You certainly know the song "Marlbrough is going to war, mironton, mirontaine ..." which became famous thanks to the duke (of the same name) having been noticed by his curious disappearance during the battle of Malplaquet from September 9 to 11, 1709. After wars and easy victories as in Flanders and Franche-Comté, Louis XIV still preoccupied with the Spanish Succession, had to face at the beginning of the 18th century more difficult battles like the one de Malplaquet, won "by abandonment" of the enemy.
The start of the War of the Spanish Succession
Philippe d'Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV became king of Spain in November 1700, under the name of Philippe V. Everything could go for the best, but “the great alliance of The Hague” was formed in 1701 bringing together England , the United Provinces, the Holy Empire, Prussia and Savoy against France. The War of the Spanish Succession begins!
Success and setback followed one after another before the last defeat at Lille in December 1708, despite the defense of Marshal de Boufflers; France is in a very difficult financial situation, not to mention the harsh winter 1708-1709 when the crops were all destroyed.
The king should be reasonable and ask for peace, but he cannot bring himself to do so. He therefore reconstituted in June 1709, an army led by Marshal de Villars.
In the forest of Malplaquet
On June 23, 1709, Marshal Villars was on the Scheldt. The allies (enemies) take Tournai in July and move east to besiege Mons and Valenciennes. The French commanded by Marshals de Villars and Boufflers at the head of 70 to 75,000 men and 80 guns found themselves facing the allies commanded by Prince Eugene in the service of the Empire and the Duke of Marlborough at the head of 100 to 110,000 men and 100 to 120 guns! The forces are unequal.
We are on a plateau between two valleys. On either side of the French positions are woods, one dark, the other roughly open. The Malplaquet gap is 1,500 m wide, separated in two by the Bois Thierry.
Villars positions his army in a crescent, back to the two woods, the center a little back and shapes the terrain by raising land. The "Marlborough Story" says "giblets were made; lands and fascines were raised; cannon was placed, so the allied soldiers never failed to repeat that they had to fight a buried enemy, and that they were waging war on moles "!
Faced with this position, Prince Eugene's generals hesitated to attack. But the prince pushes them "the enemy before us is less strong than the one who has been beaten so many times."
On September 11, 1709, at daybreak, the cavalry mounted horses, the infantry took up arms. The sound of the cannon thunders at half past seven, the French army is attacked at eight o'clock, the King's regiment taking flight! Bad start! The left wing spins through the woods pursued by the allies repatriated by Prince Eugene who runs everywhere and multiplies the attacks, despite his head injury. For his part, Villars weakened the center of several regiments to reconstitute the left wing (in flight) and succeeded in shooting the opposing infantry. Boufflers, on the right, intends to fight 30 Dutch battalions with his 8 Swiss battalions and 3 dragon regiments ... unfortunately who had been called in by Villars to support the left of the army! He can count on the Royal Infantry regiment launching a bayonet attack to restore his position. But the center is bare!
At noon, Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough hesitated to launch themselves into the center of the French position, their armies although numerous were seriously tested with more than 21,000 men lost; Boufflers holds his right; Villars retreats to the left in the face of too many enemies, his horse is wounded, the marshal is hit by a gunshot in the knee, succeeds in removing the bullet, falls unconscious, and is then transported out of the battlefield.
It was then that the rest of the allies sluggishly launched into the center, to the surprise of the French, aided by the Maison du Roi, returning to the rescue. Boufflers is the only one who has to lead the left wing, the right wing ... as well as the defeated center and sometimes does not even know where the battalions are. At the end of the day, however, he is obliged to order the withdrawal!
Who won ? Who lost ? It is customary that "he who leaves the battlefield is defeated." But what if the winner is so tired that he does not continue the fight?
The results of the Battle of Malplaquet
The great commanders were hit: Prince Eugene at the head, Marshal de Villars at the leg… the Duke of Marlborough had disappeared and was considered dead… hence the famous song "" Marlbrough is leaving. - at war, mironton, mirontaine… ”.
This great battle, the bloodiest in history, was won by KO of the allies. The French will still have lost 12,000 soldiers and the allies 20,000! The enemy could not invade France, as he wished! France could thus continue the war in an advantageous manner.
- Perrin's Dictionary of Wars and Battles in the History of France "- Jacques Garnier