Battle of Rocroi

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Coordinates: 49°55′10″N 4°31′40″E / 49.91944°N 4.52778°E / 49.91944; 4.52778

Battle of Rocroi
Rocroi, el último tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011)
Rocroi, el último tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011)
Date 19 May 1643
Location Rocroi, France
Result Decisive French victory
Belligerents
 France  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Duc d'Enghien Spain Francisco de Melo
Strength
17,000 infantry
6,000 cavalry
14 guns[1]
19,000 infantry (includes 8,000 Spanish)[2]
8,000 cavalry
18 guns[1]
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead, wounded or captured[3] 7,000 dead, wounded or captured[3]

The Battle of Rocroi of 19 May 1643 resulted in the victory of a French army under the Duc d'Enghien against the Spanish Army under General Francisco de Melo only five days after the accession of Louis XIV of France to the throne of France, late in the Thirty Years' War. The battle is considered by many[who?] to be the turning point of the perceived invincibility of the Spanish tercio.

Context

War is raging in Germany since 1618 between Habsburg, led by Philip IV of Spain, and protestant powers. In 1635, because it couldn't bear a Habsburg supremacy all along its borders, France declared war against them, on protestant side, despite being a stern catholic power having suppressed Huguenot rebellions at home.

On 4 December 1642, Cardinal Richelieu died, then Louis XIII went ill in spring 1643 (he will die on 14 may 1643). However France didn't change war course: French military pressure on Franche-Comté, Catalonia, and Spanish Flanders went on.

As it had done the year before (with some success and the climax of its victory at Battle of Honnecourt), the renowned Spanish Habsburg Army of Flanders of about 27,000 men advanced from Flanders, through the Ardennes, and into northern France so as to relieve this pressure.

Against them, Enghien had been appointed, on 17 april, commander of the french army positioned around Amiens. Although 21-years-old, he was not inexperienced, and he had worthy subordinates, among them Jean de Gassion.

Prelude

Map of the troop dispositions

The Spanish troops set siege to Rocroi, which lay athwart the route to the valley of the Oise, garrisoned by a few hundreds French. Enghien follows De melo closely. On 17 may, he learned of death of the king, which he keeps secret.

Having had word of 6,000 Spanish reinforcements on their way, Enghien, reacted quickly and moved his army, some 23,000 strong, to have battle before their arrival. De Melo could had easily blocked the road, which passed through a defile bordered by woods and marsh, while going on the siege of Rocroi; but his army being stronger than french, he saw the battle as an opportunity, and was as eager to fight as Enghien. Before Rocroi he left just a detachment strong enough to prevent an action from the garrison, and moved his army to battle.

Enghien advanced through the defile and assembled his force along a ridge looking down on the besieged town of Rocroi. The Spanish quickly formed up between the town and the ridge. The French army was arranged with two lines of infantry in the center, squadrons of cavalry on each wing and with a thin line of artillery at the front. The Spanish army was similarly arranged, but with its infantry in their traditional tercios, or squares. The two armies exchanged some fire on 18 afternoon, but full battle did not occur and they bivouacked in their positions for the night.

Battle

Duc d'Enghien at the Battle of Rocroi

The battle began after dawn. The French army attacked, but the French infantry in the center were bested by the Spanish. The cavalry on the French left, advancing against Enghien's orders, was also thrown back, and Spanish cavalry made a successful counter-attack to drive off the French cavalry; French reserve moved on and succeeded in checking Spanish, but french left and center were in trouble.

Meanwhile on the French right, cavalry under the command of Jean de Gassion routed the Spanish cavalry opposite. Enghien himself was able to follow this up by attacking the exposed left flank of the Spanish infantry.

The battle was still inconclusive, with both armies having had success on their right and trouble on their left.

Enghien's « illumination de génie décide du sort de la journée »[4]

Enghien, being aware that his left and center were in trouble, quickly decided that the best way to help them was not to fell back and support them, but instead, to exploit his wining momentum. He immediately carried out a huge cavalry encirclement, sweeping behind the Spanish army and smashing his way through to attack the rear of the Spanish cavalry, which was still in combat with his reserves (french left side, right Spanish one).

The move succeeded. It later was called a "stroke of genius that decided of the day", and asserted Enghien's reputation as a military leader.

The Spanish horse was put to flight, leaving the Spanish infantry to carry on the fight against french on all sides, that more-upon had seized many Spanish guns. French had already won, but the fight was not over.

The end

Tercios twice repulsed the French trying to break them, so Enghien arranged for his artillery and captured Spanish guns to blast them apart.

The German and Walloon tercios fled from the battlefield, while the Spanish remained on the field with their commander, repulsing four cavalry charges by the French and never breaking formation, despite repeated heavy artillery bombardment. Enghien finally offered surrender conditions just like those obtained by a besieged garrison in a fortress. Having agreed to those terms, the remains of the two tercios left the field with deployed flags and weapons.[5]

French losses were about 4,000. The total Spanish losses were about 7,000 dead, wounded, or captured, mostly supported by infantry, while most of Spanish cavalry succeeded in saving itself.

Aftermath and significance

French kept Rocroi, but were not strong enough to move the fight into Spanish territory in Flanders. The Spanish were able to rapidly regroup and stabilize their positions.[6]. On this theater the year finished in stalemate, which was enough of a success for France.

Despite this, the battle was of great symbolic importance because of the high reputation of the Army of Flanders.[7].

The successful show of strength was important for France. At home, it was seen as a very good omen for the beginning reign, secured the power of the regent queen and newly appointed cardinal Mazarin. While both Richelieu and Louis XIII had distrusted his wife the queen Anne of Austria (she was sister of Philip IV of Spain), when she became regent (until the 4 year old new king Louis XIV come of age), she confirmed Mazarin, Richelieu's protégé and political heir, as prime minister, and no change in politics occurred regarding the war.

It established the starting reputation of the 21-year-old French general Enghien, who later will be called "Grand Condé" ("grand" meaning "great") for his numerous victories.

Abroad, it showed that France remained as strong as before, despite its 4-year-old king. It will later be clear that actually France was much stronger than it had been in the Valois' era, in the previous century. Supremacy in Europe will switch from Habsburg Spain to Bourbon France in the years to come. It was the new nature and weight of absolute monarchy in France which was now to encompass the downfall of Spanish imperial power in Europe.[8]Cardinal Mazarin will be able to cope with Fronde, then to slowly turn the tide against the Spanish in France and in the Low Countries. Mazarin's alliance with England resulted in the defeat of the Spanish at the Battle of the Dunes and consequently the taking of Dunkirk in 1658, leading to the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Although Spain looked to be all-powerful in 1652, the peace settlement reflected the demise of Spain's mastery of Europe in the late 1650s.[9]

It has been noted that Melo's German, Walloon, and Italian troops actually surrendered first, while the Spanish infantry surrendered only after standing hours of infantry and cavalry charges and a vicious spell under the French guns. They were given the treatment usually given to a fortress garrison and retired from the field with their arms, flags and honors.

In media

A 2006 Spanish movie, Alatriste, directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes, portrays this battle in its final scene. The soundtrack features in this scene a funeral march, La Madrugá, composed by Colonel Abel Moreno for the Holy Week of Seville, played by the band of the regiment Soria 9, heir of that which participated in the battle, the oldest unit in the Spanish Army, and since nicknamed "the bloody Tercio".[citation needed]

Museum

The sedan chair belonging to the elderly Spanish infantry general Fontaines (who was from the Spanish Netherlands - now Belgium - and was known to the Spanish as Fuentes) was taken as a trophy by the French and may be seen in the museum of Les Invalides in Paris. Fontaines was killed in the battle; Enghien is reported to have said, "Had I not won the day I wish I had died like him".

References

  1. ^ a b John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. p. 74. ISBN 006089170X. 
  2. ^ "Battle of Rocroi". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  3. ^ a b John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. p. 75. ISBN 006089170X. 
  4. ^ Iselin 1965, p. 149.
  5. ^ Agustín Pacheco Fernández, Rocroi, el último tercio. Spain: Galland Books, 2011. pp. 15-17
  6. ^ Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002,p 147
  7. ^ Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002,p 147
  8. ^ Perry Anderson (23 April 2013). Lineages of the Absolutist State (Verso World History Series). Verso Books. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-78168-054-4. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 
  9. ^ William Young (1 September 2004). International Politics And Warfare In The Age Of Louis Xiv And Peter The Great: A Guide To The Historical Literature. iUniverse. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-595-32992-2. Retrieved 28 April 2013. 

Further reading

  • Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270056-1. 
  • Stephane Thion (2013). Rocroi 1643: The Victory of Youth. Histoire et Collections. ISBN 978-2352502555. 
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