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Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne

Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne (11 September 1611 – 27 July 1675), often called simply Turenne, was a French Marshal General and the most illustrious member of the La Tour d'Auvergne family. His military exploits over his five-decade career earned him a reputation as one of the greatest generals in modern history.

Born to a Huguenot family, Turenne learned his military skills in Dutch service during the Eighty Years' War. After returning to France in 1630, he rose to prominence during the Thirty Years' War by capturing the fortress of Breisach in 1638. Created Marshal of France in 1643, he invaded Bavaria the following year, defeating the Bavarian army in three years of campaigning and forcing the Elector of Bavaria to make peace. The Elector soon broke the treaty and in 1648 Turenne invaded again with Swedish support, subduing the Imperial army at Zusmarshausen and pacifying Bavaria.

Turenne initially supported the Fronde but returned to Royal service in 1651, emerging as France's foremost general by defeating the rebellious army of the Prince of Condé on the outskirts of Paris and re-occupying the city. His triumphs against Spanish armies at Arras (1654) and at Dunkirk (1658) led to the overrunning of much of the Spanish Netherlands and brought the war against Spain to a victorious conclusion. Two years later, Louis XIV appointed him Marshal General of France. A supporter of absolute monarchy, he converted to Catholicism in 1668.

During the War of Devolution in 1667 Turenne captured the Spanish Netherlands practically without resistance. In 1672 the French invaded the Dutch Republic and the Marshal General conquered the country up to Amsterdam. Checked by the Dutch flooding of the land, he invaded the Holy Roman Empire the next year, reaching the Elbe and compelling Brandenburg to abandon the anti-French coalition. Faced with the loss of Alsace to superior Allied forces, he crowned his career with a series of battlefield victories, most notably at Turckheim (1675) and a masterful strategic turning movement around the Vosges in mid-winter that drove the Imperials from Alsace. He was killed by an Imperial cannonball at the battle of Salzbach in 1675.

Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
Born(1611-09-11)11 September 1611
Castle of Sedan, Principality of Sedan (present-day France)
Died27 July 1675(1675-07-27)(aged 63)
Sasbach, Duchy of Württemberg (present-day Germany)
  • Dutch States Army
  • French Army
Years of service1625–1675
RankMaréchal général des camps et armées du roi
  • Eighty Years' War
    • Siege of 's-Hertogenbosch
  • Thirty Years' War
    • Siege of La Mothe
    • Battle of Breisach
    • Siege of Turin
    • Battle of Freiburg
    • Battle of Herbsthausen
    • Battle of Nördlingen
    • Battle of Zusmarshausen
  • Fronde
    • Battle of Bléneau
    • Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine
  • Franco-Spanish War
    • Battle of Arras
    • Battle of Valenciennes
    • Battle of the Dunes
    • Siege of Dunkirk
War of Devolution
  • Franco-Dutch War
    • Battle of Sinsheim
    • Battle of Entzheim
    • Battle of Mulhouse
    • Battle of Turckheim
    • Battle of Salzbach**†**

Background and early career

Turenne's coat of arms in the Château de Chantilly

Turenne's coat of arms in the Château de Chantilly

The second son of Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon, sovereign Prince of Sedan, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of William the Silent,[1] Prince of Orange, he was born at Sedan. He received a Huguenot education and the usual training of a young noble of the time, but physical infirmity,[2] and particularly an impediment of speech (which he never lost), hampered his progress, though he showed a marked partiality for history and geography, and especial admiration of the exploits of Alexander the Great and Caesar. After his father's death in 1623, he devoted himself to bodily exercises and in a great measure overcame his natural weakness. At first he had also been a lazy student but after his father began saying that his intellectual laziness would be as great a barrier to joining the army as his fisical weakness he began to study on his own accord.[2] At the age of fourteen he went to learn war in the camp of his uncle, Maurice of Nassau the Stadtholder of Holland and Prince of Orange, and began his military career (as a private soldier in that prince's bodyguard) in the Eighty Years' War.[3][2]

Frederick Henry of Nassau, who succeeded his brother Maurice as Stadtholder and Prince of Orange in 1625, gave Turenne a captaincy in 1626. The young officer took his part in the siege warfare of the period, and won special commendation from his uncle (one of the foremost commanders of the time) for his skill and courage at the celebrated siege of 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) in 1629. In 1630 Turenne left the Netherlands and entered the service of France, motivated not only by the prospect of military advancement but also by his mother's desire to show the loyalty of the Bouillon dominions to the French crown.[3]

Cardinal Richelieu at once made him colonel of an infantry regiment. He still continued to serve at short intervals with the prince of Orange, who at the time had an alliance with France, and his first serious service under the French flag occurred at the siege of La Mothe in Lorraine by Marshal de la Force (1634), where his brilliant courage at the assault won him immediate promotion to the rank of maréchal de camp (equivalent to the modern grade of major-general). In 1635 Turenne served under Louis de Nogaret de La Valette in Lorraine and on the Rhine. The French and their allies raised the Imperial siege of Mainz (8 August 1635), but the French army had to fall back on Metz for want of provisions. In the retreat he measured swords with the famous imperial General Gallas, and distinguished himself greatly by his courage and skill. The reorganised army took the field again in 1636 and captured Saverne (Zabern), at the storming of which he was seriously wounded. In 1637 he took part in the campaign of Flanders, including the capture of Landrecies (26 July). In the latter part of 1638, serving under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar (1608–1639), he directed the assault on Breisach (reputedly the strongest fortress on the upper Rhine), which surrendered on 17 December.[3]

Turenne had now gained a reputation as one of the foremost of the younger generals of France, and Richelieu next employed him in the Italian campaign of 1639–1640 under "Cadet la Perle", Henri de Lorraine, count of Harcourt (1601–1666). On 19 November 1639 Turenne fought in the famous rearguard action called the battle of the "Route de Quiers", and during the winter re-victualled the citadel of Turin, held by the French against the forces of Prince Thomas of Savoy. In 1640 Harcourt saved Casale Monferrato and besieged Prince Thomas' forces in Turin, which meanwhile besieged in their turn another French force in the citadel. The latter held out, while Prince Thomas had to surrender on 17 September 1640, a fourth army which had invested Harcourt's lines being at the same time forced to retire. Turenne, who had by now become a lieutenant-general, played a major role in achieving the favourable result of these complicated operations. He himself commanded during the campaign of 1641 and took Coni (Cuneo), Ceva and Mondovì.[3]

In 1642 he served as second-in-command of the French troops which conquered Roussillon. At this time Richelieu discovered the conspiracy of Cinq Mars in which Turenne's elder brother, the Duke of Bouillon, had become implicated.[3]

Marshal of France

Turenne as Marshal of France.

Turenne as Marshal of France.

Turenne at the Peace of Westphalia, engraving after Anselm van Hulle.

Turenne at the Peace of Westphalia, engraving after Anselm van Hulle.

The relations of the principality of Sedan to the French crown markedly influenced the earlier career of Turenne; sometimes it proved necessary to advance the soldier to conciliate the ducal family, at other times the machinations of the ducal family against Richelieu or Mazarin prevented the king's advisers from giving their full confidence to their general in the field. Moreover, his steady adherence to the Protestant religion provided a further element of difficulty in Turenne's relations with the ministers. Cardinal Richelieu nevertheless entrusted him with the command in Italy in 1643 under Prince Thomas (who had changed sides in the quarrel). Turenne took Trino in a few weeks before his recall to France towards the end of the year. He gained the rank of Marshal of France (19 December 1643) and soon departed to Alsace to reorganize the "Army of Weimar" (the remnant of the late Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's troops) which had just suffered a severe defeat at Tuttlingen (24-25 November 1643). At this time, having reached thirty-two years of age, Turenne had served under four famous commanders. The methodical prince of Orange, the fiery Bernhard, the soldierly Cardinal de la Valette and the stubborn and astute Harcourt had each contributed much to the completeness of Turenne's training, and he took the field in 1644 prepared by genius and education for the responsibilities of high command.[3]

The work of reorganization over, Marshal Turenne began the campaign in June 1644 by crossing the Rhine at Breisach, but almost instantly an army under the Duke of Enghien (afterwards the great Condé) joined him. The Duke, as a prince of the royal house, took the chief command of the united armies of "France" and "Weimar". The four famous campaigns which followed brought to an end the Thirty Years' War. The desperately fought battle of Freiburg against Franz von Mercy's Bavarians (3, 5 and 9 August 1644) proved the chief event of the first campaign, after which the French successfully besieged Philippsburg. Before the capitulation Enghien withdrew and left Turenne in command. The marshal opened the campaign of 1645 with a strong forward movement, but Mercy surprised and defeated him at Mergentheim (Bad Mergentheim) on 2 May. Enghien again came to the front with the army of France, and Turenne's army received substantial reinforcement with the arrival of a Swedish force and of a contingent from Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel). The Swedes soon departed, but Enghien commanded 20,000 men when he met the Bavarians in a battle even more stubbornly contested than Freiburg. The French forces killed Mercy and decisively defeated his army at Allerheim near Nördlingen (3 August 1645). Ill-health forced Enghien to retire soon afterwards, leaving Turenne for the third time in command of the French army. Again he did not fare well against the larger imperial forces, but the campaign ended with a gleam of success in his capture of Trier (Trèves).[4]

In the following year (1646) Turenne obtained more decided successes, and, by separating the Austrians from the Bavarians, compelled Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria to make peace (signed on 14 March 1647). In 1647 he proposed to attack the thus weakened army of the emperor, but the strategists ordered him into Flanders instead. Not only did France thus lose an opportunity, but a serious mutiny broke out amongst the Weimar troops, who had not received their pay for many months. The marshal showed great tact and firmness in his treatment of the disaffected regiments, amongst whom in the end he succeeded in restoring order with little bloodshed. He then marched into Luxembourg, but soon received orders to switch to the Rhine, for in 1648 Bavaria had returned to her Austrian alliance and had taken up arms again. Turenne and his Swedish allies made a brilliant campaign, crowned by the decisive action of Zusmarshausen (17 May). Troops subsequently wasted Bavaria with fire and sword until a second and more secure pacification was obtained. This devastation, for which many modern writers have blamed Turenne, appeared no more harsh a measure than the spirit of the times and the circumstances of the case permitted.[5]

The Fronde and the early reign of Louis XIV

La Bataille des Dunes by Charles-Philippe Larivière.Galerie des Batailles, Palace of Versailles.In the foreground is  Turenne on a Skewbald horse.

La Bataille des Dunes by Charles-Philippe Larivière.Galerie des Batailles, Palace of Versailles.In the foreground is Turenne on a Skewbald horse.[6]

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought little peace to France, which soon became involved in the civil war of the Fronde (1648–1653). Few of Turenne's actions caused sharper criticism than his adhesion to the party of revolt. The army of Weimar refused to follow its leader and he had to flee into the Spanish Netherlands, where he remained until the treaty of Rueil (March 1649) put an end to the first war of the Fronde. The second war began with the arrest of Condé and others (January 1650). Turenne, intended for arrest with them, escaped in time, and with the duchesse de Longueville held Stenay for the cause of the "Princes"—Condé, his brother Conti, and his brother-in-law the duc de Longueville. Love for the duchess seems to have ruled Turenne's action, both in the first war, and, now, in seeking Spanish aid for the Princes. In this war Turenne sustained one of his few reverses at Rethel (15 December 1650); but the second conflict ended in the early months of the following year with the collapse of the court party and the release of the Princes.[5]

Turenne became reconciled and returned to Paris in May 1651, but the trouble soon revived and before long Condé again raised the standard of revolt in the south of France. In this, the third war of the Fronde, Turenne and Condé stood opposed to each other, the marshal commanding the royal armies, the prince that of the Frondeurs and their Spanish allies. Turenne displayed the personal bravery of a young soldier at Jargeau (28 March 1652), the skill and wariness of a veteran general at Gien (7 April), and he practically crushed the civil war in the Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine (2 July) and in the re-occupation of Paris (21 October).[5]

Turenne still needed to deal with Condé and the Spaniards, however, and the long drawn-out campaigns of the "Spanish Fronde" gave ample scope for the display of scientific generalship on the part of both the famous captains. In 1653 Turenne had the advantage: he captured Rethel, Sainte-Menehould and Mouzon. The short campaign of 1654 again favoured the French; on 25 July 1654 they defeated the Spanish at Arras. In 1655 French armies gained more ground, but in 1656 Turenne suffered a serious defeat at Valenciennes, and though the causes of the defeat had been largely outside his control, he again showed his ability to recover from an outcome that would have overwhelmed lesser generals.[5]

The war eventually concluded soon after Turenne's victory at the Battle of the Dunes near Dunkirk in 1658, in which a corps of English veterans sent by France's ally Oliver Cromwell played a notable part (3–14 June); a victory which, followed by another successful campaign in 1658, led to the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.[5]

On the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 Louis XIV took the reins of government into his own hands, and as one of his first acts appointed Turenne "marshal-general of the camps and armies of the king". He had offered to revive the office of Constable of France (suppressed in 1627) in Turenne's favour if the marshal would become a Roman Catholic. Turenne declined. Born of Calvinist parents and educated a Protestant, he had refused to marry one of Richelieu's nieces in 1639 and subsequently rejected a similar proposal from Mazarin.[5]

Turenne married in 1652 Charlotte de Caumont, a daughter of the Protestant Marshal de la Force, to whom he remained deeply attached. But he sincerely deplored the division of Christianity into two hostile camps. He had always distrusted the influence of many dissident and uncontrolled sects; the history of independence in the English army and people made a deep impression on his mind, and the same fear of indiscipline which drove the English Presbyterians into royalism drew Turenne more and more towards the Roman Catholic Church. The letters between him and his wife show how closely both studied available evidence on the matter, and in the end, two years after her death, the eloquence of Bossuet and the persuasions of his nephew, the Cardinal de Bouillon prevailed upon him to give his adhesion to the Roman Catholic faith (October 1668). In 1667 he had returned to the more congenial air of the "Camps and Armies of the King", directing (nominally under Louis XIV) the famous Promenade militaire in which the French overran the Spanish Netherlands. Soon afterwards Condé, now reconciled with the king, rivaled Turenne's success by the rapid conquest of the Franche-Comté, shortly before the end the War of Devolution in February 1668.[5]

The Dutch War

Turenne at the battle of Turckheim

Turenne at the battle of Turckheim

Turenne's death at the battle of Salzbach

Turenne's death at the battle of Salzbach

In Louis XIV's Dutch War of 1672 Turenne accompanied the army commanded by the king which overran the Dutch United Provinces up to the gates of Amsterdam. The terms offered by Louis to the Prince of Orange only aroused a more bitter resistance.[5]

The Dutch opened the dikes and flooded the countryside around Amsterdam. This measure completely checked Turenne, whom the king had left in command. News of this event roused Europe to action, and the conflict spread to Germany. Turenne fought a successful war of manoeuvre on the middle Rhine while Condé covered Alsace.[5]

In January 1673 Turenne assumed the offensive, penetrated far into Germany, and forced the Great Elector of Brandenburg to make peace; later in the year, however, the famous imperial general Montecuccoli completely outmanoeuvred Turenne: Montecuccoli evaded his opponent, joined the Dutch and took the important place of Bonn.[5]

In June 1674, Turenne won the battle of Sinzheim, which made him master of the Electorate of the Palatinate. Under orders from Paris the French wasted the country far and wide, and this devastation with the sack of Türckheim usually counts as the gravest blot on Turenne's fame. In the autumn the anti-French allies again advanced, and though they again outmanoeuvred Turenne, the action of the neutral city of Strasbourg occasioned his failure by permitting the enemy to cross the Rhine by the bridge at that place. The battle of Enzheim followed; this proved a tactical victory, but hardly affected the situation, and, at the beginning of December, the allies remained in Alsace. The old marshal now made the most daring campaign of his career. A swift and secret march in mid-winter from one end of the Vosges to the other took the allies by surprise. Sharply following up his first successes, Turenne drove the enemy to Turkheim, and there inflicted upon them a heavy defeat (5 January 1675). As revenge for the active resistance the inhabitants of the city had shown, Turenne let his troops loot it and massacre the remaining population during two weeks. In a few weeks he had completely recovered Alsace.[5]

In the summer campaign he once more faced Montecuccoli, and after the highest display of "strategic chess-moves" by both commanders, Turenne finally compelled his opponent to offer battle at a disadvantage at Salzbach. There, on 27 July 1675, one of the first shots fired killed him. The news of his death produced universal sorrow.[5]


Turenne's most eloquent countrymen wrote his éloges, and Montecucculi himself exclaimed, "II est mort aujourd'hui un homme qui faisait honneur à l'homme" (A man is dead today who did honour to Man). His body, taken to St Denis, was buried with the Kings of France. Even the extreme revolutionists of 1793 respected it, and, while they ignominiously reburied the bodies of the monarchs in a mass grave, they preserved the remains of Turenne at the Jardin des Plantes until 22 September 1800, when Napoleon had them removed to the church of the Invalides at Paris, where they still rest.[5]

Napoleon recommended all soldiers to "read and re-read" the campaigns of Turenne as one of the great captains. His fame as a general rivalled that of any other in Europe at a period when the populace studied war more critically than ever before, for his military character epitomized the art of war of his time (Prince de Ligne). Strategic caution and logistic accuracy, combined with brilliant dash in small combats and constancy under all circumstances—of success or failure—perhaps emerge as the salient points of Turenne's genius for war. Great battles he avoided. "Few sieges and many combats" he used as his own maxim. And, unlike his great rival Condé, who appeared as brilliant in his first battle as in his last, Turenne improved day by day. Napoleon said of him that, his genius grew bolder as it grew older, and a later author, the Duke of Aumale (Histoire des princes de la maison de Condé), took the same view when he wrote: "Pour le connaître il faut le suivre jusqu'à Sulzbach. Chez lui chaque jour marque un progrès" (To know him, you must follow him up to Salzbach. In his case, every day signaled some progress).[7]

In his personal character Turenne showed little more than the nature of a simple and honourable soldier, endowed with much tact; but in the world of politics and intellect he seemed almost helpless in the hands of a skilful intriguer or casuist. His morals, if not beyond reproach, were at least more austere than those prevalent in the age in which he lived. He operated essentially as a commander of regular armies. He spent his life with the troops; he knew how to win their affection; he tempered a severe discipline with rare generosity, and his men loved him as a comrade no less than they admired him as a commander. Thus, though Condé's genius appeared far more versatile, Turenne's genius best represents the art of war in the 17th century. For the small, costly, and highly trained regular armies, and for the dynastic warfare of the age of Louis XIV, Turenne functioned as the ideal army leader.[7]

In fiction

Marshal of France Turenne is depicted in several alternative history novels written by Eric Flint and David Weber. These include 1633 and 1634: The Baltic War. Turenne also appears in a historical novel by G.A. Henty called Won by the Sword.[8]


Citation Linkwww.britannica.com"Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne | French military leader". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkarchive.orgLongueville, Thomas (1907). Marshal Turenne. Robarts - University of Toronto. London : Longmans, Green.
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Turenne, Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 412–114., p. 412.
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.org, pp. 412, 413.
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org, p. 413.
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Citation Linkwww.britannica.comFrench marshal Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, at the Battle of the Dunes, June 14, 1658 at the Encyclopædia Britannica
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Citation Linkopenlibrary.org, p. 414.
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgJagt, Arnold (2011), Book Reviews from Original Ads: A list of books for young people by G. A. Henty, archived from the original on 18 November 2012.
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Citation Linkwww.findagrave.comHenri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
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Citation Linkwww.britannica.com"Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne | French military leader"
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Citation Linkarchive.orgMarshal Turenne
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkwww.britannica.comFrench marshal Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, at the Battle of the Dunes, June 14, 1658
Sep 18, 2019, 8:47 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgBook Reviews from Original Ads: A list of books for young people by G. A. Henty
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Citation Linkwww.henty.comthe original
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Citation Linkwww.findagrave.comHenri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne
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Citation Linkupload.wikimedia.orgTurennes's tomb in Les Invalides
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Citation Linkupload.wikimedia.orgStatue of Turenne in Versailles
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