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Coordinates: 49°55′10″N 4°31′40″E / 49.91944°N 4.52778°E / 49.91944; 4.52778

Battle of Rocroi
Part of the Thirty Years' War
HeimBattleRocroy.jpg
The duc d'Enghien ordering his troops to stop fighting the Spanish, who have come to him to surrender. Galerie des Batailles
Date19 May 1643
LocationRocroi, France
Result Decisive French victory
Belligerents
 Kingdom of France  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Duc d'Enghien Spain Francisco de Melo
Strength
17,000 infantry
6,000 cavalry
14 guns[1]
19,000 infantry (includes 8,000 Spanish)[2]
8,000 cavalry
18 guns[1]
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead, wounded or captured[3] 7,000 dead or wounded
8,000 captured[3]



The Battle of Rocroi was fought on 19 May 1643 - mere days after the passing of Louis XIII of France that left his five-year old son Louis XIV of France on the throne - late in the Thirty Years' War. It resulted in a victory of the French army under the Duc d'Enghien, against the Spanish army under General Francisco de Melo. Further, it is considered the turning point of the perceived invincibility of the Spanish tercio.

Prelude

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Map of the troop dispositions

The Habsburg Spanish army of about 27,000 men, advanced from Flanders, through the Ardennes, and into northern France to relieve French pressure on the Franche-Comté and Catalonia. The Spanish troops set siege to Rocroi, which lay athwart the route to the valley of the Oise. The French, under the command of 21-year-old Louis, duc d'Enghien, reacted quickly and forced a battle before the arrival of 6,000 Spanish reinforcements. The Spanish failed to block the route to Rocroi, which passed through a defile bordered by woods and marsh. Enghien advanced through the defile and assembled his force along a ridge looking down on the besieged town of Rocroi. The Spanish quickly formed up between the town and the ridge. The French army, some 23,000 strong, was arranged with two lines of infantry in the centre, squadrons of cavalry on each wing and with a thin line of artillery at the front. The Spanish army was similarly arranged, but with its infantry in their traditional tercios, or squares. The two armies bivouacked in their positions for the night.

Battle

Duc d'Enghien at the Battle of Rocroi

Rocroi, the last tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.

The battle began after dawn. The French army attacked, but the French infantry in the centre were bested by the Spanish. The cavalry on the French left, advancing against Enghien's orders, was also thrown back. But the cavalry on the French right, under the command of Jean de Gassion, routed the Spanish cavalry opposite. Enghien was able to follow this up by attacking the exposed left flank of the Spanish infantry. Spanish cavalry made a successful counter-attack to drive off the French cavalry, but were checked by the advance of the French reserve.

Enghien now carried out a huge cavalry encirclement, sweeping behind the Spanish army and smashing his way through to attack the rear of the Spanish cavalry that was still in combat with his reserves. The Spanish horse was put to flight, leaving the Spanish infantry to carry on the fight. The French were twice repulsed by the stubborn Spanish squares, so Enghien arranged for his artillery and captured Spanish guns to blast them apart.

The German and Walloon tercios fled from the battlefield, while the Spanish remained on the field with their commander, repulsing four cavalry charges by the French and never breaking formation, despite repeated heavy artillery bombardment. Young Enghien, the French commander, then offered surrender conditions just like those obtained by a besieged garrison into a fortress. Having agreed to those terms, the remains of the two tercios left the field with deployed flags and weapons.[4]

Total Spanish losses were about 15,000 dead, wounded, or captured. French losses were about 4,000.

Significance

The battle was an important propaganda victory for Mazarin and Enghien, the future "Great Condé" and represented a weakening of the besieged Spanish Low Countries. It was also of symbolic importance, as it was one of the few major battlefield defeats of a Spanish army in over a century and, moreover, a defeat of one its most famous units. It has been noted that Melo's German, Walloon, and Italian troops actually surrendered first, while the Spanish infantry surrendered only after standing hours of infantry and cavalry charges and a vicious spell under the French guns. They were given the treatment usually given to a fortress garrison and retired from the field with their arms, flags and honors. Rocroi was not the Spanish military disaster claimed by the French propagandists; ten years later, the Spanish captured Rocroi and held it until the peace treaty was signed. Nowadays, the Battle of the Dunes (1658) is generally considered as the end of the Spanish military supremacy in Europe.[citation needed].

In media

A 2006 Spanish movie, Alatriste, directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes, portrays this battle in its final scene. The soundtrack features in this scene a funeral march, La Madrugá, composed by Colonel Abel Moreno for the Holy Week of Seville, played by the band of the regiment Soria 9, heir of that which participated in the battle, the oldest unit in the Spanish Army, and since nicknamed "the bloody Tercio".[citation needed]

Museum

The sedan chair belonging to the elderly Spanish infantry general Fontaines (a Belgian, known to the Spanish as Fuentes) was taken as a trophy by the French and may be seen in Les Invalides museum in Paris. Fontaines was killed in the battle; the duke of Enghien is reported to have said, "Had I not won the day I wish I had died like him".

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. pp. 74. ISBN 006089170X. 
  2. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Battle of Rocroi". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-01.
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. pp. 75. ISBN 006089170X. 
  4. Agustín Pacheco Fernández, Rocroi, el último tercio. Spain: Galland Books, 2011. pp. 15-17

Further reading

  • Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270056-1. 
  • Stephane Thion (2013). Rocroi 1643: The Victory of Youth. Histoire et Collections. ISBN 978-2352502555. 

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