Battle of Rocroi

Last updated

Coordinates: 49°55′10″N4°31′40″E / 49.91944°N 4.52778°E / 49.91944; 4.52778

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.


Battle of Rocroi
Part of the Thirty Years' War
Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659)
Rocroi, el ultimo tercio, por Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.jpg
Rocroi, el último tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011)
Date19 May 1643
Rocroi, France
Result Decisive French victory
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Duc d'Enghien Francisco de Melo
Paul-Bernard de Fontaines

22,000 [1]

15,000 infantry
7,000 cavalry
14 guns

23,050 [2]

18,000 infantry (7,000 Spanish)
5,050 cavalry
18 guns
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead or wounded [3]

10,000 [4]

6,000 killed or wounded
4,000 captured
18 guns

The Battle of Rocroi of 19 May 1643 resulted in the victory of a French army under the Duc d'Enghien against the Spanish Army under General Francisco de Melo only five days after the accession of Louis XIV of France to the throne of France, late in the Thirty Years' War. The battle is considered by many to be the turning point of the perceived invincibility of the Spanish Tercio that dominated European battlefields in the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. [5] After Rocroi, the Spanish abandoned the tercio system and began to use linear Dutch-style battalions like the French. [5]

Francisco de Melo Portuguese general, statesman and diplomat

Dom Francisco de Melo was a Portuguese nobleman and general.

Louis XIV of France King of France

Louis XIV, known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, was King of France from 14 May 1643 until his death in 1715. His reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country in European history. In the age of absolutism in Europe, Louis XIV's France was a leader in the growing centralisation of power.

Thirty Years War War between 1618 and 1648; with over 8 million fatalities

The Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague. Casualties were overwhelmingly and disproportionately inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, most of the rest being battle deaths from various foreign armies. The deadly clashes ravaged Europe; 20 percent of the total population of Germany died during the conflict and there were losses up to 50 percent in a corridor between Pomerania and the Black Forest. In terms of proportional German casualties and destruction, it was surpassed only by the period of January to May 1945 during World War II. One of its enduring results was 19th-century Pan-Germanism, when it served as an example of the dangers of a divided Germany and became a key justification for the 1871 creation of the German Empire.


From 1618 on the Thirty Years' War had been raging in Germany between the Spanish Habsburgs under Philip IV of Spain and Protestant powers. Fearing strengthened Habsburg presence on its borders, France had in 1635 declared war in support of the Protestant Anti-Habsburg States, despite being a stern Catholic power and having suppressed the Huguenot rebellions at home. An opening invasion of the Spanish Netherlands had ended in failure, with the French retreating to their borders for the next several years.

Philip IV of Spain King of Spain and Portugal

Philip IV was King of Spain and Portugal. He ascended the thrones in 1621 and reigned in Portugal until 1640. Philip is remembered for his patronage of the arts, including such artists as Diego Velázquez, and his rule over Spain during the Thirty Years' War.

Huguenot rebellions Rebellions in the Kingdom of France

The Huguenot rebellions, sometimes called the Rohan Wars after the Huguenot leader Henri de Rohan, were an event of the 1620s in which French Calvinist Protestants (Huguenots), mainly located in southwestern France, revolted against royal authority. The uprising occurred a decade following the death of Henry IV, who, himself originally a Huguenot before converting to Catholicism, had protected Protestants through the Edict of Nantes. His successor Louis XIII, under the regency of his Italian Catholic mother Marie de' Medici, became more intolerant of Protestantism. The Huguenots tried to respond by defending themselves, establishing independent political and military structures, establishing diplomatic contacts with foreign powers, and openly revolting against central power. The Huguenot rebellions came after two decades of internal peace under Henry IV, following the intermittent French Wars of Religion of 1562–1598.

On 4 December 1642 the royal adviser Cardinal Richelieu died, and Louis XIII fell ill in the early spring of 1643. The king died on 14 May 1643, leaving his son Louis XIV to inherit the Kingdom of France. Despite receiving overtures of peace, the new king did not wish to change the course of the war, and French military pressure on Franche-Comté, Catalonia, and Spanish Flanders was maintained.

Cardinal Richelieu French clergyman, noble and statesman

Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, commonly referred to as Cardinal Richelieu, was a French clergyman and statesman. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1607 and was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1616. Richelieu soon rose in both the Catholic Church and the French government, becoming a cardinal in 1622, and King Louis XIII's chief minister in 1624. He remained in office until his death in 1642; he was succeeded by Cardinal Mazarin, whose career he had fostered.

Louis XIII of France King of France

Louis XIII was King of France from 1610 to 1643 and King of Navarre from 1610 to 1620, when the crown of Navarre was merged with the French crown.

Franche-Comté Region of France

Franche-Comté is a cultural and historical region of eastern France. It is composed of the modern departments of Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône and the Territoire de Belfort. In 2016, its population was 1,180,397.

As it had done the year before at the Battle of Honnecourt, the renowned Spanish Habsburg Army of Flanders advanced through the Ardennes and into northern France with 23,050 men, intending to relieve the French pressure on other fronts. [2] The Duc d'Enghien, commander of a French army in Amiens, was appointed to stop the Spanish incursion. Although 21-years-old, he was not inexperienced, and he had worthy subordinates, among them Marshal Jean de Gassion. The total French forces in the area numbered 22,000. [1]

Battle of Honnecourt

The Battle of Honnecourt was a battle of the Thirty Years' War fought on 26 May 1642. The Spanish, led by Francisco de Melo, were victorious over the French under Antoine III de Gramont, Comte de Guiche.

Army of Flanders

The Army of Flanders was a multinational army in the service of the kings of Spain that was based in the Netherlands during the 16th to 18th centuries. It was notable for being the longest-serving standing army of the period, being in continuous service from 1567 until its disestablishment in 1706. In addition to taking part in numerous battles of the Dutch Revolt (1567–1609) and the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), it also employed many developing military concepts more reminiscent of later military units, enjoying permanent, standing regiments (tercios), barracks, military hospitals and rest homes long before they were adopted in most of Europe. Sustained at huge cost and at significant distances from Spain, the Army of Flanders also became infamous for successive mutinies and its ill-disciplined activity off the battlefield, including the Sack of Antwerp in 1576.

Ardennes low mountain range in Belgium

The Ardennes, also known as the Ardennes Forest or Forest of Ardennes, is a region of extensive forests, rough terrain, rolling hills and ridges formed by the geological features of the Ardennes mountain range and the Moselle and Meuse river basins. Geologically, the range is a western extension of the Eifel, and both were raised during the Givetian age of the Devonian, as were several other named ranges of the same greater range.


Map of the troop dispositions Battle rocroi.png
Map of the troop dispositions

The Spanish troops under Francisco de Melo advanced to and besieged Rocroi, a fortress town garrisoned by a few hundred French. A vital logistics hub, Rocroi commanded the route to the valley of the Oise. D'Enghien followed de Melo's numerically superior army closely. On 17 May d'Enghien learned of death of King Louis, which he kept secret from his army.

Rocroi Commune in Grand Est, France

Rocroi is a commune in the Ardennes department in northern France.

Oise (river) river in Belgium and France

The Oise is a river of Belgium and France, flowing for 341 kilometres (212 mi) from its source in the Belgian province of Hainaut, south of Chimay. It crosses the border with France after about 20 kilometres (12 mi). It flows into the Seine at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a north-western suburb of Paris. Its main tributary is the Aisne. It gave its name to the French departments of Oise and Val-d'Oise.

Word reached d'Enghien of 6,000 Spanish reinforcements on their way to Rocroi. Reacting quickly, d'Enghien prepared his army to give battle before the Spanish reinforcements arrived.

Learning of the French advance, de Melo decided to engage the oncoming forces rather than invest in the siege of Rocroi, as his army was stronger than that of the French. The Spanish saw the battle as an opportunity to win a decisive victory in Northern France. De Melo left a detachment of his army at Rocroi to prevent action from the garrison and moved his army to battle.

Enghien advanced along the Oise road and assembled his force along a ridge looking down on the besieged town of Rocroi. The Spanish quickly formed up between the town and the ridge. The French army was arranged with two lines of infantry in the center, squadrons of cavalry on each wing, and with a thin line of artillery at the front. The Spanish army was similarly arranged, but with its infantry deployed in their traditional tercio pike squares. The two armies exchanged some fire on the afternoon of 18 May, but the full battle did not occur until the following day.


Duc d'Enghien at the Battle of Rocroi Rocroi.jpg
Duc d'Enghien at the Battle of Rocroi

The battle began after dawn broke, with the French infantry launching a failed attack on the Spanish tercios. The cavalry on the French left advanced against d'Enghien's orders, and were also forced to retreat. The Spanish cavalry launched a successful counter-attack and nearly routed the French cavalry, but the French reserve moved in and succeeded in checking the Spanish. At this point in the fighting the French left and center were in distress.

Meanwhile, on the French right, cavalry under the command of Jean de Gassion routed the Spanish cavalry opposite. d'Enghien himself was able to follow this up by attacking the exposed left flank of the Spanish infantry.

The battle was still inconclusive, with both armies having had success on their right and trouble on their left.

d'Enghien's "illumination de génie décide du sort de la journée"

d'Enghien, aware that his left and center were in trouble, decided that the best way to help them was not to fall back and support them, but rather to exploit his winning momentum on the right flank. He ordered a huge cavalry encirclement, achieved via a sweeping strike behind the Spanish army. d'Enghien and his cavalry soon smashed their way through to attack the rear of the Spanish cavalry on the right flank, which were still in combat with his reserves. [6]

The move succeeded; it was later called a "stroke of genius that decided the fate of the day" (literal translation), and asserted d'Enghien's reputation as a military leader.

The Spanish horse was routed, leaving the Spanish infantry to carry on the fight against the French on all sides. The Spanish artillery fled, leaving their guns to be captured by the French. The momentum now lay with the French army.

Concluding battle

Two French charges were repulsed by the Spanish tercios, but the infantry formations were forced to stand closer together to maintain their pike squares. d'Enghien arranged for his artillery and captured Spanish guns to blast them apart.

Soon the German and Walloon tercios fled from the battlefield, while the Spanish remained on the field with their commander, repulsing four more cavalry charges by the French and never breaking formation, despite repeated heavy artillery bombardment. d'Enghien finally offered surrender conditions just like those obtained by a besieged garrison in a fortress. Having agreed to those terms, the remains of the two tercios left the field with deployed flags and weapons. [7]

Francois Joseph Heim, "The Battle of Rocroi" HeimBattleRocroy.jpg
François Joseph Heim, "The Battle of Rocroi"

French losses were about 4,000. Melo stated his losses as 6,000 casualties and 4,000 captured in his report to Madrid written two days after the battle. [8] The estimates for the Spanish army's dead range from 4,000–8,000. [4] Of the 7,000 Spanish infantry only 390 officers and 1,386 enlisted men were able to escape back to the Spanish Netherlands. [4] [9] Guthrie lists 3,400 killed and 2,000 captured for the five Spanish infantry battalions alone, while 1,600 escaped. [9] Most of the casualties of the battle were suffered by the Spanish infantry, while the cavalry and artillerymen were able to withdraw, albeit with the loss of all the cannons. [10]

Aftermath and significance

The French relieved the siege of Rocroi, but were not strong enough to move the fight into Spanish Flanders. The Spanish were able to regroup rapidly and stabilize their positions. [11] The year 1643 ended in a veritable stalemate, which was enough of a success for France.

Despite this, the battle was of great symbolic importance because of the high reputation of the Army of Flanders. [12] Melo in his report to the king called it "the most considerable defeat there has ever been in these provinces".

The successful show of strength was important for France. At home, it was seen as a good omen for the new king's reign, and secured the power of the regent queen and newly appointed cardinal Mazarin. While both Richelieu and Louis XIII had distrusted his wife the queen Anne of Austria (she was sister of Philip IV of Spain), when she became regent (until the 4 year old new king Louis XIV came of age), she confirmed Mazarin, Richelieu's protégé and political heir, as prime minister, and no change in politics occurred regarding the war.

It established the reputation of the 21-year-old French general Enghien, who later will be called "Grand Condé" ("grand" meaning "great") for his numerous victories.

Abroad, it showed that France remained as strong as before, despite its 4-year-old king. Supremacy in Europe was to move slowly from Habsburg Spain to Bourbon France in the decades to come. It was the new nature and weight of absolute monarchy in France which was now to encompass the decline of Habsburg Spanish imperial power in Europe. [13] Cardinal Mazarin was able to cope with the Fronde, then slowly to turn the tide against the Spanish in France and in the Low Countries. Mazarin's alliance with England resulted in the defeat of the Spanish at the Battle of the Dunes and consequently the taking of Dunkirk in 1658, prior to the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Although Spain looked to be all-powerful in 1652, the peace settlement reflected the demise of Spain's mastery of Europe in the late 1650s. [14]

It has been noted that Melo's German, Walloon, and Italian troops actually surrendered first, while the Spanish infantry surrendered only after standing hours of infantry and cavalry charges and a vicious spell under the French guns. They were given the treatment usually given to a fortress garrison and retired from the field with their arms, flags and honors.

In media

A 2006 Spanish movie, Alatriste , directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes, portrays this battle in its final scene. The soundtrack features in this scene a funeral march, La Madrugá , composed by Colonel Abel Moreno for the Holy Week of Seville, played by the band of the Regiment Soria 9, heir of that which participated in the battle, the oldest unit in the Spanish Army, and since nicknamed "the bloody Tercio".[ citation needed ]


The sedan chair belonging to the elderly Spanish infantry general Paul-Bernard de Fontaines, who was suffering from gout [15] and was carried to battle in the chair, was taken as a trophy by the French and may be seen in the museum of Les Invalides in Paris. Fontaines (originally from the Spanish Netherlands - now Belgium - and known to the Spanish as de Fuentes) was killed in the battle; Enghien is reported to have said, "Had I not won the day I wish I had died like him". [16]

Related Research Articles

Battle of Nördlingen (1634) German battle 6 September 1634

The Battle of Nördlingen was fought in 1634 during the Thirty Years' War, on 27 August or 6 September. The Roman Catholic Imperial army, bolstered by 15,000 Spanish soldiers, won a crushing victory over the combined Protestant armies of Sweden and their German-Protestant allies.

Battle of the Dunes (1658) battle in the Franco-Spanish War (1658)

The Battle of the Dunes, also known as the Battle of Dunkirk, was fought on 14 June 1658. It was a victory of the French army and their Commonwealth of England allies, under Turenne, one of the great generals of his age, over the Spanish army and their English Royalist and French Fronde rebels, led by John of Austria the Younger and Louis II de Condé. The battle was part of the Franco-Spanish War and the concurrent Anglo-Spanish War, and was fought near Dunkirk a fortified port city on the coast of the English Channel in what was then the Southern Netherlands that belonged to Habsburg Spain. The French army had laid siege to Dunkirk and the Spanish army was attempting to raise the siege.

Battle of Lens battle of the Thirty Years War

The Battle of Lens was a French victory under Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé against the Spanish army under Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). It was the last major battle of the war and a French victory. The battle cemented the reputation of Condé as one of the greatest generals of his age.

Cardinal Mazarin Catholic cardinal

Cardinal Jules Mazarin, born Giulio Raimondo Mazzarino or Mazarini, was an Italian cardinal, diplomat and politician who served as the chief minister to the kings of France Louis XIII and Louis XIV from 1642 until his death in 1661. In 1654 he acquired the title Duke of Mayenne, and in 1659, 1st Duke of Rethel and Nevers.

Louis, Grand Condé Le Grand Condé

Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé was a French general and the most famous representative of the Condé branch of the House of Bourbon. Prior to his father's death in 1646, he was styled the Duc d'Enghien. For his military prowess he was known as le Grand Condé.

Henri de La Tour dAuvergne, Viscount of Turenne French nobleman, general, Marshal of France

Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, often called simply Turenne, was a French Marshal General and the most illustrious member of the La Tour d'Auvergne family. His military exploits over his five-decade career earned him a reputation as one of the greatest generals in modern history.

A tercio or tercio español was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.

Battle of Fleurus (1622) battle in the Thirty Years War, 1622

The Battle of Fleurus of August 29, 1622 was fought in the Spanish Netherlands between a Spanish army, and the Protestant forces of Ernst von Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick during the Eighty Years' War and Thirty Years' War. The bloody struggle left the Protestants mangled and the Spanish masters of the field, but unable to block the enemy's march.

Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, Cardinal Infante, Archbishop of Toledo

Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Cardinal of the Holy Catholic Church, Infante of Spain, Infante of Portugal, Archduke of Austria, Archbishop of Toledo (1619–41), and military commander during the Thirty Years' War.

Jean de Gassion Marshal of France

Jean, comte de Gassion was a Gascon military commander for France, prominent at the battle of Rocroi (1643) who reached the rank of Marshal of France at the age of thirty-four. He served Louis XIII and Louis XIV and died of wounds at the siege of Lens.

The Battle of La Marfée took place during Thirty Years' War near Sedan, France, on 6 July 1641, between a Royal army of Louis XIII under Marshall Gaspard III de Coligny, and French malcontents led by Prince Louis de Bourbon, Count of Soissons, and Duke Frédéric Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, duc de Bouillon, who were supported by an Imperial-Spanish army under general Guillaume de Lamboy sent from the Spanish Netherlands by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria. The French malcontents and the Habsburg forces dealt a serious defeat to the French Royal Army, and for a moment, Cardinal Richelieu feared that the rebels, supported by the Spanish forces, would advance on Paris. Shortly after, however, Soissons fell dead, either murdered by an assassin or killed by himself accidentally, and the rebellion vanished.

Relief of Thionville

The Relief of Thionville took place from 6 to 7 June 1639, during the Thirty Years' War.

Henri II de La Ferté-Senneterre was a marshal of France and governor of Lorraine.

Siege of Leuven

The Siege of Leuven was an important siege in the Thirty Years' War in which a Franco-Dutch army under Frederick Henry of Orange and the French Marshals Urbain de Maillé-Brezé and Gaspard III de Coligny, who had invaded the Spanish Netherlands from two sides, laid siege to the city of Leuven, defended by a force of 4,000 comprising local citizen and student militias with Walloons, Germans and Irish of the Army of Flanders under Anthonie Schetz, Baron of Grobbendonck. Poor organization and logistics and the spread of sickness among the French, along with the appearance of a relief army of 11,000 Spanish and Italian troops under Ottavio Piccolomini, forced the invading army to lift the siege. This failure allowed the Spanish forces to take the initiative and soon the invaders were forced into a headlong retreat.

Siege of Saint-Omer

The Siege of Saint-Omer was a siege in the Thirty Years' War in which a French army under Gaspard III de Coligny, Maréchal de Châtillon, laid siege to the Flemish city of Saint-Omer, defended by a small garrison in command of Lancelot II Schetz, count of Grobbendonck. Despite several initial successes in the capture of the minor forts around Saint-Omer, on the night of 8/9 June a Spanish relief army under Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano surprised Châtillon's troops and established a small fort in the middle of the French lines. An entire army corps under Maréchal de La Force was ordered to move towards Saint-Omer to support Châtillon siege, but on July 12 a further Imperial-Spanish force commanded by Ottavio Piccolomini entered Saint-Omer, resolving the French marshals to withdraw.

The following units and commanders of the French and Spanish armies fought in the Battle of Rocroi on May 19, 1643.

Paul-Bernard de Fontaines

Paul-Bernard de Fontaines, also known as Comtefontaine, Conde Fontana or Fuentes, was commander of the Spanish infantry during the Eighty Years War. He was Vogt of Bruges and governor of Damme. He participated in the battles around Hulst, Kallo and Antwerp.

Battle of Kempen battle

The Battle of Kempen was a battle during the Thirty Years' War in Kempen, Westphalia on 17 May 1643. It resulted in the victory of a French-Weimar-Hessian army under the French Comte de Guébriant and the Hessian Generalleutnant Kaspar Graf von Eberstein against the Imperial Army under General Guillaume de Lamboy, who was captured.



  1. 1 2 Guthrie 2003, p. 185.
  2. 1 2 Guthrie 2003, p. 174.
  3. John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. p. 75. ISBN   006089170X.
  4. 1 2 3 González de León 2009, p. 312.
  5. 1 2 Guthrie 2003, p. 180.
  6. Iselin 1965, p. 149.
  7. Agustín Pacheco Fernández, Rocroi, el último tercio. Spain: Galland Books, 2011. pp. 15-17
  8. González de León 2009, p. 312–313.
  9. 1 2 Guthrie 2003, p. 182.
  10. González de León 2009, p. 313.
  11. Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002, p 147
  12. Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002, p 147
  13. Perry Anderson (23 April 2013). Lineages of the Absolutist State (Verso World History Series). Verso Books. p. 47. ISBN   978-1-78168-054-4 . Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  14. William Young (1 September 2004). International Politics And Warfare In The Age Of Louis Xiv And Peter The Great: A Guide To The Historical Literature. iUniverse. p. 157. ISBN   978-0-595-32992-2 . Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  15. Sanchez, Juan. "Paul Bernard de Fontaine (1576 - 1643), señor de Fougerolles, Conde del S.R.I." [Paul Bernard de Fontaine (1576 - 1643), Lord of Fougerolles, Count of the Holy Roman Empire] (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 March 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  16. "La bataille de Rocroi (1643)" [The battle of Rocroi (1643)] (in French). Retrieved 2 October 2017.