Orchard Dump
Webmatters : The Battles of Cassel


11th April 1677

The third battle of Cassel was the result of the intervening centuries of power struggles throughout the region. It would result in France becoming much closer to the shape that we know today.

The Dukes of Burgundy during the Hundred Years War had slowly become the dominant power positioned between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France.

The moment you hear the word you think; south of France and wine. But that is the area; in this case we are talking about the Dukes who were of royal lineage and came to own not only what we consider to be the wine region but also pretty much everything to the north of Paris, eastern France, Belgium and areas of Germany (to use current geopolitical terms).

In 1461 Louis XI came to the French throne with an agenda of reunification on his mind (in other words: everything would be owned by the crown). It was almost inevitable that war would eventually break out between him and the last of the Dukes of Burgundy — Charles the Bold.

In 1477 the Duke met his demise at Nancy whilst fighting the French and Swiss but in an astute move Charles’ widow married their daughter off within months to Maximilian, the son of Frederick III the Holy Roman Emperor.

The marriage had far reaching effects because when Louis attempted to seize back what he considered to be a treacherous vassal’s possessions, Maximilian, a future emperor, intended to maintain what he now considered to be his.

It came down to treaties. In 1482 the first was signed in Arras. This returned Picardie and the Duchy of Burgundy to Louis. It was also agreed that the Dauphin Charles would marry Maximilian’s daughter Marguerite, bringing with her a dowry which included Artois. The second was signed at Senlis in 1493 after Charles decided that he wanted to marry somebody else. Marguerite was sent packing, and as France was in de facto possession of much of the old Burgundian territory Marguerite was lucky to be able to conserve Artois.

The Burgundian Netherlands passed into the hands of a six year old boy from Bruges in 1506. Within twenty years the boy would have inherited the Spanish Empire from his parents and the Holy Roman Empire from his uncle Maximilian.

Emperor Charles V is known to the French as Charles Quint (the old word for : five and pronounced like an Australian : can’t). In this form he has lent his name to many streets and even a beer. By the time of his abdication in favour of his son Philip II (famous for the Spanish Armada in 1588) almost all of western Europe was ruled by his Hapsburg family.

This led to constant rivalry between the Hapsburgs on the one hand and the Bourbons of France. When the Thirty Years War broke out in 1618 Louis XIII (as in The Three Musketeers) of France initially took a back seat preferring to finance the Swedish army in its struggle. However in 1635 Louis declared war on Spain and began a campaign to reclaim what is now the Region of Nord-Pas de Calais. His work was continued by his son Louis XIV.

Arras fell to Louis XIII in August 1640 but the wars continued on and in 1658 Louis XIV who was even more determined than his father pushed the Spanish back to Dunkerque which was put under siege.

Louis was aided by a contingent of English soldiers provided by Cromwell. The Spanish were aided by a party of exiled Royalists under the Duke of York (Future James II). Cromwell’s payment for the English part in the victory was Dunkerque itself.

Spanish in the morning, French in the afternoon and English by nightfall.

Charles II sold it back to the French in 1662.

The Battle of the Dunes resulted in the Treaty of the Pyrénées in 1659 by which Louis XIV married Maria Theresa the daughter of Philip IV of Spain in 1660. She was required to give up all claim to the Spanish throne in exchange for a 500,000 Ecus dowry. However, this was never actually paid and on the death of Philip IV and under the pretext of reclaiming what was his Louis XIV invaded Brabant in 1667.

Under Brabant Law the Spanish Netherlands should have passed to Marie Therese

The French made great gains in the Spanish Netherlands but the Dutch (nominally allied with France against Spain) were worried by the French success and stopped their own war with the English and organised a triple alliance (With Sweden) to oppose Louis. This political about face forced Louis (Still only thirty years old) to renounce much of his gains and sign the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1668.

Louis was embittered by his supposed ally’s turnaround and invaded the United Provinces (Holland) in 1672 having bought off England’s Charles II. Charles dropped out of the alliance in 1674 with a separate treaty with the Dutch — by which we gained New Holland and the town of New Amsterdam in the New World (so great a town they had to name it twice !)

Despite much of Europe being against Louis, Maréchal Turenne drove the Austrians back out of Alsace whilst Louis captured the Franche-Comté. Louis had militarily gained the upper hand but Europe had been devastated by six years of war.

The Battle of Cassel was fought on 11th April 1677, as a part of that Franco-Dutch War. It resulted in a French victory for Philippe Duke of Orléans, against the Dutch under William III of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands.

Both armies were about 30,000 strong but although the Dutch were thoroughly beaten, the French missed a real chance to completely rout them by delaying their pursuit in order to plunder William’s abandoned baggage train.

The various treaties signed in Nijmegen between 1678 and 1679 put an end to the conflict. The war and subsequent treaties had far reaching territorial consequences for modern day France.

Louis XIV gained:

  • The Imperial County of Burgundy (Franch-Comté)
  • Territories of the Spanish Netherlands, including the town of Saint-Omer
  • The remaining north-western part of the former Imperial County of Artois
  • The lands of Cassel and Aire in south-western Flanders
  • The Bishopric of Cambrai
  • Valenciennes and Maubeuge in the southern County of Hainault.

But Louix had to cede the occupied town of Maastricht and the Principality of Orange to the Dutch stadtholder William III. He also had to withdraw his forces from several occupied territories in northern Flanders and Hainault.

If the war had put an end to Spanish and Hapsburg designs on what was now Northern France it had also brought to the fore a new adversary in the form of William of Orange. In 1688 William headed a force of 40,000 men which invaded England and declared himself King William III.

The Grand old Duke of York

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827) was the second son of King George III and the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

He was sent to Flanders as part of a coalition intent on invading France in 1793. The campaign was a total failure and the French forced the invaders back in to Holland.

The Duke made an appearance before Cassel when he attempted to oust the French revolutionary garrison. He didn’t succeed and his failure became a popular rhyme:

The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

If you know the film The Madness of King George the Duke is played by Julian Rhind-Tutt — Rupert Everett playing his elder brother, the Prince of Wales.