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War of the Spanish Succession: Battle of Ramillies

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War of the Spanish Succession: Battle of Ramillies

The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Ramillies

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Ramillies - Conflict:

The Battle of Ramillies occurred during the War of the Spanish Succession.

Battle of Ramillies - Date:

The Duke of Marlborough defeated the French on May 23, 1706.

Armies & Commanders:

Grand Alliance

French

  • Duc de Villeroi
  • Maximilian II Emanuel
  • 60,000 men
  • 62 guns

Battle of Ramillies - Background:

Following an inconclusive campaign in 1705, the Duke of Marlborough returned to the Dutch Republic in April 1706 to take charge of the Grand Alliance's troops. Though he had initially planned to campaign in Italy or the Moselle Valley, recent French successes dictated that he attack through the Spanish Netherlands. Moving southwest from Maastricht, Marlborough did not believe that the French would be willing to offer battle. To the south, King Louis XIV, who was tired of war, pressed his generals to attack so that a more advantageous peace could be sought.

Battle of Ramillies - Preparations:

In response to the king's goading, the Duc de Villeroi departed Louvain with a mixed French-Bavarian army on May 18 to seek out Marlborough. Around 8:00 AM on May 23, an advance party from the Duke's army, led by Quartermaster General Earl Cadogan, located Villeroi's army near the village of Ramillies. Rushing with the main body of the army, Marlborough formed his men for battle on the Plains of Jandrenouille to the east of the village. With the approach of the Grand Alliance's army, Villeroi placed his men in a line running from the village of Taviers along the Mehaigne River north to the village of Autre Eglise.

Running north to south, the French line was situated on a ridge and also occupied the villages of Offus and Ramillies. While the northern two-thirds of line consisted of infantry, the space between Ramillies and Taviers, which consisted of an open plain, was held by General de Guiscard's cavalry. Due to the nature of the terrain, and the need to anchor his flanks on the villages, Villeroi was forced to overextend his lines. Moving forward in a compact formation, Marlborough possessed the advantage of interior lines as he opened the battle.

Battle of Ramillies - Fighting Begins:

At 1:00 PM, Marlborough's batteries opened fire and he ordered the Dutch infantry on his left to advance against the hamlet of Franquenée. Located in front of Taviers, it was lightly defended by a contingent of Swiss troops. Sweeping through Franquenée, the Dutch pressed the attack and surged into Taviers. In brutal hand-to-hand fighting, the Dutch managed to wrest control of the village from the French creating a crisis on Villeroi's flank. Seeing this, the French commander dispatched a mix of dragoons and infantry to re-take the village.

Advancing on Taviers, these assaults were repulsed by the Dutch defenders then swept away by attacking Danish cavalry. As the attack on Taviers was beginning, Marlborough pushed his English infantry, under the Earl of Orkney, forward on the right. Moving across the Petite Gheete stream, they assaulted the French positions around Autre Eglise of Offus. Concerned about the effectiveness of the English infantry, Villeroi began shifting troops from his center to support his left.

As Orkney's men were nearing breakthrough, Marlborough ordered them to fall back as the marshy ground would not allow the cavalry to exploit the breach. As Orkney pulled back, the Allied assault on Ramillies was beginning. Commanded by the Duke's brother, General John Churchill, the attack was led by a mix of Dutch, Saxon, Scottish, and Swiss infantry. Meeting determined resistance, the attack soon stalled. Seeing an opportunity, Marlborough began shifting Orkney's second line of infantry south to support the attack. Due to a swell in the terrain, this movement was not seen by Villeroi.

Battle of Ramillies - Allied Victory:

Around 3:30, Count Overkirk advanced the bulk of the Allied cavalry onto the plain between Ramillies and Taviers. Moving forward in support of Churchill's attack, Overkirk's horsemen initially pushed the French cavalry back. Counterattacking, the French forced Overkirk's right to collapse. Seeing this, Marlborough rapidly began moving cavalry from Orkney's command south to fill the gap. In directing this shift, the Duke was nearly killed when he was unhorsed. Despite the growing size of the cavalry fight, Villeroi refused to commit his 50-squadron cavalry reserve, believing it would be needed in the north.

With Allied numbers growing, the French cavalry began to falter with their right ultimately breaking. Charging into the gap, the Danish cavalry wheeled and struck the remaining French troopers in the flank. Releasing his cavalry reserve to meet this threat, Villeroi tried to no avail to reform a line facing south. The Allied success in the cavalry fight was further enhanced when Churchill's infantry broke through in Ramillies. With the French line crumbling, Orkney renewed his attack on Autre Eglise and Offus. With Allied forces breaking through all along the line, the French and Bavarians began fleeing the field.

Battle of Ramillies - Aftermath

The victory at Ramillies cost Marlborough 1,066 dead and 2,597 wounded. For Villeroi the battle had been a disaster with approximately 12,000 dead and wounded, as well as around 7,000 taken prisoner. Following the collapse of Villeroi's army, Marlborough was able to advance through the Spanish Netherlands capturing Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, and Ostend. By the end of the campaign in October, Marlborough had secured much of the Spanish Netherlands and had forced Louis XIV to begin seeking peace regardless of the cost.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1601-1800
  6. War of Spanish Succession
  7. Battle of Ramillies - War of the Spanish Succession Battle of Ramillies

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