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Prince Eugene of Savoy

This article refers to the Austrian Habsburg military leader; for the stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte, see Eugène de Beauharnais.
François-Eugène, Prince of Savoy-Carignan (18 October 1663 – 21 April 1736), was a general of world renown, and one of the most prominent military commanders in European history. Born in Paris to aristocratic Italian parents, Eugene grew up around the French court of King Louis XIV. He was initially prepared for a career in the church, but by the age of 19 the Prince had determined on a military career. Rejected by King Louis for service in the French army, Eugene moved to Austria, and transferred his loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy.

Spanning six decades, Eugene served three Habsburg Emperors – Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles VI. Eugene first saw action against the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 and the subsequent War of the Holy League, before serving in the Nine Years' War alongside his cousin, the Duke of Savoy. However, the Prince’s fame was secured with his crushing victory against the Ottomans at the Battle of Zenta in 1697. Eugene enhanced his standing during the War of the Spanish Succession where his partnership with the Duke of Marlborough secured victories against the French on the fields of Blenheim, Oudenarde and Malplaquet; he gained further success as Imperial commander in northern Italy, most notably at Turin in 1706. Renewed hostilities against the Ottomans in the Austro-Turkish War (1716–18) consolidated his reputation with victories at the battles of Petrovaradin, and Belgrade.

Throughout the late 1720s Eugene’s influence and skilful diplomacy managed to secure the Emperor powerful allies in his dynastic struggles with the Bourbon powers; but in his later years, physically and mentally fragile, Eugene enjoyed less success as commander-in-chief of the army during his final conflict, the War of the Polish Succession. Nevertheless, in Austria, Eugene’s reputation remains unrivalled. Although opinions differ as to his character, there is no dispute over his great achievements: Eugene helped to save the Habsburg Empire from French conquest; he broke the westward thrust of the Ottomans, liberating central Europe after a century and a half of Turkish occupation; and he was one of the greatest patrons of the arts, whose building legacy can still be seen in Vienna today. Eugene died in his sleep at his home on 21 April 1736 aged 72.

Early life (1663–99)

Hôtel Soissons

Prince Eugene was born in the Hôtel Soissons in Paris on 18 October 1663. Although he was a subject of King Louis XIV, Eugene’s parents came from Italian families: his mother, Olympia Mancini, was one of Cardinal Mazarin’s nieces who he brought to Paris from Rome in 1647 to further his, and to a lesser extent, their ambitions. The Mancini’s were raised at the Palais Royal along with the young Louis XIV with whom Olympia formed an intimate relationship. Yet to her eternal disappointment her chance to become Queen passed by and in 1657 Olympia married Eugene Maurice, Prince of Savoy-Carignan, later Comte de Soissons. Nevertheless, the King remained strongly attached to her, so much so that many believed them to be lovers.

Eugene Maurice and Olympia had five sons and three daughters (Eugene was the youngest boy), but neither parent spent much time with the children: his father, a brave, unglamorous soldier in the French army spent much of his time away campaigning, whilst Olympia’s passion for court intrigue meant the children received little attention from their mother. However, Olympia’s scheming eventually led to her fall. Falling out of favour at court Olympia turned to Catherine Deshayes (known as La Voisin), and the arts of black magic and astrology; but it was a fatal relationship. Embroiled in the affaire des poisons, suspicions now abounded of her involvement in her husband’s premature death in 1673, and even implicated in a plot to kill the King himself. Whatever the truth, Olympia, rather than face trial, subsequently fled France for Brussels in January 1680, leaving Eugene in the care of his father’s mother, Marie de Bourbon, Princess of Carignan, and her daughter, the Margravine of Baden, mother of Prince Louis of Baden.

From the age of ten, Eugene had been brought up for a career in the church; a personal choice of the King, basing the decision on the young Prince’s poor physique and bearing. Certainly, Eugene’s appearance was not impressive – "He was never good looking …" wrote the Duchess of Orleans, "It is true that his eyes are not ugly, but his nose ruins his face; he has two large teeth which are visible at all times. In February 1683, to the surprise of his family, Eugene declared his intention of joining the army. Now 19 years old, Eugene applied directly to King Louis for command of a company in French service, but the king – who had shown no compassion for Olympia’s children since her disgrace – refused him out of hand. "The request was modest, not so the petitioner," remarked Louis. "No one else ever presumed to stare me out so insolently.

Denied a military career in France, Eugene decided to seek service abroad. One of Eugene’s brothers, Louis Julius, had entered Imperial service the previous year, but he had been immediately killed fighting the Ottoman Turks in 1683. When news of his death reached Paris, Eugene decided to flee to Austria in the hope of taking over his brother’s command. It was not an unnatural decision: his cousin, the Margrave of Baden, was already a leading general in the Imperial army, as was a more distant cousin, Maximilian Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaria. On the night of 26 July 1683, Eugene left Paris and headed east.

Great Turkish War

By May 1683 the Ottoman threat to Emperor Leopold I’s capital Vienna was very real. The Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha – encouraged by Imre Thököly’s Magyar rebellion – had invaded with between 100–200,000 men; within two months, they were beneath the walls of the Habsburg capital. With the ‘Turks at the gates’, the Emperor fled for the safe refuge of Passau on the Danube, a more distant and secure part of his dominion. It was here, at Leopold’s camp, where Eugene arrived in mid-August.

Eugene was entirely non-Austrian, but he did have Habsburg antecedence. His grandfather, Thomas Francis, founder of the Carignan line of the House of Savoy, was the son of Catherine – a daughter of Philip II of Spain – and the great-grandson of the Emperor Charles V. But of more immediate consequence to Leopold was the fact that Eugene was the second cousin of Victor Amadeus, the Duke of Savoy; a connection that the Emperor hoped may prove useful in any future confrontation with France. These ties, together with his ascetic manner and appearance (a positive advantage to him at the sombre court of Leopold), ensured the refugee from the hated King Louis a warm welcome at Passau, and a position in Imperial service.

Eugene was in no doubt where his new allegiance lay – " … I will devote all my strength, all my courage, and if need be, my last drop of blood, to the service of your Imperial Majesty. This loyalty was immediately put to the test. By September, the Imperialist forces under the Duke of Lorraine, together with a powerful Polish army under King Sobieski, were poised to strike the Sultan’s army investing Vienna. On the morning of 12 September, the Christian forces drew up in line of battle on the south-eastern slopes of the Wiener Wald, looking down on the massed enemy camp. After a day-long struggle, the Battle of Vienna was a complete success, and the 60-day siege was lifted; the Sultan’s forces, routed, fell into retreat. Serving under the immediate command of Louis William, Margrave of Baden-Baden, Eugene distinguished himself in the battle, earning commendation from Lorraine and the Emperor; he later received the nomination for the Colonelcy of the Dragoon Regiment Kufstein.

Holy League

In March 1684, Leopold formed the Holy League with Poland and Venice to counter the Ottoman threat. For the next two years, Eugene continued to distinguish himself on campaign against the Turks, and established himself as a dedicated, professional soldier; by the end of 1685, still only 22 years old, he was made a Major-General. However, little is known of Eugene’s life during these early campaigns. Contemporary observers make only passing comments of his actions, and his own surviving correspondence, largely to his cousin Victor Amadeus, are typically reticent about his own feelings and experiences. Louis of Baden, nevertheless, was impressed with Eugene’s qualities – "This young man will, with time, occupy the place of those whom the world regards as great leaders of armies.

In June 1686, the Duke of Lorraine besieged Buda, the centre of the Ottoman occupation in Hungary. After resisting for 78 days, the city fell on 2 September; however, with the loss of their main garrison Turkish resistance collapsed throughout Hungary as far as Transylvania and Serbia. Further success followed in 1687 where, commanding a cavalry brigade, Eugene made an important contribution to the victory at the Battle of Mohács on 12 August. Such was the scale of their defeat the Ottoman army mutinied, a revolt which spread to Constantinople – the Grand Vizier was executed, and Sultan Mehmed IV deposed. Once again Eugene’s courage earned him recognition from his superiors who granted him the honour of personally conveying the news of victory to the Emperor in Vienna. For his services Eugene was promoted to Lieutenant-General in November 1687; he was also beginning to gain wider recognition. King Charles II of Spain bestowed upon him the Order of the Golden Fleece, whilst his cousin, Amadeus, provided him with money and two profitable abbeys in Piedmont. However, Eugene’s military career suffered a temporary setback in 1688 when, on 6 September, the Prince suffered a severe wound to his knee by a musket ball during the Siege of Belgrade. It was not until January 1689 that Eugene could return to active service.

Interlude in the west: Nine Years' War

Just as Belgrade was falling to Imperial forces under Max Emmanuel in the east French troops in the west were crossing the Rhine into the Holy Roman Empire. King Louis XIV had hoped that a show of force would lead to a quick resolution to his dynastic and territorial disputes with the princes of the Empire along his eastern border, but Louis’ intimidatory moves only strengthened German resolve. In May 1689 Emperor Leopold and the Dutch signed the Grand Alliance aimed at repelling French aggression.

The Nine Years' War was professionally and personally frustrating for the Prince. Eugene was present at the Siege of Mainz – receiving a slight wound – before transferring to Piedmont after his cousin, Amadeus, had joined the Grand Alliance in 1690. Promoted to general of cavalry, he arrived in Turin with his friend the Prince of Commercy; but it proved an inauspicious start. Against Eugene’s advice, Amadeus insisted on engaging the French at Staffarda, and suffered a serious defeat; only Eugene’s handling of the Savoyard cavalry in retreat saved his cousin from disaster. Eugene remained unimpressed with the men and their commanders throughout the war in Italy. "The enemy would long ago have been beaten," he wrote to Vienna, "if everyone had done their duty. So contemptuous was he of the Imperial commander, Count Caraffa, he threatened to leave Imperial service.

In Vienna Eugene’s attitude was dismissed as the arrogance of a young upstart. Nevertheless, so impressed was the Emperor by Eugene’s passion for the Imperial cause, in 1693 he promoted him to Field-Marshal (although this had as much to do with the lack of good Imperial commanders, as much as Eugene’s proven ability thus far). When Caraffa’s replacement, Count Caprara, was himself transferred in 1694, it seemed that Eugene’s chance for command, and decisive action, had finally arrived. The Duke of Savoy, however, doubtful of victory and now more fearful of Habsburg influence in Italy than he was of French, had begun secret dealings with Louis aimed at extricating himself from the war. By 1696 the deal was done, and Amadeus transferred his troops, and his loyalty, to the enemy. Eugene was never to trust his cousin again; although he continued to pay due reverence to the Duke as head of his own family, their relationship would forever remain strained.

Military honours in Italy undoubtedly belonged to the French commander Marshal Catinat, but Eugene, the one Allied general determined on action and decisive results, did well to emerge from the Nine Years' War with an enhanced reputation. With the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in September/October 1697, the desultory war in the west was finally brought to an inconclusive end, and Leopold could once again devote all his martial energies into defeating the Ottoman Turks in the east.

Zenta

The distractions of the war against King Louis had enabled the Turks to recapture Belgrade and reinvade Hungary. On the advice of the President of the Imperial War Council, Rüdiger Starhemberg, Eugene was eventually offered supreme command of Imperial forces to face the threat from the new Sultan, Mustafa II. This was Eugene’s first truly independent command – no longer need he suffer under the excessively cautious generalship of Caprara and Caraffa, or be thwarted by the deviations of Amadeus; but on joining his army he found it in a state of 'indescribable misery'. Confident and self-assured, the Prince of Savoy (ably assisted by Commercy) set about restoring order and discipline.

Newly inspired, Eugene’s army intercepted the Ottoman Turks crossing the River Tisza at Zenta on 11 September 1697. Because the Imperial forces had arrived in front of the enemy late in the day – the Turkish cavalry had already crossed the river – Eugene, despite instructions from Vienna not to engage the enemy, decided to attack immediately. The Austrian general formed his army into a crescent to attack the Turkish entrenchments, defended with some 70 pieces of artillery. The vigour of the assault wrought terror and confusion amongst the enemy, exacerbating the carnage; for the loss of some 500 men, Eugene had inflicted over 30,000 casualties, annihilating the Turkish army. Although the Ottomans lacked western organisation and training, the Savoyard Prince had revealed his tactical skill, his capacity for bold decision, and his ability to inspire his men to excel in battle against a dangerous foe.

Zenta turned Eugene into a European hero, and with victory came reward. Land in Hungary, given him by the Emperor, yielded a good income, enabling the Prince to cultivate his newly-acquired tastes in art and architecture (see below); but for all his new-found wealth and property, he was, nevertheless, without personal ties or family commitments. Of his four brothers, only one was still alive at this time. His fourth brother, Emmanuel, had died aged 14 in 1676; his third, Louis Julius (already mentioned) had died on active service in 1683, and his second brother, Philippe, died of smallpox in 1693. Eugene’s remaining brother, Louis Thomas – ostracized for incurring the displeasure of Louis XIV – travelled Europe in search of a career, before arriving in Vienna in 1699. With Eugene’s help, Louis found employment in the Imperial army, only to be killed in action against the French in 1702. Of Eugene’s sisters, the youngest had died in childhood. The other two, Marie Jeanne-Baptiste and Louise Philiberte, led dissolute lives. Expelled from France, Marie Jeanne-Baptiste joined her mother in Brussels before eloping with a renegade priest to Geneva with whom she lived, unhappily, until her premature death in 1705. Of the other sister, Louise Philiberte, little is known after her early salacious life in Paris, but in due course she lived for a time in a convent in Savoy before her death in 1722.

The Battle of Zenta destroyed Turkish resistance, but Leopold’s exhausted treasury, and the prospect that the Spanish throne would soon become vacant, induced the Emperor to terminate the Turkish war. The Treaty of Karlowitz was signed on 26 January 1699.

Mid life (1700–20)

War of the Spanish Succession

With the death of the infirm and childless King Charles II of Spain on 1 November 1700, the succession of the Spanish throne and subsequent control over her empire once again embroiled Europe in war – the War of the Spanish Succession. On his deathbed Charles had bequeathed the entire Spanish inheritance to King Louis XIV's grandson, Philip, duc d'Anjou. This threatened to unite the Spanish and French kingdoms under the House of Bourbon – something unacceptable to England, the Dutch Republic, and Leopold, who had himself a claim to the Spanish throne. From the beginning Leopold had refused to accept the will of Charles II, and he did not wait for England and the Dutch Republic before opening hostilities. Before a new Grand Alliance could be concluded the Emperor prepared to send an expedition, commanded by Eugene, to seize the Spanish lands in Italy.

Eugene crossed the Alps with some 32,000 men in May/June 1701. After a series of brilliant manoeuvres the Imperial commander defeated Catinat at Carpi on 9 July – "I have warned you," wrote King Louis, "that you are dealing with an enterprising young prince: he does not tie himself down to the rules of war … Eugene gained further success against Catinat’s successor, Marshal Villeroi. At Chiari on 1 September, Eugene vigorously repulsed the superior enemy in all their attempts to force the Imperial entrenchments in a battle as destructive as any in the Italian theatre; but as so often the Imperial Prince faced war on two fronts – the enemy in the field, and the government in Vienna. Starved of supplies, money and men, Eugene was forced into unconventional means against the vastly superior enemy. During a daring raid on Cremona on the night of 31 January/1 February 1702, Eugene’s forces captured the French commander-in-chief, yet the coup was less successful than hoped: Cremona remained in French hands, and Marshal Vendôme, whose talents far exceeded Villeroi’s, became the theatre’s new commander. Nevertheless, Villeroi’s capture caused a sensation in Europe, and had a galvanising effect on English public opinion – "The surprise at Cremona," wrote the diarist John Evelyn, "… was the greate discourse of this weeke." However, appeals for succour from Vienna remained unheeded. Desperation drove Eugene to seek battle and gain a 'lucky hitt', but the resulting Battle of Luzzara on 15 August proved somewhat indecisive. Although Eugene’s forces inflicted double the number of casualties on the French the battle settled little except to deter Vendôme trying an all-out assault on Imperial forces that year, enabling Eugene to hold on south of the Alps. With his army rotting away, and personally grieving for his long standing friend Prince Commercy who had died at Luzzara, Eugene returned to Vienna in January 1703.

President of the Imperial War Council

Eugene’s European reputation was growing (Cremona and Luzzara had been celebrated as victories throughout the Allied capitals), yet because of the condition and morale of his troops the 1702 campaign had not been a success. Austria itself was now facing the direct threat of invasion from across the border in Bavaria where the state’s Elector, Maximilian Emanuel, had declared for the Bourbons in August the previous year. In Hungary, meanwhile, a small-scale revolt had broken out in May and was fast gaining momentum. With the monarchy at the point of complete financial breakdown Leopold was at last persuaded to change the government. At the end of June 1703, Gundaker Starhemberg replaced Gotthard Salaburg as President of the Treasury, and Prince Eugene succeeded Henry Mansfeld as the new President of the Imperial War Council (Hofkriegsratspräsident).

As head of the war council Eugene was now part of the Emperor’s inner circle, and the first president since Montecuccoli to remain an active commander. Immediate steps were taken to improve efficiency within the army: encouragement and, where possible, money, was sent to the commanders in the field; promotion and honours were distributed according to service rather than influence; and Eugene also tried to use the council to crack down on army discipline. But the Austrian monarchy faced severe peril on several fronts in 1703: by June Marshal Villars had reinforced the Elector of Bavaria on the Danube thus posing a direct threat to Vienna, whilst Vendôme remained at the head a large army in northern Italy opposing Guido Starhemberg’s weak Imperial force. Of equal alarm was Francis II Rákóczi's revolt which, by the end of the year, had reached as far as Moravia and Lower Austria.

Joint victor at Blenheim

Dissention between Villars and the Elector of Bavaria had prevented an assault on Vienna in 1703, but in the Courts of Versailles and Madrid ministers confidently anticipated the city’s fall. The Imperial ambassador in London, Count Wratislaw, had pressed for Anglo-Dutch assistance on the Danube as early as February 1703, but the crisis in southern Europe seemed remote from the Court of St. James's where colonial and commercial considerations were more to the fore of men’s minds. Only a handful a statesmen in England or the Dutch Republic realised the true implications of Austria’s peril; foremost amongst these was the English Captain-General, the Duke of Marlborough.

Marlborough, who by early 1704 had resolved to march south and rescue Vienna, had personally asked for the presence of Eugene for the campaign so as to have "a supporter of his zeal and experience". The Allied commanders met for the first time at the small village of Mundelsheim on 10 June and immediately formed a close rapport – the two men becoming, in the words of Thomas Lediard, 'Twin constellations in glory'. This professional and personal bond ensured mutual support on the battlefield, enabling many successes during the Spanish Succession war. The first of these victories, and perhaps the most celebrated, came at the culmination of the 1704 campaign on 13 August at the Battle of Blenheim. Eugene had commanded the right wing of the Allied army, holding the Elector of Bavaria’s and Marshal Marsin’s superior forces, whilst the English commander-in-chief broke through Marshal Tallard’s centre. Inflicting over 30,000 casualties the battle proved decisive: Vienna was saved and Bavaria was knocked out of the war. Both Allied commanders were full of praise for each other’s performance; Eugene’s holding operation, and his pressure for action leading up to the battle proved crucial for the Allied success.

In Europe Blenheim is regarded as much a victory for Eugene as it is for Marlborough, a sentiment echoed by Sir Winston Churchill (Marlborough's biographer) who pays tribute to – "the glory of Prince Eugene, whose fire and spirit had exhorted the wonderful exertions of his troops. France now faced the real danger of invasion, but Leopold in Vienna was still under severe strain: Rákóczi’s revolt was still a threat, and Guido Starhemberg and Victor Amadeus (who had once again switched loyalties and rejoined the Grand Alliance in 1703) had been unable to halt the French under Vendôme in northern Italy – only the Duke’s capital, Turin, held on.

Turin and Toulon

In May 1705, Joseph succeeded his father Leopold as Emperor. Joseph was a strong supporter of Eugene’s supremacy in military affairs – he was the most effective emperor the Prince served and the one he was happiest under. Eugene left Vienna for Italy on 18 April, but his attempts to move west towards Turin were thwarted by Vendôme’s skilful manoeuvres. Lacking boats and bridging materials, and with desertion and sickness rife within his army, the outnumbered Imperial commander was helpless. Desperate appeals from Amadeus and criticism from Vienna goaded the Prince into action, but the subsequent engagement at the Battle of Cassano on 16 August was a bloody defeat for the Imperial forces. Eugene had attacked part of the French infantry which had pushed over the River Adda to oppose his passage, but the arrival of Vendôme and the rest of the French forces from the other side of the river robbed him of victory. Joseph’s chief advisor Prince von Salm, was highly critical of Eugene’s 1705 campaign. For his part, Eugene – who had returned to Vienna at the beginning of 1706 – accused Salm of failing to back his Italian campaign and of interfering in the running of the Hofkriegsrat.

Promising support Joseph persuaded Eugene to return to Italy and restore Habsburg honour – he arrived in theatre just in time to organise an orderly retreat of what was left of Count Reventlow’s inferior army following Vendôme’s victory at the Battle of Calcinato on 19 April 1706. With Turin under serious threat from the Marquis de la Feuillade, Vendôme now prepared to defend the lines along the Adige, determined to keep Eugene cooped up in the Alps in the east. Eugene, however, feigning attacks along the Adige descended south across the Po River, outmanoeuvring the French commander and gaining a favourable position from which he could at last move west towards Piedmont and relieve Turin.

Events elsewhere were now to have major consequences for Italy. With Villeroi’s crushing defeat by Marlborough at the Battle of Ramillies on 23 May, King Louis recalled Vendôme north to take command of French forces in Flanders. It was a transfer that Saint-Simon considered something of a deliverance for the French commander, for Vendôme was " … now beginning to feel the unlikelihood of success [in Italy] … for Prince Eugene, with the reinforcements that had joined him after the Battle of Calcinato, had entirely changed the outlook in that theatre of the war. The duc de Orléans, under the direction of Marsin, replaced Vendôme, but indecision and disorder in the French camp led to their undoing. After uniting his forces with the Duke of Savoy at Villa Stelloni in early September, Eugene attacked, overwhelmed, and decisively defeated French forces besieging Turin on 7 September; subsequently, Louis’ army was forced from northern Italy and the whole of the Po valley fell under Allied control. Eugene had gained a victory as signal as his colleague had at Ramillies – "It is impossible for me to express the joy it has given me;" wrote Marlborough, "for I not only esteem but I really love the prince. The Imperial victory marked the beginning of 150 years of Austrian rule in Lombardy, and earned Eugene the Governorship of Milan.

After the death of Prince Louis of Baden in January 1707, Eugene replaced him as Imperial Field-Marshal, but the year was to prove a disappointment for the Prince and the Grand Alliance as a whole. The Emperor and Eugene (whose main goal after Turin was to take Naples and Sicily from Philip duc d’Anjou’s supporters), reluctantly agreed to Marlborough’s plan for an attack on Toulon – the seat of French naval power in the Mediterranean. However, disunion between the Allied commanders – the Duke of Savoy, Eugene, and the English Admiral Shovell – doomed the Toulon enterprise to failure. From the start Eugene had shown little enthusiasm, displaying none of the "alacrity which he had displayed on other occasions. To Eugene, however, the siege was wholly impracticable, and by 21 August, the Imperial army began its retirement. The subsequent capture of Susa could not compensate for the total collapse of the Toulon expedition, and with it any hope of an Allied war-winning blow that year.

Oudenarde and Malplaquet

At the beginning of 1708 Eugene successfully evaded calls for him to take charge in Spain (in the end Guido Starhemberg was sent), thus enabling him to take command of the Imperial army on the Moselle and once again unite with Marlborough in the Spanish Netherlands. Eugene (without his army) arrived at the Allied camp at Assche west of Brussels in early July providing a welcome boost to morale after the early Allied losses of Bruges and Ghent. " … our affairs improved through God’s support and Eugene’s aid, "wrote the Prussian General Natzmer, "whose timely arrival raised the spirits of the army again and consoled us. Heartened by the Prince’s confidence, the Allied commanders devised a bold plan to engage the French army under Vendôme and the duc de Burgundy as it prepared to besiege Oudenarde. The ensuing battle on 11 July was a resounding success for the Allies which Marlborough – although in overall command – considered a joint achievement, " … Prince Eugene and I," wrote the Duke, "shall never differ about our share of the laurels.

Marlborough now favoured a bold advance along the coast to bypass the major French fortresses, but fearful of unprotected supply-lines the Dutch and Eugene favoured a more cautious approach. Marlborough acquiesced and resolved upon the siege of Vauban’s great fortress, Lille. Whilst Marlborough commanded the covering force, Eugene oversaw the siege of the town which surrendered on 22 October; however, it was not until 10 December that the resolute Marshal Boufflers yielded the citadel. Yet for all the difficulties of the siege (Eugene was badly wounded above his left eye by a musket ball, and even survived an attempt to poison him), the campaign of 1708 had been a remarkable success. The French were driven out of almost all the Spanish Netherlands: "He who has not seen this," wrote Eugene, "has seen nothing.

The recent defeats, together with the severe winter of 1708–09, had caused extreme famine and privation in France; but the conditions demanded by the Allies during the subsequent peace talks, principally that Louis should use his own troops to force Philip V off the Spanish throne, were completely unacceptable to the French King. Lamenting the collapse of the negotiations, and aware of the vagaries of war, Eugene wrote to the Emperor in mid-June 1709, "There can be no doubt that the next battle will be the biggest and bloodiest that has yet been fought.

After the fall of Tournai on 3 September the Allied generals turned their attention towards Mons. Marshal Villars, recently joined by Boufflers, moved his army southwest of the town and began to fortify his position. Marlborough and Eugene favoured an engagement before Villars could render his position impregnable; but they also agreed to wait for reinforcements from Tournai which did not arrive until the following night, thus giving the French further opportunity to prepare their defences. As Eugene prophesised the ensuing battle, fought near the village of Malplaquet on 11 September 1709, was the costliest engagement of the War of the Spanish Succession. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the attack, however, the Allied generals did not shrink from their original determination. On the left flank, the Prince of Orange led his Dutch infantry in desperate charges only to have it cut to pieces; on the other flank, Eugene attacked and suffered almost as severely. But sustained pressure on his extremities forced Villars to weaken his centre, thus enabling Marlborough to breakthrough and claim victory. Villars was unable to save Mons, which subsequently capitulated on 21 October, but his resolute defence at Malplaquet – inflicting up to 25% casualties on the Allies – may have saved France from destruction.

Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt

By the close of 1710 Marlborough and Eugene had cleared the whole of France’s protective ring of fortresses; yet there had been no glorious battlefield victory, and this was to be the last year that the two Allied commanders would work together. The Emperor died on 17 April 1711 and was succeeded by his brother Charles, the pretender to the Spanish throne. In England the new Tory government declared their unwillingness to see Emperor Charles VI also become King of Spain, a sentiment shared by the Dutch and Germans. In January 1712 Eugene arrived in England hoping to divert the government away from its peace policy, but Queen Anne and her ministers remained resolute; he had also arrived too late to save the Duke of Marlborough who, seen by the Tories as the main obstacle to peace, had already been dissmissed. However, the Austrians made some progress – in 1711 the Hungarian revolt finally came to end. Although Eugene would have preferred to crush the rebels, Joseph had offerred lenient conditions, leading to the signing of the Treaty of Szatmár on 30 April.

Hoping to influence public opinion in England and force the French into making substantial concessions, Eugene prepared for a major campaign. However, on 21 May 1712 – when the Tories felt they had secured favourable terms from their private negotiations with the French – the Duke of Ormonde (Marlborough’s successor) received the so-called ‘restraining orders’ forbidding him to take part in any military action. Although Eugene took the fortress of Le Quesnoy in early July before besieging Valenciennes and Landrecies, Marshal Villars, taking advantage of Allied disunity, outmanoeuvred Eugene and defeated the Earl of Albermarle’s Dutch garrison at Denain on 24 July. The French followed the victory by seizing the main Allied base at Marchiennes before reversing their earlier losses at Douai, Le Quesnoy and Bouchain. In one summer the whole forward Allied position laboriously built up over the years to act as the springboard into France had been precipitously abandoned. With the death of his close friend and political ally, Count Wratislaw, Eugene became undisputed first minister in Vienna and took the lead in pressing Leopold towards peace, but last minute demands at the Utrecht conference proved a step too far for the Emperor and his ministers. Reluctantly, Eugene prepared for another campaign.

Lacking finance and supplies Eugene’s prospects in 1713 were poor. Positioning himself on the Rhine Marshal Villars, with vastly superior numbers, was able to keep Eugene guessing as to his true intent. By August, through successful feints and stratagems, Landau had fallen to the French commander; by November, the town of Freiburg was in Villars’ hands. With Austrian finances exhausted and the German states reluctant to continue the war, Charles was compelled to enter into negotiations. Eugene and Villars (who had been old friends since the Turkish campaigns of the 1680s) initiated talks on 26 November. Eugene proved an astute negotiator, and gained favourable terms by the Treaty of Rastatt signed on 7 March 1714. Despite the failed campaign in 1713 the Austrian prince was able to declare that, "in spite of the military superiority of our enemies and the defection of our Allies, the conditions of peace will be more advantageous and more glorious than those we would have obtained at Utrecht."

Austro-Turkish War

Turkish military ambitions had revived after 1711. With their victory over Peter I of Russia it soon became clear that the Turks intended to attack Hungary. In 1714 Sultan Ahmed III broke the Peace of Karlowitz, declared war on the Venetians, conquered the Morea, and laid siege to Corfu. Of all Eugene’s wars this was the one in which he exercised most direct control; it was also a war which, for the most part, Austria fought and won on her own. After the Porte rejected an offer of mediation Charles despatched Eugene to Hungary at the head of a relatively small, but professional army. By early August 1716 the Ottoman Turks, some 120,000 men under the sultan’s son-in-law, the Grand Vizier Damat Ali Pasha, were marching from Belgrade towards Eugene’s position at Petrovaradin. After resisting calls for caution and forgoing a council of war, the Prince decided to attack immediately on the morning of 5 August with over 60,000 men. The Turkish janissaries had some initial success, but after an Imperial cavalry attack on their flank, Ali Pasha’s forces fell into confusion. As many as 30,000 Turks may have been killed in the chaos, including the Grand Vizier who had personally entered the mêlée.

After Eugene took the Banat fortress of Temesvár in mid-October 1716 (thus ending 164-years of Turkish rule), the Austrian commander turned his attention to the next year’s campaign and to what he considered the main goal of the war, Belgrade. Situated at the confluence of the Rivers Danube and Save, Belgrade held a garrison of 30,000 men under Mustapha Pasha. The siege progressed steadily, but by the first days of August 1717 a huge Turkish field army under Halil Pasha (150–200,000 strong) had arrived on the plateau east of the city to relieve the garrison. News spread through Europe of the imminent destruction of the Imperial army, yet Eugene had no intention of lifting the siege. With his men suffering from dysentery and continuous bombardment from the plateau, Eugene, aware that a decisive victory alone could relieve the army from their dangerous situation, decided to attack the relief force. On the morning of 16 August, 40,000 imperial troops marched through the fog, caught the Turks unawares, and routed Halil Pasha’s army; a week later Belgrade surrendered effectively bringing an end to the war. The victory was the crowning point of Eugene’s military career and had confirmed him as the leading European general; his ability to snatch victory at the moment of defeat had shown the Prince at his best.

Quadruple Alliance

Whilst Eugene fought the Turks in the east, unresolved issues following the Utrecht/Rastatt settlements led to hostilities between the Emperor and Philip V of Spain in the west. The Emperor had refused to recognise Philip as the King of Spain; in return Philip had refused to renounce his claims to Naples, Milan, and the Netherlands, which had transferred to the house of Austria following the Spanish succession war. Philip was roused by his influential wife, Elizabeth Farnese, daughter of the Duke of Parma, who personally held dynastic claims in the name her son Don Charles to the duchies of Tuscany and Parma. Representatives from a newly-formed Anglo-French alliance – determined on European peace for their own dynastic securities – called on both parties to recognise each other’s sovereignty, but Philip remained intractable. On 22 August 1717, Philip’s chief minister, Alberoni, effected the invasion of Austrian Sardinia in what seemed like the beginning of the reconquest of Spain’s former Italian empire.

Eugene returned to Vienna from his recent victory at Belgrade (before the conclusion of the Turkish war) determined to prevent an escalation of the conflict, complaining that, "two wars cannot be waged with one army"; only reluctantly did the Prince release some troops from the Balkans for the Italian campaign. In June 1718, Philip V, rejecting all diplomatic overtures, unleashed another assault, this time on Savoyard Sicily as a preliminary to attacking the Italian mainland. Realising that only the British fleet could prevent further Spanish landings, and that pro-Spanish groups in France might push the regent Orléans into war against Austria, Charles VI had no option but to sign the Quadruple Alliance on 2 August 1718, and renounce his claim to Spain; Philip and Elizabeth, however, remained resolute.

Although Eugene could have gone south after the signing of the Treaty of Passarowitz, thus bringing an end to the Turkish war, he chose instead to conduct operations from Vienna; but Austria’s military effort in Sicily proved derisory – Eugene’s chosen commanders, Zumjungen, and, later, Count Mercy, performed poorly. It was only from pressure exerted by the French army advancing into the Basque provinces of northern Spain in April 1719, and the British Navy’s attacks on the Spanish fleet and shipping, that compelled Philip and Elizabeth to dismiss Alberoni and join the Quadruple Alliance on 25 January 1720. Nevertheless, the Spanish attacks had strained Charles’s government, causing tension between the Emperor and his Spanish Council on the one hand, and the conference, headed by Eugene, on the other. Despite Charles VI’s own personal ambitions in the Mediterranean it was clear to the Emperor that Eugene had put the safeguarding of his conquests in Hungary before everything else and that military failure in Sicily also had to rest on Eugene. Consequently the Prince’s influence over the Emperor declined considerably.

Later life (1721–36)

Governor-General of the Netherlands

Eugene had become governor of the Austrian Netherlands in June 1716, but he was an absent ruler, directing policy from Vienna through his chosen representative the Marquis de Prié. De Prié proved unpopular with the local population and the guilds who, following the Barrier Treaty of 1715, were obliged to meet the financial demands of the administration and the Dutch barrier garrisons; with Eugene’s backing and encouragement civil disturbances in Antwerp and Brussels were forcibly suppressed. After displeasing the Emperor over his initial opposition to the formation of the Ostend Company, de Prié also lost the support of the native nobility from within his own council of state in Brussels, particularly from the Marquis de Mérode-Westerloo. One of Eugene’s former favourites, General Bonneval, also joined the nobles in opposition to de Prié, further undermining Eugene. When de Prié’s position became untenable Eugene felt compelled to resign his post as governor on 16 November 1724. As compensation Charles VI conferred on him the honorary position as vicar-general of Italy, worth 140,000 gulden a year, and an estate at Siebenbrunn in Lower Austria said to be worth double that amount. Eugene’s distress at his resignation, however, was compounded that Christmas when he caught a severe bout of influenza, marking the beginning of permanent bronchitis and acute infections every winter for the remaining twelve years of his life.

Cold war

The 1720s saw rapidly changing alliances between the European powers, and almost constant diplomatic confrontation – largely over unsolved issues regarding the Quadruple Alliance. Charles VI was determined to hold on to his Spanish titles – infuriating France and Britain as much as Philip V – and was refusing to remove the remaining legal obstacles to Don Charles’ eventual succession to the duchies of Parma and Tuscany. Yet in a surprise move Spain and Austria moved closer with the signing of the Treaty of Vienna in April/May 1725. In response Britain, France, and Prussia, joined together in the Alliance of Hanover to counter the danger to Europe of an Austro-Spanish hegemony. For the next three years there was continual danger of war between the western powers and the Austro-Spanish bloc.

From 1726 Eugene gradually began to regain his political influence. With his many contacts throughout Europe Eugene, backed by Schönborn the Imperial vice-chancellor, managed to secure powerful allies and strengthen the Emperor’s position. In August 1726 Russia acceded to the Austro-Spanish alliance; Frederick William of Prussia followed suit by defecting from the Allies and signing a mutual defensive treaty with the Emperor in October. However, concluding that the best way to secure her son’s succession to Parma and Tuscany now lay with Britain and France, Elizabeth Farnese abandoned the Austro-Spanish alliance in 1729 and signed the Treaty of Seville. Following Eugene’s determined lead to resist all pressure Charles sent troops into Italy to prevent the entry of Spanish garrisons into the contested duchies. By the beginning of 1730, therefore, Eugene, who had remained bellicose throughout the whole period, was again in control of Austrian policy.

A change to the ministry in Britain now led to a new re-alignment. Concerned that war with Austria would only benefit the Bourbon powers, Robert Walpole sacked the belligerent Secretary of State Charles Townshend and moved to reform the Anglo-Austrian alliance, leading to the signing of the Second Treaty of Vienna on 16 March 1731. Eugene had been the Austrian minister most responsible for the alliance, believing once again it would provide security against France and Spain. The treaty compelled Charles to sacrifice the Ostend Company and accept, unequivocally, the accession of Don Charles to Parma and Tuscany; in return King George II as King of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction, the inheritance rights of the Emperor’s daughters. It was largely through Eugene’s diplomacy that in January 1732 the Imperial diet also guaranteed the Pragmatic Sanction which, together with the Treaties with Britain, Russia, and Prussia, marked the culmination of Eugene’s diplomacy. But the Treaty of Vienna had infuriated the French court of King Louis XV. The Emperor, who intended his daughter and heiress, Maria Theresa, to marry Francis Stephen of Lorraine, provided an unacceptable threat on France’s border and subsequent increase in Habsburg power. By the beginning of 1733 the French army was ready for war: all that was needed was the excuse.

War of the Polish Succession

In 1733 the Polish King and Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, died. There were two candidates for his successor: first, Stanislaus Leszczyński, the father-in-law of Louis XV; and second, the Elector of Saxony’s son, Augustus, supported by Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The Polish succession had afforded the French minister, Fleury, the opportunity to attack Austria and take Lorraine from Francis Stephen. In order to gain Spanish support, France backed the succession of Elizabeth Farnese’s sons to further Italian lands.

Eugene entered the War of the Polish Succession as President of the Imperial War Council and commander-in-chief of the army, but he was severely handicapped by the quality of his troops and the shortage of funds; now in his seventies, the Prince was also burdened by rapidly declining physical and mental powers. France declared war on Austria on 10 October 1733, but without the funds from the Maritime Powers – who, despite the Vienna treaty, remained neutral throughout the war – Austria could not hire the necessary troops to wage an offensive campaign. "The danger to the monarchy," wrote Eugene to the Emperor in October, "cannot be exaggerated". By the end of the year Franco-Spanish forces had seized Lorraine and Milan; by early 1734 Spanish troops had taken Sicily.

Eugene took command on the Rhine in April 1734, but vastly outnumbered, he was forced onto the defensive. In June Eugene set out to relieve Philippsburg, yet his former drive and energy was now gone. Accompanying Eugene was a young Frederick the Great, sent by his father to learn the art of war. Frederick gained considerable knowledge from Eugene, recalling in later life his great debt to his Austrian mentor, but the Prussian prince was aghast at Eugene’s condition, writing later, "his body was still there but his soul had gone. Eugene conducted another cautious campaign in 1735, once again pursuing a sensible defensive strategy on limited resources. However, his short-term memory was by now practically non-existent, and his political influence disappeared completely – Gundaker Starhemberg and John Bartenstein now dominated the conference in his place. Fortunately for the Emperor, though, Fleury was determined to limit the war in its scope and duration and prevent a renewal of the Grand Alliance. In October 1735, Fleury granted generous peace preliminaries to Emperor Charles VI.

Death

During the last 20 years of his life Eugene had a relationship with one woman, Eleonora Batthyány. Much of their acquaintance remains speculative – Eugene never mentions her in any of his surviving letters – but although they lived apart most foreign diplomats were convinced that Eleonora was his mistress. Eugene and Eleonora were, however, constant companions, meeting for dinner, receptions and card games almost every day till his death. Eugene’s other friends such as the papal nuncio, Passionei, made up for the family he still lacked. For his only surviving nephew, Emmanuel, the son of his brother Louis Thomas, Eugene arranged a marriage with one of the daughters of Prince Liechenstein, but Emmanuel died of smallpox in 1729. With the death of Emmanuel’s son in 1734, there were no close male relatives left to succeed the Prince. His closest relative, therefore, was Louis Thomas’s unmarried daughter, Princess Victoria of Savoy-Carignan, whom Eugene had never met and, as he had heard nothing but bad of her, made no effort to do so.

Eugene returned to Vienna from the War of the Polish Succession in October 1735, weak and feeble; when Maria Theresa and Francis Stephen married in February 1736, Eugene was too ill to attend. After playing cards at Countess Batthyány’s on the evening of 20 April, he returned to his bed at the Stadtpalais. When his servants arrived to wake him the next morning, 21 April 1736, Prince Eugene was found dead after choking from phlegm in his throat; presumably after suffering from pneumonia. Eugene’s heart was buried with those of others of his family in Turin. His remains were carried in a long procession to St. Stephen's Cathedral, where the body was interred in the Kreuzkapelle.

Patron of the arts

Eugene’s rewards for his victories, his share of booty, his revenues from his abbeys in Savoy, and a steady income from his Imperial offices and governorships, enabled him to contribute to the landscape of baroque architecture. Eugene spent most of his life in Vienna at his Winter Palace, the Stadtpalais, built by Fischer von Erlach. The palace acted as his official residence and home, but for reasons that remain speculative, the Prince’s association with Fischer ended before the palace was complete, favouring instead Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt as his chief architect. Eugene first employed Hildebrandt to finish the stadtpalais before commissioning him to prepare plans for a palace on his Danubian island at Ráckeve. Began in 1701 the single-story building took twenty years to complete; yet, probably because of the Rákóczi revolt, the Prince seems to have visited it only once, after the Siege of Belgrade in 1717.

Of more importance was the grandiose complex of the two Belvedere palaces in Vienna. The single-storey Lower Belvedere was completed in 1716; to its gardens, with accompyaning zoo, Eugene brought rare plants and exotic animals from all over the world. The Upper Belvedere, completed between 1720 and 1722, is a more substantial building. With sparkling white stucco walls and copper roof, it became a wonder of Europe. Eugene and Hildebrandt also converted an existing structure on his Marchfeld estate into a country seat, the Schlosshof, situated between the Rivers Danube and Morava. The building, completed in 1729, was far less elaborate than his other projects but it was strong enough to serve as a fortress in case of need. Eugene spent much of his spare time there in his last years accommodating large hunting parties.

In the years following the Peace of Rastatt Eugene became acquainted with a large number of scholarly men. Given his position and responsiveness, they were keen to meet him: few could exists without patronage and this was probably the main reason for Gottfried Leibniz’s association with him in 1714. Eugene also befriended the French writer Jean-Baptiste Rousseau who, by 1716, was receiving financial support from Eugene. Rousseau stayed on attached to the Prince’s household, probably helping in the library, until he left for the Netherlands in 1722. Another acquaintance, Montesquieu, already famous for his Persian Letters when he arrived in Vienna in 1728, later favourably recollected his time spent at the Prince’s table; nevertheless, Eugene had no literary pretensions of his own, and was not tempted – like de Saxe or Villars – to write his memoirs or books on the art of war. He did, however, become a collector on the grandest scale: his picture galleries were filled with 16th and 17th century Italian, Dutch and Flemish art; his library at the Stadtpalais crammed with over 15,000 printed books, 237 manuscripts as well as a huge collection of prints (of particular interest were books on natural history and geography). "It is hardly believable," wrote Rousseau, "that a man who carries on his shoulders the burden of almost all the affairs of Europe … should find as much time to read as though he had nothing else to do. At Eugene’s death his possessions and estates, except those in Hungary which the crown reclaimed, went to his niece, Princess Victoria, who at once decided to sell everything. The artwork was bought by Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia. Eugene’s library, prints and drawings were purchased by the Emperor in 1737 and have since passed into Austrian national collections.

Assessment

Napoleon Bonaparte considered Eugene one of the seven greatest commanders of history. Although later military critics have disagreed with that assessment, Eugene was undoubtedly the greatest Austrian general – no other Imperial commander managed to win a major victory against the French. Eugene was not an innovator, but he had the ability to make an inadequate system work. He was equally adept as organizer, strategist and tactician, believing in the primacy of battle and his ability to seize the opportune moment to launch a successful attack. "The important thing," wrote de Saxe in Reveries on the Art of War, "is to see the opportunity and to know how to use it. Prince Eugene possessed this quality which is the greatest in the art of war and which is the test of the most elevated genius.

Eugene was a disciplinarian – when ordinary soldiers disobeyed orders he was prepared to shoot them himself – but he rejected blind brutality, writing, "… you should only be harsh when, as often happens, kindness proves useless." On the battlefield Eugene demanded courage in his subordinates, and expected his men to fight where and when he wanted; his criteria for promotion were based primarily on obedience to orders and courage on the battlefield rather than social position. On the whole his men responded because he was willing to push himself as hard as them. However, his position as President of the Imperial War Council proved less successful. Following the long period of peace after the Austro-Turkish war, the idea of creating a separate field army or providing garrison troops with effective training for them to be turned into such an army quickly was never considered by Eugene. By the time of the War of the Polish Succession, therefore, the Austrians were outclassed by a better prepared French force. For this, Eugene was largely to blame – in his view (unlike the drilling and manoeuvres carried out by the Prussians under Frederick William) the time to create actual fighting men was when war came.

To his responsibilities Eugene attached his own personal values – physical courage, loyalty to his sovereign, honesty, and self-control in all things, and he expected these qualities from his commanders. Eugene’s approach was dictatorial, but he was willing to co-operate with someone he regarded as his equal, such as Baden or Marlborough. The result was an austere figure, inspiring respect and admiration rather than affection. The huge equestrian statue in the centre of Vienna commemorates Eugene’s achievements. Inscribed on one side, ‘To the wise counsellor of three Emperors’, and on the other, ‘To the glorious conqueror of Austria’s enemies’.

Image gallery

See also

Notes

References

Primary

  • Lediard, Thomas. The Life of John, Duke of Marlborough vol.i. (1743)
  • Saint-Simon. Memoirs: 1691-1709 vol.i. Prion Books Ltd., (1999). ISBN 1-85375-352-1
  • Saxe, Maurice de. Reveries on the Art of War. Dover Publications Inc., (2007). ISBN 0-486-46150-5

Secondary

There are three English language biographies:

  • McKay, Derek. Prince Eugene of Savoy. Thames and Hudson Ltd., (1977). ISBN 0-50087-007-1
  • Henderson, Nicholas. Prince Eugen of Savoy. Weidenfield & Nicolson, (1966). ISBN 1-84212-597-4
  • MacMunn, George. Prince Eugene: Twin Marshal with Marlborough. Sampson Low, Marston & CO., Ltd., (1933).

In these books Prince Eugene is a secondary figure (at best):

  • Chandler, David G. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough. Spellmount Limited, (1990). ISBN 0-946771-42-1
  • Chandler, David G. Marlborough as Military Commander. Spellmount Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-86227-195-X
  • Childs, John. Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Cassell, (2003). ISBN 0-304-36373-1
  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Bk. 1, vols. i & ii. University of Chicago Press, (2002). ISBN 0-226-10633-0
  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Bk. 2, vols. iii & iv. University of Chicago Press, (2002). ISBN 0-226-10635-7
  • Coxe, William. History of the House of Austria, vols.ii & iii. Henry G. Bohn (1864)
  • Hatton, Ragnhild. George I. Yale University Press, (2001). ISBN 0-300-08883-3
  • Heer, Friedrich. The Holy Roman Empire (trans. George Weidenfield & Nicolson). Phoenix Press, (2002). ISBN 1-84212-600-8
  • Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. Longman, (1999). ISBN 0-582-05629-2
  • McKay, Derek & Scott, H. M. The Rise of the Great Powers: 1648–1815. Longman, (1984). ISBN 0-582-48554-1
  • Somerset, Anne. The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV. Phoenix, (2004). ISBN 0-753-81784-5
  • Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna. Berlinn Ltd., (2000). ISBN 1-84341-037-0
  • Wolf, John B. The Emergence of the Great Powers: 1685–1715. Harper & Row, (1962). ISBN 0-061-39750-9

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