Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

This was the third major battle that the Duke of Marlborough fought against Bourbon France during the War of the Spanish Succession.

He led a confederate army comprised of troops from

Britain
oudenardebrit

The United Provinces

oudenardedutch

Hannover

oudenardehan

Austrian Empire

oudenardeaust

and Prussia

oudenardepruss

against the Franco-Bavarian army, comprised of troops from

France

oudenardefrench

French mercenaries from

Switzerland

oudenardeswiss

and Ireland

oudenardeirish

troops from the Spanish Netherlands

oudenardespanish

and finally

Bavaria

oudenardebavarian

The battle is famous for a number of reasons

It was an encounter battle – very rare in the early to middle part of the 18th Century, albeit planned by the Duke of Marlborough.

It evolved into a full scale battle, with troops arriving to take up positions, with a message sent but never received , lost on the battlefield (the realm of chance) that turned the course of the battle and European history.

It had a famous Prussian cavalry charge with General Natzmer, at the head of the Prussian cuirassiers, charged the French horse guards in reserve, while infantry fire from the hedgerows mowed down his cuirassiers. So dreadful was the fire that half the Prussian cavalry were slain, and the rest escaped with difficulty, hotly pursued by the French household troops.

Marlborough developed his line of battle into an envelopment of the French position – again very rare at this point in military history. Only nightfall prevented a significant number of the French troops from being captured.

It involved 4 potential rulers in Europe; heirs to the King of England, a possible Stadholder of the United Provinces and a King of France fighting on opposing sides. Only one would eventually rule, although all would survive the battle.

George II (serving in the Hanoverian cavalry, who charged and had his horse shot from beneath him). He succeeded to the throne of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover in 1727

James III (the Old Pretender) who never succeeded to the throne, served with the French as the Chevalier de St George.

Louis de France, duc de Bourgogne served disastrously as joint leader of the French forces. He died in 1712, and his son, Louis XV, succeeded to the throne of France, on the death of his Great Grandfather, le Roi Soleil.

And finally, John William Friso, Prince of Orange, who led the Dutch troops enveloping the French position. He died by accidental drowning in 1711, but his descendants are on the hereditary thrones of Europe, including The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

It was the third of Marlborough’s famous four battles in the War of the Spanish Succession and led to the retreat of the French from the Spanish Netherlands and the eventual capture of the fortress of Lille.

My description of the causes of the War of the Spanish Succession and the Battle of Oudenarde can be found here, in Baroque style.

battle-of-oudenarde

It includes stills from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (Seven Years War, but they give the feel of 18th Century warfare). The maps describing the battle are from Churchill’s Marlborough, his life and times Part 2 (1936) and from Chandler’s Marlborough as a Military Commander (1973).

A poem written by Jonathan Swift, celebrating the victory, can be found here. Notice the vitriolic reserved for the Chevalier de St George (which he styled the Popish pretender), compared to the lavish praise for Young Hanover Brave (the future George II), marking the poets political allegiance at the time of writing.

The city of Oudenarde is celebrating the battle this year. Links can be found here.

Current maps of the area, in detail and relief are shown below.

oudenaarde-today

oudenaarde-relief-map

Present day Oudenarde has expanded out to encompass Eyne, and some of the rivers have been drained, but largely the topography remains the same. Notice that the Flemish spelling of the places names is somewhat different than those used in military accounts (e.g. Ouwegem = Royegem, River Wallebeck = River Norken).

A new book has just been published reviewing the battle by Partizan Press

A full wargames re-enactment of the battle can be found here, using these rules.