Detailed plan of the Battle of Fontenoy
[Desin en Blanc de la Bataille de Fontenoy].
- Physical description: Manuscript plan in pen and ink, dissected and mounted on linen.
- Dimensions: 250 by 390mm. (9.75 by 15.25 inches).
- Inventory reference: 2718
The Battle of Fontenoy, 11 May 1745, was a major engagement of the War of the Austrian Succession, fought between the forces of the Pragmatic Allies – comprising mainly Dutch, British, and Hanoverian troops under the command of the Duke of Cumberland – and a French army under Maurice de Saxe, commander of King Louis XV’s forces in the Low Countries. The battle is notable for several reasons. It was one of the most important in the war, and for the French a famous victory and the masterpiece of Marshal Saxe; the French Monarch Louis XV and his son the Dauphin were present on the field. Napoleon I later declared that the victory at Fontenoy prolonged the Ancien Régime monarchy in France by 30 years.
Saxe went on the offensive in April 1745 with a large French army, looking to build on the previous year’s gains. His initial aim was to take control of the upper Scheldt basin and thereby gain access to the heart of the Austrian Netherlands. To these ends, he first pounced on the fortress of Tournai, protecting the siege with his main force about 5 miles south-east of the town. In order to relieve Tournai, the Allies first decided to attack Saxe’s position – a naturally strong feature, hinged on the village of Fontenoy and further strengthened by defensive works. After failing to make progress on the flanks – the Dutch on the left, Brigadier Ingolsby’s brigade on the right – Cumberland decided to smash his way through the centre without securing the flanks of his main attack. Despite devastating flanking fire the Allied column, made up of British and Hanoverian infantry, burst through the French lines to the point of victory. Only when Saxe concentrated all available infantry, cavalry, and artillery was the column forced to yield. The Allies retreated in good order, conducting a fighting withdrawal. The battle had shown, however, the strength of a defensive force relying on firepower and a strong reserve.
Casualties were high on both sides, but the French had gained the field, and Tournai fell shortly after the battle. This success was followed by a rapid advance against the less organised and outnumbered Allied army: Ghent, Oudenarde, Bruges, Dendermonde soon fell to French forces. The British army’s withdrawal to England to deal with the Jacobite Rebellion facilitated the French capture of the strategically important ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort, threatening Britain’s links to the Low Countries. By the year’s end, Saxe had completed the conquest of much of the Austrian Netherlands, and with his successes he became a national hero in his adopted country. The battle had established the French superiority in force and high command.
Charles Louis d’Albert de Luynes (1717–1771) was a French nobleman and member of the House of Albert. He was the fifth Duke of Luynes as well as Duke of Chevreuse.
He took part in the war in 1733 in the War of the Polish Succession. He also took part in campaigns in 1735 and 1745, the latter in the War of the Austrian Succession, and was injured in combat at Sahay at the head of the Dragoons. He participated in the attack of Prague in 1742, and also assisted in various sieges and battles of the era.
In 1754, he was created a Colonel General of the Dragoons. From 1757 to 1771, he was the Gouverneur de Paris (Military governor of Paris), an ancient and prestigious rank representing the king in the capital. He also was created a Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit at Versailles on 2 February 1759.
He died in Paris in his Hôtel. He was buried at the Chapelle de Saint Jean l’Évangeliste at the Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris.