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Sunday, 29 December 2013

"Marshal of France" by Jon Manchip White

I have just finished this book. It is:

"MARSHAL OF FRANCE, The Life and Times of Maurice, Comte de Saxe (1696 - 1750)", the author is Jon Manchip White, published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd. in 1962. I bought it through Abe Books.

Many years ago I was told that French children are taught about Joan of Arc and her victories but nothing about the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt. I don't know if this is true or not but I know that in my Grammar School in the late sixties, we were taught about Marlborough and his victories (but not about Eugene), Wolfe and Wellington. The War of the Austrian Succession was not on the syllabus. It was a great surprise to me when, about five years ago, I came across an English translation of "Fontenoy" by Denis Gandilhon and learnt of Maurice de Saxe's great victory over the Pragmatic Army led by the Duke of Cumberland.

I knew of de Saxe as he was one of only four Marshals of France who were given the ultimate accolade a non-noble could achieve in Regal France, (the others being Turenne, de Villars and Soult), so I hunted down this biography.

Maurice de Saxe, painted by Jean-Étienne Liotard

De Saxe was born in the North German town of Goslar on 26th October, 1696. In German, he is Graf Hermann Moritz von Sachsen. He was the illegitimate son of Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony and Countess Maria Aurora of Konigsmarck, a Swedish countess. Maurice inherited his father's great physical strength and stature as shown in the Liotard portrait above.

Maurice de Saxe joined the ranks of the Saxon forces in Spring 1709, at the age of 12. This was the Saxon contingent that joined the forces of Marlborough and Eugene fighting against the French, first in the siege of Tournai and then at the Battle of Malplaquet, a bloodbath the memory of which stayed with him for the rest of his military career.

In the 1710's, Maurice fought in Northern Europe against the Swedes and then in the Balkans against the Ottoman Empire. In this period he experienced the light and irregular troops of Eastern Europe whose style of fighting he championed.

A commission into the French Army was received in 1720, in whose service he passed the rest of his military career. The highlights of his career were in the 1740's.

In the War of the Polish Succession, on 19th November 1741 he seized Prague by a coup de main, surprising the garrison of a bastion very early in the morning, then opening a gate to other forces. This really brought him fame in France.

In the War of the Austrian Succession he had three great victories over the Allies.

First, on 11th May 1745, at the Battle of Fontenoy, he defeated the Pragmatic Army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, Prince Waldeck and Count Konigsegg.

Second, on 11th October 1746, at the Battle of Rocoux, he defeated the Pragmatic Army again, under the  command of Prince Charles of Lorraine, Sir John Ligonier and Waldeck.

Third, on 2nd July 1747, at the Battle of Laufeld, he defeated the Pragmatic Army again, under Cumberland, Waldeck and Batthyory.

He then captured Brussels. At the end of the War he captured Maastricht, a substantial fortress designed by Vauban.

After the War, the French Army was reduced in numbers and Maurice was unemployed. He retired to the Chateau of Chambord with his own  small Army. To quote the author, "The vast pile epitomized his life: it was grand and spectacular, sad and eccentric." He died here, probably after a stroke and catching a severe chill, on 20th November 1750.

The impression I have from the book is that de Saxe was something of a military genius, accepted by King Louis XV and the Court for that military ability, but not accepted into the French nobility. He was de Saxe, a German, a Protestant.

"The Battle of Fontenoy" by Horace Vernet


  1. How did you like the book? Enough to buy it?

  2. I liked the book very much. I learnt a lot from it. This is a book I will be keeping in my library.

    Thanks for the question. I have just reread the blog and realised I have written about the subject but not about the book.