The Battle of Malplaquet 11th September 1709 Saturday, Sep 12 2009 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

The battle of Malplaquet was the bloodiest encounter in the 18th century, and was the climax of the campaign of 1709 during the war of the Spanish Succession.

Hopes for peace were high at the start of the year, after the successful campaign by the Allied forces, led by the Duke of Malborough and Prince Eugene in 1708. France was close to breaking point.

Malplaquet (1)

Peace negotiations were established, but the Allies demanded too much in requiring Louis XIV to remove his grandson from the throne of Spain (the initial cause of the war), in favour of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI.

The French would not comply with this demand, ensuring that the war would be fought to a bitter conclusion, much to Marlborough and the Allies regret.

Malplaquet (4)

Louis XIV appointed Marshal Villars to lead the battered French Army and defend the borders of France. He quickly improved them in terms of morale and matériel.

Malplaquet (3)

The campaign of 1709 opened with a flanking move to the east, and the besiegement of Tournai.

Malplaquet (5)

Eventually Tournai fell to the allies.

This led the way clear for the Allies to continue their eastwards flanking move, hoping to bypass the defensive lines built by the French. In early Septemeber, the Allies moved on Mons. Villars recognised a battle was close at hand. He received a letter from Louis XIV:-

‘should Mons follow on the same fate of Tournai, our case is undone; you are by every means in your power to relieve the garrison; the cost is not to be considered, the salvation of France is at stake.’

Marshal Boufflers joined the French army, ‘with his cuirass and weapons’, to serve under Marshal Villars.

On the eve of the battle, the Allies stood their force in two bodies on the plain of Mons before the woods, hoping to tempt Marshal Villars and his army through the Aulnois gap onto the plain of Mons beyond. Instead Villars moved his army into the Aulnois gap and began constructing redans in the woods on each flank, which were considered by the conventions of the day to secure them. In the gap itself further redans were built, creating a strong defensive position.

Malplaquet (9)

Villars and Boufflers had some 80,000 men and 80 cannon.

Marlborough and Eugene had some 110,000 men and 120 cannon, and thus had an overall advantage of ~4:3 in men.

The Allied plan of attack for September 11th followed the basic pattern of the battle of Blenheim.

Malplaquet (10)

Malplaquet (11)

The Greeks believed in “Ethos Anthropos Daimon”; a man’s character is his fate. The brilliant victories by the Duke of Marlborough at the Battles of Blenheim and Ramilles had used central attacks. Villars would make his centre as defensible as possible with redans, stretching into the woods either side of the Aulnois gap, and let Marlborough’s men bleed to death in the expected assaults.

Malplaquet (12)

Malplaquet (13)

The French counterplan relied heavily on the assumption that the wooded flanks were secure from Allied incursions, as normally assumed during this period. However, fog lifted slowly from the battlefield on the morning of September 11th, allowing the Allies to deploy large number of troop in the wood of Taisnières unnoticed.

For the main attack on the French left wing, three lines of troops were used; about 80 battalions of Imperialists in all, under Prince Eugene.

For the secondary attack on the French right wing, two lines of troops were used; about 30 battalions of Dutch, under the Prince of Orange.

For the final central attack, only one line of troops were used; about 19 battalions of mostly British, together with the major part of the artillery and the cavalry reserve of about 200 squadrons of cavalry (some 30,000 horsemen) under the Duke of Marlborough.

Malplaquet (15)

The Imperialist and Prussian troops began their assault on the wood of Taisnières, but were stopped by unexpectedly fierce resistance from the French infantry.

Malplaquet (16)

Malplaquet (17)

The account of La Colonie, the Bavarian army ‘Old Campaigner’ describes the advance of the Prussians under fire towards the wood of Taisnières.

“As soon as this dense column appeared in the avenue, fourteen guns were promptly brought up in front of our brigade almost in line with the regiment of Garde Franchise. The fire of this battery was terrific, and hardly a shot missed its mark. I could not help noticing the officer in command, who although he seemed elderly was nevertheless so active that in giving his orders there was no cessation of action anywhere, the cannon shot continued to pour forth without a break, plunged into the enemy’s infantry and carried off whole ranks at a time, but a gap was no sooner created than it was immediately filled again, and they even continued their advance upon us without giving us any idea of the actual point determined on for their attack. At last the column, leaving the great battery on its left, changed its direction a quarter right and threw itself precipitately into the wood on our left, making an assault upon that portion which had been breached.”

The day was turning bloody indeed, and it was clear that the French would fight to hold every position.

Malplaquet (19)

The Prince of Orange led 30 Dutch battalions in an assault of the French redans before the wood of Lanières.

Again, the French mounted a stiff resistance, firing at close range, and opening up enfilading grapeshot fire with cannon, concealed in low ground. Terrible casualties were inflicted. The Dutch reached the line of redans, only to be met with further musketry from the French infantry, forcing the Dutch to retire in good order.

Malplaquet (21)

Malplaquet (22)

Both assaults on the prepared positions had failed. The Allies regrouped and tried again.

The Prince of Orange led the survivors in a new assault on the French. The Dutch troops followed, with the officers falling alongside their men, including Generals Spaar & Week.

Once again, French enfilading grapeshot and musketry did their terrible work, before the Dutch reached the redans, only to be thrown back by a spirited counterattack. The Dutch retired in disorder, and might have been chased from the field but for cavalry assistance.

Malplaquet (26)

Schulenburg led the survivors of the Imperialist first attack to a new assault of the French in the wood of Taisnières, this time breaking through the north face.

Lottum’s Prussians fared little better in their second assault, being brought to a halt, ‘torn and exhausted’. An English brigade under Argyll went in support of this assault.

Inside the wood of Taisnières, over seven thousand men were killed and wounded. The Allied infantry pursued the remaining four or five thousand French survivors. Little quarter was given on either side.

‘They hewed in pieces all they found before them, … even the dead when their fury found no more living to devour.’

Malplaquet (25)

By 10:30 Marlborough was aware that the first Dutch assault failed and rode over to see the troops, when he was intercepted by Goslinga, the Dutch deputy in the field.

Goslinga told the tale of the double repulse and together both men, joined by Prince Eugene, rode over to see the Prince of Orange ready to lead his shattered remnants in a third assault; this the Duke forbade.

‘Our left was the Dutch troops only, who beheaved themselves extremely well, but could not force the enemy retrenchment, so that their effort has suffered more than any other nation’
Marlborough, after the battle.

By 11:30, Villars sensed his left flank was slowly crumbling under the weight of numbers of troops employed by the Allies.

He did the only thing possible by withdrawing troops from his centre, exactly as Marlborough had intended, taking the Irish, French and Bavarians from the redans and sending them into the Wood of Taisnières as reinforcements.

‘By the time the Irish Brigade had got well into the wood it was considered to be hardly sufficient as a reinforcement by itself, and an order came for us to follow it, although there was no one else left to fill our place which would be left open to the enemy. They would not fail to seize it, as they could then attack the Maison du Roi with a great chance of success by simply lining the outside of our entrenchments, a manoeuvre quite possible for them to carry out. When the first order was brought to the brigade-major, who reported it to me, I refused to obey it, and pointed out the absolute necessity that existed for our maintaining the position we were holding ; but a lieutenant-general then arrived on the scene, and ordered us a second time to march off, so sharply that all our remonstrances were useless. We abandoned our post and marched into the wood to join in the fusilade with the others.’ Jean de la Colonie

Despite his defensive traps, Villars was being forced by relentless pressure to comply with Marlborough and Eugene’s plan.

Malplaquet (30)

Command in the front line on the battlefield in the age of muskets meant taking your chances in combat, along with everyone else. Prince Eugene was wounded, but not seriously.

Malplaquet (31)

Men from one nation fought on each side during this battle. Two Swiss (Bernese) regiments had a bayonet fight, one in the French and one in the Dutch service respectively. In the wood of Taisnières, the Royal Irish met and fought the French Royal Irish Regiment, the ‘Wild Geese’. This account survives, and illustrates the tactical advance used by the British and Dutch infantry in platoon firing, rather than firing by ranks, as used by the French.

‘…When the army advanced to attack the enemy, we also advanced into that part of the wood, which was in our front. We continued marching slowly on, til we came to an open in the wood. It was a small plain, on the opposite side of which we perceived a battalion of the enemy drawn up, a skirt of the wood being in the rear of them. Upon this Colonel Keane, who was then head of the Regiment, having drawn us up, and formed our platoons, advanced gently towards them, with the six platoons of out first firing made ready. When we had advanced within a hundred paces of them, they gave us the fire of one of their ranks; whereupon we halted, and returned them the fire of our six platoons at once; and immediately made ready the six platoons of our second fire, and advanced upon them again. They then gave us the fire of another rank, and we returned them a second fire, which made them shrink; however, they gave us the fire of a third rank after a scattering manner, and then retired into the wood in great disorder: on the which we send our third fire after them, and saw them no more. We advanced cautiously up to the ground which they had quitted, and found several of them killed and wounded; among them Lieutenant O’Sullivan, who told us the battalion we had engaged was the Royal Regiment of Ireland. Here, therefore, there was a fair trial of skill between the two Royal Regiments of Ireland, one in the British, the other in the French service; for we met upon equal terms, and there was none else to interpose. We had but four men killed and six wounded: and found near forty of them on the spot killed and wounded.’ Captain Parker

By midday, the French had been driven from the wood of Taisnières, and began reorganising between the villages of La Folie and Chaussée du Bois for a counterattack.

Malplaquet (33)

General Schulenburg prompted Marlborough to notice the empty French centre and to occupy it.

Malplaquet (34)

The path to victory for the Allies lay open if they could seize their opportunity quickly.

Malplaquet (35)

The Allied centre advanced to attack the empty French centre.

Malplaquet (36)

‘It was the most deliberate, solemn, and well-ordered battle I ever saw – a noble and fine disposition, and as nobly executed. Every man was at his post; and I never saw troops engage with more cheerfulness, boldness and resolution. In all the soldiers faces appeared a brisk and lively gaiety which presaged victory. The Lord of Hosts went forth at our head as Captain of our host, and the army followed with a daring cheerful boldness, for we never doubted but we would beat them. Providence ordered it so, that our regiment was no farther engaged than by being cannonaded, which was, indeed, the most severe that ever our regiment suffered, and by which we had considerable loss. But the soldiers endured it without shrinking, very patiently, and with great courage. For my own part I was nobly and richly supplied, as I have always been on these occasions, with liberal supplies of grace and strength, as the exigencies of the day called for. I never has a more pleasant day in my life. I was kept in perfect peace; my mind stayed, trusting in God.’ Major Blackadder

Malplaquet (38)

Malplaquet (39)

The Dutch squadrons of Auvergne passed through the gaps in the redans, followed by the British cavalry under General Wood, and the rest of the Prussian, Hannoverian and Imperialist cavalry, some 30,000 horsemen in total, to begin the biggest cavalry battle in the eighteenth century.

Malplaquet (41)

Exchange of fire was a trial of endurance and nerve, and well as chance, as Corporal Bishop’s account makes clear.

‘They returned our volley with great success. I may say it, for my right and left hand men were shot dead, and in falling had almost thrown me down, for I could scare prevent my falling among the dead men. Then I said to the second rank: ‘Come my boys, make good the front.’ With that they drew up. Then I said: ‘Never fear, we shall have better luck the next throw.’ But I just saved my word, for my right hand man was shot through the head, and the man that followed me was shot through the groin, and I escaped all, though nothing but the Providence of God could protect me. Then our rear man was called up to be a front; but he poor man was struck with a panic, fearing that he should share the same fate as the others did. He endeavoured to half cover himself behind me, but I put out my hand behind me and pulled him up, and told him, that I could no ways screen him, for he was sensible a man behind him was shot. By strong persuasion I prevailed upon him, so that he was not in the least bit daunted, but stood it out as bold as a lion. We received a great many volleys after that, and one time I remember it wounded my Captain and took my left hand man, and almost swept off those on my right, so that it left the man that was intimidated, and myself alone. Then I said, ‘Come Partner, there is nothing like having good courage.’ So we filled up our ranks in a regular form and when we had so done, we fired upon them briskly and with great success.’

Even great commanders succumb to the whims of Fortuna Belli, and Villars fell wounded at this critical juncture.

Malplaquet (43)

Overall command of the French army transferred to Marshal Boufflers. His ‘cuirass and weapons’ were needed, after all.

Malplaquet (45)

On the left flank, the French gained a notable success, scattering Allied cavalry in the act of deployment.

Malplaquet (44)

The cavalry battle in the centre ebbed to and fro, as the Allies tried to establish a bridgehead.

Malplaquet (46)

The Allies were driven back against the redans, only for the French to be dispersed by British infantry fire.

Malplaquet (47)

Boufflers led six charges to countain the Allied advance, led by Marlborough and Eugene in person, but were slowly pressed back by weight of numbers. The French retired onto the plain behind the redans, where the cavalry struggle continued.

Meanwhile, the Dutch eventually forced the French from their prepared positions on their right flank.

Malplaquet (49)

The battle now ended. The French now left the field in good order, both wings retiring, covered by the cavalry in the centre. The Allies were too exhausted to pursue.

By the terms of 18thC warfare, the Allies had won the battle, since they possessed the field, but had lost considerably more men in combat. In this sense, the battle was a technical victory for the Allies, rather than the earlier crushing defeats that Marlborough inflicted on the French.

Malplaquet (51)

Reflections on the aftermath of the battle make sombre reading…

‘The day was very bloody, and disputed for more than six hours with more obstinacy and uncertainty of result than I know how to describe. The Princes and generals who saw yesterday the left of the battlefield were horror-struck to see our men stretched before the entrenchment and within it in their ranks as they had fought.’

van Goslinga

‘In many places they lye as thick as you ever saw a flock of sheep, and where our cousin Tuillibardine was, it was prodigious. I think I never saw the like.’

‘He only wonders how anyone comes off where bullets fly so thick… None alive ever saw such a battle, God give us a good peace… I hope to God it may be the last battle I may see.’

Orkney

‘I am so tired that I have but strength enough to tell you that we have had this day a very bloody battle, the first part of the day we beat their foot, and afterwards their horse. God Almighty be praised, it is now in our powers to have what peace we please, and I may be pretty well assured of never being in another battle.’

Marlborough to Sarah, his Wife, Personal letter on the night of the battle.

‘It is melancholy to see so many brave men killed, with whom I have lived these last eight years, when we thought ourselves sure of a peace.’

Marlborough to Godolphin, October 3rd 1709

Despite his crippling wound Marshal Villars recovered, and wrote to Louis XIV, describing the pyrrhic victory he believed the Allies had won.

Malplaquet (55)

For certain, he had prevented an invasion of France in 1709, and kept her hopes alive for better terms in any future peace treaty.

Widespread shock at the level of casualties from the battle was felt across European society.

‘Ye joy here doe not appear proportional to the success; for ye cries of widows, orphans and tender virgins, deprived of their husbands, fathers and Gallants prevail so much amongst this phlegmatic nation that I believe the beaten French will carry off disgrace with better countenance than ye Dutch triumphant express their Glory; but to say the truth the Dutch troops suffered extremely… Walpole, the Hague, 17th September 1709

Malplaquet was the last major battle that the Duke of Malborough fought during the war of the Spanish Succession, although he continued in the field for another two years, gaining further victories and territory from the French.

The battlefield is commemorated today by monuments, both in France

Malplaquet (56)

and on the column of victory at Blenheim Palace, England.

Malplaquet (57)

The battle also lives on in France in a folk song, Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre. This suggests that The Duke of Marlborough died during the day’s action, and the news is eventually passed to his wife, Sarah Churchill, Mistress of the Robes to Queen Anne. It became popular in France as a children’s song, and still survives, a faint echo of that bloody day in 1709.

The full slide pack is available as a pdf file here, (7 Mb file!), or as a powerpoint slideshow (pps)  Malplaquet 1709 (12 Mb file!) .

Malplaquet (59)

Malplaquet (60)

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The Battle of Malplaquet 11th September 1709 Redux Friday, Sep 11 2009 

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

Vauban Tile 500 pixels

The battle of Malplaquet was the last of the major battles that the Duke of Marlborough fought in the war of the Spanish succession. Located near Mons on the French border, the battle resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for the Allied forces over the Franco Bavarian army, led by Marshal Villars.

For the 300th anniverary of the battle, a wargame simulation is described below.

The schematic of the battlefield is shown below, 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 60 men using 15mm figures. Thus the 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefield.

Malplaquet Battlefield

This is roughly a shrinkage by 5:1 of the real battlefield, so the number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Allies had about 110,000 men, and the Franco-Bavarians about 80,000 on 11th September 1709. Reducing this by a factor of approximately 5, the following order of battle is given.

Malplaquet Redux Order of Battle

Assuming 600 men per battalion and 120 men per squadron, the Allies have a total of 22,000 men (26 battalions, 48 squadrons and 30 cannons). The Franco-Bavarians have a total of 17,000 men (21 battalions, 33 squadrons and 20 cannons).

Clearly outnumbered, the French have created a series of redans and entrenchments that span the centre of the battlefield, easily seen in the photographs below.

The rules used for the re-enactment are found here.

Move 1 9:00 (time of the start of the battle on 11th September 1709 )

Mal Redux 0900

Maréchal Villars has heard the muse of warfare, Minerva, whisper in his ear “Ethos Anthropos Daimon”; a man’s character is his fate. The brilliant victories by the Duke of Marlborough at the Battles of Blenheim and Ramilles had used central attacks. Villars has made his centre as strong as possible with redans, stretching into the woods either side of the Aulnois gap, and will let Marlborough’s men bleed to death in the expected assaults on these prepared positions.

Marlborough and Eugene are sure the French will not contest à outrance this battlefield, but will yield to their will: flanking attacks, causing a weakening of the centre, followed by a coup de grâce attack through the centre.

Fortuna Belli can only smile on one of these protagonists.

A massed cannonade from the grand battery in the Allied centre signals the start of the battle proper, and Eugene leads the Imperialist infantry forwards through the wood of Taisnières. Lottum leads the Prussians forward against the flank of the wood.

Move 3 9:15

Mal Redux 0915

The Allied assault move forward slowly through the wood of Taisnières. Villars cannot see the mass of troops in the thick wood, but a messenger from Albergotti, the General in command of his extreme left, tells him that he can hear drumbeats across a broad front in the woods. Ever cautious, mon Maréchal readies his reserve about Chaussée du Bois to enter the fray. He crosses his centre, and calls on le regiment du Bourbon to march to Chaussée du Bois to fill the gap. Meanwhile, the French cannonade make bitter battleplay upon Lottum‘s advancing Prussians, who suffer as the sky rains cannonballs on them.

Move 6 9:30

Mal Redux 0930

The Allied assault through the wood of Taisnières meets its first stiff resistance from the French infantry, sheltering behind redans. The Imperialst Austrian first line withers under fire and is disrupted. The Prussians attempt to wheel around on the plane of Aulnois before the wood of Taisnières, and in so doing expose their flank to the French artillery. This is a target no gunner can miss, and whole ranks are carried off. The first line breaks in retreat, the second is disrupted. Lottum urges them on under fire. Meanwhile, Maréchal Villars has called for more reserves to help with the hammer blow he expects at the top of wood of Taisnières. He sends a messenger to summon the Spanish troops from his right wing, under the command of General D’Artagnan.

The Prince of Orange studies his pocket watch. Half an hour has passed since the battle has started. Time to lead his troops against the silent, waiting redans before him; the French watching intently. “Vooruit!”. His men obey.

Move 7 9:35

Mal Redux 0935

The brave Dutch infantry is soon immersed in a storm of fire, as the French artillery, concealed by the redans sheltering the Swiss troops opens fire. The right wing of the Dutch infantry is thrown back, the centre is badly disrupted, even before they have a chance to engage with the French.

A messenger sent by Maréchal Villars has been cooly received by General D’Artagnan. He can hear Maréchal Boufflers troops beginning to repulse the Dutch advance. He sends the messenger back, empty handed; “Je suis nécessaire ici!“. What will le Maréchal say at this impudence?

Fortuna Belli smiles on the French. On the left flank, the Prussians break under flanking fire and exchange of musketry. The Austrians similarly have broken at the top of the woods. Only the extreme right of the Allied line marches through the wood of Taisnières uncontested.

Move 8 9:40

Mal Redux 0940

The plight of the Prussians has moved Marlborough to attempt to rally them, together with General Lottum; “Bleiben und kämpfen!”. Eugene has the same task with the Austrians, fleeing from the fire at the top of the wood of Taisnières. Are these really the same French they’ve fought and beaten so many times before?

The Dutch recoil under fire, with only one unit reaching the redans in sufficient order to fight with the Swiss, who make ready:- “Hier chömme d’Holländischer. Füür!”

Move 9 9:45

Mal Redux 0945

“Les autres chiens! En Jou! Feu! Chargez!…” For 15 minutes the wall of white coated soldiers of France have fought off the Austrians. They still hold, but are steadily being ouflanked by the brigade under General Withers on the extreme left of the wood of Taisnières…

Aware that the army risks being outflanked, Maréchal Villars moves to the centre to gather reserves. But from where? Did Minerva whisper to Marlborough too? Here he receives the news from General D’Artagnan and his refusal to come to his aid. Mon Maréchal sends the quaking aide back, with a stern rebuke. He will not accept another refusal of a direct command; “France will fall without his troops”.

Marlborough is busy steadying shattered Prussian nerves. But he is aware that the Dutch are suffering terribly on his left flank. The Swiss troops have done their terrible handiwork and the Dutch are in retreat across the battlefront. The Prince of Orange rallies who he can in preparation for a second assault.

Right now, Fortuna Belli clearly favours the French.

Move 10 9:50

Mal Redux 0950

The Austrian and British flanking move has just emerged from the wood of Taisnières, stirring the French battalion holding Chaussée du Bois to start to swing towards the threat; “En avant”. In the wood itself, the French still hold back the Austrians, despite now beginning to get disorganised themselves. This tangle of woodland has become Campus Martius, a field of Mars, and the carnage is terrible as Fortuna Belli frowns on the Austrians. Mars, breaker of armies, nods and approves at this strife.

The Prussians are still reorganising whilst under artillery fire.

In the centre, Maréchal Villars has called for every second battalion from his centre, to be sent to his left flank. If he can inflict enough casualties on the Allied advance in the wood of Taisnières, there is a chance he can stem this tide and then divert the troops back to the centre. “Cuimhnidh ar Luimneach” cry the Irish as they march towards the sounds of the fusilade on the left flank.

On the right flank, the Dutch are beginning to regroup before their next attack “Stabiel jongens, stabiel“.

Move 11 9:55

Mal Redux 0955

Maréchal Villars has returned to the left flank to take personal command. He sends troops into Chaussée du Bois, even as the Austrians capture the village of La Folie. On the firing line, the French are begining to be driven back from the redans at the top of the woods.

The Prusssians are still slowly coming to order as Marlborough and General Lottum call out “Reiß dich zusammen!!” But the French artillery keeps on firing and playing havoc.

The Prince of Orange steadies the Dutch in his second line, as the first line begins another assault on the French right.

Behind the threatened French front, General D’Artagnan receives mon Maréchal’s admonishment. He must obey this time, and forms his troops into column of march, informing Maréchal Boufflers of his orders.

Move 12 10:00

Mal Redux 1000

Fortuna Belli at last smiles on the Allies. The French infantry at the top of the wood of Taisnières are beginning to fall back from the redans in some disorder. General Albergotti has bought time for the reserves to flood to this corner of the battlefield, but is it enough time?

On the extreme left, the British disrupt their French attackers with steady platoon firing. The French respond with a general advance of Bavarian cavalry, which makes ready to threaten any Allied advance out of the wood.

The Prussians begin to regain some order, which is just as well as Marlborough receives a report from the Prince of Orange telling him of their repulse, and demands for more troops.

On the French right, the Swiss infantry and the French artillery break apart another Dutch attack . Only those troops sheltered by the wood of Lanières have made it to the French redans. These are contested with musketry. A pall of battle smoke hangs in the wood, obscuring the view.

Move 13 10:05

Mal Redux 1005

On the extreme left, the British infantry have routed their French attackers, who run for the village of Chaussée du Bois. The French cling on to the top of the wood of Taisnières. Meanwhile, French cavalry sweep round, ready to attack the Austrians and British, who will have to form square to defend themselves.

The Prussians bring another unit to order, with cajoles and curses.

On the extreme right, one last Dutch battalion tries its luck against the formidable French redans. Prussian cavalry sweep around to their rear, to stabilise the situation.

Move 14 10:10

Mal Redux 1010

The French cavalry charge the fully formed English square. “Steady, lads:- fire!” The irresistable force and the immovable object fight it out, with honours even so far. To counter this cavalry threat, the reserve Austrian cavalry makes its way through the wood. But between them and a flanking charge are 6 squadrons of Bavarian cuirassiers. In the wood of Taisnières, the French have been pushed back halfway, abandoning the redans in a general attempt to reorganise. Maréchal Villars is busy forming a second line from the Irish troops that have just arrived.

The Prussians on the plane cannot see this movement. Neither can any of the Allied commanders see General D’Artagnan march his Spanish Netherlands troops to the left flank.

Marlborough rides over to meet the Prince of Orange and assess the situation. The second Dutch assault has failed; with troops retiring or routing back to their starting position.

The French right flank is secure. “Bien. Quelle affaire!” mutters Maréchal Boufflers, and Fortuna Belli smiles in agreement.

Move 15 10:15

Mal Redux 1015

Marlborough listens to the Prince of Orange and rapidly concludes that little is to be gained, but much would be lost by another unsupported self sacrificial attack. A battalion of Hannovarian troops marches through the wood of Tiry to support the shattered survivors; the Dutch are forbidden to advance until the general assault takes place.

General Lottum finally has all the Prussian troops back in order, and they wait for the order to advance.

On the left flank, the solid English square beats back the French cavalry, who retreat back in disarray. The Austrian cavalry emerge from the wood, to be confronted by their Imperial pretenders, the Bavarian cuirassiers. By the side of the English, a single Allied battery is ready to emerge from the wood, ready to pound all before it.

Meanwhile, the French infantry continue to hold some form of firing line in the wood of Taisnières; some firm, some retreat in good order. Behind them, Maréchal Villars has formed a double line of infantry, ready to brave the next Allied storm.

In the French centre, their artillery are disrupted by Allied fire. The slow march of the Spanish Netherlands continues. “Vite, plus vite, mes braves” urges General D’Artagnan.

Move 17 10:25

Mal Redux 1025

The Bavarian cuirassiers take the Austrian squadrons in the flank and rout them into the wood. The Britsh infantry return to line formation, and the Allied cannon has unlimbered and begun to attack the French infantry before it. Maréchal Villars calls for the cannon from the redans nearest to the wood of Taisnières to join him ‘Ici, tout de suite’ to answer this impertinence in kind. Thus ordered, the artilery piece limbers up and heads towards the village of Chaussée du Bois. The Prussians and British in the centre of the battlefield notice this movement.

Move 18 10:30

Mal Redux 1030

Unaware of the success of the Bavarian cuirassiers, the British infantry begin to advance with covering artillery fire. The Bavarians notice this move and will react shortly. Eugene urges his Austrians on to drive the french out of the last quadrant of the wood of Taisnières. The firing line arcs around, the battle ebbs and flows in the tangled trees.

Elsewhere, the French undergo slow movement towards the left flank. Marlborough and the Prince of Orange have stabilised the Dutch infantry, and the Hannovarians have moved up in support of them.

After 1 1/2 hours of battle, the victory points and the honours belong to the French and the favours of Fortuna Belli have not changed.

Move 19 10:35

Mal Redux 1035

Sheltered from direct artillery fire by the village of La Folie, the Bavarian cuirassiers threaten the British infantry, who form square as their only defence. The firing line still stands in the wood of Taisnières, neither the Imperialists or the French will yield this Campus Martius. The French counter attack is beginning to congregate around the village of Chaussée du Bois.

Move 21 10:45

Mal Redux 1045

Stalemate – The Bavarian cavalry await the French artillery to arrive and pound the British square into something more malleable for the sword. The British hope that their supporting cannons will suppress this deadly threat. In the woods, the French slowly give way before superior numbers. Eugene must soon see Marlborough and know his will.

Move 23 10:55

Mal Redux 1055

The French release control of the wood of Taisnières to the Austrians, and withdraw, attempting to reorganise a new firing line for a possible counterattack. The Bavarian cuirassiers still have the British pinned down in square, but their nemesis, a French artillery battery has just arrived. Meanwhile, in the Allied centre, Eugene meets Marlborough. Despite the carnage on both the left and right flanks, their minds are still made up to attack. Through a gap in the redans they spy General D’Artagnan move his column of infantry towards the French left, they see the gap where a French artillery battery once stood, now replaced by disorganised French infantry. Soon, soon, the trial of strength will begin; a full assault. “Half past eleven, then?”.

Move 24 11:00

Mal Redux 1100

Eugene asks Marlborough for the Dutch cavalry immediately behind the British infantry line. He consents.

Apart from artillery duels, all else is quiet across the battlefield. On the French left, reorganisation ready for a counterattack builds up around the village of Chaussée du Bois.

Move 26 11:10

Mal Redux 1110

Eugene leads the Dutch cavalry on the road through the edge of the wood of Taisnières. Marlborough sweeps around the Prussians and the rest of the cavalry reserve, “General advance, half past eleven, Gentlemen”. They all nod in agreement. A messenger goes to the Prince of Orange telling him the same. He can’t wait to remove memory of the recent rebuff with his beloved Dutch troops. “Wraak!”, he mutters. The eyes of Mars blaze, like the doors of an open furnace.

Move 27 11:15

Mal Redux 1115

The Dutch cavalry sweep past the redans at the top of the wood of Taisnières. They stare at the dead and the wounded, both Imperialist and French. At this speed, it’s hard to tell them apart. All they know for certain is that Prince Eugene leads them towards the sound of cannon fire and the growing sound of the fusliade, as the Imperialists begin to contest the village of Chaussée du Bois.

General D’Artagnan has finally arrived with his reinforcements after 80 minutes marching. They are ready to rest, but are more likely to begin the fight.

Move 29 11:25

Mal Redux 1125

Prince Eugene and the Dutch cavalry have passed through the wood, and await the cannonade signal from the artillery by the Prussians, signalling the general advance. The Bavarian cuirassiers still have the British pinned down in square as the artillery duel between the Allies and French continue, with honours even on the left, and the French disorganised by the Irish troops in the centre. The first attempt by the Austrians at breaking into the village of Chaussée du Bois has failed, due to the stubborn resistance from the French firing line.

Move 30 11:30

Mal Redux 1130

Marlborough and Eugene hopes that the muse of warfare, Minerva, whispered in their ears too, and that the French have drained their centre to defend their flanks. Time to begin l’attaque à outrance. The Allied mass cannonade in the centre of the battlefield signals the general advance, and the infantry, both British and Prussian, spring to life and march forwards, drums beating, flags waving in the breeze. Behind them, the mass of the Allied cavalry begins to advance at the trot, Marlborough at their head. He calmly reflects that this is the moment commanders-in-chief strive for, the pinnacle of life in the service of his Queen.

“Il a commencé. Une attaque!” says the commander of the Gardes Françaises, who dashes off a rider to find his Maréchal and let him know the news. But the sound of a mass cannonade travels across the whole battlefield, and although Maréchal Villars cannot see it yet, he knows what that sound means. Despite favouring the French so far, will Fortuna Belli continue to do so? The next hour may seal the fate of the war.

Move 31 11:35

Mal Redux 1135

The Dutch cavalry emerge from the wood of Taisnières, and the First squadrons of Bavarian cuirassiers instinctly close down on them. The French infantry before the village of Chaussée du Bois form square in response to the cavalry threat.

The Allied infantry in the centre continue their advance, drums beating, passing through their cannons which begin limbering up, ready to move behind the marching lines.

Move 32 11:40

Mal Redux 1140

The Dutch cavalry have been disorganised by the Bavarian cuirassiers, who sense the momentum is with them. The Austrian infantry, emerging from the woods have come under fire from the French Artillery, and are disrupted.

In the central redans, the Irish and Bavarian infantry watch the Allied march towards them continue, the sound of their drums getting louder all the time. The French artillery battery by the Irish redans, desperately tries to reorganise and fire off enough shots to stem the tide rolling towards it.

Move 33 11:45

Mal Redux 1145

The Dutch cavalry break and flee into the woods. As they draw breath, the Allied battery nearby tears into the Bavarian cuirassiers with flanking grapeshot, and they in turn flee. The second waves of each cavalry advance to fill the gap and hold sway over the French left flank.

Maréchal Villars has moved position behind the Bavarian infantry in the centre and sees the spectacle before him. “Bravo, bravo!”. But what to do?

“Anseo Tagann na Sasanach agus nAlban!”. The French battery beside the Irish redan regains its composure and starts firing into the advancing British. Men fall, but the battalions absorb the cannon fire, as they have all day. Colonel Blackadder of the Cameronian Highlanders recites his prayers as the cannon balls rush close by:-

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…

As the line of the Highlanders sweeps past him, the Prince of Orange gives the signal and the Dutch begin to advance on the redans on the French right. Maréchal Boufflers cannot believe that they would try to storm him again, across the field where so many of their comrades have already fallen.

Move 34 11:50

Mal Redux 1150

The Dutch cavalry win the duel; the Bavarian cuirassiers flee. This forces the French infantry into squares, pinning them down. The Austrian infantry push hard against the French firing line by the village of Chaussée du Bois.

The advance of the Cameronian Highlanders towards the French battery in their centre finds Colonel Blackadder reciting the 91st Psalm:-

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the arrow that flieth by day. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come once near thee.

as the grapeshot sings through the air. But the will of the Throne of Grace, or the whim of Fortuna Belli, prevails and the Highlanders march on, closer to their destiny with the Wild Geese, the Royal Regiment of Ireland in the service of France.

The Bavarian infantry see their fellow Germans, the Prussians of Brandenburg close down towards them, as the noise of their drums grow.

On the French right flank, the Hannoverians and Dutch negotiate the ranks of dead and wounded before trying to storm the retrenchments held by the Swiss in the service of France.

Move 35 11:55

Mal Redux 1155

Fierce discord storms, Mars thunders and exclaims,
Furies call as the field’s engulfed in flames.

A universe of fire rings the battlefield across all fronts at once. On the extreme left of the French line, with the blessing of Fortuna Belli, the Dutch cavalry sieze their moment and against all the odds decimate both the nearest French square and the cannon. The remaining French squares look on in horror at the fate of their comrades “mon Dieu, ces pauvres gens!”. Mars, bringer of strife approves.

The fringe of the wood of Taisnières, the village of Chaussée du Bois; both are hotly contested, with the French clinging on.

In the battle for the central redans, the Bavarians and Prussians exchange fire. Meanwhile, Colonel Blackadder‘s penitential prayers are rewarded as the Scots close down, storming the cannon, and disrupting the Irish infantry, who cannot withstand their fury.

The Hannovarian and Dutch infantry fare better this time against the Swiss infantry in French service, disrupting all as they close with bayonet. On the extreme right of the French line, the Dutch are thrown back again by enfilading cannon fire. However, through the shadows of smoke, the gunners make out advancing Prussian cavalry. “Attention, la cavalerie! Vite, Feu!”. Can they stop them in time?

Move 36 12:00

Mal Redux 1200

The fighting intensifies. The Dutch cavalry continue to attack the fleeing French infantry, but are counter-attacked in turn by the French cavalry regiment in reserve behind Chaussée du Bois. Some of the Bavarian cuirassiers have rallied and reluctantly advance again. The French fall back from the woods, and strive to hold onto the village.

The Bavarian redan holds firm against the Prussians who suffer dreadfully, being exposed to their fire in the open.

The Irish flee their redan, and the Scots turn the cannons that tormented them back on their former masters. Colonel Blackadder‘s offers the 44th Psalm in praise for their deliverance.

“Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob. Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.”

Marlborough at the head of the British cavalry sees the gap in the French defenses that the Scots have made, and increases the pace of the advance to a canter, the others following their Duke.

Sensing what will soon befall his defensive positions, Maréchal Villars has ridden over to join with the Maison du Roi, the finest cavalry in France, ready to counterattack any breach from the Allied sea of men.

The Hannovarian and Dutch still struggle to capture the retrenchments manned by the Swiss, who cling on. “Vooruit!” urges the Prince of Orange. One Dutch battalion cannot hear his call, but act as though they have, shattering the resolve of the French infantry by Maréchal Boufflers, who calls on them to stand and fight.

Move 37 12:05

Mal Redux 1205

The universe of battle is all encompassing. On the left flank, the French cavalry manage to break their Dutch opponents, who flee for the woods. Deep in the woods, their comrades who routed earlier have come to rest and try to reorganise. The Bavarian cuirassiers try their luck on an Austrian square before the village of La Folie, which weathers the onslaught so far.

Once again, a column of infantry tries to storm the village of Chaussée du Bois. The French battalion holding the village is isolated; their colleagues have been put to flight by the Austrian infantry.

The Bavarian redan still holds out against the Prussians who fail to make any impression on them.

Marlborough signals the Scots Dragoons to advance through the gap left by their infantry. The chance to express their gratitude at this opportunity is tempered by their eagerness to advance “Out of the way, Sawny swadlers”, they cry as they come on.

The Swiss retreat from their retrenchement, and the Prince of Orange cannot believe his change of luck, given their earlier losses. If only he could more clearly see the smile of Fortuna Belli; her grace now extends to the Dutch infantry on the extreme right of the French army. Having routed their French opponents, they vault the retrenchment and make ready for any counter-attack.

Move 38 12:10

Mal Redux 1210

On the left flank, the battle is dominated by Allied squares vs Franco-Bavarian cavalry. Neither side will yield to the other, so the Bavarian and French attacks swirl around their opponents, looking for any weakness to exploit. The hedge of bayonets dissuade the horses to come any closer, as steadily musket fire takes its toll on the cavalry. Deep in the wood of Taisnières, the remnants of the Dutch cavalry make their way back to the front to chance their luck again, whilst Prince Eugene tries to pursuade another group to stand and fight.

In the centre, the Scots Dragoons pass through the gap in the redans and are immediately attacked by French cavalry. “Ces terribles chevaux gris! Comme ils travaillent!” But the Greys hold their own; their motto ‘Nemo me impune lacessit‘ being particularly apt. Soon even more Allied cavalry will flood through the gap.

The Prince of Orange urges his men on, and they vault the retrenchment, and storm the French battery nearby. The French battalion nearest this action counter-charges in an attempt to recapture the guns. The other battery limbers up to move away. The Prussians by the wood of Lanières sees this commotion, and scents an opportunity no cavalry commander could resist.

Maréchal Boufflers, leads a counter-attack against the Dutch troops who breached the retrenchments in the wood of Lanières. Fortuna Belli gives her favour to the French, and the Dutch are repulsed.

Move 39 12:15

Mal Redux 1215

The Bavarian cuirassiers break from the steady fire of the Austrian square and flee. Their French cavalry comrades are still chancing their luck on the British square, which still stands firm.

The French infantry in Chaussée du Bois holds out and repulses another Austrian attack. “Assez! Quand vont-ils apprendre?”. The Austrian infantry fails to make more headway against the French holding onto the flank of the village, and retreats back to the edge of the wood of Taisnières.

The Bavarian infantry behind their redan begin to crack, becoming disorganised after 20 minutes of constant fighting. The Irish infantry, who routed sometime earlier from the Scots, have almost made it to the shelter of the village of Malplaquet. Between them and the redans they once held, a fierce cavalry battle rages; Scots Greys and Hannovarian confreres against the French. The mêlée engulfs all; it’s difficult to see who has an advantage.

On the right flank, the Dutch and Hannoverian infantry consolidate their position, leaving the Garde Francaise sandwiched between them and the cavalry action. They sense it is time to withdraw.

Not such luxury for the Maison du Roi, Maréchal Villars wheels them round to face the Prussian cavalry bearing down on them.

Marlborough joins with the Prince of Orange to see how the battle looks from this vantage. He sends messengers to some of the Allied cavalry to swing round to their left and pass round the gap. Despite the prodigious casualties lining the retrenchments before him, he senses the battle is now his if the Allied troops keep pushing on.

Move 40 12:20

Mal Redux 1220

The Allied squares have seen off both the Bavarian and French cavalry. The French infantry on the left flank step into the breach and begin attacking the British before they have formed out of square. At stake is control of an artillery battery lost by the French earlier, but held by no-one in the recent débâcle. The Austrian infantry sent to storm the village of Chaussée du Bois listen to no reason or admonishments, they run and run in a blind panic past their commander, Prince Eugene.

The Bavarian infantry in the redan finally break and retreat. Infantry now line the reverse slope of these central redans; what was once French is now firmly in Allied hands. The Hannoverian cavalry are the first to break in the cavalry mêlée, but more reserves pour through the gap.

The Garde Francaise march back, hoping they can get to relative safety and hold onto their regimental colours and honour in this most dangerous position.

Maréchal Villars is now in the thick of a cavalry mêlée with the Maison du Roi, pitched against the Prussians. Fortuna Belli gives no favour, so neither yields. All the time, more Allied cavalry heads towards this point, so the odds are slowly swinging against the French, despite their acknowledged process in arms and their Maréchal.

Maréchal Boufflers has seen off the last Dutch attack, but sees the stream of Allied horsemen heading his way. He has a decision to make; a fighting withdrawal, or a heroic last stand.

Move 41 12:25

Mal Redux 1225

Things go well for the French on their left flank. The British infantry break under fire from the French and pass through their Imperialst comrades, spreading disorder as they go. The remnants of the Bavarian cuirassier regiments rally, and try to reorganise.

In the center, the cavalry mêlée ebbs and flows, this time to France’s favour. The Greys are pushed back and their colleagues are threatened in the flank. With no further reinforcements, things might look dire for the remaining troopers, but more Allied cavalry prepare to pour through the gap. The French who attempt to outflank the Allied horsemen come under enfilading fire from the British infantry sheltering behind the redans.

The Garde Francaise continue to march back, unmolested.

The Prussians continue to attack Maréchal Villars and the Maison du Roi in their cavalry mêlée. Allied support appears, which begins to attack the Maison du Roi in the flank. Only le Maréchal and their discipline keeps them from collapsing.

Maréchal Boufflers has decided to withdraw; The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life. The battle cannot be won, and much more could be lost for France if he fails to extract the right wing from underneath the Allied cavalry. The wood of Lanières offers perfect shelter, and so he orders his infantry to begin to retreat.

Move 42 12:30

Mal Redux 1230

Prince Eugene leads the remnants of the Dutch cavalry forward, Batavians against the Bavarian cuirassiers. Both sets of troops are tired, mentally and physically. “Are these my arms, so tired they go on, and on, alone?“. Just one more push can settle the account, either way.

The French infantry push into the disorganised Imperialsts, and recapture their cannon, as Fortuna Belli smiles on them. But in the cavalry mêlée in the centre, she frowns on the French. How capricious!

A French cavalry regiment flees from artillery fire; the next wave of British horsemen take their gap. The British infantry still pour enfilading fire onto the French horsemen, who in turn struggle to overwhelm the outnumbered Allied horsemen. And yet more Allies continue to make their way towards the gap in the redans.

Maréchal Villars and the Maison du Roi cannot hold out for much longer, as even more Allied cavalry threaten to surround them. The restless cavalry have forced the Garde Francaise into square, forcing their retreat to come to a halt. They await an attack, or a more favourable time to move again.

Move 43 12:35

Mal Redux 1235

On the left flank, Eugene and the Dutch battle the Bavarians. The clash rages, with the advantage going to the Bavarians. The French infantry still drive into the Austrians, who are pushed back. Elsewhere, on the left flank, an imperceptible breeze stirs through the French infantry that whispers “Retraite en bon ordre”, before the cry becomes “Sauve qui peut”. Battalions begin to withdraw, colours flying and drums beating.

In the centre, the Allied tide is just being held by the French on the left side. On the right side, Maréchal Villars and the Maison du Roi are forced to retreat after 15 minutes of fighting. The door to Allied cavalry advance has been flung open. Maréchal Boufflers showed prescience in starting his retreat.

Move 44 12:40

Mal Redux 1240

Fortuna Belli smiles on the French on their left flank. Eugene and the Dutch cavalry are driven back, which leaves the French free to stage an ordered withdrawal. The Garde Francaise retreat in square, shadowed by the rallied Maison du Roi.

Move 45 12:45

Mal Redux 1245

The battle is largely confined to movement. The French left, centre and right retreat in an orderly manner; the Allies cautiously advance into the space left behind. Marlborough senses the job is done, the battle is won. But at what cost?

Move 48 13:00

Mal Redux 1300

Victoria awards the day to Marlborough and Prince Eugene, as possession of the battlefield is the hallmark of victory. But they have a sea of wounded men to care for, so pursuit is out of the question; the extent of these casualties will only become apparent later in the day as they tour the battlefield together.

The French have inflicted far more casualities than they have suffered, and so some of the honours go to them. The French left wing has left the field broadly intact; the same is true for the French right wing under Maréchal Boufflers. Only in the centre have the French been comprehensively beaten.

Given these facts, in consolation for the resolve the French have shown, Victoria will whisper the postscript to the letter that Maréchal Villars will send to le Roi Soleil.

‘The officers and men of Your Majesty’s troops have done marvels, although your army is in retreat, it will become clear that it has lost less men than the enemy… If God gives us the grace to lose another similar battle, Your Majesty can count on his enemies being destroyed.’

Malplaquet unto the colours

The entire battle sequence is available as an animated gif, best viewed in Windows picture viewer

Malplaquet Animation

Rules used for fighting this and other Marlburian battles can be found here.

Thanks to Dixon’s Miniatures for the figures, and to warflag.com for the flags

Finis