Louis-Joseph de Bourbon duc de Vendome
The duc de Vendôme was a very highranking man in France. He descended from a bastard son of Henri IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées, and was like King Louis XIV a grandson of Henri IV. It is said of Vendome that he could have had much more success than he did had he been forced to fight for something instead of getting everything handed on a silver platter. In short Vendome was a man of many talents but can also be said to be undisciplined, hot-tempered, apt to laziness and lacking in constancy. Thus going from apathy to overactivity. He was also a very dirty man and of very distasteful habits. Saint Simon also states that Vendome was of the 'inhabitants of the cities of the plain', which is a reference to Sodom and Gomorra and thus of homosexual acts, and that ambitious young officers knew how to get promoted in his army.
His skills as a commander
Vendome was an excellent general as we can see from his service record. The aspect of his service that is not directly visible from this record is that he was perhaps a bit unlucky in constantly facing the best of the allied generals. First Prince Eugen in Italy, then Starhemberg and Victor Amadeus in Italy, then the Duke of Marlborough in Flanders in 1707 and Marlborough and Eugen again in 1708. One cannot say Vendome ever got a significant victory over these, but on the other hand one can not say that they were able to gain a significant victory against Vendome. Vendome's 1707 Flanders campaign against Marlborough for instance was not marked by a French victory, but it stands out as the only Flanders campaign where Marlborough got absolutely nothing. At the beginning of 1708 Vendome thus had the reputation of being the only French general able to face Eugen and Marlborough.
In the spring of 1708 Vendome then seemed about to crown his career when the Flanders army under titular command of the Duke of Burgundy succeeded in reconquering Brugge and Gent. In stead of crowning his career however, the ensuing Battle of Oudenaarde and subsequent Siege of Lille would break his career. The central problem in appraising Vendome's conduct at Oudenaarde however is that one can seriously doubt whether Burgundy was still only the titular commander at this battle (see the description of this battle). To me it appears that Burgundy was in command and that (as most writers agree) the outcome of the battle could have been very different had Burgundy not hindered the prompt engagement of the whole French army. The fact that Vendome was unable to redress the rotten command structure does not say that much about his capacities as a commander. I think one can say that having Burgundy in the army was even worse then what Marlborough had to endure from the Dutch field deputies before he gained their trust. I think it is best to compare Vendome's predicament at Oudenaarde to a hypothetical battle where Vendome and Villars cooperate in fighting Marlborough, who is assisted by Prince George of Denmark, who overrules him now and then.
Anyhow, Vendome fell from grace after Oudenaerde, giving the duke of Saint Simon, who clearly hated Vendome, ample opportunity to scold him some more. Though not much was thought about him by both Churchill and Saint Simon, Felipe V thought differently and constantly begged Lois XIV to send him over. When finally sent there he 'restored' his reputation by his very important victories at Brihuega and Villaviciosa. These victories were decisive in stabilising Philip V's hold on the Spanish Throne and had a big influence on the peace talks that were held at the time. Upon his death in 1712 he was interred in Spain.
Just like any other great commander Vendome was skillfull enough not to make great mistakes in the conduct of a battle. His greatest asset as a commander was that the common soldier respected and trusted him, meaning his army would fight with confidence, willing to go the extra mile because it trusted his leadership. In a battle on equal terms this would mean that Vendome had a good chance of beating anyone because of a higher morale. The minusses of his command could be described as neglecting logistics, neglecting preparations and neglecting details, meaning he would unnecessarily loose soldiers before, after or even during a battle. All this means that to me Vendome does belong on the short list of great commanders of the Spanish Succession War, though he is not on the top of this list.
- 1677: Brigadier
- 1678: Maréchal de Camp = Major General
- 1681: Governor of the Provence
- 1688: Lieutenant General
- 1694: General of the Galleys
- 1672: Present in the Dutch campaign
- 1676: Present at the siege of Condé
- 1677: Present at the siege of Cambrai
- 1691: Distinguishes himself at the siege of Mons
- 1692: Distinguishes himself at the siege of Namur
- 1693: Commanding in Italy under Catinat
- 1693: October 4, present at battle of Marsaglia under Catinat
- 1695: Supreme Commander in Catalonia
- 1697: Captures Barcelona
- 1702: Succeeds to the command in Italy after Villeroy had been captured in Cremona.
- 1702: August; suffers a minor defeat against Eugen at the battle of Luzarra, despite having the superior terrain and numbers.
- 1703: Invades Tirol from the south and bombards Trento
- 1704: Campaings against Savoy
- 1704: May: takes Vercelli
- 1704: September: Forces the surrender of Ivrea
- 1705: August: Undecided battle against Eugen at Cassano
- 1706: April: victorious against the imperialists at Calcinato
- 1708: Opens the Flanders campaign successfully with the capture of Gent and Brugge
- 1708: Together but probably under Burgundy Vendome loses the battle of Oudenaerde and falls from grace.
- 1710: Summoned to command in Spain at Felipe V's request
- 1710: December, victorious at Brihuega and Villaviciosa