Turenne, Marshal of Louis XIV

Turenne, Marshal of Louis XIV

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From the Thirty Years' War to the War of Devolution via the Fronde, the Marshal Turenne distinguished himself on many battlefields of the 17th century. Along with Condé and Vauban, the Vicomte de Turenne largely contributed to the military successes of France during the “Grand Siècle”. Without his precious marshals, the reign of Louis XIV probably would not have been so successful. Among these warlords, Turenne is considered to be the most talented, distinguished himself in particular at the Battle of the Dunes and the Battle of Nördlingen.

First weapons of Turenne

Born in Sedan in 1611 to Henri I de La Tour d´Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon and Elisabeth of Nassau, of Dutch origin, Henri de Turenne was brought up under the influence of his mother's Reformed religion. He made them his debut at his fifteenth year under the leadership of his uncles Maurice and Henri de Nassau, two princes of Orange who animated the Dutch rebellion against Spain.

It was in 1630 that Louis XIII called him to his service. The interference of Richelieu's France in the Thirty Years' War quickly enabled him to distinguish himself in the Rhine countries under the command of Cardinal Valletta. Appointed Field Marshal in 1635, he was wounded in front of Saverne and in 1638 contributed to Brisach's victory, won by Bernard of Saxe-Weimar over the Imperialists. In 1640, we find him in Piedmont where he seizes Turin and Moncalvo.

These successes earned him the title of lieutenant general in 1642. After the capture of Trino in 1643, Turenne received the marshal's baton at the age of 32. In 1644, invested in the command of the German army, he defeated the Bavarians at Donaueschingen, then at Freiburg. But he was surprised and beaten at Marienthal by Mercy the following year. He took his revenge soon after with the Duke of Enghien in Nordlingen. In 1647, the intervention of the Swedes enabled him to invade Bavaria again and to force the elector into an armistice. The commitments not having been respected on the Bavarian side, the French resumed hostilities. Turenne's victory over the Imperials at Sommershausen opens the road to Munich for them.

Between slingshot and loyalty to the monarchy

When the Fronde broke out, Turenne was initially hesitant about what to do with the Court. His brother Bouillon manages to set him against Mazarin, but his troops, debauched by the cardinal, do not follow him. He had to withdraw hastily to Holland in March 1649. Returning to Paris after the peace of Rueil, which specifically amnestied him, he supported the quarrel between the princes by learning of their arrest. Condé freed, he follows him to Stenay where he is soon joined by Madame de Longueville, who turns his head. The influence of this rebel led him to deal with the Spaniards and the Imperials. But the royal armies inflicted a severe defeat on him at Rethel on December 15, 1650.

At the end of this setback his choice is made. The king's forgiveness obtained, his sword will now defend the monarchy. In 1652, he rectified the seriously compromised situation of the royal troops thanks to a series of successes. In March, he saves the king in Jargeau, then having defeated the slingers in Etampes, he brings the king back to Paris.

Appointed governor of Limousin and Minister of State, Turenne defeats the Grand Condé - formerly in the service of the Spaniards - in Picardy and wins the famous Battle of the Dunes (June 1658) which forces Dunkirk to surrender and allows the conquest of a part of Flanders, contributing to the conclusion of the peace formalized by the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

Turenne: a remarkable strategist promoted to Marshal

These brilliant actions were rewarded in 1660 with the granting of the exceptional title of "Marshal General of the King's Camps and Armies". He reorganized the armies and prepared for the War of Devolution (1667-1668) during which he personally seized Charleroi and Tournai. The Dutch war that followed put his talent to the test. Defeated by the imperialists of Montecucculi in 1673, he took his revenge the following year at Sinzheim in the Palatinate, of which he ordered the fatal and inglorious sack.

The following year, he led a series of daring maneuvers, pushing aside the Imperials near Mulhouse in December 1674 and defeating them completely at Turckheim in January 1675. A few weeks later, Alsace was entirely in French hands. His glory is then at its peak. Paris gives him a triumphant welcome. The following summer, he found his old enemy Montecucculi in difficulty between Baden and the Rhine, near Salzbach, and prepared to give battle to him when a cannon ball hit him on July 27, 1675. The whole of France mourns the audacious leader of war. The highest honors will go to Turenne and his remains, an exceptional privilege, are buried in Saint-Denis. It will be transferred in 1800 to Les Invalides.

For his reign to end, Louis XIV will have little more than the excellent Claude de Villars and the brilliant Vauban to lead his armies to victory. His successors Louis XV and Louis XVI were hardly better off, except for a few foreigners like Maurice de Saxe, and it was not until the Revolution and the Empire that France once again had military leaders of the caliber of Turenne.


- Turenne, biography of Jean Bérenger. Fayard, 1987.

- The wars of Louis XIV, by John A. LYNN. Tempus, 2014.

Video: Absolute Monarchy: Crash Course European History #13


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