Catinat, advancing from Fenestrelle and Susa to the relief Pinerolo, defended by René de Froulay, Comte de Tessé, and which the Duke of Savoy is besieging, takes up a position in formal order of battle north of the village of Marsaglia, near Orbassano. Here, on October 4, the Duke of Savoy attacks him with his entire army, front to front, but the greatly superior regimental efficiency of the French, and Catinat’s minute attention to details in arraying them, gives the new marshal a victory that is a worthy pendant to Neerwinden.
During the battle, Irish dragoons are reported to have “overthrown squadrons, sword in hand,” but elsewhere on the battlefield, Prince Eugene of Savoy overruns a French line and advances to the second line, held by Irish regiments. There Eugene’s advance is broken, and his troops are soon put to rout. The impetuous Irish then pursue without orders. Seeing this development, the French commander orders a general advance and the allied army breaks and runs. Official French reports speak of the “extreme valor” of the Irish that day.
The Piedmontese and their allies lose approximately 12,000 killed, wounded and prisoners, as against Catinat’s 1,800. Among the Irish killed in this great victory are Brigadier Francis O’Carroll of the dragoons and Colonel Daniel O’Brien, 4th Viscount Clare. One very young officer of the Irish Brigade who survives the fight is Lieutenant Peter Lacy.
Marsaglia is, if not the first, at any rate, one of the first, instances of a bayonet charge by a long deployed line of infantry. Hussars figure here for the first time in Western Europe. A regiment of them had been raised in 1692 from deserters from the Austrian service. It is also notable as one of the first major battles to see the new Irish Brigade in action for the French army.
(Pictured: Marshal Nicholas Catinat at the Battle of Marsaglia, October 4, 1693, painting by Eugène Devéria, 1837, Museum of the History of France)
For the Grand Alliance – Austria, England, and the Dutch Republic – the Battle of Ramillies follows an indecisive campaign against the Bourbon armies of King Louis XIV of France in 1705. Although the Allies capture Barcelona that year, they are forced to abandon their campaign on the Moselle, stall in the Spanish Netherlands and suffer defeat in northern Italy. Yet despite his opponents’ setbacks Louis XIV wants peace, but on reasonable terms. Because of this, as well as to maintain their momentum, the French and their allies take the offensive in 1706.
In less than four hours Marlborough’s Dutch, English, and Danish forces overwhelm Villeroi’s and Maximilian II Emanuel‘s Franco-Spanish-Bavarian army. The Duke’s subtle moves and changes in emphasis during the battle, something his opponents fail to realise until it is too late, catches the French in a tactical vice. With their foe broken and routed, the Allies are able to fully exploit their victory. Town after town falls, including Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp. By the end of the campaign Villeroi’s army has been driven from most of the Spanish Netherlands. With Prince Eugene of Savoy‘s subsequent success at the Siege of Turin in northern Italy, the Allies impose the greatest loss of territory and resources that Louis XIV would suffer during the war. Thus, the year 1706 proves, for the Allies, to be an annus mirabilis.
(Pictured: “The Battle of Ramillies between the French and the English, 23 May 1706” by Jan van Huchtenburgh, oil on canvas painted between 1706 and 1710)
Patrice de MacMahon, a descendant of an Irish family, resigns as president of France on January 30, 1879, and retires to private life. His resignation comes after he dissolves the Chamber of Deputies, resulting in public outrage and a Republican electoral victory earlier in the month.
Born Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de MacMahon on July 13, 1808, in Sully, France, he serves as Marshal of France and second president of the French Third Republic. During his presidency the Third Republic takes shape, the new constitutional laws of 1875 are adopted, and important precedents are established affecting the relationship between executive and legislative powers.
When Adolphe Thiers resigns as president of the republic on May 24, 1873, French rightists turn to MacMahon as his successor. He is elected president the same day. On November 20, 1873, the National Assembly passes the Law of the Septennate, conferring upon him presidential power for seven years. He assumes his presidential duties somewhat reluctantly, for he dislikes publicity and lacks an understanding of the complex political issues of his day.
During MacMahon’s term the French Constitutional Laws of 1875 are promulgated. The National Assembly dissolves itself, and the elections of 1876 returns a large majority of republicans to the new chamber. The first crisis comes in December 1876, when the republican chamber compels him to invite the moderate republican Jules Simon to form a government. The conservative Senate disapproves of Simon because he had purged some rightist officials, and, on May 16, 1877, MacMahon posts a letter to Simon that is tantamount to dismissal. Premier Simon’s resignation precipitates the crise du seize mai. When MacMahon commissions conservative Albert de Broglie to form a ministry and wins the Senate’s assent to dissolve the chamber on June 25, 1877, the question of whether the President or Parliament would control the government is squarely posed.
The new elections to the chamber return a majority of republicans, and the de Broglie ministry is given a vote of “no confidence.” The succeeding ministry, headed by Gaëtan de Rochebouët, also collapses. By December 13, 1877, MacMahon gives in to the extent of accepting a ministry led by conservative republican Jules Dufaure and composed mostly of republicans. On January 5, 1879, the republicans gain a majority in the Senate, and MacMahon resigns on January 30. The constitutional crisis during his presidency is resolved in favour of parliamentary as against presidential control, and thereafter during the Third Republic the office of president becomes largely an honorific post.
From 1887 to 1893, MacMahon directs the Société de secours aux blessés militaires (S.S.B.M) – Rescue Society of Wounded Military, which in 1940 becomes the French Red Cross.
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)