The thirds of Carlos II against the France of Luis XIV


The death of Pedro de Acuña and Meneses, Marquis of Assentar, in the battle of Seneffe, is an excellent example of the sacrifices to which the soldiers of Charles II, the last Spanish monarch of the Habsburg dynasty, were subjected in their struggle against the France of Louis XIV. Born in Portugal at the beginning of the 17th century, Acuña remained loyal to Felipe IV when the Portuguese uprising of 1640 took place and he had to flee to Castile. From Spain he went to Italy, where he was field master of the Third of Savoy (1655-1659) -had a prominent role in the victorious defense of Pavia (1655) and the battle of Fontana Santa (1656) – and the Third of Lombardy ( 1659-1662). He was governor of Novara (1662-1665) and Ceuta (1665-1672). The outbreak of the Dutch War in 1673 motivated his appointment as field master of the Army of Flanders. He was second in command behind the governor of the Netherlands. The Spanish intervention in the War of the Netherlands showed how much the international situation had changed after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which had put an end to the Thirty Years' War and in which the Spanish Monarchy recognized the independence of the Dutch Republic. In 1672, Louis XIV launched a surprise invasion against Holland that brought the republic to the brink of collapse. The Spanish intervention in 1673 proved providential for the former rebellious subjects of the monarchy, who together with Charles II and Emperor Leopold I formed a coalition to contain French expansionism.

The "bloodiest"

In the summer of 1674, an imperial contingent was added to the Spanish army of Flanders and to the forces of the United Provinces to expel from Flemish soil the French army commanded by the Prince de Condé, the celebrated victor of Rocroi (1643) and Lens (1648). On August 11, while the allies marched between Nivelles and Mons to try to pass the French position in Trazegnies, the veteran Condé, always aggressive, launched a devastating attack. The "most bitter and bloody battle that the States of Flanders have seen in many centuries" began, according to a Spanish official who participated in the action. 62,000 allies fought against 44,200 French. The march ran through a wooded lot full of ravines, so the veteran Marquis de Assentar was fatalistic. "If we get out of this we have to work miracles, but I am very afraid of a shame; but they do not allow me to exercise my trade and so I will not be responsible for what happens, "he told one of his officers, referring to the discord of his army. The crash of cannon fire and musketry was audible, and soon a Dutch officer appeared, announcing that the whole rearguard was disbanded, pursued by the French. "We saw all the cavalry of Vaudemont fleeing, without their crowd and the confusion with which it was given to redo itself, and the narrowness and poor quality of the land, ran over most of our rear," said the officer Spanish. The catastrophe seemed imminent. The chronicler Félix de Lucio Espinosa y Malo tells what happened: "While the Marquis de Assentar was watching this event, he asked for some infantry (…), and seeing the French, he advanced five or six large infantry battalions and one of cavalry, taking our backs to ours, with which they began to decompose, seeing themselves so quickly attacked, although the Marquis of Assent did with great courage and effort everything he could to put them in order, and fought with so much boldness and so extraordinary courage, that he left the life with seven wounds that received attending the front of the infantry ». The allies were expelled from Saint Nicolas and the lifeless body of the marquis remained in the hands of the French, who returned him to be buried with honors. The clash came to a head and led to 14,000 casualties between the two armies: "This year it gave a bloody harvest in those fields, being one of the most memorable battles that in many years have been seen in Europe."

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The not so outdated armies of the last Austria

After the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) with France, the armies of the Hispanic Monarchy seem to merge into a nebula of uncertainty. The France of Luis XIV, thanks to armed forces in constant expansion thanks to its effective intendants, consolidated the Gallic military hegemony and forced the Spain of Charles II to redefine its role in Europe. In the same way that until the Peace of Westphalia (1648) only the great coalitions had managed to stop the Spanish Monarchy, in the second half of the XVII century only the alliance with the Holy Roman Empire, the United Provinces and England could contain French expansionism . The Hispanic weakness in political and economic terms did not stop affecting their armies, always lacking in indispensable elements to make war, as men and money. It was, nevertheless, an armies that, far from the myth that presents them as outdated and ineffective forces, managed to adapt with relative success to the tactical, armament and organizational transformations of the period, and, above all, that they maintained the integrity of the monarchy of Charles II, who could thus leave his extensive empire intact to Philip V. Despite the decline, the Hispanic Monarchy achieved milestones such as self-sufficiency in the manufacture of weapons, the creation of specialized military academies such as Brussels, germ indisputable of the future Corps of Engineers, or the formation of one of the best chivalry in Europe, praised by both allies and enemies. And Carlos II, of course, did not lack men willing to fight to the ultimate consequences.

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