Battle of Fontenoy: Date & Conflict:
The Battle of Fontenoy was fought May 11, 1745, during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Fontenoy: Background:
The fifth year of the War of the Austrian Succession opened with French forces under Marshal Maurice de Saxe advancing and laying siege to the Dutch garrison at Tournai. The gateway to Flanders, this action required a response from the Allies. Having been decoyed away from the area by a French feint towards Mons, the Pragmatic Army led by the Duke of Cumberland returned and began moving to the city's aid. Only 24, Cumberland was the favored son of King George II and led a mixed force of British, Austrian, Dutch, and Hanoverian troops.
Setting the Stage:
Known as the Pragmatic Army, the Allied force had acquired the name through its support of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 which recognized Maria Theresa as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. As Cumberland's army marched, de Saxe made preparations to receive it. Doubting the ability of his troops to fight the Allies in open battle, he assumed a strong defensive position east of Tournai, near the village of Fontenoy. Arraying his troops along the top of a rise, the French position formed an "L" with its right anchored on the River Scheldt and the village of Antoing.
The French line extended east from the river to the fortified village of Fontenoy before turning north and ending at a large forest known as the Le Bois de Barry where it was anchored by the Redoubt D’Eu . Constructing field works and several redoubts, de Saxe hoped to entice the Allies to attack up the rise in the gap between Fontenoy and the forest. Arriving on May 10, Allied forces approached from the south through the village of Vezon. Seeing French troops on the heights, Cumberland remained unsure of the location of de Saxe's main force. Later in the day, he sent forward cavalry to probe the French lines.
The Battle of Fontenoy:
Forming the army the next morning, Cumberland desired Marshal Dominik von Koningseck to lead the Austrians against Antoing, while Prince Waldeck attacked Fontenoy with the army's Dutch contingent. As these attacks moved forward, he intended to assault the gap between the village and forest with his British and Hanoverian infantry. Moving forward, both of Waldeck's assaults on Fontenoy were thrown back. The failure to capture Fontenoy meant that Cumberland's attack force of 15,000 men and 20 guns would be subjected to flanking fire as it advanced.
To cover the advance on the right, Brigadier James Ingoldsby was instructed to capture to the Redoubt D'Eu. Pushing forward, he failed to do so, despite numerous entreaties from Cumberland to attack. Under fire from both sides, the Hanoverians and British showed great discipline as they were forced to deploy under fire, with the former on the right and the latter on the left. As the Allied columns moved forward a brief artillery duel ensued which saw Cumberland advance sufficient firepower to force the French back slightly.
Advancing up the rise and under fire from both flanks, Cumberland's men exchanged taunts with the French and the fighting began in earnest. As it moved forward, Cumberland's "Infernal Column" became more compressed as fire on the flanks increased. Initially driving back the enemy with steady volley fire, the Allied troops succeeded in entering the French position, but had practically formed a square due to French troops attacking from all sides. Observing the fighting with de Saxe, Louis XV and his court debated fleeing the field but elected to remain.
Having halted Cumberland's advance, de Saxe began organizing a series of coordinated counter-attacks, including those by the Irish Brigade, against the Allied formation. These were repulsed with heavy losses on both sides, but continued to prevent the Allies from advancing. Due to a lack of action on Antoing front, de Saxe was able to draw troops from other parts of the line and began to mass men and artillery for a final blow. Beginning around 2:00 PM, his men renewed their attacks and succeeded in breaking Cumberland's formation and forcing his men to retire back down the heights.
Aftermath of Fontenoy:
As the battle was focusing on Cumberland's attack, the Highland Regiment made several frenzied, but unsuccessful assaults on Fontenoy. Retreating south, Cumberland's men halted above Vezon to regroup. In the fighting, Cumberland's Pragmatic Army suffered around 10,000-12,000 killed, wounded, and captured, while French losses numbered 7,137. Having defeated Cumberland, de Saxe was able to successfully complete the siege of Tournai as well as capture several other towns in Flanders later that year. The French success inspired a second Jacobite uprising, the Forty-Five, in Scotland later that year.
Falling back to Brussels, Cumberland was criticized for his tactics in the battle. With the outbreak of the Forty-Five, he was recalled to Britain along with several of his regiments to deal with the forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Pursuing the Jacobite army north, he defeated it and crushed the uprising at the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746.