Dynastic Wars of Europe (1688–1748)

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Dynastic Wars of Europe (1688–1748)

Major Figures

François-Henri de Montmorency, Duc de Luxembourg

Known for his cruelty and his intelligent strategy, François-Henri de Montmorency, Duc de Luxembourg (1628–1695) was an important general in the wars of Louis XIV. He was responsible for key victories against Dutch and English forces.

Early Years

François-Henri was born a few months after his father, François de Montmorency-Bouteville, was beheaded for killing a man in a duel. François-Henri was raised with his cousin, Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, seven years his elder and inheritor of vast wealth and landholdings. His place in this household, and his own intelligence, helped Montmorency overcome the physical challenges of short stature and a hunched back.

Both cousins participated in the final battle of the Thirty Years War at Lens (1648), in which Condé led France to a decisive victory. Two years later, they participated in the Fronde, an uprising of French aristocrats against the growing sphere of royal power exercised by Jules Cardinal Mazarin, prime minister for the very young Louis XIV. When the Fronde failed, Montmorency and Condé joined the Spanish army.

Entering the Establishment

Even after the end of the Thirty Years War, France and Spain remained combatants until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Terms of this document pardoned the cousins, who returned to a France now ruled by Louis XIV. Not long thereafter, they regained commissions in the French army. In 1661, Montmorency’s marriage to Charlotte-Madeleine of Clermont-Luxembourg made him Duc de Luxembourg.

War with Spain over Spanish territories in the Netherlands (1667–1668) afforded Luxembourg further experience on the battlefield. He took part in Condé’s conquest of Franche-Comté (1668) and was appointed lieutenant-general. At the end of this so-called War of Devolution, however, Franche-Comté returned to Spanish control.

Cruelty in War

Determined to have this territory to the east of his border, Louis XIV went to war with the Dutch Republic yet again. Louis XIV’s minister of war, François Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (a friend of Luxembourg’s), assembled a vast army of 120,000 troops and set it against the Netherlands in the Franco-Dutch war (1672–1678).

Luxembourg led an advance that threatened the Hague and Leyden, but deliberate flooding stymied the French army. Luxembourg took advantage of a late December freeze to march from Utrecht to attack the Hague, infamously giving his men free reign to plunder and pillage as they wished. A thaw on December 28 saved the Hague, but Luxembourg turned his men lose upon two villages on the return march. Few villagers survived.

That savagery was not an isolated incident. The French occupation was cruel, with entire villages, including their human and animal occupants, burned down. Luxembourg admitted taking pleasure in destruction, writing to Louvois that he enjoyed watching two beautiful houses—one belonging to William III, Prince of Orange—go up in flames. Condé, sent to assume command in the Netherlands, disapproved of this behavior: it made the occupation only harder. Like Luxembourg, Louvois felt otherwise.

At Naarden, on September 13, 1673, William defeated Luxembourg. Unhappy with his new orders to withdraw, Luxembourg nevertheless extricated his army from the Netherlands and brought it back to France.

Luxembourg was not always on the victorious end of the battle. His inability to prevent Philippsburg from falling into the hands of the Holy Roman Empire in September 1676 made him a laughingstock. He blamed lack of aid from Louvois for this defeat. In August 1678, after a peace treaty had been signed, Luxembourg fought William to a stalemate outside Mons and was forced to lift his siege of that city.

The Poison Affair

The failure at Philippsburg—and Luxembourg’s desire for his son to marry Louvois’s daughter—resulted in tensions between Luxembourg and Louvois. Louvois seems to have been behind Luxembourg’s becoming a target in the scandalous “Poison Affair.” Known for his superstitions (he kept a personal astrologer and was known to have met with a magician) and low morals, in January 1680 Luxembourg found himself accused of trying to commit murder by magic. He tried to assure the king that he was innocent, but a warrant was issued nevertheless. Luxembourg presented himself willingly at the Bastille (the famous prison), and was released, acquitted if not forgiven, the following year.

The Last War

In June 1681, much to Luxembourg’s surprise, the king called him to rejoin the court. As the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–1697) opened between France and the Allied army that included the Netherlands, the Holy Roman Empire, and England, Louis XIV appointed him marshal of France. With William III, Prince of Orange, who was now also King of England, as an opponent yet again, Luxembourg took command of the French army in Flanders. Luxembourg defeated the Allies at several important battles including Neerwinden (1693). After this battle he earned his nickname “the tapestry-maker of Notre Dame,” on account of the many enemy flags he sent back to Paris for display within the cathedral.

Luxembourg died on January 4, 1695 of pneumonia. Upon his death, pamphlets were printed announcing that the devil had at last claimed Luxembourg’s soul.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV (1638–1715) ruled France from 1654 until his death over six decades later. During this long span of time, Louis instituted governmental reforms centered on an absolute monarchy and attempted to expand the territorial boundaries of France, resulting in a series of bankrupting wars fought in Europe and the Americas.

The Dawn of the Sun King

On September 5, 1638, Anne of Austria gave birth to a son named Louis, after more than twenty years of childless marriage to King Louis XIII of France. Louis XIII died five years later; this left young Louis’s mother to become regent, with the Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin as prime minister. In the wake of the Thirty Years War (which ended in 1648), civil uprisings known as the Fronde wracked France. The royal family—Anne, Louis, and Louis’s younger brother Philippe—escaped Paris.

Under Mazarin’s care, Louis received an education more physical than intellectual, an imbalance he corrected on his own in adulthood. The Fronde had been over for a year when Louis was formally crowned Louis XIV in 1654. At the age of twenty-one, he entered into a diplomatic marriage with Maria-Theresa, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain. This connection would later plunge Europe into war.

Personal Rule

Although he mourned Mazarin’s death in 1661, Louis did not appoint a replacement. As he is reported to have said, he himself was the state. He took interest in even the smallest details of government, demonstrating to the ministers that he was thorough, deliberate, and fair. Mazarin had handled finances badly, and Louis—who took personal control of the treasury in 1661—would not make the same mistakes.

Louis surrounded himself with capable but obedient men, from financiers to military engineers. He reformed the law code, renewed the country’s infrastructure, encouraged the arts, and beginning in 1669 had a sumptuous new palace built at Versailles. Court life became a vibrant spectacle, often visible in parks and palace grounds that were, in effect, open to the public. With the sun as his symbol, Louis was known as the “Sun King.”

Expansion and Poison

Like the sun, Louis wished to shine down over the entire world. The glory he sought was not confined to the arts and a well-ordered nation; it also had to be military. France seized the western half of the island of Hispaniola, then a Spanish colony in 1664. In 1682, Robert Cavelier de La Salle claimed a large portion of North America for his King, naming it Louisiana, which stretched from the mouth of the Mississippi River northward into Canada.

In May 1667, Louis moved his army against the Netherlands. On the excuse that Spain had failed to pay Maria-Theresa’s dowry, Louis unsuccessfully tried to take Franche-Comté, a Spanish possession, in the War of Devolution (1667–1668). Angry at his failure, Louis waged the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1678). In the concluding treaty, he gained possession of Franche-Comté and other territories.

In the late 1670s, a different sort of conflict was occurring within the borders of France: the “Poison Affair.” This long-running intrigue entangled a number of prominent women (including the king’s mistress) and men (including the Duc de Luxembourg, one of Louis’s most skilled generals) in charges of murder, sorcery, and attempts upon the king’s life. More than thirty people were sentenced in the course of the investigations, which lasted until 1682.

Later Ambitions

Although the Poison Affair considerably subdued court life, it did not moderate Louis’s territorial aggression. Louis took advantage of deliberate ambiguities in recent treaties to justify his seizure of territories along his border. In 1688, he felt that the Holy Roman Empire would soon be threatening France. At the time, the Empire was engaged against the Ottomans and Louis believed (wrongly) that the war would soon end and the Austrians would turn upon their western neighbor. Therefore, as a preemptive strike, Louis sent his army eastward, into Germany. The War of the Grand Alliance, which embroiled also the Dutch Republic, Spain, and England, lasted until 1697.

Then, in 1700, Charles II of Spain died childless. Louis’s late wife, Maria-Theresa (she died in 1683), was Charles’s sister, so Charles bequeathed Spain to his great-nephew, Louis’s grandson Philip, Duc d’Anjou. Once again, other European powers formed an alliance to check the expansion of Louis’s influence. The resulting War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701.

This conflict dragged on for some years; following a poor harvest of 1708 and the brutal winter of 1709, Louis attempted to conclude a peace treaty. However, the Allies insisted that Louis declare war upon Philip V. Unwilling to sacrifice his grandson, Louis appealed to the French people to continue the war, which raged on until Louis agreed to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. In exchange for Europe’s recognition of Philip V and of most of France’s recent territorial gains, Louis agreed to give up portions of Canada and to cease further expansion in Europe. By this time, France was nearly bankrupt from Louis’s wars.

The end was near for the Sun King. Two years after the Treaty of Utrecht, Louis succumbed to gangrene. He was succeeded on the throne by his great-grandson, Louis XV (1710–1774), who, like his predecessor, was crowned at the age of five.

William III, Prince of Orange

William III, Prince of Orange (1650–1702), was Stadtholder (head of state) in the Netherlands and husband of the daughter of King James II of England. A coup in 1688 put him on the throne of England.

Prince of Two Countries

Princess Mary, daughter of the late English King Charles I, gave birth to her son William in November 1650 at The Hague. The boy’s late father, also named William, had been Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. His death, shortly before his son’s birth, brought a decline in the family’s fortune as their political opponents gained power.

The English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who had defeated William’s maternal grandfather in the English Civil War, was not happy to see a member of the Stuart royal family gain power anywhere in Europe. Cromwell pressured the Grand Pensionary of the Republic, Johan De Witt, to exclude the House of Orange from rule. This Seclusion Act was nullified in 1660, after Princess Mary’s brother, Charles II, was restored to the English throne.

After his sister’s death that same year, Charles tried to promote the young man’s position, in hopes that William—who even as a boy was known for his intelligence and liveliness—might become Stadtholder. In 1666, a year after the Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out (1665–1667), the Republic made William a legal ward of the state and appointed Dutch politicians as his tutors. (The arrangements made by his mother, an Englishwoman, were no longer suitable for a Prince of Orange.)

William’s Rise to Power

Orangists attempted to obtain William appointments as Stadtholder and as captain-general, but the government passed rules barring both offices being held by the same man. Furthermore, a number of provinces did away with the office of Stadtholder altogether. Nevertheless, William was brought into the Council of State in 1670.

Two years later the Republic experienced its Rampjaar or “Year of Disaster.” The Third Anglo-Dutch (1672–1674) and the Franco-Dutch (1672–1678) Wars erupted. The provinces almost universally backed the Prince of Orange as captain-general. Despite his lack of experience, age, and fears that he would become a pawn of his English uncle, William received the position. However, he remained subject to Deputies of the Field, five military advisors.

Although the Republic thwarted the French advance by flooding its defensive “water line,” the occupation—especially by that part of the army commanded by the ruthless Duc de Luxembourg—caused panic. During this crisis, William was elected Stadtholder. One month later, in August, Orangists (possibly backed directly by William) assassinated De Witt. Charles offered to make William a sovereign ruler, but uncle and nephew could not come to terms. William became admiral-general. His victories led England to sign a peace treaty two years later, in 1674, and, four years later, the Republic achieved peace with Louis XIV.

The Glorious Revolution

In 1677, while still at war with France, Protestant William married his cousin Mary over the objections of her father, the Catholic Duke of York. Charles II, the duke’s brother, approved of the match.

The death of Charles II in 1685 made the Duke of York become King James II. Some in England, resenting a Catholic monarch, conspired to replace him with Mary and her husband William. On June 30, 1688, in the company of a large fleet, William brought an army of fifteen thousand soldiers ashore at Brixham, in southwestern England. This coup, known as the Glorious Revolution, forced James II to flee to France. On April 11, 1689, William III and Mary II were proclaimed joint monarchs of England.

William’s abrupt promotion to royalty afforded him no peace. Ireland was in rebellion; there was an attempt on his life; James II was trying to regain his throne with the aid of the French; and another continental war was brewing. William had the good fortune of the services of the Earl (later Duke) of Marlborough, whose wife was close to Mary’s sister, Anne. William defeated the Jacobites (supporters of James II) in Ireland even as a French fleet defeated his at Beachy Head (1690).

While fighting the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–1697) in the Netherlands, William faced his old foe from the Franco-Dutch War, the Duc de Luxembourg. William lost the battle of Neerwinden to the French commander in 1693, but the Allies won the war four years later.

Last Years

William’s final conflict, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), began a year before his death. Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV’s grandson, the Duc d’Anjou, as his heir. Although England recognized the new king, Louis XIV now recognized James II’s son, James Francis Edward Stuart, as rightful monarch of England. William entered the war on the side of the Netherlands, against France and Spain.

After Mary died in 1694, William’s popularity, which was never high, had plummeted. Rumors abounded of his homosexuality, although he kept mistresses throughout his childless marriage. William died in 1702 of pneumonia. He left behind no children to succeed him in either his office as King or Stadtholder. Mary’s sister became Queen Anne (1665–1714) and ruled until 1714. Her cousin’s son, the Elector of Hanover, George I (1660–1727), in turn succeeded the childless Anne. The current British royal family is descended from him.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough

The Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) served under King James II and King William III but reached his height under Queen Anne. His key defeats of the powerful French army during the War of the Spanish Succession cemented his reputation as one of the greatest generals in British history.


John Churchill was born on May 26, 1650, to Elizabeth Churchill and Sir Winston Churchill. The family had suffered financially and socially during the English Civil War (1642–1651), but the return of King Charles II in 1650 altered the Churchills’ social fortune. When the King’s brother, James, the Duke of York, took a liking to John’s sister Arabella, John became the Duke’s page. At the age of seventeen, he was appointed an ensign in the King’s Regiment of Foot Guards.

Early Military Career

From 1668 until 1671, Churchill was stationed in Tangier, a British possession on the Moroccan coast. Upon his return to England, he lucked upon better financial circumstances through his mistress, Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland.

At the opening of the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), Churchill saw naval action with the Duke of York and earned a promotion to captain. Churchill next saw service fighting on behalf of King Louis XIV of France, who was also at war with William III, Prince of Orange, leader of the Dutch Republic. At the Siege of Maastricht (June–July 1673), Churchill saved the life of the Duke of Monmouth. The next year he served under the Vicomte de Turenne, France’s brilliant veteran officer.


By the end of 1678, Churchill was a brigadier general. He had returned to England earlier in the year and married Sarah Jennings, ten years younger and of a modest family, but of such spirit that he married for love rather than to advance his financial ambitions. Sarah formed a close bond with Princess Anne, the duke’s daughter. Anne appointed Sarah a lady of the bedchamber. Churchill’s positions also advanced: he was made Baron Aysmouth and, in 1683, a colonel of dragoons.

Two years later, the Duke of York became King James II. When the Duke of Monmouth led an uprising against the new King that year, Churchill pursued his former commander, allowing him no rest until Monmouth’s capture. His military reputation now sealed by his dogged actions, Churchill was made major general.

Change in Allegiance

James II’s harsh treatment of certain individuals in the wake of Monmouth’s rebellion disturbed him, as did the King’s policy of promoting Catholic officers. Despite the years of service to the King, who had long favored him, Churchill supported the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which placed William of Orange on the throne as King William III with his wife (Princess Anne’s older sister) as Queen Mary II. William, aware of Churchill’s reputation, had him regroup the disbanded royal army. In return, William made Churchill the Earl of Marlborough in 1689.

In 1789, Marlborough led an army of eight thousand English troops in Flanders against Louis XIV’s army. While the King campaigned in Ireland, Marlborough served as one of Queen Mary’s nine advisors.


The French naval victory at Beachy Head (1690) prompted Marlborough to prepare for an invasion that never materialized. Later that year (in Ireland), he proved himself to be a capable strategist and administrator, but this failed to earn him the promotion he had hoped for.

In 1691, William brought him into the Netherlands on an unsuccessful campaign. The next year, he was dismissed from duty. William did not entirely trust Marlborough on account of his close connections with James II, his close association with Princess Anne, and his popularity among the English soldiers. Charges of corruption earned Marlborough five weeks in the Tower of London. Two years later, he was accused of passing military secrets to the French.

Meanwhile, Queen Mary tried to separate Princess Anne from her close friendship with Sarah. Anne remained steadfastly loyal, and it was not until Mary’s death in 1694 that Marlborough had the chance to rehabilitate his reputation with the King. He agreed—as many others did not—with William’s assessment of the danger presented by Louis XIV.

Height of His Career

Upon the death of William III in 1702, Anne became Queen. She bestowed upon Marlborough a number of coveted honors and titles, including commander in chief. That year England went to war against France and Spain over the right of Philip, Duc d’Anjou, to ascend to the Spanish throne. Marlborough’s battlefield performance in 1702 earned him a dukedom, and he went on to later key victories, including Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenaarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709).

His later battles after Blenheim were costly, leading some—as England and France alike wearied of the war—to accuse him of seeking glory at the cost of his soldiers’ lives. Discord between Anne and Sarah, brought about by political circumstances, further undermined Marlborough’s standing.

Charged yet again with corruption in December 1711, Marlborough was dismissed from his command. In 1714, Anne died. Her successor, George I, restored Marlborough’s commissions, but just two years later a stroke crippled the former general. A second stroke killed Marlborough on June 16, 1722. Among his later descendents was the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965).

Philip V, Duc d’Anjou

The appointment of Philip, Duc d’Anjou (1683–1746) and grandson of Louis XIV of France, to the Spanish throne caused the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–1714). Following the war, most European nations recognized Philip’s claim to the throne.

Family Circumstances

On December 19, 1683, Maria Ana of Bavaria gave birth to a son in the royal palace at Versailles. Named Philip, he was the grandson of King Louis XIV of France and also the grandnephew of King Charles II of Spain. The boy’s family connections would soon plunge much of Europe into war.

The inability of Charles II to produce an heir resulted in other countries negotiating secret arrangements regarding the division of Spanish territories. Louis XIV had married Charles’s sister, Maria Theresa; their father (King Philip IV) had excluded her descendents from inheriting the throne, but Louis claimed that Spain’s default on her dowry canceled the exclusion. Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, was the grandson of Charles’s grandfather, Philip III, and husband of Charles’s sister Margarita. In 1693 Charles named Leopold’s one-year-old grandson heir to the throne, but the boy’s death in 1699 left the succession open again.

The next year, a dying Charles named Philip his heir. France was, at the time, the most powerful state in Europe. Louis XIV would be able to guarantee that Spain and its territories—which included territories in the Netherlands, Italy, and the Americas—remained intact under the rule of its youthful new monarch.

The Young King

In 1701, the Duc d’Anjou, now Philip V, traveled to Spain in the company of hundreds of French officials. It was a country he was to rule but had never before seen, and whose language he never learned. To make matters even more difficult, Philip did not initially have the ideal personality to take on the task of ruling an unknown land. He was a shy youth, and throughout his life he suffered from recurrent bouts of depression or bipolar disorder.

Louis began to reform the Spanish government, centered on his grandson as monarch supported by a select council of Spanish and French advisors (the latter being especially influential). The French king also arranged his grandson’s marriage, to the intelligent thirteen-year-old Maria Louise, daughter of the Duke of Savoy. In May 1702, the Dutch Republic, England, and the Holy Roman Empire, resentful of Louis’s new powers, declared war on France.

The War of the Spanish Succession

While he toured Spanish possessions in Italy, Philip’s health declined, and his depression essentially crippled him. His first encounter with war, at Milan, brought about a change. The stimulation of combat—he spent fourteen hours on horseback at the Battle of Luzzara (August 15, 1702)—roused him out of his melancholy, though he continued to suffer bouts of depression.

The following year, Philip faced a rival claimant: in Vienna, the eighteen-year-old Archduke Charles of Austria, a younger son of Leopold I, was proclaimed King of Spain. England’s Queen Anne and the other Allies backed Charles, as did Philip’s own father-in-law.

Louis XIV dispatched troops and ships to support his grandson, who found his Spanish troops neither properly paid nor well supplied. Allied victories on Spanish soil created unrest. With the French largely in charge of Spain, some Spanish nobles turned to the Allies. In 1706, nobles handed over Madrid, but the population at large—from bishops to prostitutes—fought back and regained the capital for Philip.

In 1707, the war turned in Philip’s favor. With newfound confidence he consolidated power in the central government, creating ill will in those areas that had had a certain degree of autonomy, even those that had remained loyal to the King. Then, in 1709, the toll taken by warfare and an unsuccessful harvest caused his grandfather to withdraw the French ambassador and almost all French troops.

By now Philip was up to the task now before him, though he experienced setbacks on the battlefield that drew Louis XIV back into the conflict in 1710 when the Allies insisted that France declare war upon Spain. The Treaty of Utrecht (1714) finally brought peace with all the Allies except the Holy Roman Empire. Philip retained his crown but Spain was forced into territorial concessions. These included Gibraltar, which was turned over to England, and Spanish territories in Italy and the Netherlands, which were surrendered to the Holy Roman Empire (now ruled by the Archduke Charles).

A Second Reign

That same year, Maria Louise died of tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter, Philip married Elizabeth Farnese, an Italian noblewoman. He was deliberately distancing himself from France, especially after the death of his grandfather in 1715. Governmental reforms continued; the army and navy were remodeled, and military schools established.

By 1724, beset by depression, Philip believed himself unable to govern any longer. He abdicated in favor of his seventeen-year-old son, Luis I. Unfortunately, before the year was out, Luis was dead of smallpox. Philip resumed his title and, although his symptoms worsened, he ruled with the aid of the Queen and ministers. Philip V died without warning on July 9, 1746.

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

Despite a checkered record of success, William Augustus (1721–1765)—the Duke of Cumberland and the second son of King George II—distinguished himself as a general against France and the Jacobite rebels in Scotland.

The Young Duke

In London, on April 15, 1721, Caroline of Ansbach gave birth to William Augustus, grandson of King George I (1660–1727). George I, Elector of Hanover, had come to the English throne in 1714 following the death of his cousin Queen Anne (1665–1714). When George I died in 1727, Cumberland’s father became King George II (1683–1760).

Before her death in 1737, Caroline saw to it that Cumberland had a superb education. As a boy, the young duke (he became Duke of Cumberland at age four) met such noted intellectuals as the physicist Sir Isaac Newton and Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. Cumberland’s formal training included the classics, as well as mathematics, constitutional history, languages, music, and painting. He was also given a theoretical military education: shipbuilding (his mother hoped he would have a naval career), fortress design, and the principles of ballistics.

Early Military Experience

In 1740, Cumberland bounced indecisively between the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards (a remnant of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army) and the navy. Three years later, while with the army, he campaigned with his father on the continent, participating in his first battle at Dettingen (1743). Here Cumberland demonstrated his skills under fire. He received a serious leg wound, but comported himself well and showed compassion for the captured French. While convalescing, he gained an enormous amount of weight he would carry throughout his life. He returned to England a hero.

In March 1745, Cumberland was appointed captain-general, an appointment last held by the Duke of Marlborough. The next month, Cumberland was on his way to the Netherlands to lead the Allied army against the French. Although his troops were disciplined, and Cumberland was a skilled and determined general, he failed to overcome the French at the battle of Fontenoy (1745).

Savagery and Peace

In the mid-eighteenth century, Louis XV was not the only threat to Britain. Charles Edward Stuart, the “Young Pretender,” was seeking to regain the crown his family lost to King William III in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. When Stuart’s Scottish Jacobite army invaded England, Cumberland chased them back into Scotland. After the Battle of Culloden (1746), the duke’s savage treatment of both rebels and suspected sympathizers earned him the nickname, “The Butcher.”

The following year Cumberland returned to campaigning in Europe. Now that the Jacobite rebellion had been put down, England was tired of fighting. Cumberland faced cuts to the budget of the military he was trying to reform. For the next continental campaign, the army employed Hessian and Hanoverian mercenaries, reducing the number of British troops.

Lack of cooperation from the Dutch, difficulty recruiting soldiers, and his own bad health were among the problems dogging Cumberland. Peace, he decided, was the only viable solution to the war. Preliminary terms were formally agreed to on April 30, 1748, with the final treaty being on October 19. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war and French support for the Jacobites, but it did so at the expense of the British army.

The terms required that Britain decrease the size of its army. Cumberland oversaw the required troop reductions, down to 4,500 horse and 14,400 infantry. He instituted a regimen of improvements, however, that enhanced the smaller army’s efficiency and strength, despite its diminished size.

Disgrace and Rehabilitation

Cumberland took to the battlefield again for the Seven Years War (1756–1763). Although this war resulted in a British victory, Cumberland played a role in a crucial loss early in the conflict. Praised for his conduct even after this defeat at the Battle of Hastenbeck (July 26, 1757), Cumberland was put in charge of saving his family’s native Hanover. Cumberland brokered the best possible peace terms and signed the Convention of Kloster Zeven. However, the terms assigned Hanover to France, and this enraged King George II, who was also Elector of Hanover. Cumberland resigned in shame, and the king refused to honor the treaty. (By the end of 1758, Hanover was “rescued.”)

Despite his disgrace, some officers remained loyal to Cumberland and consulted with him. He suffered a mild stroke in August 1760, weeks before the death of George II. Cumberland’s older brother Frederick, the Prince of Wales, had died in 1751, so Frederick’s son came to the throne as George III. George III was well disposed toward his uncle. Cumberland advised the king privately on military matters, and the king consulted him on the Peace of Paris that ended the Seven Years War. Cumberland was again in public favor.

He died on October 31, 1765. He left no wife, no heir, and no will.

Charles Edward Stuart

The grandson of the exiled King James II of England, Charles Edward Stuart (1720–1788), or “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” tried to take the throne of England from the House of Hanover. The uprising he led, the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, failed, and this defeat generated the merciless suppression of the Scottish clans.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

In Rome, on the last day of the year 1720, Princess Clementina Sobieska, granddaughter of King John of Poland, gave birth to the son of James Frances Edward Stuart. The baby’s grandfather was England’s exiled King James II. Five years before Charles’s birth, his father—known by his enemies as the “Old Pretender”—had attempted, and failed, to regain the throne, now occupied by George I of the German House of Hanover.

Precocious, charismatic, and talented in sports and dance, the new heir to the House of Stuart either lacked or resisted an intellectual education. The Duke of Berwick, a cousin, offered Charles the opportunity for military experience in 1734. Traveling incognito, he joined the final stages of the Spanish and French siege of Gaeta. Charles participated in no real action, and his father soon called him back to Rome, where his character and manners impressed everyone. In 1745, the Jacobites decided to put his popularity to good use.

The Forty-Five

In 1743, after the humiliation of the Battle of Dettingen and at the suggestion of James Stuart’s agents, Louis XV of France sought to discover what kind of support might be roused on British soil for another Jacobite uprising. The potential for another uprising seemed good, and many in England feared an invasion.

Charles set sail for the west coast of Scotland in July 1745 with two ships. An English navy vessel engaged the ship carrying Charles’s men and supplies and forced it back to France. Determined, Charles and his few remaining companions sailed on and, on August 2, landed at the Outer Hebrides. Charles announced that his father, who was also King James VIII of Scotland, would uphold the existing form of British government and would not purge officeholders or the military so long as those individuals acknowledged James as King of England as well as Scotland.

After some hesitation, the Highland clans pledged themselves to Charles, the exiled king’s regent. On September 16, he and his Highland army arrived at Edinburgh, which the Highlanders promptly seized. Charles now led an army of 2,500. This was about the same size as the British governmental army in Scotland, but the British commander believed that Charles had four thousand. Equal size notwithstanding, at Prestonpans, on September 21, the Scots butchered the inexperienced government troops in a terrifying Highland charge of swinging broadswords.

Although support even from the Highland clans was never universal, people flock to a winner; Charles’s army doubled in size. Money, firearms, artillery, and gunners arrived from France, which then offered a formal treaty with Charles. France wanted him to invade England, while the Highlanders wanted Charles to rule Scotland from Edinburgh. Predicting a complete victory in two months, Charles decided to march on England.

The English still did not know the size of the invading force. Despite desertions on the march south, Charles met with another victory, this time on English soil: on November 14, after a brief siege, Carlisle fell. Panic spread throughout England. By late November, the ragtag Jacobite army reached Manchester. Here Charles expected an influx of sympathizers into his army, and he received three hundred. On December 4, they reached Derby, still without having encountered the governmental army now under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. Derby surrendered. London panicked.

However, Charles then retreated from Derby toward Scotland. He hated this decision, and his troops were shocked, but his advisors had counseled that it would be best to return this little army to Scotland rather than risk destroying it by engaging Cumberland. In Scotland, the Scots and French could reinforce and reequip it.

Once in Scotland again, Charles’s army defeated Lieutenant General Henry Hawley at Falkirk (January 17, 1746) and pressed on to Inverness for the winter. On April 16, 1746, Cumberland caught up with the Jacobite army at Culloden and, in half an hour, smashed it.

A Life of Disguises

Despite a huge reward and the brutal “pacification” of Scotland that followed the battle, Charles survived in Scotland, at one point disguised as an Irish maid. Although greeted cordially upon his return to France in September, Charles found his status had sunk in the French court. Spain likewise refused to support him. After France and Britain signed the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in October, ending the War of the Austrian Succession, he was officially booted out of France.

Unofficially, Charles remained for the next three years, disguising himself as necessary to evade the police. He even visited London on occasion, once in the guise of a one-eyed monk. The Jacobite uprising he hoped to inspire never materialized.

Final Relations

From 1752 to 1760, the Bonnie Prince lived with Clementina Walkinshaw, a woman he had first met while hiding out in Scotland. In 1753 she gave birth to Charles’s daughter, Charlotte. By now, Charles was an abusive drunkard, so it was no surprise when his wife and daughter left in 1760. Charles’s father died six years later, and Charles moved to Rome that year. In 1772, he married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedem; this relationship ended in 1780.

In 1784, Charlotte returned to care for her ailing father. Charles’s younger brother Henry, a cardinal in Rome, also helped to support him. Charles died January 30 or 31, 1788. Charlotte outlived him by only two years and died childless. Making no claim to govern Britain, Henry styled himself King Henry IX. He fled Rome when Napoleon invaded (1798) and spent the rest of his life, until 1807, supported by King George III.

Major Battles

Beachy Head, July 10, 1690

In this naval battle off the coast of southern England, a French fleet engaged a fleet of Anglo-Dutch ships. While it was a decisive victory for the French, it did not lead to the invasion that England feared.

Circumstances of the Conflict

In 1688, a coup known as the Glorious Revolution replaced King James II of England with his daughter Mary and her husband William, Stadtholder (head of state) of the Dutch Republic; this couple became Queen Mary II and King William III. James fled to France, where he had the support of King Louis XIV, who was determined to drive the usurper from the English throne.

A French squadron brought James and a French army to Ireland in March 1689. France used its superior naval force to support the deposed king with deliveries of troops, and in 1690 a fleet landed six thousand soldiers along with supplies.

Understandably, the English were concerned about the possibility of a French invasion. Admiral Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington, threatened to resign when it was determined that the English fleet was not ready. By late June, however, he had assembled a fleet of about fifty-six vessels. Many in London were pleased, but Torrington remained uneasy.

At that same time, Anne Hilarion de Cotentin, Comte de Tourville, assembled a French fleet—combining squadrons from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean—comprising roughly seventy or more vessels that set sail across the English Channel on June 22. On June 30, the French fleet arrived in English waters, appearing off the Lizard, the southernmost point of Great Britain. Tourville caught Torrington completely unprepared near the Isle of Wight.

Engagement at Sea

By now William III was campaigning against the Jacobites (supporters of James II) in Ireland. Queen Mary and her advisors, the Council of Nine (whose members included the future Duke of Marlborough), dispatched an order that Torrington was to engage the French. Torrington received the order on June 29, and over the next ten days, the opposing fleets sailed eastward up the English Channel, occasionally in sight of one another.

The battle began at about 8:00 a.m. on July 10, off Beachy Head on the southern coast of England. The wind blew from the northeast, and Torrington’s Anglo-Dutch fleet was to windward of the French, a most favorable position. Torrington placed his ship and its English squadron as the center of the Allied formation. The van (foremost) squadron consisted of twenty-one Dutch vessels under the command of Cornelis Evertsen, while the Allied rear contained both Dutch and English vessels. Among the French fleet, also divided into three squadrons, Tourville’s vessel was among the center.

With the advantage of the wind, the Anglo-Dutch fleet approached the French in a line abreast. The Allied van and rear, but not the center under Torrington, came up close to the French. Meeting the enemy first, the van took especially heavy damage. Torrington’s squadron fell behind the Dutch, resulting in a gap in the Allied line. This exposed the Anglo-Dutch vessels to the French doubling not only on the van but also on the center, because the French could maneuver in that gap. The French now came up on either side of the Dutch vessels in the Allied van, thus pressing Evertsen’s squadron between two lines of French ships. The Dutch took heavy losses as a result, and later reckoned the battle as a national tragedy.

Eventually, the wind fell. Torrington then moored his squad and finally covered the Dutch, who in turn dropped anchor. Deprived of wind, the French put boats out to maneuver by towing, but the change in tide at 9:00 p.m. took the unmoored French unawares and carried them farther out to sea. However, there was no doubt that the French had triumphed in the engagement without losing a single ship.

The Wake of the Battle

Tourville then pursued the retreating Allied fleet, but it was a strangely leisurely pursuit, no faster than his slowest vessel. Torrington sacrificed eight damaged ships—all but one of them Dutch—to avoid them falling into enemy hands. The remainder found shelter in the Thames River. The admiralty ordered the removal of the river’s navigation buoys, to deny the enemy knowledge of safe passage.

Although Tourville failed to deliver the coup de grace to Torrington’s fleet, news of the battle’s outcome greatly alarmed the English population. There was fear that the French would cut off shipping between England and Ireland, where King William III was fighting. However, just one day after the battle of Beachy Head, William III beat James II at the Battle of the Boyne. James retreated to France, and the French invasion never materialized.

For his incompetence, Torrington was court-martialed. He was acquitted but terminated from the navy, and he lived the rest of his life out in obscurity until his death in 1716.

Neerwinden, July 29, 1693

King William III of England and the Duc de Luxembourg fought at the Battle of Neerwinden, also called the Battle of Linden. Although it is considered a French victory, the escape of William and the remainder of his army prolonged the War of the Grand Alliance.

The Road to the Battle

For the campaign of 1693, William III, King of England and Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, brought an English force to the continent to counter the expansionism of the French King Louis XIV. The previous year, the English army had proven its steadfastness under fire at the disastrous Battle of Steenkirk.

By May of 1693, it seemed like another disastrous battle was in store for the English and their compatriots. William found his Allied army of fifty thousand men outnumbered more than two to one by the combined forces of Louis XIV, the Duc de Luxembourg, and Louis François, Duc de Boufflers. Louis expected to uproot William from Leuven in Belgium and out of the province of Brabant entirely by means of a siege. However, Luxembourg knew better—Luxembourg and William were well-acquainted foes, having faced one another before in earlier conflicts—and advised that a pitched battle would be required. Having no interest in undertaking that task himself, Louis entrusted it to Luxembourg. The king dispatched Boufflers toward the Rhine and returned to Versailles, while sending half his army to aid Luxembourg in the effort against William and the Allied army.

William also had received some reinforcements, which allowed him to dispatch a division into French Flanders. In response Luxembourg besieged Huy, south of Leuven, and this finally brought William into the field to attempt to relieve the city. Huy fell before William could arrive, forcing him to send troops toward Luxembourg’s next targets, Liege and Maastricht. As for the English king, William and what he yet retained of his army entrenched themselves near Landen.

The Battle

On July 28, Luxembourg approached William’s position with an army of seventy thousand, intending to take advantage of the English king’s reduced numbers. William had wisely chosen the location of his encampment, between the southward-flowing Geet River and Landen Stream. To the south, three villages—Laer, Neerwinden, and Romsdorf—guarded the base of the high ground the Allies occupied. William had about one hundred guns, which he positioned behind earthworks and ditches.

William arranged his battle line to stretch between the rivers and along the edge of the hill. The Landen marked his left wing, his right was in Laer and Neerwinden, and his center shielded the Allied camp. The sickle-shaped line William presented to Luxembourg was more than two miles in length.

The battle began after dawn with cannon fire. Luxembourg launched his center upon William’s entrenchments, to no effect even after two hours of combat. Luxembourg next redistributed troops from his center to his left and right to threaten William’s wings by attacking the three villages: a French victory in Laer and Neerwinden would have made William’s right especially vulnerable. The Allies held off several of these attacks, both cavalry and infantry, occasionally losing some ground but then regaining it. William had to send some of his center to strengthen his rightmost position in Laer. Neerwinden, however, remained in William’s hands.

Now Luxembourg feinted to the Allied left. He launched yet another attack on Neerwinden with fresh troops who had not yet seen action in this battle; in contrast, the defenders had been fighting unrelieved for seven hours. After much hard fighting, the French pressed the Allies out of Neerwinden.

What had been a closely fought contest quickly turned into a stunning rout. Leaving artillery behind, the Allies fled back across the Geet. The rearguard, directed by William, continued to cover its fleeing comrades, turning and firing upon the pursuing French. With his own men exhausted, Luxembourg eventually ordered an end to the pursuit. After twelve hours of fighting, with nine thousand casualties among the French army and fourteen thousand among the Allies, the battle was over.

Luxembourg gained a victory, but not a decisive one. Since Luxembourg failed to follow up the victory with the destruction of the routed Allies, in less than a month William III had rebuilt his forces.

Blenheim, August 13, 1704

At the Battle of Blenheim (fought during the War of the Spanish Succession), the Duke of Marlborough led the Allied army to a decisive victory over the French army. This battle saved the Holy Roman Empire from conquest by France.

The Threat to Vienna

The European balance of power began to tilt in favor of France when the dying King Charles II of Spain selected Philip, Duc d’Anjou and grandson of King Louis XIV of France, as his heir. Concerned that this would give expansion-minded Louis XIV too much license to wreak havoc on the continent, in 1702 other European nations—including England, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, and several small German principalities—formed an alliance to counter this succession.

Key to the balance of European power was the Holy Roman Empire of Leopold I, the principal check against Louis XIV’s designs. However, the Empire was not at its strongest in the early eighteenth century, as it dealt with enemies both external (such as France and its ally, Bavaria) and internal (Hungary, recently acquired in war with the Ottomans, revolted in 1703). It seemed certain that the French and Bavarians would take advantage of the situation to march on Vienna.


Advised of the threat, on May 14, 1704, the Duke of Marlborough moved his army of 21,000 from Bedburg (near Maastricht, the Netherlands) to take on the French forces and their Bavarian allies on the Danube River. Marlborough did a fabulous job of concealing his desired destination from both enemies and allies; in fact, the Dutch believed his intention to be the Moselle River. The French commander, François de Neufville, Duc de Villeroi, shadowed the Allied march with thirty thousand men of his own.

While on the march, Marlborough continued to confound the French as to his objective. His apparent preparations to attack Strasbourg caused them to expend resources on defensive measures, but Marlborough bypassed the city. Louis, Margrave of Baden, helped Marlborough take the town of Donauwörth (July 2, 1704). Situated on the Danube, control of this town allowed Marlborough to cross the river. Unable to provoke an engagement with Bavarian forces at Augsburg and Munich, Marlborough let his frustrated Allied troops inflict widespread destruction upon the surrounding Bavarian countryside.

At Augsburg, French and Bavarian forces combined and marched for the Danube. Prince Eugene of Savoy sent Marlborough a warning that he had to return to Donauwörth: the French were near. Leaving Baden behind to maintain a secure river crossing, Marlborough went to join Savoy. Together their forces would number 52,000–56,000 against 56,000–60,000 in the Franco-Bavarian camp commanded by Marshal Camile Comte de Tallard and Leopold’s own son-in-law, Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria.

Tallard had not thought that his location at Blenheim was to be the site of the battle; from rumor (Marlborough deliberately planted false intelligence) and experience, Tallard expected the enemy to continue on to another city. Even so, Tallard had a defensible position bordered by the Danube, the smaller Nebel River, a stream, some swampland, and the town of Blenheim.

Unexpected Engagement

Shortly after 6:00 a.m. , August 13, Marlborough’s men began attacking the French pickets.

Approaching the city from the northeast, Marlborough had to wait while Eugene brought his troops into position across uneven ground farther to the west against the Elector’s troops. This delay, during which both sides exchanged artillery fire, afforded Tallard the opportunity to station infantry within the town and cavalry and infantry west of it. Still farther west, from the hamlet of Oberglau to Lutzingen, were forces under Ferdinand Comte de Marsin and the Elector. Tallard hoped the swampy land between Oberglau and Blenheim would mire the enemy, allowing them to be attacked by French troops from both towns and then by French cavalry in a downhill charge.

Marlborough foresaw this and decided to split the defenders into three: engaging the two towns simultaneously would render them unable to support the cavalry between them. Shortly after noon, Eugene arrived and the battle proper could begin.

The initial two assaults against Blenheim failed. The second thrust, however, caused the French commander stationed there to pull the infantry reserve into defending the town, an unwise decision undertaken in Tallard’s absence. With such crowding, Marlborough’s men could scarcely miss a shot. The Allies took the town.

As Blenheim fell, Tallard was witnessing another Allied victory, as the outnumbered Allied cavalry unexpectedly routed the French horse, although the latter were on a downhill charge. Not all news to Tallard was bad, though, as Oberglau and the Bavarian troops to the west maintained the upper hand against the Allies. The French captured about two thousand Allied soldiers in this phase of the battle.

Meanwhile, the center of the Allied line, comprising infantry and cavalry, crossed the Nebel River and formed up under command of Marlborough’s brother, Charles. The French attacked them and made headway into the British left flank, but the Prussian cavalry countered this assault and relieved their harried English allies. Although the Prussian commander was killed, his men next succeeded in pushing the French back into Oberglau, securing the open battlefield for Marlborough.

Tallard had hoped to trap Marlborough here, but his plans now turned against him; virtually all his reinforcements were corralled in Oberglau and Blenheim. Musket and artillery fire, and the relentless, irresistible advance of the Allied army, finished off Tallard’s troops, and Tallard himself was captured. The battle became a very one-sided affair; three thousand French horse drowned in the Danube, as did many other losing soldiers attempting to flee the battle.


In all, some fourteen thousand men surrendered to the Allies, bringing to a close the first major defeat of the French army in more than forty years.

The victory saved Vienna. Total casualties and captives numbered some forty thousand. For the Allies, the figure was roughly thirteen thousand. The Allies gained sixty cannon and whatever supplies could be salvaged from the battlefield, as well as more German states to the Allied cause.

Malplaquet, September 11, 1709

The Battle of Malplaquet was an exceptionally bloody victory for the English Duke of Marlborough over the French Duc de Villars. It allowed the English and their allies to capture Mons, but it also contributed to Marlborough’s fall from grace.

Cause of the Battle

The War of the Spanish Succession had been ongoing since 1702, as the Grand Alliance—which included England, the Dutch Republic, and several other European states—sought to contain the ambitions of the French King Louis XIV. Although in 1709 a bad harvest and harsh winter had all but sapped France of its desire for further combat, the warring parties could not come to terms. Its own hardships notwithstanding, France rallied again for battle.

To prevent the Allies from approaching Paris, Claude-Hector, Duc de Villars, had created a long defensive line near the Belgian border, east of Ypres, Tournai, and Mons. Rather than attempt to penetrate it, the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy feinted toward Ypres. When Villars removed men from Tournai to defend Ypres, the Allies moved upon Tournai. The heavily fortified city resisted for a month before surrendering on July 28; its citadel held out until September 3. That day, the Allies marched toward Mons. To prevent another Allied siege, Villars set his army southwest of Mons.

Strategy of Woods and Field

The opposing armies—approximately eighty thousand French and Bavarians and 110,000 Allies—met on September 9 northeast of the village of Malplaquet. Villars possibly chose this position because he knew that Marlborough’s engagements, such as at the Battle of Blenheim (1704), tended to concentrate the main attack on the opponent’s center. Doing so here would be a grave mistake, or so Villars hoped. Between the two armies stood the Wood of Sars and the Wood of Lanières, separated by a two-thousand-yard-wide harvested field known as the Gap of Aulnois. Villars barricaded both woods with felled trees. Marlborough would be forced to attack Villars through the gap, where he would face fire from not only the French center at the far end of the gap but also the fortified woods on either side.

Marlborough and Savoy delayed attack briefly, so that troops could come from Tournai to hold a bridge across the Haine River, in case a retreat proved necessary. During this time, Villars had his men fortify their defenses even more strongly.

Battle at the Gap

The battle began on September 11. At about 7:30 a.m. , the Allied right wing stormed the Wood of Sars from two sides of its triangular shape. Despite initial difficulty, the Allies succeeded in entering the trees, and before 11:00 a.m. they had pushed the defenders back almost entirely out of the woods.

Villars called for aid from his right wing, but that was wholly engaged against the Allied left. Here, the Prince of Orange led a collection of Dutch and Scottish battalions against the Wood of Lanières. The tiny Wood of Tiry, near the Wood of Lanières, split the prince’s army. French artillery devastated the prince’s divided forces, which tried doggedly to take the larger wood. The Allies finally had to retreat, leaving behind more than two thousand of their own dead. The French were prevented from a final, fatal charge by reinforcements from Marlborough’s Hanoverian reserves.

Villars remained concerned about his own left wing in the Wood of Sars. He sent reinforcements from his center, first Irish, then Bavarians. This weakened his center, the very position he had hoped to exploit to destroy Marlborough.

The French defense of its center finally fell, but the Allies were still within the woods. This would have enabled the former defenders to retire to the earthworks beyond the woods and prepare for the next assault; however, Marlborough prevailed against the center and seized the fortifications. Villars took a musket ball to the knee almost the moment he was given the news of this loss. At this point the cavalries engaged until—both sides exhausted—the French finally withdrew from the field, covering their retreat.

Gains and Losses

The main battle ended at about 3:00 p.m. The Allies had gained the French earthworks but could advance no farther. The losses on both sides were devastating—estimates of Allied casualties run as high as 25,000—and the remaining troops were in poor condition. The Allies remained at Malplaquet until September 20, and then marched to Mons. The city fell one month later.

The cost in lives, although relatively few of them were English, proved personally costly for Marlborough. His enemies in England exploited the battle against Marlborough’s reputation, and two years later he was dismissed from service.

Dettingen, June 27, 1743

Taking place during the War of the Austrian Succession, the Battle of Dettingen should have been a French victory over the Pragmatic army commanded by King George II of England. However, an error of judgment by one of the French commanders turned the engagement into a French defeat.

What Led to Dettingen

In 1740, the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI created a crisis of succession. The Pragmatic Allies (Austria, England, the Dutch Republic, and others) upheld the claim of his daughter, Maria Theresa of Austria, and her husband. In contrast, Prussia and France supported a claim by Charles VII, Elector of Bavaria.

In April 1743, King George II traveled to his native Hanover with his second son, the Duke of Cumberland, with not only the Austrian succession in mind but also the defense of Hanover. Meanwhile, the Pragmatic army—nearly sixty thousand men commanded by John Dalrymple, Earl of Stair—crossed the Rhine. From Hanover, George II ordered Stair to stop: the king was coming to personally take command of his army.

A Retreat

On June 19, having traveled 250 miles from Hanover, George found his waiting troops in a hungry and undisciplined state, given over to raiding farms and villages for food. The army was camped at Aschaffenburg, a Bavarian town on the River Main. The king and his Hanoverian officers determined that the army would have to move to Hanau, where they could obtain proper provisions.

Such a trek would not be simple. The twenty miles between Aschaffenburg and Hanau presented several dangers, chiefly near the town of Dettingen. Before reaching Dettingen the army would have to march close to the Main River, in view of the French artillery installed on the opposite bank. A boggy, narrow ravine would further constrict the army as it approached. Despite the risks, the army of forty thousand decamped from Aschaffenburg.

From the onset of this march, the French commander opposing George (Adrien-Maurice, Duc de Noailles) was ready to take advantage of the Allies’ movement. As the Pragmatic army withdrew, Noailles took Aschaffenburg. This had the dual effect of cutting off any chance of an Allied retreat and providing a base of attack from the rear. Meanwhile, 26,000 French soldiers, led by the Duc de Grammont, waited at Dettingen. The trap was set; with Grammont at the fore and Noailles coming from the rear, the French were poised to crush George II in the narrow plain only a mile wide between the riverbank and the Spessart Hills.

Snatching Defeat from Victory

It was 8:00 a.m. , June 27, before George II realized that he was now trapped, with no hope of retreat and no easy advance. Ever steadfast, the English army got the baggage train as much out of the way as possible and marched forward, ready to engage the enemy. The king’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, was among the rearguard. Only a stunning error by the French could turn the prospects of victory toward the Allies.

Surprisingly, Grammont obliged the enemy and provided the mistake. He later claimed that he himself had been slow to maneuver his men at Dettingen. He feared—he claimed—that most of the Allies had already passed him. Whatever his excuse or its validity, rather than wait at Dettingen, while the Allies redeployed to fight, Grammont moved his forces from the town, through the boggy ravine, and waited there for the enemy.

Grammont’s men charged three times upon George II’s army, but then it was the Allies’ turn. The infantry and artillery struck back and drove Grammont’s army back toward Dettingen and into the bog. Noailles tried to take command of the situation, but instead he had to settle for withdrawing as many of Grammont’s troops as possible.

The Wounded

The Pragmatic Allies gained morale, rather than territory, with its victory at Dettingen; correspondingly, French pride suffered. The performance of Noailles’s army, which was now ridiculed, deeply troubled the French commander.

Casualty estimates vary. The French suffered at least four thousand casualties, possibly many more. The Allies had about two thousand casualties, including Cumberland, who took a bullet to the leg. Blamed for the poor condition in which the king had found the Pragmatic army, Stair resigned. Grammont survived but was killed at the Battle of Fontenoy (1745).

Although Frederick II of Prussia derisively recorded in his memoirs that George II stood, immobile and unhelpful, in a fencing-style lunge before the Hanoverian infantry throughout the entire battle, in reality the king demonstrated himself to be a competent soldier. Even so, certain aspects of his actions were troubling to his British subjects: he abandoned wounded on the battlefield, did not pursue the French and finish them off, and wore Hanoverian insignias. Dettingen marks the last time a British king led his troops into battle.

Fontenoy, May 11, 1745

Fought between a coalition of largely English and Dutch troops against the French, the Battle of Fontenoy was a French victory during the War of the Austrian Succession. The fight resulted in the taking of Tournai and a downturn in the Duke of Cumberland’s reputation.

Before Fontenoy

France and England and their respective coalitions began fighting in 1740 over who was rightful ruler of the Holy Roman Empire: Maria Theresa of Austria or Charles VII, Prince-Elector of Bavaria. Officially, France’s conflict had been against only England, but in 1744 France joined with Prussia and formally declared war on Austria.

Determined not to make the same mistakes that the French army had made at the Battle of Dettingen (1743), Marshal Maurice de Saxe retrained and drilled his troops in the fall of 1744. His target was Tournai, a city France had ceded to Austria in 1713. To conceal his goal, Maurice feinted part of his army toward Mons in late April 1745.

On April 30, 1745, as the Duke of Cumberland led an allied army of British, Hanoverian, Dutch, and Austrian soldiers to relieve Mons, Maurice moved the rest of his army to Tournai. A Dutch force of seven thousand ill-equipped and unsuspecting Dutch troops defended the city. Learning of its peril, Cumberland changed course.

Maurice had hoped to tempt the Allies into open combat, and he succeeded. Leaving 21,000 men to pin down the Dutch, Maurice took the rest of his forces to another site along the Scheldt River suitable for the next phase of his plan.


At Maurice’s invitation, King Louis XV arrived on May 8, intending to watch the battle play out. (Maurice himself would be little more than an observer on the day of the battle, when he was taken seriously ill.) Familiar with this terrain from military action during his youth, Maurice carefully chose and arranged the battlefield to his advantage. To provide his troops with cover, Maurice had the towns of Antoine and Fontenoy barricaded and entrenched. Three cannons atop a slope, positioned behind stockades, guarded the east-west line between the two towns. Antoine, on a riverbank, marked the end of Maurice’s right wing.

To approach the main body of the French army, positioned along the slope running roughly north of Fontenoy, the Allies would have to pass through fields hedged on the north side by the Wood of Barry. Here Maurice sheltered some infantry and built a stockade, known as the Redoubt of Eu, atop the slope at the southwestern edge of the wood. The enemy would have an uphill climb to reach Maurice’s position, all but invisible from below.

Cumberland arrived on May 10. After having the area scouted, Cumberland decided to align the Dutch and Austrians, under the Prince of Waldeck, against the towns. He himself would attack the French between the wood and Fontenoy.

Almost a Victory

French artillery began its bombardment at about dawn on the rainy morning of May 11. The allies returned fire, an early French casualty being the Duc de Grammont, who had tactically blundered during the Battle of Dettingen (1743).

Waldeck attempted twice to take the fortified towns before abandoning not only this goal but also fighting the battle altogether; the French artillery was overpowering. Maurice knew that Cumberland would present a more formidable foe. One of Cumberland’s officers, Brigadier James Ingoldsby, however, was not having any greater fortune than the Dutch. Cumberland ordered him to take the Redoubt of Eu. Even after receiving second orders and three artillery pieces, Ingoldsby failed.

The result of these failures was that the British and Hanoverian infantry, led by Cumberland, had to advance across the area flanked by Fontenoy and the wood, both fortified enemy positions less than half a mile apart. During the slow, deliberate advance, the allies took fire from the French but withheld their own until twenty or thirty paces short of the French line.

At this point, the battle turned for the Allies. The discipline and skill of the British forces began to drive the French back from their positions. The French, running low on ammunition, fled the battlefield as Maurice and Louis XV watched.

Maurice called up cavalry and reserves to repulse Cumberland. Cramped between Fontenoy and the wood, the English commander could not bring up his own mounted troops. Maurice’s Irish brigade proved to be the obstacle Cumberland could not overcome.


Maurice’s final efforts broke the British advance, and they nearly broke Cumberland, who, after the retreat, wept violently. The Allies fled to Ath, free from French pursuit. The city of Tournai, which the Allies were trying to relieve, fell to France on June 20.

Although he was criticized for letting the enemy escape, Maurice was lavishly rewarded for the victory. Cumberland blamed Ingoldsby for his failure, but he later came to the conclusion that responsibility lay with the Dutch. The defeat did not tarnish the reputation of the British infantry, which had advanced with steely nerves under heavy enemy fire.

Culloden, April 16, 1746

At the Battle of Culloden, the British army led by the Duke of Cumberland defeated the rebel Scots army raised by Charles Edward Stuart. This crushed the remaining hope of restoring a descendent of King James II to the throne.

Cause of the Uprising

James Edward Stuart, son of the deposed King James II of England, had tried to seize the English crown back from the German House of Hanover, which had inherited it upon the death of James’s sister, Queen Anne, in 1714. The Jacobite rebellion of 1715 failed. Three decades later, the Hanovers remained in power; James’s charismatic son, Charles Edward Stuart, was the last hope of the Jacobites.

Invasion and Retreat

Charles, known by his enemies as the “Young Pretender,” crossed from France to Scotland in 1745 and there raised a modest army of Highland and Lowland Scots. This army invaded England in November of that year, but Charles failed to rouse a significant uprising of those opposed to the House of Hanover. The Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II, forced the rebels back to Scotland.

Charles’s defeat of General Henry Hawley at the Battle of Falkirk (January 17, 1746) drew the Duke of Cumberland into Scotland to finish off the rebellion personally. The Jacobites withdrew as Cumberland’s army approached.

At Aberdeen, the English general checked his advance. Through March and into April 1746, Cumberland trained his troops in the discipline needed for the coming fight with the Jacobites. Previous battles had taught him what the rebel tactics would be: firearms at long range, followed by a Highland sword-and-dagger charge. The time in Aberdeen was well spent, although it allowed the Jacobites to achieve some military victory during the interim.

On April 8, Cumberland resumed his march northward. One week later he arrived at Nairn, fifteen miles southeast of Inverness.

Arriving at Culloden

Charles, meanwhile, brought his army to Culloden Moor, four miles southeast of Inverness. On April 15, his men botched and aborted an attempt to attack Cumberland’s army. Exhausted and hungry, the defeated Jacobites retreated back to Culloden and collapsed.

Cumberland’s men began their march to Culloden at 5:00 a.m. , refreshed and disciplined. A force of 8,000–9,000, they arrived six hours later and located the fatigued rebel army of no more than five thousand. Over the next two hours, the armies positioned themselves for battle, roughly 450–600 yards apart.

Many factors favored the English. The Jacobites were not merely outnumbered and outdisciplined; the rough and marshy ground would hinder their charge while providing no obstacle to Cumberland’s superior artillery. In addition, the Jacobites faced into a cold, wind-driven rain that would make the use of their firearms difficult.

The Long Half Hour

As the opening bombardment of cannonballs felled many of the Jacobites over the next ten to twenty minutes, Charles, who was nearly struck, positioned himself farther to the rear. He was too far, in fact, to see—let alone command—the events unfolding before him. Finally, as the Scots continued to endure Cumberland’s crushing blows, one of Charles’s officers requested the order to charge. When the order arrived—too late to do any good—the right wing of Charles’s Highlanders charged.

Cumberland’s gunners switched from cannonballs to even more murderous grapeshot. The charge was not orderly, and the Highlanders were so close together that many could not fire their guns, as was their usual tactic. They could only lay about with their swords when they finally contacted Cumberland’s forces. Although the Highlanders pushed their enemy back, they had lost too many men in the charge to sustain the attack. The Highlanders retreated.

The left wing of Charles’s line then tried to draw Cumberland’s fire, but they fell back after seeing the right and center already lost. Next, Charles’s right wing came under attack from an unexpected direction. Charles had formed his line perpendicular to the low stone wall of a large enclosure that guarded his right wing. Cumberland’s men broke down a section of wall, allowing Hawley to lead his dragoons through the breach. Now the Jacobites faced attacks from in front and behind. The final assault came from Cumberland’s left cavalry. A mere half hour after the first artillery fire, the battle became a rout.


Charles was taken from the field by his staff, but many of his troops were not so fortunate. Although Cumberland—who lost more than three hundred men—claimed to have killed two thousand Scots in the battle and the ensuing rout, the actual number might have been half that.

A time of brutality followed the battle. Wounded Jacobites were slaughtered. While pursuing the fleeing rebels, Cumberland’s men indiscriminately slew old men, women, and children. The government troops hunted down remnants of Charles’s army and killed them in atrocious ways. Pro-Hanoverian Scots joined in the pursuit. Some captives were publicly beheaded in English towns and cities.

Scotland was brutally “pacified” to beat out any remaining Jacobite sympathies. Parliament prohibited Highland dress, tartans, and bagpipes. The Scottish Episcopal Church was restricted, and Catholics were even more so.

This treatment earned Cumberland his notorious nickname, “The Butcher.” Although Charles survived, the defeat at Culloden extinguished all hope of another Jacobite rebellion.

Key Elements of Warcraft

Siege Warfare

Practiced since ancient times, sieges dominated the wars of the late seventeenth to mid eighteenth century. Both defenders and besiegers alike used ambitious engineering works to gain the upper hand against their foe.

Siege Schedule

Perhaps because they tended to be more predictable engagements, some generals and kings preferred sieges to battlefield confrontations. Sieges were largely engineering matters. Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban (1633–1707) established an ideal schedule of operations for a siege, which he presumed would last, on average, forty-eight days. (Most sieges lasted forty to sixty days, though in exceptional circumstances they ranged from one day to more than two hundred.) Vauban’s timetable included eighteen days to surround the locale and open trenches, another eighteen days to take the outer defenses, four days for mining operations along the walls and to set up the artillery to breach them, two days to capture and secure the breach, two days for the town to surrender, and four days of delays caused by enemy action or errors.

Fortification Designs

Vauban and other engineers designed fortresses to withstand the siege technology of their day, and it was common for military commanders and kings (such as the Duke of Cumberland and Philip V of Spain) to learn the art in the course of their studies. Unlike the soaring walls of medieval fortifications, low and broad stone-faced ramparts characterized the fortresses of this later period when gunpowder artillery had become stronger and more common.

Designers incorporated natural features into their works, taking every advantage of rivers, cliffs, hills, and even high water tables. Where there was no cliff or river to guard the approach, engineers created a cleared area known as the glacis. The glacis sloped 200–400 yards from the fortress wall, so that the defenders had a clear view and the besiegers would have no cover. Between the upper edge of the glacis and the walls, engineers installed an elaborate ditch, faced with stone to prevent the besiegers from tunneling close to the wall. The ditch, which followed and complimented the shape of the rampart, was terraced to permit the defenders to position infantry below the level of the ground, giving them cover.

Some ditches were, or could be, filled with water, while dry ditches might have an even deeper trench running through them, to foil the besieger’s miners. Sharpened stakes prevented or slowed an enemy’s crossing. Also in the ditch, separate fortifications shielded vulnerable areas of the rampart or its protruding bastions.

Defensive Weaponry

The bastions served to maximize the area that could be reached by defending firearms and, especially, artillery, which had more than twice the range of a musket (600 versus 250 yards). Vauban recommended that the cannon be given the same sort of mountings (carriages) used on ships, as this would permit the guns to be positioned in tighter spaces. However, King Louis XIV ignored this advice and ordered that cannon be mounted on field carriages, so that the army could take them for use in battle elsewhere.

Not all of a fortress’s defenses were confined within the fortress itself, as infantry could be stationed in the ditch. Infantry and cavalry sorties would rush out from the gate, usually on dark nights, to engage the besiegers, who were usually approaching, laboriously, by means of trenches. The defenders themselves also built trenches and tunnels of their own, to foil the besiegers’ advance and to undermine enemy installations.

Offensive Strategies

Besiegers had a number of strategies to outwit or defeat these defenses. Although a siege required a large armed force supported by thousands of support personnel and supply wagons, feints (such as those before the battles of Blenheim and Malplaquet) or genuine threats against other locations misdirected the defending army from the real target. The besiegers isolated the fortress and, if necessary, sent off some of its forces as reserves in the event that outside help came to aid the besieged. Although commonly offered, negotiation or intimidation seldom resulted in surrender.

The besiegers had to construct fortifications of their own, first beyond the reach of the defenders’ cannon. Trenches allowed the besiegers to approach the fortress across the barren, exposed glacis. Vauban directed the initial trench to be dug parallel to the enemy’s wall at the extremity of cannon range. From this, troops dug zigzagging trenches toward the wall. When these trenches were about four hundred yards from the wall, within the reach of enemy cannon, the men dug the next parallel trench between them. Defenders and besiegers might meet in intersecting trenches or tunnels and fight with muskets, or with spades and pickaxes, or try to drive the other out with flood or smoke. Both sides used gunpowder charges placed underground to blow up personnel and artillery.

As they advanced, besiegers constructed other earthwork fortifications allowing the placement of cannon and mortar batteries within firing range. Once in proper position, big siege guns would hammer the rampart to open up a breach large enough to admit a storming party.

The End of a Siege

After the breach, the siege could become exceptionally costly in soldiers’ lives, with thousands of casualties. The governor of a fortress might surrender before the storming party advanced. Terms varied; if fortunate, the defenders would be permitted to make a dignified withdrawal. In other cases, the victors claimed the garrison as prisoners of war.

The success of a siege was not a foregone conclusion. The defenders’ attempts could stymie the enemy enough to prompt them to withdraw. An army could come to the relief of the fortress and directly engage the besiegers, cut off the besiegers’ supply lines, or threaten another location, prompting the enemy to withdraw and engage elsewhere.

The Impact of the Dynastic Wars of Europe

The governmental reforms instituted by King Louis XIV (1638–1715) resulted in a stronger, more centralized French monarchy and positioned France as a continental power. The subsequent wars—fought by other states in part to tilt power out of French hands, or into it with the rise of Prussia under Frederick II (beginning in 1740)—introduced a new element into international relations: the idea of collective security, an agreement among nations to defend each others’ sovereignty from an aggressor.

The often lengthy conflicts of the period 1688–1748 resulted in territorial gains and losses. France acquired territories on its eastern frontier. Former possessions of Spain in Italy and the Netherlands went to Austria after the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1742, Frederick II seized Silesia from Austria, and it was formally awarded to him after the War of the Austrian Succession. Such Prussian expansionism led directly to the Seven Years War (1756–1763).

A seemingly small (in terms of geographical area) but critical acquisition occurred in 1704, when the Anglo-Dutch army seized Gibraltar from Spain. Formally recognized in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht, this capture gave England a permanent base from which to protect its Mediterranean shipping. Gibraltar was an important further step in the increase of the British Empire. The 1713 treaty also awarded to Britain the French territories of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and secured Britain’s claim to Hudson Bay, all but ensuring eventual British domination of Canada.

Britain’s own dynastic struggle had repercussions within and beyond the British Isles. The Glorious Revolution (1688) removed James II from the monarchy. After the defeats of James II, his supporters, and his heirs, the British subjugated Ireland (1691) and Scotland (1746). Although Queen Mary II, wife of King William III, was James’s daughter, as was their successor, Queen Anne, in 1714 the British crown passed to Anne’s German relatives, the House of Hanover.

British heads of state were no longer absolute monarchs. The Bill of Rights (1689) placed strict limitations on the authority of the crown; it became one of the important constitutional documents of Britain and an inspiration for the later United States Bill of Rights and Constitutional amendments. A monarchy and Parliament so closely enjoined curtailed the relative independence of the English colonies, which could now no longer lodge complaints against Parliament with the king. Later in the eighteenth century, this situation reached a breaking point and resulted in the American Revolution (1775–1781).

Concurrent with these wars arose the philosophies and sciences of the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason. Humankind possessed natural rights—which John Locke named as “life, liberty, and estate” (possessions)—that an individual could not be denied. The philosophies of the Enlightenment contributed to the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century, and advances in the sciences and farming practices during this period laid the groundwork for the industrial and agricultural revolutions.

Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government, introduced by W. S. Carpenter. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1964.