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Kildaremen at the battle of Malplaquet, 11 September 1709

By James Durney
‘The most sanguinary battle of the War of the Spanish Succession was fought at Malplaquet, a place nearly astride the modern Franco-Belgian border. The fate of France hung in the balance, the reputations of Marlborough (1650-1722) and Prince Eugene (1663-1736) were at stake, France was virtually bankrupt and a decisive outcome in favour of the Allies would have led to the occupation of Paris. The Irish regiments in the pay of France played an important role in this battle, as they did in many other major encounters during the War of the Spanish Succession,’ so wrote Eoghan Ó hAnnracháin in ‘The battle of Malplaquet, 11 September 1709,’ in Vol. xxvi of The Irish Sword (Winter 2009).
 The Spanish king, Charles II ruled a vast empire, which included Spain, Latin America (except for Brazil), the Philippines, Belgium, Sardinia, and large rich parts of Italy – Milan, Tuscany, Naples, and Sicily. As Charles was childless and in poor health there were four potential heirs – Philip Duke of Anjou, grandson of France’s Louis XIV; the Emperor Joseph I; the Archduke Charles VI; and Joseph Ferdinand, Prince of Bavaria. On his deathbed Charles II named the Duke of Anjou (who spoke no Spanish) as his successor. Anjou was now Philip V of Spain and through right of succession heir to the throne of France, and while Louis XIV had signed an earlier peace with England and Holland the spectre of a united kingdom of France and Spain was worrying. A major war was inevitable.
 There were four main theatres of war: northern Italy, Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, and Spain. Irish troops, in the armies of France and Spain, the famed Wild Geese, fought in all the major engagements and suffered heavy casualties. Early in 1702 the reputation of the Irish regiments was enhanced by the successful defence of Cremona. A major role in the defence was played by the regiments of Dillon and Burke. (The Austrian army at Cremona also contained Irishmen, who tried to parley with their compatriots on the opposite side.) Three Irish regiments fought at Blenheim: Clare’s, Lee’s, and the guards. Clare’s was singled out for praise by the French for its work in covering the retreat of the French army. At Ramilles Clare’s regiment again distinguished itself, capturing a colour, which was presented to the Irish nuns at Ypres. At Almanza (1707), the major battle in the Spanish sector, Berwick with his Irish regiment defeated an English army under the Huguenot earl of Galway. (The British army had several regular Irish regiments and another twenty were raised during the war.)
After some initial successes by 1709 the French were on the verge of defeat and sought desperately to obtain peace. At Malplaquet 120,000 British and Dutch troops faced a French army of 80,000, which included five Irish regiments of infantry and one of cavalry. Here the Allied momentum was lost against a solid French defence which turned defeat into victory. The Irish fought well, capturing many English standards, and their steadfastness and courage under fire won them much praise. The Irish were brigaded together, and the marquis de Quincy, in his account of the battle, refers to them as the Irish brigade ‘which overthrew everything before it’. The battle was one of the bloodiest and was not surpassed in violence until battles of the Napoleonic war of a century later.
 While no detailed account of the Irish rank and file losses exists a detailed listing of the officer casualties does exist. A total of 850 officers were killed, wounded and captured, of whom 85 were Irish – 23 killed, 60 wounded and 2 captured. Two of the Irish mentioned in the registers of the Invalides were Kildaremen – Garret Fitzgerald and Hugo Lalor. To obtain the status of an invalid one had to have sustained a serious injury, and (usually) had to have twenty years’ service and an honourable discharge from his regiment.
Garret Fitzgerald; 47 years; Castledermot, County Kildare; soldier, Christopher Fitzgerald’s company, Clare [formerly Lee and Rothe] regiment, where he served 21 years, per his certificate dated 12.12.1723. He suffered from a blow of a musket butt to his right arm which he received at Malplaquet and which made him unfit for service. Admitted 23.12.1723.
Hugo Lalor; 45 years; Kildare; soldier, Butler’s company, Dorrington [formerly the King of England’s Guards] regiment, where he served over 20 years per his certificate. He said he had served 4 years previously in Ireland. His left leg was crippled and his right leg was badly injured by gunshot wounds at Malplaquet; unfit for service; admitted 12.6.1711.
After Malplaquet there were no more major battles and in Spain the war took a turn for the worse for the Allies. The conflict ended in 1713 with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht bringing the War of the Spanish Succession to a close.

An article from local author James Durney on the Kildare connection in the battle of Malplaquet, 11th September 1709. Our thanks to James.

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