Saturday, September 19, 2009

Battlefield Royal: Archduke Charles of Austria

Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen was the younger brother of Emperor Francis I of Austria and one of the primary antagonists of Napoleon Bonaparte. Although not quite as well known as Wellington or Bluecher, Archduke Charles was one of Napoleon's most capable adversaries. Although he suffered from epilepsy he showed great promise as a young officer while serving in Belgium. He gained fame as one of the greatest generals in Europe for his campaign in Germany in 1796 in which he defeated the French revolutionary armies of Jourdan and Moreau in turn. In 1799 he defeated Jourdan again in Germany, invaded Switzerland to defeat another French army and then succeeded in driving the French across the Rhine.
He refused the honors offered to him by the Austrian government and in 1806 was made commander-in-chief of the Imperial Austrian Army as he was the only figure to have defeated French Napoleonic forces which had seemed so unstoppable. However, he did meet his share of defeats when he went up against the French again, commanded by Napoleon, who had a much better army than in the past and who had him considerably outnumbered. Some criticized him as being overly cautious, too attached to defensive fighting and Clausewitz was dismissive of his attachment to the importance of strategic positions rather than the total destruction of an enemy force. Nonetheless, he was considered one of the preeminent soldiers of his time, possibly the greatest continental foe Napoleon had and later generations have judged his 1796 campaign in particular as practically flawless.
Archduke Charles retired from active duty in 1812 and in 1815 married Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg by whom he had five children, the oldest of whom went on to become Queen of the Two Sicilies. He died in Vienna in 1847 at the age of 75, one of the most admired and respected Austrian heroes of the Napoleonic Wars.

1 comment:

  1. A good sketch of the Archduke, but I have a minor quibble. Napoleon I's "Army of Germany" in the war of 1809 was not, a "much better army than in the past" -- but a worse one, most of the best French troops were in Spain, the French portion of the army had too many conscripts, and the contingents of the German and Italian allies of France were lukewarm about fighthing.

    The Archduke did excellent work preparing the Austrian Army to fight in 1809, and I think that the army which he took into Bavaria was much the best the Austrians fielded in those wars, although he made some costly mistakes as a field commander. Defeated at Abensberg, Landshut and Eckmuhl, but victorious at Aspern/Essling, the Archduke was the best general Austria had, despite his final defeat that year at Wagram.

    I have wondered why he didn't take the field again in 1813. No disrespect intended to Prince Schwarzenberg, but I think Charles was the better commander. His son, Archduke Albrecht, was similarly gifted, giving the Italians a good hiding at Custoza in 1866.


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