1701 – Operations in Germany

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1701 – Operations in Germany

Operations lasted from March to November 1701


On 1 November 1700, at the death of King Charles II of Spain, his will designated Philippe Duc d'Anjou, Louis XIV's grandson, as his successor on the throne of Spain. Philippe was proclaimed king of Spain in Madrid on 24 November under the name of Philip V. At the end of December, the new king left for Spain.

Emperor Leopold I (also Archduke of Austria) contested Charles II's testament and prepared for war. However, the electorates of Bavaria, Mainz and Cologne as well as the circles (Imperial districts) of Swabia and Franconia declared for neutrality and resolved to raise 20,000 men to enforce it. The emperor only found support in Palatinate and Prussia. He signed a treaty of mutual support with the latter whereby Austria and Prussia would mutually provide 10,000 men for the defence of his ally.

The Dutch Republic for its part wanted to secure its frontier with the cession of the places of Venlo, Roermond, Luxembourg, Namur, Mons and Charleroy. It was ready to put 120,000 in the field, a large part of which would be foreign troops (Prussia, Denmark, Hanover and Lüneburg, Palatinate, Margraviate of Anspach, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Würzburg) in Dutch pay.

Finally, Great Britain (in fact England and Scotland till 1707) was ready to supply 40,000 men (18,000 British and 22,000 foreigners in British pay). The Dutch and British together could muster 200 warships.

At the beginning of March 1701, France signed an accord with Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy allowing French troops to cross his duchy and obtaining the support of 8,000 foot and 2,500 horse from this duchy.


Map of the Upper Rhine in 1700 - Copyright Dinos Antoniadis


In January 1701, Emperor Leopold resolved to assemble an army of 20,000 men on the Rhine under the command of Ludwig Wilhelm, Margrave of Baden-Baden to make a diversion and to induce the princes of the Holy Roman Empire to join his alliance.

When informed of the emperor's plans, King Louis XIV of France decided to assemble an army of 62 bns, 83 sqns, 60 field pieces with a train of 2,200 horses, and a supply train of 800 horses on the Rhine and to place it under the command of the Maréchal de Villeroy. He would be assisted by 8 lieutenants-generals and 16 maréchaux de camp, including the Marquis de Villars, who would command cavalry, and M. de la Frezelière at the head of the artillery. In addition, 29 new sqns would be raised in the Trois Évêchés (Metz, Verdun and Toul) and Franche-Comté. These new regiments were:

  • Cavalry (20 sqns)
    • Du Châtelet (2 sqns)
    • L'Isle du Vigier (2 sqns)
    • Duplessis (2 sqns)
    • Marivaux (2 sqns)
    • Ligouder (2 sqns)
    • Forsac (2 sqns)
    • Doriac (2 sqns)
    • Comte de Bissy (2 sqns) not to be confused with Bissy Cavalerie
    • Tracy (2 sqns)
    • Bar (2 sqns)
  • Dragoons (9 sqns)
    • Davaray (3 sqns)
    • Sainte-Hermine (3 sqns)
    • Du Cambout (3 sqns)

The Imperialists sent a large number of artillery pieces and ammunition upstream from Vienna to Ulm. Furthermore, large magazines were put in place at Freiburg, Alt-Breisach and Kehl.

Louis XIV did not plan any conquest in Germany but wanted to defend Alsace. He preferred to spare his main forces for the Low Countries and Italy. Accordingly, 9,000 French pioneers repaired 36 old redoubts on the Rhine and erected 21 new ones between Huningue and Fort Louis. Furthermore, 16 bns were sent to fortify Neuf-Brisach. The main magazines were established in Strasbourg, with grain magazines in Besançon, Metz and Thionville. The Marquis d'Huxelles, commanding in Alsace, was instructed to reconnoitre the Rhine from Huningue up to Konstanz to learn more about navigation on this river and to identify locations where the Imperialists could throw bridge. Huxelles mentioned that Basel was probably the easiest place for the Imperialists to pass the Rhine and that it would be important that the Swiss prevent any army to use the bridges there.

In February, the Electorate of Palatinate felt threatened by the French troops occupying the Spanish Netherlands. The Elector concentrated all available troops in a camp near Mülheim an der Ruhr.

The first Imperial troops (2 infantry rgts and 2 cavalry rgts) arrived on the Rhine at Freiburg and Atl-Breisach at the end of March. The garrisons of Philippsburg, Kehl and of the cities of the frontier were reinforced. The emperor planned to assemble an army of 36 bns and 24 sqns on the Rhine.

At the beginning of April, the French answered by sending additional regiments from Franche-Comté and the Trois-Évêchés to Alsace to speed up work at Neuf-Brisach. Furthermore, 140 boats were prepared to establish bridges.

In April, Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria sent back 5 of his regiments from Brabant to Bavaria. He personally went from Bruxelles to Munich where he ordered to raise additional troops and to repair the places. He finally managed to conclude a treaty of mutual defence with the Circle of Swabia and the Circle of Franconia. According to this treaty, Bavaria would supply 15,000 men; Swabia, 12,000 men and Franconia, 8,000 men under the overall command of the Elector of Bavaria.

The Elector of Cologne, who had also sided with France, increased the size of his infantry coys and raised 3 cavalry rgts and 1 dragoon rgt. These new mounted units counted 300 men each.

The Maison du Roi was already in Franche-Comté and the other French units destined to the Army of the Rhine were marching towards this region.

Order of Battle
Order of battle of the French Army of the Rhine on 3 May 1701

In May, an insurrection against the emperor in Hungary delayed the march of his troops towards the Rhine.

In June, the French infantry already assembled in the Trois-Évêchés was sent to the Rhine but the cavalry remained in the Évêchés.

Finally, 80 guns sent from Vienna by Ulm arrived at Freiburg and Alt-Breisach.

During this time, an Imperial army under Prince Eugène de Savoie had managed to pass the Alps and to undertake the invasion of Northern Italy while Palatine and Prussian troops were concentrating near the Low Countries, threatening Rheinberg and Kaiserwerth. Louis XIV decided to give priority to the theatres of operation of Northern Italy and of the Low Countries and detached units from his Army of the Rhine to reinforce Catinat in Italy and to support the Elector of Cologne from the Moselle.

On 15 June, the Margrave of Baden received instructions from Vienna to form three camps at Wiesloch, Offenburg and Heilbronn. He also managed to convince the Circles of Swabia and Franconia to assemble their troops. However, these circles resolved not to join the emperor's army.

Order of Battle
French troops destined to the Moselle at the end of June

French troops destined to Italy at the beginning of July

French troops remaining on the Rhine at the beginning of July

On 25 June, the Maréchal de Villeroy, appointed to command the Army of the Rhine, left Versailles and went to Metz where he met with M. de Tallard and made arrangements for the reinforcements (9 bns, 32 sqns) destined to the Moselle. Villeroy also ordered the construction of a floating bridge at Metz that would be moved towards Thionville.

At the beginning of July, Villeroy went to Strasbourg and sent orders to units stationed in Franche-Comté and Alsace to form two detachments (the first of 20 bns, 12 sqns; the second of 5 bns and 8 sqns) and to march towards Italy. He also sent 3 bns from Alsace to the Moselle where they would join 6 other bns to form Tallard's Corps. After the departure of these troops, the Army of the Rhine had a nominal strength of only 28 bns and 60 sqns, including 29 sqns in the process of being formed.

No threat taking form by the Imperial Army of the Margrave of Baden, Villeroy let his troops in their quarters and transferred the Maison du Roi from Franche-Comté to Alsace where it was expected on 21 July. Most of Villeroy's troops occupied places along the Rhine, the rest taking position on the frontier of the Trois-Évêchés to be able to rapidly march to the Moselle if required. For the same reason, Villeroy established his artillery at Phalsbourg.

Order of Battle
Tallard's French Army on the Moselle in July 1701

Order of battle of the Imperial Army of the Rhine in July 1701

On 6 July, Tallard assembled his corps between Thionville and Sierck. His ovens were at Thionville.

On 10 and 11 July, the troops of the Circle of Swabia assembled at Pforzheim, Offenburg and other places of its territory; while those of the Circle of Franconia concentrated at Windsheim (present-day Bad Windsheim), Rothenburg/Tauber and Fürth near Nuremberg.

Villeroy also preventively established magazines in Luxembourg to be able to supply the Electorate of Cologne if the threat of the Allies took form. For the same reason, he transferred 2 cavalry rgts and 1 dragoon rgt from Alsace to the Trois-Évêchés.

On 17 July, Villeroy received orders from Versailles coinciding with his current measures. He was to march through Luxembourg to the Meuse and Limbourg country, leaving a force in Alsace under M. d'Huxelles.

On 20 July, Villeroy ordered to transfer the new regiments being formed in Franche-Comté and the Trois-Évêchés to Alsace. He then assembled his army at Saverne.

State of the newly raised French cavalry regiments
Regiment Location State
Du Châtelet unknown ready
L'Isle du Vigier Comté 7 coys out of 8 ready
Duplessis Thionville only 2 old coys ready (probably contributed by existing rgts)
Marivaux Verdun only 2 old coys ready (probably contributed by existing rgts)
Ligouder (or Ligondé) Thionville only 2 old coys ready (probably contributed by existing rgts)
Forsac Sarre-Louis only 2 old coys ready (probably contributed by existing rgts)
Doriac Metz 4 coys ready
Comte de Bissy (2 sqns) not to be confused with Bissy Cavalerie Vic 3 coys ready
Tracy Metz 5 coys ready
Bar Stenay 6 coys ready
Davaray Dragons Verdun not ready
Sainte-Hermine Dragons Mézières not ready
Du Cambout Dragons Comté ready to march in Alsace at the beginning of August
Fonbeausard Dragons Comté not ready
Even though the Electorate of Cologne is located in Germany on the Lower Rhine, operations in these quarters have been more closely tied to the operations in the Low Countries and are therefore covered in our article 1701 – Operations in the Low Countries.

On 23 July, Villeroy personally went from Strasbourg to Metz. His first column left on the same day for Metz. The three other columns followed from 28 to 31 July.

At the end of July, Huxelles, now commanding in Alsace, was informed that troops destined to the Imperial army had reached the Rhine at Philippsburg, Kehl, Freiburg and Alt-Breisach; that the Imperial army counted 16,000 foot and 4,000 horse; that the troops of the Circle of Swabia, encamped at Offenburg and Pforzheim counted 7,500 foot and 1,500 horse; that the troops of the Circle of Franconia were about to assemble at Neckarsulm; that the Elector of Palatinate had kept 1,200 foot and 900 horse in the neighbourhood of Mannheim; that a regiment of the Bishop of Osnabrück was expected at Freiburg; and that 6,000 Danes would soon march from Saxony to the Rhine. For his part, Huxelles had only 15 bns and 26 weak sqns and no field artillery to defend Alsace. He immediately asked for field artillery.

The French court estimated that an attack of the Imperialists in Alsace was very unlikely and postponed the sending of artillery and reinforcements.

News soon confirmed the views of the French court. Already 2 Imperial infantry rgts (a total of 4,800 men) had been ordered to march from Alt-Breisach and Freiburg towards Italy. Furthermore, the Hungarian insurrection had forced Austria to increase its presence in these quarters. Finally, the Swiss officially recognised Philip V as King of Spain and rejected the offers of the Empire to join the Grand Alliance.

Nevertheless, the Circle of Swabia concentrated all its troops at Offenburg; and the Circle of Franconia, at Neckarsulm; the troops of the Circle of the Upper Rhine (about 3,500 men) encamped at Erbenheim between Mainz and Wiesbaden. Some Palatine troops marched to Philippsburg. Imperial cavalry (4 cavalry and dragoon rgts) marched from Brisgau country to the Rhine, encamping at Feldkirch above Breisach. Imperial infantry detachments occupied the castles of Burcken (unidentified location), Sponeck and Limburg.

The Imperialists then worked at fortifications along the Rhine: the Austrians, from Brisgau to Kehl; the Swabians, from Kehl to Philippsburg; the Franconians, Palatines and troops of the Circle of the Upper Rhine, downstream from Philippsburg.

Huxelles sent guns and ammunition to Neuf-Brisach and requisitioned 1,200 pioneers to complete the defensive works of the place, in addition to the 9 bns already involved in this task. He also sent 1 bn to Plobsheim and Rhinau, and 1 bn to Diebolsheim. There were only 2 bns in Landau, 2 bns in Huningue.

Huxelles estimated that there were still 5 Imperial infantry rgts and 3 Imperial cavalry or dragoon rgts on the Rhine; 4,000 men of the Bishopric of Würzburg; and the 6,000 Danes, who were supposed to join the Imperial contingent. Huxelles did not doubt that the Margrave of Baden would be able to convince the Swabians and Palatines to act offensively but was not sure about the response of the Franconians and of the Circle of the Upper Rhine.

However, the Elector of Bavaria had assembled an army of 24,000 men, which was encamped near Munich. Furthermore, the French court sent the Marquis d'Usson to Wolfenbüttel to negotiate with the Duke of Brunswick and the Duke of Wolfenbüttel.

The Danish contingent, then in Saxony, was finally redirected towards Italy.

On 5 September, the newly raised Palatine bns Nassau-Weilburg, under Colonel von Zobel, and Rehbinder, under Colonel Bonn arrived at the camp of Mülheim an der Ruhr. Barbo Infantry was not yet completed and from the Palatine cavalry, only the Hochkirch Cuirassiers were present at this camp. Düsseldorf was garrisoned by the Palatine Garde du Corps, 10 coys of the Garde Grenadiers and 1 artillery coy; Jülich was garrisoned by Burscheidt Infantry and 1 artillery coy; and Cologne was occupied by 6 coys of the Garde Grenadiers and the Leibregiment zu Fuß. By that date, the Electorate of Palatinate could field 3,840 foot, 1,620 dragoons and 70 artillerymen.

On 7 September, England, the Dutch Republic and the Empire signed the Treaty of The Hague. The treaty was kept secret until the English and Dutch fleets would be fit for operations. The Dutch Republic took dispositions to arm 48 men of war (60-guns or larger).

On 15 October, 10 men detached of each infantry company of the garrisons of Freiburg and Breisach marched to Rastatt where the Margrave of Baden had established his headquarters; 1,500 men of the Circle of Franconia marched to the Rhine above Philippsburg to build entrenchments; 2 Würzburg infantry rgts arrived on the Rhine opposite Fort Louis; 3 Palatine infantry rgts and 3 Palatine cavalry rgts with 12 guns passed on the left bank of the Rhine and advanced up to Neustadt an der Haardt; 7,000 peasants were requisitioned in Palatinate to make entrenchments along the Speyerbach, from Neustadt to the Rhine.

When the Marquis d'Huxelles was informed of these movements, he asked for the troops sent from Alsace earlier to be sent back. Meanwhile, he took measures for the defence of Landau.

The Margrave of Baden personally visited Neustadt and advanced with his guards and some cavalry to reconnoitre Landau. He then reviewed the Palatine troops posted at Neustadt. He also established some guns on the heights near Kaiserlautern. Finally, he returned to his headquarters at Rastatt.

By the end of October, entrenchments of the Imperialists along the Speyerbach were pretty well advanced. Palatine troops also occupied Speyer and the castles of Kerweiler (unidentified location), Edesheim and Marientraut (unidentified location).

Two additional French infantry rgts were sent to the Rhine.

On 4 November, a treaty was concluded between France, the Duke of Brunswick and the Duke of Wolfenbüttel. By this treaty, the dukes engaged themselves to add at least 4,000 men to their armies, bringing them to a total of 12,000 men. Other negotiations were underway with the King of Poland to obtain 15,000 men and with the King of Sweden to convince him to ally with France.

On 15 November, the troops of the Circles of Swabia and Franconia decamped from Offenburg and Neckarsulm and returned to their countries. The troops of the Circle of the Upper Rhine joined the Palatines at Speyer.

On 20 November, Huxelles sent his troops into winter-quarters: 12 bns occupied Neuf-Brisach while the rest of his force entered into places. Huxelles then left for Versailles, leaving command to M. de Laubanie.

The Elector of Bavaria also sent his troops in winter-quarters but continued to work at the augmentation of his army for the next campaign.

At the end of the year, Palatine troops took up their winter-quarters on the left bank of the Rhine, in and around Neustadt an der Haardt and along the Speyerbach. They were soon joined by the the Palatine Garde Grenadiers, along with 1 bn of the Leibregiment zu Fuß and the Hochkirch Cuirassiers, who had been transferred from the Lower Rhine to the Upper Rhine.

In the Electorate of Palatinate, Lybeck Infantry, Sachsen-Meiningen Infantry and 1 artillery coy garrisoned Mannheim; Vrtby Infantruy and the Wittgenstein Dragoons garrisoned Speyer; the Vehlen Dragoons and Bentheim dragoons were quartered in the countryside; and the Garde du Corps garrisoned Heidelberg. Johann Ernst Count von Nassau was given supreme command of the entire Palatine Army.


This article incorporates texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:

  • Vault, François Eugène de, and Pelet: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 1 pp. 387-432, 641
  • Bezzel, O.: Geschichte des Kurpfälzischen Heeres, Bayrisches Kriegsarchiv, IV. File, part 1 and 2, Munich 1925
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, p. 399


Harald Skala for the translation and integration of Bezzel's work