This is James Falkner's new book on one of the outstanding commanders of the 18th century. In Falkner's view, he is in the military genius category. Prince Eugene in the Balkans was the GDWS theme for display games at the Scottish wargame shows back in 2006. So I collected the armies for the main battles at Zenta, Peterwardein and Belgrade. Although I have one that claims to be, Eugene left no memoirs, and there hasn't been a biography of him since McKay (1977) and Henderson (1964).
James Falkner is the leading historian of the Malburian wars, and Eugene's partnership with Marlborough is how most people think of the Prince. However, there is much more to his military career than Blenheim. I am very familiar with his campaigns against the Ottomans in the Balkans, but less so his Italian campaigns that Falkner also covers.
Even by 18th century pre-nationalist standards, Eugene's climb to fame is extraordinary. He was born in Paris and wanted to join the French army. Only when Louis refused did he join the Habsburgs. It always reminds me of football clubs who release a striker who goes on to glory elsewhere! For an outsider, he was remarkably appointed to command the army in the East at the very young age of 33. Then in 1703, he was appointed President of the Imperial War Council, directing the Austrian war effort on several fronts until he died in 1736.
Several themes run through his service with the Habsburgs. The main one was finance. He was frequently asked to perform miracles with armies that were too small for the task and rarely paid on time. Like Marlborough, he also needed diplomatic skills to keep coalitions together, although he appears to have been less skilled at managing court politics.
There are chapters on campaigns that I wasn't familiar with. These include the march to Turin in 1706, moving his army 250 miles in a passage of arms the equivalent of Marlborough's march to the Danube. The victory was achieved with a force almost half that of the French. Even if less successful, he pulled off another remarkable attack on Toulon against his better judgement the following year.
Unlike some western historians, Falkner does not ignore the Balkan campaigns. The first campaign culminated in the Battle of Zenta in 1697. Some 20,000 Ottoman troops, including the Grand Vizier and the Aga of the Janissaries, were slaughtered, and a further 10,000 drowned. Eugene’s army claimed only 300 dead. This victory was decisive and led to the Treaty of Karlowitz 1699, in which the Habsburgs gained all of Hungary and Transylvania except the Banat of Temesvar.
The second campaign included the relief of Peterwardein and the capture of Belgrade, the key jumping-off point for Ottoman offensives into Hungary and Austria. Even with these campaigns, Falkner digs out some details I hadn't read before. For example, Austrian deserters captured at Belgrade were impaled on Eugene's orders. Campaigning in the east was a more savage affair all round.
By the end of Eugene's period in office, the Habsburg lands had significantly expanded, although expensively bought gains in Italy and the Netherlands would be challenging to sustain. Not least because the finances were not in place. While two million gulden could be found for court costs, the army across the empire had to make do with just eight million.
This is a compelling story of an outstanding military leader. The Frenchman who became an unlikely Austrian hero.
|Austrian infantry facing Ottoman skirmishers