11 September – On this day

The Battle of Malplaquet, fought on 11 September 1709, was one of the main battles of the War of the Spanish Succession, which opposed the Bourbons of France and Spain against an alliance whose major members were the Habsburg Monarchy, Great Britain, the United Provinces and the Kingdom of Prussia.

The allied army, mainly consisting of Dutch and Austrian troops, but also with considerable British and Prussian contingents, was led by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy, while the French and a contingent of Bavarians were commanded by Claude Louis Hector de Villars, Marquis then Duc de Villars, and Marshal Boufflers. The allies had about 86,000 troops and 100 guns and the French had about 75,000 and 80 guns, and they were encamped within cannon range of each other near what is now the France/Belgium border.

At 9.00am on this day, the Austrians attacked with the support of Prussian and Danish troops under the command of Count Finckenstein, pushing the French left-wing back into the forest behind them. The Dutch under command of John, Prince of Orange, on the Allied left-wing, attacked the French right flank half an hour later, and succeeded with heavy casualties in distracting Boufflers enough so that he could not come to Villars’ aid.

Villars was able to regroup his forces, but Marlborough and Savoy attacked again. At around 1.00 pm Villars was badly wounded by a musket ball which smashed his knee, and command passed to Boufflers. The decisive final attack was made on the weakened French centre by British infantry under the command of the Earl of Orkney, which managed to occupy the French line of redans. This enabled the Allied cavalry to advance through this line and confront the French cavalry behind it. A fierce cavalry battle now ensued, in which Boufflers personally led the elite troops of the Maison du Roi. He managed no less than six times to drive the Allied cavalry back upon the redans, but every time the French cavalry in its turn was driven back by British infantry fire. Finally, by 3.00 pm Boufflers, realising that the battle could not be won, ordered a retreat, which was made in good order.
The Allies had suffered so many casualties in their attack that they could not pursue him. By this time they had lost over 21,000 men, almost twice as many as the French. Villars himself remarked on the enemy’s Pyrrhic victory via the flip-side of King Pyrrhus’ famous quote: “If it please God to give your majesty’s enemies another such victory, they are ruined.”
Map of the Battle
Map of the Battle