Raimondo Montecuccoli, (1609-1680)


Habsburg field marshal. An Italian, he entered Austrian and Imperial service in 1625. He saw extensive action during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), including at the Battles of Lutzen (1634), First Nördlingen (1634), and Wittstock (1636). He was captured by the Swedes at Wittstock and held for 30 months before being ransomed back to the emperor. He used the time to study all available literature on the “art of war,” ancient and contemporary. After his release he fought in Silesia and Lombardy. He fought against the Swedes in the last several years of the German war, notably at Zusmarshausen (1648). He fought Sweden again during the Second Northern War (1655-1660), alongside the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg, Friedrich-Wilhelm. Montecuccoli led Austrian armies against the Ottomans in the 1660s. He won at St. Gotthard (August 1, 1664), though more by Ottoman misfortune than any special skill on his part. Regardless, the victory brought him appointment as head of the Hofkriegsrat. He fought well against the French during the Dutch War (1672-1678). Feeling his age, he retired to write extensively on the subject of war and gained much influence thereby, deserved or not.

Like many minds of the age, Montecuccoli sought perfect order even in the sheer chaos of combat, believing that there were immutable “laws of war” that might be discovered and codified. This approach to war was much approved by the salon set and in studies of the good professors of the Sorbonne and The Hague, but it bore no relation to actual warfare then or since. For instance, Montecuccoli proposed a law of war that established a perfectly-sized Imperial army of 28,000 foot and 22,000 horse to face any opposing Ottoman force, of whatever size or makeup. He was more right in famously declaring that the precondition of successful war making was having enough money. As for the problem of finding soldiers to feed into the Imperial war machine he was busy crafting in theory, Montecuccoli wrote that all “orphans, bastards, beggars, and paupers” cared for by charitable orders or in hospices should be swept into the Army. This was far from the later concept of the “nation in arms” or the ancient one of a natural nobility of warriors.

Montecuccoli came out of retirement to fence with Turenne in a prolonged war of maneuver in Germany during the campaign of 1673. He joined the future William III to besiege Bonn that November. Montecuccoli lost a campaign of maneuver to Turenne during the summer of 1675. By July he was short on food and fodder, and in full retreat. Turenne tried to force battle at Sasbach on July 27, but before the fight got underway, he was killed by an Imperial cannonball. Montecuccoli retired for the final time a few months later, the same year as the Great Condé. Widely regarded and hailed by earlier historians as a brilliantly skillful practitioner of the art of 17th-century positional warfare, his reputation may exceed what is deserved. It has been downgraded in more recent studies of his campaigns and especially of his writings on war.


Imperial or “Court War Council” of the Holy Roman Empire. It was established in 1556, but its role evolved over the next two centuries. At the maximum, it controlled 25,000 Imperial troops by the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). These were mostly called up from the “armed provinces” of the Empire, and thus were actually controlled by the major electoral princes of Bavaria, Brandenburg, and Saxony. After the war, the Hofkriegsrat in Vienna evolved as the central administrative body for military affairs in all Habsburg lands, however physically or culturally disconnected they might be. This made it a central institution of a very much decentralized Austrian Empire, overseeing war finance, officer appointments, and so forth. As with some other armies of this era, the practice of proprietary recruitment of regiments by their colonel limited Hofkriegsrat control over the quality of troops and training.

Montecuccoli was appointed president in 1664. Ernst Starhemberg was named president in 1691, partly as a reward for successful defense of the capital during the siege of Vienna (1683). Prince Eugene of Savoy was the most important president of the Hofkriegsrat, introducing several major reforms of the Imperial Army early in the new century. These included an end to the purchase of officer commissions, establishment of a modest magazine system, and improvements in living conditions and pay for ordinary soldiers. There was a separate Austrian Hofkriegsrat at Graz, which oversaw Grenzer and other border troops along the Windische border and the Karlstadt border.

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