The Battle of Oudenarde 1708
The Duke of Marlborough’s third defeat in the field of the French army of Louis
War: Spanish Succession
Date: 30th June 1708 (Old Style) (11th July1708 New Style). The dates in this page are given in the Old Style. To translate to the New Style (current dating system) add 11 days.
Combatants: British, Dutch, Austrians, Hanoverians,
Prussians and Danes against the French and Bavarians. Scots, Irish,
Swiss and Germans fought in the battle on both sides.
Generals: The Duke of Marlborough against the Duke of
Burgundy and Marshal Vendôme.
Size of the armies: Marlborough's army numbered 80,000 men
(112 battalions, 180 squadrons and 113 guns). The French army
numbered around 95,000 men (124 battalions, 197 squadrons and 120
Uniforms, arms and equipment:
The British Army of Queen Anne comprised troops of Horse Guards,
regiments of horse, dragoons, Foot Guards and foot. In time of war
the Department of Ordinance provided companies of artillery, the
guns drawn by the horses of civilian contractors.
These types of formation were largely standard throughout Europe.
In addition the Austrian Empire possessed numbers of irregular light
troops; Hussars from Hungary and Bosniak and Pandour troops from the
During the 18th Century the use of irregulars spread to
other armies until every European force had hussar regiments and
light infantry for scouting duties.
Horse and dragoons carried swords and short flintlock muskets.
Dragoons had largely completed their transition from mounted
infantry to cavalry and were formed into troops rather than
companies as had been the practice in the past. However they still
used drums rather than trumpets for field signals.
Infantry regiments fought in line, armed with flintlock musket
and bayonet, field orders indicated by the beat of drum. The field
unit for infantry was the battalion, comprising ten companies each
commanded by a captain, the senior company being of grenadiers.
Drill was rudimentary and once battle began formations quickly broke
up. The practice of marching in step was in the distant future.
The paramount military force of the period was the French army of
Louis XIV, the Sun King. France was at the apex of her power, taxing
to the utmost the disparate groupings of European countries that
struggled to keep the Bourbons on the western bank of the Rhine and
north of the Pyrenees.
Marlborough and his British regiments acted as an uncertain
mortar in keeping the edifice of the Imperial cause in Flanders
The War of the Spanish Succession was an early outing for the new
British Army established after the Restoration in 1685. The
regiments that took the field were the forebears of powerful
Victorian institutions; Foot Guards, King’s Horse, Royal Dragoons,
Royal Scots, Buffs, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Cameronians, Royal Scots
Fusiliers and several other prestigious corps.
Britain fell behind its continental enemies and allies in many
respects. There was no formal military education for officers of the
Army, competence coming from experience on the field of battle.
Commissions in the horse, dragoons and foot were acquired by
purchase, permitting the wealthy to achieve often unmerited
Support services were not formally established and depended on
the commander. A major contributing feature to the Duke of
Marlborough’s success in the field was his concern that his soldiers
be properly supplied and by his consummate ability in organising and
administering that supply.
While every army had formal and explicit rank structures the
reality of command and influence was still largely decided by social
standing, particularly between armies of different nationalities.
was a matter of necessity for John Churchill to have the status of
Duke of Marlborough to enable him to exercise decisive influence
over the fractious foreign officers he had to work with and over
some of his own nationality.
In reality the rank of duke, while
probably of greater significance than his military rank of Captain
General, was insufficient to enable him to act as a true commander
in chief rather than as quasi-chairman of a committee of Dutch,
Austrian and British generals.
The uniform of the British Regiments was the long red coat turned
back at the lapels and cuffs to show the facings of the regimental
colour; dark blue for guards and royal regiments; yellow, green,
white or buff for many of the others. The Royal Horse Guards wore
blue uniforms; so did the artillery, an organization not yet
incorporated into the army proper.
Headgear was the tricorne hat, except for the company of
grenadiers in each battalion of foot, the Horse Grenadier Guards,
the Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys), the three regiments
of fusiliers (Royal, Royal North British and Royal Welch) and the
drummers of dragoons and foot, all of whom wore the mitre cap.
For the infantry a cross belt carried the cartridge case hanging
on the right hip. A second cross belt carried the bayonet and hanger
Ammunition, carried in the cartridge case, comprised cartridges
of paper wrap containing the ball and gunpowder for the discharge.
For the other European armies national uniforms were in their
infancy. The Danish infantry wore grey coats and breeches with green
stockings. Some Danish cavalry regiments wore the old buff coats.
Hanoverian regiments had taken to wearing red coats. The Prussian
army wore dark blue. The Dutch army wore a motley of uniforms
although the Guards wore blue and were referred to as the Blue
Guards. The native French regiments wore white coats. The foreign
regiments in French service, the Scots, Irish and Swiss wore red
Winner: The Allied Army under the Duke of Marlborough and
Prince Eugene of Savoy; decisively.
The Battle of Oudenarde
King’s Regiment of Horse; later the King’s Dragoon Guards and now
the 2nd Queen’s Dragoon Guards.
3rd Regiment of Horse; later the 3rd Dragoon Guards, then the 3rd
Carabineers and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
5th Regiment of Horse; later the 5th Dragoon Guards, then the 5th
Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
6th Regiment of Horse; later the 6th Dragoon Guards, then the 3rd
Carabineers and now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
7th Regiment of Horse; later the 7th Dragoon Guards, then the
4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards.
Royal North British Regiment of Dragoons; the Royal Scots Greys and
now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
5th Dragoons; later the 5th Lancers, then the 16th/5th Royal Lancers
and now the Royal Lancers.
1st Regiment of Foot Guards; now the Grenadier Guards.
The Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards.
The Royal Regiment; now the Royal Scots.
3rd Foot, the Buffs; now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
8th King’s Foot; now the King’s Regiment.
10th Foot; later the Lincolnshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian
15th Foot; later the East Yorkshire Regiment and now the Prince of
Wales’s Regiment of Yorkshire.
16th Foot; later the Bedfordshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian
Royal Irish; disbanded in 1922.
Royal Scots Fusiliers.
Royal Welch Fusiliers.
24th Foot; later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal
Regiment of Wales.
26th Foot, the Cameronians; later the Scottish Rifles, disbanded in
28th Foot; later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal
Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.
29th Foot; later the Worcestershire Regiment and now the
Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment.
37th Foot: later the Royal Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of
Wales’s Royal Regiment.
The 1708 campaigning season started late and in some confusion.
The King of France, Louis XIV, planned to subvert the allied war
effort by means of a Jacobite uprising in Scotland to place the Old
Pretender on the throne; but the plan foundered and had to be
The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenarde
(scene from the tapestry at Blenheim Palace)
The Duke of Marlborough reached Holland in early April 1708 to
meet Prince Eugene of Savoy, his close confederate of long standing,
and plan the campaign to be fought in the summer of 1708.
While Marlborough commanded in Flanders Prince Eugene would bring
the Imperial forces on the Moselle River north to join Marlborough
for a decisive blow at the French and Bavarians.
For the year’s campaign a junior commander joined Prince Eugene,
the Electoral Prince of Hanover, later to be King George II of
Louis XIV harboured the ambition to revenge the crushing defeats his
armies had suffered at Blenheim and Ramillies at the hands of the
Duke of Marlborough; French troops flowing into Flanders as they
could be spared from other theatres.
The heir to the French throne, the Duke of Burgundy nominally
commanded the French army, with Marshal Vendôme, an experienced
soldier, present to provide informed advice. Burgundy’s brother, the
Duke de Berry, and the Old Pretender, the Chevalier de Sainte
George, assisted in the high command.
In May 1708 the French army marched north into the heart of
Flanders, causing Marlborough to send an urgent message to Prince
Eugene, summoning him from the Moselle. While in need of the
Imperial troops as reinforcements, Marlborough had a greater need
for the assistance of his trusted colleague, the Prince.
The opposing armies manoeuvred across Flanders without meeting,
the French taking Ghent and Bruges and threatening Brussels.
In late June 1708 with the surrender of the citadel in Ghent,
Vendôme was free to move on the town of Oudenarde strategically
important with its crossing point over the Scheldt River. The French
army crossed the Scheldt to the North of the town on 30th June 1708.
Marlborough ordered a Dutch officer to throw himself into Oudenarde
with such troops as he could muster and resist the French while
Marlborough brought up the main army by a series of forced marches.
On the day Vendôme crossed the Scheldt to threaten the town,
Cadogan, Marlborough’s trusted Quartermaster General, arrived at the
river bank north of Oudenarde with the first troops of the allied
army and began assembling a pontoon bridge.
The French advanced guard of horse, commanded by the Marquis de
Biron, unaware of the presence of Cadogan’s force, moved up the west
bank of the river towards Oudenarde, his soldiers foraging as they
Biron was peremptorily informed of the allied presence; Cadogan’s
horse attacking the dispersed French foragers. Hurrying to the front
Biron saw that Marlborough himself was now crossing the Scheldt with
a contingent of Prussian horse that he had rushed forward to support
his Quartermaster General. Biron passed the information back to his
On receipt of Biron’s intelligence Vendôme realized that he had a
considerable opportunity to attack while much of the allied army was
still on the far side of the Scheldt. He ordered that the French
army adopt a position along the heights above Oudenarde on the
eastern side of the Norken River. Seven French battalions from the
Swiss regiments of Phiffer, Villars and Greder were ordered forward
forthwith to occupy and hold the village of Heurne.
The Duke of Burgundy, considering Vendôme’s dispositions to be
excessively rash, overruled the experienced marshal and directed
that the army take up positions on the heights to the west of the
The French army formed up in conformance with its new orders,
other than the seven battalions that continued to execute the orders
received from Vendôme. Unfortunately the commander mistook the
village he was directed to occupy and marched on to Eine, nearer to
Oudenarde and even more dangerously exposed than Heurne.
As the French took up their positions behind the Norken River the
allied army came up to the Scheldt, units crossing to the West,
either by the town bridges in Oudenarde or by Cadogan’s pontoons.
With the increasing support Cadogan’s troops moved forward to
Eine and, with the cavalry circling to the rear of the village to
cut off the French, launched an attack on the seven battalions, the
British regiments of Sabine’s brigade leading the assault. All seven
French battalions were either annihilated or surrendered. The allied
cavalry, led by Prince George, the Electoral Prince of Hanover
(later King George II of England), then assaulted the few supporting
French squadrons. During the fight Prince George’s horse was shot
With his army fully in position behind the Norken, the Duke of
Burgundy expected that he would be attacked and prepared for a
general engagement. But Marlborough’s army, still coming up and
crossing the Scheldt, was not yet ready to give battle.
At 4pm, in the continuing absence of an allied assault, the
impatient Burgundy resolved to launch a French attack across the
Norken and moved the cavalry across the river with the whole of the
centre and right flank. Against this advance Marlborough deployed
the limited resources that had by now crossed the Scheldt.
On the right flank Cadogan ordered two battalions of Prussian
foot into Groenewald, a village immediately threatened by the French
advance, while Marlborough sent forward twelve more battalions of
foot, many of them British, with British and Prussian cavalry taking
post on the heights at Bevere and Heurne in support.
At around 5.30pm thirty French battalions began the assault on
the two Prussian battalions in Groenewald. The supporting force soon
came up and a heavy struggle developed around the village.
More allied battalions crossed the Scheldt, and marched hurriedly
forward to form up on the left of the battle line, which was fast
extending to the West as French troops crossed the Norken and joined
Prince Eugene took eighteen battalions to the right flank in
support of Cadogan, whose troops had been forced out of Groenewald,
while the Prussian cavalry launched an attack on the French left,
that while initially successful was finally repelled with heavy
In the allied centre and left, where the Dutch and Hanover
battalions were deployed, the infantry fight reached stalemate with
neither side able to make significant progress against the other.
There were however no more French battalions coming across the
Norken River to extend the line. Marlborough launched twenty
battalions of Dutch and Danish foot in an attack around the end of
the French right flank, with a powerful force of cavalry under the
Dutch General Auverquerque striking wider still and attacking the
French cavalry in the rear of their line. The French right was
thereby surrounded and began to collapse.
To relieve the pressure on the centre and right of the French
army Vendôme and Burgundy attempted to bring the French left across
the Norken and into the battle but they could not progress in
crossing the river.
The battle ended with the fall of darkness, Prince Eugene’s
battalions beating the French assembly and Huguenot officers calling
the names of the French regiments so that parties of stragglers
gathered only to be made prisoners.
The French army streamed away from the battlefield in the
gathering gloom in considerable disorder, saved from greater
disaster by the onset of night.
Casualties: It is said that the French army lost 5,000
dead, 9,000 prisoners and 6,000 soldiers who deserted. The allies
are said to have had 5,000 casualties. The allies took 10 French
Follow-up: The next morning British and Prussian cavalry resumed the
pursuit of the French army and crossed the border into France
reaching the outskirts of Arras.
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
- The Duke of Marlborough lamented that the fall of night limited
the extent of the victory. “Another hour of daylight would have
enabled me to finish the war” he is reported to have said.
- King George II of England who fought at Oudenarde with the Hanover
Horse and had his horse shot under him, in later life would produce
his “Oudenarde Sword”. The King is memorable for commanding the
British and allied army at the Battle of Dettingen in June 1743.
- Fortescue’s History of the British Army Volume 1.
- Grant’s British Battles.
- Sullivan’s Irish Brigades in the Service of France