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Battle of Seneffe

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Battle of Seneffe
Part of the Franco-Dutch War

Battle of Seneffe, 11 August 1674
Date11 August 1674
near Seneffe, Hainaut, present-day Belgium
Result See Aftermath
 France  Dutch Republic
 Holy Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Grand Condé
Kingdom of France Luxembourg
Kingdom of France Duc de Navailles
Kingdom of France Duc d'Enghien
Dutch Republic William of Orange
Dutch Republic Nassau-Siegen
Dutch Republic Aylva
Holy Roman Empire de Souches
Holy Roman Empire Prince Vaudémont
Spain Monterrey
45,000[1][2]-50,000 men[3][4]
60 guns
60,000[4]-65,000 men[1][2][a]
70 guns
Casualties and losses
c.10,000 c.15,000

The Battle of Seneffe took place on 11 August 1674 during the Franco-Dutch War, near Seneffe, then in the Spanish Netherlands, now present-day Belgium. It was fought between a French force commanded by the Prince de Condé and a combined Dutch, Imperial, and Spanish force under William of Orange. One of the bloodiest battles of the war, over 20% of those engaged on both sides became casualties, and the result is disputed.

By 1674, Allied forces in the Spanish Netherlands were numerically superior to the French army under Condé, which was based along the Piéton river near Charleroi. William took the offensive and sought to bring on a battle by outflanking the French positions but the broken ground forced him to divide his army into three separate columns.

Condé took advantage of this to launch a cavalry attack against the Allied vanguard, and by midday on 11 August had halted their advance. Against the advice of his subordinates, he then ordered a series of frontal assaults which led to heavy casualties on both sides with no concrete result.[2] Fighting continued until nightfall, when Condé withdrew to the Piéton, and after holding his position overnight, William retired the next day in good order.

Neither side gained a clear advantage. Despite heavier casualties, William quickly rebuilt his army and by the end of August was relatively stronger than before Seneffe, while his own losses meant Louis XIV ordered Condé to focus thereafter on sieges.[6] Of the two other battles in Flanders before the war ended in 1678, Cassel was sparked by an Allied attempt to relieve Saint-Omer and Saint-Denis was fought to prevent the French capture of Mons.


Both France and the Dutch Republic viewed the Spanish Netherlands as essential for their security and trade, making it a contested area throughout the 17th century. France had occupied much of the region in the 1667-68 War of Devolution, before being forced by the Dutch-led Triple Alliance to return most of their gains in the 1668 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.[7] After this, Louis XIV decided the best way to force concessions from the Dutch was by defeating them first.[8]

When the Franco-Dutch War began in May 1672, French troops quickly overran large parts of the Netherlands, but by July the Dutch position had stabilised. The unexpected success of his offensive had encouraged Louis to make excessive demands, while concern at French gains brought the Dutch support from Brandenburg-Prussia, Emperor Leopold, and Charles II of Spain. In August 1673, an Imperial army entered the Rhineland; facing war on multiple fronts, Louis withdrew most of his forces from the Netherlands, retaining only Grave and Maastricht.[9]

Battle of Seneffe is located in Belgium
French Flanders
French Flanders
The Seneffe campaign, 1674; key locations in the Low Countries (dark green=modern Belgium)

In January 1674, Denmark–Norway joined the anti-French coalition. This was followed by the February Treaty of Westminster, which ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War and deprived France of a key ally against the Dutch.[10] In May, the French took the offensive in the Spanish territory of the Franche-Comté, while Condé remained on the defensive in the Spanish Netherlands. A combined Dutch-Spanish force under William of Orange and Count Monterrey, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, spent June and July attempting to bring Condé to battle. When this proved unsuccessful, William proposed invading French Flanders, which would threaten Condé's rear and force him to fight; Monterrey agreed since it also provided an opportunity to recapture the key Spanish border town of Charleroi.[11]

On 23 July, William was joined near Nivelles by an Imperial force under de Souches, a French Huguenot exile; along with 5,000 Spanish infantry and cavalry, this brought his numbers up to about 65,000. At the same time, the French completed their occupation of the Franche-Comté which allowed Louis to send Condé substantial reinforcements, including his son the duc d'Enghien. By early August, Condé had 45,000 men entrenched along the line of the Piéton river which joined the Sambre at Charleroi.[12]

Concluding these positions were too strong for a frontal assault, the Allied army left Nivelles on 9 August, and established a line running from the villages of Arquennes to Roux, on the French left. By doing so, they hoped to tempt Condé into an attack, but he simply shifted his troops to face the threat; as a result, William proposed moving around Seneffe, and into the French rear.[12] This was supported by the Spanish, since it would cut Condé's supply lines and isolate the French garrison in Charleroi (see Map).[13]


Dutch musketeer from the regiment of Schwartzenberg.

At 4:00 am on 11 August, the Allies set out in three columns, each marching parallel to the French positions, a formation dictated by the poor roads. The left column was commanded by de Souches, the right by the Marqués de Assentar, commander of the Spanish Army of Flanders, with the bulk of the infantry and artillery in the centre under William. A vanguard of 2,000 cavalry covered the gaps between the columns, with another 5,200 bringing up the rear led by Vaudémont.[14]

Hearing the Allies were on the move, at 5:30 am Condé rode out to observe their dispositions, and quickly perceived their intentions. The terrain they were crossing was marshy and broken up by numerous hedges, walls and woods, with limited exit points; gambling these factors would negate their superior numbers, Condé decided to attack. He sent 400 light cavalry under Saint Clar to skirmish with the Allied rearguard and slow down their march, while also despatching a cavalry brigade under the Marquis de Rannes to seize the high ground north of Seneffe.[15]

Around 10:00 am, de Rannes came into contact with Vaudémont, who asked for infantry support and was sent three battalions under William Maurice. These were placed near the bridge over the Zenne river that flowed through Seneffe, with his cavalry just behind.[14][16] Despite gout so severe he was unable to wear riding boots, Condé himself led the elite Maison du Roi cavalry across the Zenne above Seneffe, and scattered Vaudémont's cavalry, whose headlong flight temporarily disrupted the Spanish troops immediately behind them.[5]

William of Orange at Seneffe.

Simultaneous assaults by de Rannes and the duc de Luxembourg eventually overwhelmed the Allied infantry in Seneffe, who were either killed or taken prisoner.[17] By midday, Condé had inflicted significant losses and gained a clear, if minor, victory. However, he then persisted with a series of frontal assaults against the advice of his subordinates, and the battle degenerated into a number of confused and costly firefights.[11]

William halted his march and established a defensive line, mainly composed of Dutch infantry, centred on the nearby Priory of St Nicolas.[18] Just to the north, Assentar rallied the cavalry who had fled from Seneffe, and brought them back into the battle. They were driven back twice, but several French assaults on the priory were repulsed with heavy losses.[19] When Assentar was mortally wounded in a third charge, the cavalry retreated in confusion, riding over their own infantry, and allowing the French to capture the priory.[18] This last attempt was led by Condé, who was unhorsed and had to be rescued by his son. After taking St Nicolas, Luxembourg's troops then captured much of the Allied baggage train. [19]

The struggle around the priory provided time for William, John Maurice and Aylva to complete a new defensive line at Fayt. This consisted of 23 Dutch battalions, and around 12:00 pm de Souches deployed his Imperial troops on their left. Condé assumed the Allies were retreating towards Mons, and planned to roll up them up from behind.[20] William however turned Fayt into a strong defensive position, placing cannons along the access roads and hedges.[21] The French were further hampered by the fact that the ground in front was unsuitable for cavalry, while their heavy guns had been left behind during the advance.[20]

The duc d'Enghien rescues his father Condé at Seneffe

Condé ordered Luxembourg and Navailles to attack the Allied flanks, while he himself stormed the village with the French and Swiss Guards. The assaults continued throughout the afternoon, and each time were repulsed with heavy loss.[22] [b] On the French right, Luxembourg's attack was delayed as his troops were busy looting the baggage train, and it took him some time to restore order. Reinforced with troops detached from the centre, he almost broke through, but was eventually thrown back. At about 17:00, Condé realised Luxembourg's men were exhausted, and ordered them to assume defensive positions.[25]

On the French left, repeated attacks by Navailles on the Dutch positions were also repulsed. Although some troops finally managed to penetrate their lines around 19:00, William and Nassau-Siegen quickly moved the cavalry up, and restored the position after some hard fighting.[25] Two hours later, Condé finally suspended all operations, although isolated firefights continued.[26]

Many soldiers slept on the battlefield, and both armies held their positions, expecting to renew the battle next morning, but an intense burst of firing broke out around midnight, with men killed on both sides.[27] Once calm was restored, Condé ordered his troops to fall back on Charleroi.[26] William wanted to pursue them, but his colleagues would not agree, notably de Souches, the Imperial commander.[28][c] Instead, he ordered his troops to fire a triple salvo to claim victory, [21] then withdrew to Mons.[11]


Condé's formal reception by Louis XIV at Versailles following Seneffe

Based on the conventions of the day, both sides claimed victory on the basis of "holding their ground" at the end of the fighting. As with many battles of this period, in reality neither gained a clear advantage, and the overall strategic position remained largely unchanged. Condé failed to take advantage of his initial success,[30] and his poorly judged attacks rescued William from a serious defeat.[31] Historians are divided on the result; it has variously been described as a French victory,[32][33][6] an Allied success,[34] or essentially inconclusive.[35][36][5][37][19]

Casualties on both sides were enormous, with estimates of Allied losses ranging from 10,000 [38] to 15,000, including prisoners.[39][40][32] [d] The dead included Sir Walter Vane, deputy commander of the elite Scots Brigade, François Palm, Colonel of the Dutch Marines, [43] and Assentar, whose body was later returned by Condé for burial. French casualties were between 7,000[38] to 10,000 dead or wounded,[39][40] with particularly heavy losses among the officer corps.[37][44] These shocked the French court, one contemporary writing "We have lost so much by this victory that without the Te Deum and captured flags at Notre Dame, we would believe we had lost the battle".[45] French military engineer and strategist Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban argued Seneffe showed siege warfare was a better way to achieve victory than costly battles, and Louis ordered Condé to avoid a repeat.[6]

Although Allied casualties were higher than those of the French, they were quickly replaced by troops from nearby garrisons.[6] In addition, a large convoy arrived outside Mons on 31 August, bringing supplies, a month's pay in advance for the survivors and five new Dutch regiments. With Condé unable to replace his losses to the same extent, the Allied numerical advantage was greater than before Seneffe, and William proposed another invasion attempt.[46]

However, one less appreciated advantage held by the French over their opponents in this period was the benefit of an undivided command and unified strategy. For different reasons, neither Monterrey or de Souches were willing to risk another battle, and William was forced to compromise by besieging Oudenarde. Operations commenced on 16 September, and Condé began marching to its relief three days later. The Dutch and Spanish redoubled efforts to breach the walls before his arrival, but without advising his colleagues, de Souches sent the Imperial artillery off to Ghent. On 20 September, Condé took up position on the left bank of the Scheldt river and began bombarding the Allied positions on 21st.[47] Since the Imperial troops would not fight without their guns, and the Dutch and Spanish could not face the French on their own, the Allies were forced to abandon the siege,[48] along with most of their remaining equipment.[47]

The thanksgiving service of William III's army in Grave after its capture

After strong protests from the Dutch States General, de Souches was relieved of his command, but this did little to solve the reality of diverging objectives. Emperor Leopold preferred to focus Imperial resources on the Upper Rhine, the Spanish wanted to recoup their losses in the Spanish Netherlands, while the Dutch prioritised the recapture of Grave and Maastricht.[49]

Accordingly, the Spanish returned to their garrisons, the Imperial troops recrossed the Meuse, [47] while William assumed command of operations at Grave. This had been besieged since 28 June, and finally surrendered on 29 October.[48] Condé received an elaborate state reception at Versailles for Seneffe, but his health was failing and the casualties diminished Louis' trust in his abilities. He temporarily assumed command of French troops in the Rhineland following Turenne's death at Salzbach in July 1675, but retired before the end of the year. In the longer term, Seneffe confirmed Louis' preference for positional warfare, ushering in a period where siege and manoeuvre dominated military tactics.[50]

Seneffe and Grave were illustrative of the stage the war had reached, two years after France over ran a large part of the Dutch Republic. As the battlefield relocated the war had turned into a contest of attrition, and although both sides were of similar strength, neither was yet ready to negotiate peace.[51]

External links[edit]

Knoop's detailed article on Seneffe translated into English


  1. ^ These included a Spanish contingent of 4,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry [5]
  2. ^ At one point some French troops penetrated the village and managed to capture six Dutch guns, which were quickly retaken by an Allied counterattack. Imperial Lieutenant-General Chavagnac now aimed these pieces at the Maison du Roi at very close range. Chavagnac later wrote full of admiration about the French elite troops:

    'I never heard anything else than: but: it's nothing, children, plug in; - and in an instant, the rank which had been cut down by the cannon was replenished. I shouted out to them that it was something after all; - one answered me that he would take revenge by tonight; - and I answered them that they should take this [cannon fire] while waiting in anticipation. Judge for yourself whether we were close!”[23][24]

  3. ^ William also claimed de Souches ignored his requests for support, which meant Imperial troops escaped relatively untouched from the battle. The Spanish Netherlands was not a strategic priority for Emperor Leopold, and de Souches was under orders to minimise Imperial losses in that theatre [29]
  4. ^ In 1970, American military historian Trevor N. Dupuy provided figures that agreed with other estimates of French losses, but for reasons that have not been explained doubled those for the Allies, [41] which are then quoted by Spencer C. Tucker.[42] Since Dupuy is the only analyst to suggest casualties on this level, Micheal Clodfelter argues the figure of 14,000 Allied casualties is 'more likely'.[32]


  1. ^ a b Grant 2011, p. 370.
  2. ^ a b c Lynn 1999, pp. 80–81.
  3. ^ Van Nimwegen 2020, p. 143.
  4. ^ a b Knoop 1856, p. 192.
  5. ^ a b c Serrano.
  6. ^ a b c d Lynn 1999, p. 126.
  7. ^ Macintosh 1973, p. 165.
  8. ^ Lynn 1999, pp. 109–110.
  9. ^ Lynn 1999, p. 117.
  10. ^ Hutton 1989, p. 317.
  11. ^ a b c Lynn 1999, p. 125.
  12. ^ a b De Périni 1896, p. 82.
  13. ^ Lynn 1999, p. 124.
  14. ^ a b De Hooge 1680, pp. 499–500.
  15. ^ De Périni 1896, p. 92.
  16. ^ Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 141.
  17. ^ De Hooge 1680, p. 501.
  18. ^ a b Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 145–146.
  19. ^ a b c Knoop 1856, p. 204-206.
  20. ^ a b Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 146–147.
  21. ^ a b Panhuysen 2009, pp. 426.
  22. ^ Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 147.
  23. ^ Knoop 1856, pp. 210–212.
  24. ^ Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 147–148.
  25. ^ a b Knoop 1856, p. 212.
  26. ^ a b Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 148.
  27. ^ Knoop 1856, p. 214-215.
  28. ^ Knoop 1856, p. 215.
  29. ^ Troost 2004, p. 129.
  30. ^ Nolan 2008, p. 183.
  31. ^ Van Nimwegen 2010, pp. 511–512.
  32. ^ a b c Clodfelter 2002, p. 46.
  33. ^ Jacques 2007, p. 926.
  34. ^ Algra & Algra 1956, pp. 374.
  35. ^ Van Nimwegen 2010, p. 511.
  36. ^ Nolan 2008, p. 123.
  37. ^ a b Panhuysen 2009, pp. 427.
  38. ^ a b De Périni 1896, p. 107.
  39. ^ a b Bodart 1908, p. 95.
  40. ^ a b Van Nimwegen 2010, p. 380.
  41. ^ Dupuy & Dupuy 1970, p. 565.
  42. ^ Tucker 2009, p. 651.
  43. ^ Luscombe.
  44. ^ Van Nimwegen 2020, pp. 149.
  45. ^ De Sévigné 1822, p. 353.
  46. ^ Van Nimwegen 2010, p. 479.
  47. ^ a b c De Périni 1896, p. 109.
  48. ^ a b Van Nimwegen 2010, p. 481.
  49. ^ Anonymous 1744, p. 263.
  50. ^ Lynn 1999, pp. 125–126.
  51. ^ Panhuysen 2009, pp. 428.


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