Siege of Valenciennes (1676–77)
|Siege of Valenciennes|
|Part of the Franco-Dutch War|
Musketeers of the Guard entering Valenciennes
|Commanders and leaders|
duc de Luxembourg |
|35,000 maximum||1,150 plus 2,000-3,000 auxilaries|
The Siege of Valenciennes took place from 28 February to 17 March 1677, during the Franco-Dutch War, when Valenciennes, then in the Spanish Netherlands, was attacked by a French army under the duc de Luxembourg. Siege operations were supervised by French military engineer Vauban and the town surrendered on 17 March; it was formally ceded to France by Spain under the August 1678 Treaty of Nijmegen.
In the 1667-1668 War of Devolution, France captured most of the Spanish Netherlands and the Spanish province of Franche-Comté but relinquished much of their gains under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, agreed with the Triple Alliance of the Dutch Republic, England and Sweden. To split the Alliance, Louis XIV paid Sweden to remain neutral, while signing an alliance with England against the Dutch in the 1670 Treaty of Dover.
France invaded the Dutch Republic in May 1672 at the start of the Franco-Dutch War and initially seemed to have won an overwhelming victory. However, the Dutch position stabilised, while concern at French gains brought support from Frederick William of Brandenburg-Prussia, Emperor Leopold and Charles II of Spain. France retained the Dutch stronghold of Maastricht, but withdrew from the Netherlands in 1673, additional fronts opening in the Rhineland and the Spanish Pyrenees.
The French position weakened in early 1674, first when Denmark-Norway joined the Alliance, then with the February Treaty of Westminster that made peace between England and the Dutch Republic. Despite this, by the end of 1674, France had re-captured Franche-Comté, while making significant gains in Alsace and the focus now changed to consolidation. An effective Allied response in Flanders was hampered by power struggles in Madrid, while Spanish control over the Spanish Netherlands was by now largely nominal.
Peace talks began at Nijmegen in the summer of 1676 but Louis usually took the offensive before agreeing terms, which enabled him to negotiate from strength. The French captured Condé-sur-l'Escaut, Bouchain, Maubeuge and Bavay during 1676, while repulsing an attempt to retake Maastricht. The plan for 1677 was to take Valenciennes, Cambrai and St Omer, completing the French 'frontière de fer' or 'iron border;' Louis calculated this would leave the Dutch little reason to continue.
In the winter of 1676/1677, French Secretary of State of War, the Marquis de Louvois, assembled supply depots along the border with the Spanish Netherlands. This allowed the campaign to open in February, a month earlier than usual, providing time to capture Valenciennes and Cambrai before the Dutch and Spanish could intervene. Marshall Luxembourg was given overall command of the campaign in Flanders and arrived before Valenciennes on 28 February, with around 35,000 men. 
Valenciennes was positioned on the Rhonelle, a tributary of the Scheldt (French; French: l'Escaut), a major trade route giving access to the sea at Antwerp. Until the advent of railways in the 19th century, goods and supplies were largely transported by water and campaigns often focused on gaining access to these.
The Spanish Governor was Henri de Melun, Marquis de Richebourg (1623-1690), an experienced soldier and brother of the Prince d'Epinoy, senior members of the French-speaking nobility in the Spanish Netherlands. He had around 1,150 regular troops, plus two to three thousand civilian auxiliaries and adequate supplies of food and arms. His position was hopeless without relief and Louvois' preparations meant the Dutch were still assembling troops and supplies. Since it was accepted the best defended town could not be held indefinitely, the primary objective for commanders like Richebourg was to occupy the attacking force as long as possible.
Siege operations were supervised by the French military engineer, Vauban; the bombardment began on 1 March but siege works were delayed by heavy rain. For propaganda purposes, Louis often appeared at major sieges and joined Luxembourg at Valenciennes, along with other subordinate commanders including his brother, Philippe of Orléans, d'Humières and La Feuillade.
Work on the trenches finally began on 8 March, preparing for an assault on the Porte d'Anzin, the strongest part of the defences but where the ground was driest. By 16 March, Vauban felt they were close enough to launch an attack and proposed they do so by day. This surprised Louis and Luxembourg, as normal practice was to do so at night but he argued it would also surprise the defenders, while allowing better co-ordination among the attacking force.
This was approved and the French artillery kept up a continuous bombardment during the night of 16th/17th, while an assault force of 4,000 moved into the trenches, including the elite Musketeers of the Guard. At 9:00 am on 17 March, the attackers formed two columns and stormed the walls; they achieved complete surprise and quickly over-ran the defenders, capturing a bridge over the Ronnelle that controlled access to the main city. Louis intended to annex Valenciennes, while the conventions of siege warfare accepted that as long as defenders surrendered when 'a practicable breach' had been made, both garrisons and civilians were given generous terms.
As both sides wanted to minimise the looting that often followed a successful assault, Richebourg promptly surrendered and Luxembourg withdrew the attacking troops after the city council agreed to pay a ransom.
The main army moved onto Cambrai, while 12,000 troops were detached to take St Omer, led by Philippe of Orléans and Humières. An attempt by William of Orange to relieve St-Omer was defeated at Cassel on 11 April and Cambrai surrendered on 17 April, followed by St-Omer on 20th. The war continued until the Treaties of Nijmegen in August 1678, when Spain ceded Saint-Omer, Cassel, Aire, Ypres, Cambrai, Valenciennes and Maubeuge; Ypres was returned in 1697, but this fixed France's northern frontier close to where it remains today.
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