Francois de Neufville duc de Villeroy
1643- 18 July 1730
Background and family of Villeroy
According to Saint Simon Villeroy's grandfather was a trader in fresh fish on markets. His father did however make a career and became secretary of state. This Nicolas de Neufville, count of Villeroy and pair of France married Madeleine de Créquy and so our Villeroy was born. What was probably even more important than the standing of his father was the fact that his father became governor of Louis XIV. As son of Louis' governor Villeroy grew up with the king and always held his favor. He would be with the king on all his campaigns and in all his pleasures1.
Career up to becoming a Lieutenant General
At the age of 19 Villeroy made his first campaign in Hungary in 16642. Here he was present at the battle of St. Gotthard, where he wounded at his arm. In 1667 he was colonel of the Lyonnais regiment and in this capacity he followed the king to Flanders. Here he witnessed the sieges of Douai, Tournai and Lille. In 1673 he was at the German front under Turenne. As a Maréchal de Camp he then took part in the second conquest of Franche Comté in 1674. In 1677 Villeroy distinguished himself at the sieges of Condé and Bouchain. For this he was rewarded that same year when he was appointed as Lieutenant General and member of the order of St. Louis3.
Villeroy during the war of the League of Augsburg
During the war of the League of Augsburg Villeroy served in Germany and Flanders before signaling himself again. He did this at the battle of Steenkirk and the siege of Namur in 1692. He was rewarded in 1693 by being made a Maréchal de France and knight of the order of Saint Louis. As a Maréchal de France his first acts of renown were the taking of Huy and Charleroi in 1693. These probably promoted him to the command of the Flanders army in 1695. Though his results were not that good that year, he was probably not to blame for them, and continued to grow in the favor of the king and Madame de Maintenon.
Villeroy in Italy
During the Spanish Succession War Villeroy started out by commanding on the Upper Rhine in 1701, but later in 1701 he came to command in Italy. In describing Villeroy's behavior in Italy Voltaire indicates that Villeroy was probably quite haughty: 'He made (Victor Amadeus of Savoy) feel that a favorite of Louis XIV heading a strong army was in fact higher in rank than a prince. He only addressed him as Mons. de Savoie. He treated him as a general in French pay, and not as the sovereign master of the barriers that nature had put between France and Italy. The friendship of this sovereign was not managed as well as was necessary. Versailles thought that fear was the sole tie that kept him in check, and that the French army that continually surrounded the six or seven thousand Piemontese soldiers answered for his fidelity. Marshall Villeroy treated with him as his equal in daily affairs, bus as his inferior in command. The Duke of Savoy had the empty title of généralissime, but Field Marshal Villeroy was the actual commander.'
After some maneuvering Villeroy then ordered an attack on Prince Eugen at his post at Chiari on the river Oglio on 11 September 1701: 'The senior officers advised that it was contrary to all principles of war to attack this post. There reasons were the following: it was a position of no value whatsoever, its entrenchments would be insurmountable, France would gain nothing by taking it, and if one failed France would lose reputation in this campaign. Villeroy told the Duke of Savoy that they had to march, and sent an ADC to Catinat with orders to attack. Catinat let the order be repeated three times before saying: "Well then sirs, we have to obey". The troops marched to the entrenchments: the Duke of Savoy fought like a man content with France and at the head of his troops while Catinat sought to get himself killed, but was wounded. While wounded Catinat saw the king's troop retreat, and seeing that Villeroy did not give any orders he ordered the retreat4.' After this Catinat left the army and went to Versailles to answer for his conduct, but did not complain about anyone. Villeroy stayed and was captured in Cremona at the start of 1702.
His actions later on
After his release from Austrian captivity Villeroy was given a second chance in Flanders in 1703, but this had a lot to do with the fact that the king was disappointed by the achievements of his predecessor. In 1704 he started with a command in Flanders and then followed the allied march to the Danube on a parallel course. In 1705 he lost the battle for the Brabant Lines but did not suffer any major reverses. The year 1706 would however prove to be his downfall. That year he lost the battle of Ramillies and fell from grace. On his return to Versailles the king then produced the nice quote: 'Mister Field Marshal, one is not lucky anymore at our age!5'
Villeroy after Ramillies
After Ramillies Villeroy would command no more. He did however continue a civil career and was president of the Royal Council of Finance. Later on the king's testament named him governor of Louis XV. This was remarkable because the father of Villeroy had been governor or Louis XIV. He would also become a member of the regency council and this position gave him a lot of power.
Again according to Voltaire The enemies of Villeroy said that while in command he was more occupied with the honors and pleasures of commanding then with planning like a grand general. They also accused him of being overly attached to his own opinions and never to ceding to advice. Voltaire stated that Villeroy was a man with an agreeable and imposing figure, very brave, a good friend, sincere in his relations, honnête homme and in short a very magnificent man. This probably aided Villeroy in being successful as a courtier, and in this environment he was more tactful: When M. du Maine ruined a battle by not following his orders Villeroy was as tactful as not to point to Du Maine as the culprit.
As a general Villeroy was certainly not brilliant, but is not necessarily that bad. With only a few successful sieges he lacks brilliant victories on his track record and has a great stain on it incurred by the defeat of Ramillies. Perhaps a characteristic of his generalship can be found in a lack of reconnaissance and communication meaning he got surprised quite often. At Chiari the French troops seem not to have been aware of how heavily Eugen was entrenched. At the Lines of Brabant he was not aware of the allied countermarch and only informed long after the lines had been broken. At the IJssche he was badly outmaneuvered, and at Ramillies he seems also not to have been aware of what the allies were doing. One can however also look at Chiari in another way: Villeroy was also a courtier and came to Italy in 1701 with orders to perform an offensive, and thus attacked Chiari even though Catinat warned him against it. When the attack on Chiari turned into a great slaughter of his troops by the Imperialists, the communication and control-thing comes up again: it seems Catinat had to put an end to the fight by ordering the retreat.
- 1664: Or before, appointed as colonel of the Lyonnais regiment
- 1674: Or before, appointed as maréchal de camp
- 1677: Appointed as Lieutenant General
- 1677: 31 December admitted to the order of St. Louis
- 1693: 27 May Maréchal de France
- 1693: June, Chevalier of the order of Saint Louis
- 16xx: Becomes captain of the Gardes du Corps after the death of Luxembourg
- 1706: Loses his command in the French army
- 1715: Appointed governor of the Dauphin
- 1730: Dies in Paris
- 1664: Goes on his first campaign in Hungary
- 1664: Present in the batle of the Saint Gotthard
- 1667: Present at the sieges of Douai, Tournai and Lille
- 1673: Present at the German front
- 1674: Present in the second conquest of Franche-Comté
- 1692: June Distinguishes himself at the siege of Namur
- 1692: August present at Steenkirk
- 1693: Takes Huy in three days
- 1693: October, takes Charleroi after a siege
- 1695: Commander of the French army in Flanders, outmaneuvered by the allied army. On the other hand Saint Simon says that Vaudemont escaped him on July 14th because of the acts of the prince de Maine, and that the fall of Namur (August 4) could be blamed on the prince de Maine.
- 1695: Bombards Brussel and thereby greatly influences the way this city looks nowadays
- 169?: Supreme commander in Italy against Eugen
- 1701: Loses the battle of Chiari in Italy
- 1702: Captured early in the season by Eugen during his raid on Cremona, succeeded by Vendome.
- 1704: May marches south with 21,000 men as a reaction to Marlborough's march south. Leaves Bedmar with 25,000 against Ouwerkerk.
- 1704: July; crosses the Rhine in support of Tallard's march to Villingen.
- 1704: August saves the remnants of Marsin and the elector by marching to Villingen on his own initiative.
- 1705: Commanding in the Low Countries, but does not achieve much there.
- 1706: May, suffers a terrible defeat at Ramillies, and is relieved of command.
|1) See the memoirs of Villars p. 414: 'Le Roi avoit un grand goût pour lui, et d'autant plus fort qu'il avoit été élevé auprès de Sa Majesté comme fils de son gouverneur. Cette amitié, conçue dès la première jeunesse, étoit devenue comme naturelle; peut-être même auroit-elle effacé l'inclination du Roi pou M. le Rochefoucauld, si le grande assiduité de celui-ci et les galanteries de l'autre, qui ne lui permettoient pas la même exactitude, n'avoient donné au duc de La Rochefoucault un air de supérioriorité dans la faveur.'|
|2) See La Roque page 128 for this and a biography from which this and part of the folowing paragraph originate|
|3) At least this is how I interpret 'ses ordres' of Louis XIV in La Roque|
|4) Taken from Voltaire|
|5) 'Monsieur le Maréchal, on n'est plus heureux a notre age!'|