Battle of the Dunes (June 14, 1658)

Battle of the Dunes (June 14, 1658)

June 14, 1658 at the Dune battles took place the conclusion of a war which had lasted twenty-five years and between France and Spain. The French, commanded by Turenne and allies once is not customary to the English, confront the Spaniards there, one of whose commanders is none other than the Tall Condé, a former slinger. With the victory of the French army, the Louis Quatorzian epic was announced to Europe.

Franco-Spanish Rivalry

Since 1635, the kingdoms of France and Spain have been engaged in a particularly bitter conflict. Hostilities broke out when, under the leadership of Cardinal Richelieu, the armies of France attacked the Spanish Netherlands. Although the Franco-Spanish war is part of the Thirty Years' War, it remains the culmination of the secret rivalry between the two kingdoms since Francis I. The party that emerges victorious would be able to establish itself as the dominant power in Europe.

The first phase of the war remained to the advantage of the Bourbons, as evidenced by the signing of the Treaties of Westphalia, which saw Paris take over strategic territories in Alsace. However, with the Fronde breaking out in France, Spain can regain the initiative. The French position was very difficult during these troubled years (1648-1653). The young Louis XIV, whose regency was exercised by his mother Anne of Austria, found himself several times at the mercy of the Frondeurs. Cardinal Mazarin, principal minister of the regent and continuator of Richelieu's anti-Spanish policy, was twice forced into exile.

Condé vs. Turenne

Spain, which supported the Frondeurs, hastened to their defeat in 1653 to welcome the armies and the surviving leaders. At the head of these exiled French nobles, one of the greatest captains of his time: Louis II, Prince de Condé. Prince of the blood, the victor over Rocroi (1643) is eager to impose himself on the young Louis XIV. Condé was not a Frondeur from the start. He only joined the rebels after realizing that the King still preferred Mazarin to him. Archetypal of the "Great", he is a fiery general famous for his daring cavalry charges. From 1653 he will therefore serve the throne of Spain and face his great rival: Turenne.

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne is also a "Grand", from one of the most prestigious families in Europe. Educated in the Reformed religion, he followed an itinerary opposite to that of Condé. First a Frondeur, he rallied to Mazarin and has since occupied the head of the main French armies. To the ardor of Condé, he opposes an art of war that is methodical and devoid of pity.

The fight for Dunkirk

From 1653 to 1658 Conde and Turenne clash at the head of their troops in Flanders. In spring 1658 the situation was unfavorable to the Spaniards. France, strong in an alliance with Cromwell's England and the United Provinces (present-day Netherlands), has the advantage of the initiative and allows itself the siege of Dunkirk, a strategic port.

Turenne has nearly 20,000 men, including 3,000 English from the New Model Army. The Spanish garrison of the Marquis de Lede with its 3000 men cannot hope to hold out for very long (the English hold the sea). The Spaniards therefore decide to send an army to the aid of the besieged city. This army, commanded by Don Juan José of Austria and Condé, lines up around 15,000 men. A good part of them are French and fight alongside them nearly 2000 English, supporters of the Stuarts ... In many respects the battle which is preparing will have the appearance of fratricidal combat!

Taking the risk of leaving the responsibility of the siege to a few battalions, Turenne went to meet the Spanish relief army. The latter arrived on June 13 in the vicinity of Leffrinckoucke, in the middle of the dunes which gave its name to the battle. The troops of Condé and Juan José will begin the clashes in dispersed order. They will not be able to enjoy the support of the artillery.

When the fighting broke out the next day at around eight o'clock, the Spaniards were hit hard by the furious assaults of Sir Lockhart's English pikemen. The latter, despite an intense musketeer, did not hesitate to attack the fortified dune lined with elite troops. The center and the right of Juan José's main body are then sunk… Turenne then sends his cavalry along the beach cleared by the tide, taking the Spaniards in flank. To add to the misfortunes of Don Juan José's troops, English frigates bombarded their positions.

Only the Spanish left wing, with Condé's troops, held out. The latter even dares to charge three times at the head of his cavalry, ignoring the balance of power. Yet the prince of the blood knows the battle lost. His actions are only intended to cover the inevitable retreat of Don Juan José's troops. In two hours the battle was over. The Spanish losses are heavy, nearly 5000 men including 4000 prisoners. Turenne lost only 400 men, the vast majority of them British.

Spanish Eclipse, French Dawn

The consequences of this victory will quickly be felt. On June 25 Dunkirk fell into the hands of the French, who in accordance with the terms of their alliance with Cromwell handed it over to the English (they sold it to Louis XIV in 1662). The armies of Louis XIV were then in a position to threaten Brussels, it was high time for the Spaniards to negotiate the famous Peace of the Pyrenees which would be signed in November 1659 ... it was the dawn of Louis-Quatorzian glory.

The Sun King, who will know how to reward Turenne at the height of his victory, will nevertheless grant Condé his forgiveness. Subsequently the opponents of the Battle of the Dunes will serve side by side the monarch that both will have fought ...


- The wars of Louis XIV: 1667-1714 by John Albert Lynn. Perrin, 2010.

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