Battle of Steinkirk (Steenkerken). Victory of General Luxembourg
over William III of England.
The battle of Steenkirk (Steinkirk, Estinkerke) fought on July
23rd/August 3rd 1692 between the Allies under William III.
England and the French commanded by the duke of Luxemburg. Previous to
the battle the French army lay facing north-west, with its right on the
Senne at Steenkirk and its left towards Enghien, while the army, qf
William III. was encamped about Hal.
In accordance with the strategical methods of the time, the French, not
~wisbing to fight after having achieved the immediate object, th,e~
capture of Nam1fr, took up a strong position, supposing the enemy would
not dare to attack it, while the Allies, who would otherwise in all
probability have done as the French marshal desired, were by the fortune
of war afforded the opportunity of surprising a part of the enemys forces.
For in the 17th century, when the objects of a war were as far as possible
secured without the loss of valuable lives, and general decisive battles
were in every way considered undesirable, a brilliant victory over a part,
not the whole, of the enemys forces was the tactical idea of the best
generals, and accordingly William, having completely misled the enemy by
forcing a detected spy to give Luxemburg false news, set his army in
motion before dawn on July 23rd! August 3rd to surprise the French right
The advanced guard of infantry and pioneers, under the duke of
Wurttemberg, deployed close to the French camps ere Luxemburg became aware
of the impending blow; at this moment the main body of the army farther
back was forming up after the passage of some woods. When the fight
opened, Luxemburg was completely surprised, and he could do no more than
hurry the nearest foot and dragoons into action as each regiment came on
the scene. But the march of the Allies main body had been mismanaged;
while \Vrttemberg methodically cannonaded the enemy, waiting for support
and for the order to advance, and the French worked with feverish energy
to form a strong and well-covered line of battle at the threatened point,
the Allies main body, which had marched in the usual order, one wing of
cavalry leading, the infantry following, and the other wing of cavalry at
the tail of the column, was being hastily sorted out into infantry and
cavalry, for the ground was only suitable for the former.
A few battalions only had come up to support the advanced guard when
the real attack opened (12.30). The advanced guard had already been under
arms for nine hours, and the march had been over bad ground, but its
attack swept the first French line before it. The English and Danes
stubbornly advanced, the second and third lines of the French infantry
giving ground before them, but Luxemburg was rapidly massing his whole
force to crush them, and meanwhile the confusion in the allied main body
had reached its height. Count Soims, who commanded it, ordered the cavalry
forward, but the mounted men, scarcely able to move over the bad roads and
heavy ground, only blocked the way for the infantry. Some of the English
foot, with curses upon Solms and the Dutch generals, broke out to the
front, and Solms, angry and excited, thereupon refused to listen to all
appeals for aid from the front.
No attempt was made to engage and hold the centre and left of the
French army, which hurried, regiment after regiment, to take part in the
fighting at Steenkirk. Williams counter-order that the infantry was to go
forward, the cavalry to halt, only made matters worse, and by now the
advanced guard had at last been brought to a standstill.
At the crisis Luxemburg had not hesitated to throw the whole of the
French and Swiss guards, led by the princes of the royal house, into the
fight, and as, during and after this supreme effort, more and more French
troops appeared from the side of Enghien, the Allies were driven back,
contesting every step by weight of numbers. Those troops of the main body,
foot and dragoons, which succeeded in reaching the front, served only to
cover and to steady the retreat of WUrttembergs force, and, the coup
having manifestly failed, William ordered the retreat.
The Allies retired as they had come, their rear-guard showing too
stubborn a front for the French to attack. The latter were indeed in no
state to pursue. Over eight thousand men out of only about fifteen
thousand engaged on the side of the Allies were killed and wounded, and
the losses of the French out of a much larger force were at least equal.
Contemporary soldiers affirmed that Steenkirk was the hardest battle ever
fought by infantry, and the battle served not only to illustrate the
splendid discipline of the old professional armies, but also to give point
to the reluctance of the generals of those days to fight battles in which,
once the fighting spirit was unchained, the armies shot each other to
pieces before either would give way.
Killed at Steinkirk:
Extract from History of the First Royal
Scots at Steinkirk
For many years the Royals had shown what they could do
when fighting for the French, and at Steinkirk (1692), they showed
how terrible they could be when fighting against them.
Among the foremost in this action, as the old chronicler wrote, "was seen
the brave Sir Robert Douglas at the head of the 1st battalion of his
regiment, emulating the noblest actions recorded in the annals of war.
Having led his battalion against the troops behind the first hedge, "he soon
cleared it of its French defenders, and drove one of the battalions from the
field in confusion. A second hedge was assailed and carried by the Scots in
a few moments, a third was assaulted - the French stood their ground - the
combatants fought muzzle to muzzle, but again the Royals proved victorious,
and the third hedge was won. The toil of conflict did not cool the ardour of
the veteran Scots, but forward they rushed with a loud huzza, and attacked
the troops lining the fourth hedge. Here the fighting was severe but
eventually the Royals overthrew a fourth French battalion and drove a crowd
of combatants from their cannon."
In this desperate conflict the battalion lost one of its three
colours. Sir Robert Douglas, seeing the colour on the other side of the
hedge, leaped through a gap, slew the French officer who bore the colour,
and cast it back into the midst of his own men; but this act of heroism cost
him his life, a French marksman having shot him dead while in the act of
rejoining his ranks. "Thus the Scots commander improved upon the Roman
general. For the brave Posthumous cast his standard in the middle of the
enemy for his soldiers to retrieve; but Douglas retrieved his from the
middle of the enemy, and cast it back for his soldiers to retain."
Excerpts from The Glories and Traditions of the British Army. (Naval and
Army illustrated Feb 26th 1897). The First Royal Scots or Lothian Regiment
by Chas Lowe
the military uniform again modified the cravat. The sudden and unexpected
victory of the French at the Battle of Steinkirk caught the French
officers of the conquering regiment unawares. Unable to complete their
detailed toilettes, which included the meticulous wrapping of their
cravats, they hastily put them around their necks, twisted the ends and
tucked them through the buttonholes of their military jackets to secure
the loose-hanging ends. This new style was called the "Steinkirk"
and was quickly adopted by both men and women in Paris.