Anyone who knows of the military genius of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, can’t fail to have learnt also of the exploits his close personal ally, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Despite a physical frailty, Eugene had an incredible talent for waging war and became, indisputably, one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history. His career spanned six decades and he served three emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. His first battle was fought against the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1689 and he subsequently took part in the War of the Holy League, the Nine Years War, against the Turks at Zenta and, most notably, as an ally of Marlborough’s during the War of Spanish Succession against the French at Blenheim, Oudenarde and Malplaquet. Eugene’s later career included the Austro-Turkish War and the War of Polish Succession. This special Leonaur edition combines Eugene’s own account of his career with an overview of the man and his achievements by Alexander Innes Shand.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
War being upon the point of breaking out, on account of the Spanish succession, a grand council of conference was held. My advice was, that the archduke should be sent into Spain immediately, to lead an army into Lombardy; but it was rejected by the wise counsellors of Leopold. They were offended at it. Prince Louis was appointed commander in the Empire, and I in Italy.
I had thirty thousand men of good and ancient troops. The Duke of Mantua, consenting or not consenting to receive a French garrison in his capital, I pretended that it was a commencement of hostilities on the part of Catinat, which served me as a pretext for commencing mine. Let me say a few more words respecting this duke, of whom I have already spoken so much. Formigha was almost his prime minister. The Abbé Fantoni, his gentleman of the chamber, sometimes procured him girls, like a certain Mathia; sometimes a mistress, like the Countess Calori; sometimes a wife to marry, to be on the part of Louis XIV. like a Condé and a d’Elbœuf. The one and the other, retained by France, hindered him from espousing an Aremberg, who would have rendered him favourable to us.
The duke, also, had a seraglio guarded by eunuchs. Never was there such an original seen. In short, thanks to him, behold me deep in war, at the end often days of incredible labour and fatigue, over mountains and precipices, with two thousand pioneers; and a part of my success certain, because I did not respect the neutrality of the Venetian Republic.
Catinat, having received the most distinct orders from his court not to violate it, could not dispute my entrance into the Veronese. When I left Trentin, I sent my excuses to the most serene republic, by a major, and proceeded on my road. Catinat waited for me in another place where I must have entered by defiles, and where I should have been beaten but for the step (not very delicate, I confess) which I had adopted. That was the moment for playing off the sounding words of imperious circumstances, of misunderstandings, and of the uncertainty of a general assent in a republic: all which I did not fail to do. By my passages of the Adige and the Po, I obliged Catinat to extend himself: I attacked and forced St. Fremont at Carpi. Tessé came to his support, and prevented his total ruin, which would have been inevitable, had not the badness of the roads hindered Commerci from advancing with my cavalry: I routed, however, these two generals, and separated them from Catinat, who was waiting for me at Ostiglia; and, while pursuing and charging them at the head of my curassiers, I received a severe musquet wound in my left knee.
Being joined by Commerci, Catinat did not dare to give me battle, or rather to continue that one, which was nearly the same thing. He availed himself of the night to pass the Mincio. I followed him on the other side of the river, because he had not had time to withdraw all his detachments; and the Duke of Savoy, who had begun his tricks, was not willing to send him his troops. Catinat retired upon Chiesa, and I became master of all the country between the Adige and the Adda, except Mantua. I had entertained a regular correspondence with Victor Amadeus, from whom I had no doubt I should derive some advantage. We must be cunning in Italy. I bribed a recollet of Mantua: and he bribed the whole convent. Under the pretext of confessing us in our camp, the monks took away with them arms under their robes, with which to slaughter the lifeguards at the nearest gate, and to open it to my soldiers, disguised as peasants: this was to have taken place one day, when, with a numerous escort, I was to have gone and heard mass at Notre-Dame-de-Grace. They had even bribed over the inhabitants. They were discovered however, disarmed, and punished as they deserved. I lost Mantua.
The Duke of Savoy, content with becoming again a generalissimo, and with marrying his daughter to the Duke of Burgundy, arrived at the army of the two crowns. I presented him my compliments, from respect; and I made him a present, from friendship, of some beautiful Turkish horses which I had captured at Zenta. He dared not accept but one. Louis XIV, displeased that I had cheated Catinat, gave me great pleasure by appointing the presumptuous and ignorant Villeroy to succeed one of the best generals that France ever had. When the Duke of Savoy wished to do anything, and said to him, “I am generalissimo.”
Villeroy replied, “I have an order from the king;” and indeed he had one, to seek me wherever he could, and to fight me. My cousin had the goodness to inform me of this. I wanted Chiari, for the head of my camp. The Venetian commander talked to me of neutrality; I told him I laughed at it; he begged me to accept his submission, and I signed whatever he wished. The enemy played me a trick; I was their dupe for once; I am compelled to own it. Prawntal, with all the drums in the army, made so much noise at the bridge of Palazzuolo, that the corps which was intended to prevent the passage of the Oglio remained still; and the enemy passed it at another place. I took up a position fronting with three sides. The honest Catinat, instead of rejoicing to see his commander beaten, said to him, “Do not fight; let us retire.”
The Duke of Savoy, who wished that Villeroy might receive a severe check, said, “Fight! let us attack! Catinat is timid, as you know.”
On the 1st of September my post at Chiara, towards my left, excellent as it was, was almost driven in, by an unheard-of instance of French intrepidity: all my outposts were already gone. I never witnessed such an effort of courage. Daun drove them off. My right, hidden behind our entrenchment, lying flat on their faces, rose suddenly, and fired Villeroy attempted the centre: that seldom succeeds where the wings are beaten.
The dignified, the admirable Catinat, rallied, brought back the troops to the attack, received a serious contusion in the breast, and a musquet shot in the hand. As for Victor Amadeus, he was every where; he exposed himself like the most desperate of the soldiery: he had a horse killed under him. What a singular character! This time he wished to lose the battle: but the habit of courage extinguished his policy.
Notwithstanding the loss of the army of the two crowns, it was still stronger than mine. I took up a good position again: my double success had abated a little the confidence and the vaunting tone of Villeroy. They fought only at the advanced posts, and in small detachments. Mine had always the advantage, because my spies, to whom I often gave three hundred ducats, for slight information, warned me of the least motion of the enemy. The whole had to decamp: the first ran a risk of being beaten; it was necessary, however, to take up our winter-quarters.
My horses, quite worn out, had not sufficient to feed them; they were supplied with dead leaves: my soldiers visibly grew thin; but they loved me, and suffered patiently: those of Villeroy, suffering also, but much less, deserted by hundreds, I gave an example of sobriety and patience. To relieve our ennui, my Vaudemont wished to surprise his father in his quarters: awakened by a musquet shot, he saved himself on horseback in his nightgown; and this stroke of filial piety failed. So did mine; for Catinat, during the night, effected his decampment and the repassage of the Oglio. Deceived, or rather badly served that day, (which, however, was an important one to me,) I ran thither, notwithstanding the obscurity, and, instead of destroying Villeroy, I made only four hundred prisoners; I killed, however, a great number on the other side of the river, by my artillery, which followed me at full gallop.