The Battle of Oudenarde, 1708

The Battle of Oudenarde (in present day Belgium) was fought on July 11 1708 between the Grand Alliance forces of Britain, Holland and Austria on the one side and those of King Louis XIV of France on the other during the War of the Spanish Succession. It resulted in a crushing victory for the Alliance, the third of the war for its British commander the Duke of Marlborough.
The lead up to the battle was not propitious for the Alliance. Squabbling and indecisiveness in 1707 had robbed the victory at Ramillies (1706) of much of its strategic significance. Instead of bringing the war to a successful conclusion, the Alliance had suffered defeat in Portugal while an invasion of Provence by Marlborough’s fellow commander, Prince Eugene of Savoy, had ended in failure.

This encouraged the French to be more enterprising in 1708. Not only did Louis attempt to foster a Scottish rising against the newly established Union, he also sent his armies into Flanders where they captured Bruges and Ghent. This threatened to cut off Marlborough’s forces from the sea and communications with England. Marlborough realised that the last remaining British fortress in the region, Oudenarde, on the River Scheldt, had to be held at all cost. By a series of forced marches, the British commander reached the city and secured it before giving battle to the French.

The 100,000-strong French army (130 infantry battalion and 216 cavalry squadrons) under the Dukes of Vendome and Burgundy outnumbered Marlborough’s 90,000 men (112 battalions and 197 squadrons), but the latter’s greater tactical acumen proved decisive. While the French held back from attacking the Alliance’s weak right flank, Marlborough launched a devastating cavalry advance which got behind the French right. In the ensuing rout, one British eyewitness described how the enemy were driven ‘from ditch to ditch, from hedge to hedge and from out of one scrub into another in great hurry, confusion and disorder’. Only the coming of darkness prevented an even heavier French defeat. Nevertheless, they still lost 15,000 soldiers (including 8,000 prisoners) and 25 guns. Allied casualties numbered fewer than 3,000, of whom just 250 were British. No detailed casualty list exists but it appears that Meredith’s Own, along with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers as well as, the King’s and the Royal Irish, were involved in the fighting from the start and held its own well in often difficult circumstances.

In the image, Marlborough’s forces are depicted in red and the French are in blue.