Godard van Reede heer van Ginkel, Amerongen en Middachten, Count Athlone

1644 - 11 February 1703

Athlone's Background

Athlone was a member of the Utrecht nobility, and one of William III's men. In 1691 he commanded the English army in Ireland and succeeded in reconquering it for the English crown. This brought him the titles 1st earl of Athlone and baron of Aughrim. He also got huge estates that were forfeited by their owners' betrayal to the crown, but these were later revoked, probably because he was not English enough for parliament.

Athlone during the Spanish Succession War

When the Dutch started to fight in 1702 they had split their army in 4 major parts. One of the strongest was under Athlone near Roosendaal while the one under the overall commander Nassau Saarbrücken was near Cologne. With William III gone the coordination and communication between these forces was shaky at best. This led to Athlone's first major action being a very hasty march to the vicinity of Kleve in order to support Tilly who almost got caught by Boufflers. Next came Boufflers' attempt to destroy Athlone's army on 10 June. In contemporary French propaganda this is known as the 'victory' of Nijmegen and in English nationalistic propaganda as an event where a clumsy Athlone nearly had his army destroyed and was only saved by the guns of Nijmegen.

In fact Athlone retreated his army of 27 battalions and 62 squadrons1 before a superior force of 37 battalions and 59 squadrons with 19 battalions and 41 squadrons on their way to join it. This march indeed ended with his army marching into the works of Nijmegen and his cavalry posting itself on the counterscarp. Considering that the garrison of Nijmegen amounted to only two battalions with only 1! gunner present this destination was however not only logical but also necessary to cover this important city. Even though the United Provinces were alarmed by the appearance of Boufflers they therefore applauded Athlone for performing a justified and organized retreat.

On 25 June the States General held a conference in The Hague were it was decided that Marlborough would be the commander in chief of the united English and Dutch armies for the next phase of the campaign, though be it with a lot of limitations. Before this conference Saarbrücken had conveniently asked for leave and so it fell to Athlone to command the Dutch part of the united army that was assembling near Nijmegen. The campaign then saw Marlborough and Athlone working together quite well in the beginning and both making an effort to operate harmoniously. There were however a lot of reasons why they would get into conflict. First of all the command structure was very complicated and would by itself give rise to conflicts. Secondly Athlone was a man given to rule by consensus and liked to reconsider earlier decisions while Marlborough was for resolute action. Thirdly the Dutch generals considered Marlborough to be inexperienced and were not inclined to take his judgment at face value. By October 1702 Geldermalsen would note: 'il est impossible de esprimer avec quel mépris il (i.e. Marlborough) juge du conte d'Athlone2'

For the siege of Venlo Saarbrücken returned to the service in September, but this didn't seem to diminish Athlone's standing. He continued as commander of the Dutch part of the united armies that first covered the siege of Venlo and then that of Roermond and Stevensweert. The campaign ended in October 1702 with the conquest of Liége where Athlone had to endure the fact that Marlborough did not allow him to sign the capitulation on behalf of the alliance army. Meanwhile Saarbrücken died on 17 October 1702 at Roermond and Athlone was named Marshal on 19 October. Athlone did not enjoy this appointment very long because he died on 11 February 1703 in Utrecht.

Generalship of Athlone

As a general Athlone certainly does not feature in any list of great commanders, he should however be on a list of capable commanders. He won the major battle of Aughrim that decided affairs in Ireland, conquered some towns and was never defeated. A further plus is that his hasty retreat to Nijmegen did not end in a rout like most tend to do. Minuses are that his irresolute behavour tended to irritate not only Marlborough, but also Saarbrücken and Geldermalsen. Furthermore he did not organize his reconnaissance very well and in 1702 failed to properly communicate with the other army corpses.




1) For these numbers see Berwick page 413.
2) Letter by Geldermalsen to Heinsius 14 October 1702 RGP 158 page 479