1701 – Operations in the Low Countries

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Operations lasted from January to December 1701

Introduction

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 Versailles for Spain.

Emperor Leopold I (also Archduke of Austria) contested the testament of Charles II 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. The emperor only found support in Prussia with whom it signed a treaty of mutual support whereby the 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.

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

Since the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Dutch troops occupied the places of Luxembourg, Namur, Charleroy, Mons, Ath, Oudenarde and Nieuport in the Spanish Netherlands.

Description

French occupation of the Spanish Netherlands

Contextual map of the Spanish Netherlands in 1700 published in Wikimedia Commons by user Rebel Redcoat and released in the public domain

In January 1701, Louis XIV resolved to occupy the places of the Spanish Netherlands confided to the Dutch at the Peace of Ryswick. He sent Marshal Boufflers to Lille to prepare this operation.

On 22 January, Boufflers arrived in Lille.

On 23 January, M. de Puysegur transmitted a letter from Louis XIV to the Elector of Bavaria, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. By this letter, Louis XIV informed the elector that he intended to send troops to replace the Dutch in the various places that they occupied in the Spanish Netherlands. It was agreed that this expedition would be conducted by the elector and by M. de Bedmar in the night of February 5 to 6.

The Elector of Bavaria disposed of 10,000 men to defend the Spanish Netherlands (5,000 men from the Spanish army and 5,000 Bavarians). His cavalry had no horse to the exception of the Elector's Guards (300 men).

Each soldier of the French army destined to the occupation of the places received 20 shots and provisions for three days.

Upper Guelderland was in a very preoccupying state. Its defence could not hold for more than four days and it occupied a very strategic position with Palatine, Prussian and Dutch troops nearby. Puysegur estimated that it was necessary to rapidly send 5,000 men and the Elector Guards to occupy Upper Guelderland. Thus, the French would be in a good position to rapidly intervene at Kayserwerth, Neuss and Bonn as soon as a treaty would have been concluded with the Elector of Cologne.

French General Officers serving in the Low Countires in 1701
Commander-in-chief: Marshal de Boufflers
  • Lieutenant-General de Coigny
  • Lieutenant-General Artaignan
  • Lieutenant-General Ximenez
  • Maréchal-de-Camp de Lamothe Houdancourt
  • Maréchal-de-Camp Albergotti
  • Maréchal-de-Camp Bezons
  • Maréchal-de-Camp Courtebonne
  • Brigadier Chevilly
  • Brigadier d'Aubeterre
  • Brigadier de Courcelles
  • Brigadier Labadie
  • Brigadier Violaine
  • Brigadier d'Imecourt
  • Brigadier Puysegue

Louis XIV decided to re-establish the Milices du Hainaut and to have the Elector of Bavaria to raise a regiment of two battalions in the name of the King of Spain. For his part the Elector of Bavaria promised to bring Bavarian troops (in Bavaria as well as in the Spanish Netherlands) to a total of 7,700 foot and 3,000 horse. About half of this force would have to remain in Bavaria for its defence. The Spanish units (5,000 men) garrisoning the Spanish Netherlands were in a very bad state and it was resolved to increase each of their company from their current number of 30 men to 50 men through local recruitment. The Spanish cavalry (1,500 men) had no mount. Finally, Louis XIV decided to increase his own companies of cavalry by adding 10 men to each of them and to raise 120 new companies of cavalry and 62 companies of dragoons.

In the night of 5 to 6 February, as planned, all French detachments were on the move:

  • Maréchal-de-Camp de Lamothe from Dunkerque and Furnes with 2,600 horse and 180 foot to occupy Nieuport
  • Lieutenant-General de Coigny from Tournai with 1,200 horse and 300 foot to occupy Oudernarde
  • Maréchal-de-Camp de Bezons from Tournai with 1,000 horse and 120 foot to occupy Ath
  • Lieutenant-General d'Artaignan from Valenciennes, Condé and Le Quesnoy with 2,750 horse and 570 foot to occupy Mons
  • Maréchal-de-Camp de Courtebourne from Maubeuge and Beaumont with 1,000 horse and 180 foot to occupy Charleroy
  • Lieutenant-General de Ximenez from Philippeville, Givet and Charlemont to occupy Namur
  • Maréchal-de-Camp d'Albergotti from Longwy and Thionville with 2,500 horse and 960 foot to occupy Luxembourg

On 6 February, all places of the Spanish Netherlands previously occupied by Dutch garrisons had accepted the new French garrisons without opposition.

A few days later, the Marschal Boufflers took 2 bns of the garrison of Menin and 1 dragoon sqn and threw them into Courtrai.

Dutch troops soon asked for the authorisation to return to the Dutch Republic. They were allowed to do so progressively as French troops gradually secured the frontier.

Order of Battle
Deployment of Spanish troops in the Spanish Netherlands in the Spring of 1701

Deployment of French troops in the Spanish Netherlands in mid-February 1701

On 18 February, French troops occupied the frontier with the Dutch Republic.

Puysegur was still trying to persuade Louis XIV of the importance of establishing magazines in Upper Guelderland; of supplying its places with artillery taken in the Spanish Netherlands; and of sending about 14 bns and 14 sqns to occupy its places and thus cover the Electorate of Cologne, allied with France.

At the beginning of March, the first Dutch troops started to evacuate the places of the Spanish Netherlands.

On 5 March, the first units of the Corps of the Comte de Coigny (15 bns, 15 sqns) destined to occupy Upper Guelderland started their march from Tournai, Luxembourg and various places of Hainaut. They first cantoned around Tirlemont (present-day Tienen). Other units assembled along the Demer around Diest.

On March 11, the Comte de Coigny arrived at Tirlemont to assume command of his corps.

On 12 March, the convoys sent from Namur and Charleroy with supply destined to the French corps arrived at Boneffe.

On 14 March, Coigny's Corps marched from Tirlemont to Bree, leaving Hamont and Weert to its left. Two ferryboats had been made available at Roermond; two others at Stevensweert; and flying bridges had been established at Venlo.

On 16 March, the French convoy following Coigny's Corps reached Peer through very difficult roads.

On 19 March, the convoy finally reached Weert.

French troops in Upper Guelderland
Place Infantry Cavalry
Stevensweert Crussol (1 bn)  
Roermond La Châtre (1 bn)

Isenghien (2 bns)

Condé (2 sqns)

Duras (2 sqns)
Grignan (2 sqns)

Venloo Orléans (2 bns)

Condé (1 bn)
Vexin (1 bn)
Santerre (1 bn)

Royal-Étranger (3 sqns)
Geldern Languedoc (1 bn)

Touraine (2 bns)

Hautefort (1 sqn)
Stralen   Hautefort (1 sqn)
Herklens   Sennectère Dragons (3 sqns)
  12 bns 14 sqns

On 22 March, the convoy arrived at Roermond. Coigny distributed supply among his units who then proceeded to their assigned garrison places. On the same day, the Elector of Bavaria left Bruxelles to return to Bavaria where he intended to raise troops to honour his new subsidy agreement with France (15,000 men for a monthly subsidy of 40,000 écus). He transferred command of his troops in the Spanish Netherlands to M. de Bedmar.

Assembly of the Allied Army

Order of Battle
Order of battle of the Hanoverian and Celler Contingent in English and Dutch pay in the Spring of 1701

At the end of March, the Dutch troops evacuated Luxembourg. At about this time, 10,000 Palatines occupied Düsseldorf and the country of Jülich while 7,000 Prussians occupied the country of Kleve. Furthermore, 10,000 Hanoverians were on the march towards the Lower-Rhine. Finally, the Dutch had strong garrisons in Grave, Nijmegen and Maastricht. The Dutch Republic was also considering to increase its army to 75,000 men and its navy to 50 vessels. For their part, the English were raising 40,000 sailors and arming 90 vessels. A Scot regiment had landed in the Dutch Island of Cadzand.

Fortifications of the places of Venlo and Geldern were repaired. However, Spanish units were not yet ready to take the field, being dispersed in the various provinces of the Spanish Netherlands.

Command of the French troops from the sea to the Scheldt (aka Escaut) was confided to the Comte de la Mothe; M. d'Albergotti commanded in Luxembourg; M. d'Artaignan was charged of the defence from Antwerp to the source of the Demer; and Coigny assumed command in Upper Guelderland up to Léau (present-day Zoutleeuw) and Roermond. D'Artaignan insisted on the improvement of the defences of Antwerp which were in very bad conditions, and of the fortifications of Lierre (present-day Lier) and of Léau where he sent 300 men from the garrison of Louvain (present-day Leuven) to reinforce the feeble Spanish garrison (100 men). The forts defending the Scheldt were repaired and batteries erected on both side of the river to defend the approaches of Antwerp.

Preparations

Preparations - Copyright: Kronoskaf

On 4 April, Louis XIV approved the proposition of the Spanish government to erect a line of defence extending from Antwerp to Namur.

On 12 April, a convoy of artillery and pontoons arrived at Venlo to reinforce Coigny's Corps.

On 14 April, work on the Franco-Spanish defensive lines started.

On 20 April, Marchal Boufflers, who had briefly sojourned at Versailles to receive the king's instructions, returned to Lille.

On 21 April, Boufflers went to Ghent to meet with M. de Bedmar.

From 22 to 26 April, Boufflers visited Ostend, Blanckenberg, Damme and Bruges, finding their fortifications in very poor conditions.

Boufflers ordered to send 54 field pieces and 12 mortars to Ghent and Namur and 10 other pieces from Louvain to Namur. He also sent 20 sqns and 9 bns on the frontier of Brabant to support Coigny's Corps in Upper Guelderland.

French troops on the frontier of Brabant
Place Infantry Cavalry
Gand   Furstenberg (2 sqns) arriving from Ypres
Mons Hessy (3 bns) arriving from Valenciennes and Cambrai

Zurlauben (2 bns) arriving from Valenciennes

Royal-Allemand (3 sqns) arriving from Saint-Omer
Louvain   Royal-Cravate (3 sqns) arriving from Valenciennes

Barentin (2 sqns) arriving from Cambrai
Rosen (2 sqns) arriving from Bouchain

Namur   Mestre de Camp Général Dragons (? sqns) arriving from Longwy

Du Roi (3 sqns)
Royal-Piémont (3 sqns)
Talmont (2 sqns) all arriving from Luxembourg

Anvers Furstenberg (2 bns) arriving from Ypres  
Charleroy Salis (2 bns) arriving from Tournai  

At Nijmegen, the Dutch built eight forts.

On 25 April, the artillery destined to Ghent arrived at destination. Those destined to Namur arrived a few days later.

From 28 April to 3 May, Boufflers inspected the regions of Dendermonde and Antwerp.

From 4 to 11 May, Boufflers inspected the region of Diest and the Upper Guelderland.

On 12 May, Boufflers established his headquarters at Diest and sent 8 additional bns to the Upper Guelderland. Boufflers was at the head of an army counting 125 bns and 157 sqns to guard the frontier and the lines. He subdivided his army in two corps: one under M. de Tserclaes from the sea up to Antwerp and another under M. de Rosen from Antwerp to Maastricht, keeping 59 bns and 90 sqns to form the main body of his army. He also sent pontoons to the Upper Guelderland to throw bridges on the Meuse. He ordered the artillery to be at Boneffe on the Méhaigne for 28 May. Finally he transferred 4 carabinier sqns from Antwerp to Herentals and Diest, replacing them with 6 sqns from Malines and Lierre.

On 24 June, the English Parliament discussed of the exorbitant power of the House of Bourbon, inviting to make war to limit its power. A fleet was ready at Spithead and 10,000 men could be transported to the Dutch Republic. The King of England concluded a treaty with Denmark so that this kingdom would supply another 10,000 to the Dutch Republic. The Dutch had also taken under their pay troops from Prussia, Hanover, Hessen-Kassel, Palatinate, Anspach and Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Overall, the Dutch could field some 100,000 men.

In July, Great Britain despatched 12 bns to the Dutch Republic under the command of John Earl of Marlborough. They sailed from Cork in Ireland. Directions were issued for the levying of 10,000 recruits in England to take their place. These 12 bns were:

At the beginning of July, Louis XIV ordered Tallard to assemble another French army on the Moselle.

By 8 July, Coigny's Corps in the Upper Guelderland counted 23 bns and 15 sqns.

On 14 July, King William III of England arrived at The Hague.

On 15 July. Marshal de Villeroy, who was posted in Alsace, was ordered to march towards Luxembourg with 22 bns and 83 sqns to support Coigny and the Elector of Cologne. Villeray left the Marquis d'Uxelle at the head of the troops who remained in Alsace. On the same day at The Hague, a treaty of mutual assistance was signed between England, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Elector of Palatinate, the King of Prussia, the Elector of Hanover and the Duke of Celle.

Boufflers sent 5 additional bns and 3 sqns to Upper Guelderland, bringing Coigny's total force to 28 bns and 18 sqns. Boufflers also visited M. de Bedmar in Bruxelles to take arrangement for the deployment of the Spanish army (25 bns, 40 sqns), convincing him to sent a Spanish force (4 bns and 4 sqns) to Upper Guelderland.

Order of Battle
Deployment of French and Spanish troops in the Spanish Netherlands on 20 July 1701

On 20 July, William III left The Hague to inspect the regions of Breda and Berg-op-Zoom and to review Dutch troops stationed in these quarters. On the same date, the Franco-Spanish army consisted of:

  • the Army of Flanders under Marshal Boufflers (41 bns, 90 sqns) including part of the troops deployed in Upper Guelderland
  • the army under Marshal Villeroy (42 bns, 86 sqns) including the other part of the troops deployed in Upper Guelderland
  • Rosen's Corps (12 bns, 26 sqns) in front of Louvain, subordinated to Boufflers
  • garrisons of places and lines (28 French bns, 14 French sqns, 25 Spanish bns, 27 Spanish sqns)

At the beginning of August, the leading units of Villeroy's army started to arrive in Luxembourg.

On 4 August, after reviewing the troops of M. de Bedmar at Bruxelles, Boufflers returned to Louvain.

On 6 August, Villeroy personally came to Namur where he met Boufflers to discuss of their future dispositions. Villeroy would canton part of his troops in the area of Saint-Vith and Bulange near the frontier with Juliers and Cologne, another part in Limbourg and the rest behind the Ourthe.

Villeroy was recalled to Versailles where he received command of the Army of Italy. The Comte de Tallard replaced him as commander in Luxembourg.

On 8 August, Louis XIV recalled his ambassador at The Hague.

Order of Battle
Anglo-Dutch Fleet assembled at Spithead on 11 August 1701

From 11 to 17 August, Boufflers inspected the frontier in the region of Ghent.

Coigny increased the garrison of Venlo to 10 bns.

The Elector of Bavaria assembled an army of 24,350 men near Munich.

On 22 August, the Marquis d'Usson left Louvain to join the Duke of Wolfenbüttel who had asked Louis XIV for a commander for his little army.

On 28 August, Boufflers took dispositions to prepare winter-quarters in the Spanish Netherlands, Upper Guelderland and French Flanders. For an army of 147 bns and 225 sqns.

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.

On 6 September, Boufllers advanced 12 bns and 13 sqns under the Comte Dubourg to Argenteau on the Meuse, between Liège and Namur, to cover the construction of a bridge of boats which was completed on the same day.

On 7 September, Boufflers inspected the new bridge at Argenteau and ordered to make entrenchments to protect this important camp. On the same day, 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).

Soon after the signature of the Treaty of The Hague, an Anglo-Dutch fleet, who had assembled on the coast of England, sailed for the West Indies.

On 8 September Boufflers inspected the defensive works of the town of Limbourg.

On 11 September, Boufflers returned to Louvain.

On 16 September, James II of England died in Paris. Louis XIV immediately recognized his son, the Prince of Wales, as King of England.

By 17 September, the French camp at Argeanteau counted 12 bns and 18 sqns.

On 29 September, a letter informed Boufflers that the king wanted that Tallard's army would take its winter-quarters in Franche-Comté, Trois-Évêchés and Sedan in preparation to form the Army of the Rhine for the next campaign.

At the end of September, William III inspected the camps of Nijmegen and Breda. The latter having been recently reinforced with 10,000 English troops.

Order of Battle
Deployment of French troops in the Spanish Netherlands on 3 October 1701

In the beginning of October, Boufflers restarted his preparations for winter-quarters. He intended to leave 74 bns and 60 sqns of the Army of Flanders and 25 bns and 40 sqns of the Spanish army in the cities and towns of the Spanish Netherlands. The rest of the Army of Flanders would winter in French Flandre. Boufflers also considered that 9 bns would have to be transferred from Upper Guelderland to French Flandre for the winter.

In the Dutch Republic, the Allies retired from their camps at Nijmegen and Breda for their winter-quarters.

In the Spanish Netherlands, it was resolved to raise 20 additional Spanich bns. Work was undertaken to complete the lines between Saint-Donas (unidentified location) and Sas van Ghent. The lines extended from Cantelmo (unidentified location) on the North Sea just below the Dutch Island of Cadzand, to Saint-Donas behind the canals of Sas van Ghent and Hulst; they then passed by the village of Stekene up to the dyke of Sint-Gillis and followed the dykes up to the Scheldt below Antwerp; from Antwerp the lines continued to Lier on the Nete, then to Aarschot and Diest on the Demer, and Halen at the confluence of the Gete and Demer; it then followed the Gete by Léau to Boneffe on the Méhaigne; it then followed the Méhaigne to Huy where it ended. The ditch along the lines measured 7.8 m. wide and 3.9 m. deep. The lines were manned by 15 bns and 10 sqns during winter.

On 20 October, Boufflers received Louis XIV's final instructions for the winter-quarters. Soon afterwards, the Gendarmerie left for Franche-Comté and the Gardes françaises and Gardes suisses for Paris.

Advance of the Allies on Upper Guelderland and Cologne

Advance of the Allies on Upper Guelderland and Cologne - Copyright: Kronoskaf

Boufflers delayed the departure of his other units when he heard rumours about the fact that the Dutch were sending 3 rgts towards Moers who belonged to the King of England and that they had planned with the King of Prussia and the Elector of Palatinate to make themselves master of the Electorate of Cologne allied with France.

On 25 October, rumours being confirmed, Boufflers sent the Commandeur de Courcelles at Schleiden with 2 dragoon rgts and 1 cavalry rgt so that they could quickly make their junction with 2 Spanish cavalry rgts posted in Luxembourg and then seize Bonn if the Elector of Cologne ever ask for troops, something that he still hesitated to do.

Indeed the places of the Elector of Cologne were poorly defended. Rheinberg, who occupied a very strategic position on the Rhine near the Dutch border and some of the estates of the King of Prussia (Wesel, Emmerich, Rees), was defended by only 2 bns and 3 dragoon coys. For its part, the garrison of Kaiserwerth consisted of only 1 bn and 1 cavalry coy.

In the first days of November, Boufflers was informed that 15,000 men were marching from the region of Nijmegen towards Emmerich, Rees and Düsseldorf; that this force would be joined by the Prussian and Palatine troops, presently encamped at Mülheim; that the subsidised Danish contingent was starting to arrive in the Dutch Republic.

News rumours suggested that the Dutch may enter into Upper Guelderland where 30 French bns and 17 sqns were wintering.

In November, the Elector of Palatinate asked the Dutch Republic to send him reinforcements.

On 14 November, William III re-embarked and sailed for London.

In mid-November, the Emperor convinced the Bishop of Münster to join the alliance. Meanwhile, the French obtained copies of the Treaty of The Hague which had been kept secret since its signature on 7 September.

On 18 November, the Elector of Cologne took the decision to ask for French assistance and stated his conditions to do so.

On 19 November, the Palatine troops in Dutch pay (Nassau-Weilburg, Rehbinder and Barbo) deployed in a cordon from Jülich until Bonn, while 6 Dutch bns took position near Cologne.

On 20 November, the Elector of Cologne finally asked to the Comte de Coigny to send French troops to defend Rheinberg, Kaiserwerth, Neuss and Zons against the enterprises of the Allies. He also asked to Lieutenant-General Nicolas Auguste de La Baume, Marquis de Montrevel, commanding at Argenteau to occupy Liège as soon as possible. The Elector required that French troops would be designated as “Auxiliaries of the Circle of Burgundy”.

On 21 November, Coigny threw 2 infantry rgts and 1 cavalry rgt in Neuss; a similar garrison into Kaiserwerth; a few rgts in Rheinberg and 2 bns into Zons. The troops of the Elector of Cologne previous occupying these places were sent to Bonn along with some French rgts.

On 22 November, the Marquis of Montrevel appeared in front of Liège with 10 bns and 7 sqns, before the arrival of the Dutch detachment marching on this place. He was introduced into the citadel by the Comte de Barlo, governor of the fortress.

On 23 November, additional French troops arrived at Liège. French troops then came out of the citadel and occupied the city.

On 26 November, Louis XIV instructed Boufflers to bring the garrison of Liège to 12 bns and to establish a bridge of boats on the Rhine at Rheinberg.

The Marquis de Ximenès was named governor of Liège. He sent troops to occupy the other towns of the Principality of Liège: Huy, Maeseyck (present-day Maaseik), Visé, Saint-Trond (present-day Sint-Truiden), Tongres, Stockem and Grevenbroek. With the occupation of all these places the entrenched camp at Argenteau became useless and was razed.

Tallard's army also took its winter-quarters.

Order of Battle
Deployment of French troops in the Low Countries on 31 December 1701

On 1 December, the Marquis de Ximenès arrested the Baron de Mean, head of the Chapter of Liège, for sedition. The garrison of Liège then consisted of 14 bns and 14 sqns.

On 9 December, the city councillors of Cologne introduced 4 Dutch bns in the city as “Auxiliaries of the Circle of Westphalia”. The rest of the Dutch infantry and cavalry moved into winter-quarters in the Duchy of Berg.

Overall, France and Spain now had 115 bns and 152 sqns on the frontier of the Low Countries (including 25 Spanish bns and 40 sqns).

On 16 December, the Durch governor of the Sas van Ghent cannonaded the French redoubt of Zelzate facing his positions.

At about this time, the Elector of Palatinate intercepted at Düsseldorf 44 boats destined to the French bridge at Kaiserwerth. These boats were loaded with grain and ammunition for the places belonging to the Elector of Cologne.

It was now pretty clear that war would break out soon in the Low Countries as it had already done in Northern Italy.

At the end of the year, the Palatine Garde Grenadiers, along with 1 bn of the Leibregiment zu Fuß and the Hochkirch Cuirassiers were transferred to the Upper Rhine.

References

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. 3-155, 434-435, 438, 444
  • 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, pp. 398-400

Acknowledgements

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