Battle of Denain

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Battle of Denain
Part of the War of the Spanish Succession
Villars a Denain1.jpg
Marshal Villars leads the French charge at the Battle of Denain. Oil on canvas, 1839. (Galerie des Batailles, Palace of Versailles)
Date 24 July 1712
Location Denain, present-day France
Result Decisive French victory[1][2]
Belligerents
 Dutch Republic
 Holy Roman Empire
 France
Commanders and leaders
Dutch Republic Earl of Albemarle
Habsburg Monarchy Eugene of Savoy
Kingdom of France Claude de Villars
Strength
120,000 100,000
Casualties and losses
6,500 dead, wounded, or captured[3] 880 dead
1,186 wounded

The Battle of Denain was fought on 24 July 1712, as part of the War of the Spanish Succession. It resulted in a French victory under Marshal Villars against Austrian and Dutch forces under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Background[edit]

The War of Spanish Succession had raged since 1701. After 11 years of war, France was in a dark period, both financially and militarily. The early victories of Marshal Villars at the Battle of Friedlingen and the Battle of Höchstadt were followed by numerous defeats to the Allied forces, most notably the armies under Prince Eugene of Savoy and the Duke of Marlborough. In 1708, after the rout of Oudenaarde, nearly all the strongholds of northern France were under the control of the Austro-British coalition. There was also an economic crisis (the winter of 1708-1709 is one of the most rigorous of the 18th century) leading to famine and high mortality in the populace.

The command of the French northern army went to Marshal Villars in 1709, who wasted no time in seeing to its reorganization. When the Allied campaign led by Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough engaged the French at Malplaquet, Villars was wounded and the French retreated from the field, but the Allies suffered twice as many casualties and their campaign soon sputtered out. France's precarious position had been stabilized, the Allies were unable to achieve their goal of forcing harsh terms on the Bourbons, and the war continued.

Prelude[edit]

In May 1712, Villars prepared to take the offensive. The French gathered an army of 200,000 men on the northern border, stretching from Arras to Cambrai. The Allied northern army was positioned along the Scarpe between Douai and Marchiennes, occupying the communes of Denain and Landrecies. The successful but controversial Marlborough had recently been relieved of his command and the British forces were now under the leadership of the Duke of Ormonde, who was under secret orders not to fight alongside the Allies under the Prince of Savoy. In June, Prince Eugene besieged and captured Le Quesnoy. The Duke of Ormonde withdrew his forces during the siege, leading to a rift between the British and the rest of the Allies.

The Battle[edit]

After a detailed examination of the enemy dispositions, Villars decided in the greatest secrecy to attack Denain. Elements of the French cavalry were sent to seize the various bridges crossing the river Selle [4] which ran through le Cateau to join the Scheldt opposite Denain. During the evening a French detachment also took up positions around a mill at Haspres, blocking the river crossing there. That night the French infantry began to march towards Prince Eugene’s forces at Landrecies. In response to this threat, Prince Eugene reinforced Landrecies, weakening the Allied right wing (under the Earl of Albemarle) holding Denain.

At dawn, however, Villars swung the line of advance of his army and aimed it (behind the cover of the Selle) in three columns at Denain. At five o'clock in the morning, Villars and his principal lieutenants drew up their plan of attack at Avesnes-le-Sec; they choose the windmill there[5] as a vantage point for observation of the surrounding lowland. At seven o’clock the French infantrymen reached Neuville-sur-Escaut and were immediately ordered to seize the bridges across the Scheldt. At eight o’clock, the Allies were surprised to discover the large French presence in the area. The Earl of Albermarle, at the head of the Dutch garrison in and around Denain, warned Prince Eugene, but the Prince of Savoy was not greatly concerned at the time. By one in the afternoon the attack had developed to the point of an assault on the palisade at Denain. The French sappers led the infantry against heavy fire and took Denain at the point of the bayonet. Many defenders were killed and the remaining Dutch infantry attempted to escape across the mill bridge, but it collapsed during the retreat and hundreds of Allied troops drowned.

Realizing the gravity of the situation, Prince Eugene attempted to force his way across the Scheldt at Prouvy to help Albemarle. Under the command of the Prince de Tingry, French regiments held the bridge at Prouvy against repeated Austrian attacks; finally, as the day drew to a close, the French destroyed the bridge to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. This left the Prince of Savoy's army blocked on the left flank by the Scheldt and the Allies could not counterattack to retake Denain. There, Albemarle and his staff were taken prisoner, together with some 4,100 troops.

Aftermath[edit]

The battle was not immediately recognised to be as decisive as it turned out to be; most of Prince Eugene's army was relatively unscathed. However, with the loss of Denain the Allied position began to unravel, and over the next few months the French recovered most of the towns they had lost in the region in previous years.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

Coordinates: 50°20′N 3°24′E / 50.333°N 3.400°E / 50.333; 3.400