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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Battle of Blenheim

battle-of-blenheimThe Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Blenheim, a major battle of the War of the Spanish Succession, on August 13, 1704. The overwhelming Allied victory ensures the safety of Vienna from the Franco-Bavarian army, thus preventing the collapse of the Grand Alliance.

Louis XIV of France seeks to knock Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, out of the war by seizing Vienna, the Habsburg capital, and gain a favourable peace settlement. The dangers to Vienna are considerable as Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria and Marshal of France Ferdinand de Marsin‘s forces in Bavaria threaten from the west and Marshal Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme‘s large army in northern Italy poses a serious danger with a potential offensive through the Brenner Pass. Vienna is also under pressure from Francis II Rákóczi‘s Hungarian revolt from its eastern approaches. Realising the danger, the John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough resolves to alleviate the peril to Vienna by marching his forces south from Bedburg and help maintain Emperor Leopold within the Grand Alliance.

A combination of deception and skilled administration, designed to conceal his true destination from friend and foe alike, enables Marlborough to march 250 miles unhindered from the Low Countries to the River Danube in five weeks. After securing Donauwörth on the Danube, Marlborough seeks to engage the Elector’s and Marsin’s army before Marshal Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard can bring reinforcements through the Black Forest. However, with the Franco-Bavarian commanders reluctant to fight until their numbers are deemed sufficient, the Duke enacts a policy of plundering in Bavaria designed to force the issue. The tactic proves unsuccessful, but when Tallard arrives to bolster the Elector’s army, and Prince Eugene of Savoy arrives with reinforcements for the Allies, the two armies finally meet on the banks of the Danube in and around the small village of Blindheim, from which the English “Blenheim” is derived.

Blenheim is one of the battles that alters the course of the war, which until then was leaning for Louis’ coalition, and ends French plans of knocking the Emperor out of the war. France suffers as many as 38,000 casualties including the commander-in-chief, Marshal Tallard, who is taken captive to England. Before the 1704 campaign ends, the Allies have taken Landau, and the towns of Trier and Traben-Trarbach on the Moselle in preparation for the following year’s campaign into France itself. The offensive never materialises as the Grand Alliance’s army has to depart the Moselle to defend Liège from a French counteroffensive. The war would rage on for another decade.

(Pictured: The Duke of Marlborough Signing the Despatch at Blenheim. Oil by Robert Alexander Hillingford)

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Birth of Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal

thomas-arthur-lallyThomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal, French General of Irish Jacobite ancestry, is born on January 13, 1702. Lally commands French forces in India during the Seven Years’ War, including two battalions of his own red-coated Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade.

Lally is born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, one of the original “Wild Geese” of 1691 and an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family. His title is derived from the Lally’s ancestral home, Castel Tullendally in County Galway where the Lally’s, originally called O’Mullallys, are prominent members of the Gaelic Aristocracy who can trace their ancestry back to the second century High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he serves in the war of 1734 against Austria. He is present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and commands the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade in the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. He is made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV of France.

Lally is a staunch Jacobite and in 1745 accompanies Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Escaping to France, he serves with Marshal Maurice de Saxe in the Low Countries. At the Siege of Maastricht in 1748 he is made a maréchal de camp.

When war breaks out with Britain in 1756 Lally is appointed governor-general of French India and commands a French expedition to India, made up of four battalions, two of whom are from his own Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade. He reaches Pondicherry in April 1758, and within six weeks has pushed the British back from the coast to Madras, the headquarters of the British East India Company.

He is a man of courage and a capable general, but his pride and ferocity make him unpopular with his officers and men. He is unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and as he lacks French naval support he has to retire from the Siege of Madras in 1758, owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He is defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, and besieged in Pondicherry, where he is forced to capitulate in 1761.

Lally is sent to England as a prisoner of war. Public opinion in France is very hostile, blaming him for the defeat by the British, and there are widespread calls for Lally to be put on trial. While in London, he hears that he is accused of treason in France, and insists, against advice, on returning on parole to stand trial. He is kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial begins in 1764. When the Advocate General of the Paris Parlement Joseph Omer Joly de Fleury begins the prosecution, Lally has not received any documentation of the charges and is not allowed a defence lawyer. Throughout the trial, which lasts for two years, Lally fights against Joly de Fleury’s charges but on May 6, 1766 he is convicted and sentenced to death.

Lally makes an unsuccessful attempt at suicide in prison after his sentencing. On May 9, 1766, three days after his conviction, he is gagged to prevent him from protesting his innocence further and is transported in a garbage cart to the Place de Grève to be beheaded. The executioner’s first blow only slices open his skull and it takes a second blow to kill him.