1707 – Siege of Lleida

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1707 – Siege of Lleida

The siege lasted from 9 September to 11 November 1707

Introduction

For the campaign of 1707, the objectives of the Bourbon in Spain were to drive the Allies out of the kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon and then turn their attention to Catalonia.

In April, the Maréchal de Berwick began the campaign by inflicting a serious defeat to the Allies in the Battle of Almansa. After the battle, Berwick formed two columns: a column under his personal command advanced northwards in the Province of Valencia towards Requena, and the other column under Asfeld advanced eastwards to conquer Xàtiva, Gandia and Alcoy.

In May, the Bourbon took Requena; and in June, Xàtiva.

In mid-June, the Duc d'Orléans and the Duc Noailles arrived at Balaguer, where they established their headquarters for their offensive in Catalonia. They gradually occupied the towns and villages around Lleida (aka Lérida). After its severe defeat at Almansa, the Allied army was unable to oppose any serious resistance to the Bourbon troops.

Map

Map of the siege of Lleida.
 
Copyright Dinos Antoniadis
Key to the map:
A The Town
BB The Bridge and Work before it, with the Mine made by the Garrison
C The New Wall
D The Old Wall
E The Wall of the Old Town
F Sant Antonio’s Gate
G The Butcher’s Gate
H Magdalen’s Gate
I Gate of Santo Spirito
K The Tanner’s Gate
L The New Work
MM The Bourbons's Trenches and Saps
NN Batteries of Cannon
OO Bomb Batteries
PP The Breaches
QQ Entrenchments behind the Breaches
R Church called the Old Carms
S Works mired along the waterside
T The Communication made by the Bourbons from the Castle to the Town
1 Fort Garden
2 New Little Fort
3 Old Capuchins Fort (unfinished)

Description of Events

The siege of the city of Lleida began on 9 September, with the positioning of an army consisting of more than 30,000 men while the garrison of the place was made up of only 2,500 men commanded by Henry of Hesse-Darmstadt.

On 11 and 12 September, the Bourbon army occupied positions on the left bank of the Segre with 8 bns and 18 sqns, and 10 bns on the right bank. Two bridges were constructed to connect the siege corps, but were destroyed soon afterwards when heavy rain swelled the river.

In the night of 11 to 12 September, the advanced elements of the Franco-Spanish army made themselves masters of Puig Bordell, Pardinyes and Vilanoveta.

On 12 September, the defenders held a Council of War at the Castell del Rei to decide how to best defend the city. Already at that point the division of opinions between the allied officers was noticeable, on the one hand there was Hesse-Darmstadt (commander-in-chief), supported by Governor Miquel Ramon Tort, Colonel Aleix de Segarra and the Portuguese General Albuquerque, and on the other side the British Commander Colonel Charles Wills and the Dutch Lieutenant-Colonel Widders. The same day, the defenders made a sortie.

On 17 September, the defenders undertook another sortie, during which the besiegers lost about 200 men killed or wounded, and one colonel and 14 officers taken prisoner.

From 21 September, the bulk of the troops of the Duc d'Orléans gradually arrived at Lleida. Their command and supply bases were established in Balaguer and Fraga.

By the end of September, all elements of the army of the Duc d'Orléans had reached Lleida. Meanwhile, an allied corps made up of 4,000 Miquelets and Sometent, commanded by the Earl of Galway and the Marquis das Minas, encamped in Tàrrega in the direction of Lleida.

At the end of September, the Franco-Spanish re-established their two bridges on the Segre River.

On 1 October at 11:00 p.m., the assault on the city began and trenches were dug in front of the gates of Magdalena and del Carme.

From 2 to 9 October, the besiegers installed their artillery: 11 guns for battering the walls, 8 more guns and 4 mortars, distributed in four batteries (2 batteries of 4 guns, one of 6, one of 5 and a battery of 4 heavy mortars). Once Hesse-Darmstadt realized that the attack focused at del Carme, he placed batteries of guns and mortars in the area. These batteries fired day and night on the besiegers positions.

On 9 October, the Bourbon artillery opened fire, causing significant destructions. Hesse-Darmstadt's strong response caused the death of the French General Commissioner of Artillery, Bigetot. Hesse-Darmstadt also opened three counter-trenches behind the breached in the the wall to defend them against an assault.

On 12 October at 7:00 p.m., the Franco-Spanish army attacked through the breach with 6 grenadier coys, followed by fusiliers. To oppose them, there were 1,000 Catalan volunteers, 500 allied soldiers and 600 other soldiers, with 10 guns and 4 mortars on the front line.

Storming of Lleida in 1707 – Public Domain

In the night of 12 to 13 October, Hesse-Darmstadt prepared another counterattack and asked Wills, who was in the Castle, for help. When not receiving an answer, Hesse-Darmstadt ordered the soldiers and artillery to be withdrawn to the Castle, giving up the city as lost and leaving the population behind unprotected against the entrance of the enemy army.

On 13 October, the Franco-Spanish army ransacked the entire city while the population was gathered in the lower part of the hill trying to take refuge in the Castle. This is when, according to local tradition, the massacre at the Dominican Convent of El Roser occurred with the burning of 700 civilians inside the building. The narrative of the Bourbon side was that there were no murders in the city, since it was empty when the Bourbon army entered, with the population gathered near the Castle trying to take refuge there. The Catalan chronicler Francesc Castellví's version of the events of 13 October states that when the army of the Duc d'Orléans entered the city, the population was gathered near the Castle, hoping to take refuge there and this allowed looting without victims, with the exception of four deaths that took place in the Convent (Cases).

The same day (13 October), when Hesse-Darmstadt tried to negotiate the surrender of the city, Orléans refused on the ground that he was already master of the city. In consequence, the defenders of the Castle were forced to accommodate the civilian population, a circumstance that aggravated the lack of water and food that were already in short supply. This led to multiple deaths from starvation and dysentery and would become a decisive factor in the surrender. On 14 October, Franco-Spanish troops began to bring up guns inside the city to open a breach in the current bastion de Louvigny (formerly Cantelmo).

On 17 October, the Franco-Spanish artillery began to fire on the castle but met with strong resistance from the 38 guns and mortars of the defenders, who rapidly repaired breaches.

On 25 October, the defenders made a diversionary attack in the area of the Sant Andreu Bastion (currently Serpa) to divert the enemy's attention, but the counter-attack took them by surprise with the explosion of a mine that destroyed the bulwark, killed many soldiers and forced them to retreat to the Castle.

On 28 October, Galway marched towards Balaguer with 6,000 soldiers and some miquelets. By that time, the trench of the besiegers were only 15 paces from the Castle wall.

On 29 October, the besiegers took the covert way, which had been abandoned by the garrison as there were not enough men left to defend it.

On 31 October, Galway's relief forces did not march to Balaguer but encamped at Les Borges Blanques (about four hours from the city). In the vicinity of the town, there were small encounters between cavalry forces, and small engagements between about 2,000 soldiers.

In early November, Galway met with his staff and decided not to send his entire army to relieve Lleida but only 1,000 horse and 1,000 foot, who should enter the city by surprise.

On 6 November, a reconnaissance force of 2,000 men, led by Galway, encamped in Margalef. Six rockets were fired warning Hesse-Darmstadt that the expected 8,000 men would not arrive to break the siege, but only a reinforcement of 2,000 men. However, the message was misinterpreted and Hesse-Darmstadt believed that Galway's arrival would be imminent and with him. This misunderstanding triggered a series of events that would accelerate the defeat of the allied army.

Galway's reluctance to relieve Lleida may have been due to the bad conditions of his troops. Unpaid and constantly in lack of food, their morale was low and desertion all too common, as was widespread pillaging by the British, Dutch and Portuguese soldiers (Schober to Eugene, 18 November 1707).

From 6 to 11 November, fierce fighting took place between the two sides. From the Castle, sacks of gunpowder, bags of pitch and grenades were thrown that managed to collapse the mouth of one of the two French mines, but the number of soldiers and civilian refugees killed by thirst and dysentery was already enormous.

Awaiting Galway's imminent entry, a note inside an empty bomb was sent to Gardeny, indicating that the garrison would make a sortie as soon as the expected relief force would attack. Amid all the enthusiasm, however the soldiers made sorties without any reinforcements in sight. Order and discipline inside the Castle were not much better and a soldier accidentally set fire to the powder magazine located in the Cantelmo Bastion (now Louvigny).

On 11 November, a Council of War was convened in the Castle to decide whether to surrender. There Wills, who was under very ambiguous orders from Galway which had tasked him to defend Lleida "to the utmost" and at the same time urged him to conserve his men and not to sacrifice them, presented a letter from Galway confirming that he would not send any aid. Wills used this to try to convince the rest of the military of the need to surrender. Once again opinions were divided between the group formed by Hesse-Darmstadt, General Ramon and Alburquerque, favouring to continue to resist and Wills' group. Finally it was agreed to continue fighting.

On 11 November at noon, Wills, in an act of insubordination, decided to agree to the surrender of the Castle and sent an officer with this message to the Duc d'Orléans, who declared that he would only negotiate with the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt. A second Council of War was held in the Castle where the surrender was agreed upon, but on the condition that it should be stated that Lleida surrendered against Hesse-Darmstadt's will, who only agreed because being forced by his subordinates. Right after, the capitulation of Lleida was signed. It is believed that on the same day that the capitulation was signed, a letter arrived from Versailles with orders to withdraw.

On 14 November, the garrison Of Lleida (about 600 men) left the city with full military honours, followed by some 600 sick and wounded.

On 17 November, Prince Heinrich von Hesse-Darmstadt and the remnants of the garrison joined up with Galway at Esplugas.

In the long defence of the Castle, there had surely been the chance of holding out until December, given that during winter, confrontations would stop because of the harsh weather.

Forces involved

Allies

Summary: about 2,700 men

Commander-in-Chief: Prince Heinrich von Hesse-Darmstadt

  • British infantry (3 weak bns) under Charles Wills
  • Dutch infantry (2 weak bns for a total of about 1,000 men) under Lieutenant-Colonel Vidders
    • Leefdael Marines (1 bn) probably
    • unidentified unit (1 bn) perhaps Leefdael Marines second bn
  • Portuguese infantry (2 bns for a total of about 700 men) Dorrell and Heller mention only 1 bn
    • unidentified unit (2 bns) probably Albuquerque Infantry, since Albuquerque was one of the commanding officers in Lleida and the registers of the hospital of Santa Creu in Barcelona (AH 139) record 31 entries from this regiment between 28 November and 20 December; 26 on 9 December alone, which looks very much like the arrival of a transport of wounded from Lleida
  • Catalan infantry (2bns for a total of 800 men)
    • Coronela de Lleida (2 bns)
  • Irregulars
    • Miquelets from the Comarques (200 men)

Franco-Spanish

There were a total of 19,410 Bourbon soldiers (at some point up to 30,000). This force was made up of 11,700 French foot and 2,400 Spanish foot, in addition to 5,310 horse from both cavalries (Cases), not all of these were used for the actual siege.

Chief of engineers: Lieutenant-General Rigolat

Commander of the artillery: Chevalier de Saint-Pierre

Siege corps: 18 unknown bns and 18 sqns under Lieutenant-General Legall (Heller)

In cantonments at Balaguer, Castillo de Farfanga, Alfarras, Monzon and Benaverre

References

Catalan Wikipedia – Setge de Lleida (1707)

[Anon.]: History of the reign of Queen Anne, digested into annals, Volume 6 , London 1708 [Note: most of the events are dated one day later in the History]

Casas, Blanca: Lleida 1707: Molt més que una guerra], Lleida, s.a.

Dorrell, Nicholas: Marlborough's other Army, Warwick 2019

Heller [von Hellwald, Friedrich Jakob]: Der Feldzug 1707 in Spanien, In: Östreichische Militärische Zeitschrift, 1839 Heft 11, pp. 137-181

Biblioteca de Catalunya – Fons històric de l'Hospital de la Santa Creu for the Portuguese Albuquerque regiment

The Nafziger Collection of Orders of Battle

Acknowledgements

Jörg Meier for the initial version of this article.