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Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
|Born||(1611-09-11)11 September 1611
Castle of Sedan, Principality of Sedan (present-day France)
|Died||27 July 1675(1675-07-27) (aged 63)
Sasbach, Duchy of Württemberg (present-day Germany)
|Years of service||1625–1675|
|Rank||Maréchal général des camps et armées du roi|
Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne (11 September 1611 – 27 July 1675), often called simply Turenne, was a French Marshal General and the most illustrious member of the La Tour d'Auvergne family. His military exploits over his five-decade career earned him a reputation as one of the greatest generals in modern history.
Born to a Huguenot family, Turenne learned his military skills in Dutch service during the Eighty Years' War. After returning to France in 1630, he rose to prominence during the Thirty Years' War by capturing the fortress of Breisach in 1638. Created Marshal of France in 1643, he invaded Bavaria the following year, defeating the Bavarian army in three years of campaigning and forcing the Elector of Bavaria to make peace. The Elector soon broke the treaty and in 1648 Turenne invaded again with Swedish support, subduing the Imperial army at Zusmarshausen and pacifying Bavaria.
Turenne initially supported the Fronde but returned to Royal service in 1651, emerging as France's foremost general by defeating the rebellious army of the Prince of Condé on the outskirts of Paris and re-occupying the city. His triumphs against Spanish armies at Arras (1654) and at Dunkirk (1658) led to the overrunning of much of the Spanish Netherlands and brought the war against Spain to a victorious conclusion. Two years later, Louis XIV appointed him Marshal General of France. A supporter of absolute monarchy, he converted to Catholicism in 1668.
During the War of Devolution in 1667 Turenne captured the Spanish Netherlands practically without resistance. In 1672 the French invaded the Dutch Republic and the Marshal General conquered the country up to Amsterdam. Checked by the Dutch flooding of the land, he invaded the Holy Roman Empire the next year, reaching the Elbe and compelling Brandenburg to abandon the anti-French coalition. Faced with the loss of Alsace to superior Allied forces, he crowned his career with a series of battlefield victories, most notably at Turckheim (1675) and a masterful strategic turning movement around the Vosges in mid-winter that drove the Imperials from Alsace. He was killed by an Imperial cannonball at the battle of Salzbach in 1675.
Background and early career
The second son of Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon, sovereign Prince of Sedan, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, he was born at Sedan. It is said that much of his money found its way to the poor during his early life. He received a Huguenot education and the usual training of a young noble of the time, but physical infirmity, and particularly an impediment of speech (which he never lost), hampered his progress, though he showed a marked partiality for history and geography, and was greatly impressed by the exploits of Alexander the Great and Caesar. At first he was a lazy student. After his father began claiming that his intellectual laziness would be as great a barrier to joining the army as his physical weakness he began to study on his own accord. After his father's death in 1623, he devoted himself to bodily exercises and in a great measure overcame his natural weakness. At the age of fourteen he went to learn war, as he and his mother were devout Calvinists and were suspicious of Cardinal Richelieu, in the camp of his uncle, Maurice of Nassau the Stadtholder of Holland and Prince of Orange He began his military career as a private soldier in Maurice's bodyguard during the Eighty Years' War.
Frederick Henry of Nassau, who succeeded his brother Maurice as Stadtholder and Prince of Orange in 1625, granted Turenne a captaincy in 1626. He personally drilled his troops, as was the custom in that time, and won their respect with his charity and simple lifestyle. His company was alleged to be the best drilled and most disciplined one in the army, he required of his soldiers not only discipline but also high moral standards. His kindness made him well-liked among the entire army. The young officer took his part in the siege warfare of the period, learning much about fortifications and siege warfare. He won special commendation for his skill at the siege of Bois-le-Duc of 1629 but was reprimanded for recklessness. He also learned much about the details of leading an army like posting guards and reconnaissance. In 1630 Turenne left the Netherlands and entered the service of France, motivated both by the prospect of military advancement but also because of his mother's desire to display loyalty to the French crown.
Cardinal Richelieu immediately made him colonel of an infantry regiment. He still continued to serve at short intervals with the prince of Orange, who at the time had an alliance with France. He took part in successful fighting near Antwerp and fought against Van Den Berg. He took part in an uneventful campaign under Schomberg in 1630 but first serious service under the French flag occurred at the siege of La Mothe in Lorraine by Marshal de la Force (1634), where his brilliant courage at the assault won him immediate promotion to the rank of maréchal de camp (equivalent to the modern grade of major-general). In 1635 Turenne served under Louis de Nogaret de La Valette in Lorraine and on the Rhine. The French and their allies raised the Imperial siege of Mainz (8 August 1635), but the French army had to fall back on Metz for want of provisions. In the retreat he measured swords with the famous imperial General Gallas, and distinguished himself greatly. He managed to defeat his pursuers in battle but the Imperials were too numerous to be turned around. The reorganised army took the field again in 1636 and captured Saverne (Zabern), at the storming of which he was seriously wounded. In 1637 he took part in the campaign of Flanders, including the capture of Landrecies (26 July). In the latter part of 1638, serving under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar (1608–1639), he directed the assault on Breisach (reputedly the strongest fortress on the upper Rhine), which surrendered on 17 December.
Turenne had now gained a reputation as one of the foremost of the younger generals of France, and Richelieu next employed him in the Italian campaign of 1639–1640 under, Henri de Lorraine, count of Harcourt. On 19 November 1639 Turenne fought in the famous rearguard action called the battle of the "Route de Quiers", for which he received a lot of credit but he only gave himself only role in his own description. At the battle of Casal 10.000 Frenchmen defeated 20.000 Spanish, the French commander Harcourt was almost encircled but Turenne used deception to scare off the enemy and the battle was won. In 1640 Harcourt saved Casale Monferrato and besieged Prince Thomas' forces in Turin, which meanwhile besieged in their turn another French force in the citadel. That winter he re-victualled the citadel of Turin, held by the French against the forces of Prince Thomas of Savoy. The French in the citadel held out, while Prince Thomas had to surrender on 17 September 1640, a fourth army which had invested Harcourt's lines being at the same time forced to retire. Turenne, by now lieutenant-general, played a major role in the victory. He himself commanded during the campaign of 1641 and took Coni, Ceva and Mondovì.
In 1642 he served as second-in-command of the French troops which conquered Roussillon. At this time Richelieu discovered the conspiracy of Cinq Mars in which Turenne's elder brother, the Duke of Bouillon, had become implicated.
Marshal of France
The relations of the principality of Sedan to the French crown markedly influenced the earlier career of Turenne; sometimes it proved necessary to advance the soldier to conciliate the ducal family, at other times the machinations of the ducal family against Richelieu or Mazarin prevented the king's advisers from giving their full confidence to their general in the field. Moreover, his steady adherence to the Protestant religion provided a further element of difficulty in Turenne's relations with the ministers. Cardinal Richelieu nevertheless entrusted him with the command in Italy in 1643 under prince Thomas, who had changed sides in the quarrel, and who was not trusted by Richelieu. Thomas, while in theory in command himself, quickly put Turenne in control of the campaign. Using deception to fool the Spanish into weakening the Trino Turenne took the town in a few weeks. He gained the rank of Marshal of France (16 May 1643).
Turenne was recalled due to the intrigues of Cardinal Mazarin, who was sabotaging Turenne's career. This meant that he was available in case of sudden need for a good commander. After the French suffered a devastating defeat at Tuttlingen, Turenne was thrown back into action. The following campaign would greatly advance his career.
While molding the army back into fighting condition Turenne bought mounts for 5,000 cavalrymen and clothes for 4,000 infantrymen of his own money. The reorganization finished, Turenne began campaigning in June 1644, crossing the river Rhine at Breisach. He defeated Gaspard von Mercy killing 2.400 imperials. After this he was quickly joined however by a force under the Duke of Enghien, later to be known as the Grand Condé. The Duke, as a prince of the royal house, took the chief command of the united armies of "France" and "Weimar". The desperately fought battle of Freiburg against Franz von Mercy's Bavarians (3, 5 and 9 August 1644) proved the chief event of the first campaign. In this battle Turenne distinguished himself with a well executed strike at the enemy flank. The French continued on by successfully besieging Philippsburg. Before the capitulation Enghien withdrew and left Turenne in command. With Condé and most of the army gone Franz von Mercy occupied Mannheim and tried to induce Turenne to abandon the Siege of Philippsburg by pretending to crops the river there but to no avail. At the same time the Duke of Lorraine moved to besiege nearby Bacharach. Turenne to 500 men and built a huge camp near Bacharach, believing Turenne had a large force Lorraine retreated. Turenne continued on by taking the important fortress of Kreuznach and blocking the route between the two armies.
Turenne began the 1645 campaign with a successful forward movement, but Mercy managed to deceive him into thinking the Bavarians were scattered and far away and he was taken by surprise and defeated at Mergentheim. While Turenne had quickly ordered his forces to unite one of his subordinates, general Rosen, was not informed on the situation, defied the order, leading to defeat while Turenne's main force was wining. Turenne's army lost all of its artillery and baggage and five sixths of its infantry. Turenne retreated to Hesse, which caused its forces to join the French, while a Swedish force and reinforcements under Condé, who took command once again. The Swedes soon departed, but Enghien commanded still 17,000 men. The French marched into Bavaria with facing little opposition until they caught up with Mercy's retreating army. Mercy inflicted casualties of the French in an artillery duel and outmaneuvered them in the march on Allerheim, buying time to fortify his position. Turenne advised not to fight but this was rejected by Condé. Turenne's plan of attack was accepted by Condé. The following battle was a French victory and Mercy was killed but the French had suffered heavily. Ill-health forced Enghien to retire soon afterwards, leaving Turenne for the third time in command of the French army. He was met by superior imperial forces and forced to retreat. At Philippsburg Turenne crossed the Rhine using a bridge made of boats.
A month after his retreat Turenne was able to recross the Rhine and march 120 miles to Trier which he recaptured for its elector after over a decade of imperialist occupation. Having taken control of the Moselle for France by this move he set upon improving the defence of that river. Turenne now returned to France where he was offered the Duchy of Château-Thierry, which had also been promised to his brother, by Mazarin, who was trying to drive a wedge between Turenne and his rebellious brother, but Turenne saw what the cardinal was doing and accepted only if the transaction to his brother was completed. In 1646 Turenne obtained more military successes. He decided to unite his forces with those Swedish under Wrangel. Mazarin however had made a deal with the Duke of Bavaria not to unite French and Swedish forces and not to cross the Rhine. In return the Bavarians would not join the Imperial army. He ordered Turenne to besiege Luxembourg but Turenne correctly suspected the Duke of Bavaria of foul play and procrastinated. Soon the Bavarian army linked up with the imperials, who sent forces to block the road in between Turenne and Wrangel. Turenne outmaneuvered an Imperial blockade and successfully linked up with Wrangel. The combined army marched down the Danube and advanced as far as Munich and Bregenz, plundering their way through Bavaria. This convinced the Elector of Bavaria to make peace. With these manoeuvres Napoleon said he displayed “great boldness, sagacity and genius; they are fertile in grand results, and ought to be studied by all military men”. After these victorious manoeuvres the French laid waste to Bavaria.
In 1647 he proposed to attack the weakened army of the emperor, but he was ordered into Flanders instead. Not only did France thus lose an opportunity, but a serious mutiny broke out amongst the Weimar troops, who had not received their pay for six months. Rosen, who had been recently promoted to high office on Turenne's insistence, convinced the Weimarian cavalry to revolt, pretending to be held prisoner by them. Turenne had already left for Flanders with his main force but rode back with a small contingent, surprising the mutineers. Instead of destroying them with a surprise attack he marched with them as if he was still in command and managed to secretly have Rosen arrested after which the mutiny died down. He then marched into Luxembourg but soon received orders to switch to the Rhine. As Turenne predicted Bavaria again joined the Imperial course in 1647. He compelled the imperials to list Siege of Worms and formally declared war on Bavaria. After joining with the Swedes, once again led by Wrangel, they moved together against the imperials. Scouts detected the imperials, during the following night Turenne secretly moved his troops close to the imperials. The following day, 17 May, the imperials marched off unaware of the danger resulting in their rearguard being caught isolated and defeated in a vicious battle at Zusmarshausen. Troops subsequently wasted Bavaria with fire and sword until a more secure pacification was obtained This devastation, for which many modern writers have blamed Turenne, appeared no more harsh a measure than the spirit of the times and the circumstances of the case permitted. Turenne planned on moving into Austria and take Vienna, a Franco-Swedish army had already captured Prague, but as the Peace of Westphalia had been signed this campaign never materialized.
The Fronde and the early reign of Louis XIV
The Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought little peace to France, which soon became involved in the civil war of the Fronde (1648–1653). During the first war, he refused to join either side. Mazarin had him removed as commander of the army of Weimar causing Turenne to flee the Netherlands, where he remained until the treaty of Rueil (March 1649) put an end to the first war of the Fronde. Louis, Grand Condé had made many enemies at court, especially Mazarin, which eventually lead to conflict. While Condé had expected to be rewarded greatly for his military service, which had turned the Fronde in Mazarin favor, Mazarin did not have a high opinion of Condé accomplishment. Condé had recently inherited the princely title of Condé, won great fame and influence through his military actions, was made prince of the blood and had built strong connections among the members of the first Fronde. Now he and Mazarin were busy plotting each other's destruction. The second war erupted when Condé and some of his allies were arrested. Turenne, intended for arrest with them, escaped in time, and with the duchess de Longueville held Stenay for the cause of the "Princes"—Condé, his brother Conti, and his brother-in-law the Duc de Longueville. Love for the duchess seems to have ruled Turenne's action, both in the first war, and, now, in seeking Spanish aid for the Princes. In this war Turenne sustained one of his few reverses at Rethel (15 December 1650); but the second conflict ended in the early months of the following year with the collapse of the court party and the release of the Princes.
Turenne became reconciled and returned to Paris in May 1651, but the trouble soon revived and before long Condé again raised the standard of revolt in the south of France. In this, the third war of the Fronde, Turenne and Condé stood opposed to each other, the marshal commanding the royal armies, the prince that of the Frondeurs and their Spanish allies. Turenne displayed the personal bravery of a young soldier at Jargeau (28 March 1652), the skill and wariness of a veteran general at Gien (7 April), and he practically crushed the civil war in the Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine (2 July) and in the re-occupation of Paris (21 October).
Turenne still needed to deal with Condé, who was fighting alongside the Spaniards, however, and the long drawn-out campaigns of the "Spanish Fronde" gave ample scope for the display of scientific generalship on the part of both the famous captains. In 1653 Turenne had the advantage: he captured Rethel, Sainte-Menehould and Mouzon. The short campaign of 1654 again favoured the French; on 25 July 1654 they defeated the Spanish at Arras. In 1655 French armies gained more ground, but in 1656 Turenne suffered a serious defeat at Valenciennes, and though the causes of the defeat had been largely outside his control, he again showed his ability to recover from an outcome that would have overwhelmed lesser generals.
The war eventually concluded soon after Turenne's victory at the Battle of the Dunes near Dunkirk in 1658, in which a corps of English veterans sent by France's ally Oliver Cromwell played a notable part (3–14 June); a victory which, followed by another successful campaign in 1658, led to the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.
On the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 Louis XIV took the reins of government into his own hands, and as one of his first acts appointed Turenne "marshal-general of the camps and armies of the king". He had offered to revive the office of Constable of France (suppressed in 1627) in Turenne's favour if the marshal would become a Roman Catholic. Turenne declined. Born of Calvinist parents and educated a Protestant, he had refused to marry one of Richelieu's nieces in 1639 and subsequently rejected a similar proposal from Mazarin.
Turenne married in 1652 Charlotte de Caumont, a daughter of the Protestant Marshal de la Force, to whom he remained deeply attached. But he sincerely deplored the division of Christianity into two hostile camps. He had always distrusted the influence of many dissident and uncontrolled sects; the history of independence in the English army and people made a deep impression on his mind, and the same fear of indiscipline which drove the English Presbyterians into royalism drew Turenne more and more towards the Roman Catholic Church. The letters between him and his wife show how closely both studied available evidence on the matter, and in the end, two years after her death, the eloquence of Bossuet and the persuasions of his nephew, the Cardinal de Bouillon prevailed upon him to give his adhesion to the Roman Catholic faith (October 1668). In 1667 he had returned to the more congenial air of the "Camps and Armies of the King", directing (nominally under Louis XIV) the famous Promenade militaire in which the French overran the Spanish Netherlands. Soon afterwards Condé, now reconciled with the king, rivaled Turenne's success by the rapid conquest of the Franche-Comté, shortly before the end the War of Devolution in February 1668.
The Dutch War
In Louis XIV's Dutch War of 1672 Turenne accompanied the army commanded by the king which overran the Dutch United Provinces up to the gates of Amsterdam. The terms offered by Louis to the Prince of Orange only aroused a more bitter resistance.
The Dutch opened the dikes and flooded the countryside around Amsterdam. This measure completely checked Turenne, whom the king had left in command. News of this event roused Europe to action, and the conflict spread to Germany. Turenne fought a successful war of manoeuvre on the middle Rhine while Condé covered Alsace.
In January 1673 Turenne assumed the offensive, penetrated far into Germany, and forced the Great Elector of Brandenburg to make peace; later in the year, however, the famous imperial general Montecuccoli completely outmanoeuvred Turenne: Montecuccoli evaded his opponent, joined the Dutch and took the important place of Bonn.
In June 1674, Turenne won the battle of Sinzheim, which made him master of the Electorate of the Palatinate. Under orders from Paris the French wasted the country far and wide, and this devastation with the sack of Türckheim usually counts as the gravest blot on Turenne's fame. In the autumn the anti-French allies again advanced, and though they again outmanoeuvred Turenne, the action of the neutral city of Strasbourg occasioned his failure by permitting the enemy to cross the Rhine by the bridge at that place. The battle of Enzheim followed; this proved a tactical victory, but hardly affected the situation, and, at the beginning of December, the allies remained in Alsace. The old marshal now made the most daring campaign of his career. A swift and secret march in mid-winter from one end of the Vosges to the other took the allies by surprise. Sharply following up his first successes, Turenne drove the enemy to Turkheim, and there inflicted upon them a heavy defeat (5 January 1675). As revenge for the active resistance the inhabitants of the city had shown, Turenne let his troops loot it and massacre the remaining population during two weeks. In a few weeks he had completely recovered Alsace.
In the summer campaign he once more faced Montecuccoli, and after the highest display of "strategic chess-moves" by both commanders, Turenne finally compelled his opponent to offer battle at a disadvantage at Salzbach. There, on 27 July 1675, one of the first shots fired killed him. The news of his death produced universal sorrow.
Turenne's most eloquent countrymen wrote his éloges, and Montecucculi himself exclaimed, "II est mort aujourd'hui un homme qui faisait honneur à l'homme" (A man is dead today who did honour to Man). His body, taken to St Denis, was buried with the Kings of France. Even the extreme revolutionists of 1793 respected it, and, while they ignominiously reburied the bodies of the monarchs in a mass grave, they preserved the remains of Turenne at the Jardin des Plantes until 22 September 1800, when Napoleon had them removed to the church of the Invalides at Paris, where they still rest.
Napoleon recommended all soldiers to "read and re-read" the campaigns of Turenne as one of the great captains. His fame as a general rivalled that of any other in Europe at a period when the populace studied war more critically than ever before, for his military character epitomized the art of war of his time (Prince de Ligne). Strategic caution and logistic accuracy, combined with brilliant dash in small combats and constancy under all circumstances—of success or failure—perhaps emerge as the salient points of Turenne's genius for war. Great battles he avoided. "Few sieges and many combats" he used as his own maxim. And, unlike his great rival Condé, who appeared as brilliant in his first battle as in his last, Turenne improved day by day. Napoleon said of him that, his genius grew bolder as it grew older, and a later author, the Duke of Aumale (Histoire des princes de la maison de Condé), took the same view when he wrote: "To know him, you must follow him up to Salzbach. In his case, every day signaled some progress”.
In his personal character Turenne showed little more than the nature of a simple and honourable soldier, endowed with much tact; but in the world of politics and intellect he seemed almost helpless in the hands of a skilful intriguer or casuist. His morals, if not beyond reproach, were at least more austere than those prevalent in the age in which he lived. He operated essentially as a commander of regular armies. He spent his life with the troops; he knew how to win their affection; he tempered a severe discipline with rare generosity, and his men loved him as a comrade no less than they admired him as a commander. Thus, though Condé's genius appeared far more versatile, Turenne's genius best represents the art of war in the 17th century. For the small, costly, and highly trained regular armies, and for the dynastic warfare of the age of Louis XIV, Turenne functioned as the ideal army leader.
Marshal of France Turenne is depicted in several alternative history novels written by Eric Flint and David Weber. These include 1633 and 1634: The Baltic War. Turenne also appears in a historical novel by G.A. Henty called Won by the Sword.
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- Jagt, Arnold (2011), Book Reviews from Original Ads: A list of books for young people by G. A. Henty, archived from the original on 18 November 2012
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