Marshal Turenne

Marshal Turenne, portrait gallery, 1833

Turenne
(11th September, 1611 – 27th July, 1675)
Member of the La Tour d'Auvergne family and Marshal General of France

HENRI de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne, born September 16th, 1611, was the second son of the Duc de Bouillon, prince of Sedan, and of Elizabeth of Nassau, daughter of the celebrated William of Orange, to whose courage and talents the Netherlands mainly owed their deliverance from Spain. Both parents being zealous Calvinists, Turenne was of course brought up in the same faith. Soon after his father's death, the Duchess sent him, when he was not yet thirteen years old, into the Low Countries, to learn the art of war under his uncle, Maurice of Nassau, who commanded the troops of Holland in the protracted struggle between that country and Spain. Maurice held that there was no royal road to military skill, and placed his young relation in the ranks, as a volunteer, where for some time he served, enduring all hardships to which the common soldiers were exposed. In his second campaign he was promoted to the command of a company, which he retained for four years, distinguished by the admirable discipline of his men, by unceasing attention to the due performance of his own duty, and by his eagerness to witness, and become thoroughly acquainted with, every branch of service. In the year 1630, family circumstances rendered it expedient that he should return to France, where the court received him with distinction, and invested him with the command of a regiment.

Four years elapsed before Turenne had an opportunity of distinguishing himself in the service of his native country. His first laurels were reaped in 1634, at the siege of the strong fortress of La Motte, in Lorraine, where he headed the assault, and, by his skill and bravery, mainly contributed to its success. For this exploit he was raised at the early age of twenty-three to the rank of Marechal de Camp, the second grade of military rank in France. In the following year, the breaking out of war between France and Austria opened a wider field of action. Turenne held a subordinate command in the army, which, under the Cardinal de la Valette, marched into Germany to support the Swedes, commanded by the Duke of Weimar. At first fortune smiled on the allies ; but, ere long, scarcity of provisions compelled them to a disastrous retreat over a ruined country, in the face of the enemy. On this occasion the young soldier's ability and disinterestedness were equally conspicuous. He sold his plate and equipage for the use of the army ; threw away his baggage to load the waggons with those stragglers who must otherwise have been abandoned ; and marched on foot, while he gave up his own horse to the relief of one who had fallen, exhausted by hunger and fatigue. These are the acts which win the attachment of soldiers, and Turenne was idolized by his.

Our limits will not allow of the relation of those campaigns in which the subject of this memoir filled a subordinate part. In 1637-8 he again served under La Valette, in Flanders and Germany, after which he was made Lieutenant-General, a rank not previously existing in France. The three following years he was employed in Italy and Savoy, and in 1642 made a campaign in Roussillon, under the eye of Louis XIII. In the spring of 1643, the King died ; and in the autumn of the same year, Turenne received from the Queen Mother and Regent, Anne of Austria, a Marshal's baton, the appropriate reward of his long and brilliant services. Four years a captain, four a colonel, three Marechal de Camp, five lieutenant-general, he had served in all stations from the ranks upwards, and distinguished himself in them not only by military talent, but by strict honour and trustworthiness, rare virtues in those turbulent times when men were familiar with civil war, and the great nobility were too powerful to be peaceful subjects.

Soon after his promotion, he was sent to Germany, to collect and reorganise the French army, which had been roughly handled at Duttlingen. It wanted rest, men, and money, and he settled it in good quarters, raised recruits, and pledged his own credit for the necessary sums. The effects of his exertions were soon seen. He arrived in Alsace, December, 1643, and in the following May was at the head of 10,000 men, well armed and equipped, with whom he felt strong enough to attack the Imperial army, and raise the siege of Fribourg. At that moment the glory which he hoped and was entitled to obtain, as the reward of five months' labour, was snatched from him by the arrival of the celebrated Prince de Conde, at that time Duc d'Enghien, to assume the command. The vexation which Turenne must have felt was increased by the difference of age, for the Prince was ten years his junior, and of personal character. Conde was ardent and impetuous, and flushed by his brilliant victory at Rocroi the year before ; Turenne cool, calculating, and cautious, unwearied in preparing a certainty of success before-hand, yet prompt in striking when the decisive moment was come. The difference of their characters was exemplified upon this occasion. Merci, the Austrian commander, had taken up a strong position, which Turenne said could not be forced ; but at the same time pointed out the means of turning it. Conde differed from him, and the second in command was obliged to submit. On two successive days two bloody and unsuccessful assaults were made : on the third Turenne's advice was taken, and on the first demonstration of this change of plan Merci retreated. In the following year, ill supplied with every thing, and forced to separate his troops widely to obtain subsistence, he was attacked at Mariendal, and worsted by his old antagonist Merci. This, his first defeat, he felt severely : still he retained his position, and was again ready to meet the enemy, when he received positive orders from Mazarine to undertake nothing before the arrival of Conde. Zealous for his country and careless of personal slights, he marched without complaint under the command of his rival : and his magnanimity was rewarded at the battle of Nordlingen, in 1645, where the centre and right wing having failed in their attack, Turenne with the left wing broke the enemy's right, and falling on his centre in flank, threw it into utter confusion. For this service he received the most cordial and ample acknowledgments from Conde, both on the field, and in his despatches to the Queen Regent. Soon after, Conde, who was wounded in the battle, resigned his command into the hands of Turenne. The following campaigns of 1646-7-8 exhibited a series of successes, by means of which he drove the Duke of Bavaria from his dominions, and reduced the Emperor to seek for peace. This was concluded at Munster in 1648, and to Turenne's exertions the termination of the thirty years' war is mainly to be ascribed.

The repose of France was soon broken by civil war. Mazarin's administration, oppressive in all respects, but especially in fiscal matters, had produced no small discontent throughout the country, and especially in Paris ; where the parliament openly espoused the cause of the people against the minister, and were joined by several of the highest nobility, urged by various motives of private interest or personal pique. Among these were the Prince of Conti, the Duc de Longueville, and the Due de Bouillon. Mazarin, in alarm, endeavoured to enlist the ambition of Turenne in his favour, by offering the government of Alsace, and the hand of his own niece, as the price of his adherence to the court. The Viscount, pressed by both parties, avoided to declare his adhesion to either :- but he unequivocally expressed his disapprobation of the Cardinal's proceedings, and, being superseded in his command, retired peaceably to Holland. There he remained till the convention of Ruel effected a hollow and insincere reconciliation between the court and one of the jarring parties of which the Fronde was composed. That reconciliation was soon broken by the sudden arrest of Conde, Conti, and the Duc de Longueville. Turenne then threw himself into the arms of the Fronde ; urged partly by indignation at this act of violence, partly by a sympathy with the interests of his brother, the Due de Bouillon ; but more, it is said, by a devoted attachment to the Duchesse de Longueville, who turned the great soldier to her purposes, and laughed at his passion. He sold his plate ; the Duchess sold her jewels : they concluded an alliance with Spain, and the Viscount was soon at the head of an army. But the heterogeneous mass of Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Germans, melted away during the first campaign ; and Turenne, at the head of eight thousand men, found himself obliged to encounter the royal army, twenty thousand strong. In the battle which ensued, he distinguished his personal bravery in several desperate charges : but the disparity was too great ; and this defeat of Rhetel was of serious consequence to the Fronde party. Convinced at last that his true interest lay rather on the side of the court, then managed by a woman and a priest, where he might be supreme in military matters, than in supporting the cause of an impetuous and self-willed leader, such as Conde, Turenne gladly listened to overtures of accommodation, and passed over to the support of the regency. His conduct in this war appears to be the most objectionable part of a long and, for that age, singularly honest life. The fault, however, seems to have been rather in espousing, than in abandoning, the cause of the Fronde. Many of that party were doubtless actuated by sincerely patriotic motives. Such, however, were not the motives of Turenne, nor of the nobility to whom he attached himself : and if, in returning to his- allegiance, he followed the call of interest as decidedly as he had followed the call of passion in revolting, it was at least a recurrence to his former principle of loyalty, from which, in after-life, he never swerved.
The value of his services was soon made evident. Twice, at the head of very inferior troops, he checked Conde in the career of victory: and again compelled him to fight under the walls of Paris ; where, in the celebrated battle of the Faubourg St. Antoine, the Prince and his army narrowly escaped destruction. Finally, he re-established the court at Paris, and compelled Conde to quit the realm. These important events took place in one campaign of six months, in 1652.

In 1654 he again took the field against his former friend and commander, Conde, who had taken refuge in Spain, and now led a foreign army against his country. The most remarkable operation of the campaign was the raising the siege of Arras ; which the Spaniards had invested, according to the most approved fashion of the day, with a strong double line of circumvallation, within which the besieging army was supposed to be securely sheltered against the sallies of the garrison cooped up within, and the efforts of their friends from without. Turenne marched to the relief of the place. This could only, be effected by forcing the enemy's entrenchments ; which were accordingly attacked, contrary to the opinion of his own officers, and carried at all points, despite the personal exertions of Conde. The Spaniards were forced to retreat. It is remarkable that Turenne, not long after, was himself defeated in precisely similar circumstances, under the walls of Valenciennes, round which he had drawn lines of circumvallation. Once more he found himself in the same position at Dunkirk. On this occasion he marched out of his lines to meet the enemy, rather than wait, and suffer them to choose their point of attack : and the celebrated battle of the Dunes or Sand-hills ensued, in which he gained a brilliant victory over the best Spanish troops, with Conde at their head. This took place in 1657. Dunkirk and the greater part of Flanders fell into the hands of the French in consequence ; and these successes led to the treaty of the Pyrenees, which terminated the war in 1658.
Turenne's signal services were appreciated and rewarded by the entire confidence both of the regency, and of. Louis himself, after he attained his majority and took the reins of state into his own hands. At the King's marriage, in 1660, he was created Marshal-General of the French armies, with the significant words, " Il ne tient qu'a vous que ce soft davantage." The monarch is supposed to have meditated the revival of the high dignity of Constable of France, which could not be held by a Protestant. If this were so, it was a tempting bribe ; but it failed. Covetousness was no part of Turenne's character ; and for ambition, his calm and strong mind could not but see that a dignity won by such unworthy means would not elevate him in men's eyes. We would willingly attribute his conduct to a higher principle ; but there is reason to believe that henceforth he rather sought to be converted from the strict tenets of Calvinism in which he had been brought up. It is at least certain, from his correspondence, that about this time he applied himself to theological studies, with which an imperfect education, and a life spent in camps, had little familiarized
him ; and that in the year 1668 he solemnly renounced the Protestant church. However, he asked and received nothing for himself, and was refused one trifling favour which he requested for his nephew : and
perhaps the most fair and probable explanation of his conversion is, that his profession of Calvinism had been habitual and nominal, not founded upon inquiry and conviction; and that in becoming a convert to Catholicism, he had little to give up, while his mind was strongly biassed in favour of the fashionable and established creed.

When war broke out afresh between France and Spain, in 1667, Louis XIV. made his first campaign under Turenne's guidance, and gained possession of nearly the whole of Flanders. In 1672, when
Louis resolved to undertake in person the conquest of Holland, he again placed the command, under himself, in Turenne's hands, and disgraced several marshals who refused to receive orders from the Viscount, considering themselves his equals in military rank. How Le Grand Monarque forced the passage of the Rhine when there was no army to oppose him, and conquered city after city, till he was stopped by inundations, under the walls of Amsterdam, has been said and sung by his flatterers ; and need not be repeated here. But after the King had left the army, when the Princes of Germany came to the assistance of Holland, and her affairs took a more favourable turn under the able guidance of the Prince of Orange, a wider field was offered for the display of Turenne's talents. In the campaign of 1673 he drove the Elector of Brandenburg, who had come to the assistance of the Dutch, back to Berlin, and compelled him to negotiate for peace. In the same year he was opposed, for the first time, to the Imperial General Montecuculi, celebrated for his military writings, as well as for his exploits in the field. The meeting of these two great generals produced no decisive results.

Turenne returned to Paris in the winter, and was received with the most flattering marks of favour. On the approach of spring, he was sent back to take command of the French army in Alsace, which, amounting to no more than ten thousand men, was pressed by a powerful confederation of the troops of the empire, and those of Brandenburg, once again in the field. Turenne set himself to beat the allies in detail, before they could form a junction. He passed the Rhine, marched forty French leagues in four days, and came up with the Imperialists, under the Duke of Lorraine, at Sintzheim. They occupied a strong position, their wings resting on mountains ; their centre protected by a river and a fortified town. Turenne hesitated : it seemed rash to attack ; but a victory was needful before the combination of the two armies should render their force irresistible, and he commanded the best troops of France. The event justified his confidence. Every post was carried sword in hand. The Marshal had his horse killed under him, and was slightly wounded. To the officers, who crowded round him with congratulations, he replied, with one of those short and happy speeches which tell upon an army more than the most laboured harangues, " With troops like you, gentlemen, a man ought to attack boldly, for he is sure to conquer." The beaten army fell back behind the Neckar, where they effected a junction with the troops of Brandenburg : but they dared attempt nothing further, and left the Palatinate in the quiet possession of Turenne. Under his eye, and, as it appears from his own letters, at his express recommendation, as a matter of policy, that wretched country was laid waste to a deplorable extent. This transaction went far beyond the ordinary license of war, and excited general indignation even in that unscrupulous age. It will ever be remembered as a foul stain upon the character of the general who executed, and of the king and minister who ordered or consented to it.
Having carried fire and sword through that part of the Palatinate which lay upon the right or German bank of the Rhine, he crossed that river. But the Imperial troops, reinforced by the Saxons and Hessians to the amount of sixty thousand men, pressed him hard : and it seemed impossible to keep the field against so great a disparity of force ; his own troops not amounting to more than twenty thousand. He retreated into Lorraine, abandoning the fertile plains of Alsace to the enemy, led his army behind the Vosges mountains, and crossing them by unfrequented routes, surprised the enemy at Colmar, beat him at Mulhausen and Turkheim, and forced him to recross the Rhine. This is esteemed the most brilliant of Turenne's campaigns, and it was conceived and conducted with the greater boldness, being in opposition to the orders of Louvois. " I know," he wrote to that minister, in remonstrating, and indeed refusing to follow his directions, " I know the strength of the Imperialists, their generals, and the country in which we are. I take all upon myself, and charge myself with whatever may occur."

Returning to Paris at the end of the campaign, his journey through France resembled a triumphal progress ; such was the popular enthusiasm in his favour. Not less flattering was his reception by the King, whose undeviating regard and confidence, undimmed by jealousy or envy, is creditable alike to the monarch and to his faithful subject. At this time Turenne, it is said, had serious thoughts of retiring to a convent, and was induced only by the earnest remonstrances of the King, and his representations of the critical state of France, to resume his command. Returning to the Upper Rhine, he was again opposed to Montecuculi. For two months the resources and well-matched skill of the rival captains were displayed in a series of marches and countermarches, in which every movement was so well foreseen and guarded against, that no opportunity occurred for coming to action with advantage to either side. At last the art of Turenne appeared to prevail ; when, not many minutes after he had expressed the full belief that victory was in his grasp, a cannon-ball struck him while engaged in reconnoitring the enemy's position, previous to giving battle, and he fell dead from his horse, July 27th, 1675. The same shot carried off the arm of St. Hilaire, commander-in-chief of the artillery. "Weep not for me," said the brave soldier to his son, ' it is for that great man that we ought to weep."

His subordinates possessed neither the talents requisite to follow up his plans, nor the confidence of the troops, who perceived their hesitation, and were eager to avenge the death of their beloved general. " Loose the piebald," so they named Turenne's horse, was the cry; " he will lead us on." But those on whom the command devolved thought of nothing less than of attacking the enemy; and after holding a hurried council of war, retreated in all haste across the Rhine.

The Swabian peasants let the spot where he fell lie fallow for many years, and carefully preserved a tree under which he had been sitting just before. Strange that the people who had suffered so much at his hands, should regard his memory with such respect.

The character of Turenne was more remarkable for solidity than for brilliancy. Many generals may have been better qualified to complete a campaign by one decisive blow ; few probably have laid the scheme of a campaign with more judgment, or shown more skill and patience in carrying their plans into effect. And it is remarkable that, contrary to general experience, he became much more enterprising in advanced years than he had been in youth. Of that impetuous spirit, which sometimes carries men to success where caution would have hesitated and failed, he possessed little. In his earlier years he seldom ventured to give battle, except where victory was nearly certain : but a course of victory inspired confidence, and trained by long practice to distinguish the difficult from the impossible, he adopted in his later campaigns bolder style of tactics than had seemed congenial to his original temper. In this respect he offered a remarkable contrast to his rival in fame, Conde, who, celebrated in early life for the headlong valour, even to rashness, of his enterprises, became in old age prudent almost to timidity. Equally calm in success or in defeat, Turenne was always ready to prosecute the one, or to repair the other. And he carried the same temper into private life, where he was distinguished for the dignity with which he avoided quarrels, under circumstances in which lesser men would have found it hard to do so, without incurring the reproach of cowardice. Nor must we pass over his thorough honesty and disinterestedness in pecuniary matters ; a quality more rare in a great man then than it is now.

In 1653 he married the daughter of the Due de la Force. She died in 1666, without leaving children.
Turenne composed memoirs of his own life, which are published in the Life of him by the Chevalier Ramsay. There is also a collection of his Military Maxims, by Captain Williamson. In 1782 Grimoard published his Collection des Memoirs du Marechal de Turenne.' Deschamps, an officer who served under him, wrote a full account of his two last campaigns ; and the history of his four last campaigns has been published under the name of Beaurain. We may also refer the readers for the history of these times to Voltaire, Siecle de Louis XIV.