|The War of Spanish Succession pitted France allied with
Spain with its new Bourbon monarch against a coalition assembled to
prevent the Spain from becoming a Bourbon possession closely tied
with France. This coalition included Britain, the Netherlands,
Savoy, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire - all hoping to prevent
French domination of Europe. In 1704 an Allied army under the the
English Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene commanding an Austrian
force smashed a French and Bavarian army at Blenheim on the banks of
the Danube in Bavaria. The next year Marlborough to the Moselle
valley hoping to advance into a less well defended area of France.
Frustrated in his attempts, Marlborough moved north to the
Spanish Netherlands, roughly modern day Belgium. There he
penetrated the Lines of Brabant, but friction with his Dutch allies
prevented a decisive exploitation. The following campaign season,
1706, Marlborough intended to seek a decisive battle in the
Spanish Netherlands. The French army under Marshal Villeroi
with their Bavarian and Spanish allies, hereafter simply called "the French" were also seeking battle as
Louis XIV wanted a victory in order to
negotiate a more favorable peace.
Marching from near Maastricht toward Namur, Marlborough threatened to gain a position in which he could either march on Brussels or cut off the French army. Villeroi marched south from Louvain to intercept. A choke point along the Allied line of advance was at Ramillies where a plain one and a half miles wide stretched from the Mehaigne River to the town of Ramillies with a marshy creek, the Little Geete, beyond. Marlborough hoped to march beyond this choke point and reach Mont St Andre - then do battle with the French before they could withdraw behind the safety of the River Dyle. Delayed by waiting for the Danish contingent, which had not been paid properly, Marlborough got to Ramillies after the French, who positioned their cavalry in the plain south of town and their infantry behind the marshy creek north of it. At Ramillies Villeroi could block an Allied advance straight ahead - or he could threaten the Allied flank if Marlborough advanced from there to south to Namur. So Villeroi assumed the defensive.
Marlborough immediately deployed his cavalry in front of the French cavalry, pinning the French in position while the rest of his army arrived. Pinning the French cavalry also made a battle likely. At 2pm on May 23rd an artillery duel began. Villeroi's line was a long one - four miles for around 60,000 men - but it included several villages to aid the defense. With rough terrain to the north, the French left was anchored on Autre-Eglise. South of there was the village of Offus then Ramillies - and the marshy Little Gheete provided a significant barrier to an Allied attack in this sector. Ramillies sat on higher ground between the two watersheds. Plains extended south to the River Mehaigne where the French right flank was anchored at the town of Taviers. This was the area defended by cavalry. Perhaps Villeroi had not originally envisioning a fight here, so he neglected to clear out a jumble of wagons this portion of his line. Villeroi's line was shaped so that both flanks were in front of his center. Marlborough's line was the opposite shape, with his flanks bent back. As a result Marlborough could more shift troops from on flank to the other more quickly and easily than Villeroi could.
Marlborough opened the battle with an attack on Franquenee and Taviers. The Dutch Guard succeeded in capturing the villages, and clumsy French counterattacks siphoned away the dragoons behind the French right as well as infantry supporting the French cavalry.
|The Allied infantry attack extended to Autre-Eglise on the northern flank. The panorama above is the view looking north from the church's burial ground. Although the area shown is largely beyond the area of fighting, it shows the terrain well, and Allied infantry may have crossed the Little Gheete on the right side of the panorama and attacked into town.|
|The cavalry that had moved around the French line assembled here at an
ancient tomb, which was once thought to hold the remains of General
Otto. Forming a line parallel to this road, the Allied cavalry
attacked north, the direction beyond the tomb. The wagons behind the
French cavalry created confusion, and panic set in. Ramillies was
captured, and to the north Orkney renewed the attack. The French fled
the field with the Allies in pursuit.
It was a disaster for the French. At the cost of around 3,700 Allied killed and wounded, Marlborough had inflicted an estimated 12,000 French killed and wounded and a further 10,000 men captured along with 52 of 60 French guns. Vileroi himself was nearly captured. He would never command an army again. Such was the despair that city after city in the Spanish Netherlands surrendered or changed sides. By the end of the campaign season, the Allies controlled the Spanish Netherlands. the complexion of the war had now changed, and although Louis was amenable to peace, the Allies now sought to continue the war and permanently reduce the threat that France posed to them. As a result the war would continue for many more years, finally petering out in 1713 with a Bourbon on the Spanish throne and France still a world power.