Historical Figures

Turenne, marshal of Louis XIV

From the Thirty Years' War to the Devolution War via the Fronde, Marshal de Turenne distinguished himself on many battlefields in the 17th century. With Condé and Vauban, the viscount of Turenne largely contributed to the military successes of France in the “Grand Siècle”. Without his precious marshals, the reign of Louis XIV would probably not have had so much brilliance. Among these warlords, Turenne is considered the most talented, notably illustrating himself at the Battle of the Dunes and the Battle of Nördlingen.

Turenne's first weapons

Born in Sedan in 1611 to Henri I de La Tour d'Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon and Elisabeth de Nassau, of Dutch origin, Henri de Turenne was raised under the influence of his mother's Reformed religion. He made his debut in them from his fifteenth year under the guidance of his uncles Maurice and Henri de Nassau, two princes of Orange who led the Dutch rebellion against Spain.

It was in 1630 that Louis XIII called him into his service. The interference of Richelieu's France in the Thirty Years' War will quickly allow him to distinguish himself in the Rhine countries under the command of Cardinal de La Valette. Appointed Field Marshal in 1635, he was wounded in front of Saverne and contributed in 1638 to the victory of Brisach, won by Bernard of Saxe-Weimar over the Imperials. In 1640, we find him in Piedmont where he seizes Turin and Moncalvo.

These successes earned him the title of lieutenant general in 1642. After taking Trino in 1643, Turenne received the marshal's stick, at the age of 32 years. In 1644, invested with the command of the army of Germany, he defeated the Bavarians at Donaueschingen, then at Fribourg. But he was surprised and beaten at Marienthal by Mercy the following year. He takes his revenge soon after with the Duke of Enghien in Nordlingen. In 1647, the intervention of the Swedes allowed him to invade Bavaria again and to force the elector to an armistice. Commitments not having been respected on the Bavarian side, the French resumed hostilities. Turenne's victory over the Imperials at Sommershausen opens the way to Munich.

Between slingshot and loyalty to the monarchy

When the Fronde broke out, Turenne was initially hesitant as to what action to take towards the Court. His brother Bouillon manages to pit him against Mazarin, but his troops, debauched by the cardinal, do not follow him. He had to retire hastily to Holland in March 1649. Returning to Paris after the Peace of Rueil which amnesty him by name, he supported the quarrel of the princes when he learned of their arrest. Condé freed, he follows him to Stenay where he is soon joined by Madame de Longueville, who turns his head. The influence of this rebellious led him to deal with the Spaniards and the Imperials. But the royal armies inflicted a severe defeat on him at Rethel on December 15, 1650.

At the end of this setback, his choice is made. The king's pardon obtained, his sword will now defend the monarchy. In 1652, he rectified the seriously compromised situation of the royal troops thanks to a series of successes. In March, he rescued the king at Jargeau, then having defeated the slingers at Etampes, he brought the king back to Paris.

Appointed Governor of Limousin and Minister of State, Turenne defeats the Grand Condé -who had been in the service of the Spaniards- in Picardy and wins the famous Battle of the Dunes (June 1658) which forced Dunkirk to surrender and allowed the conquest of part of Flanders, contributing to the conclusion of the peace formalized by the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

Turenne:a remarkable strategist promoted to marshal

These brilliant actions were rewarded in 1660 by the granting of the exceptional title of "Marshal General of the King's Camps and Armies". He reorganized the armies and prepared for the War of Devolution (1667-1668) during which he personally seized Charleroi and Tournai. The Dutch war that followed put his talent to the test. Defeated by the Imperials of Montecucculi in 1673, he took his revenge the following year at Sinzheim in the Palatinate, where he ordered the disastrous and not very glorious sack.

The following year he led a series of daring maneuvers, jostling the Imperials near Mulhouse in December 1674 and defeating them completely at Turckheim in January 1675. A few weeks later, Alsace was entirely in French hands. His glory is then at its height. Paris gave him a triumphant welcome. The following summer, he found his old enemy Montecucculi in difficulty between Baden and the Rhine, near Salzbach, and was preparing to give him battle when a cannonball hit him on July 27, 1675. The whole of France mourned the audacious leader of war. The greatest honors will be paid to Marshal de Turenne and his remains, an exceptional privilege, are buried in Saint-Denis. It will be transferred in 1800 to the Invalides.

For the end of his reign, Louis XIV will have little more than the excellent Claude de Villars and the brilliant Vauban to lead his armies to victory. His successors Louis XV and Louis XVI will hardly be better off, apart from a few foreigners like Maurice of Saxony, and it will be necessary to wait for the Revolution and the Empire for France to once again have military leaders of Turenne's caliber.


- Turenne, biography of Jean Bérenger. Fayard, 1987.

- The Wars of Louis XIV, by John A. LYNN. Tempus, 2014.