1706-05-23 – Battle of Ramillies
Prelude to the Battle
The Elector of Bavaria and Maréchal Villeroy with two engineers had reconnoitred the area from Louvain (present-day Leuven) to the Mehaigne River and had chosen Ramillies to give battle to the Allies. The engineers draw the plan with disposition of the order of battle and the commanders sent one of the engineer to Versailles with this plan to get Louis XIV's approval.
The king was pleased with the plan and sent to Villeroy the reinforcements that he required, including a great part of the Maison du Roi.
At 1:00 a.m. on the Whitsunday of 23 May 1706, Quartermaster-General Cadogan rode forward from the Allied headquarters at Corswarem with 600 horse and the camp-colours towards the head of the Grote Gete River, to mark out a camp by the village of Ramillies. The morning was wet and foggy.
At 3:00 a.m., the Allied army marched from its camp towards Ramillies.
Around 8:00 a.m., on ascending the heights of Merdorp, Cadogan’s detachment dimly descried troops in motion on the rolling ground before them.
In the morning, Villeroy set off from Goetsenhoven with the main army and marched towards the Mehaigne River. During the march, he was informed that the Allies were rapidly marching in eight columns towards Merdorp.
Marlborough, who had ridden on in advance of the main body, presently came up and pushed the cavalry forward through the mist. In fact, Marlborough, without waiting for the Danish horse who were almost a day's march behind, had decided to give battle.
Around 10:00 a.m., the clouds rolled away, revealing the whole of the Franco-Spanish army in full march towards Ramillies.
Around 2:00 p.m., as Villeroy reached the height of Ramillies, he saw the columns of the Allies advancing from Merdorp towards Boneffe. Villeroy had time to deploy his army on the terrain, which he had previously reconnoitred, anchoring his right on the “Tombe d’Hottomont” near Taviers on the Mehaigne and extending his left to the village of Autre-Église. His front extended on 8 km and was covered by several ravines and small streams flowing into the Kleine Gete. Between his right and Taviers there was a small marsh considered as impassable, and only 5 bns were posted in the village and behind this marsh with 4 bns in support. Several bns were also posted in the village of Offus, in front of the infantry left wing, and in the village of Autre-Église, on the extreme left wing. From Taviers to Ramillies, there was a space of about 1 km, offering an approach to the Allies.
Villeroy, convinced that the Allies would make their main effort on his right wing, between Taviers and Ramillies, reinforced the two lines of cavalry composing his right wing with a third line of 5 dragoon rgts. To further reinforce this wing, Toulouse Cavalerie and Royal-Étrangers Cavalerie were deployed between the the second and third lines.
Marlborough observed the French positions from a rise offering a fair view. He realised that the French planned to make their main effort on their right wing.
As Allied troops arrived, they were deploying in order of battle with their right at Foulz, towards Jauche; and their left at Franquenée on the Kleine Gete, in front of Boneffe. A Reserve Corps was posted near Jandrenouille.
The Mehaigne was at ordinary times a rapid stream little more than 4 m. wide, with a muddy bottom, but was bordered by swampy meadows on both sides, which were flooded after heavy rain. From this stream the ground rises northward in a steady wave for about 1 km, sinks gradually and rises into a higher wave at Ramillies, sinks once more to northward of that village and rolls downward in a gentler undulation to Autre-Église.
Between the Mehaigne and Ramillies, a distance of about 2.5 km, the ground east and west is broken by sundry hollows of sufficient inclination to offer decided advantage or disadvantage in a combat of cavalry. A single high knoll rises in the midst of these hollows, offering a place of vantage from which Marlborough must almost certainly have reconnoitred the disposition of the French right.
The access to Ramillies itself is steep and broken both to north and south, but on the eastern front the ground rises to it for 1 km in a gentle, unbroken slope. In rear, or to westward of the French position, the table-land is clear and unbroken, and to the right rear or southwest stands a mound or barrow called the “Tombe d’Hottomont”
The French army was deployed with the villages of Taviers and Franquenée and the Mehaigne on its right. The two villages were occupied by a good body of foot and dragoons. The cavalry, including the Maison du Roi (a total of 120 sqns), was deployed three lines deep on the fine plain extending from Taviers towards Ramillies, forming the French right wing. In the village of Ramillies, which lay to the right centre, the French placed 20 bns with 24 guns.
From Ramillies run the Kleine Gete which makes the ground in most places very swampy. The French drew a single line of infantry along this river between Ramillies and Offus, and between Offus and Autre-Église which covered their left flank.
The full extent of the French front from Taviers to Autre-Église covered something over 6 km.
Description of Events
Around 3:00 p.m., the two armies began to cannonade each other.
Around 4:00 p.m., Marlborough opened his manoeuvres by a demonstration against the French left at Autre-Église. The infantry of the Allied right wing moved forward in two lines towards Offus and Autre-Église, the British on the extreme right flank. The infantry lines strode forward to the river. They then halted and seemed to be very busy in laying their pontoons.
When the Elector of Bavaria and Villeroy saw the Allied right wing marching on the difficult terrain against their left, they we startled. They both rode to their left wing and transferred a large number of bns initially deployed on their right and centre to support their left wing. This created some disorder in their right wing.
The Gardes Françaises and Gardes Suisses, posted to the right of the village of Autre-Église, advanced against the Allies and forced them to retire behind the little stream which they had just crossed. The Allies then turned right and advance on a village but the Zuñiga Brigade reached the village before them. The Franco-Spanish soon realised that the right wing of the Allies was just demonstrating against their own left wing.
Indeed, Marlborough ordered the infantry of his right wing to fall back to some heights in their rear. The two lines faced about and retired accordingly over the height until the first line was on the other side of the rising ground, out of sight of the French.
Then the first line halted and faced about once more, crowning the ascent with the well-known scarlet. This line stood on that height all day without moving a step or firing a shot, but none the less paralysing the French left wing.
Meanwhile the second, as ordered by Marlborough had faced to the left and marched away with all speed, under cover of the hill and unseen by the French, to the centre. This movement, hidden by the rising ground, went unnoticed to the French.
Marlborough rode down to the centre and made preparations for the attack. Once ready, he asked the Dutch Field-Marshal to begin the battle with his corps on the left.
As soon as the Dutch had engaged, Marlborough ordered 4 brigades of foot to attack the village of Ramillies.
Villeroy was still on his left wing when he heard the din of battle coming from Ramillies. He immediately sent M. d’Artaignan with the Picardie Brigade and the Alsace Brigade to the support of Ramillies. They entered in the village and drove the Allies out of it. Meanwhile the Gardes Brigade, which was following closely behind the Alsace Brigade had advanced against Allied bns, crossed the stream and pushed them back. However, the Gardes did not pursue because their right flank was unprotected, Alsace Brigade having entered in Ramillies.
The Allied bns counter-attacked and forced the Gardes to retire, causing some disorganisation in their ranks.
During the contest for Ramillies, Marlborough had transferred 50 sqns from his left wing to his right wing, hiding their movements behind high ground.
Marlborough then launched his cavalry left wing deployed in four lines against the Franco-Spanish cavalry right wing. Meanwhile, he gave orders to his cavalry reserve to take position to the left of his cavalry left wing and thus turn the right flank of the enemy.
To prepare for the flanking attack of his cavalry reserve, Marlborough hurled 14 bns against the village of Taviers which was defended by only 2 bns. However, M. de Lamothe soon join the combat with the 3 other bns initially deployed behind the little marsh. He was soon supported by the 5 dragoon rgts of the third line, who dismounted and joined the fight.
When the Allied cavalry left wing came within range of the artillery established at Ramillies, the Franco-Spanish cavalry of the first line and a few sqns of the second line counter-charged. The Allied cavalry routed the first Franco-Spanish line, but was driven back in confusion by the second.
The Franco-Spanish cavalry initially penetrated up to the third line of the Allied cavalry. The cavalry battle raged for a considerable time, the French holding their ground.
However, the 14 Allied bns, which had attacked Taviers, now enveloped the French right wing.
The victorious Franco-Spanish cavalry was only checked by the advance of fresh Allied sqns under Marlborough himself. Even so the Allies were at a decided disadvantage, and Marlborough, after despatching messengers to bring up every sqn, except the British, to the left, plunged into the thick of the melée to rally the broken horse. He was recognised by some French dragoons, who left their ranks to surround him, and in the general confusion he was borne to the ground and in imminent danger of capture. His aide-de-camp, Captain Molesworth, dismounted at once, and giving him his own horse enabled him to escape. His cavalry, however, encouraged by Marlborough’s example, recovered itself.
Marlborough took the opportunity to shift from Molesworth's horse to his own. Colonel Bringfield, his equerry, held the stirrup while he mounted, but Marlborough was hardly in the saddle before the hand that held the stirrup relaxed its hold, and the equerry fell to the ground, his head carried away by a round shot.
Meanwhile the attack of the infantry on Ramillies was fully developed, and relieved the horse from the fire of the village. 20 fresh sqns came galloping up at the top of their speed and ranged themselves in rear of the reforming lines. But before they could come into action, the Danish horse under the Duke of Württemberg finally arrived on the battlefield. The duke pushed them along the Mehaigne and they immediately charged in flank what remained of the French cavalry right wing (Courcillon Cavalerie, Cano Cavalerie, the Gendarmes, the Chevaux-Légers and Royal-Étrangers Cavalerie) near the village of Franquenée, while the Dutch Guards advancing still further fell upon their rear. These now emerged upon the table-land by the “Tombe d’Hottomont,” disordered their opponents and pushed them back on their centre.
The rest of Marlborough’s cavalry seized the opportunity and dashed itself once more against the French front, routing the French cavalry.
The Elector of Bavaria and Villeroy, who were supervising the combats around Ramillies, were informed that their right wing had totally collapsed. They tried to rally their cavalry and managed to rally the Maison du Roi who had hitherto behaved with great bravery. However, the Maison du Roi was forced to leave the field abandoning the French infantry to the fury of the Allied cavalry.
During this time, the Dutch Field-Marshal had driven the French out of Taviers.
However, the French held Ramillies with great resolution till they saw their right flank exposed. Marlborough launched a final attack on the village of Ramillies, using a large quantity of artillery. By 6:30 p.m., Marlborough was master of Ramillies.
The Franco-Spanish of the centre and the right wing then retired towards their left wing. The infantry was assembled, only the rgts of the first line which had fought in the vicinity of Ramillies had suffered significant losses. The retreat was made line by line in good order for about an hour by the defile of Jodoigne.
The 50 sqns of the Franco-Spanish left wing (mostly Spanish, Bavarian and Cologne units), which had not fought, had been charged to cover the retreat and had formed between Offus and Mont-Saint-André.
When the cavalry of the left reached the defile of Jodoigne, panic suddenly and inexplicably spread among its ranks. It dispersed and threw confusion in its infantry. Furthermore, a few wagons, which were part of the Franco-Spanish vanguard broke up at the exit of the defile of Jodoigne, stopping the retreat of the artillery, which had by this time almost entirely crossed the defile. With the line of retreat blocked and other troops pressing in the rear, units dispersed and tried to find other roads. Some units retreated westwards in the direction of La Ramée while others took the road leading northwards to Hoegaarden.
As soon as Marlborough heard of the confusion that had spread among the Franco-Spanish army, sent most of his cavalry and dragoons, followed by 25 bns, in pursuit. The retreating army was cut to pieces. Du Roi Infanterie suffered heavy losses.
During the entire battle, the French left wing and the Allied right wing had remained idle, barely exchanging a blow.
The Elector of Bavaria and Villeroy retreated towards Louvain with the remnants of their army. They were closely pursued by Marlborough at the head of the Allied cavalry. He had instructed his infantry to follow as fast as possible. The infantry continued its march till 1:00 a.m. on the following day.
Marlborough had won a decisive victory. The Franco-Spanish had lost most of their baggage and artillery (54 pieces out of 60), 2,000 men killed or wounded and 6,000 men taken prisoners.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Duke of Marlborough
Summary: 117 sqns (including the Danish horse), 80 bns
N.B.: units are listed from right to left.
|First Line||Second Line|
|Cavalry Right Wing|
|British Scots Dragoons
British Royal Dragoons of Ireland
unidentified Dutch units (18 sqns)
|unidentified Allied cavalry units|
|Infantry right wing|
|British I./1st Foot Guards (1 bn)
British I./1st Royal Scots (1 bn)
British Prince George of Denmark's Foot (1 bn) aka The Buffs
|British II./1st Royal Scots (1 bn)|
unidentified Allied infantry units
|Infantry left wing|
|unidentified Allied infantry units||unidentified Allied infantry units|
|Cavalry left wing|
|unidentified Allied cavalry units||unidentified Allied cavalry units|
French Order of Battle
The following order of battle is based on the order of battle of 15 May 1706, detailed in the work of Pelet and Vault
Summary: 109 sqns, 72 bns
|First Line||Second Line|
|Cavalry Right Wing|
French Maison du Roi (13 sqns)
|unidentified hussar unit (3 sqns)
La Marck’s Brigade
Du Baril’s Brigade
|Cavalry left wing|
This article incorporates texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 466-472
- Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 6, 1845, pp. 31-38, 486-487
- Kane, Richard: Campaigns of king William and queen Anne, from 1689 to 1712, London: J. Millan, 1745, pp. 64-68