The battle of Fontenoy was a key French victory in the Austrian Netherlands during the War of the Austrian Succession. A French army under Marshal Saxe besieged Tournai, hoping to draw the ‘Pragmatic Army’ into an ambush outside the city. The Duke of Cumberland, more famous for his victory at Culloden, commanded an Allied army with British, Dutch, Austrian and Hanoverian contingents. Cumberland was only in his mid-twenties, and had first seen active service only two years earlier, but his Royal rank meant that that he had to be given command of the combined army. His track record on the Continent would prove to be unimpressive. In 1745 he fell into Saxe’s trap, attacking the French army in its pre-chosen positions outside Tournai, and despite the impressive performance of the British infantry, suffered a heavy defeat.
The campaign in the Austrian Netherlands was typical of the campaigns of this war, with any major progress taking several campaigning years to achieve. Cumberland commanded an allied army during the campaign, with British, Austrian, Dutch and Hanoverian troops. Each of his European contingents had their own commanders and aims, while as a result of earlier wars the Dutch held a series of ‘barrier fortresses’ within the Austrian Netherlands, partly paid for by the Austrians. The allied ‘Pragmatic Army’ was moving to raise a siege of one of those forts when it was defeated at Fontenoy, while Cumberland felt that he had to force a battle because the Dutch had failed to defend other forts for any length of time. Even on the French side there were tensions, with Marshal Saxe having to cope with political enemies, ill health, and the presence of the king with the army.
This account of the battle follows the standard Osprey format, with an introduction to the campaign, chapters on the commanders, armies and plans, and then the account of the campaign and battle itself. That works well here, allowing us to trace Saxe’s attempts to force the allies into a battle on his terms, Cumberland’s attempts to overcome that trap, the failure of most of his plans, and the impressive but eventually futile attack of the British infantry, which came terribly close to achieving an unexpected victory. As always the account of the battle is well supported with clear maps, and a good range of illustrations, producing a useful account of one of the British armies many famous defeats.
The Strategic Situation
The Battlefield Today
Author: Michael McNally