Battle of Seneffe
The Battle of Seneffe took place on 11 August 1674 near Seneffe in present-day Belgium and was one of the most notable engagements of the Franco-Dutch War. It was fought between a French army commanded by Condé and a combined Dutch, Imperial, and Spanish force under William of Orange.
|Battle of Seneffe|
|Part of the Franco-Dutch War|
Battle of Seneffe, by Adam Frans van der Meulen
Holy Roman Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
Grand Condé |
Duc de Navailles
William of Orange |
Comte de Souches
|Casualties and losses|
|8,000 - 10,000 killed or wounded||14,000 - 15,000 killed, wounded or captured |
One of only three major battles fought in the Spanish Netherlands, Seneffe was the costliest in terms of casualties, although estimates vary considerably. After successfully repulsing the Allied assault, Condé launched a series of bloody counter-attacks against the advice of his subordinates. The savage fighting continued into the evening and both sides suffered severe casualties with no concrete result. After holding his position overnight, William retired the next day in good order.
The battle ended Allied hopes of invading Northern France but is generally viewed as inconclusive, since Condé failed to achieve a decisive advantage and William quickly replaced his losses. The carnage shocked Louis XIV who thereafter focused on sieges, which were far less costly in terms of casualties. Of the two other battles in Flanders before peace in 1678, Cassel was sparked by an Allied attempt to relieve Saint-Omer and Saint-Denis to prevent the fall of Mons.
Both France and the Dutch Republic viewed the Spanish Netherlands as essential for security and trade and much of it was occupied by France in the 1667-68 War of Devolution. The Dutch-led Triple Alliance then forced Louis XIV of France to restore most of his gains to Spain in the 1668 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. As a result, he decided the best way to force concessions from the Dutch was by first defeating them.
When the Franco-Dutch War began in May 1672, French troops quickly overran much of the Netherlands, but by July the Dutch position had stabilised. The unexpected success of this offensive encouraged Louis to make excessive demands, while concern at French gains brought the Dutch support from Brandenburg-Prussia, the Emperor Leopold, and Charles II of Spain. In August 1673, an Imperial army entered the Rhineland; facing war on multiple fronts, the French abandoned most of their earlier gains to focus on said theaters, retaining only Grave and Maastricht.
In January 1674, Denmark joined the anti-French coalition, followed by the February Treaty of Westminster, which ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War. In May, the French took the offensive in the Franche-Comté, while Condé's army in the Spanish Netherlands remained on the defensive. A combined Dutch-Spanish force under William of Orange and Count Monterrey, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, spent June and July attempting to bring Condé to battle. When this proved unsuccessful, William proposed taking the initiative by invading French Flanders.
On 23 July, William was joined near Nivelles by an Imperial force under the Comte de Souches, a French Huguenot exile, increasing his numbers to about 65,000. At the same time, the conclusion of operations in the Franche-Comté allowed substantial reinforcements to be sent to join Condé, including his son the duc d'Enghien. By early August, his army of 45,000 was entrenched along the line of the Piéton river which joined the Sambre at Charleroi.
Concluding these positions were too strong to be attacked from the direction of Nivelles, on 9 August the Allied army established a line between the villages of Arquennes to Roux, on the French left. They hoped to tempt Condé into an attack, but he simply shifted his troops; next day, William proposed moving around Seneffe, and into the French rear. This was supported by the Spanish, since it would cut Condé's supply lines and isolate the French garrison in Charleroi (see Map).
At 4:00 am on 11 August, the Allies set out in three columns, each marching parallel to the French positions, a formation dictated by the poor roads. The left column was commanded by de Souches, the right by the Marquis d'Assentar, Monterrey's replacement, with the bulk of the infantry and artillery in the centre under William. A vanguard of 2,000 cavalry covered the gaps between the columns, with another 5,200 bringing up the rear led by Prince Vaudémont.
Hearing the Allies were on the move, at 5:30 am Condé rode out to observe their dispositions, and quickly perceived their intentions. The terrain they were crossing was marshy and broken up by numerous hedges, walls and woods, with limited exit points; gambling these factors would negate their superior numbers, Condé decided to attack. He sent 400 light cavalry under Saint Clar to skirmish with the Allied rearguard and slow down their march, while also despatching a cavalry brigade under the Marquis de Rannes to seize the high ground north of Seneffe.
Around 10:00 am, de Rannes came into contact with Vaudémont, who asked William for infantry support; he was sent three battalions, which he placed near the bridge over the Zenne or Senne river that flowed through Seneffe, with his cavalry just behind. Despite gout so severe he was unable to wear riding boots, Condé himself led the elite Maison du Roi cavalry across the Zenne above Seneffe, and scattered Vaudémont's cavalry. Simultaneous assaults by de Rannes and Luxembourg overwhelmed the infantry, who were all either killed or taken prisoner.
By midday, Condé had inflicted significant losses on the Allies and gained a clear, if minor victory. Instead of halting the attack, he launched a series of frontal assaults against the advice of his subordinates, and the battle became a series of confused and costly firefights, lasting until early evening. After Vaudémont was driven out of Seneffe, William halted his march and formed a defensive line centred on the nearby Priory of St Nicolas, with the Marquis d'Assentar based in the hamlet of Fayt-la-Manage on his left. The Allied horse was once again driven from the field, but the French were exhausted, the Dutch infantry remained intact, and the ground in front of their position unsuitable for cavalry.
Condé led one attack in person, during which he was unhorsed and had to be rescued by his son, the Duc d'Enghien. Luxembourg destroyed much of the Dutch baggage train and despite heavy losses, the French finally over-ran the Allied positions at St Nicolas in the early evening. The two armies remained where they were until daybreak, when William withdrew to Mons, and the French resumed their original positions on the Piéton.
Although casualties on both sides were enormous, the exact total is still debated, particularly those incurred by the Allies. One reason is the relatively high numbers captured; unlike modern prisoners of war, the vast majority were exchanged almost immediately, so were not considered losses by contemporaries. French military historian De Perini puts Condé's casualties as 7,000 dead or wounded, those of the Allies as 8,000, plus 250 prisoners, although this only relates to officers. Gaston Bodart, whose 1908 work on military casualties was the accepted standard for many years, estimates 10,000 French, 14,000 Allied, including 5,400 prisoners. In 1970, American military analyst Trevor Dupuy provided figures that agreed with Bodart on French losses, but doubled those for the Allies. Although it is not clear how this figure was generated, it has been used by others, notably Spencer Tucker. In referring to the latter, Micheal Clodfelter suggests Bodart's figure of 14,000 Allied casualties is 'more likely', but places French losses slightly lower, at around 6,000.
In any event, they shocked the French court, one contemporary, Madame de Sévigné, writing to the Count of Bussy: ""We have lost so much by this victory that without the Te Deum and captured flags at Notre Dame, we would believe we had lost the battle". While in hindsight victory ended any threat of invasion, at the time the result seemed inconclusive, and Condé thereafter sought to avoid a repeat.
The Imperial troops escaped relatively untouched from the carnage at Seneffe, William claiming they had deliberately ignored requests for support. Although his overall losses were far higher, he was quickly able to rebuild his field army by taking troops from garrisons. In addition, a large convoy arrived in the Allied camp outside Mons on 31 August, bringing supplies, a month's pay in advance for the survivors and five new Dutch regiments. Combined with the losses suffered by Condé, the Allied army was now stronger relative to the French than before Seneffe, and William proposed another invasion attempt.
Since neither de Souches or Monterrey would agree to this, the Allies compromised by besieging Oudenarde. Operations began on 16 September, and three days later, Condé began marching to its relief. The Dutch and Spanish redoubled efforts to breach the walls before his arrival, but without advising his colleagues, de Souches sent the Imperial artillery off to Ghent. Since his troops would not fight without their guns, and the Dutch and Spanish could not face the French on their own, this forced the Allies to abandon the siege.
After strong protests from the States General of the Netherlands, de Souches was relieved of his command, but his removal did little to solve the reality of diverging objectives. De Souches was acting under instructions from Vienna, which wanted to focus on the Upper Rhine; the Spanish wanted to recoup their losses in the Spanish Netherlands, while the Dutch focused on retaking Grave and Maastricht.
On 9 October, William assumed command of the siege operations at Grave, which surrendered on 28th. Condé received an elaborate state reception at Versailles for Seneffe, but his health was failing and the casualties had diminished Louis' trust in his abilities. He temporarily assumed command of French troops in the Rhineland following Turenne's death at Salzbach in July 1675, but retired before the end of the year. In the longer term, Seneffe confirmed Louis' preference for positional warfare, ushering in a period where siege and manoeuvre dominated military tactics.
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