Thebattle of Rocroi is a decisive French victory won by the young Duke of Enghien, future Prince of Condé, over the Spanish armies on May 18 and 19, 1643, in front of the stronghold of Rocroi. Philippe IV of Spain, wanting to exploit the disappearance of Richelieu planned to invade the latter. The 26,000-strong Spanish armies of the Netherlands laid siege to Rocroi on May 10, in order to invest the place before marching on Paris. The French armies under the command of the Duke of Enghien, undertook successfully to clear the besieged city. The Spanish infantry lost their reputation for invincibility in this battle, the impact of which was enormous.
The context: the Thirty Years' War
First indirectly engaged in the Thirty Years' War which has ravaged Europe since 1618, the kingdom of France has been at war since 1635 again against Spain, whose declining power remains formidable. The alert of the capture of Corbie in November 1635 had for a time created panic in Paris, and the war had continued with varying fortunes. But in the spring of 1643, France had just lost one after the other her "strong man", Cardinal Richelieu, and her king, Louis XIII, despairing of a decisive success. The new king was only five years old and when Francisco de Melo came to lay siege to Rocroi, the royal armies were headed by Louis II de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien and heir to the powerful house of Condé who then had only twenty three years.
Hiding the death of Louis XIII on May 14 from his troops so as not to demoralize them, the young duke, surrounded by old experienced advisers like François de L'Hospital, advances towards Rocroi with an army of twenty-five thousand men. , resolved to raise the siege. Melo, sure of the superiority of the heart of his army of Flanders, namely his Spanish and Italian tercios, disciplined infantry dominating the battlefields for a century, accepts the confrontation and deploys his troops in a plain in closed field not far from the city.
In the plain in front of Rocroi, in the Ardennes, the royal army of Louis II of Bourbon (twenty-three years old and future Grand Condé) facing the Spanish army of Flanders of Francisco de Melo. The numbers are balanced, about twenty-five thousand men including 17,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry in each camp. Fifteen regiments including two Swiss on the French side; about twenty including five Spanish tercios viejos and three Italian tercios in the Spanish camp ...
The battle of Rocroi
The battle begins and turns differently in different sectors. If, on the right, the cavalry led by the young Duke of En-ghien overthrows the Spanish left, in the center, it is the solid tercios which take the advantage and push the French lines which hold only thanks to the resistance of the corps reserve of Baron de Sirot. Caught between the need to come to the aid of his routed center or to take advantage of his advantage, the future Grand Condé won his letters of nobility as a great captain by continuing his rotating movement of the enemy army to take his right wing by- behind and dislocate it. Contained with great difficulty in front and threatened at its rear, the strong but heavy Spanish infantry, five thousand elite soldiers under the orders of the old Count de Fuentes - eighty-three years old and carried in litter! - soon finds himself threatened from all sides but confronts himself without batting an eyelid. Three times Enghien attempted to break it down with cavalry charges which crashed into the extremely disciplined fire and pikes of the Spaniards.
When Count de Fuentes falls, killed, the battle already won seems suspended and the Tercios, now without a leader, ready to surrender. But the lack of confidence is such that, believing to see the preparation of a new charge where the young French general advanced to receive the surrender, the Spaniards opened fire again. Crying treason, the French, encircling the tercios from all directions, launch a general assault and break the opposing squares. If the remnants of Melo's cavalry manage to escape, his infantry will number six thousand dead and as many prisoners.
The first French victory over a Spanish army in a century
So the first victory was the pledge of many others. By winning a spectacular victory over the infantry queen of the battlefields, the French cavalry and the Duc d'Enghien, soon known as the Grand Condé, carved out a first-rate reputation for themselves by avoiding the danger of an invasion at the time. even a difficult succession. Five years later, Of these formidable tercios of the army of Flanders, Conde, five years later, on August 20, 1648, was to complete the remains in the plains of Lens.
After Rocroi, the conflict will last another fifteen years until the signing of the Pyrenees peace treaty. Spain definitively loses its supremacy in Europe in favor of the France of Louis XIV.
- Rocroi, 1643, by Laurent Henninger. Great Battles of History, 1993.
- Rocroi 1643, by Stéphane Thion. History and Collections, 2013.
- The Tuesday of Rocroi, by Marc Blancpain. hatchet, 1991.