Battle of Landen

Battle of Landen
Part of the Nine Years' War
Schlacht bei Neerwinden (1693).jpg
Map of the battle. The Allied armies are in red
Date 29 July 1693
Location
Neerwinden, present-day Belgium
Result French victory
Belligerents
 France  England
 Scotland
 Dutch Republic
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Duc de Luxembourg William III of England and II of Scotland
Strength
66,000[1] 50,000[1]
Casualties and losses
9,000 - 15,000
killed, wounded, missing or captured
12,000 - 19,000
killed, wounded, missing or captured
La Hogue, May 1692; defeat ended French hopes of a decisive blow against England.

The Battle of Landen or Neerwinden was fought in present-day Belgium on 29 July 1693 during the Nine Years' War. A French army under Marshal Luxembourg assaulted positions held by William III's Allied army three times before driving them from the field. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and the French were unable to follow up their victory, allowing William to escape.

Background

Since 1689, the French generally had the better of the war in Flanders, capturing several major cities in the Spanish Netherlands but without dealing a decisive blow. Dutch objectives were essentially defensive so this amounted to a strategic victory particularly after William's successful invasion of England in 1688.[2] In 1692, French success at Namur and Steinkirk were offset by defeat at the Battle of La Hogue that ended hopes of restoring James II.

The huge costs of the war meant France was facing economic crisis while harvest failures led to widespread famine in 1693 and 1694; Louis needed peace but took the offensive once more as a prelude to offering terms. After some debate, the main French offensive for 1693 focused on Germany as this provided the best chance of forcing Austria out of the war, with subsidiary efforts in Italy and Flanders to tie down the Allies.[3] In support of this objective, the French commander in Flanders Marshall Luxembourg began a series of marches in June 1693 designed to confuse William as to his main objective by simultaneously appearing to threaten the fortresses of Liège, Huy and Charleroi.[4]

The battle

To maximise his field army, Luxembourg removed garrisons from French-controlled Maritime Flanders including Dunkirk and Ypres and William sent 15,000 men under the Duke of Wurtemberg to attack their lines. On 18 July, Luxembourg detached Marshall Villeroy to besiege Huy which forced William to march to its relief. He was still en route when it surrendered on 23 July, so he halted and reinforced the vital fortress of Liege with an additional ten battalions, bringing the total garrison up to 17,000.[5] His remaining forces established a line running in a rough semicircle from Eliksem on the right to Landen or Neerlanden on the left; this allowed flexibility of response depending on Luxembourg's next move but left them with the Little Geete River only three kilometres to the rear.[3]

Duc de Luxembourg Le Tapissier de Notre-Dame

These manoeuvrings meant Luxembourg had achieved a local numerical advantage over William of 66,000 to 50,000;[a] on 28 July, he reversed his route and reached Landen in the evening after a forced march of 30 kilometres. William was aware of the French approach by mid-afternoon but decided to stand and fight rather than risk a river crossing at night. His situation was extremely dangerous;[b] outnumbered, withdrawal restricted by the river behind his lines while the area enclosed by his troops was too shallow to allow reinforcements to be easily shifted from one flank to the other. William's right flank was key to the position as it protected the only line of retreat across the Geete; this section was anchored by the villages of Laar and Neerwinden and strongly held. In the centre, the open ground between Neerwinden and Neerlanden was solidly entrenched with the village of Rumsdorp as an advance post. The left rested on Landen brook and was the hardest to attack; as at Steinkirk the year before, this meant a large portion of the two armies i.e. those on the Allied left saw very little action.

Luxembourg concentrated his main assault force of 28,000 men on the Allied right with secondary attacks to 'pin' the Allied left and centre to prevent it being reinforced. The subsidiary attacks would be carried out by three lines of cavalry, supported by two lines of infantry and a further three lines of cavalry behind while a strong force of infantry and dragoons attacked Rumsdorp.

On 29 July, after a long cannonade 28 French battalions attacked along the line from Laar and Neerwinden; after fierce house to house fighting, they captured Laar and the 9 Allied battalions in Neerwinden were driven to the very edge of the village. The right flank was close to collapse but the diversionary attacks on the centre and left had not materialised, allowing the Allies to reinforce their right, counter-attack and expel the French from Laar and Neerwinden.

A second assault was repulsed but Luxembourg used the 7,000 men from the two lines of largely unused French infantry on the centre and left to launch a third assault, once again forcing William to move units from the centre. The Allied right finally began to retreat; observing this, the French cavalry commander Feuquières charged the Allied centre and over-ran the entrenchments, catching them in the open and inflicting heavy casualties. The Allies were forced to conduct a hurried retreat over the Geete; only a stubborn rearguard action and repeated cavalry charges led by William himself allowed the bulk of his army to escape.[7]> The number of standards captured by the French and sent for display in Notre-Dame de Paris earned Luxembourg the nickname 'Le Tapissier de Notre-Dame.'

Aftermath

Luxembourg might have won a crushing victory at Landen if the simultaneous attacks on the Allied left and centre had been made as planned; that delay plus stubborn resistance by his rearguard allowed William to salvage a very dangerous position. The Allies lost most of their artillery and suffered heavy casualties, estimated as between 12,000 - 19,000, with the French losing 9,000 - 15,000[8]William had a silver medal struck to celebrate his success in 'saving Liege' and escaping with the bulk of his troops; this was partly propaganda for a Dutch audience beginning to question his military skills but credible enough to remain current 150 years later.[9] There is some truth in this since it was yet another French tactical success that left them no nearer victory; William simply replaced his losses by recalling Württemberg from Maritime Flanders.

Luxembourg has been criticised for failing to exploit his victory; his troops were exhausted but it was also the consequence of French strategic confusion caused by Louis' constantly shifting focus. In June, a large part of his army was sent to Germany and he was tasked with preventing the Allies from ending reinforcements there; having achieved that, his next steps were unclear.In the end, Luxembourg and Louis agreed on the capture of Charleroi leading to Vauban besieging a fortress he designed himself a few years earlier.[10] Charleroi surrendered in October 1693 but once again the French had failed to land a decisive blow despite enormous expenditure, victory at Landen and the capture of two major fortresses. Their campaigns in Flanders would in future essentially be defensive.

Casualties

Among the casualties on the French side were

Among the casualties on the Allied side were

  • Count Solms, who was killed.
  • The Duke of Ormonde, who was saved by the large diamond on his finger. On seeing this jewel, the French soldier who was about to kill him changed his mind, deciding that this man could be worth more alive than dead.
  • The Earl of Galway was wounded and taken prisoner. But using the fact that he was French, he managed to escape in the confusion.


Other

Laurence Sterne's famous picaresque novel Tristram Shandy of 1759 contains a number of references to the Nine Years' War, including the 1695 Second Siege of Namur. The character Corporal Trim refers to the Battle of Landen as follows:

Your honour remembers with concern, said the corporal, the total rout and confusion of our camp and army at the affair of Landen; every one was left to shift for himself; and if it had not been for the regiments of Wyndham, Lumley, and Galway, which covered the retreat over the bridge Neerspeeken, the king himself could scarce have gained it - he was press'd hard, as your honour knows, on every side of him...[12]

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