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Equestrian Portrait of Henri De La Tour D'auvergne, Vicomte De Turenne

Adam van der Meulen

Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, often called simply Turenne (11 September 1611 – 27 July 1675) was a French Marshal General and the most illustrious member of the La Tour d'Auvergne family. His military exploits over his five-decade career earned him a reputation as one of the greatest generals in modern history.

Born to a Huguenot family, Turenne learned his military skills in Dutch service during the Eighty Years' War. After returning to France in 1630, he rose to prominence during the Thirty Years' War by capturing the fortress of Breisach in 1638. Created Marshal of France in 1643, he invaded Bavaria the following year, defeating the Bavarian army in three years of campaigning and forcing the Elector of Bavaria to make peace. The Elector soon broke the treaty and in 1648 Turenne invaded again with Swedish support, subduing the Imperial army at Zusmarshausen and pacifying Bavaria.

Turenne initially supported the Fronde but returned to Royal service in 1651, emerging as France's foremost general by defeating the rebellious army of the Prince of Condé on the outskirts of Paris and re-occupying the city. Turenne's triumphs against Spanish armies at Arras (1654) and at Dunkirk (1658) led to the overrunning of much of the Spanish Netherlands and brought the war against Spain to a victorious conclusion. Two years later, Louis XIV appointed him Marshal General of France. A supporter of absolute monarchy, he converted to Catholicism in 1668.

During the War of Devolution in 1667 Turenne captured the Spanish Netherlands practically without resistance. In 1672 the French invaded the Dutch Republic and the Marshal General conquered the country up to Amsterdam. Checked by the Dutch flooding of the land, he invaded the Holy Roman Empire the next year, reaching the Elbe and compelling Brandenburg to abandon the anti-French coalition. Faced with the loss of Alsace to superior Allied forces, Turenne crowned his career with a series of battlefield victories, most notably at Turckheim (1675) and a masterful strategic turning movement around the Vosges in mid-winter that drove the Imperials from Alsace. He was killed by an Imperial cannonball at the battle of Salzbach in 1675.

The second son of Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, duc de Bouillon, sovereign Prince of Sedan, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, he was born at Sedan. He received a Huguenot education and the usual training of a young noble of the time, but physical infirmity, and particularly an impediment of speech (which he never lost), hampered his progress, though he showed a marked partiality for history and geography, and especial admiration of the exploits of Alexander the Great and Caesar. After his father's death in 1623, he devoted himself to bodily exercises and in a great measure overcame his natural weakness. At the age of fourteen he went to learn war in the camp of his uncle, Maurice of Nassau the Stadtholder of Holland and Prince of Orange, and began his military career (as a private soldier in that prince's bodyguard) in the Eighty Years' War.

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