and Württembergers nervously await this storm, hoping for support.

General Nádasdy withdraws his troopers, waiting for the right moment to strike. Meantime, Count von Zieten and the Prussian cavalry reserve still ride forward to meet them, wheeling his troopers round the woods by the side of the Prussian infantry.

So far, Fortuna Belli has smiled on the Prussians.

Leuthen Redux # (4)

1:20 pm

The Bavarians and Württemberger line crumples in disorder from the fire by the Prussian Grenadiers. Behind the firing line, the Prussian oblique order marches onwards.

The cavalry continue to sweep towards each other, with the Austrians under a steady cannonade from the Prussian guns on the hill.

The Austrian guns along their main line fire out at the distant Prussian cavalry before them. Despite the range, the Prussians are unnerved by the fire and they retire in confusion.

Prince Charles and von Daun finally receive confirmation of what their ears have been telling them. The old fox has outflanked them, and disaster stares them in the face, unless they can wheel their army around to face the onslaught. Orders are issued, short prayers are said.  Fortuna Belli continues to smile on the Prussians, but can the Austrians save themselves?

Leuthen Redux # (5)

1:25 pm

The Württemberger line breaks, but the Bavarians hold the line in some disorder against the Prussian Grenadiers. The Oblique order of Berliner Blau continues marching onwards.

Prince Charles  and von Daun issue their orders and mutter short prayers. They will swing their rear line round first to march on Leuthen and hold the Prussians there. A rider sets out to carry the news down the line.

The cavalry have nearly reached each other. Unseen, Mars rides with the Prussians and draws his sword.

Leuthen Redux # (6)

1:30 pm

The Bavarians have also fallen back, and chaos reigns in the Imperialist infantry before Leuthen. von Zieten’s Prussian troopers  crash into Nádasdy’s Austrian cavalry, who in turn are thrown back, in part by infantry fire from the squares of Prussians on their flank. As Mars revels in the action, Minerva smiles. and sees that Frederick may accomplish another Battle of Zama.

Leuthen Redux # (7)

1:45 pm

The Prussian flood continues, but the white Austrian columns are working their way to form a new white line across Leuthen. Who will get their first and secure a foothold? Fortuna Belli continues to favour the Prussians so far, as the retreating Imperialist infantry disrupt their comrades advance.

Nádasdy’s Austrian cavalry fall back before von Zieten’s troopers, but to their rear, Luchasse’s Austrian troopers begin to swing round to plug the gap.

The next fifteen minutes will be crucial, but events are happening so fast across the battle line that no general can control events. They can only hope the streams of fire they have unleashed will be successful once their effects have been felt.

Leuthen Redux # (10)

2:00 pm

The Prussians drive onwards and the line of fire now runs along the village of Leuthen. The Austrian troops fall out of the village and join the fleeing Bavarians and Württembergers in throwing the approaching Austrians into chaos. Only along the western flank of Leuthen do the Austrian infantry stand firm. But their flank is unsecured. Spotting their chance, the Prussian cavalry between Heidau and Radaxdorf ride forwards.

Prince Charles and von Daun, at different points in the fray feel increasingly nervous about how their troops are responding, and the general slide into chaos at the firing line.

Leuthen Redux # (13)

2:15 pm

The line of Austrian white columns advance towards their colleagues who run into them, through them, in panic. The battle is as good as lost, and yet there is no order to retire, so the good are propelled towards the bad and become disorganized themselves. Mars rides with the Prussian cavalry, and they hunt down the fleeing Austrian infantry as they run for their life.  Minerva knows that Frederick has his Zama, but Fortuna Belli will not signal to Victory yet.

Leuthen Redux # (16)

2:30 pm

In the centre, the Prussian cavalry ride down the fleeing Austrian infantry;  Mars is resplendent.  To the west of the battlefield, the remnants of Nádasdy’s troopers try their art once more against Count von Zieten’s men. They may buy time for their hard pressed comrades in the infantry, but the tide cannot be turned now. Even Prince Charles , and von Daun are riding to the rear. The Prussian artillery  limber up, and follow their comrades as the battle moves out of range for their guns. This is hard work, but no-one is firing back at them.  One by one, the Austrian batteries are falling to the Prussians.

Leuthen Redux # (19)

2:45 pm

Relief for the Austrians has appeared in the form of cavalry, which shields the retreat of their infantry. Facing a new threat, the Prussian cavalry before Frobelwitz backs away. Between Leuthen and Frobelwitz, a lone Austrian infantry square holds firm; the sole point of order. Meanwhile the flood of retreating Austrian infantry has reached the point of chaos; no troops could be reformed to fight today in good order; unit after unit has merged into one mass. Prince Charles  knows the battle is lost. What can he salvage from this moment?

Leuthen Redux # (22)

3:00 pm

The Prussian tide sweeps on as the Austrians retreat. All, except reinforcements to the west of Gluckerwitz, which form up in good order; the better to help their comrades retreat.

The Prussian artillery have reached a small hillock, ready to unlimber and pour fire onto the Austrians.

Leuthen Redux # (25)

3:15 pm

Austrian resistance is now centered between the villages of Frobelwitz and Gluckerwitz. A lone artillery battery spits defiance against the Prussians, who in turn mark it for capture when their flood allows it. In the distant rear, Prussian artillery fire out over their comrades heads. Their cannon balls strike the fleeing Austrian infantry, adding to their chaos.

Leuthen Redux # (28)

3:30 pm

Only a small pocket of Austrian resistance remains. The Prussian infantry forms out of battle array and into a  column of pursuit.  Austrian infantry are still falling to the swords of the Prussian cavalry. All for them is lost.

Leuthen Redux # (31)

3:40 pm

One last Austrian infantry square offers resistance, surrounded by Prussian infantry. They will soon fall. The rest of their army has fled.

Leuthen Redux # (33)

Prince Charles and von Daun flee with their men. They are at a loss to explain how their certitude dissolved in little over an hour, and against such a small army! They have been outgeneralled, and they know it. Their Empress will know of it shortly. She will remove Prince Charles from command and entrust all to the victor of Kolin.

Frederick has little time to celebrate his famous victory. He must organise and lead the pursuit against the Austrians. A moments effort now will gain much repose later. ‘Vorwärts’! he demands, and his men obey.

Fortuna Belli nods to Victory that the day belongs to  Frederick and his men; something that  Minerva has known for sometime. Lesser men than Frederick have been given the epithet ‘the Great’, but she knows that in the space of one month, he has destroyed two armies in the field at odds of 2:1 against his men. This is unprecedented for the modern age; perhaps for all ages. He deserves his title, and unwillingly to become the servant of his people in many more battles for another six years of war.

Perhaps this is the cause of his poem he leaves to his heir.

ILLUSTRIOUS Prince to whom ’tis given by fate,
To bear the burthen, and the pomp of state,
To reign of spacious realms the future lord,
To lift the balance, and to wield the sword,
0 hear a Soldier train’d to War’s alarms,
Inur’d to danger, and grown old in arms,
With voice experienc’d shew the thorny road
Which leads thro’ scenes of blood to fame’s abode.

 L’Art de la Guerre, Frederick the Great.


Here’s an animated gif for each move in the battle.

Leuthen 1757 Redux


The Generals fighting this battle were

Charles redux

Prince Charles.

Friedrich Redux

Frederick the Great.

Battle of Leuthen Redux Colours

The Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras 16 June 1815 Friday, Mar 9 2012 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

The battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras were fought at the opening of invasion of Belgium in the the hundred days campaign, and Napoleon’s attempt to reassert his control over France. This double battle, fought simultaneously a mere 8 miles apart, had a profound influence on the final battles, fought 2 days later at Waterloo and Wavre which ended the Napoleonic era. The story begins the year before.

Sent into exile by the coalition that defeated him, Napoleon’s restless energy set about improving his new island home.

The call to power still resided within him.

Napoleon’s chance for glory came when his jailer, Sir Neil Campbell briefly left the island. Swiftly, Napoleon and his followers threw their lot in with the fates  and the reaction of the French people.

Landing on the southern coast of France, a call to arms was issued to his former army.

Napoleon 100 days

Napoleon pressed on further along the Route Napoleon through the Alps, and found the door to power unlocked. At the senior levels of France, the move was regarded with bemusement, rather than alarm. Troops were sent to intercept the rebellion.

The first true test of Napoleon’s gamble paid off.

The 5th infantry fell under the old master’s spell.

Sensing the danger, Louis XVIII sent Marshal Ney and a force to stop Napoleon. The true test had come.

With Ney’s defection, the gamble had paid off. Napoleon continued pressing on to Paris with his growing army and band of supporters.

Vive l’empereur! A bas les prêtres! A bas les nobles! A l’echafaud les bourbons! Vive la liberté!  (Long live the Emperor! Down with the priests! Down with the aristocrats! Hang the Bourbons! Long live freedom!) cried the Parisians.  Napoleon had regained control of France, and Louis XVIII fled his country.

The rest of Europe resolved to end the rule of Napoleon, once and for all. Meeting at the Congress of Vienna, the powers that fought against Napoleon formed the Seventh Coalition to fight France once more.

The 1814 campaign which first removed Napoleon from power, involved simultaneous attacks on France from the North and South. The strategy was to be repeated on a grand scale. Only the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch armies were in the field in Belgium to oppose the French. They would  be joined by Armies from the German States, Austria, Naples, Spain and Sweden, with a large Russian army forming a reserve. Once in place by the end of summer 1815, they would advance on all fronts and overwhelm Napoleon and France.

Aware of the threat coming towards him, Napoleon faced a choice. He could either go on the defensive, using the shorter internal lines of communication to defeat the planned mass invasion,  or attack the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch  armies in the field as soon as possible and knock them out. This was perhaps the riskier military option, but politically it might force Britain to withdraw from the coalition, and force the remainder to accept Napoleonic rule in France. It would also allow France to capture the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which would accept French rule again, providing more troops if required.

Napoleon chose to attack the Prussians and the Anglo-Dutch, with the assault planned for early June, once the French army of the North was ready.

Opposing them were the Prussians, under the command of Feldmarschall von Blücher.

and the composite Anglo-German-Dutch army, under the command of the Duke of Wellington.

The chosen point of attack would be the ‘hinge’ joining the two armies together.

This method of attack, used successfully by Napoleon many times before was called the strategy of the central position. Schematics of how this was intended to work in the hundred days campaign are shown below. The opening attack aimed to drive a wedge between the two allied armies, with the French advancing with two wings, supported by a reserve.

The French army corps system allowed an individual corps to fight a much larger enemy in a pinning action, releasing further corps to conduct flank attacks on the other enemy pinned down by the second wing of the French. Local superiority of force, combined with flanks attacks would normally be sufficient to rout the first enemy.

Part of the French right wing would pursue the broken enemy, who would fall back towards their line of communication, hence safety. The remainder of the French would rapidly countermarch and relieve the pinning corps facing the other enemy.

The newly composed French force would again achieve local superiority of force and outflank their enemy, thus defeating them.

The French troop concentrations proceeded with great stealth, with the Allied armies unaware of the threat.

The French massed at the border, between the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian armies.

14th June 1815

The night before the attack, Napoleon issued his order of the day, reminding the French that two famous battles (Marengo and Friedland) were fought on this day. The moment had come to conquer or die!

The Prussians began to stir from their lethargy, as reports of the French Troop concentrations reached them.

Early morning, 15th June.

The French advanced on the morning of the 15th June, initially in three columns, straight for the gap between the Allied armies, brushing aside the Prussian screen.

The realm of chance intervened, with General de Bourmont defecting to the Prussians, taking the initial French war plan with him, and confusion in III corps due to a riding accident.

Unable to hold back the attack, the Prussian I corps fell back towards Ligny. The Prussians hurried to concentrate; a potentially dangerous move without support from the Anglo-Dutch army.

Afternoon, 15th June. 

News of the invasion reached the Duke of Wellington in Brussels some 12 hours after the French invasion. Initially Wellington chose to disbelieve the direction of the French advance, believing it to be a feint.

de Rebecque, Chief of Staff to the Prince of Orange, ordered troops to hold the vital crossroads at Quatre Bras. This act of  independent action saved the allied armies, by preserving the road link between them.

Evening, 15th June.

The Duke of Wellington appeared calm when he attended the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the evening of 15th June. This event was planned in the social calendar well in advance of the French attack.  Bryon’s poem, ‘The Eve of Waterloo’, captures the change from careless sang froid, to heart felt partings, and preparations for war, as news arrived of the French attack.

With the French before Quatre Bras, and the Prussians concentrating for battle tomorrow, Wellington finally understood how exposed his army and the Allied position was.

“Napoleon has humbugged me, by God! He has gained twenty four hours march on me.”
‘What do you intend doing?’
I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras; but we shall not stop him there, and if so, I must fight him here (Waterloo)’
Capt Bowles, Coldstream Guards

Meanwhile, the Prussian army rushed to concentrate their four corps, ready for battle the next day.

Napoleon rested at Charleroi, secure in the knowledge his plan had succeeded so far. He could attack either the Prussians or the Anglo-Dutch as conditions allowed.

The initiative lay with the French if only they would act fast enough.

Early morning, 16th June.

At Charleroi, sent a message to Marshal Ney outlining his intention for the campaign. News soon reached him that the Prussians were concentrating their troops for battle.

Napoleon began concentrating his troops on the right flank to strike the Prussians first.

Meanwhile, Marshal Ney headed to Quatre Bras on the morning of 16th June. Napoleon’s orders reached him late in the morning, which stirred Ney into action against the few thousand Dutch troops before him.

The Duke of Wellington was also on the move on the 16th June, and rode down to Quatre Bras, ahead of the troops he’d ordered there. Seeing a quiet position, he rode over to the battlefield to meet the Prussians.

Midday, 16th June, at Quatre Bras.

Marshal Ney received a dispatch from Marshal Soult, Napoleon’s Chief of Staff, urging action against the crossroads before him.

The battlefield at Quatre Bras had a number of fortified farmhouses, a feature of the countryside. There were two thick woods, of which Bossau wood was to be sternly contested. Cornfields covered the ground, which were exceptionally high for the time of year. Some gentle slopes were also located between the farmhouse of Gemioncourt.

The main roads ran south – north, from Charleroi to Brussels, and south east to north west, from Namur to Nivelles, with the crossroad formed at Quatre Bras. The French could expect reinforcements from the south (Charleroi), and the Anglo Dutch from the north (Brussels) and north west (Nivelles).

Midday, 16th June, at Ligny.

Napoleon’s sappers built him an observation platform on a windmill for him to survey the Prussian position.

‘The old Fox (Blücher) will not stir out. They are going utterly to be smashed.’
Emperor Napoleon I

The French would accept the offer of battle from the Prussians and fight them this day.

On the other side of Ligny Brook, a meeting took place between Feldmarschall von Blücher and the Duke of Wellington, as they surveyed the impending battlefield.

‘At this moment we noticed in the distance a party of the enemy, and Napoleon was clearly distinguishable in the group. Perhaps the eyes of the three greatest military commanders of the age were directed on one another.’
von Reiche, Chief of Staff to Ziethen I Corps


Wellington offered his advice on how he would deploy the troops if they were his army, making use of reverse slopes, to shelter them from any French artillery fire and to keep them guessing. Despite his reservations regarding the outcome, he pledged to bring his army to their aid provided he was not attacked himself at Quatre Bras.

Between ~ 2:00 and 3:00pm

At Quatre Bras

At the start of the battle, the French had close to 3:1 superiority in overall numbers of troops, compared to the Dutch troops facing them. Despite this clear advantage, their progress in taking the key defensive farmhouses on the southern edge of the battlefield was slow.  The Duke of Wellington arrived on the battlefield. It was clear his commitment to Blücher and the Prussians would be delayed, as his army would have to fight their way past the French first.

At Ligny

Despite being outnumbered by a 5:4 ratio, Napoleon felt confident of victory as he expected Marshal Ney to support his attack in a flanking move. Similarly, von Blücher expecting reinforcements from Wellington also felt confident.

The Ligny battlefield was encompassed by a series of villages, heavily fortified by the Prussians. Before the villages, the marshy Ligny brook ran, aiding the defensive line the Prussians had occupied. The French would assault, the Prussians defend.

It was a very hot summers day, making the battle more wearisome for the combatants.

Between ~ 3:00 and 4:00pm

At Quatre Bras

Marshal Ney received an order from Napoleon urging the taking of the crossroads. Before the farmhouses of Gemioncourt and Piramont could fall to the French, British reinforcements were seen approaching from Brussels.

The 5th Division of Peninsular veteran troops, togther with a brigade of Brunswickers appeared at just the right time for the Allied army. The battle line now formed an arc. During the course of the fight, the Duke of Brunswick was killed in action.

At Ligny

The sound of cannons firing at the battle of Quatre Bras convinced Napoleon that his own flank was secure, and that he could begin his battle plan. This was to be a battle of attrition, steadily wearing down the Prussian front line until all their reserves were committed. At that point, the Imperial Guard could attack the weakest point in the Prussian line.

The assault began at St Amand, by Vandamme’s III Corps, and countered by troops from the Prussian I corps.

Followed quickly by an  assault on Ligny, by Gérard’s IV Corps. The battle here was contested strongly by both sides.

‘the combat was maintained on both sides with equal obstinacy; each soldier seemed to meet his adversary with personal rancour, and each had resolved, it is evident, to give no quarter.’

On the eastern flank, the action was more limited, with the Prussian II corps holding off probing attacks by the French. Eye witnesses, including von Clausewitz, the Chief of Staff to III Corps couldn’t believe anyone could survive in the village of Ligny as it went up in flames.

In the midst of the action, Marshal Soult, Chief of Staff sent a dispatch to Marshal Ney at Quatre Bras, requesting his assistance by a flanking attack on the Prussians.

But news soon arrived that Ney was fighting a considerable force. d’Erlon’s I Corps, at present uncommitted to either battle would have to suffice for Napoleon’s planned flanking movement, and messages were sent to that effect.

Between ~ 4:00 and 5:00pm

At Quatre Bras

Marshal Ney received another message from Napoleon. He failed to understand the Emperor’s intention.

Meanwhile, the realm of chance intervened. A messenger intercepted I Corps on its way to Quatre Bras. The commanding officer, d’Erlon was ordered to march to the battlefield at Ligny, which he duly did. But the messenger failed to ride on and tell Marshal Ney of the change of plan.

Back at Quatre Bras, a fierce action broke out between Pack’s brigade (42nd ‘Black Watch’ Highlanders, and 44th East Essex) and an attack by French lancers. The cavalry almost caught the Highlanders before forming a defensive square and being repulsed. The 44th regiment had no time to form square, but turned around to face the attack from their rear in line. After a brief exchange of fire and nearly losing their colours, the attack was beaten off.

Sergeant James Anton of the 42nd Highlanders, gave a vivid account of being in action during this phase of the battle.

“Our sudden appearance seemed to paralyse their advance.  The singular appearance about dress, combined, no doubt, with our sudden debut, tended to stagger their resolution – we were on them, our pieces were loaded, and our bayonets glittered, impatient to drink their blood.  Those who had so proudly driven the Belgians before them, turned now to fly, whilst our loud cheers made the fields echo to our wild hurrahs.

We drove on so fast that we almost appeared like a mob following the rout of some defeated faction.  Marshal Ney, who commanded the enemy observed our wild unguarded zeal, and ordered a regiment of Lancers to bear down upon us.  We saw their approach at a distance, as they issued from a wood, and took them for Brunswickers coming to cut up the flying infantry; and as cavalry on all occasions have the advantage of retreating foot, on a fair field, we were halted in order to let them take their way; they were approaching our right flank, from which our skirmishers were extended, and we were far from being in the formation fit to repel an attack, if intended, or to afford regular supports to our friends if acquiring our aid.  I think we stood with too much confidence, gazing towards them as if they had been our friends, anticipating the gallant charge they would make on the flying foe, and we were making no comparative motions movement to receive them as enemies, further than the reloading of the muskets, until the German orderly dragoon gallops out, exclaiming, Franchee! Franchee! and wheeling about, galloped off.

We instantly formed a rallying square; no time for peculiarity; every man’s piece was loaded, and our enemies approach that for charge; the feet of their horses seemed to tear up the ground.  Our skirmishers having been impressed with the same opinion that these were Brunswick cavalry, fell beneath their lances, and a few escaped death all wounds; our brave Colonel [Sir Robert Macara] fell at this time, pierced through the chin until the point of demands reached the brain.  Captain Menzies fell, covered with wounds, and a momentary conflict took place over him; he was a powerful man, and, hand to hand, more than a match for six ordinary men.  The Grenadiers, whom he commanded, pressed around to save or avenge him, but fell beneath the enemies’ lances.

Of all descriptions of cavalry, certainly the Lancers seemed the most formidable to infantry, as the lances can be projected with considerable precision, and with deadly effect, without bringing the horse to the point of the bayonet; and it was only by the rapid and well directed fire of musketry that these formidable assailants were repulsed.

Colonel Dick assumed the command on the fall of Sir Robert Macara, and was severely wounded.  Brevet-Major Davidson succeeded, and was mortally wounded; to him succeeded Brevet-Major Campbell.  Thus, in a few minutes, we have been placed under four different commanding officers.  An attempt was now to make us form in line; for we stood mixed in one irregular mass — Grenadiers, light, and battalion companies — a noisy group; such is the inevitable consequence of the rapid succession of commanders.  Our covering sergeants or called out on purpose of each company might fall on the right of its sergeant, an excellent plan had been adopted, but a cry arose that another charge of cavalry was approaching, and this plan was abandoned.

Our last file had got into square, and into its proper place, so far as unequalised companies could form square, when the cuirassiers dashed on two of its faces; their heavy horses and steel armour seemed sufficient to bury us under them, had they been pushed forward onto our bayonets.  A moment’s pause ensued; it was the pause of death.  General Pack was on the right angle of the front face of the square, and he lifted his hat towards the French officer, as he was wanted to do when returning a salute.  I suppose our assailants construed our forbearance as an indication of surrendering; a false idea; not a blow had been struck nor a musket levelled, but when the general raised his hat it served as a signal, though not a preconcerted one, but entirely accidental; for we were doubtful whether our officer commanding was protracting the order, waiting for the general’s commands, as he was present. Be this as it may, a most destructive fire was opened; riders cased in heavy armour, fell tumbling from their horses; the horses reared, plunged, and fell on the dismounted riders; steel helmets and cuirasses rang against unsheathed sabres as they fell to the ground…”

At Ligny

The French II Corps under the command of General Girad attempted to storm La Haye, a move spotted by Blücher.

‘Now, children behave well! Do not allow the great nation to rule over you again!
Vorwärts, vorwärts, in Gottes Namen.’
von Blücher
The Prussians repulsed the French and General Girad was killed in the struggle.

At Wagnelée  the battle also raged.

And at Ligny the fight went on, as recounted by these two accounts. The first is French.

“When within two hundred yards of the hedges which concealed thousands of Prussian sharpshooters, the regiment took up battle order, while still on the march. The charge was sounded and the soldiers went through the hedges. The 1st Brigade’s left half battalion, to which I belonged, went down a hollow track blocked by felled trees, vehicles, harrows and ploughs, and we got past these only after considerable difficulty and under extreme fire from the Prussians hidden behind the hedges, which were extremely thick. Eventually we overcame these obstacles and, firing as we went entered the village. When we reached the church, our advance was halted by a stream, and the enemy, in houses, behind walls and on rooftops, inflicted considerable casualties, as much by musketry as by grapeshot and cannon balls, which took us from front and flank.

        In a moment Major Hervieux, commanding the regiment, and the two battalion commanders, Richard and Lafolie, had been killed; another battalion commander, Blain by name, was slightly wounded and had his horse killed from under him; five captains were killed and three wounded, and close on seven hundred rank and file killed or wounded.

        As for me, I escaped with nothing worse than bruises on my thighs and right leg. Not for a long time had I fought with such dash and devotion. The confusion into which the enemy threw us made me curse my existence. I was so angry at seeing a fight conducted so badly that I wanted to get myself killed. No one was in command. No generals, no staff officers, no aide-de-camp were in sight. The regiment lost two thirds of its strength without receiving either reinforcements or orders, and were obliged to retreat in disorder, leaving our wounded on the ground. We rallied near our batteries, which were firing like hell at the enemy’s guns.

Captain Christophe and I rallied what remained of the regiment, and I can say to my own glory that the troops were pleased to see me still among them, and they asked me to lead them back into action. Despite the setback, the battalion had taken some five hundred prisoners.

        Just as we were busy collecting the regiment, General Rôme arrived and ordered us back into Ligny village. The men, not ay all disheartened by their failure, nor disturbed by the loss of nearly two thirds of their comrades, shouted ‘Vive l’Empereur!’ and advanced. Captain Christophe had the charge sounded, the battalion re-entered the village, but was repulsed. It rallied and forced its way in three times more, only to suffer the same reverse each time”.

Captain Charles François, 30th Line at Ligny.

The second account is Prussian.

“Presently the colonel rode up to us and said, ‘Riflemen, you are young, I am afraid too ardent; calmness makes the soldier; hold yourselves in order’; then he turned round: March! – and the dull half suffocated drum, from within the deep columns, was heard beating such delicious music. Now, at last, was all to be realized for which we had left our homes, had suffered so many fatigues, had so ardently longed. The bugle gave the signal of halt; we were in front of the village of Ligny. The signal was given for the riflemen to march out to the right and left of the column, and to attack.

        Our ardour now led us entirely beyond the proper limits; the section to which I belonged ran madly, without firing, towards the enemy, who retreated. My hindman fell; I rushed on, hearing well but not heeding the urgent calls of our old sergeant. The village was intersected with thick hedges, from behind which the grenadiers fired upon us, but we drove them from one to the other. I forgetting altogether to fire and what I ought to have done, tore the red plume from one of the grenadiers’ caps, and swung it over my head, calling triumphantly to my comrades. At length we arrived at a road crossing the village lengthwise, and sergeant major had now succeeded in his attempt to bring us somewhat back to our reason. There was a house around the corner of which he suspected that a number of French lay. ’Be cautious’, he said to me, ‘until the others are up’, but I stepped round and a grenadier stood about fifteen paces from me; he aimed at me, I levelled my rifle at him. ‘Aim well, my boy’, said the sergeant-major, who saw me. My antagonist’s ball grazed my hair on the right side; I shot and he fell; I found I had shot through his face; he was dying. This was my first shot ever fired in battle.

        Several times I approached old soldiers in the battle, to ask them whether this was really a good sound battle, and when they told me, as heavy a one a Dennewitz (1813), one of the most sanguinary engagements in which our regiment or, in fact, any regiment had ever fought, I was delighted. All I had feared was that I should not have the honour of assisting in a thorough battle”.

Franz Lieber, Colberg Regiment at Ligny.

Between ~ 5:00 and 6:00pm

At Quatre Bras

Marshal Ney finally received the news that I Corps were marching to the Battle of Ligny, not the Battle of Quatre Bras. Furious at the news and the loss of troops he believed he needed to win at Quatre Bras, he immediately ordered I Corps to return to him.

Ney received another message from Napoleon commanding him to wheel about and fall on the Prussians engaged at Ligny. But the French had to fight where they were against an enemy that was steadily growing in strength.

It did not occur to Ney to rescind the orders he’d just given to I Corps, and allow part of his wing to obey Napoleon’s summons.

At Ligny

The long expected appearance of d’Erlon’s I Corps on the western flank had failed to appear, but instead an unidentified column approached the rear of III Corps, stalling the attacks on La Haye and St Amand. Rather than move the Imperial Guard towards Ligny for the coup de grâce, Napoleon had to send the Young Guard to help Vandamme’s III corps.

This created a  delay and time for the Prussians to reorganise, and launch a counterattack, led by Blücher himself. The French fell back in disarray.

Soldiers, are you not ashamed to to fall back before these same men whom you have beaten so many times, who begged for mercy while throwing their weapons at your feet at Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland? Attack and you will see them once more flee and recognise you as their conquerors!”
General de La Bédoyère

The Young Guard appeared and they retook St Amand, ending the crisis for the French.

The battle still raged on in Ligny.

With d’Erlon’s I Corps identified as the mystery troops, which had threatened III Corps, Napoleon called for them to join him in the final attack. The realm of chance intervened again, when Ney’s order of recall arrived. A furious argument broke out, with the officers and men wishing to fight in the battle before their eyes.

But d’Erlon obeyed the orders of his line commander, and marched I Corps back to Quatre Bras, this taking no part in either battle.

Napoleon had no time to lose. He still had a battle to win, and sent the Imperial Guard forwards under darkening skies from a thunderstorm.

Between ~ 6:00 and 8:00pm

At Quatre Bras

Faced with increasing numbers of Allied troops, Marshal Ney ordered the newly arrived heavy cavalry reserve to attack.

‘General, a supreme effort is necessary. That mass of hostile infantry must be overthrown. The fate of France is in your hands. Take your cavalry and ride them down. I will support you with all the cavalry I have.”
Ney to Kellerman
General Kellerman and his Cuirassiers obeyed.

The finest cavalry in Europe swept forward to be met by infantry;  some caught in line, some in square.

Another account of being under attack by cavalry in a square was given by Ensign Edward Macready, 30th Foot.

“We soon reached Quatre Bras, and on turning the end of the wood found ourselves bodily in the battle.  The roaring of great guns and musketry, the bursting of shells, and shouts of the combatants raised an infernal game, while the squares and lines, the galloping of horses mounted and riderless, the mingled crowds of wounded and fugitives (foreigners), the volumes of smoke and flashing of fire, struck out of steam which accorded admirably with the music.  As we passed the spot where the 44th, old chums of ours inSpain, had suffered considerably, the poor wounded fellows raised themselves up and welcomed us with faint shouts,

 ‘Push on old three tens — pay ’em off for the 44th, – you’re much wanted, boys — success to you, my darlings.’

 Here we met our old Colonel riding out of the field, shot through the leg; he pointed to it and cried, ‘They’ve tickle me again, my boys — now one leg can’t laugh at the other.’

 Hamilton showed us where our regiment was, and we reached it just as a body of lancers and cuirassiers enveloped two faces of our square.  We formed up to the left and fired away.  The tremendous volly our square, which in a hurry of formation was much overmanned on the sides attacked, gave them, sending off these fellows with the loss of the number of men, and their commanding officer.  He was a gallant soldier, and fell while crying to his men ‘Advancez, mes enfants – courage – encore une fois, Francais.’

 I don’t know what might have been my sensations on entering this field truly, but I was so fagged and choked with running and was crammed so suddenly into the very thick of the business, but I can’t recollect thinking at all, except that the poor Highlanders (over whom I stumbled or had to jump almost every step) were most provokingly distributed.

On our impulse of the cavalry, a general outside the Square (said to be St Thomas Picton) thanked us warmly, and some seconds after, in still out of terms, damned us all for making such a noise, and asked if we had no officers amongst us.  We were half a minute in the square laughing and shaking hands with all about us, when we were ordered to pursue, and dashing out, was soon brought up by a line of tirailleurs, with whom we kept up a briskish fire…. The cannonade and skirmishing were lively on both sides, while the heavy fire from the wood in our rear showed that the guards and the enemy were hotly disputing it.”

But the Cuirassiers broke one English regiment of foot, and scattered another.

Between ~ 6:00 and 7:00pm

At Quatre Bras, the tide was turning against the French and in favour of the Duke of Wellington and his multinational army, as weight of reinforcements began to tell, with the Allied army having superiority of 3:2.

Another account of the battle is from Captain Bourdon de Vatry.

“Prince Jerome was struck on the hip, but fortunately the ball hit the massive gold scabbard of his sword first and did not penetrate, so he came off with nothing worse than a severe bruise which made in turn pale.  Mastering his pain, the Prince remained on horseback at the head of his division, thereby giving us all an example of courage and self-sacrifice.  His coolness had an excellent effect.  The 8th cuirassiers, commanded by Colonel Garavaque, were about to launch a strong attack on the Scottish Square; the regiment gave the Prince an ovation, and the brave horsemen, having broken the square and captured the enemies colours, presented this trophy to the ex King [of Westpahlia].  The position at Quatre Bras had just been taken by Kellermann’s cavalry.  Marshal Ney was impatiently awaiting the arrival of d’Erlon’s 1st Corps, when he learned that the Emperor had altered the direction of this corps and summoned it to join him at St Amand.  At the same moment an unaccountable panic seized Kellermann’s cavalry, which fled back hell for leather after knocking over their commander.  Kellermann had the presence of mind to cling to the bits of two of his cuirassiers horses and so avoid being trampled underfoot.

 As the infantry of the 1st Corps did not come, since it had been sent for to the battlefield of illegally, the enemy reoccupied Quatre Bras position and we were only too happy to prevent the English from going to the aid of the Prussians.  This was all we could do in the face of the considerable forces then holding Quatre Bras. 

 People then set to work to bandage the wounded, and we bivouacked for the night. Unfortunately there were no rations, so the soldiers began to wonder about the countryside, marauding in order to live.”

By now, the Duke of Wellington with extra reinforcements ordered a broad advance, and pushed the French from the battlefield at Quatre Bras.

At Ligny

The battle which had raged all afternoon moved to its climax.

“I had reason to be satisfied with the conduct of my new regiment on this brilliant day. Having dislodged the Prussians from Saint Amand after repeated attacks, the brigade composed of the 70th and ourselves was ordered to deploy beyond the village to act as a screen. At the approach of the enemy cavalry we  prepared to receive them in squares, regiment by regiment, and chequerwise. The 70th, on my left, were attacked by the Prussians with great determination, but in my view the enemy would not have driven home their charge had not the wretched 70th, without even waiting for the Prussians, suddenly taken fright and retreated, only to be caught almost immediately and sabred. Had their panic infected my 22nd, then our brigade would have been lost, but my soldiers stood firm, repulsed the enemies charge, covered the ground with men and horses they had brought down with their accurate firing, and so the situation was restored. The fugitives from the 70th were able to rally behind my square, and they took up their positions again on my left in the same order as before.

        Tempted by the weakness of the 70th rather than deterred by my regiment’s firmness and good musketry, other bodies of Prussian cavalry tried to charge us; but this time the 70th, inspired by the voice of their excellent commanding officer, Colonel Maury, did their duty, and the attackers were repeatedly driven off and severely mauled in the process. Seeing that their efforts were useless, the Prussians took advantage of a fold in the ground and brought up two guns. These fired grapeshot at us until a sudden grand effort to, in which the reserve took part – that is to say, the Imperial Guard – swept the battlefield and brought us victory”.

Colonel Fantin des Odoards, 22nd Line at Ligny 

The Prussians were broken in their centre, and streamed back in general retreat.  The only chance of saving his army was a swift counterattack, to stall the French advance. Blücher gathered all available cavalry units, in a disorganised advance to attack the French, with him leading in person. This attack was swiftly routed and Blücher fell to the ground underneath his wounded horse, and was ridden over by the French cavalry.

This self sacrifice saved a large portion of the Prussian army from disaster. Blücher remained trapped under his horse, ridden over by the French Cavalry, until being freed by his aide de camp, Norstitz.

“The light of the long June day was beginning to fail when our very depleted infantry brigade was sent into the reserve… The men looked terribly worn out after the fighting. In the great heat, gunpowder smoke, sweat and mud had mixed into a thick crust of dirt, so that their faces looked almost like those of mullatos, and one could hardly distinguish the green collars and facings on their tunics. Everybody has discarded his stock, grubby shirts or hairy tunics; and many who had been unwilling to leave the ranks on account of a slight wound wore a bandage they had put on themselves. In a number of cases blood was soaking through.

        As a result of fighting in the villages for hours on end, and of frequently crawling through hedges, the men’s tunics and trousers had got torn, so that they hung in rags and their bare skin showed through. In short, anyone accustomed to judging the efficiency of a unit merely from the men’s appearance on a parade ground would have been appalled to watch the 4th Westphalian Infantry Regiment of Landwehr coming out of the battle of Ligny”.

Captain Fritz , 4th Westphalian Landwehr Infantry.

In the evening

At Quatre Bras 

The Allied army had succeeded, and secured the crossroads at Quatre Bras. Marshal Ney was quick to blame his failure on I Corps.

At Ligny

Though beaten, morale in the Prussian army had not collapsed. Many units were badly disorganised, and in the darkness, with little chance of fully reorganising. The decision to retreat north to Wavre was confirmed. The Prussians were still in the campaign.

“We have taken a few knocks and shall have to hammer out the dents!”

“I found him in a farmhouse. The village had been abandoned by its inhabitants, and every building was filled with wounded. No lights, no drinking water, no rations. We were in a small room, in which an oil lamp burned dimly. On the floor wounded men lay groaning. The General himself was seated on a barrel of picked cabbage, with only four or five people around him. Scattered troops passed through the village all night long: no one knew whence they came or whither they were going. The dispersion was as great as after the battle of Jena, and the night was just as dark – but morale had not sunk. Each man was looking for his comrades so as to restore order”.

Impression of Count von Gneisenau.

Napoleon believed he had won a decisive victory over the Prussians, rather than merely wounded them.


He slept in Flereus that night, without ordering a pursuit à outrance.

17th June 1815

At Ligny

The next morning, no reports reached Napoleon to suggest anything other than a major Prussian defeat and retreat towards Germany. Rather than organise a pursuit, he inspected his men on the battlefield to encourage them.  Typical of the battlefields of the time, a carpet of cadavers and injured men lined the “field of glory”, especially in the villages so bitterly fought after.

“Do you believe in Hell?”
“Good!, If you do not want to go to hell, look after this wounded man whom I put in your charge! Otherwise God will make you burn. He wishes us to be charitable”.
Napoleon to a peasant, after Ligny

Only later in the day did Napoleon become aware of the strategic position, and he realised the campaign he had so brilliantly started had still to be won.

Casualties from the battles were:

Battlefield memorials are found at


The Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras 16 June 1815 Redux Friday, Mar 9 2012 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels


Vauban Tile 500 pixels

A pair of wargames exploring the double battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras are described below.


Quatre Bras

The schematic of the two battlefields above have been scaled down to fit our beloved bit of 5′ by 4′ for the wargame recreation. The scale used is board 1mm = battlefield 2 m; each move represents 5 minutes, and each figure represents 100-120 men using 25mm figures. Thus our 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefields. The rules used in the games are here.

The number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Battle of Ligny was a large affair, with 68,000 French facing 84,000 Prussians. Reducing the scale down by a factor of approximately 3.3 gives an order of battle for Ligny thus.

For Quatre Bras 21,600 French face 28,800 Allied (Dutch/British/Hannoverian/Brunswickers). This makes the scale close to the actual battle.

The order of battle for Quatre Bras is

Quatre Bras was an ‘encounter’ battle, with troops arriving on the battlefield throughout the day. At the start of the battle, the Dutch troops hold the central villages, with the French advancing at 2:00 pm. This battle continued, and at 3:00 pm Napoleon ordered the French troops against the Prussians at Ligny in a set piece battle. Thus the two separate battles, less than 10 miles apart continued in isolation. The confusion of d’Erlon’s corps and its failure to reinforce the French at either battle is accounted for in the movements of the troops.

In these battles, we use the principle of Sauve qui peut to define the level of losses (in terms of base units of 1 figure) sustained by each side before mass panic sets in. The levels are shown below for each battle, adjusted for the time of reinforcements at Quatre Bras.

For both sides, once the threshold of base unit losses exceed the following total percentagesat the specified time on the battlefield, a random number is created (by the linked excel spreadsheet, or a scientific calculator) to ascertain if mass panic has set in,and the rules of  Sauve qui peut apply to mass panic.

One additional complicating factor for the wargame is the effect of the weather. The Battle of Ligny was fought in blazing sunshine, apart from just before dusk, when a heavy thunderstorm broke out. To simulate the capricious nature of the thunderstorm, a random number is generated to determine the visibility and movement.

There are 3 levels, showing the effect on visibility on the battlefield, the effect on movement and artillery, together with the reduction in effective musket range for infantry. Every move the thhunderstorm continues a fresh random number is generated, and teh effects above are immediately applied.

The generals refighting the battle use suspension of disbelief, so that if enemy troops are bearing down unseen upon your own because of the snow visibility, you cannot react until they would emerge… as happened during the original battle.

The account of the wargames is given by time at half hour intervals across both battles; the high view shared by our Olympians who comment on the actions below.

2:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

The Prince of Orange sees the French under the command of Marshal  Ney come marching towards his troops in an endless stream. Who was who said one more days work would see the job done?

“Hier komen de Franse” his men call out.

The  Prince de la Moskowa, veteran of countless battles sees his old Batavian comrades before him. They march to the sounds of La Victoire est à Nous! and the cries of “Vive l’empereur! En avant! En avant!”.

2:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

The French occupy the central hill overlooking the farmstead of Gemioncourt using l’ordre mixte, The Dutch await the attack that is building towards the village of L’Erale, which protects their left flank.

On the road from Ligny rides The Duke of Wellington, anxious to reach the Dutch troops in the centre before the storm breaks. Where are his English troops, sent this way before daybreak? He consoles himself that so far, the French storm has not broken.

Ney knows of the reputation of Milord Wellington, and proceeds carefully. Minerva approves of such caution, but Mars knows that Ney’s blood runs hot, and that action will see his true nature appear.

3:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

From afar, la musique d’brutals arrives. The guns of Napoleon’s army have begun their assault on the Prussians, and the sound carries to those fighting at Quatre Bras.

Ney leads the attack against the village of L’Erale “En avant! En avant!”, and Mars approves.

French cavalry has arrived and it places itself between this action and the approaching columns, making their way towards the waiting Dutch lines of infantry.

Behind the Dutch lines, Wellington’s silent prayers have been answered and Picton’s brigade appears, led by the 95th Rifles and followed by the 42nd Highlander and the 44th East Essex. Veterans of the Peninsular campaign, Wellington knows that with enough of these men, he can hold up the French till nightfall. His promise to Blucher and the Prussians to reinforce them hangs in the balance of how many Frenchies appear here at the crossroads of Quatre Bras.

At Ligny

Napoleon has heard with satisfaction the sound of cannon fire coming from the distant battlefield were Marshal Ney is engaged. Hopefully his tempestuous redheaded friend will soon rout the enemies before him, and heed the call to swing the remainder of his army towards the Prussian foes he faces today. Napoleon remembers well today he entered Berlin as master in 1807, and the day Prussians entered Paris last year, his star fallen. Revanche is all.

Commence firing!

Across the line of brooks which separates his troops from the French, Field Marshal Blucher immediately orders his cannons to counter the fire coming from the French. He too remembers these events; the stain of 1806-1807 and the glory of 1814. This time he will stop Napoleon in his tracks, and send the ogre of Europe packing. If Vellington and his men can come to his support so much the better. He will beat the French either way.

From afar, Fortuna Belli understands two battles seek her attention today. Whom shall she bless? The same side, or one from each of the protagonists?

3:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

The Dutch flee from L’Erale and are attacked by pursuing cavalry who sabre their former Batavian comrades with no mercy. Flanking fire from the Dutch in Piramont force the Hussars to retire. One Dutch battalion, fleeing for its life runs into the Delhutte woods, where they rally to pour fire on any French troops close by.

The French venture down the hill before Gemioncourt and test the resolve of the awaiting Dutch. Slowly the pressure builds, Fortuna Belli favours the bold, and the Dutch are forced to retire. Apart from their fortified village, the Dutch pull back to a new line behind Gemioncourt. They place a horse artillery battery in the lee of the village, to provide flanking fire.

Behind this line Picton’s troops advance, reaching the hard pressed Dutch. The Greenjackets work their way through the Dutch troops, moving to the right flank. Behind Picton’s men are Hanoverian troops loyal to George III and his commander, Wellington.

At Ligny

On the left of the battlefield, the French III Corps, led by Marshal Vandamme, advance to attack the village of St Amand. The Prussian defenders from von Zieten’s I Corps put up a furious resistance. One battalion of the French breaks and retreats, sufficiently disrupting the attack for Le Chapeau to go and steady the men.

On the right of the battlefield a battle rages around the village of Boignee. The French capture the village from the Prussians, who immediately rally and counter-attack; .

Artillery batteries trade blows with each other. So far the honours and the casualties are even in this battle.

4:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

The Allied centre is now set to face a concerted attack from French Hussars, infantry and distant artillery fire. The left flank is covered by the Materne Pond, the lynchpin Gemioncourt village. To the right of this, Picton’s men form a line out to Bossau Wood. The French push on to the waiting Goddams, their first test of fire from since peace was ended 100 days ago. The experienced soldiers note with little enthusiasm, their apparent calmness at the sound of la Musique, and les Sauterelles who outrange their Charlevilles.

On their right the field belongs to the French, as they drive home against the village of Piramont and the defending Dutch. Wellington, aware that his left flank could be turned, thus cutting him off from the Prussians diverts the Hanoverians towards the sound of this battle.

Ney is pleased with progress so far and urges the cavalry onwards, joining their attack, to the delight of Mars and the displeasure of Minerva, who prefers her generals to direct battles, not fight them.

Wellington knows this battle is a race to get the most troops onto the field as fast as possible. The matter is out of his hands; he awaits the distant calls of bugles, fifes and drums. In the distance Apollo listens to the melodies that accompany such mayhem. He gives more strong sunlight to the battlefield; and reckons some four hours will pass before Nox begins to hold sway with her encroaching darkness.

At Ligny

On the left of the battlefield, the French assault from Vandamme’s III Corps has swept away the Prussian defenders from the villages of St Amand and La Haye. But the Prussians will not give up without a fight, and counter-attack with Bucher signalling the advance of von Zeithen’s I Corps. The men needed little encouragement, Vörwarts is their motto.

On the right of the battlefield, the attacks on Boignee and Torgrenelle continue. The French take both villages, and the Prussians attempt to retake them.

In the centre, Napoleon stays his hand and does not advance yet. Better to let the wings of the Prussian army feel his wrath, and call on Blucher to denude his centre of troops to reinforce his losses. When the moment is right he will advance with his Imperial Guard and win another famous victory.

4:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

On their right, the French have captured Piramont and send the Dutch troops fleeing. Rather than press on towards the next village of Thyle, the French commander swings his infantry round past Materne Pond. If Fortuna Belli is kind to his men, they can roll up the Allied line and send Milord Wellington packing. One battalion of Hanoverians joins the Dutch to face down this threat. To their rear rides Hussars, which may slow the French down.

In the centre, the line of English red has held against the French, with a little help from the horse artillery battery besides Gemioncourt . They have seen off a cavalry charge and an infantry attack. This rebuff only acts as a spur to Ney who screams at his men to push on. But how to breach the red line?

The race to reinforce the combatants continues, with both sides gaining troops. Brunswickers appear with their Duke to the rear of Wellington’s line and the hard pressed brigade of Picton.

At Ligny

The French left wing is now secure, and the troops have captured Wagnelée in addition to St Amand and La Haye. French infantry from Vandamme’s III Corps cross Ligny brook and advance towards the centre of the Prussian position. This unsupported attack must surely be repelled? But beyond these positions, Prussian cavalry has ridden and the defeated French Hussars on the extreme left of the French army.  Because of this setback, Napoleon sends Carabiners from his heavy cavalry reserve to secure this flank.

In the centre all is still calm apart from the continuous exchange of artillery fire, which takes its toll. The awaiting French infantry know their time to attack will come.

On the right of the French position, progress is slow but steady. Torgrenelle falls to the Prussians, who send the French infantry battalion scuttling back towards their main lines. Supporting cavalry in the form of dragoons fights and defeats Prussian cuirassiers, and they are send back across the brook.

So far, Fortuna Belli has not overly favoured one side or the other.

5:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

On the Allied left flank, a combination of Hussars and Hanoverian infantry push the French back is disarray towards Piramont. The pressure is relieved by the French light cavalry in their centre, sent round to repulse their Dutch opponents. At this point the battle is poised, with Fortuna Belli favouring neither side.

In the centre, the struggle for Gemioncourt rages. The occupying Dutch battalion is routed by a well pressed attack, led by Ney. This in turn is checked and eventually repulsed, but not before the Allied horse battery is destroyed. The supporting red line of Picton’s brigade becomes disorganised in the attacks, but it holds.

The Brunswickers are diverted away from the centre towards the left flank by an aide de camp sent by the Duke of Wellington. Wellington can see that for now his steadfast English veterans hold the centre, as expected, and the left flank is the weak point for the French.

At Ligny

Blücher counter-attacks the French infantry at La Haye and Wagnelee, and a fierce infantry battle breaks out. Vandamme decides to send forward his last reserves. The French carabiners, with Hussars in support sweep across Ligny brook in an attempt to outflank the Prussians and take their infantry in the rear of their lines. Blucher, being an old Hussar himself is alert to this trick, and commits all his cavalry within immediate reach of this attack.

On the left flank of the French, their dragoons have swept away the Prussian cavalry counter-attack before Boignée. The battle is still evenly balanced.

5:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

Fortuna Belli favours the Allies on the left flank, and the cavalry push forwards between the villages of Piramont and L’Erale. French light cavalry reinforcements move forward to engage them in turn. In essence, the whole mêlée has moved forwards some 400 m. The Hanoverian infantry march forward and rout of the French infantry forced into square by the wheeling cavalry attack. Aide after aide comes to Marshal Ney begging for more reserves. Despite the dire situation in the centre, the chance to lead a cavalry counter charge proves too much for him and he moves over to seek another moments glory. This is much to the approval of Mars who revels in the fight, and disapproval of Minerva who prefers her generals to lead the strategy, not the combat.

Repeated attacks by the French in the centre are beaten off, and the English red line, pinned by the green jackets on the edge of the wood of Bossau moves forward.

From afar it is clear that Fortuna Belli has chosen Wellington and his polyglot army. The French are slowly being pushed back.

At Ligny

A huge wave of Prussian cavalry and infantry breaks over the French advancing on the left flank and sends them reeling backwards. Even the Carabiners cannot withstand this attack, and the Prussian cavalry sweep over the brook down towards the French infantry reserve repulsed from Wagnelée. The battle around La Haye continues to rage, with neither side taking an advantage.

From afar the scales tip slightly towards the French, as their advance on their right flank remorselessly continues. The French have recaptured Tongrenelle.

6:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

How quickly a change of whim from Fortuna Belli can affect a battle. Wellington sees his cavalry on the left flank flee before the overwhelming numbers of French Hussars, led by Ney. He leaves his secure centre to ride over to the position of crisis and tries to rally who he can. Ney, exultant pushes the Hussars on, trapping the Hanoverian infantry into squares. One hussar regiment tries its luck and attacks the square. The infantry fire volley after volley at them.

The French heavy cavalry reserve arrives on the battlefield, and is directed to attack the English line head-on. The irresistible force, clad in steel breastplates, thundering horses right down towards the immovable red line. As the charge progresses, French artillery rains down onto the waiting English who merely curse their luck.

The first line of French cavalry is repulsed, but the second seems to do better with one square breaking under the duress.

Through the wood of Bossau a new English division is winding its way through the road towards the Allied right.

At Ligny

Napoleon rides over to help rally his troops on the left flank. His presence has an immediate calming effect and at once the troops focus on the task at hand. They push forward and fling the Prussians backwards. The French carabiners separate from their Hussar colleagues and attack a regiment of Prussian Uhlans contesting one of the many bends of Ligny brook. The French retake W.

Having settled affairs on his left flank, Napoleon rides back to the centre, and begins the attack against Ligny and its waiting Prussian infantry. Now the real trial of strength can begin. Success here will guarantee glory for all, including the Emperor.

On the right flank, the French infantry and cavalry debouch across the brook, sweeping the Prussians before them.

6:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

The French cavalry on the left are repulsed by the resolute firing from the squares, and shielded from further attack by a regiment of hussars, Dutch, Hanoverian and Brunswick infantry push on.

The French Heavy cavalry in the centre have been repulsed and pull back behind their infantry, who await orders, either to advance or retire.

The column of English infantry have made their way through the Bossau woods, and begin advancing, threatening to flank the French on their left.

Wellington is sure now that he can win if the full weight of this relief column can be brought to bear on the French.

At Ligny

Fortuna Belli has now decided that Napoleon will have one another great victory.

This is now apparent on the right-wing of the French, as they drive the Prussians back across the brook towards Sombreffe. There is a real danger that the Prussian army may be taken in the flank if the French can drive forward.

On the left and the centre,  despite their tenacious resolve, the Prussians are being steadily driven backwards in confusion. Between the Mill at Ligny and the village a battalion of  Landwehr holds a line. Behind them, Prussian regular infantry attempt to rally.

To the rear of the Prussian line, a steady stream of troops are withdrawing towards the impending night and imminent safety.

Napoleon sees the whole battle in relation to its separate parts, and realises that time to send the Old Guard forward has arrived. He shall smash these impudent Prussians and send them back to Germany with their tails between their legs. The Old Guard follow their master across Ligny Brook.

7:00 pm

At Quatre Bras

On the left flank the allied advance continues, with Brunswick and Hanoverian infantry seeking to recapture the village of Piramont. The French cling on for now, but they are heavily outnumbered, with no visible sign of support from other troops.

In order to stem the advance on the Allied right flank, French Dragoons charge the advancing English infantry, who quickly form square and fight them off.

The Allied line advances in the centre. The remnants of Picton’s division move forward to take the hills before Gemioncourt. A regiment of French Cuirassiers attempts to flank this attack , but are met by artillery fire and English Dragoons. This combination causes the French to retire.

Ney ponders whether to withdraw. He know that unless d’Erlon’s corps appears to give him more troops, he will be pushed off the battlefield. It appears Fortuna Belli has not stood by him today. He has known worse defeats, and looks forwards to taking his revanche another day.

At Ligny

The skies darken and the heavens open, according to the will of Jupiter Tonans. He hurls his thunderbolts down onto the battlefield below. As the rain falls, the speed with which men can march and can see each other to fight diminishes. Muskets and canons lessen in their brutality; the fight belongs once again to cold steel.

The Prussians cling onto the village of Ligny in the centre of the battlefield. The Old Guard has reached the windmill that formed the centrepiece of Bluchers defensive line. Blücher sees the battle fall away from his control but will not yet concede defeat. He urges these men on for one more attack  “Vörwards, Vörwards”! but the mud holds his men back.  He also cannot see that his right-wing is slowly retreating off the battlefield and into the fast approaching night.

Through the veil of the falling rain, Napoleon sees the Prussians slowly pull back. He must urge his men on to close with them and destroy their army, here, now, the better to conserve his men’s strength for the next fight that must soon come. One hours extra exertion now will bring weeks of rest later.

7:30 pm

At Quatre Bras

The Allied line now stretches across the battlefield, from Delhutte woods to Bossau woods. The French are beaten and retire, with Ney cursing, frustrated at his early lost opportunity to crush the Dutch and seize the crossroads.

Victory once again blesses the Duke of Wellington, his redcoats, and the other nations that fight alongside him.

In the distance, the cannonfire at Ligny still echoes, and an ominous storm cloud gathers where the battle rages, hastening the arrival of Nox and darkness. Wellington sees the French pull back, but does not give chase. He has no means of knowing whether Blucher and his Prussians have held against Napoleon, so he must conserve his force for whatever tomorrow brings.

At Ligny

The thunderstorm still rages, with Jupiter Tonans displaying his wrath. Soon he will be joined by Nox, and the light on the battlefield is rapidly decreasing.

Blücher orders his men to retreat by division, so that some order can emerge from the chaos of defeat. His cannons defend the front and prevents the French infantry from progressing.

Napoleon rides to the rear, finds his heavy cavalry reserve, and orders them to ride to the extreme of his left flank and try to break through and seal off the Prussian retreat that he senses is occurring. He has won his great victory, but to what extent?

8:00 pm

At Ligny

Jupiter Tonans work is still not complete, and together with Nox it is difficult for the participants to see what each other are doing. The Prussians are steadily withdrawing, the French refusing to pursue them down, as the days fatigues and rain takes its toil.

The French heavy cavalry reserve have made some progress to their end destination but are still some distance away.  The mud is impeding their progress; the will of man cannot overcome the stuff of nature in the time left before darkness ends the combat.

Napoleon senses that the result of the day’s labour will give him three-quarters of the victory he desired. He believes the Prussians will now withdraw back to their homeland. He can announce a victory on the streets of Paris, and give his heart one more priceless boost before fate calls his name to another battlefield, and another fight.

Blücher’s will is not broken; withdrawal is necessary today, but tomorrow is another day. He will rally his men, feed them, and let them rest for one day. Then he will go searching for the ogre of Europe, and defeat him with help of Wellington’s men.

8:30 pm

At Ligny

Victory smiles once more on Napoleon, her most successful general in the age of destiny, and he smiles back at her. The field of glory and its carpet of cadavers once more belongs to him and his troops.

He sees beyond the moment in the spreading darkness of Nox, and in the near distance shimmers the Fata Morgana of another decisive battle and another greeting from Victory. This time it will against the redcoats of the British, and the other little nations that cling to the coat of their leader, the Iron Duke.

Still further into the distance lies the vision of Pax, summoned to a conference between Napoleon and the cowed Regents of Europe.

Pax, but on Napoleon‘s terms.

Here’s an animated gif for each move in the battles.

The battle of Quatre Bras

The battle of Ligny

The Generals fighting this battle were

The Duke of Wellington

Marshal Ney

Emperor Napoleon

FeldMarshal Blücher

The Battle of Sole Bay 7 June 1672 Tuesday, Dec 6 2011 

Sea motive

Sea motive

The Battle of Sole Bay 1672 was the first major naval engagement in the 3rd Anglo Dutch War & Franco Dutch war, between the Kingdoms of France and England against the Republic of the Seven United Provinces.

Louis XIV needed to isolate potential allies of the United Provinces, and find a cause for the war he planned.

The treaty of Dover, signed between Charles II and Louis XIV in 1670, was kept secret from all but a few of Charles II advisors.

The fifth clause of the treaty stated that England and France agreed to wage war jointly with all their forces by land and sea, in order to humble the pride of the States General and ‘reduce the power of a nation which even has the insolence to aim now at setting itself up as sovereign arbiter and judge of all other potentates’.

Johan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary, and the Dutch seemed unaware at the forces being directed against them.

Charles II sent a vessel, the Merlin, with Lady Crow, the wife of the Ambassador in Amsterdam as passenger, with Captain Crow as commander under orders to meet a Dutch fleet and gain a salute from them, if necessary by firing upon them. This calculated act failed to garner either a salute from the Dutch, or a returning salvo, so on return to England, Captain Crow was sent to the Tower of London for his troubles.

Sir George Downing was sent to Amsterdam to engineer a quarrel; ‘Our business is to break with them and yet to lay the breache at their door.’ In the event this too failed, and Sir George Downing was also sent to the Tower of London. Eventually, simple military expedients were made, and the English attacked a Dutch trade fleet in the English channel to small effect. The declaration of war between Engalnd and the United Provinces followed shortly thereafter. France soon declared war, with Louis XIV citing many of the same causes as the English; insults to himself and a desire to reduce the Netherlands to compliance to his will.

The Rampjaar (disaster year) for the United Provinces began with the French invasion by two main armies, led by Maréchals Turenne and Condé, with a combined army of 150,000. Towns and fortresses fell before the French advance, and the situation for the Dutch was very grave.

A change in the winds provided the Dutch with the opportunity to change their fortunes at sea. A strike by the Dutch fleet against the recently combined Anglo-French fleet would put pressure on their enemies.

Typically for the age of sail, the English and French organised their ships into three divisions. The van (blue squadron), the centre (red squadron) and the rear (white squadron).

The Dutch assigned their squadrons by admiralties, each province raising their own fleet. They were denoted by the  Prinsenvlag, or the double or triple Prinsenvlag.

The Dutch fleet crossed the North sea undetected, until finally being picked up close to the Suffolk coast by a French frigate on picket duty. This promptly returned to the English coast to raise the alert. Only a few hours remained before the Dutch would attack, and the English and French fleets were still at anchor, with many men ashore.

Either by design or in the confusion, the English and French fleets split into two; the English squadrons headed North and the French squadron headed South. This tactical mistake allowed the Dutch to send one division under van Bankert to engage with the French, with the remainder of the Dutch fleet under De Ruyter to engage with the English, initially at an advantage in ships of 3:2.

De Ruyter singled out the English Flagships, identified by their extra large pennants, and attacked these causing terrible damage to ships and men.

Under fire on board HMS Royal Prince, the Duke of York came in for fulsome praise from Captain John Narbrough.

‘His Royal Highness went fore and aft in the ship and cheered up the men to fight which did encourage them very much. The Duke thought himself never near enough to the enemy, for he was ever calling to the quarter-master which cunded the ship to luff her nearer… Presently when Sir John Cox was slain, I commanded as captain, observing his Royal Highness’s commands in working the ship, striving to get the wind of the enemy. I do absolutely believe no prince upon the whole earth can compare with his Royal Highness in gallant resolution in fighting his enemy, and with so great a conduct and knowledge in navigation as never any general  understood before him. He is better acquainted in these seas than many masters which are now in his fleet; he is a general, soldier, pilot, master, seaman; to say all, he is everything that man can be, and most pleasant when the great shot are thundering about his ears.’ 

On board HMS Royal Prince, ensign John Churchill survived the battle, later to serve in the English army in the war at the Battle of Enzheim. The Duke of York was forced to abandon his flagship in favour of HMS Michael.

The same tactic was applied to the flagship of the English blue squadron, HMS Royal James, under the command of the Earl of Sandwich.

HMS Royal James succumbed to fireship attack by the Dutch and she burnt, with the loss of the Earl of Sandwich and most of his crew.

The battle continued most of the day, with fierce exchanges between all squadrons.

With the Dutch fleets recombined, and the wind beginning to turn against them, the Dutch fleet headed for home. The Anglo-French fleet did not pursue. The battle belonged to the Dutch.

Shortly after their fleet returned to the Netherlands, the Dutch opened the sluices at Muiden, flooding the waterline (Hollandsche Waterlinie). This stalled the French advance for 1672.

The Dutch had survived their Annus Horribilis. The war expanded with the Elector of Brandenburg, followed shortly by the Austrians under Emperor Leopold I and the Spanish joining the fray on the Dutch side, and Sweden joining on the French side. England sued for peace after the Dutch victory at the Battle of Texel, 1674.