Louis François Boufflers, duc de (1644 -1711)


Maréchal de France. He spent most of his adult life in the French Army, joining as a young officer in 1662. He fought especially well in command of a regiment of royal dragoons in the Dutch War (1672-1678), which brought him to the notice of his superiors and of the king, Louis XIV. Boufflers rose in rank over the course of Louis’ subsequent wars, including the War of Devolution (1667-1668) and the War of the Reunions (1683-1684). He was promoted to “maréchal de France” in 1693. He fought in the Netherlands, the main theater for most of the Nine Years’War (1688-1697). He was in charge of the defenses during the second siege of Namur (1695), inflicting high casualties on the Allies while also suffering many losses among his own men. During the first phase of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) Boufflers fought in the Spanish Netherlands, winning over the Dutch at Nijmegen in 1702. He was then pushed out of the province by Marlborough’s motley crew of English, Dutch, and German troops, with Boufflers succumbing in bewilderment to a brilliant campaign of maneuver conducted by the English captain-general. In 1704 Boufflers was named to command the Gardes du Corps. He again organized a tough defense during the fierce and extremely bloody siege of Lille in 1708, one of the greatest examples of the art of positional warfare of the entire era. After Villars was wounded and removed from the field during heavy fighting at Malplaquet (1709), Boufflers set aside numerous personal infirmities to conduct a critical and well-ordered retreat and thereby preserve the core of the French Army in front of Paris. Too old and infirm to stay in the saddle for long, he retired at the end of the 1709 campaign. He died two years later, from natural causes.

Siege of Lille, (August 14-December 10, 1708).

The Grand Alliance was at an impasse in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The Allies had been unable to budge the French from Flanders, where they occupied Bruges and Ghent. Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy therefore launched a siege of Lille, a key fortress town in the pré carré lines on the northern border of France. They hoped to follow their massive victory at Oudenarde (June 30/July 11, 1708) with a breach in the French lines behind the forward French position in Flanders. The defenders flooded the plain around Lille on the order of their commander, maréchal Boufflers. Meanwhile, Louis XIV mustered fully 100,000 men in a massive relief army sent forward under Vendome. However, only a limited action ensued at Wyendael (September 27th), when 10,000 British convoy escort troops fought off twice as many French. In a famous “affaires des poudres,” some 2,000 French cavalry, disguised as Dutch troopers, tried to make their way through Allied siege lines carrying sacks of black powder in their saddle bags. About 200 were killed when Allied musketry exploded them and their mounts. Most of the rest got though, along with a crucial resupply of powder that helped prolong the defense. This endeavor repeated a feat performed by Allied troopers against the French at Turin two years earlier, when over six tons of powder was smuggled into the city through the siege lines.

On September 7 the assault of the covered way at Lille began. Allied engineers had miscalculated the distance and the damage done by their artillery, however, so that troops making the assault were exposed in some places across nearly 200 meters of open ground. Men struggled to advance with weapons while also carrying heavy gabions needed to fortify the mistake. Instead of storming the works, at a price of 3,000 casualties, just four small lodgements were established after three bloody assaults. On October 22 the garrison abandoned the town, retreating into the citadel. A diversionary attack on Brussels by a French army of relief did not distract Allied attackers at Lille but did much damage to the other city. The garrison at Lille asked for terms on December 8. These were accepted, and the garrison marched out two days later. Perhaps 15,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded before the end of the fight, which ranks among the greatest of the entire war. The fall of Lille gave the Allies control of Flanders.


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