Louis-Francois Duc de Boufflers

1 Boufflers' background and early career

The Boufflers family were of ancient Picard nobility. Boufflers' father was François II comte de Boufflers, Grand-bailli du Beauvoisis (Beauvais). On 22 July 1652 he became a Maréchal de Camp, and he died on 16 March 1668. On 17 May 1640 he had married Louise le Vergeur. She died on 14 March 1653.

The couple had two sons: The eldest was François III comte de Boufflers, who died at Chateau Boufflers on 14 February 1672. He had a son Henry, colonel in the infantry (25 Sep. 1671 - 19 May 1693). Our Boufflers was born as chevalier de Boufflers on 10 January 1644. There were also three younger sisters, who all went to a convent.

Boufflers entered service as a cadet in the regiment Gardes Françaises in 16621. In 1664 he participated in the campaign to take Gigeri, nowadays Jijel in Algeria. He became a sub-lieutenant of the Gardes Françaises on 8 February 1666. In 1667 he fought in Flanders and distinguished himself in the sieges of Douai (July 1667), Tournai (June 1667) and Lille (27 July 1667). On 15 March 1668 Boufflers became aide-major of the Gardes Françaises.

2 Further Career of Boufflers

2.1 Colonel and Marquis

On 2 September 1669 Boufflers became mestre de camp of the Régiment Royal Dragons. With them he was in Créqui´s expedition that conquered Lorraine in 1670. He participated in the sieges of Epinal in September and Chatté in October2. When his older brother the Comte de Boufflers died on 14 February 1672, Boufflers became Lieutenant Général de l'ile de France and grand bailli de Beauvais by provisions of 2 June. This was also the moment he started to style himself Marquis de Boufflers. The obvious reason for all of this was that his brother's son Henry was a baby and therefore could not inherit his father's offices, but did become Comte de Boufflers.

2.2 The Franco-Dutch War

In 1672 Boufflers was in the war against the United Provinces. He was in the conquest of Burick on 3 June 1672 and that of Rees on 7 June. On 15 June he was in the siege of Arnhem, and on 19 June that of Schenckenschans. On 15 October 1672 the French started a raid on a strongpoint near the village of Ameide. The raiding party had about 700 men, and Boufflers participated as a volunteer3. On 27 December Maréchal de Luxembourg attacked Bodegraven. The idea was to cross the inundations while they were frozen. The expedition happily succeeded and turned into rape and pillage in Bodegraven and Zwammerdam. Boufflers was mentioned in the rearguard when the army retreated a few days later4. In February 1673 Boufflers and about a thousand dragoons beat 150 Dutch near Nigtevecht5.

In 1674 Boufflers went to the Rhine. In the 4 October 1674 Battle of Entzheim Boufflers played an important part. Before the battle began and the positions were clear, Turenne sent him and 50 dragoons to reconnoiter a position. The battle started when fighting broke out between the imperial infantry and two dragoon regiments under Boufflers´ command6. It also seems that Boufflers was wounded at Entzheim7. On 12 March 1675 Boufflers got an appointment as brigadier of dragoons8. In july 1675 he and his regiment were in the battle of Salzbach. In a preliminary encounter on 24 July his Dragons Royal were pushed back and lost some casualties and flags. In the actual battle on 31 July 1675 the regiment was almost annihilated. Boufflers covered the retreat and was again wounded9.

Two more campaigns in Germany made Boufflers a Maréchal de Camp in 1677. As such he was in the siege of Freiburg in November 167710. On 26 July 1678 he was ordered from the vicinity of Freiburg to the approaches of Rheinfelden (now in Switserland). After a short battle there he moved to Seckingen on 8 July11. On 26 August 1678 Boufflers became Colonel général des dragons12.

3 Lieutenant-General

3.1 Boufflers occupies Casale

It seems that in 1681 Boufflers became a lieutenant general. For some time France had been negotiating with the Duke of Mantua to buy the citadel of Casale. For Spain and the empire such a deal would be a casus belli, but in 1681 the moment to effectuate such a deal seemed favorable. During the summer troops had been moved to the Dauphiné and to Pignerolo. After the Duchess of Savoy had allowed a right of passage, Boufflers joined these troops and thus took up his first independent command. In the night of 28 September he moved the vanguard with 20 squadrons and 4 dragoon regiments. Catinat followed him with the rest of the army. On 30 September the vanguard reached Casale, and at noon it took possession of the citadel. Catinat arrived on 1 October and was made governor. Boufflers then retreated to Pignerolo with the cavalry13. For Boufflers it was a momentuous occassion; he had held his first independent command and it was a complete success.

3.2 The war of the reunions

In 1683 the war of the reunions erupted. Boufflers was with the army that besieged and took Courtray from 1-6 November 1683. Sometimes the conquest of Courtrai is falsely attributed to Boufflers. He was present in the siege, but only as a lieutenant-general under Maréchal d'Humières.

In January 1684 Boufflers marched with 4,000 men to Conkelbergh; a suburb of Brussel14. On 30 April 1684 the king of France and his army arrived at Condé. On 2 May he ordered Boufflers to command a force of 25 Squadrons and to post himself at Mariembourg, between the Sambre and Meuse. From there this force would support either the king´s army or that of Maréchal de Créqui15. The war of the reunions was ended with teh truce of Regensburg on 15 August 1684.

3.3 The Dragonnades

In March 1685 there was a rumour that Spain would hand over the Spanish Netherlands to the elector of Bavaria in exchange for Bavaria getting annexed to Austria. King Louis therefore sent Boufflers to Bayonne and lots of troups to Navarra. The affair came to nothing, but left Boufflers near Béarn. Versailles then got the idea to use these troops in the dragonnades. Boufflers´ troops were used first to terrorize Béarn and get the Protestant population there to convert. Later Boufflers was ordered to convert the Huguenots in Bordeaux; Montauban and Saintonge. Whether Boufflers executed these orders enthusiastically or not, the king was very satisfied with his efforts16.

Boufflers continued his career in the administration as well as the military. He got the general command of troops in the Guyenne in 1686. On 4 August 1686 Boufflers was made governor of Luxemburg17. In July 1687 Boufflers was destined to become governor of Lorraine and the province on Luxemburg. Catinat would become became governor of Luxemburg city18.

4 Boufflers during the Nine Years War

In 1688 Boufflers was admitted to the order du Saint Esprit. On 20 April 1690 he became commander of the Moselle army.

In 1692 he became commander of the regiment Gardes Françaises and soon after, on 27 March 1693 he became Maréchal de France. At the end of that year he married Catherine Charlotte de Gramont, daughter of the duke de Gramont. He became governor of Lille and French Flanders in 1694. After the siege of Namur Boufflers became a duke in September 1695.

In 1692 Boufflers was present at the first siege of Namur, where he was responsible for one of the attacks. He was also present at the battle of Steenkerken where his detachment managed to reach the battlefield in time. In 1693 Boufflers got the honor of commanding one of the Flanders armies which would be joined by Louis XIV in person. This happened on 2 June 1693 and the army then marched to the vicinity of Namur. Here they found the King of England entrenched near the abbey of Parc and Louis XIV changed his design. As a consequence Boufflers got to command an army of 30 battalions and 60 squadrons that was sent to Philipsburg under the crown prince. However, not much was achieved there. In 1694 Boufflers was destined to command the smaller of the two armies in Flanders while De Luxembourg commanded the largest. These armies were however joined in August.

4.1 Boufflers defends Namur

In 1695 Boufflers had feared for Namur, and taken care to provide it with the means to withstand a siege. When King William executed this design in July Boufflers rushed to get into the city. He succeeded in entering the city by the last open gate, entering it with seven dragoon regiments and some engineers. This brought the total garrison to over 15,000 men. Conducted by Coehoorn the siege did not go well for Boufflers and the city capitulated on 4 August, 24 days after the trenches had been opened. The citadel held out longer, but Boufflers was forced to hand this over too, and exited it on 5 September. Afterwards there was hefty criticism of Boufflers' conduct as well of the conduct of the engineers which had repaired the fortifications after the 1692 siege. After exiting the citadel a famous incident occurred in which Boufflers was arrested by the Dutch. The grounds were that the French were violating treaties by refusing to exchange the garrisons of Deinze and Dixmuiden. Boufflers was therefore first conducted back to Namur, and then to Huy. Here he received his appointment as Duke de Boufflers, and soon the exchange of the garrisons was also achieved. At his arrival back in Versailles on 21 September Boufflers got applauded from all sides.

In 1696 Boufflers again got the smaller Flanders army to command, but nothing much happened that year. In 1697 Boufflers got the honor to open negotiations while in the field. In July he held five small conferences with Portland near Halle. These were continued in August and on 11 September the last was held. These negotiations finally led to the peace of Rijswijk that same year.

5 Boufflers between the wars

In 1698 Boufflers got the honorable task of commanding the camp at Compiègne under the Duke of Burgundy. It was to be a spectacle to impress Europe and to acquaint this young prince with the army. Because the king had pressed everyone to do his best all indeed exerted themselves, and none more so then Boufflers. He spent an outrageous amount of money on making a good impression by the order and beauty of his troops and by lavishing fantastic dinners on all visitors. The camp also performed a mock siege and battle and the king was very satisfied with the affair. It cost Boufflers a lot of money, but surely didn't hurt his credit with the king.

6 Boufflers during the War of the Spanish Succession

6.1 Boufflers as highest commander

During the War of the Spanish Succession Boufflers started out as commander of the northern army in 1701. As explained on the main page about French generals, this was a direct result of him being the highest ranking Marshal of France at the time. Only a disgrace could have changed this appointment. In this 'first' campaign Boufflers aptly performed the removal of the Dutch forces from the barrier towns and did not have to fight.

6.2 Ineffective campaigns in Flanders

Hostilities were opened in 1702 with Boufflers first fighting Athlone and Saarbrücken in the Kaiserswerth campaign. After Kaiserswerth had been lost Boufflers had to face Marlborough. In maneuvers near Peer, Eindhoven and Helchteren he did not succeed in preventing the loss of Venlo, Roermond and Stevensweert. After that he did not succeed in preventing the loss of Liège. Versailles was not pleased, and so Villeroy was sent to command over him in the next campaign. In 1703 Boufflers fought the battle of Ekeren and though the French propaganda advertized it as a victory, Boufflers' subsequent removal from active command told a diferent tale.

6.3 Disgrace

So the campaign of 1703 put an end to Boufflers' active career in the army. In 1703 it was quite logical that Versailles took this decision to dismiss Boufflers. For decades the French had been dominant in Flanders. Two campaigns under Boufflers had however led to the loss of vast stretches of territory, and Boufflers had never proven his ability with a victory in open battle. One can imagine that for some time society regarded Boufflers as the one to blame for the reverses of the war in Flanders.

During his disgrace Boufflers saw the epicenter of the war shift to Germany in 1704. That year the real disasters of the French army began with the defeat at Blenheim. Boufflers' successor in Flanders seemed to lose control after the Lines of Brabant were broken in 1705, but got another chance. Next Villeroy suffered a terrible defeat at Ramillies and was also disgraced. The subsequent disaster before Turin saw Marsin dead, La Feuillade disgraced and the Duke of Orléans retired. In 1707 Vendome did well, but in 1708 he and the Duke of Burgundy were defeated at Oudenaarde.

6.4 Rehabilitation

The defeat of Oudenaarde made it possible that Lille would be besieged. Boufflers was governor of the place and had previous experience in commanding a city under siege. He therefore asked the king for permission to go to Lille and to command the garrison. This was granted, and so Boufflers got a second chance to serve. He profited from it by performing a long and stead fast defense of the city.

After the siege of Lille had brought about his rehabilitation, Boufflers offered to serve as a volunteer under Villars in 1709. In the battle of Malplaquet he took over command after Villars had been wounded. He succeeded in retreating from the battlefield without losing any guns or prisoners. This indeed proved to be his final rehabilitation. After Lille Boufflers had been accepted back as a soldier. After Malplaquet he was again a Marshal of France. Boufflers died at Fontainebleau on 22 August 1711.

7 Generalship of Boufflers

Boufflers should be ranked among the capable generals. At least his armies didn't suffer any major disasters. One can wonder whether he lacked initiative and daring. In the Kaiserswerth campaign he attacked Athlone and Tilly with a substantial majority, but he was just a bit too slow both times and failed to lift the siege. The same can be said about the Eindhoven affair where he seemed not to dare enough at the crucial moment.

All in all Boufflers' defensive strategy in 1702 led to the loss of a lot of territory. One can therefore wonder whether he could have acted differently. In 1703 he did, and the battle of Ekeren probably showed what would have happened. At Ekeren the combined Bourbon armies had outmanouvered the Dutch, but in the actual fight this huge advantage was lost. The Spanish Netherlands battalions lacked the experience and training to defeat the Dutch, and in the end the Dutch broke the encirclement with an unlikely cavalry charge. One can wonder what would have happened if Boufflers' armies had fought such a battle on the Rhine or near Eindhoven. Most probably the slightest mishap would have ended in the complete dissolution of his army.

Therefore I would hesitate to judge Boufflers' skills on his conduct in 1702 and 1703. Perhaps he knew quite well that his army lacked the quality to operate more aggressively. When it did so in 1703 and 1706 it was severely beaten.

8 Career and Service record

Career

  • 1669: Commander of the Dragons de Roy
  • 1672: 21 June Marquis de Boufflers
  • 1675: Brigadier of dragoons
  • 1677: Maréchal de Camp
  • 1678: 26 August Colonel général des Dragons
  • 1681: Lieutenant-General
  • 1686: Aug. Governor of Luxemburg
  • 1693: 27 March Maréchal de France
  • 1694: Governor of Lille and French Flanders
  • 1695: Becomes a duke after the defense of Namur
  • 1697: As negotiator prepares the peace of Rijswijk with Portland

Service record

  • 1667: Campaigning in Flanders
  • 1670: Participates in the occupation of Lorraine
  • 1672: Present in the campaign against the United Provinces
  • 1674: 4 Oct.; fights in the battle of Entzheim
  • 1691: Captures Mons
  • 1692: Leads one of the attacks against Namur
  • 1692: Present at the battle of Steenkerken
  • 1693: 7 January takes the fortress of Veurne after a short siege
  • 1695: Commanding Namur he surrenders it after a long defense
  • 1702: Boufflers marches to Nijmegen, but outmaneuvered by Marlborough he loses the Spanish Netherlands north of Maastricht and Liege
  • 1708: Commands Lille and only surrenders after a successful defense
  • 1709: Chosen to command in Flanders but is to ill to do so, therefore Villars is appointed instead, he later goes to Flanders to help Villars.
  • 1709: Heads the retreat from Malplaquet after Villars was wounded.

9 Sources

There are some old biographies of the Duc de Boufflers. The Chronologie Historique-militaire by Pinard has 8 volumes and has about 8 pages on Boufflers in volume 3, published in 1761. The Dictionnaire Historique et Biographique des Généraux Français volume 2, published in 1820 added some data and explanation. The Catalogue historique des Généreaux Français by Laroque 1896 has much less. In 1860 the Vie du Maréchal de Boufflers by M.F. appeared. It's based on rather superficial research and did not add much.

This biography relies on these sources for the later parts of of Boufflers' life, and backs the early parts with some evidence.

10 Notes

1) Pinard page 82
2) Pinard page 82 for Boufflers and Susane for the Royal-Dragons participating
3) The raid on Ameide and Boufflers participation in Suite de Mercure Hollandois page 210.
4) For Boufflers participation in the raid on Bodegraven and Zwammerdam Suite de Mercure Hollandois page 255.
5) Boufflers fighting near Nigtevecht Hollandse Mercurius for 1673 under February page 30.
6) Boufflers in the battle of Entzheim Mémoires des deux dernieres campagnes de Turenne page 117.
7) Boufflers fighting at Entzheim Hollandse Mercurius for 1674 under February page 206.
8) Boufflers as brigadier of dragoons in March 1675 Mercure Hollandois for 1675 under March page 154. '..en qualité de brigadiers des dragons, ... & le marqiuis de Boufflers.'
9) Boufflers wounded in the fights near Salzbach Mercure Hollandois for 1675-1676 under July 1675 page 381.
10) Maréchal de Camp Boufflers written 'Bouflairs'in the siege of Freiburg Suite du Mercure Hollandois volume 6 page 170.
11) Boufflers written 'Bouflairs' moving to Rheinfelden Le Mercure Hollandois for 1678 page 450, and to Seckingen 8 July
12) For the appointment as Colonel General of dragoons we know that the previous colonel general Marquis de Rannes was killed on 13/15 July 1678
13) The enterprise on Casale Le Mercure Hollandois for 1681 page 312
14) Boufflers near Brussel in January 1684 Le Mercure Hollandois for 1684 page 213
15) Journal de Dangeau for 2 May 1685 for his march to Mariembourg
16) Letter by Louvois to Boufflers 7 September 1685: "Le roi a appris avec une très-grande joie, quel a été le surprenant succès de l'execution des ordres qu'il vous avait donné..."
17) Journal de Dangeau for 4 August 1686 for Boufflers' appointment as governor of Luxemburg.
18) Journal de Dangeau for 23 July and 5 November 1687 for Boufflers' appointment in Lorraine and the province of Luxemburg.