On 7 June, 1654, Louis the XIV was crowned King of France. Louis the Great would go on to rule France for 70 years, the longest of any European monarch. More importantly, he would have an assemblage of advisors and subordinates of such remarkable economic, military, and political ability and talent that it is only seen so very rarely in history. (Only the Diadochi, Genghis Khan’s generals, the Founding Fathers, and Napoleon’s Marshals come to mind.) His advisors included Cardinal Richelieu’s protégé Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the engineering mastermind Vauban, two of the best commanders of the 17th century the Great Conde and Marshal Turenne, the Queen-Mother Anne of Austria, and the diplomatic and financial geniuses of the Colbert brothers, Jean-Baptist and Charles. Led by Louis, they ruled France through her Golden Age. “French” would become the first “lingua franca” of Europe.
In the first half of the 17th Century, great changes were happening in Europe and the people wanted more say in how they were governed. In both England and France horrible civil wars occurred between those who supported royal power and those who supported parliamentarian power. In the English Civil War the Parliamentarians won and left a legacy of self-rule. But in France, the Fronde, as their civil war was called, the parliamentarians and their noble allies were crushed in 1653. A young Louis did not forget its lessons. He would be crowned king the next year.
Louis and his inordinately talented advisors spent the entirety of his reign expanding the power of the monarch. He blamed the Parliament of Paris for the Fronde and limited its power every chance he could, until he could abolish it permanently. He couldn’t do the same with the nobility so he neutralized them. He built the magnificent palace of Versailles, and then forced all of the heads of the noble families to live there. This effectively separated them from their lands and power, and prevented them from expanding any further. The competent ones he used to form Europe’s first bureaucracy, and the others he gave titles and duties, such as “The Royal Glovebearer” or “the Royal Cupbearer”. Louis kept the historically troublesome nobles close by, out of trouble, and carefully watched.
Louis the Great’s transition to absolute monarchy only succeeded because of his and his advisors complete dedication to France. He “gleamed like the Sun” through France’s Golden Age, but also sowed the seeds of its destruction. The Sun King slowed the development of parliamentary rule in Great Britain, and Louis’ dedication to France was not shared by his successors. The inevitable corruption and incompetence that results from absolute rule eventually brought about the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the Napoleonic Wars.
By the 1750s, the status of the Ohio Country was nebulous. Great Britain, France, the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut and the Ohio Indians themselves all had claims to the lands bordered by Appalachians Mountains in the east and southeast, the Ohio River in the south, and the Great Lakes in the North. The Ohio, Iroquois for “good”, wasn’t always named so. Known as the “beautiful river” by its previous Algonquin and Sioux inhabitants, the Ohio and its tributaries teemed with one the 17th century’s most precious commodities: beaver.
In the 17th century the fur trade dominated Indian politics, but was still seconded to the demographic disaster that heralded the arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere. At the end of the 16th century, European childhood diseases swept through the Ohio Country, greatly reducing the Indian population. Most Indians spread out to take advantage of the increased space. One Indian nation did the opposite: the Iroquois Confederacy. Instead of breaking apart and spreading out, the Iroquois consolidated and centralized. Exploiting the insatiable demand by first Dutch and then British merchants for beaver pelts, the unified and powerful Iroquois embarked on seventy years of conquest, extermination, and expansion in order to secure the beaver trade and replace the population lost to disease.
The Iroquois and British formed the Covenant Chain, in which the Iroquois only attacked Indian tribes hostile to Britain or friends of the French. However, they struck a hard wall along the St Lawrence River against the Huron and Wabanaki Indians equipped by the French, so the Iroquois turned south and west against the Ohio Indians. Dutch and British trade goods, particularly muskets, fire strikers, and metal pots, hatchets and arrowheads, gave the Iroquois an asymmetric advantage over the Ohio Indians. These items greatly simplified the logistics for the ranging bands of Iroquois. No longer were hunting and war parties limited to the range at which they could carry a hot rock for fire starting, the amount of dried meat they could carry, or the length of time they could sleep cold and hungry in the elements. Fire starters could produce fire on demand to quickly cook game in metal pots efficiently killed by metal arrowheads and butchered by metal knives. But the Beaver Wars weren’t just about the all-important pelts but also the replacement of the Iroquois population killed by European diseases.
Small pox in particular took a toll on Indians nations. For the Iroquois, capture, enslavement and assimilation were the answers to mitigating their reduced population. Most nations defeated in battle disappeared. Men, wounded and anyone unable to make the increasingly longer trip back to the Five Nations, such as the elderly, infants and young children, were killed, while women and older children were taken back to the Iroquoian homeland. There they endured an initial period of brutal enslavement bookended by a gauntlet to enter the town when they arrived to an assimilation ceremony into the nation. If they survived they were welcomed into their clan as a full member. Many Indian nations disappeared, never to be heard of again, lost to history. The lucky ones were recorded by an intrepid European traveler or trader, and left in a dusty tome to be discovered by some future historian. The luckiest have a town or street named after them. The Erie Indians dominated the southern shore of the lake that bears their name, but that doesn’t change the fact that we know virtually nothing about them, so complete was their destruction at the hands of the Iroquois.
The decades of warfare became central to Iroquoian identity as young warriors wanted to emulate their elders, but had to range further and further afield for captives. Later, war was being conducted for its own sake, in many cases just to replace losses from previous wars. Consequently, Iroquoian conquests were so vast that they could not effectively control their own territory. Their hunting grounds were preyed upon by the southern Indians, such as the Cherokee. The Iroquois took to establishing buffer nations from their defeated foes, most notably the Shawnee, to protect the hunting grounds. To keep these subjects in line, Iroquois “half-kings” were appointed.
The half-kings were answerable only to the Five Nations council fire at Onondaga and lived among their vassal nations. However, the language differences and the animosity generated from the half-kings and their families choosing the best women for wives and the strongest and fastest boys for assimilation caused them to grow apart from their wards. The half-kings’ families and entourages eventually formed their own tribe, known as the Mingo.
As the Mingo were slowly forming their own identity in the Ohio country, the Beaver Wars were brought to an abrupt end. In 1697, the British Empire made a separate peace with France to end King William’s War, something they pledged the Iroquois never to do. It was the first break of the Covenant Chain. France and their Indian allies turned their full fury onto the Iroquois decisively defeating them. At the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, the Iroquois pledged fealty to France, and to remain neutral in any future conflicts between France and England.
The Iroquois had no intention of remaining neutral and abdicating their commanding position as arbiter of all things Indian between the French and British Empires. They planned to play both sides. Barely three years after Montreal, the easternmost of the Five Iroquois Nations, the Mohawk, went to war as an ally of France during the War of Spanish Succession, or Queen Anne’s War in America. The other four nations remained neutral in order to continue trade with the British. The war ended in 1713 with a British victory. At the Treaty of Utrecht, the negotiations of which the Iroquois did not participate in since it was signed in the Netherlands, France gave their nominal sovereignty over the Iroquois Confederacy to the British, who were not so hands off as the French were.
The Iroquois had a few problems with their new status; the least of which was their new “Great White Father” across the sea, because militarily, the edict could not be enforced: the English traversed Confederation land only because the Iroquois permitted them. The problem was the Treaty of Utrecht could be enforced economically. The Iroquois could not go back to their traditional way of life. The trade goods had permanently altered daily life and the traditional skills of their great-grandparents were gone. Moreover, they had no industrial base to produce their own muskets, metal tools, and woven clothes. Even their currencies, little beads called wampum, were now manufactured abroad. The Iroquois had no choice but to reluctantly accept the terms.
There were further problems. The neutrality of the westernmost of the Five Nations, the Seneca, and the Mingo and Ohio Indians, allowed the British to successfully court the Cherokee to fight Spain’s Indian allies in the south. The Cherokee and their allies defeated the Tuscarora in 1713. The Tuscarora were an Iroquoian speaking people, and sought refuge from the Cherokee with the Five Nations. The Tuscarora were vehemently anti-British, and the elders gave them new lands east of the Mohawk to prevent British encroachment. They became the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, but they were very problematic for the council and caused no end of trouble with their new British overlords.
Nonetheless, the unique Iroquois position allowed them to effectively maintain their sovereignty, if not in name but in practice. They were more powerful than any two other English colonies and were masters of their territories. They settled into a power broker role, and played everyone against each other to maintain their position: the British against the French, the Crown against the colonies, colony against colony, the colonies against the French, and the colonies against other Indians.
During “the Long Peace” between 1713 and 1744, the Iroquois were colonial muscle against recalcitrant Indians that bordered the English colonies. Several English colonies bought land from the Iroquois that was occupied by one of their subject nations, and the Iroquios sent them west to the Ohio country at colonial request. All for some extra trade goods to key elders which could be given to followers for their loyalty. Pennsylvania in particular routinely called on the Mohawk to enforce treaties. The Quakers in the Pennsylvania Assembly refused to fund a militia and outsourced the colony’s defense to the Mohawk, again just for some extra trade goods. In 1737, the Delaware Indians rightfully balked at the duplicitous “Walking Purchase” for the remainder of the Delaware River valley. The Assembly appealed to the Mohawk and the Delaware were quickly sent packing. Even worse, in the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster, the Iroquois sold all of the Ohio Country land south of the Ohio River, at least in Virginian eyes. The Iroquois thought they sold just the Shenandoah Valley. The dispute would have probably ended in the Six Nations’ favor had war not broken out again.
The thirty years of “peace” ended when another European war spilled over into North America. The War of Austrian Succession was known as King George’s War in the colonies. At the start of the conflict in 1744, the Iroquois decided to exert their sovereignty and stayed neutral, despite British protestations.
The closest Iroquois nation and the one that could offer the most immediate assistance, the Tuscarora in the east, wanted nothing to do with the British. New York and the New England colonies routinely used the Iroquois to keep their Indian neighbors in line, and when they decided to stay neutral, the British could find few Indian allies to fight the French and Wabbanaki in New England. The British got the worst of it, about ten percent of the male population of New York and New England were killed. Due to factors outside New England, the British won the war, and did it without the Iroquois assistance. The colonists who suffered during the war wouldn’t forget Iroquois neutrality.
King George’s War had a different effect in the Ohio Country. In the 1730s, the colonies were expanding, especially Pennsylvania and Virginia, and colonial settlers were pushing west over the Appalachian Mountains. The settlers and traders brought cheap trade goods to the Ohio Indians. French trade goods were three times more expensive and of an inferior quality. The French tried to entice the Ohio Indians to attack British trading posts but with the exception of a few gruesome examples, the Ohio Indians refused. Despite Iroquois sovereignty, and thus supposedly British control over the Ohio country stemming from the Beaver Wars, the French used the river systems at will. The Ohio and its tributaries were vital in linking Quebec and the St Lawrence River basin to Detroit, the Illinois country and Mississippi Valley to New Orleans. In 1739, Baron De Longueuil led an expedition into the Ohio country where he met with the Ohio Indian nations to secure French use of the Ohio waterways. When King George’s War broke out in 1744, the French flooded the Ohio Indians with gifts and trade goods at great expense to themselves, securing treaties to assist with fighting the British.
Flush with French trade goods, the Delaware, Shawnee and even the Mingo rolled back the frontier. The threat to settlers east of the Appalachians broke Quaker resistance to a militia. With no Iroquois help with Indian issues as they traditionally had, the Pennsylvania Assembly, led by Benjamin Franklin, approved the construction of a number of forts along the frontier and a large number of militia mostly composed of recent German and Scots-Irish immigrants who had no love for neither Quakers nor Indians. The threat never really materialized east of the Appalachians, but that didn’t stop the colonists from believing that they won the war without Iroquois help.
The Iroquois recognized that they might have over played their hand and wished to get back into King George’s good graces. They just needed a way to do so without losing any more sovereignty and without angering the French; the balance of power needed to be maintained. The actions of the Ohio Indians gave them the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. The elders at the council fire at Onondaga were furious with Ohio Indians for directly negotiating with the French, and toward the end of the war, with the British and colonies. All diplomacy was supposed to go through them. But after decades of absentee rule even the Mingo had grown weary of and chaffed at subjugation from the far away Iroquois Six Nations. The Iroquois would have none of it. They forcefully re-exerted control and to add insult to injury sold their land out from under them.
The dispute with Virginia over the Treaty of Lancaster wasn’t pursued. Even worse were the actions by the Iroquois at the Albany Congress in 1748. Though famous for Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” proposition to unite the colonies, more importantly was the fact that the Iroquois sold even more Ohio country land to the colonies, sometimes selling the same land to several colonies. There’s a portion of present day Pennsylvania that was claimed by four colonies, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, and Connecticut, due to “shady bush deals” with Iroquois elders at the Albany Congress. None of this endeared the Iroquois with the Ohio Indians.
After the defeat of the French in King George’s War, the Ohio Indians were left out to rot, not just by the Iroquois but also by the French. French gifts and trade goods, plentiful in 1748, dried up completely in 1749, despite French insistence that they were subjects, as per the claims made by LaSalle in the 17th century and their agreements in 1744. Like the Iroquois after the Treaty of Utrecht, the Ohio Indians were forced to crawl back to the British and colonies for trade goods, if the French could not or would not provide. Their daily life depended on them and the Ohio Indians had no capacity to produce their own. The Virginians formed the Ohio Company to exploit and speculate the land sold to them in the Treaty of Lancaster and the Ohio Indian invited them and Pennsylvania to establish a trading post at Logstown (present day Ambridge, PA) on the Ohio River, which ironically the French built for the Ohio Indians in 1747 to stage raids out of.
The French were incensed. Later that year, the governor of New France sent Celeron de Blainville with 300 troops to reestablish control. He planted lead markers along the rivers and when he reached Logstown expelled the traders and confiscated their goods. De Blainville then berated the inhabitants for not resisting British expansion as subjects of New France should. Feeling that the Ohio Indians were sufficiently chastised, De Blainville returned to Quebec.
Enter Tanacharison, a Mingo half-king with dreams of a sovereign Ohio Indian nation free of French, Iroquois and (eventually) British influence. But the pragmatic Tanacharison knew he needed British trade goods, so taking a page out of the Iroquois playbook, he decided to set everyone against each other and profit. After an abortive attempt in 1751, Tanacharison’s council at Logstown in May 1752 was a who’s who of frontier fixers assembled to hammer out a treaty to keep the trade goods flowing. Marylander Christopher Gist and Virginian William Trent of the Ohio Company, Joshua Fry from Virginia, George Crogan from Pennsylvania, and Miami, Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo chiefs, all of whom were upset with the way they were treated by the De Blainville. To establish his authority and magnanimity, Tanacharison declared the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster voided but that any Virgina settlements south of the Ohio would be left in peace. Tanacharison’s statement raised an eyebrow from the Seneca chiefs, but as the Mingo chief had by far the most warriors, they chose to let it slide for the time being. He further stated that Pennsylvania and Virginia were allowed to reestablish their trading posts, but at different more defensible location, 19 miles upriver where Chartiers Creek empties in the Ohio(present day McKees Rocks, PA). As a representative of the Ohio Company, William Trent enthusiastically volunteered to build a fort there to protect against a repeat of De Blainville’s expedition. Tanacharison agreed as it was below the Ohio-Monongahela River boundary that he considered the southern boundary of his realm. The Ohio Company had been trying to get Iroquois approval for a fort there since DeBlainville threw them out in 1749 and Tanacharison just delivered on it. One Delaware chief told Gist that “You English claim the south of the (Ohio) river, and the French the north. Where is the Indian land?” So Tanarcharison added his only stipulation that the British limit colonial settlement to south of the Ohio River. The French claims to the north were void and Trent’s Fort would protect everyone’s claims. Finally, Tanacharison renewed his fealty to King George and expected to be treated no different than any other colonial governor. The Treaty of Logstown was approved by all parties, though the Seneca quickly returned to Onondaga to report the half-king’s usurpation of their authority and for violating their expressed orders to maintain strict neutrality between the French and British.
The French and their Indian allies were not idle while Tanacharison met with the British and colonials. In June 1752, Chippewa and Ottawa Indians under Charles Langlade descended on Pickawillany, (present day Pique, OH) where the Miami chief Memeskia attempted a similar arrangement with Pennsylvania. The town’s inhabitants were slaughtered and Memeskia was ritually boiled and eaten by the warriors. As they got wind of the Treaty of Logstown, the French established a chain of forts in 1753 securing their water transportation routes in the Ohio country. The first was Fort Presque Isle on Lake Erie, (present day Erie, PA) in May. In July, they built Fort Le Bouef (on present day French Creek at Waterford, PA). Then at the mouth of the creek where it empties into the Allegheny River, they confiscated a British trading post called Venango (good guess: Venango, PA) and converted it into Fort Machault. Tanacharison and other Ohio Indian leaders travelled to Fort Presque Isle to demand the French leave, but needless to say, the French threw them out.
In January 1754, William Trent was commsioned by Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, a captain in the militia and ordered to raise a hundred men to defend the new fort. He finally arrived at the proposed site in February 1754, after cutting a road form Cumberland, Maryland to the junction Redstone Creek and the Monongahela River (US Route 40 to Brownsville, PA). But at the suggestion of another captain of the Virginia militia, a young 21 year old George Washington, Trent decided to move the fort to the far superior Forks of the Ohio about a mile away across the Monongahela. Trent was loath to break the Logstown Treaty but fortifications on that site made the Chartier’s creek position redundant in friendly hands and untenable in French hands. Moreover, Trent, a fur trader himself, had a small post there and he would be able to stay out of the elements at night as the weather got colder without having to row across the river twice a day. Trent broke ground on “Fort Saint George” at the Forks of the Ohio (present day Pittsburgh, PA) on 17 February, 1754. Tanacharison laid the first log of the first building: the storehouse.
George Washington wasn’t a part of Trent’s expedition, but was just returning from his mission to warn the French to leave. Tanacharison reported the French response to his ultimatum to the Ohio Company of which Robert Dinwiddie, Virginia’s governor was a member. In September 1753, Dinwiddie received word from the King that he was authorized to use force to expel the French from the Ohio Country. Dinwiddie charged Washington to formally declare the British possession of the Ohio Country and then respectfully demand their withdrawal. Washington enthusiastically left Williamsburg on 31 October and slowly made his way north.
In mid-November, Washington slipped on a rock while crossing a small creek and soaked himself in the cold water (present day Slippery Rock, PA) so he had to stay there a day to warm up and dry off. He reached Fort La Boeuf, but was told to go on to Venango which he reached on 4 December. He made his proclamation, but was rebuffed. He dined with the French officers that night, when they reiterated that the Ohio Country was French and had been for almost a hundred years. Washington returned to Dinwiddie with the response.
Upon Washington’s return, Dinwiddie promoted him to major and authorized him to raise 100 more men to assist and resupply Trent, and take over construction and garrison of the fort. However, Washington was delayed while recruiting and by the middle of March, Trent was running out of provisions. So Trent left the fort to travel back down the road to request more supplies from Dinwiddie, leaving his second in command, Lt John Fraser.
John Fraser was also a fur trader, but he only accepted his commission on the condition he was able to conduct his business simultaneously. As soon as Trent departed, Fraser also left for his own trading post eight miles up the Monongahela leaving young Ensign Edward Ward in charge. Work proceeded quickly but not quick enough. In early April a French spy spotted the work reported back. In the meantime, belts were being tightened when Gist arrived and informed Ward that he had provisions at the Redstone post, if he just sent some men to gather them and bring them back. Ward dispatched half his men. The next day he was informed the French were enroute. Ward attempted to convince Fraser to come back but he was busy making money and couldn’t be bothered. Ward and Tanacharison constructed a hasty palisade around the completed storehouse but couldn’t do anymore because the French arrived quicker than expected. On 17 April 600 French regulars and another 400 militia and Indians under Captain Claude-Pierre Pecaudy Contrecoeur landed just outside musket range.
Ward and Tanacharison’s 41 men were no match and they surrendered that day. Contrecoeur tore the fort down and began building a new one. Tanacharison was furious, not that they surrendered but that the French would dare dismantle a structure in which he laid the first log. Ward and the Virginia militia departed the next day, but Tanacharison and his men stayed to observe the French.
Ward met Washington and his men on the way back and informed him of the loss. Washington was determined to retake the fort and sent a letter to Dinwiddie for artillery. He also sent a letter Tanacharison thanking him for his loyalty and asking him to recruit more men to help take the fort. Washington moved his force to Great Meadows (Farmington, PA) to await the artillery from Dinwiddie.
A French fort at the forks of the Ohio made all of the colonial trading posts on any of its tributaries untenable and unprofitable. This was an unacceptable situation for Tanacharison. The French had to be removed and Tanacharison did not personally command enough men to do it himself, and he would receive no assistance from his erstwhile superiors, the Iroquois. In fact he was probably going to be killed for what he had already done. Tanacharison needed a war between Britain and France.
Washington and Tanacharison exchanged several letters about the progress of the new fort the French were building. Named after the most recent governor of New France, Fort Duquesne was a proper star fort in the latest style and nearly impregnable against any small force if properly garrisoned. By the end of May, Dinwiddie promoted Washington again, this time to Lieutenant Colonel, and reinforced him with more Virginians and a company of South Carolina militia. On 24 May, 1754, Washington received a letter from Tanacharison that the French were on their way to defeat him and that he needed to strike first. Washington dispatched two groups, one under Gist and another under a Captain Hog to protect trading nearby trading posts and ambush any French attempts to torch them. On 27 May, Tanacharison gave Washington the location of a French camp of about 40 men, and that he should meet him there so they could both attack at the same time. Washington, who assumed hostilities between the French and British empires had already commenced with the loss of Fort Saint George the month before, agreed and decided to attack.
To the French this was not the case. The capture of the forks of the Ohio was bloodless affair and therefore not the opening salvo of a war. The camp described by Tanacharison was that of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville accompanied by 40 French marines and Canadian militia. Jumonville was enroute to Washington, not to attack him, but demand his withdrawal from French territory, an identical mission to the one Washington made to Venango. Tanacharison almost certainly knew this, but did not pass this information to Washington.
That day, Washington took 40 men of Wagoner’s Company to meet Tanacharison outside the French camp. He was surprised to find Tanacharison had just twelve Mingo warriors with him, two of whom were little more than boys. Nevertheless, the young Washington was committed as he didn’t want to lose face in front of the much older and wiser half-king. They surrounded the glen where Jumonville had his camp and attacked at dawn.
The Battle of Jumonville’s Glen lasted less than 15 minutes. Washington and Tanacharison’s men fired two volleys into the exposed French, which prompted a wounded Jumonville to surrender. As the prisoners were sorted, Tanacharison found Jumonville, and in front of Washington, their men and the prisoners, planted his tomahawk in Jumonville’s skull, killing him. He then scalped him.
Tanacharison got his war.
The loss of Trent’s Fort, or Fort Saint George as it was known to the Ohio Company, was arguably the first act of war between Britain and France that would eventually grow into the Seven Years War or the French and Indian War as it was known in North America. What cannot be argued was that the murder of Jumonville by Tanacharison was the act that led to French to seek revenge, and eventually Washington’s defeat and surrender at Fort Necessity in July. The two battles convinced the prime minister of Great Britain, the Duke of Newcastle, to dispatch and expeditionary force led by General Edward Braddock, to North American to dislodge the French. Braddock’s defeat and the French alliance with Austria caused the war to expand to Europe. Frederick the Great’s Prussia launched a preemptive war against the Austrians, which cemented a British-Prussian alliance. The Seven Year’s War raged around the globe until 1763 and caused permanent split in Indian-American relations from which “they shall never come to peace again”.
Tanacharison didn’t live long enough to see his dream of an independent Ohio Indian nation, or even the rest of the war. He was scornful of Washington’s Fort Necessity at Great Meadows and took his men and departed before the French surrounded them. Cut off from his people in the Ohio Country, Tanacharison sought refuge with the ardently pro-British Seneca Queen Aliquippa, who had also broken with the Iroquois. However, he took ill late that summer with pneumonia. Aliquippa took him to the farm of the Susquehanna ferryman John Harris (present day Paxtang, PA, just outside Harrisburg) where he died on 4 October 1754.
The murder of Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville by Mingo half-king Tanacharison while under George Washington’s care was one of the seminal moments in Atlantic history, everything that happened before it led up to it and everything that happened after it was caused by it.
After the Ottoman threat to the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire diminished in the late 1680s, the Holy League turned its attention to Louis XIV’s France, who seized territory at the expense of the Christian nations of Europe fighting the Turks. They wanted to curb and roll back France’s expansion into the Low Countries and territories beyond the east bank of the Rhine, and solidify William of Orange’s victory in the Glorious Revolution to prevent Louis XIV from restoring James II to England’s thrown. To this end they formed the League of Augsburg, better known as the “Grand Alliance” in 1688 of the Holy Roman Empire, England, Scotland, the Dutch Republic, Sweden, and eventually Spain and the Italian state of Savoy. The War of the League of Augsburg, better known in North America as “King William’s War”, was fought over the next nine years and involved fighting on five continents and on the seas in between
Though Louis XIV’s massively expanded army won magnificent sieges and glorious battles, his marshals failed to reap any decisive reward. (Tis the problem with offensive operations by a force operating with interior lines of communication. See the Army of the Potomac after Gettysburg, spoiler: Lee escaped.) The Dauphin’s operations in Swabia in the spring of 1693 sputtered, and Louis’ advisors convinced the king to support newly promoted Marshal Catinat across the Alps in Italy. Catinat was then organizing an army to relieve the operationally vital city of Pinerolo in the Piedmont then invested by Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, who was himself reinforced by Imperial troops. Louis agreed and sent his elite Gendarme galloping south.
On the morning of 4 October 1693, the Duke of Savoy lined up his polyglot army against the French relief force outside the village of Marsaglia. Savoy’s pan-European army included Milanese cavalry and Hungarian hussars (the first hussars in Western Europe, and soon adopted by all nations), Bavarian and German infantry, Savoyard, Spanish, Lombard and Neapolitan troops, Waldensian and Huguenot refugees, and Swiss, English and Flemish mercenaries. However, the language difficulties and uneven quality of Savoy’s troops allowed Catinat the time to organize his army so it could target specific points in Savoy’s line. Prior to the battle, Catinat meticulously arranged his line so there was overmatch by professional French units against lesser Allied formations. That morning, Savoy assaulted the French line, and was handily repulsed by the new regimental efficiency of the reformed French army.
Soon thereafter, the French counterattack broke Savoy’s army.
On the left, the heavy cavalry of the Gendarme under the Duke de Vendôme in a legendary countercharge scattered the Allies to their front in the midst of their own charge and then, without breaking stride, fell upon the Allied center in the flank. In the center, the Irish Brigade, consisting of Irish soldiers under French command by treaty (for an equal number of French soldiers fighting the English in Ireland), smashed through the Allied line. Concurrently, the entire French line surged forward in the first massed bayonet charge with socketed bayonets in history. Savoy’s army was destroyed in detail.
Duke Victor Amadeus II of Savoy lost 11,000 men compared to less than two thousand under Marshal Catinat. The Battle of Marsaglia was the single most lopsided victory of the War of the League of Augsburg and salvaged French martial prestige after a year of disappointment for Louis XIV. However, like most battles of the war, the French were unable to capitalize on the victory. The siege of Pinerolo was lifted, but since the battle happened so late in the fighting season, Catinat had to withdraw back across the Alps to winter in France. The Battle of Marsaglia did induce the young 29 year old Eugene of Savoy to seek reform of the Imperial armies, and he would become the Holy Roman Emperor’s greatest leader of men in the early 18th century.
However in 1693, the Battle of Marsaglia changed little – The War of the League of Augsburg/the Nine Years’ War/the War of the Grand Alliance/King William’s War dragged on inconclusively for another four years.
Under the pretext of assisting Protestant Hungarian rebels against the Catholic Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire sent a massive army of over 200,000 to seize the southern gateway to Central Europe, the Austrian capital of Vienna. As in the Siege of Vienna in 1529, Emperor Leopold I assumed that the Ottomans needed to seize the fortresses in Hungary along the Danube in order to float their heavy artillery down the river to successfully besiege the city. He fortified and reinforced Vaag, Raab and Commore downstream from Vienna, only to have the Ottoman army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha Pasha surprisingly move overland from Belgrade and strike directly at the heart of Christian resistance to Ottoman expansion in Europe, Vienna. “The head of the snake”, in Kara Mustapha’s words.
In the late 17th century the Ottoman Empire was both simultaneously the splendid and all-powerful Caliphate of Islam, and showing the first signs of becoming the “Sick Man of Europe” as the Ottoman Empire was known later in the 19th century. In the late 17th century Ottoman society stagnated and further conquests had been checked and rolled back in the Northeast and East by an aggressive Imperial Russian Tsardom, in the Middle East by the Safavid Persians, in the Indian Ocean by Portuguese sailors, and in the Mediterranean by the galleys of Spain, Italy, and the Maltese Knights. Only in Transylvania, Hungary and the Ukraine had the viziers of the sultan had any success conquering territory in the name of Islam.
Kara Mustapha was the latest of a long line of the aggressive and competent Albanian Köprülü viziers, and he was by far the most ambitious. He recognized that the Ottoman Empire must expand or its internal governmental and organizational fallacies would bring the Empire down. He saw himself as the future ruler of the heartland of Europe in the name of the sultan. He boasted that he “would water his horses in St. Peter’s Square” and “turn the Basilica into a mosque”. Sultan Mehmed IV, who was enjoying the fruits of being the most powerful man in Islam (his personal hunting grounds were larger than modern day Bulgaria and his personal harem was in the tens of thousands) gave a green silk cord tied as a noose to Kara Mustapha: seize Vienna or strangle yourself. Kara Mustapha wore it around his neck, day and night.
By advancing overland, Mustapha gambled that he could take Vienna before reinforcements from the Empire’s Circles (Circles were an administrative unit of the Holy Roman Empire e.g. Franconian Circle, Bavarian Circle etc.) or a relief force from Poland arrived. Although the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was normally a staunch ally of the Holy Roman Empire’s arch rival, France, the Commonwealth’s elected King Jan III Sobieski signed the Treaty of Warsaw that spring and vowed to come to Vienna’s aid if the Turk’s besieged it, as Leopold was if the same befell Krakow. But Krakow was a long way from Vienna and it took time to assemble a large enough army to do battle with Mustapha and relieve the city. Kara Mustapha’s surprise overland move on Vienna would have been successful had it not been for three men: Prince Hieronim Lubomirski, Count Ernst von Starhemberg, and the Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano.
When Mustapha’s Tartar foraging parties were spotted just two day’s ride from Vienna in early July, Emperor Leopold I hastily departed for Linz, entrusting the defense of city to Starhemberg, the military governor of Vienna, and Leopold’s spiritual advisor Marco d’Aviano. Although Vienna was unprepared for a siege, Starhemberg leveled Vienna’s vulnerable suburbs, quickly evacuated most of citizenry, tallied and secured the arms and stores, and tirelessly established the defense and organized the remaining civilians into a militia. The Imperial commander, Charles V Duke of Lorraine gave Starhemberg 1/3 of the Imperial army, about 12,000 men, to defend the walls and man Vienna’s 380 cannon, before he withdrew further into Austria with the remainder to await and gather further reinforcements. The first reinforcements were 3000 Poles under Lubomirski who immediately forced marched from Poland upon news of Mustapha departing Belgrade, and arrived in Vienna just before the Turks invested the town on 15 July 1683.
Mustapha sent the traditional offer of submission to Islam to spare Vienna, but Starhemberg refused, and would have even if he wasn’t just recently informed of the slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf, a town just south of Vienna which had accepted Mustapha’s offer, whose inhabitants were massacred anyway. The Turks then tried to bombard Vienna into submission, but without their heavy artillery, was outgunned by the numerous cannon protruding from Vienna’s Walls. Mustapha settled into a siege, and on the advice of his French mercenary engineers and artillerists, ordered his men to dig trenches and his sappers to dig mines. He aimed to break the walls of Vienna from below, the defenders with constant assault, and the will of the population with isolation and propoganda.
Marco d’Aviano was the rock upon which the morale of Vienna sat. Under his leadership, he and the Catholic priests of Vienna gave twice daily sermons to the troops and civilians in the city extolling the virtues of continued resistance. They were the front line in the war against treachery from within and broke up at least one plot to secretly open a small gate to a force of elite Turkish Janissaries. D’Aviano and Starhemberg took Turkish propaganda head on and read aloud leaflets proclaiming promises from Mustapha if the city was surrendered. They had only to point at Perchtoldsdorf and the other broken promises of the Ottoman Empire.
Most able bodied citizens were formed into a militia which Starhemberg skillfully intermixed with his Imperial professionals. Every day and night he visited the sentries on the walls. When Mustapha’s trenches crept closer and the countermining failed to prevent the Turks from breaching the walls, the tireless Starhemberg was there to plug the gap or oversee the repairs. One furious assault in early September was thrown back only because of a desperate countercharge by Starhemberg at the head of a company of shoemaker apprentices. Usually, at his side was the stalwart Lubomirski, whose Poles formed the shock troops that sealed the breaches from the inside. His men were used to the deprivations of a city under siege and provided a stoic example for the citizens of Vienna to emulate. More importantly, Lubomirski and his Poles represented a concrete manifestation of King Sobieski’s promise to come to the city’s aid. No matter how cunning and steadfast the defense of the city, Vienna would eventually fall without assistance from the outside.
In the beginning of September, King Sobieski arrived with his army at Hollabrunn, Austria, where he took command of the 24,000 strong Imperial army under the Duke of Lorraine and 28,000 Germans from Swabia, Bavaria, Saxony and Franconia under Georg Frederich, the Prince of Waldeck to form a united coalition to relieve Vienna. Though the Duke of Lorraine, as the senior representative of Emperor Leopold and the host nation, was entitled to the command (He also narrowly lost the election to the Polish throne to Sobieski years before), and Price Waldeck brought the most troops, both agreed that Sobieski was the most qualified to defeat the Turks. The Turks referred to Sobieski as “The Lion of Lechistan” for his victory at the Battle of Chocim and had defeated all comers, Islam and Christian, for the past decade and a half. Just twenty years before, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was subsumed by its enemies in a period known as “The Deluge”, when the armies of Sweden, Brandenburg, Austria, Transylvania, Ottomans, Cossacks, Tartars, and Russians completely overran the country. Sobieski was instrumental in the Commonwealth clawing back from that catastrophe. In the late summer of 1683, King Jan III Sobieski was at the head of a coalition army trying to save Christendom from the advances of the Islamic Caliphate.
On 6 September 1683, the army inexplicably crossed the Danube with no resistance at Tulin just 30km from Vienna, even though Mustapha’s Tartar light cavalry under his greatest cavalry commander, Khan Murad Giray of Crimea, observed their every movement. Any delay at this point would have been fatal. Just two days later, Mustapha’s sappers breached the wall and his Janissaries occupied the Burg bastion and the Burg ravelin, and were poised to break through the Löbel bastion. The final tunnels under the Löbel bastion were nearing completion; their detonation would doom Vienna. No matter how valiant the defense by Starhemberg and Lubomirski, the loss of two bastions would allow Mustapha to overwhelm the exhausted and beleaguered garrison. However, a Ruthenian noble under Lubomirski, Jerzy Kulczycki, volunteered to sneak through the Turkish lines to contact Lorraine and returned with news of Sobieski’s imminent arrival, which redoubled Starhemberg’s countermining efforts.
Mustapha gambled again that his sappers could blow the Löbel bastion and take Vienna before the coalition army could relieve the siege. It was a good bet. Sobieski still had to make the approach, and then traverse the ravine and stream crossed Wienerwald (Vienna Wood) before he could attack. Moreover, as Sobieski was granted the position of honor in the line, the right, the Polish army had to climb the Kahlenburg, a steep, rocky hill that Mustapha assumed was impassable to cavalry and cannon.
On the 9th and 10th of September, Polish peasants and soldiers dragged their 131 cannon over the Kahlenburg not wanting to waste the horses on such an arduous task. Two ropes were tied to each gun with 20-30 men pulling on each while an equal number pushed the spokes of each wheel. It was painful and backbreaking work which even the nobles, including the King, participated in. On the afternoon of 11 September, the Polish army lit fires and shot flares into the air to alert the garrison of Vienna that salvation was near. That evening, Sobieski and his Poles came down the Kahlenburg, again without harassment from the Tartars.
Murad was held back by Mustapha, who was preoccupied with the sappers’ progress and refused to believe the Tartar reports. The Khan, offended by his treatment, took his men and rode home, on the eve of the battle.
At 4 am on 12 September, 1683, the Polish cannon with their commanding position on the Kahlenburg fired into the Turkish camp signaling the beginning of the Battle of Vienna. On the left of the coalition line, Lorraine’s Imperial troops were the first to engage, followed quickly by Waldeck in the center. The Poles, reorganizing after the trip over the Kahlenburg, engaged soon thereafter. The battle was a slow process as the ground was cut by vineyards and low walls, each of which was stoutly defended by the Turks. However, Mustapha held back his best troops, the Sipahi’s and Janissaries, from the battle in anticipation of the imminent breach of Vienna’s walls.
The coalition pounded forward. Nevertheless, the Turk’s still outnumbered the attacking Christians. The battle continued all morning and all afternoon. Sobieski counseled his commanders that the objective of the day was to establish an advantageous position from which to begin the next day’s battle. He informed them that no battle of this magnitude could possibly be won in a single day. The broken terrain they were fighting over must be cleared before Sobieski’s trump card, the famed Polish Winged Hussars, could be unleashed to break the Turks.
All afternoon Lorraine and Waldeck begged Sobieski to charge as the Turks begrudgingly relinquished yard by painful yard. Sobieski wouldn’t relent: a premature charge would waste the striking power of the Hussars, who so far had never lost a battle. In a land that prided itself on its cavalry, the Husaria were a cut above. Only the richest and most competent of horsemen could afford and handle the accouterments of the Husaria. Armoured in a thick Sarmatian breastplate and a Germano/Roman helmet on the heaviest warhorse in Europe, the Polish Hussars were dedicated to the shock value of the charge. Heavily armed with an 18ft lance, a longsword like the knights of old, a sabre like any good Polish nobleman, a battle axe or Cossack warhammer for the melee, and a carbine and a brace of pistols like their contemporaneous French musketeers, the Husaria were meant for one thing and one thing only – to break an army with their charge.
The Husaria’s most distinctive feature was not their armour or weaponry, but their panoply. On his back, the well-to-do Husaria could afford a bear, lion, tiger, or even an exotic leopard or jaguar skin. This exotic cape fluttered between wooden poles on which flew hawk, eagle, falcon, and even ostrich feathers: The “wings” of the Polish Hussars. The purpose of the Husaria’s wings are a subject of much scholarly debate. Originally it was thought that the whistling of the wings unnerved enemy troops and horses. Also, the wooden uprights to which the feathers were attached were thought to prevent Turkish lassos from pulling riders from their saddles. More recent scholarship has accepted that that they just looked bad ass and scared the living shit out of those they were about to break. Whatever the reason, when the Polish Husaria charged, the enemy that survived took notice and usually fled – that is a historical fact.
The German, Imperial, and Polish infantry and cavalry pounded the Turkish lines, but still Sobieski would not release his hussars, much to the dismay of those who had fought face to face with the determined Turkish defense for almost twelve straight hours. At 4 pm, just an hour or so before the sun set which would bring an end to the fighting, the first breakthroughs occurred. Both Waldeck and then Lorraine reported that the walls and vineyards were cleared, followed closely by Sobieski’s own Poles. However, was there enough daylight to finish the battle before Mustapha’s sappers blew the mines under the Löbel bastion?
Sobieski, observing the disorganization in the Turkish lines and camp before him, gambled that there was. He ordered the Polish Hussars to charge, and every Pole, Austrian, and German with a horse to follow.
At 4:30 pm, 12 September 1683, 3000 Polish Winged Hussars, followed by 20,000 Polish Panzerini and Kozacy, Austrian and German Ritters, and any coalition fighter with a horse, charged the Turkish lines. The battle was in doubt for but minutes. The largest cavalry charge in history passed through the Turkish lines, then the Turkish camp, and didn’t stop until it was at the Gates of Vienna, five miles away. Upon seeing the effects of the charge, Starhemberg and Lubomirski sortied with the entire garrison and struck the elite Turkish Janissaries and Sipahis as they formed to stop the Husaria. The starving civilians of Vienna followed closely behind, fell upon the Turkish camp, especially the herds of cow and buffalo which they butchered on the spot, and ate their fill.
For but a brief moment, all of Christendom was united in celebration of the victory over the Ottoman Turks at the Gates of Vienna. King Jan III Sobieski was accompanied by Starhemberg and Lubomirski around the city to the rousing crowds of jubilant Viennese. The Viennese bakers created a fluffy crescent shaped pastry in honor of the victory over Islam which we know today as the “croissant.” And for the hardier folk, the Jewish bakers boiled some dough in a circle in honor of the stirrups of the Polish cavalry. Today, we call them “bagels”. Kulczycki would eventually go on to open Vienna’s first cappuccino café after the battle with 200 sacks of coffee beans captured from the Turkish camp. With the all the magnificent plunder about, no one wanted the beans but Kulczycki. Vienna had coffee cafés previously, but Kulczycki’s was the first to serve the bitter liquid with sweetened steamed milk. He opened the “Blue Bottle Coffee House” and it was an immediate hit. (The café is still there, and yes, I’ve been there.) Word of the victory sparked wild celebration in Rome, Krakow, Hamburg and Frankfurt, and even London and Paris. But it was not to last.
Lorraine quickly sent word to Emperor Leopold that he needed to return promptly so that Sobieski wasn’t recognized as the savior of Vienna. German and Austrian contemporary accounts and later German historians would roll Lubomirski’s exploits into Starhemberg’s, and excise him completely from the historic record. Leopold was offended at Sobieski’s triumphal parade through Vienna and forbade any monument dedicated to him in the city. Waldeck was relegated to a Hapsburg puppet, instead of the leader of a large contingent of fiercely independent Germans who took on the brunt of Kara Mustapha’s defense and allowed the Polish cavalry to seize the day.
The Christian participants went on to form the Holy League against the Turks and reconquered Hungary, Transylvania, and parts of Serbia from the Ottomans. The battle signaled the Ottoman Empire’s irrevocable decline and they would never again threaten Europe.
Kara Mustapha Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, did not escape his green cord – the Sultan’s assassins strangled him in Belgrade on Christmas Day, 1683.
In 1668, French King Louis XIV overran Spanish Netherlands (today’s Belgium) and Franche-Comté (Burgundy) in the War of Devolution but was shamefully forced to cede his conquests when the Triple Alliance of England, the Dutch Republic, and Sweden came to Spain’s aid. Louis XIV never forgave them and in 1672 invaded the Dutch Republic to chastise the merchant republic for interfering in the business of their betters. The Royal French Army, personally led by the king, reinvaded the Spanish Netherlands and on 13 June 1673, invested the fortress city of Maastricht. Maastricht was on the road from Liege to Cologne and critical to prevent disruption of his supply lines stretching back to France. Though Louis held overall command the architect of the siege was the 40 year old 17th century engineering genius, Sebastian Vauban.
By 40, Vauban had already had a long and glorious military career. The orphaned son of penniless minor nobility, Vauban was raised by his own peasants and fought with distinction against the king during the Fronde. Eventually captured, Vauban’s competence in military matters won him a commission and the eye of Cardinal Mazarin, Louis XIV chief advisor. Due to Mazarin’s benevolence, Vauban became a devoted soldier of the king. He rose through the ranks and his solid early childhood education in mathematics and geometry propelled him into the world of the royal engineers. Vauban had an uncanny knack for building fortifications, and even more so for bringing them down. Maastricht was his first command of a siege of a major city. It would not be his last.
Vauban’s mathematically precise and rational approach to sieges revolutionized siege warfare and its implementation for the next 200 years. “More gunpowder, less blood”, and dare I say, “more digging”, was his mantra. Once Vauban began, the reduction of the fortress was inevitable, unless of course they based on Vauban’s own designs. Maastricht was not so. Vauban ordered a series of parallel trenches dug connected by zig zagging communications trenches that prevented defenders from having a clear shot at the attackers. Once the trenches were close enough, mines could be dug and heavy mortars brought forward to reduce the city. In Maastricht’s case, this happened on 25 June 1673, and the assault on the Maastricht’s Tongere Gate was set for the next day.
The French assault was led by another of Mazarin’s protégés, Charles de Batz de Castelmore, the comte d’Artagnan. D’Artagnan was also a penniless minor noble. He arrived in Paris in 1630 to make a name for himself. Mazarin, who had a gift for talent management, took the young Gascon under his wing. D’Artagnan received a commission in the French Guards regiment, following quickly by a command in the king’s personal bodyguard, the King’s Musketeers. During and after the Fronde, d’Artagnan undertook many daring and successful covert and clandestine missions for the teenage Louis XIV, and the king never forgot. D’Artagnan was Louis’ most dedicated and loyal soldier. He rose to command the Musketeers and was easily identified across Paris by his burgundy, white and black livery, distinct from the blue and black of his men. D’Artagnan became one of Louis most trusted tactical commanders and assigned the most difficult missions. He rose to the rank of brigadier in command of several of the king’s most prestigious regiments. As the military governor of Lille, d’Artagnan longed to return to his men. The night Vauban announced that his trenches were complete, the 63ish year old veteran d’Artagnan volunteered to lead the assault.
The offer wasn’t vainglorious. Louis’ own Musketeers were to vanguard the assault. He trained those men and every one was like a brother or son. D’Artagnan wanted the assault to be the final crowning achievement of his career in the service of Louis XIV. It was.
On 25 June 1673, Charles de Batz de Castelmore, the comte d’Artagnan was shot through the throat leading the assault on Maastricht’s fortifications. He died later in the day. Louis XIV, deeply affected by the loss, arranged for a funeral mass to be held in his private chapel. The renowned French poet Saint-Blaize wrote a poem in honor of the old musketeer, the last lines of which were “d’Artagnan and glory share the same coffin.”
In less than a week, Maastricht surrendered to Louis XIV. On the battle he commented, “I lost d’Artagnan whom I trusted most completely and who was good to everyone.”
A few years later d’Artagnan’s life was fictionalized in Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras’ novel “Les mémoires de M. d’Artagnan”. 150 years later in the 19th century, that novel was read by a young French author, Alexandre Dumas. Dumas would further fictionalize d’Artagnan’s life in a newspaper serial. That serial was compiled and eventually became the novel, “The Three Musketeers”.
In 1643, the Thirty Years War raged across continental Europe for the past 25 years. In 1635, Catholic France joined with the Protestant Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians against their political rivals the Catholic Hapsburgs of Austria and Spain. The indomitable Cardinal Richelieu of France had been bankrolling Sweden and the Protestants for years, but after the disastrous Swedish defeat at Nordlingen, entered France into the war directly to prevent Hapsburg hegemony in all of its surrounding lands on the continent. In 1640, Richelieu started war against Spain “by diversion”, funding Catalan, Basque, Portuguese, and Dutch insurgents which he hoped would force Spain to sue for peace. By 1643, the plan was working.
Spain needed to defeat France quickly. Moreover, Cardinal Richelieu died that winter and Louis XIII fell horribly ill. So in the spring, a combined Spanish, German, Italian, and Walloon army marched on France through the Ardennes Forest to avoid the main French armies in Flanders, (I wonder if that would ever happen again…) and capitalize on the political confusion associated with the transfer of power and royal succession in Paris. The Spanish Army of Flanders under Francisco de Melo had invaded France through the Ardennes before and defeated the French at the Battle of Honnecourt in 1642. However, Melo decided not to proceed to Paris due to the training and suspect loyalties of his Walloon cavalry. He vowed not to make the same mistake again.
But this year the French were prepared. Melo stopped and invested the French fortified town of Rocroi to secure his line of communication back to Flanders. The garrison sent frantic messages that they could withstand the siege for but two days. Fortunately, the French army was at Amiens under the young 21 year old Louis II Duc d’Enghien and Prince de Conde, placed just so to stop any future penetration of the Ardennes (…). D’Enghien rushed to Rocroi to break the siege before a reinforcing column of Spanish arrived. During the march, D’Enghien learned via secret courier that the King died that evening, and the throne passed to four year old King Louis XIV and his regent, the Queen-mother Anne of Austria. He wisely kept the news from his men: the death of the king would shatter the morale of his army and a loss at Rocroi would send France into chaos.
On the evening of 18 May, both armies lined up opposite each other outside of Rocroi. That night, Melo infiltrated a thousand arquebusiers under his most trusted subordinate, General Baltasar de Mercader, to ambush the French when they inevitably attacked in the morning. However, D’Enghien might have been young, but he was not inexperienced. The Princes of Condé campaigned for the Bourbons since the day they could keep themselves in the saddle. D’Enghien encouraged deserters and exploited his coreligionist Spain’s use of Catholic Walloons, Germans, and Flemings in invading France, instead of fighting Protestants. The French were neighbors, the distant Spanish were not; one of the first signs of the rise of nation-state codified five years later in the Treaty of Westphalia. Deserters from Spain’s allies were rampant, and Melo’s ambush was discovered and annihilated before dawn. Those troops, and more consequently Mercader, Melo’s best infantry commander, were sorely missed the next day.
At dawn, the battle was joined. D’Enghien attacked with his pikemen, musketeers, and arquebusiers in the center, and with his cavalry on the right. The cavalry on his left he held back due to the marshy terrain. The infantry fight in the center devolved into a stalemate that favored the Spanish tercios. The Spanish tercios were the scourge of Europe for the last 150 years, virtually unbeatable on the battlefield in a head to head melee.
A tercio was a Spanish infantry formation that combined the defensive power of a phalanx of pikes with the offensive power of sword and buckler men and the firepower of protected arquebusiers. But the tercio required professional or highly trained troops to operate effectively, especially on the offense. After 25 years of constant warfare, the Spanish no longer had enough veterans, and had to rely on less disciplined and trained proxies to fill out their formations. This was compounded by technical advances in arquebuses, cannon, and the recent introduction of rifled barrels and early flintlock muskets.
The tercios’ density gave it an unquestionable resilience on the defensive, but that same density limited the amount of troops able to engage the enemy. In contrast, the French, Dutch, and most famously the Swedes, experimented with line and block formations: lines of musketeers supported by blocks of pikemen. The line and block formations were relatively easy to control, and allowed a much greater percentage of the formation to engage, albeit at the expense of depth. The French flexibility and firepower offset the Spanish durability. Unfortunately for the Spanish, the proud commander of the center, Paul-Bernard de Fontaines was bed ridden and had to be carried on a litter. Without an aggressive commander to push them forward, the fight in the center stalemated, something that rarely happened to the tercios. The question became, who would break first?
On the left, the impetuous French cuirassiers attacked without orders through the marsh, became disordered and were smashed by a counter charge of German cavalry. However, the commander of the Spanish right wheeled his men to attack the French center, and exposed his own flank in the process. D’Enghien promptly dispatched his reserve and stabilized his left.
On the right, the French cavalry was under command of Louis XIII’s most experienced, energetic, and finest cavalry tactician, and mentor and kindred spirit to D’Enghien, Jean de Gassion. Gaisson crushed the suspect Walloon horse of the Spanish left. But instead of wheeling to attack the center as the Spanish had, Gaisson and D’Enghien led the superior French cavalry and charged the weak and novice German and Italian tercios of Melo’s reserve. The inexperienced tercios promptly routed and Gaisson seized all of Melo’s cannon. The Spanish center was surrounded.
Melo, rushing hither and yon about the battlefield trying to rally his broken cavalry, had to seek refuge among his tercios lest he be captured by the marauding French cavalry, who had free rein of the battlefield beyond the thrust of a pike around the Spanish center. Melo joined an Italian tercio, where he vowed to “die with the Italian gentlemen.” However, before they broke and he died, he led them away in a fighting retreat, and escaped.
Fontaines and the Spanish center was attacked on all sides by the French and was down to just one Burgundian and four Spanish tercios. Despite the merciless pounding they received from the French musketeers, Fontaines decided to stay and fight. His remaining men were the hard core of the Spanish Army of Flanders and they would die before breaking. Fontaine would fight it out and wait for the reinforcing column. The 6000 fresh troops would break D’Enghien’s weary men and rescue Fontaines. However, the reinforcing column stopped just three miles from the battlefield when it was met by the routed Germans and Walloons who told the commander the day was lost. Instead of confirming the information, the commander withdrew, leaving Fontaines to his fate.
An hour or so later D’Enghien brought forward all of the French and captured Spanish cannon and turned them on the remaining tercios. They pounded the unflinching Spaniards and Bugundians. Fontaines was shot and killed soon thereafter. The senior Spanish colonel offered D’Enghien terms to surrender, but when D’Enghien came forward under a flag of truce to negotiate, he was accidentally fired upon. This enraged the proud French whom massacred the offending tercio to a man. The remaining Spanish and Burgundians quickly surrendered to avoid the same fate.
The Battle of Rocroi signaled the beginning of the end of the Thirty Years War, and the weary belligerents signed the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. More importantly, the battle heralded French dominance in continental European affairs that ended only with Germany’s rise two century’s later. The Battle of Rocroi was seen as a good omen for the new king, the four year old Louis XIV whose ascendance to the throne was announced simultaneously with the victory by Richelieu’s replacement and protégé, Cardinal Mazarin. Fears of the Queen-mother, Anne of Austria being a Hapsburg puppet were ill founded. She was as dedicated to France as she was to her son, the future “Sun King”. Louis XIV would reign over France’s Golden Age. D’Enghien, soon named the “Grand Conde”, was one of his greatest commanders.
The destruction of the Golden Horde in the 15th Century by the Timurid Empire virtually swept from the map the last remnants of the Mongols’ conquest of northeastern Europe. All that remained was the Tartar Khanate of Crimea and a vast and deserted steppe that stretched from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Urals in the east. Into this void stepped two powerful kingdoms, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian Kingdom of Muscovy.
Where the frontiers of the two states met opposite the Crimean Tartars along the river basins of the Dnieper, Don, and Donetz, the Poles and Russians encouraged settlers to the area to provide a bulwark against the slaving raids of the Muslim Tartars and Ottoman Turks. The settlers were not an ethnic group but fiercely independent homesteaders, frontiersmen, and adventurers known as Cossacks. The Cossacks formed “Sichs” (literally “cuts”, either of land or the logs that formed their stockades and forts) and were expected to defend the area in exchange for land and fealty.
By the 17th century, the Zaporizhian Sich along the Dnieper River was a semi-autonomous part of the powerful Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, the Orthodox Cossacks begrudged their Catholic Polish and Ruthenian (Russified Lithuanians) overlords, then at the vanguard of the Counter-Reformation. Additionally, they despised the increasing number of Poles, Ruthenians, and especially Jews who were settling the Sich. The Cossacks felt that the Szlachta, the pervasive nobility of the Commonwealth, and the Jews, which unlike the rest of Europe were welcomed in the Commonwealth, had more rights than the Cossacks (They were correct). Finally, the Cossacks resented the Polonization of their own quasi-nobility, particularly those that converted to Catholicism. Whenever the situation demanded or the Cossacks showed signs of rebellion, the Polish king usually declared a war against their Muslim neighbors. The war kept the Cossacks busy, and the loot kept them appeased. The Cossacks loved the king because he showered them with privileges as a counterbalance against the nobility.
In 1647, King Wladyslaw IV Vasa, the Swedish king of the Commonwealth (the Commonwealth elected its king, usually a foreigner to keep him weak; it’s complicated) ordered the Cossacks to prepare for a new war against the Ottomans. However, the Sejm (the parliament of nobles) vetoed the idea and ordered the Cossacks to prepare for a new war against the growing power of Muscovy’s successor, the Tsardom of Russia. This sent the Cossacks into a rage. The Russians were coreligionists and used Cossacks themselves. More importantly, those Russians on the Steppe were poor and the Ottomans were rich. Moreover, piracy on the Black Sea, contemporary pirates in the Caribbean had nothing on Cossacks in the Black Sea, was infinitely more lucrative and enjoyable than marching around the cold and endless Steppe. The Cossacks were on the edge of revolt, they just needed a leader.
Enter Bohdan Khmelnitskiy, a respected Ruthenian noblemen and veteran of nearly countless wars against the Ottomans and Crimeans. In 1645, Khmelnitskiy had a land dispute with a powerful Polish magnate (the upper tier of the Szlachta). The magnate’s starost (like a county commissioner) Daniel Czaplinski raided and seized Khmelnitskiy’s land. Khmelnitskiy protested to the king, but the king couldn’t take on such a powerful magnate. So Khmelnitskiy stole Czaplinski’s wife and was arrested. In late 1647, he escaped and fled to the Zaporizhian Sich with his Registered Cossack regiment. (A “Registered Cossack” was a Cossack that was officially in the pay of the king or a magnate.) With the Sich on the brink of rebellion, the charismatic Khmelnitskiy pushed them over. On 25 January, 1648, Khmelnitskiy had the Commonwealth’s administration in the Sich killed. The next day, Bohdan Khmelnitskiy was elected Hetman (warlord) of the Zaporizhian Sich.
Cossack rebellions had been attempted before, but were always crushed by superior heavily armoured Polish cavalry. Unlike in Napoleonic times when Cossacks were known for their superior light cavalry, in the 17th century they constituted the light infantry par excellence. They were akin to tens of thousands of Robert’s Rangers roaming the Steppe. The Poles and Ruthenians always provided the cavalry. So when the Cossacks did revolt, they were always crushed by a massive charge of Husaria and Panzerini, against which they could not hope to stand. In a tribute to Khmelnitskiy’s charisma, he convinced the Sich to make an alliance with their archenemy, the Crimean Tartars, who could provide the cavalry necessary to defeat the Commonwealth. The Crimean Khan dispatched his best general, Tugur Bey, with 18,000 Tartar horsemen to assist the uprising.
Khmelnitskiy’s Uprising would bring fire and sword to the Steppe, and eventually to the Commonwealth itself. Hundreds of thousands of Ruthenian, Polish, Jewish, and Cossack peasants, burghers, and nobles were killed, or sold into slavery to pay for Tugur Bey’s cavalry. Sensing Commonwealth weakness, by 1655 all of its neighbors, Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire invaded in what is now known in Polish history as “The Deluge”. In 1654, Khmelnitskiy ceded the Zaporizhian Sich to Russia in the Treaty of Pereyaslav for continued military support against the Commonwealth.
By 1648, Europe was ravaged in the religious civil war known as the Thirty Years War which initially pitted the Catholics against the Protestants, but eventually devolved into a power struggle between the French Bourbon and the Austrian/Spanish Hapsburg dynasties. Since 1618, foraging armies crisscrossed Poland, the German principalities, and the southern Netherlands, massacring those of another faith and looting their towns and cities. The Seven United Dutch provinces were for all intents and purposes independent as the Dutch Republic, but had been in revolt since 1568 against the Hapsburgs of Spain. To the Dutch, the Thirty Years War was just another phase of the Eighty Years War. On 30 January, 1648, as part of the ongoing negotiations to end all of the destructive conflicts in Europe, Dutch and Spanish officials signed the Treaty of Munster which formally recognized the Dutch Republic. Though fighting would continue for three more months until the treaty was approved by the Bourbon and Hapsburg monarchs.
The Treaty of Munster was the first of a series of treaties over the course of 1648 known as the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War. The Peace of Westphalia elevated and established the sovereign state over the sovereign dynasties (Spain and France as opposed to Bourbon and Hapsburg) which would cement a principle of non-intervention in another state’s affairs, particularly religious affairs. It also established the legal precedent of state equality in international law, no matter how large or small the size of the states, which is the foundation of our modern international system. In doing so, the Peace also effectively ended the Holy Roman Empire as a major political entity. Most importantly though, the Peace of Westphalia ended intra-faith warfare among Christians, and they would no longer go to war strictly for theological reasons. Finally, the Treaty of Munster gave us the Netherlands.
At the end of the 16th and early 17th century, three or four small pox epidemics wiped out the majority of the Native American population in what is now known as New England and created a power vacuum. Into this void came the first English and Dutch settlements such as the Plymouth, Saybrook, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Bay Colonies. Of the remaining tribes, the Pequot Indians (Mohegan for “destroyers”) warred on the other regional tribes, the Mohegan and Narragansett, in order to aggressively expand their hunting grounds and secure a monopoly on the lucrative fur and wampum trade with the settlers.
In the spring of 1636, the Pequot killed John Stone, an influential English trader, smuggler, and privateer, for the death of one of their traders by the Dutch. The Pequot paid a blood debt for the mistake, but didn’t hand over the culprits for trial, as demanded by the English. A few weeks later, a Narragansett hunting party killed John Oldham, a respected trader from the new Puritan colony of Connecticut for trading with the Pequot, which they wanted to discourage. After an English raid on Block Island the Narragansett offered to turn the wrongdoers over to the English but before that could happen they sought sanctuary with the Pequot. When the English tracked the murderers down, they demanded not only Oldham’s but also Stone’s killers. The Pequot stalled to evacuate the culprits, so the English attacked. They torched the village but didn’t catch them. The Pequot War had begun.
The Pequot called all their clients and allies to war, including the Nehantic, close neighbors of the Mohegan and Narragansett, whom joined the English. The offensive minded Pequot immediately went on the attack, and raided towns, villages, and farmsteads all across New England. In the autumn and winter of 1636. they besieged Fort Saybrook.
On 13 December, 1636, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered the formation of three regiments of infantry from the existing militia companies of the colony, and any remaining able bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60. They were to protect the towns from Pequot raids and assist the Connecticut Colony in relieving Fort Saybrook.