I did intend to give a detailed account of the battle, together with a description of the various changes in weapons and tactics that had occurred since the end of the Thirty Years War. However, I am still awaiting permission to use archive material and some military prints and drawings. These items notwithstanding, I decided to press-on and publish our tour of Neerwinden, which I hope will whet the appetite of other battlefield walkers to visit the site. There are also some photographs of various sites associated with the 2nd Battle of Neerwinden/Landen, March 18th 1793, fought around the same area between the Austrians and the French.
I am indebted to my good friends Ugo Janssen and his partner Esther for their hospitality and invaluable assistance during our visit. Also to my own partner Louise, for her uncomplaining and much appreciated input in helping me with translations. Finally I must sing the praises of Dr Bob, who also accompanied us on the trip, and who also did most of the driving. It is also thanks to his skills in panorama construction that much of this site has proved so popular – Thank you Robert!
Outline of the Battle
Possibly one of the few wars that do not grab the attention of war gamers or military historians, the War of the Grand Alliance 1688-1697, also variously known as the Nine Years War, the War of the Palatine Succession, and King William’s War, saw some of the bloodiest battles fought during the seventeenth century. One such engagement took place on the 29th July 1693 around the villages of Neerwinden, Landen and Laar, which today are situated in the Belgium province of Flemish Brabant. The French forces, consisting of some 80,000 men, were commanded by Marshal Luxembourg, and the Allied army, numbering around 50,000 by King William III of England.
The Allied army occupied a rough semicircle of rising ground stretching from Elissem on the right, then running south and incorporating Laar and Neerwinden, from where it continued east to Neerlanden with troops thrown forward occupying the village of Rumsdorp, and then turned north following the line of the Landen stream. Most accounts of the battle mention that William had ordered the construction of a strong line of entrenchments stretching from Neerwinden to Neerlanden, however, considering the time that the Allies had to do this work, and the fact that entrenching tools would have been in short supply, I consider that these hastily built trenches and breastworks would not have been very substantial.
A more serious problem for the Allies was the fact that, in the event of a French breakthrough, the only line of retreat lay behind William’s right flank across the Little Gheet River. Thus, given the length of the Allied position, it would prove difficult to pull back troops from the far left without causing a bottleneck at the river crossing. Luxembourg’s plan of battle therefore took this into consideration and his main attacks would concentrate on Neerwinden and Laar. Other containing actions and demonstrations would take place along the rest of the Allied line in order to prevent them from reinforcing their right flank.
Facing the Allied entrenchments, and intended to pin-down the Allied centre and left, Luxembourg drew up three lines of cavalry supported in their rear by two lines of infantry, with a further three lines of cavalry behind. A strong force of infantry and dragoons were also placed to attack Rumsdorp. The main trust would involve over 28,000 infantry and cavalry, together with artillery support. These troops were drawn up facing Neerwinden and at right angles to the main French line, conforming to the Allied position.
The containing actions against the Allied centre, together with the assault on Rumsdorp, although pressed with great vigour did little harm to the Allies, while the mass attack against Neerwinden and Laar was repulsed when William himself led a counter attack, which cleared both villages of the French. A second attack met with the same fate, and it was only due to the continued pressure being excreted on other parts of the Allied line that the battle began to turn in Luxembourg’s favour. Indeed, the six lines of French cavalry in the centre, having withstood the fire of the Allied cannon for several hours, finally moved forward to attack William’s entrenchments, where they were greeted by a withering fire which forced them to retire. Also the attacks on Rumsdorp, although not proving decisive, did manage to contain the Allied left. Costly though these attacks were to the French, they did allow time for the two infantry lines that occupied the centre to move over to the left and bring their fresh numbers and weight to bear in a final attack on Neerwinden, the pressure of which soon began to cause the Allies to give ground.
Still showing a bold front, even though being forced to retire, the Allied right flank was about to receive assistance from troops which William was bringing over from his centre and left, when General Feuquieres, who had noticed the movement, once more moved forward with the central mass of French cavalry. Caught while endeavouring to change position the Allied columns were ridden down and dispersed causing the whole army to retire in great confusion. Only William’s organisation of a strong rearguard, plus the exhaustion of the French troops, saved his army from total ruin.
The Allied losses in this great battle were close to 19,000 killed, wounded and captured. The French lost approximately 9,000.
Taken on a very hot day in June 2006, the photographs of the battlefield are given in the order of where we thought the best views and panoramas should be taken to show all the features of the terrain. Surprisingly, like many of the old battlefields around Europe, the ground is remarkably flat. This being said one should not expect to be confronted by anything more than slight rises and depressions on the landscape, and the often-used term of “commanding heights” usually means no more than a position taken up on the highest ground in the vicinity, which was probably only a few meters higher than the surrounding countryside, and which at first glance appears indiscernible.
2nd Battle of Neerwinden 18th March 1793
This Roman (?) mound, situated just off the main road between Overwinden and Neerwinden was supposedly used by an artillery battery during the battle in 1793. The mound itself is very overgrown, but even allowing for it being clear of trees and bushes it does not seem large enough to accommodate a full six gun artillery battery. Maybe it was used as a single cannon position, with a howitzer dropping fire on troop formations that were in dead ground?