The Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Ramillies in the War of the Spanish Succession on May 23, 1706. For one hundred years Irishmen are smuggled from Ireland to France, where their rights are stripped by foreign invaders to fill the ranks of the famous Irish Brigade. During those one hundred years they fight all over Europe, in North America, the Caribbean, and even India. They shed their blood freely on several hundred fields “from Dunkirk to Belgrade,” in the words of Thomas Davis.
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.
The campaign begins well for Louis XIV’s generals. In Italy, Marshal of France Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Calcinato in April, while in Alsace Marshal Claude Louis Hector de Villars forces Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, back across the Rhine. Encouraged by these early gains Louis XIV urges Marshal François de Neufville, Duke of Villeroy, to go over to the offensive in the Spanish Netherlands and, with victory, gain a ‘fair’ peace. Accordingly, the French Marshal sets off from Leuven at the head of 60,000 men and marches toward Tienen, as if to threaten Zoutleeuw. Also determined to fight a major engagement, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of Anglo-Dutch forces, assembles his army of some 62,000 men near Maastricht, and marches past Zoutleeuw. With both sides seeking battle, they soon encounter each other on the dry ground between the rivers Mehaigne and Gete, close to the small village of Ramillies, Belgium.
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)