The battle of Ramillies, fought on May 23, 1706 near Ramillies in Belgium, was one of the major engagements of the War of the Spanish Succession. It was a resounding success for the allied coalition, made up of the Republic of the United Provinces, the Kingdom of England and their Danish “auxiliaries” over the Franco-Bavarian army. It followed a year of indecisive campaigns in 1705 (Battle of Eliksem) during which the coalition”s overconfidence and the Batavian hesitations after the success of Blenheim led to an unsuccessful campaign along the Moselle River that forced the Duke of Marlborough to abandon his campaign plan in France. However, despite the inability of the Allies to achieve a decisive success, Louis XIV was eager for peace, but he wanted it on reasonable terms. From then on, rather than remaining on the defensive, the French armies went on the attack on all fronts.
The year 1706 started well for Louis XIV”s generals who won some preliminary successes in Italy and Alsace where Marshal de Villars forced the Margrave of Baden to retreat across the Rhine. Louis now pushed Marshal de Villeroy to press Marlborough and force the Allies to fight in the Spanish Netherlands. In response to the king”s wishes, Villeroy left Louvain at the head of 60,000 men to march ostentatiously toward Zoutleeuw. Marlborough, equally determined to seek the decisive battle, gathered his forces – some 62,000 men – near Maastricht, before advancing in the direction of the Mehaigne and the plain of Ramillies where the French, awaiting the shock, had already lined up in battle.
In less than four hours, Villeroy”s army was totally defeated. Malborough”s subtle maneuvers and changes of tempo during the battle – movements of which the French and Bavarian commanders only became aware too late – completely caught his opponents off guard. The Franco-Bavarian army gave in and retreated, losing more than 20,000 men. After the success of Prince Eugene during the battle of Turin in Northern Italy, the Allies imposed on Louis XIV the most important losses in territory and in means of the conflict. Numerous towns and places fell one by one to Marlborough”s troops and, by the end of the campaign, the French army and its allies had been driven out of the Spanish Netherlands – making 1706 the “annus mirabilis” of the Allies.
“The king, outraged by the bad successes of his arms and who had put his honor in not listening to anything about peace, which however he began to feel all the need, unless he had the totality of the monarchy of Spain for the king his grandson, had made the greatest efforts to have beautiful and numerous armies and to obtain victories which, in spite of the consequences of the battle of Hochstett, forced his enemies to finish the war to his liking. He had excited the marshal of Villeroy, while leaving, to give a battle. Villeroy felt piqued to be so often and so urgently excited, believed that it was in his interest to delay; he flattered himself to win and promised himself everything of a victory so passionately desired by the king, if he did not share the glory with anyone. It is what precipitated him to give that of Ramillies, so that the elector of Bavaria had hardly time to arrive at the army the same morning, on the point of the combat. “
– Philippe de Courcillon, Marquis de Dangeau, Journal de la Cour du Roi Soleil.
After the disastrous defeat at Blenheim in 1704, the year 1705 brought some respite to France. The Duke of Marlborough hoped to complete the work begun at Blenheim and impose peace on Louis XIV with the campaign planned for 1705 – an invasion of France through the Moselle valley – but his plan was thwarted by both his allies and his opponent.
The reluctance of his Dutch allies to see their borders stripped of troops in order to engage them in another “coup” in Germany already partially removed Marlborough”s initiative from operations, but the declaration of the Margrave of Baden, Louis-Guillaume de Bade-Bade, that he could not join his forces to those of the duke, sounded the death knell for his project. This forfeit was partly the result of the sudden transfer of troops from the Rhine to Italy to reinforce Prince Eugene of Savoy and partly the consequence of the deterioration of Louis-Guillaume”s health caused by complications from an old foot wound sustained during the capture of Schellenberg. In addition, Marlborough also dealt with the consequences of the death of Emperor Leopold I in May and the accession to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire of Joseph I, which could only complicate the affairs of the alliance.
The determination of Louis XIV and the efforts of his generals added to Marlborough”s worries. Marshal de Villeroy, pressing the Dutch commander, Lord Auverquerque, on the Meuse, took Huy on June 10 before presenting himself before Liège. With Marshal de Villars firmly established on the Moselle, the allied commander – whose supplies were in a critical state – was forced to cancel his campaign plan on June 16. “What a disgrace for Marlborough to have made so many vain movements without any result! After Marlborough”s departure for the North, the French transferred troops from the Moselle to reinforce Villeroy in Flanders while Villars marched on the Rhine.
The Allies obtained only weak compensations for the cancellation of the campaign in Mosel, with the victory of Eliksem which made it possible to cross the line of Brabant in the Spanish Netherlands (a whole of defensive systems in the shape of arc stretching on approximately 115 km from Antwerp to Namur) and the resumption of Huy on July 11, but following the hesitations and reticence of the Dutch, the opportunity to force France to a decisive battle escaped Marlborough. The year 1705 was thus very disappointing for the duke whose military setbacks were only partially compensated by his undertakings on the diplomatic front where, by canvassing the courts of Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Vienna, Berlin and Hanover, Marlborough tried to find new support for the cause of the alliance and to obtain promises of prompt assistance for the campaigns of the following year.
Denmark remained neutral throughout the conflict but Danish troops, praised by the maritime powers, proved essential during the Allied successes at Blenheim and Ramillies.
On January 11, 1706, Marlborough returned to London after his diplomatic tour, having already planned his strategy for the coming campaign.
The first option consists of a transfer of his forces from the Spanish Netherlands to the north of Italy to make the junction with Prince Eugene with the aim of defeating the French and thus preserving the duchy of Savoy from an invasion. Savoy would then have served as a gateway to France through the mountain passes or, alternatively, as a rear base for an invasion with naval support along the Mediterranean coast through operations against Nice and Toulon in connection with an increased Allied effort in Spain. However, the Duke seemed to prefer a resumption of operations in the Moselle valley – where Marshal Ferdinand de Marsin had just been promoted to the command of the French armies – and to attempt a new breakthrough in the heart of France. However, this procrastination took on a purely academic character because, shortly after Marlborough”s arrival in the Netherlands on 14 April, bad news arrived from other fronts that had been identified as theaters of operations.
Determined to show the Allies that France was not yet defeated, Louis XIV launched a double surprise offensive in Alsace and in the north of Italy. On the latter front, Marshal de Vendôme crushed the Austrian Imperials on April 19 at Calcinato, driving them back in great disorder. The French armies were then in a position to undertake the long desired siege of Turin. In Alsace, Marshal de Villars surprised the Margrave of Baden, capturing Haguenau and pushing his opponent back beyond the Rhine, thus threatening Landau. Dismayed by these setbacks, the Dutch refused to follow up on the Duke of Marlborough”s Italian projects or any strategic option that would move their army away from their borders. From then on, in order to maintain the cohesion of the Alliance, Marlborough prepared to enter into a campaign in the Netherlands.
“Villeroy was stationed in Louvain with eighty thousand men; instead of defending the line of the Dyle, he wanted to strike a blow at the opening of the campaign; and, without waiting for Marsin who brought him a division of the Rhine, he advanced between Tillemont and Judoigne (sic), towards the sources of the Ghètes, and met the enemy between the Mehaigne and the small Ghète near Ramillies.”
– Théophile Lavallée, Histoire des Français depuis le temps des Gaulois jusqu”en 1830.
The Duke left The Hague on May 9. “God knows I am leaving with a heavy heart,” he wrote six days later to his friend and political ally in England, Lord Godolphin, “for I have no hope of doing anything considerable, unless the French do what I think they will not do” – in other words, seek a pitched battle. On May 17, Marlborough concentrated his Dutch and English troops at Tongres, near Maastricht. The Hanoverians, Hessians and Danes, despite their previous commitments, found or invented various pretexts to delay their intervention.
Marlborough sent an appeal to the Duke of Wurtemberg-Neuenstadt, Carl Rudolf, commander of the Danish contingent, which read: “I send you this letter to ask your Lordship to bring his cavalry by forced march to join us as soon as possible. In addition, the King of Prussia kept his troops in their quarters beyond the Rhine until the quarrel opposing him in The Hague to the Court of Vienna and the States General of the United Provinces was settled. However, the Duke did not consider the possibility of the French leaving their positions to attack him, even if Villeroy had received substantial reinforcements in the meantime. He was wrong on this point: even if Louis XIV wanted peace, he wanted it on honorable and advantageous terms and for that he needed a victory on the field that would convince the Allies that his military means were still respectable.
After his successes in Italy and on the Rhine, Louis XIV hoped to obtain a similar result in Flanders. Villeroy “figured that the king doubted his courage since he deemed it necessary to spur him on so strongly,” Saint-Simon later wrote, “he resolved to risk everything to satisfy him, and show him that he did not deserve such harsh suspicions.” Consequently, Villeroy left Louvain at the head of 70 battalions and 132 cavalry squadrons, bringing 62 cannons – a force of some 60,000 men – and crossed the Dyle River, seeking a confrontation with his adversary. Increasingly confident in his ability to outmaneuver his opponent in command and spurred on by the king”s determination to avenge the Blenheim disaster, Villeroy, along with his generals, was certain of victory. He was convinced that Marlborough had won Blenheim by a stroke of luck.
Neither of the adversaries had foreseen the confrontation at the time and place where it occurred. The French first advanced towards Tienen as if to threaten Zoutleeuw, which they had abandoned in October 1705, before converting southwards towards Jodoigne, a move that brought Villeroy”s army onto the small strip of land between the Mehaigne and the Petite Gette near the villages of Ramillies and Taviers. Neither of them took the exact measure of the movements and the precise location of their opponent: Villeroy still thought on May 22 that the Allies were a full day”s march away as they camped at Corswaren awaiting the arrival of Danish squadrons, while Marlborough thought Villeroy was still at Jodoigne as he approached the Mont-Saint-André plateau with the intention of establishing himself near Ramillies. However, the Prussian infantry was missing and Marlborough wrote to Lord Raby, the English resident in Berlin: “If it pleases God to give us victory over the enemy, the Allies will be little indebted to King Frederick I of Prussia for their success”.1 a.m. the next day, Marlborough dispatched Irish cavalry general William Cadogan, his Quartermaster-General, with an advance guard to reconnoiter the ground towards which Villeroy”s army was headed, a region well known to the Duke from his previous campaigns. Two hours later, he arrived at the head of the bulk of his army: 74 infantry battalions, 123 cavalry squadrons, 90 artillery pieces and 20 mortars, for a total of 62,000 men. Around eight o”clock, after Cadogan had passed Merdorp, his forces came into contact with a party of French hussars foraging on the edge of the Jandrenouille plateau. After a brief exchange of fire, the French withdrew, the allied dragoons pressing forward. Taking advantage of a brief clearing in the mist, Cadogan soon saw the impeccably ordered lines of Villeroy”s vanguard some six kilometers away and sent a courier to warn Marlborough. Two hours later, the Duke, accompanied by Lord Overkirk, General Daniel Dopff and the Allied staff, joined Cadogan to see on the western horizon the close ranks of French troops deploying for battle on a front of more than six kilometers. Marlborough later declared that “the French army appeared to him as the best he had ever seen.
According to James Falkner, in Ramillies 1706: Year of Miracles, when the two armies engaged in combat, Marshal de Villeroy led an army of 60,000 men, while the coalition under the Duke of Marlborough numbered 62,000.
On May 23, 1706, the day of Pentecost, the two armies faced each other, the Franco-Bavarians occupying the heights. Taking advantage of the terrain and the favorable deployment of his corps, the Duke of Marlborough methodically moved or engaged some of his troops to find the weak point of his opponent. Having located it in front of his left wing, he then launched a vigorous cavalry attack on the right flank of his opponent while carrying out diversionary actions on his own right. Marshal de Villeroy fell into the trap: he emptied his weakest flank to reinforce the troops engaged against the Allies in other less decisive sectors. It was then that Marlborough sent the bulk of his troops to the part of the front that had been stripped by his opponent, which he immediately broke through. The battle quickly turned to his advantage, as Villeroy”s army, completely disorganized, retreated in disarray and abandoned nearly 6,000 prisoners.
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The battlefield of Ramillies is very similar to that of Blenheim, situated in a vast area of farmland – the Hesbaye – with few woods or hedges. Villeroy”s right wing was supported by the villages of Franquenée and Taviers, with the small river Mehaigne protecting its flank. A vast open plain about two kilometers wide stretches between Taviers and Ramillies, but, unlike Blenheim, there is no river to cut it to prevent cavalry maneuvers. Its center is dominated by the village of Ramillies located on a slight eminence offering a clear view to the north and east.
The French left wing was protected by vacant lots and by the Petite Gette, which flowed in a deep ravine. On the bank occupied by the Franco-Bavarians, the terrain rises slightly towards the village of Offus, on which, with that of Autre-Église further north, the left wing of Villeroy is based. To the west of the Petite Gette is Mont-Saint-André. Another plain, surmounted by the plateau of Jandrenouille – on which the Allied army was massed – extended to the east.
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At eleven o”clock, Malborough ordered his army to deploy in battle. On the extreme right, in the direction of Folx, the British battalions and squadrons established themselves in a double line near the Jauche stream. The center was formed by the mass of Dutch, Germans, Swiss Protestants and Scottish infantry – nearly 30,000 men – facing Offus and Ramillies. Facing Ramillies, the duke also installed a powerful battery of thirty 24-pounders, brought to the site by oxen. Other batteries crowned the Petite Gette. On their left, on the wide plain between Taviers and Ramillies – where Marlborough had sensed that the decisive battle would be fought – Lord Overkirk assembled 69 squadrons of Dutch and Danish cavalry, supported by 19 battalions of Battalion infantry and two artillery pieces.
In the meantime, Villeroy modified his position. In Taviers on his right, he placed two battalions of the Swiss regiment of Greder, with an advanced detachment in Franquenée, the device being protected by the accidents of the ground crossed by the Mehaigne which thus prevented a flanking overrun by the Allies. Between Taviers and Ramillies, he deployed 82 squadrons under the command of General de Guiscard supported by several French, Swiss and Bavarian infantry brigades. Along the line Ramillies-Offus-Autre-Église, Villeroy positioned his Walloon and Bavarian infantry, supported by the 50 Bavarian and Walloon squadrons of the Elector of Bavaria Maximilien II installed in the rear on the plateau of Mont-Saint-André. Ramillies, Offus and Autre-Église, well stocked with troops, were put in a state of defense with the roads barricaded and the walls pierced with loopholes. Villeroy also installed powerful batteries near Ramillies, these cannons covering the approaches to the Jandrenouille plateau through which the allied infantry had to pass.
Marlborough notes however some weaknesses in the French device. If it is tactically imperative for Villeroy to occupy Taviers on his right and Autre-Église on his left, by proceeding in this manner, he has stretched his forces considerably. Moreover, the French device – concave in front of the allied army – allows Marlborough to form a more collected line, deployed on a shorter front between the points of the French arc thus allowing to deliver a more compact and powerful thrust. Incidentally, this deployment offers him the possibility of repositioning more easily his units by the play of the interior lines, a tactical advantage which will prove to be determining for the continuation of the day. Although Villeroy had the possibility of enveloping the allied flanks deployed on the Jandrenouille plateau – thus threatening the Coalition with encirclement -, the Duke diagnosed in a very pertinent manner that the French command, very prudent as usual, intended above all to fight a defensive battle along its line.
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In the south: the battle of Taviers
At 1:00 p.m., the batteries began to thunder and a little later, two Allied columns emerged from the extremities of their lines to lead the assault against the wings of the Franco-Bavarian army.
To the south, the Dutch guards, led by Colonel Wertmüller, advanced with their two field guns to seize the hamlet of Franquenée. The small Swiss garrison, jostled by this sudden assault and abandoned by the battalions deployed behind, was quickly driven back to Taviers. This village occupied a key position in the Franco-Bavarian system: it protected the flank of General de Guiscard”s cavalry, which was exposed on the plain side, while allowing the French infantry to threaten those of the Dutch-Danish cavalry during its deployment. The Swiss hardly joined their comrades occupying the village when the Dutch guards attacked it in turn. The battle in the village quickly turned into a furious bayonet and hand-to-hand fight, but the superior firepower of the Dutch tipped the balance in their favor. The very experienced French army colonel Jean Martin de la Colonie, witnessing the scene from the plain, later wrote: “This village saw the opening of the engagement and the fight there was almost as deadly as the rest of the battle. At about 3:00 p.m., the Swiss were driven out of the village and pushed back into the swamps behind it.
Villeroy”s right wing fell into chaos and was now exposed and vulnerable. Aware of the situation, de Guiscard ordered an immediate attack with 14 squadrons of French dragoons stationed in the rear. Two other battalions of Greder”s regiment were also engaged, but the attack was poorly coordinated and faltered. The coalition command then sent Dutch dismounted dragoons into Taviers, from where, together with the Dutch guards and their field guns, they showered the French troops with musket fire and machine-gun fire, with Colonel d”Aubigni falling mortally wounded at the head of his regiment.
While the Franco-Bavarian ranks were wavering, the leading squadrons of Danish cavalry, now safe from any slashing fire from the villages, were launched into the attack and fell on the exposed flank of the Franco-Swiss infantry and dragoons. De la Colonie, with his regiment of Red Grenadiers assembled in the Cologne guard, having received orders to move forward from his position south of Ramillies to support the failing counterattack, could only note the chaos upon arriving on the scene: “My troops only barely held together when the Swiss and dragoons who had preceded us ran back on my battalions in their flight. My own men turned around and accompanied them in their withdrawal. De la Colonie finally succeeded in rallying some of the grenadiers, along with the remnants of the French dragoon units and the Swiss of the Greder battalions, but this was only a minor maneuver that only provided fragile relief to Villeroy”s battered right flank.
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In the north: the battles of Offus and Other-Church
While the affair of Taviers was developing in the south, Lord Orkney launched the first line of his English contingent beyond the Petite Gette in a strong attack against the fortified villages of Offus and Autre-Église located in front of the Allied right. Villeroy, stationed near Offus, anxiously watched the advance of the Redcoats, keeping in mind the advice received on the 6th from Louis XIV: “Pay particular attention to the part of the line that will suffer the first shock of the English troops. Obsessed with this warning, the French commander began to transfer battalions from the center to his left, filling the gaps thus created in this part of his system by compensatory withdrawals from his already weakened right.
As they descended the gentle slopes of the Petite Gette valley, the English battalions came face to face with the particularly disciplined Walloon infantry of Major General de la Guiche, dispatched forward from Offus. After several musket salvos that took a heavy toll on the English ranks, the Walloons withdrew to the ridge line in good order. However, the English were able to reform their ranks on the “French” side of the river and climb the slope of the bank towards the buildings and barricades that crowned it. The vigor of the English assault was such that it threatened to break through the line of villages and onto the plateau of Mont-Saint-André beyond. However, this would have been dangerous for the attacker, who would have found himself at the mercy of the Walloon and Bavarian cavalry squadrons of the Elector of Bavaria who, deployed on the plateau, were waiting for the order to move.
Although Henry Lumley”s British cavalry had managed to fight their way through the marshy area around Little Gette, it was becoming clear to Marlborough that he would not have sufficient cavalry here and that the battle could not be won on the Allied right wing. Consequently, he recalled the attack on Offus and Other Church and, to be sure that Orkney would obey his orders, Marlborough sent his Quartermaster-General Cadogan to tell him so. In spite of his interlocutor”s protests, Cadogan proved inflexible and Orkney finally, with bad grace, ordered his troops to return to their starting positions on the edge of the Jandrenouille plateau. It is difficult to know, however, whether Orkney”s attack was a feint or not: according to historian David G. Chandler, it would be more accurate to speak of a “probe” given by Marlborough in order to test the tactical possibilities in this sector of the front. Nevertheless, this aborted attack served his purposes: Villeroy focused all his attention on this part of the battlefield and distracted towards it important means in infantry and cavalry which would have been better employed in the decisive fight south of Ramillies.
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Meanwhile, the assault on Ramillies has gained momentum.
Marlborough”s younger brother, Infantry General Charles Churchill, sent four brigades to attack the village: 12 battalions of Dutch infantry under Major Generals Schultz and Spaar, two brigades of Saxons under Count Schulenburg, a Scottish brigade in the service of the Dutch led by the Duke of Argyle and a brigade of Swiss Protestants. The 20 French and Bavarian battalions occupying Ramillies, supported by Irish dragoons and a small brigade of Cologne and Bavarian guards, under the command of the Marquis of Maffei, put up a resolute defense, even pushing back the assailants from the outset by inflicting heavy losses on them.
Seeing Schultz and Spaar weaken, Marlborough ordered Orkney”s second line – the Danish and English battalions that had not taken part in the assault on Offus and Autre-Église – to move south towards Ramillies. Taking advantage of a slight retreat of the terrain that hid his troops from the enemy”s view, their commander, Brigadier-General van Pallandt, ordered that the standards be left deployed on the edge of the Jandrenouille plateau to make the French believe that they had not left their initial position. The latter remaining in expectation as to the size and intentions of the forces deployed opposite them on the other bank of the Petite Gette, Marlborough launched all his means against Ramillies and the plain to the south. Villeroy meanwhile continued to direct more infantry reserves in the opposite direction, to his left wing, only slowly and belatedly perceiving his opponent”s subtle wing-shifting maneuver
At about 3:30 p.m., Overkirk advanced the mass of his squadrons on the plain in support of the infantry attack on Ramillies. The disciplined Allied squadrons – 48 Dutch supported on their left by 21 Danes – advanced at a moderate pace towards the enemy, taking care not to tire their mounts prematurely, before launching into a trot to gain the necessary momentum for their charge. The Marquis de Feuquières wrote after the battle: “they advanced in four lines. As they approached, they advanced their second and fourth lines in the intervals of the first and third lines, so that as they approached us, they formed a single continuous front, without intermediate spaces.
The initial shock is favorable to the Dutch and Danish squadrons. The imbalance of forces – aggravated by Villeroy who continued to empty the ranks of his infantry to reinforce his left flank – allowed the Allies to push the first line of French cavalry back onto its second line squadrons. The latter was in turn put under severe pressure and was finally pushed back onto the third line and the few battalions that remained on the plain. But these French cavalrymen were among the elite of Louis XIV”s army – the King”s household – supported by four squadrons of elite Bavarian cuirassiers. Well led by de Guiscard, the French cavalry rallied, driving back the allied squadrons with a few victorious local counterattacks. On Overkirk”s right flank, near Ramillies, ten of his squadrons suddenly broke ranks and scattered, running headlong to the rear to regain their order, leaving the left flank of the Allied attack on Ramillies dangerously exposed. Despite the lack of infantry support, de Guiscard threw his cavalry forward in an attempt to split the Allied army in two.a crisis threatened the Allied center but Marlborough, well placed, quickly realized the situation. The allied commander then recalls the cavalry of his right wing to reinforce his center, leaving only the English squadrons in support of Orkney. Under cover of the smoke cloud and skilfully exploiting a favorable terrain, this redeployment went unnoticed by Villeroy, who made no attempt to transfer any of his 50 unused squadrons.
While waiting for fresh reinforcements to arrive, Marlborough threw himself into the fray, rallying some of the Dutch cavalry who retreated in disarray. But his personal involvement almost led to his loss. Some French cavalrymen, recognizing the duke, advanced in his direction. Marlborough”s horse fell and the Duke was thrown to the ground: “Milord Marlborough was tumbled,” Orkney later wrote. It was a critical moment in the battle: “Major-General Murray seeing him fall, marched in haste with two Swiss battalions to rescue him and stop the enemy, who jostled everything in their path,” recalled a later eyewitness. Marlborough”s newly appointed aide-de-camp, Robert, 3rd Viscount Molesworth, galloped to the rescue, hoisted the duke onto his horse and managed to evacuate him before Murray”s disciplined troop threw back the pursuing French horsemen. After a short pause, Marlborough”s squire, Colonel Bringfield (or Bingfield), brought him a spare horse, but while helping the Duke back into the saddle, the unfortunate Bringfield was struck by a cannonball that took his head off. According to one anecdote, the cannonball flew between the captain-general”s legs before striking the unfortunate colonel, whose body fell at Marlborough”s feet.
Nevertheless, the danger having passed, the duke witnesses the deployment of cavalry reinforcements arriving from his right flank – a dangerous change of which Villeroy remains perfectly unaware.
By 4:30 p.m., the two armies were in close contact along the six-kilometer front, between skirmishes in the marshes to the south, cavalry combat on the vast plain, and the fierce fight for Ramillies in the center and around the hamlets of Offus and Autre-Église. To the north, Orkney and de la Guiche faced each other on either side of the Petite Gette and were ready to resume hostilities.
The arrival of the reinforcement squadrons began to tip the balance in favor of the Allies. The fatigue, the increasing number of losses and the numerical inferiority of Guiscard”s squadrons fighting in the plain began to weigh on them. After vain efforts to hold or retake Franquenée and Taviers, Guiscard”s right flank was dangerously exposed and a fatal breach had been opened on the right of the French line. Taking advantage of this, the Danish cavalry of Wurtemberg moved forward to try to break through the flank of the King”s House, which was busy trying to contain the Dutch. Sweeping all in their path with almost no resistance, the 21 Danish squadrons reformed behind the French ranks near the Hottomont mound, facing north toward the plateau of Mont-Saint-André toward the now exposed flank of Villeroy”s army.
With the last of the Allied reinforcements for the cavalry duel finally in place, Marlborough”s superiority on his left could not now be disputed, and the rapid and inspired developments in his battle plan made him undeniably the master of the field. Villeroy then attempted, but far too late, to redeploy his 50 unused squadrons, but a desperate attempt to form a line of battle facing south between Offus and Mont-Saint-André became entangled in the baggage and tents of the French camp carelessly left there after the initial deployment. The allied commander ordered his cavalry to move forward against the now numerically outclassed Franco-Bavarian cavalry. De Guiscard”s right flank, without adequate infantry support, could not withstand the assault and, turning north, his cavalrymen fled in complete disorder. Even the squadrons that Villeroy was assembling behind Ramillies could not withstand the attack. “We had not gone forty yards in retreat when the words ”Sauve qui peut” ran through most, if not all, of the army, and turned everything to confusion,” said Captain Peter Drake, an Irish mercenary in the service of France.
In Ramillies, the Allied infantry, now reinforced by the English troops brought back from the north, finally broke through. The Picardy Regiment held out but was caught between Colonel Borthwick”s Dutch-Scottish regiment and the English reinforcements. Borthwick was killed, as was Charles O”Brien, an Irish viscount of Clare in the service of France, who fell at the head of his regiment. The marquis of Maffei tried a last resistance at the head of the guards of Bavaria and Cologne but in vain. Noticing a stream of horsemen coming rapidly from the south, he later recounted: “I went to the nearest of these squadrons to give my orders to his officers, but instead of being listened to, I was immediately surrounded and pressed for mercy.
The roads leading north and west are clogged with fugitives. Orkney sent his English troops back across the Little Gette for another assault on Offus where La Guiche”s infantry had begun to fall into confusion. On the infantry”s right, Lord John Hay”s Scots Greys also crossed the river to charge the King”s Regiment into Autre-Église. “Our dragoons, pushing through the village, made a terrible slaughter of the enemy,” wrote an English officer afterwards. The Bavarian mounted grenadiers and the Elector”s Guards retreated to protect the Elector and Villeroy but were dispersed by Lumley”s cavalry. Stuck in the mass of fugitives abandoning the battlefield, the French and Bavarian commanders narrowly escaped capture by General Wood Cornelius, who, unaware of their identity, had to settle for the capture of two Bavarian lieutenant-generals. Further south, the remnants of the Colony brigade moved in the opposite direction, towards the French-held citadel of Namur.
The retreat turned into a rout. The allied commanders lead their troops in pursuit of the defeated enemy, leaving him no respite. The allied infantry could soon no longer follow, their cavalry leaving them in the open sea at nightfall to rush to the crossing points of the Dyle. Marlborough ended the pursuit shortly after midnight, near Meldert, 12 kilometers from the battlefield. “It was truly a distressing sight to see the sad remains of this mighty army reduced to a handful,” observed an English captain.
Having obviously shown a guilty misjudgment of the movements and intentions of his adversary, and then a lack of self-control in allowing himself to be overwhelmed by events, the defeated man of Ramillies finds no grace in the eyes of the memorialists of the time nor of later French military historians. “His overconfidence in his own lights was more than ever fatal to France” wrote Voltaire in his Siècle de Louis XIV. “He could have avoided the battle. The general officers advised him to do so, but the blind desire for glory prevailed. He made, as it is said, the disposition in such a way that there was not a man of experience who did not foresee the bad success. He left the baggage between the lines of his army; he posted his left behind a swamp, as if he wanted to prevent it from going to the enemy”. If he admits further on that “history is in part the account of the opinions of men”, the acerbic charge, based on an a posteriori reinterpretation, of Voltaire does not seem any less excessive, Théophile Lavallée making his own the opinion of the illustrious polemicist and philosopher adding: “he took such bad dispositions, that he seemed to seek a defeat”. “The king had not recommended anything so much to the Marshal of Villeroy as to forget nothing to open the campaign with a battle”, says Saint-Simon. “The short and superb genius of Villeroy was piqued by these repeated orders. He thought that the king doubted his courage because he considered it necessary to spur him on so strongly; he resolved to risk everything to satisfy him and show him that he did not deserve such harsh suspicions. But, according to the latter, Villeroy made the mistake of precipitating things without waiting for Marsin”s reinforcements, as he was recommended to do by the pressing written orders of the sovereign, his peers reproaching him moreover for the choice of a bad battlefield.
The total number of French victims could not be precisely fixed, so complete was the collapse of the Franco-Bavarian army that day. Writers of the time report various numbers. The French general Charles Théodore Beauvais wrote: “We had fought for more than eight hours at the disastrous battle of Hochstett, and we had killed nearly 8,000 men to the victors; at Ramillies, we did not kill a third of them.” He mentions the loss of 20,000 men on the French side. Saint-Simon, in his Mémoires, mentions at most 4,000 killed, while Voltaire in his history of the Century of Louis XIV writes: “the French lost twenty thousand men”. John Millner, in his memoirs (Compendious Journal…, 1733), indicates more precisely 12,087 killed or wounded and 9,729 prisoners.
Casualties vary among modern historians as well. David Chandler, in his A Guide to the Battlefields of Europe, gives the French casualty count as 18,000 dead and wounded and some 6,000 prisoners; for the Allies, he gives 3,600 dead and wounded. James Falkner, in Ramillies 1706: Year of Miracles, gives the figure of 12,000 dead and wounded but reports 10,000 prisoners; the Allies lost 1,060 soldiers and 2,600 men were wounded. Trevelyan estimates Villeroy”s losses at 13,000, but adds that “desertions may have doubled that number. John A. Lynn reported 1,100 killed and 2,600 wounded on the Allied side, while he put the death toll on the Franco-Bavarian side at 13,000.
The remnants of Villeroy”s army were totally demoralized, the imbalance in the balance of losses suffered more than amply demonstrating the disaster experienced by Louis XIV”s army. In addition, hundreds of French soldiers fled, most of them not rejoining their units afterwards. Villeroy also lost 52 pieces of artillery and all of his engineering bridging equipment. In the words of Marshal de Villars, the French defeat at Ramillies was “the most shameful, humiliating and disastrous of all defeats.
“Villeroy lost his head: he did not stop either on the Dyle, or on the Senne, or on the Dender, or on the Scheldt; he evacuated Louvain, Brussels, Aalst, Ghent, Bruges, all of Brabant, all of Flanders; finally he withdrew to Menin and threw the debris of his army into a few places. The enemy had only to march forward, astonished by this dizziness; he entered Brussels, he entered Ghent; he took Antwerp, Ostend, Menin, Dendermonde, Ath. Only Mons and Namur were left to the French.
– Théophile Lavallée, Histoire des Français depuis le temps des Gaulois jusqu”en 1830.
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After the Allied victory at Ramillies, Belgian cities and places fell one after the other into their hands: Louvain fell on May 25, 1706, and three days later, they entered Brussels, then the capital of the Spanish Netherlands. Marlborough realized the great opportunity that his victory offered him: “We now have the whole summer ahead of us and with God”s blessing I will make the best use of it” wrote the Duke to Robert Harley from Brussels. Mechelen, Lier, Ghent, Aalst, Damme, Oudenaarde, Bruges and Antwerp on June 6, all pass into the hands of Marlborough”s victorious army and, like Brussels, choose the Austrian candidate for the Spanish throne, Archduke Charles, as their ruler. Villeroy was powerless to stop the process of collapse. When Louis XIV learned of the disaster, he recalled Marshal de Vendôme from northern Italy to take command in Flanders, but it took weeks before it actually changed hands.
As news of the Allied triumph spread, Prussian, Hessian and Hanoverian contingents, long held back by their respective masters, eagerly joined the pursuit of the routed French and Bavarian forces, leading to some rather disillusioned comments from Marlborough. In the meantime, Overkirk had seized the port of Ostend on July 4, thus opening up direct access to the English Channel for communications and supplies, but the Allies stalled in front of Dendermonde, whose governor obstinately resisted. It was only later, when Marlborough”s Chief of Staff, Cadogan, and the Duke himself took matters into their own hands, that his resistance weakened.
Louis-Joseph de Vendôme officially took command in Flanders on August 4. Villeroy, his unlucky and unfortunate predecessor, will never again receive an important command, bitterly lamenting: “I cannot count a happy day in my life except the one of my death”. However, Louis XIV was indulgent: “Monsieur le maréchal, at our age we are not happy”. Meanwhile, Marlborough took the formidable fortress of Menin which, after a costly siege, capitulated on August 22, 1706. Dendermonde fell on September 6, followed by Ath – the last conquest of 1706 – on October 2. By the time the Ramillies campaign ended, Marlborough had deprived France of most of the Spanish Netherlands (roughly corresponding to present-day Belgium) located west of the Meuse and north of the Sambre – an unparalleled operational triumph for the English duke.
While this ill-fated campaign in Flanders was taking place on the Upper Rhine, Villars was forced on the defensive as his battalions were sent north one by one to reinforce the French forces engaged against Marlborough, thus depriving him of any chance to retake Landau. More good news reached the coalition forces in northern Italy where, on September 7, Prince Eugene routed a French army in front of Turin, driving the Franco-Spanish forces from the area. Only Spain brought Louis XIV some good news, as António Luís de Sousa (en) was forced to retreat from Madrid to Valencia, allowing Philip V to return to his capital on October 4. Overall, however, the situation had worsened considerably and Louis XIV began to look for a way to end what was becoming a ruinous war for France. For Queen Anne, too, the Ramillies campaign was of paramount importance in providing hope for peace. But cracks in the unity of the Allies allowed the French king to make up for some of the major setbacks suffered following the battles of Turin and Ramillies.
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Following this defeat, Maximilian-Emmanuel of Bavaria, governor of the Spanish Netherlands, was forced to abandon Brussels and take refuge in Mons, then in France.
The immediate political question facing the Allies was how to settle the fate of the Spanish Netherlands, a matter on which the Austrians and Dutch were diametrically opposed. Emperor Joseph I, speaking on behalf of his younger brother King Charles III, who was in Spain at the time, argued that the reconquered Brabant and Flanders should be placed immediately under a governor appointed by himself. But the Dutch, who had provided most of the troops and funds to secure the victory, “the Austrians having offered neither,” claimed the government of the region until the end of the war and, once peace was restored, the right to maintain garrisons in the line of fortresses stronger than those previously deployed and which had not been able to effectively oppose the forces of Louis XIV in 1701.
Marlborough mediated between the two parties, but in favour of the Dutch position. To influence the Duke”s opinion, Emperor Joseph I offered him the post of governor of the Spanish Netherlands, an attractive offer that Marlborough refused in the name of Allied unity. In the end, England and the United Provinces jointly ensured the control of the newly acquired territory for the duration of the war, after which it was to be subjected to the direct authority of Charles III, subject to a Dutch military presence, the terms of which were to be specified.
After Höchstadt and Ramillies, the Duke of Marlborough, assisted by the Austrian troops of Prince Eugene, won the victory of Audernarde in 1708 over the Duke of Vendôme, and the following year fought the highly disputed battle of Malplaquet against Marshal de Villars.
The victory at Ramillies had a great impact in Great Britain: various ships of the Royal Navy were named after Ramillies: HMS Ramillies (07) and HMS Ramillies (1785) are examples. During the construction of the railroad between Tamines and Landen in 1862, the Scottish contractor E. The battlefield of Ramillies constitutes, with that of Waterloo, one of the major historical military sites of Belgium, rich in Gallo-Roman vestiges (Roman roadway, tumulus) and it is also an important stage on the ornithological migratory routes. A monument in the north wing of Westminster Abbey commemorates the death of Colonel Bingfield.
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: document used as a source for the writing of this article.
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