Chapter XXXVII – Huguenot Cross, Austrian Grave
From Savoy with Haste
Savoy crumbled under the French armies as the warriors of the Reformation stormed the entire kingdom with fire and steel. Alongside de Crussol the commander of Nicholas’ personal guard (the Royal Musketeers or Mousquetaires de la Garde) Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne led his musketeers both in combat and later on the field of parley. While the Savoyard cities fell and its people suffered, D’Auvergne conducted negotiation with the exiled king of Savoy. Finally the French commander convinced the king of Savoy to accept peace on the conditions that Savoy would leave the Catholic Alliance, cede the city of Chambéry and all the land around it and finally paying ransom for the prisoners and fortresses taken by the French.
The terms were accepted by the ruler of Savoy and approved by Nicholas who lay in camp in Alsace. Another of the old Leaguer countries had fallen victim to the French reformation. Crussol and d’Auvergne now marched their 20,000 men north in order to aid the offensive into Austria.
Yet, the French incursion into Württemberg had been turned upside down since Nicholas first had crossed the Rhine. The appearance of another Austrian army had sent Nicholas into a quick state of confusion. While the, in the previous chapter mentioned, Catholic armies had assembled in Tirol, another host of more than 60,000 men arrived from the Ottoman border.
Splitting into three fronts, the Austrian soldiers made their way up through Württemberg. Faced with an enemy more than double the size of his own army, Nicholas conducted a tactical withdrawal from the Austrian provinces back to the northern provinces of his vassalage Baden.
Württemberg fell to the advancing Catholic armies almost without a shot being fired and soon thereafter the remaining strongholds in French Germany began to falter. Ansbach fell as the first, which raised Catholic morale considerably. One of the main Austrian war goals had been to obtain this province and with Catholic armies soundly entrenched on its territory; it seemed that Eleanor would be able to claim the area after all. While the loss of Ansbach might have caused some harm to Nicholas’ pride (it was after all his personal land, entrusted to him by fellow Protestants) the province held little strategically value. It was an exposed French vanguard into Germany, which had been almost impossible to defend, but still it granted some value to the Austrians, who now were able to transfer men from Bohemia through the corridor created between Austrian Bavaria and Ansbach. The real danger to the French forces was revealed as the Catholic forces pushed across the Rhine and overwhelmed the defences of southern Baden. With a firm position on the French side of the great river the Austrian armies would be able to encircle the 50,000 French troops stationed in upper Baden through a quick attack on Strasbourg, which was lightly defended. 40,000 Austrian troopers broke camp on the 1st of March 1638 and headed for what could be their key to final victory. What stood before them was a few thousand militia, but also the newly arrived victors from Savoy – Crussol, d’Auvergne and their 20,000 men.
“I’d give half of my chateaus if only I could be back chasing peasants in Savoy instead of freezing my ass off here at the Rhine..”
“You only own one Alexandre, and its wines are lousy.”
Taken aback, the first smirked “You’re always so witty Henri, I’d like to see you smile when the Austrians have rolled over us and raised their papist cross over our graves..”
“And you are always so pessimistic Alex” the one named Henri answered with a grin.
Turning in his saddle to face the young man beside him, Alexandre laughed grimly, grimaced and retorted “I think I’m in my right to look bleakly at the coming day d’Auvergne.. you do know the odds we are up against?”
Below the two riders the mist, which had engulfed the frozen plain, started to withdraw, revealing an encampment loaded with men, armament and supplies. Even though dawn had only just arrived a few hours ago the soldiers were amassing, drilling and praying in the face of the battle they knew would come. Crows circled above.
“We can hold them and repel them, Alexandre. Just give me the guard and I’ll make sure that no papist ever gets as much as a pouce within Strasbourg.” Much to Henri’s disdain, Alexandre looked less than convinced.
Henri wetted his dry lips before continuing “Look at that ridge.” He said, gesturing with his reight arm “they’re bound to advance through it, if they want to take the city unprepared. I position the musketeers there alongside the cannons while you take the heavy cavalry around and slam their tercios in the rear. With the canons from the fortress and the ones we took from Italy we can be sure to hammer them.”
The first one rearranged his breast plate while staring inattentively at the appearing blue morning sky. “Why are you so certain?”
“It is the guard. The guard dies, but it does not yield.. Remember Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne? We crushed the resistance there, even though it was two Italians against one musketeer.”
Alexandre sniffed and mumbled something Henri made out to be “40,000 men..”
As much as Henri liked Alexandre de Crussol he hated the ugly spirit of defeatism that sometimes crept on his commander’s skin.
An awkward silence followed until d’Auvergne straightened his back, gazed upon the companies parading below them.
“I take the guard.”
Crussol nodded in return…
Henri hurried his mount through the encampment, soldiers raising their heads in surprise when he passed. They were tired, he knew that, but the enemy would be fatigued. The guard would hold, the guard HAD to hold.. what should he tell Nicholas if it didn’t. The commander shuddered and not from the cold. He, for one, knew what the king could do if something as important as Strasbourg was lost. The young rider halted his white horse at a great tent decorated with scores of fleur-de-lis and surrounded by armed guards. One approached him, bible in one hand (King Henri IV version) and ranseur in the other.
“What news monsieur?”
“We cannot yield Charles.” Henri responded to his most trusted trooper. Charles smiled in return.
“We won’t sire. We’re the Guard.” And around him the king’s musketeers raised their arms in agreement.
How a force of 20,000 French could defeat and rout a force inflamed with success from the Württemberg Campaign and twice their size has roused the curiosity of historians since contemporary times till our very day and age. As a result of that interest, we are gifted with a surplus of sources and descriptions of one of the most important battles of early modern Europe from both sides of the battlefield. The Austrian and German authors and diary writers notably mention the fact that their army was tired from the stressful campaign and march from the Hungarian border and across the Rhine as a major factor in the course of the battle. Still, the French forces were also tired from their advance from the, by then, recently concluded Savoyard Campaign. From the French side, contemporary writers stress the fact that the knowledge that the future of the entire French army of the Rhine depended on them alongside the valorous charge by the King’s Musketeers drove the Huguenot host to victory. Taking the testimony of both sides into account the sudden charge by the Guard under Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne and the timely arrival of the French heavy cavalry under Crussol seems as a plausible explanation why the Austrian force under Gerhard von Kapfenberg suffered such a crushing defeat.
Battle of Strasbourg
Henri breathed heavily as the pounding of the drums began to batter through his ears. Before him, the first Austrian regiments were advancing through the ridge – in a somewhat casual formation. IN an instant he had gotten hold of Charles and told him to fetch an ordonnance to Crussol’s headquarters.
The Austrians continued for a while before halting a good distance from the French soldiers arranged before them. They became nervous at once, bewildered and confused they looked around, not understanding that an enemy could stand between them and their prey.
D’Auvergne noted this, at first with satisfaction and a few moments later with extreme joy. They were in disarray and they were trapped.
With a lazy gesture from his right hand, the musketeers loaded their weapons and the drums began to roll.
Now, he acted purely on instinct.
“Charles, order the Italian pieces to aim twelve toise above the nearest enemy estandard and tell them to open fire when the Guard has delivered its first salvo.”
The Austrians were running now. Some tried to form tercios, some tried to retreat while others simply observed the enemy with an almost curious look.
Henri’s voice rang out amidst the noise of drums and the screams of horses.
“Frenchmen! We are the Guard, before us is the enemy and behind us is our God! This day hath the Lord made, we will rejoice and be glad in it!
Musketeers! God save the King and fire!!”
Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne delivers captured Austrian banners to General Crussol on the eve of the battle of Strasbourg
Savoy cedes Savoie and pays 75 ducats
At this time, there were no punkers in Savoy