Sieges of Le Quesnoy, 1712

By the beginning of 1712, the War of the Spanish Succession'was drawing to a close. Britain was in negotiations with France, but the Austrians were resolved to fight on. In January, Marlborough'had been relieved from command of the British forces and replaced by the Duke of Ormonde, who had been given orders to "avoid engaging in any siege, or hazarding a battle", due to the peace negotiations.

The lines of contravallation made by the Allies at Le Quesnoy.

Eugène'decided to move along the Sambre valley and take Le Quesnoy and Landrecies, opening up the way to advance on Paris via the l'Oise valley. Ormonde consented to have his troops cover the siege, avoiding any actual fighting. Accordingly, the Allies moved south and arrived before Le Quesnoy in mid-June.

Lines of contravallation dug to protect the besieging troops and the trenches were opened on the June 19th. Le Quesnoy was a formidable fortress, having been fortified by the Spanish and significantly reinforced by Vauban'some years earlier and defended by 2,000 men. The town was defended by a strong bastioned'trace with demi-lunes'and a strong covered way. Furthermore, much of the low-lying ground around the town could be inundated, which would limit the number of possible approaches.

After making a careful survey of the town, Eugène chose to attack from the south-east, where there was a strip of dry land between two inundations. The target was the demi-lune in front of the Porte Fauroeulx and the adjacent bastions.

The allied attacks against Le Quesnoy. The Imperial attack is on the left and the Dutch attack is on the right.

The attack was divided into two parts; the Imperial troops sapped towards the outworks to the south of the inundations, and the Dutch advanced two trenches either side of the northern inundation, driving towards the demi-lune itself. After about 2 weeks of sapping and battering of the walls, the garrison capitulated on 4th June. The siege had been short, despite the strength of the fortifications and the governor, La Badie, was accused of cowardice and sent to the Bastille by Louis XIV.

Having taken Le Quesnoy, Eugène advanced on Landrecies, but on July 16th, Ormonde declared that an armistice had been concluded between France and Britain. He left fo Dunkirk, but most of the foreign units serving in British pay refused to follow him and joined the Austrians. Although this left Eugène with less men, he decided to press on with his plan and invested Landrecies on 18th July. The French Marshal Villars seized his opportunity to strike at his now numerically inferior opponent and attacked the crossing of the Escaut at Denain, which was guarded by Dutch troops. Villars' crushing victory over the Allies in the Battle of Denain forced Eugène to raise the siege of Landrecies and retreat northwards on 29th July.

The French siegeworks at Le Quesnoy.

Capitalising on his victory, Villars invested Douai and sent Saint-Frémont with 28,000 men to retake Le Quesnoy. So the town was under siege again on the 8th September, but this time the French and the Allies had switched roles; this time the French were the attackers.

The French lines of contravallation took a similar form to those made by the Allies some months earlier but they were less extensive, perhaps because there was a smaller chance of a relief attempt. They made two attacks, one against the south-western section of the defences (slightly farther west than the Imperial attack) and one against the north-east (where the right wing of the Dutch attack had been made). The Allied garrison made a more prolonged defence than the French one had earlier in the year, but on 8th October Le Quesnoy was surrendered once more to the French.

Eugène's advance had failed, partly due to the desertion of the British troops but also due to his over-stretched supply lines as he invested Landrecies. Villars was able to break through, not only recapturing Le Quesnoy but also taking Douai and Bouchain into the bargain. In April 1713 the British and the Dutch made formal peace with France by signing the Treaty of Utrecht.

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