Battle of Rocroi 1643: Clash of Seventeenth Century Superpowers



ISBN: 9781915113979 Categories: , ,

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The Battle of Rocroi (May 19, 1643) is famous for the French victory over the Spanish Tercios. The Duke of Enghien, only 21 years old, defeated a Spanish army commanded by Francisco de Melo. This victory has traditionally been attributed to the military genius of the young Duke, to the superiority of the French cavalry and to the decline of Spanish tactics: the Tercios were no longer invincible. Thus, the date of 1643 establishes a historical milestone, a paradigm shift in military history: the end of Spanish hegemony and the beginning of the French rise, the Grand Siècle of Louis XIV.

But, beyond the military defeat of the Spanish army, the question posed in this book is to assess whether, in fact, the battle of Rocroi was the beginning of the decline of the Spanish hegemony, and of its military tactics and formations, the Tercios, who had fought and won in Europe for more than a century.

This book analyzes the political-military context of the 1643 campaign: the tense relations between France and Spain throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, which led to the armed conflict that began in 1635, when Sweden showed signs of weakness in the Thirty Years' War, and Richelieu considered that it was necessary to act to prevent the triumph of the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs. The French and Spanish armies are also analyzed in depth, their composition, units, tactics, etc. as well as Enghien and Melo's chain of command.

The campaign of 1643, initiated by the Spanish, following the success of 1642 -which ended with the great Spanish victory at the Battle of Honnecourt (May 26, 1642)- began with errors, due to the great interest of General Melo to keep the secrecy of his campaign plan at all costs... That is why the Spanish army went to war with little artillery and few supplies, to advance quickly, but also to hide their intentions: either look for a pitched battle or look for a siege... In short, a victory that would allow the actions of the French in Catalonia to be aborted.

Finally, the goal of the campaign became clear: to conquer Rocroi. When the French found out, Enghien quickly marched to relieve the place. Melo let the French approach without stopping it: since Fate had sent him a French army, he intended to defeat them in pitched battle, as at Honnecourt. But Melo's army was not complete: he lacked an army corps, under the command of Jean de Beck, of 3,000 men.

In light of the chronicles, it seems that Melo deployed his army with the intention of showing his combat power, and not to fight, waiting for the arrival of Beck's troops. On the contrary, Enghien showed a brilliant initiative, with the firm will to win; and his strategy during the battle was very brilliant: defeat the flanks and then fall on the center of the Spanish deployment.

But after the victory on the battlefield, comes the time for the chronicles, the reports, the propaganda... The King of France was a 4-year-old boy; his Spanish mother was regent, but questioned by the high nobility, like the minister Mazarin, hated by many. Rocroi's victory was a success to be proclaimed from the rooftops: a victory that would secure the new king.

The book analyzes the real impact of the battle, the consequences for the theater of operations in Flanders, of the war between France and Spain, and of the effective predominance of one or another power in Europe. This is the key point of the book and of Rocroi's battle: a decisive military triumph or a propaganda success?

I invite readers to discover it, reading the pages of the book, in an exciting journey through time to the battlefields of the 17th century.

Alberto Raúl Esteban Ribas is a historian and economist. He has studied a doctorate in military history. He is a specialist in the military history of Spain, from the 16th-17th centuries. He has written several books on Spanish battles and military expeditions, as well as numerous articles for Spanish and international magazines. His current line of research focuses on the study of the Spanish armies and campaigns of the second half of the 17th century, considered the period of Spanish decline, and analysing the reasons for such a situation.

48 b/w illustrations, 8 pages colour plates, 10 maps

ISBN: 9781915113979
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 01/05/2023
RRP: $65.00
Pages: 176
Dimension: 248mm X 180mm
Imprint: Helion & Company