by Michael Kirkby
Walking up to the Castle from Castle Gate you pass a remarkable Georgian built town house with a red door that today is a restaurant called World Service. Built into the fabric that was once Newdigate House, the building has a plaque next to the red front door that simply states ‘In this house lived Marshal Tallart from 1705 – 1711 while a prisoner of war after the Battle of Blenheim 1704’
Who was Marshal Talllart and why is he important to Nottingham? To understand why Tallart (more commonly spelled Tallard) came to being here we need to go back further and look at how Britain came to be waging war in the early eighteenth century. In October 1700 the King of Spain, Carlos II, named the Duc D’Anjou as his successor upon his death. When Carlos died a month later the monarchs of Europe contested who should be heir to the Spanish throne with the main armies mobilizing and moving in to reinforce their borders against ever increasing hostilities. The following year Austria, Holland and England sign the Grand Alliance, and in 1702 declared war on France and Spain.
With the major armies of Europe now all forming alliances, breaking bonds, switching sides and mobilizing troops the continent itself was a tangled web of mixed allegiances and political machinating.
Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard was a Marshal in the army of King Louis XIV of France. Born in 1652, Tallard rose through the ranks of the French army through his connections with influential characters. During the early stages of the war of the Spanish Succession, Tallard was successful in capturing important towns and strategic positions in the early campaigns against the German states.
From 1702 the French army under King Louis XIV had launched an offensive into the Spanish-Netherlands (modern day Belgium, Holland and northern Germany) and began taking land under their control to hold an offensive against the Austrian army in the east. The Austrian Archduke Charles travelled to England to beg Queen Anne to send British troops to support her allies in the Rhineland.
John Churchill, The Duke of Marlborough took up his position of commander in chief of the allied armies in Flanders in June 1702. Between 1702 and August 1704 the opposing armies aimed to out-manoeuvre each other at the British and Dutch tried to prevent the French from completely taking control in the Low Countries.
In 1704 King Louis of France turned his attentions east with the intention to defeat the Austrian Hapsburgs. In a bid to cut him off Marlborough marched his troops into Southern Germany to make it to the River Danube before Tallard and prevent them from crossing into Austrian territory. In June 1704 the British and allies attacked the French and Bavarian position known as the Schellenburg and forced the Elector of Bavaria to retire to Augsburg. In late July 1704 Prince Eugene of Savoy sent news to Marlborough that the French and Bavarian’s were crossing the Kessel River to which Marlborough responded by crossing the Danube at Donauworth and turning to join up with his ally.
The first major engagement of this so called War of the Spanish Succession involving British troops took place on 13th August 1704 near the small town of Blindheim (Blenheim) along the banks of the River Danube in southern Germany.
Tallard was convinced that this was not a full scale action and that Marlborough was trying to march north and restore his communication lines. Due to this, Tallard had not consolidated his cavalry and they were still dispersed to forage for food.
At 2am on the 13th, with the French positioned on the other side of the River Nebel, Marlborough approached the French lines in 8 columns. Marlborough’s army formed up with the cavalry holding the centre and the infantry holding the flanks of the army. To Marlborough’s right, Prince Eugene was marching his force to attack the Elector of Bavaria’s army. At 7am the French realised they were being engaged for battle and hastily recalled their cavalry and formed up to meet the British attack. As the British columns advanced they had one last obstacle to cross and that was the Nebel River on which the French army lay on the other side. With only one stone bridge in place, Marlborough ordered that 5 pontoon bridges be constructed for the army to cross quicker.
At 8am the French guns opened fire on the advancing British columns whilst Marlborough waited for news that Prince Eugene was ready to link up and attack the enemy. At midday Eugene was ready on the first British troops marched on Blenheim.
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
The British infantry were ordered not to halt and return fire for fear that this would break up their formation but instead to march through the hail of French artillery and infantry fire and when close enough launch a mass bayonet charge on the village. The British made several attempts to take the village but were met with heavy resistance and forced to retreat, reform and attack again.
This assault on Blenheim and the other villages of Oberglau and Lutingen did however allow Marlborough to bring all of his cavalry across the Nebel unmolested by French artillery fire and charge straight at the French regiments stationed in the open plain before them. This caused the French to break and flee leaving Tallard and his force abandoned and cut off. Tallard’s cavalry fled further back leaving only the infantry and cavalry to defend themselves. In the ensuing melee Tallard was wounded and captured and many of his men drowned trying to cross the river to rejoin the French. With Tallard’s force now completely cut off from any reinforcements, Marlborough’s army swept around the village. Marlborough’s brother Charles was given the task of assaulting the village but the French, seeing all was lost, parlayed a n honourable surrender that allowed them to leave rather than become prisoners of war but only if they accepted total surrender and lay down their arms.
Marlborough accepted their surrender unconditionally and the Battle of Blenheim had drawn first blood for the British troops.
In an engagement that would echo through history, the French of 56,000 commanded by Marshal Tallard and his ally, the Elector of Bavaria was far superior in training and numbers to Marlborough and Eugene’s force of 52,000 men. The British and allied losses were 12,000 compared to French and Bavarian 40,000 killed, captured and wounded.
One of the reasons that the battle was so impressive in terms of British success was that the British had only really had a full time, professional army since the Restoration in 1685 and had been much later in converting from the older method of using pikemen supported by musketeers to arming individual infantrymen with muskets and bayonets. This was really a test of how the newly formed British army would stand against a well established and better prepared enemy.
The Battle of Blenheim was also the first engagement in a 200 year period where all combatants came from standing and professional armies and not made up of mercenaries and volunteers solely called up in times of warfare as most armies of the seventeenth century and prior to this had been made up of. The British army was well drilled in terms of tactics and efficiency and, despite still being a Stuart-era army would display a efficiency on the battlefield that would be accredited to them a century later during the Napoleonic Wars and the efficiency of the Georgian army under The Duke of Wellington.
All of Marlborough’s army by this time was obsolete of the traditional pike that made up the backbone of the army during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the previous century infantry moved in square blocks similar to a Roman phalanx with pikemen protecting the edges and musketeers firing form the middle ranks. With the recent introduction of the bayonet the role of the pikeman had been rendered obsolete and the cumbersome and unreliable match-lock and wheel-lock muskets being gradually replaced with flintlock musket which was lighter, easier to use and though not completely reliable if the powder got damp, still able to fire in weather less than desirable. All infantrymen were taught to fire as part of a unit and Marlborough’s army system did away with firing by rank and instead firing by platoon thus meaning that in battle the British redcoats could keep up a constant rate of fire instead of having to stop to reload. Marlborough also introduced the 3 rank system meaning that of the 1000 – 1200 men in a battalion only being able to fire a fraction of their muskets due to being in a dense rank, all of them could now bring their weapons against the enemy.
Following the battle and his capture, Tallard was brought to England where he gave his parole and eventually settled into the fine Georgian town house of Newdigate House in the shadow of Nottingham Castle. From 1705 – 1711 Tallard resided here but became a well known and likeable figure throughout the town.
He stayed loyal to his country though and is reputedly to have written a letter to King Louis urging him to continue to war against Britain as the country was suffering due to the war financially and that they could soon be defeated. After a visit to the Goose Fair he reputedly wrote another to the King urging him to sue for peace as the British still had a strong stomach for fighting and that the lines of recruits who had signed up to join the army at the fair were long!
It was during his stay in Nottingham Tallard also discovered celery growing in the marshes at Lenton. He cultivated it in the gardens at Newdigate House and introduced to his guests at his dinner parties who in turn introduced it gradually into British society.
In October 1711 France and Britain declared peace and Tallard was free to return to his native France. Whilst he never took up another military post, Tallard was made a Duke in 1712 and again made a Peer of France in 1715. He took up a French ministerial position in 1726 which he held until his death in 1728.
Whilst it will never be known whether The Duke of Marlborough and Tallard’s adversary ever came to visit him in Nottingham as he was still in the Rhineland continuing the war, we can safely say that Tallard has left a legacy, not only within Nottingham, but the national community also, especially with celery lovers!
Bibliography and sources used:
- http://www.britishbattles.com/war-of-the-sp anish-succession/battle-of-blenheim/
- James Falkner, The War of the Spanish Succession 1701 – 1714
(Pen and Sword Books, 2015)
- Frederick Myatt, The British Infantry 1660-1945 The Evolution of a Fighting Force
(Blandford Press, 1983)