Monday, December 5, 2011

Soldier of Monarchy: Maximilian Ulysses Browne

One of the most prominent Irish soldiers never to fight for Ireland was Maximilian Ulysses Browne, an Irish refugee who became one of the highest ranking officers serving the Hapsburg Emperor. He was born in Basel, Switzerland to Ulysses Graf von Browne and his wife Annabella Fitzgerald. His father, Ulysses, was from Limerick and his mother was a daughter of the famous Desmond clan and their families were part of the “Flight of the Wild Geese” in the aftermath of Tyrone’s Rebellion in Ireland. Maximilian, born in Switzerland, grew up mostly in Austrian society as his family, since there exile, had served with distinction in the service of the Holy Roman Emperors. Through the influence of his father and some uncles he was able to obtain a commission in the Austrian army and by the time he was 29 Maximilian was serving as colonel of an Austrian infantry regiment. After the death of his father he inherited his title and throughout his life obtained others until he was Maximilian Ulysses Reichsgraf (Imperial Count) von Browne, Baron de Camus and Mountany.

Fairly early in his career, Count von Browne proved to be a very capable battlefield commander in Italy in 1734, the Tyrol the following year and in the off-and-on wars with the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans where he gained such fame that he was promoted to general grade. By the end of the decade he had been promoted to Lieutenant Field Marshal and was placed in command of the Austrian forces in Silesia. Fortunately for the Empress but unfortunately for von Browne, he was in command there in 1740 when the Prussian King and military genius Frederick the Great launched his conquest of the region as part of the War of Austrian Succession. Graf von Browne was a talented military man but, of course, he was no match for Frederick and his expert Prussian forces. However, Browne was able to rally his men and organize a sufficiently robust defense that he held off the Prussians long enough to at least give his Empress time to mobilize her army and give Austria a fighting chance in the region rather than being overrun immediately.

Browne served under Marshal von Neipperg at the Austrian defeat in the Battle of Mollwitz, where he was badly wounded but it in no way dampened his fighting spirit. In typical Irish fashion he was constantly advocating very aggressive measures and was openly critical of anything less than a total commitment of all available forces, viewing it as timidity. This caused numerous problems and bitterness in his relations with his superior officers but his zeal and energy were a major reason for the swift and aggressive actions of the Austrian forces in 1742 and 1743 which prevented a defeat from becoming a total disaster. In 1745 he served under the brilliant Field Marshal Otto Ferdinand von Abensberg und Traun in the Italian campaign and won further promotion. He participated in the battles of Piacenza and Rottofreddo before taking command of the Austrian advance guard, crossing the Apennines and capturing the city of Genoa. As always, he was a soldiers’ soldier who led from the front, slept rough in the field with his men and shared their hardships and privations. His performance was so adept that he was picked to command the planned invasion of France, which never came about and at the close of the conflict he was posted to Bohemia as supreme commander of the forces there and promoted to Field Marshal.

The new field marshal was doing his usually thorough job in Bohemia when the great Frederick and his Prussians again came knocking at the door of the Hapsburg domains. With the start of the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War to Americans) Frederick the Great invaded Saxony in 1756 and Marshal Browne and his army was sent marching to the rescue. His destination was Pirna where the Saxons were besieged by Frederick. The wily Prussian monarch took notice and intercepted Browne and his Austrians at the battle of Lobositz (now Lovosice in the Czech Republic). Browne took up a defensive position with his Austrian troops (though the force included various nationalities from the Hapsburg dominions) and the ever aggressive Frederick attacked. In previous conflicts this would not have been much of a contest at all as the Prussians, with their clockwork-like efficiency, were considered almost unstoppable. However, Graf von Browne had done a good job in making his army one of the best in Central Europe and to the shock of the Prussians, they were repulsed. Even a charge by the elite guard cavalry was thrown back, causing Frederick the Great to marvel at the ability of his enemy saying, “These are no longer the same Austrians”.

However, in the end it was not enough and a fierce Prussian bayonet charge broke the Austrian right flank, winning the battle and forcing the Austrians to retreat. Yet, it was not a route and Browne kept control of his men, executed an orderly withdrawal and even managed to dispatch forces around the Prussian army to Pirna though, unfortunately for the Saxons, they arrived too late. Frederick the Great had bested Browne again yet, he gave the Prussians a harder time than they expected and made the conquest of Saxony so difficult that no further progress could be made in the campaign before winter. The following year Browne volunteered to serve as a subordinate to Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine. Browne was the more illustrious military figure and more popular but Charles was the brother-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa so Browne agreed to accept the number two position. On May 6, 1757 the two armies met at the Battle of Prague. The Austrians were slightly outnumbered and were finally defeated but they took such a toll on the Prussians that Frederick had no strength to continue the campaign and the city of Prague was saved. Unfortunately, it was the last battle for the bold Irishman. As always, he was leading from the front, sword in hand, when he was shot down at the head of an Austrian bayonet charge against the Prussian lines.

Browne was carried from the field by his devoted troops and taken into Prague where he lingered for some time. Unfortunately, though the battle was a strategic victory for Austria, it had been a tactical defeat and Charles of Lorraine blamed Browne (quite unjustly) for the failure. He died on June 26, 1757 somewhat embittered by this injustice. However, history would redeem the name of Maximilian Ulysses Browne and he would be known as one of the greatest marshals in the service of Empress Maria Theresa. Even if his own comrades did not always appreciate him, he had, on more than one occasion, saved the Hapsburg empire from disaster and no less a figure in military history than his long-time enemy Frederick the Great held him in very high esteem. The Prussian monarch referred to Browne as his, “teacher in the art of war”. Not a bad legacy at that for the Irish son of refugees forced to find employment in foreign armies. It is also for that reason that, despite not being very well known in these historically ignorant times, you will occasionally find a proud son of Erin who will, with a twinkle in his eye, note that the great Frederick of Prussia learned his military lessons from an Irishman.


  1. Maria Theresia was never an Empress. Her highest honour was always: Queen of Hungary as there was no such a thing as Holy Roman Empress. Her husband was the Emperor but that's it. Or that's what you meant by 'empress'?

  2. Everything I've ever seen spoke of the consort of the Holy Roman Emperor as "Holy Roman Empress". In Hungary she was certainly the Queen, but if I said only "Queen Maria Theresa" no one would know who I was talking about aside from the Hungarians who speak English perhaps. Most often I've seen her called Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, though the Austrian Empire did not exist in her time, but even in her time it was mostly understood that the Hapsburg dominions were centered on Austria with much of the rest of the Holy Roman Empire paying little attention.

  3. MadMonarchist, an interesting post but..

    "their families were part of the “Flight of the Wild Geese” in the aftermath of Tyrone’s Rebellion in Ireland."

    The 'Flight of the Wild Geese' usually refers to those who left Ireland for continental Europe following the signing of the Treaty of Limerick (1691). The exile of Tyrone and Tyrconnell (commonly referred to as the 'Flight of the Earls') occured in 1607.

    As a semi-relevant aside, I was recently informed by a priest that Irish Catholics could automatically claim citizenship of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and also of Spain until the 1930s, by virtue of the Treaty of Dingle.

  4. Treaty of Dingle... haha. A lot of treaties and such things have silly names. Like the Diet of Worms, important event though that was.

    I also lament "these historically ignorant times." My brother, while knowledgeable about the history of the Soviet Union, did not know who Oliver Cromwell was. Ah well.

  5. True, but it is important to stress that she was Empress consort not Empress regnant. Even after her husband died her son became Emperor in 1765.

  6. It's not that important to me if everyone knows the difference or not in this case. Consort though she was there was never any doubt about who really called the shots in that marriage. She was the person in charge.


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