Savoie, Prince Eugène de

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Savoie, Prince Eugène de

Imperialist major-general (1685-1687), lieutenant-general (1687-1690), general of cavalry (1690-1693), field-marshal (1693-1736)

born 18 October 1663, Paris, France

died 21 April 1736, Vienna, Austria, Habsburg Domain


Prince Eugène de Savoie - Source: Wikimedia Commons

Eugène, born in 1663, was the fifth son of Prince Eugène Maurice de Savoie-Carignan, Comte de Soissons, and of Olympia Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin.

Originally destined for the church, Eugène was known at court as the petit abbé, but his own predilection was strongly for the army. His mother, however, had fallen into disgrace at court, and his application for a commission, repeated more than once, was refused by Louis XIV. This, and the influence of his mother, produced in him a lifelong resentment against the King of France.

Having quitted France in disgust, Eugène proceeded to Vienna, where his relative Emperor Leopold I received him kindly.

In 1683, Eugène served with the Austrian army during the campaign against the Turks. On 7 July, he displayed his bravery in a cavalry fight at Petronell and later in the great battle for the relief of Vienna. The emperor now gave him the command of a regiment of dragoons. At the capture of Buda on 3 August 1686, Eugène received a wound, but he continued to serve up to the Siege of Belgrade in 1688, in which he was dangerously wounded.

At the instigation of Louvois, a decree of banishment from France was now issued against all Frenchmen who should continue to serve in foreign armies. "The king will see me again," was Eugène's reply when the news was communicated to him; he continued his career in foreign service.

In 1689, Prince Eugène's next employment was in a service that required diplomatic as well as military skill. He was sent by Emperor Leopold to Italy with the view of binding the Duke of Savoy to the coalition against France and of cooperating with the Italian and Spanish troops. Later in 1689, Eugène served on the Rhine and was again wounded.

In 1690, he returned to Italy in time to take part in the Battle of Staffarda (18 August), which resulted in the defeat of the coalition at the hands of the French Marshal Catinat.

In the spring of 1691, Prince Eugène, having secured reinforcements, caused the siege of Coni to be raised, took possession of Carmagnola, and in the end completely defeated Catinat. He followed up his success by entering Dauphiné, where he took possession of Embrun and Gap.

After another campaign, which was uneventful, the further prosecution of the war was abandoned owing to the defection of the Duke of Savoy from the coalition, and Prince Eugène returned to Vienna, where he soon afterwards received the command of the army in Hungary, on the recommendation of the veteran Count Rüdiger von Starhemberg, the defender of Vienna in 1683. It was about this time that Louis XIV secretly offered him the baton of a marshal of France, with the government of Champagne which his father had held, and also a pension. But Eugène rejected these offers with indignation, and proceeded to operate against the Turks commanded by Kara Mustapha. After some skilful manoeuvres, he surprised the enemy (11 September 1697) at Zenta, on the Theiss. His attack was vigorous and daring, and the victory was one of the most complete and important ever won by the Austrian arms. Formerly it was often stated that the battle of Zenta was fought against express orders from the court, that Eugène was placed under arrest for violating these orders, and that a proposal to bring him before a council of war was frustrated only by the threatening attitude of the citizens of Vienna. This story, minute in details as it is, is entirely without foundation. After a further period of manoeuvres, peace was at length concluded at Karlowitz on 26 January 1699.

Two years later, Eugène was again in active service in the War of the Spanish Succession. At the beginning of the year 1701, he was sent into Italy once more to oppose his old antagonist Catinat. He achieved a rapid success, crossing the mountains from Tyrol into Italy in spite of almost insurmountable difficulties, forcing the French army, after sustaining several checks, to retire behind the Oglio, where a series of reverses equally unexpected and severe led to the recall of Catinat in disgrace. The incapable Duc de Villeroy, who succeeded to the command of which Catinat had been deprived, ventured to attack Eugène in the Battle of Chiari, and was repulsed with great loss. And this was only the forerunner of more signal reverses; for, in a short time, Villeroy was forced to abandon the whole of the Mantuan territory and to take refuge in Cremona, where he seems to have considered himself secure.

On the night of 31 January to 1 February 1702, Eugène attempted the Storming of Cremona, and, after a confused fight, drew off, taking with him Villeroy as a prisoner. The brave but incapable marshal was however little loss, and the French troops, many of them surprised in their beds, had yet managed to expel Eugène's men. But as the Duc de Vendôme, a much abler general, replaced the captive, the incursion, daring though it was, proved anything but advantageous to the Imperialists. The generalship of his new opponent, and the fact that the French army had been largely reinforced, while reinforcements had not been sent from Vienna, forced Prince Eugène to confine himself to a war of observation. On 15 August, Eugène fought the indecisive and sanguinary Battle of Luzzara. However, the numerical superiority of the Franco-Spanish army gradually drove Eugène's army back, Vendôme retaking Guastalla, Borgoforte and Governolo. Both armies having gone into winter quarters, Eugène returned to Vienna, where he was appointed president of the council of war.

In 1703, Eugène set out for Hungary in order to combat the insurgents in that country; but his means proving insufficient, he effected nothing of importance. The collapse of the revolt, however, soon freed the prince for the more important campaign in Bavaria.

In 1704, Prince Eugène made his first campaign along with Marlborough in Bavaria. Similarity of tastes, views and talents soon established between these two great men a friendship which is rarely to be found amongst military chiefs, and contributed in the fullest measure to the success which the allies obtained. The first and perhaps the most important of these successes was on 13 August at the Battle of Blenheim where the British and imperial troops triumphed over one of the finest armies that France had ever sent into Germany.

Since Prince Eugène had quitted Italy, Vendôme, who commanded the French army in that country, had obtained various successes against the Duke of Savoy, who had once more joined the Holy Roman Empire. In 1705, the emperor deemed the crisis so serious that he recalled Eugene and sent him to Italy to the assistance of his ally. Vendôme at first opposed great obstacles to the plan which the prince had formed for carrying succours into Piedmont; but after a variety of marches and counter-marches, in which both commanders displayed signal ability, the two armies clashed on 16 August in the Battle of Cassano where Prince Eugène received two severe wounds which forced him to quit the field. This accident decided the fate of the battle and for the time suspended the prince's march towards Piedmont.

In 1706, Vendôme was recalled and La Feuillade (who succeeded him) was incapable of long arresting the progress of such a commander as Eugène. After once more passing several rivers in presence of the French army, and executing one of the most skilful and daring marches he had ever performed, the latter appeared before the entrenched camp at Turin, which place the French were now besieging with an army of 80,000 men. Prince Eugene had only 30,000 men; but his antagonist the Duc d'Orléans, though full of zeal and courage, wanted experience, and Marshal Marsin, his second, held powers from Louis XIV which could not fail to produce dissensions in the French headquarters. With equal courage and address, Eugène profited by the misunderstandings between the French generals; and on 7 September 1706 he attacked the French army in its entrenchments and gained a victory which decided the fate of Italy. In the heat of the battle Eugène received a wound, and was thrown from his horse.

His recompense for this important service was the government of the Milanese, of which he took possession with great pomp on 16 April 1707. He was also made lieutenant-general to Emperor Joseph I. The attempt which he made against Toulon in the course of the same year failed completely, because the invasion of the Kingdom of Naples retarded the march of the troops which were to have been employed in it, and this delay afforded Marshal de Tessé time to make good dispositions. Obliged to renounce his project, therefore, Eugène went to Vienna, where he was received with great enthusiasm both by the people and by the court. "I am very well satisfied with you," said the emperor, "excepting on one point only, which is, that you expose yourself too much." This monarch immediately despatched Eugène to Holland, and to the different courts of Germany, in order to forward the necessary preparations for the campaign of the following year.

Early in the spring of 1708, Eugène proceeded to Flanders, in order to assume the command of the German army which his diplomatic ability had been mainly instrumental in assembling, and to unite his forces with those of Marlborough. The campaign was opened by the victory of Oudenarde on 11 July, to which the perfect union of Marlborough and Eugène on the one hand, and the misunderstanding between Vendôme and the Duc de Bourgogne on the other, seem to have equally contributed. The French immediately abandoned the Low Countries, and, remaining in observation, made no attempt whatever to prevent Eugène's army, covered by that of Marlborough, making the siege of Lille. The French governor, Boufflers, made a glorious defence, and Eugene paid a flattering tribute to his valour in inviting him to prepare the articles of capitulation himself, with the words "I subscribe to everything beforehand, well persuaded that you will not insert anything unworthy of yourself or of me." After this important conquest, Eugène and Marlborough proceeded to the Hague, where they were received in the most flattering manner by the public, by the states-general, and above all, by their esteemed friend the Pensionary Heinsius. Negotiations were then opened for peace, but proved fruitless.

In 1709 France put forth a supreme effort, and placed Marshal Villars, her best living general, in command. The events of this year were very different to those of previous campaigns, and the bloody Battle of Malplaquet, though a victory for Marlborough and Eugène, led to little result, and this at the cost of enormous losses. The Dutch army, it is said, never recovered from the slaughter of Malplaquet; indeed, the success was so dearly bought that the Allies found themselves soon afterwards out of all condition to undertake anything. Their army accordingly went into winter quarters, and Prince Eugène returned to Vienna, whence the emperor almost immediately despatched him to Berlin. From the King of Prussia the prince obtained everything which he had been instructed to require; and having thus fulfilled his mission, he returned into Flanders.

In 1710, excepting the capture of Douai, Béthune and Aire, the campaign presented nothing remarkable.

In April 1711, on the death of Emperor Joseph I, Prince Eugène, in concert with the empress, exerted his utmost endeavours to secure the crown to the archduke, who afterwards ascended the imperial throne under the name of Charles VI. In the same year the changes which had occurred in the policy, or rather the caprice, of Queen Anne, brought about an approximation between Great Britain and France, and put an end to the influence which Marlborough had hitherto possessed. When this political revolution became known, Prince Eugène immediately repaired to London, charged with a mission from the emperor to reestablish the credit of his illustrious companion in arms, as well as to re-attach Great Britain to the coalition.

In 1712, Eugène's diplomatic mission to London having proved unsuccessful, the emperor found himself under the necessity of making the campaign with the aid of the Dutch alone. The defection of the British, however, did not induce Prince Eugène to abandon his favourite plan of invading France. He resolved, at whatever cost, to penetrate into Champagne; and in order to support his operations by the possession of some important places, he began by making himself master of Quesnoy. But the Dutch, having been surprised and beaten in the Lines of Denain, where Prince Eugène had placed them at too great a distance to receive timely support in case of an attack, he was obliged to raise the siege of Landrecies, and to abandon the project which he had so long cherished. This was the last campaign in which the Holy Roman Empire acted in conjunction with its allies. Abandoned first by Great Britain and then by the Dutch Republic, the emperor, notwithstanding these desertions, still wished to maintain the war in Germany; but Eugène was unable to relieve either Landau or Freiburg, which were successively obliged to capitulate; and seeing the Empire thus laid open to the armies of France, and even the Austrian hereditary states themselves exposed to invasion, Eugène counselled his master to make peace. Sensible of the prudence of this advice, the emperor immediately entrusted Eugène with full powers to negotiate a treaty of peace.

On 6 March 1714, the Treaty of Rastadt was concluded. On his return to Vienna, Prince Eugène was employed for a time in political matters, and at this time he exchanged the government of the Milanese for that of the Austrian Netherlands.

It was not long, however, before Prince Eugène was again called on to assume the command of the army in the field. In the spring of 1716 the emperor, having concluded an offensive alliance with Venice against Turkey, appointed Eugène to command the Army of Hungary; and on 5 August he gained a signal victory at Peterwardein over a Turkish army of more than twice his own strength. In recognition of this service to Christendom the pope sent to the victorious general the consecrated hat and sword which the court of Rome was accustomed to bestow upon those who had triumphed over the infidels. Eugene won another victory in this campaign at Temesvar.

In 1717, the campaign was still more remarkable on account of the battle of Belgrade. After having besieged the city for a month Eugène found himself in a most critical, if not hopeless situation. He had to deal not only with the garrison of 30,000 men, but with a relieving army of 200,000, and his own force was only about 40,000 strong. In these circumstances the only possible deliverance was by a bold and decided stroke. Accordingly on the morning of 16 August, Prince Eugène ordered a general attack, which resulted in the total defeat of the enemy with an enormous loss, and in the capitulation of the city six days afterwards. The prince was wounded in the heat of the action, this being the thirteenth time that he had been hit upon the field of battle. On his return to Vienna he received, among other testimonies of gratitude, a sword valued at 80,000 florins from the emperor. The popular song "Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter," commemorates the victory of Belgrade.

In 1718, after some fruitless negotiations with a view to the conclusion of peace, Prince Eugène again took the field; but on 21 July the Treaty of Passarowitz put an end to hostilities at the moment when the prince had well-founded hopes of obtaining still more important successes than those of the last campaign, and even of reaching Constantinople, and dictating a peace on the shores of the Bosporus.

As the government of the Netherlands, up to 1724 held by Eugène, had now for some reason been bestowed on a sister of the emperor, the prince was appointed vicar-general of Italy, with a pension of 300,000 florins. Though still retaining his official position and much of his influence at court, his personal relations with the emperor were not so cordial as before, and he suffered from the intrigues of the Spanish or anti-German party. The most remarkable of these political intrigues was the conspiracy of Tedeschi and Nimptsch against the prince in 1719. On discovering this the prince went to the emperor and threatened to lay down all his offices if the conspirators were not punished, and after some resistance he achieved his purpose. During the years of peace between the Treaty of Passarowitz and the War of the Polish Succession, Eugène occupied himself with the arts and with literature, to which he had hitherto been able to devote little of his time. This new interest led him to correspond with many of the most eminent men in Europe.

In 1734, the contest which arose out of the succession of Augustus II to the throne of Poland having afforded Austria a pretext for attacking France, war was resolved on, contrary to the advice of Eugène. In spite of this, however, he was appointed to command the army destined to act upon the Rhine, which from the commencement had very superior forces opposed to it; and if it could not prevent the capture of Philipsburg after a long siege, it at least prevented the enemy from entering Bavaria. Prince Eugène, having now attained his seventy-first year, no longer possessed the vigour and activity necessary for a general in the field, and he welcomed the peace which was concluded on 3 October 1735. On his return to Vienna his health declined more and more, and he died in that capital on 21 April 1736, leaving an immense inheritance to his niece, Princess Victoria of Savoy.

Of a character cold and severe, Prince Eugene had almost no other passion than that of glory. He died unmarried, and seemed so little susceptible to female influence that he was styled a Mars without a Venus. That he was one of the great captains of history is universally admitted. He was strangely unlike the commanders of his time in many respects, though as a matter of course he was, when he saw fit to follow the accepted rules, equal to any in careful and methodical strategy. The special characteristics of his generalship were imagination, fiery energy, and a tactical resolution which was rare indeed in the 18th century. Despising the lives of his soldiers as much as he exposed his own, it was always by persevering efforts and great sacrifices that he obtained victory. His almost invariable success raised the reputation of the Austrian army to a point which it never reached either before or since his day. War was with him a passion. Always on the march, in camps, or on the field of battle during more than fifty years, and under the reigns of three emperors, he had scarcely passed two years together without fighting. Yet his political activity was not inconsiderable, and his advice was always sound and well-considered; while in his government of the Netherlands, which he exercised through the marquis de Prie, he set himself resolutely to oppose the many wild schemes, such as Law's Mississippi project, in which the times were so fertile. His interest in literature and art has been alluded to above. His palace in Vienna, and the Belvedere near that city, his library, and his collection of paintings, were renowned. Prince Eugene was a man of the middle size, but, upon the whole, well made; the cast of his visage was somewhat long, his mouth moderate and almost always open; his eyes were black and animated, and his complexion such as became a warrior.


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

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Prince Eugene of Savoy", 1911