Battle of Steenkerque
|Battle of Steenkerque|
|Part of the Nine Years' War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Duc de Luxembourg||William III of England and II of Scotland|
|Casualties and losses|
|8,000 killed and wounded||10,000 killed and wounded|
The Battle of Steenkerque (Steenkerque also spelled Steenkerke or Steenkirk) was fought on August 3, 1692, as a part of the Nine Years' War. It resulted in the victory of the French under Marshal François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg against a joint English-Scottish-Dutch-German army under Prince William of Orange. The battle took place near the village of Steenkerque in the Southern Netherlands, 50 km south-west of Brussels. Steenkerque is now part of the Belgian municipality of Braine-le-Comte.
The French had achieved their immediate object by capturing of Namur. The French, not wishing to fight, took up a strong defensive position in accordance with the strategical methods of the time. The French army lay facing North-West with its right on the Zenne at Steenkerque and its left towards Enghien. Their supposition was that the enemy would not dare to attack it.
William III had replaced Waldeck as supreme allied commander. The allied army was encamped about Halle. Of the 20 British regiments in the Allied army, 8 were Scottish, including the famed Mackay Regiment, who had landed with William at Torbay in 1688. The Allies, who would otherwise probably have done as the French marshal desired, were by the fortune of war afforded the opportunity of surprising a part of the enemy's forces. Accordingly William set his army in motion before dawn on August 3 and surprised the French right about Steenkerque. He completely misled the enemy by forcing a detected spy to give Luxemburg false news. In the 17th century when the objects of a war were, as far as possible, secured without the loss of valuable lives and general decisive battles were in every way considered undesirable, a brilliant victory over a part, not the whole, of the enemy's forces was the tactical idea of the best generals.
The Allied advanced guard of infantry and pioneers, under the Duke of Wurttemberg, deployed silently around 5:00 a.m. close to the French camps. The main body of the French army was farther back and forming up after the passage of some woods. Belatedly, Luxemburg became aware of the impending blow. When the fight opened, Luxemburg was completely surprised and he could do no more than hurry the nearest foot and dragoons into action as each regiment came on the scene.
The march of the Allies' main body was mismanaged. Valuable time was lost. At 9:00 a.m. Wurttemberg started methodically cannonading the enemy while waiting for support and for the order to advance. The French worked with feverish energy to form a strong and well-covered line of battle at the threatened point. The allied main body had marched in the usual order with one wing of cavalry leading, the infantry following, and the other wing of cavalry at the tail of the column. On arrival at the field they were hastily sorted out into infantry and cavalry, for the ground was only suitable for the former.
Only a few Allied battalions had come up to support the advanced guard when the real attack opened at 12:30. Although the advanced guard had already been under arms for nine hours and the march had been over bad ground, its attack swept the first French line before it. The British and Danes stubbornly advanced and the second and third lines of the French infantry gave ground before them. However, Luxemburg was rapidly massing his whole force to crush them. During this time the confusion in the allied main body had reached its height.
Count Solms ordered the cavalry he commanded forward, but the mounted men, scarcely able to move over the bad roads and heavy ground, only blocked the way for the infantry. Some of the British foot, with curses upon Solms and the Dutch generals, broke out to the front, and Solms, angry and excited, thereupon refused to listen to all appeals for aid from the front. No attempt was made to engage and hold the centre and left of the French army, which hurried, regiment after regiment, to take part in the fighting at Steenkerque. William's counter-order that the infantry was to go forward, the cavalry to halt, was opposed by General Hugh Mackay, who urged an ordered withdrawal, to effect a consolidation of the infantry. When directly ordered by William to advance he reportedly said "the will of the Lord be done", and was killed at the head of the Mackay Regiment, men of his own clan, after taking his place, on foot, at their head.
At the crisis Luxemburg had not hesitated to throw the whole of the French and Swiss guards into the fight, led by the princes of the royal house. More and more French troops under command of Boufflers appeared from side of Enghien. During and after this supreme effort the Allies were driven back, contesting every step against the weight of numbers.
The foot and dragoons of the main body which succeeded in reaching the front, served only to cover and to steady the retreat of Wurttemberg's force. The coup having manifestly failed, William ordered a general retreat. The Allies retired as they had come, their rear-guard under the Dutch Marshal Ouwerkerk showing too stubborn a front for the French to attack. The French army, very disordered and suffering heavy casualties, was in no state to pursue.
Over 8,000 men out of only about 15,000 engaged on the side of the Allies were killed and wounded. The losses of the French out of a much larger force were at least equal. Contemporary soldiers affirmed that Steenkirk was the hardest battle ever fought by the infantry in that war. Five British regiments were completely destroyed. Their commander, general Hugh Mackay, was also killed. Mackay's division, including the Mackay Regiment, composed of clansmen of his own name, bore the brunt of the day unsupported and the general himself was killed. John Cutts, was one of the few survivors.
The British blamed their great losses on the ineptitude of the Dutch general Count Solms in command of the Allied cavalry.
An article of dress was named after the battle. A "steinkirk" (also Steinquerque, Stinquerque in the mémoirs of Abbé de Choisy) was a lace cravat loosely or negligently worn, with long lace ends. According to Voltaire (l'Âge de Louis XIV), it was in fashion after the Battle of Steenkerque, where the French gentlemen had to fight with disarranged cravats on account of the surprise sprung by the Allies.
- 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th Edition, New York 1910, Vol.X, p.460: "The oriflamme and the Chape de St Martin were succeeded at the end of the 16th century, when Henry III., the last of the house of Valois, came to the throne, by the white standard powdered with fleurs-de-lis. This in turn gave place to the famous tricolour."George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana, The American Cyclopaedia, New York, 1874, p. 250, "...the standard of France was white, sprinkled with golden fleur de lis...". * The original Banner of France was strewn with fleurs-de-lis. *:on the reverse of this plate it says: "Le pavillon royal était véritablement le drapeau national au dix-huitième siecle...Vue du chateau d'arrière d'un vaisseau de guerre de haut rang portant le pavillon royal (blanc, avec les armes de France)."
- Lynn: The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714, p. 227
- Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV: 1667–1714. Longman, (1999). ISBN 0-582-05629-2