Battle of Rocroi

Coordinates: 49°55′10″N 4°31′40″E / 49.91944°N 4.52778°E

Battle of Rocroi
Part of the Thirty Years' War
Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659)
Rocroi, el último tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011)

Rocroi, el último tercio, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2011)
Date19 May 1643
Rocroi, France
Result Decisive French victory
 France  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Duc d'Enghien Francisco de Melo
Paul-Bernard de Fontaines


15,000 infantry
7,000 cavalry
14 guns


18,000 infantry (7,000 Spanish)
5,050 cavalry
18 guns
Casualties and losses
4,500 dead or wounded [3]


6,000 killed or wounded
4,000 captured
18 guns

The Battle of Rocroi of 19 May 1643 resulted in the victory of a French army under the Duc d'Enghien against the Spanish Army under General Francisco de Melo only five days after the accession of Louis XIV of France to the throne of France, late in the Thirty Years' War. The battle is considered by many to be the turning point of the perceived invincibility of the Spanish Tercio that dominated European battlefields in the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. [5] After Rocroi, the Spanish abandoned the tercio system and began to use linear Dutch-style battalions like the French.[5]


From 1618 on the Thirty Years' War had been raging in Germany between the Spanish Habsburgs under Philip IV of Spain and Protestant powers. Fearing strengthened Habsburg presence on its borders, France had in 1635 declared war in support of the Protestant Anti-Habsburg States, despite being a stern Catholic power and having suppressed the Huguenot rebellions at home. An opening invasion of the Spanish Netherlands had ended in failure, with the French retreating to their borders for the next several years.

On 4 December 1642 the royal adviser Cardinal Richelieu died, and Louis XIII fell ill in the early spring of 1643. The king died on 14 May 1643, leaving his son Louis XIV to inherit the Kingdom of France. Despite receiving overtures of peace, the new king did not wish to change the course of the war, and French military pressure on Franche-Comté, Catalonia, and Spanish Flanders was maintained.

As it had done the year before at the Battle of Honnecourt, the renowned Spanish Habsburg Army of Flanders advanced through the Ardennes and into northern France with 23,050 men, intending to relieve the French pressure on other fronts.[2] The Duc d'Enghien, commander of a French army in Amiens, was appointed to stop the Spanish incursion. Although 21-years-old, he was not inexperienced, and he had worthy subordinates, among them Marshal Jean de Gassion. The total French forces in the area numbered 22,000.[1]


Battle rocroi
Map of the troop dispositions

The Spanish troops under Francisco de Melo advanced to and besieged Rocroi, a fortress town garrisoned by a few hundred French. A vital logistics hub, Rocroi commanded the route to the valley of the Oise. D'Enghien followed de Melo's numerically superior army closely. On 17 May d'Enghien learned of death of King Louis, which he kept secret from his army.

Word reached d'Enghien of 6,000 Spanish reinforcements on their way to Rocroi. Reacting quickly, d'Enghien prepared his army to give battle before the Spanish reinforcements arrived.

Learning of the French advance, de Melo decided to engage the oncoming forces rather than invest in the siege of Rocroi, as his army was stronger than that of the French. The Spanish saw the battle as an opportunity to win a decisive victory in Northern France. De Melo left a detachment of his army at Rocroi to prevent action from the garrison and moved his army to battle.

Enghien advanced along the Oise road and assembled his force along a ridge looking down on the besieged town of Rocroi. The Spanish quickly formed up between the town and the ridge. The French army was arranged with two lines of infantry in the center, squadrons of cavalry on each wing, and with a thin line of artillery at the front. The Spanish army was similarly arranged, but with its infantry deployed in their traditional tercio pike squares. The two armies exchanged some fire on the afternoon of 18 May, but the full battle did not occur until the following day.


Duc d'Enghien at the Battle of Rocroi

The battle began after dawn broke, with the French infantry launching a failed attack on the Spanish tercios. The cavalry on the French left advanced against d'Enghien's orders, and were also forced to retreat. The Spanish cavalry launched a successful counter-attack and nearly routed the French cavalry, but the French reserve moved in and succeeded in checking the Spanish. At this point in the fighting the French left and center were in distress.

Meanwhile, on the French right, cavalry under the command of Jean de Gassion routed the Spanish cavalry opposite. d'Enghien himself was able to follow this up by attacking the exposed left flank of the Spanish infantry.

The battle was still inconclusive, with both armies having had success on their right and trouble on their left.

d'Enghien's "illumination de génie décide du sort de la journée"[6]

d'Enghien, aware that his left and center were in trouble, decided that the best way to help them was not to fall back and support them, but rather to exploit his winning momentum on the right flank. He ordered a huge cavalry encirclement, achieved via a sweeping strike behind the Spanish army. d'Enghien and his cavalry soon smashed their way through to attack the rear of the Spanish cavalry on the right flank, which were still in combat with his reserves.

The move succeeded; it was later called a "stroke of genius that decided the fate of the day" (literal translation), and asserted d'Enghien's reputation as a military leader.

The Spanish horse was routed, leaving the Spanish infantry to carry on the fight against the French on all sides. The Spanish artillery fled, leaving their guns to be captured by the French. The momentum now lay with the French army.

Concluding battle

Two French charges were repulsed by the Spanish tercios, but the infantry formations were forced to stand closer together to maintain their pike squares. d'Enghien arranged for his artillery and captured Spanish guns to blast them apart.

Soon the German and Walloon tercios fled from the battlefield, while the Spanish remained on the field with their commander, repulsing four more cavalry charges by the French and never breaking formation, despite repeated heavy artillery bombardment. d'Enghien finally offered surrender conditions just like those obtained by a besieged garrison in a fortress. Having agreed to those terms, the remains of the two tercios left the field with deployed flags and weapons.[7]

François Joseph Heim, "The Battle of Rocroi"

French losses were about 4,000. Melo stated his losses as 6,000 casualties and 4,000 captured in his report to Madrid written two days after the battle.[8] The estimates for the Spanish army's dead range from 4,000–8,000.[4] Of the 7,000 Spanish infantry only 390 officers and 1,386 enlisted men were able to escape back to the Spanish Netherlands.[4][9] Guthrie lists 3,400 killed and 2,000 captured for the five Spanish infantry battalions alone, while 1,600 escaped.[9] Most of the casualties of the battle were suffered by the Spanish infantry, while the cavalry and artillerymen were able to withdraw, albeit with the loss of all the cannons.[10]

Aftermath and significance

The French relieved the siege of Rocroi, but were not strong enough to move the fight into Spanish Flanders. The Spanish were able to regroup rapidly and stabilize their positions.[11] The year 1643 ended in a veritable stalemate, which was enough of a success for France.

Despite this, the battle was of great symbolic importance because of the high reputation of the Army of Flanders.[12] Melo in his report to the king called it "the most considerable defeat there has ever been in these provinces".

The successful show of strength was important for France. At home, it was seen as a good omen for the new king's reign, and secured the power of the regent queen and newly appointed cardinal Mazarin. While both Richelieu and Louis XIII had distrusted his wife the queen Anne of Austria (she was sister of Philip IV of Spain), when she became regent (until the 4 year old new king Louis XIV came of age), she confirmed Mazarin, Richelieu's protégé and political heir, as prime minister, and no change in politics occurred regarding the war.

It established the reputation of the 21-year-old French general Enghien, who later will be called "Grand Condé" ("grand" meaning "great") for his numerous victories.

Abroad, it showed that France remained as strong as before, despite its 4-year-old king. Supremacy in Europe was to move slowly from Habsburg Spain to Bourbon France in the decades to come. It was the new nature and weight of absolute monarchy in France which was now to encompass the decline of Habsburg Spanish imperial power in Europe.[13] Cardinal Mazarin was able to cope with the Fronde, then slowly to turn the tide against the Spanish in France and in the Low Countries. Mazarin's alliance with England resulted in the defeat of the Spanish at the Battle of the Dunes and consequently the taking of Dunkirk in 1658, prior to the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Although Spain looked to be all-powerful in 1652, the peace settlement reflected the demise of Spain's mastery of Europe in the late 1650s.[14]

It has been noted that Melo's German, Walloon, and Italian troops actually surrendered first, while the Spanish infantry surrendered only after standing hours of infantry and cavalry charges and a vicious spell under the French guns. They were given the treatment usually given to a fortress garrison and retired from the field with their arms, flags and honors.

In media

A 2006 Spanish movie, Alatriste, directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes, portrays this battle in its final scene. The soundtrack features in this scene a funeral march, La Madrugá, composed by Colonel Abel Moreno for the Holy Week of Seville, played by the band of the Regiment Soria 9, heir of that which participated in the battle, the oldest unit in the Spanish Army, and since nicknamed "the bloody Tercio".


The sedan chair belonging to the elderly Spanish infantry general Paul-Bernard de Fontaines, who was suffering from gout[15] and was carried to battle in the chair, was taken as a trophy by the French and may be seen in the museum of Les Invalides in Paris. Fontaines (originally from the Spanish Netherlands - now Belgium - and was known to the Spanish as de Fuentes) was killed in the battle; Enghien is reported to have said, "Had I not won the day I wish I had died like him".[16]



  1. ^ a b Guthrie 2003, p. 185.
  2. ^ a b Guthrie 2003, p. 174.
  3. ^ John Childs (2006). Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. Smithsonian Books. p. 75. ISBN 006089170X.
  4. ^ a b c González de León 2009, p. 312.
  5. ^ a b Guthrie 2003, p. 180.
  6. ^ Iselin 1965, p. 149.
  7. ^ Agustín Pacheco Fernández, Rocroi, el último tercio. Spain: Galland Books, 2011. pp. 15-17
  8. ^ González de León 2009, p. 312–313.
  9. ^ a b Guthrie 2003, p. 182.
  10. ^ González de León 2009, p. 313.
  11. ^ Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002, p 147
  12. ^ Jeremy Black European Warfare, 1494-1660, Psychology Press, 2002, p 147
  13. ^ Perry Anderson (23 April 2013). Lineages of the Absolutist State (Verso World History Series). Verso Books. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-78168-054-4. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  14. ^ William Young (1 September 2004). International Politics And Warfare In The Age Of Louis Xiv And Peter The Great: A Guide To The Historical Literature. iUniverse. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-595-32992-2. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  15. ^ Sanchez, Juan. "Paul Bernard de Fontaine (1576 - 1643), señor de Fougerolles, Conde del S.R.I." [Paul Bernard de Fontaine (1576 - 1643), Lord of Fougerolles, Count of the Holy Roman Empire] (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 19 March 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  16. ^ "La bataille de Rocroi (1643)" [The battle of Rocroi (1643)] (in French). Retrieved 2 October 2017.


  • Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270056-1.
  • González de León, Fernando (2009). The Road to Rocroi: Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567–1659. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978 90 04 17082 7.
  • Guthrie, William. P. (2003). The Later Thirty Years War: From the Battle of Wittstock to the Treaty of Westphalia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-32408-5.
  • Stephane Thion (2013). Rocroi 1643: The Victory of Youth. Histoire et Collections. ISBN 978-2352502555.


was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar, the 1643rd year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 643rd year of the 2nd millennium, the 43rd year of the 17th century, and the 4th year of the 1640s decade. As of the start of 1643, the Gregorian calendar was

10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

1643 in France

Events from the year 1643 in France


Alatriste is a 2006 Spanish epic historical fiction war film directed by Agustín Díaz Yanes, based on the main character of a series of novels written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Adventures of Captain Alatriste (Las aventuras del Capitán Alatriste).

The film, which stars Viggo Mortensen, is the second most expensive Spanish language film ever made in Spain (about €24 million – US$30 million); only preceded by Agora. It portrays Spain of the 17th century using both fictional and real characters. Twentieth Century Fox has bought the rights to the film.

Army of Flanders

The Army of Flanders (Spanish: Ejército de Flandes) was a multinational army in the service of the kings of Spain that was based in the Netherlands during the 16th to 18th centuries. It was notable for being the longest-serving standing army of the period, being in continuous service from 1567 until its disestablishment in 1706. In addition to taking part in numerous battles of the Dutch Revolt (1567–1609) and the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), it also employed many developing military concepts more reminiscent of later military units, enjoying permanent, standing regiments (tercios), barracks, military hospitals and rest homes long before they were adopted in most of Europe. Sustained at huge cost and at significant distances from Spain, the Army of Flanders also became infamous for successive mutinies and its ill-disciplined activity off the battlefield, including the Sack of Antwerp in 1576.

Battle of Honnecourt

The Battle of Honnecourt was a battle of the Thirty Years' War fought on 26 May 1642. The Spanish, led by Francisco de Melo, were victorious over the French under Antoine III de Gramont, Comte de Guiche.

A Spanish army under Melo and Jean de Beck besieged and captured the fortified town of Lens and exploited its success by advancing on the nearby fortress of La Bassee. Henri, Count of Harcourt, commanding the French in army in Picardy and Antoine III de Gramont, commander of Champagne, moved to relieve the town. Melo took 10,000 men, including 7,000 infantry in 12 regiments, from his army to intercept them.In the battle the French Champagne army took heavy casualties, losing 40% of its strength. 1,200–2,000 killed and wounded and 2,500–3,000 men and 10 guns captured, leaving Northern France wide open for the Spanish army. But the Spanish victory was not exploited because Francisco de Melo decided to be cautious.

One year later De Melo lost the historic Battle of Rocroi, making the battle of Honnecourt a footnote in history.


Envelopment is the military tactic of seizing objectives in the enemy's rear with the goal of destroying specific enemy forces and denying them the ability to withdraw. Rather than attacking an enemy head-on as in a frontal assault an envelopment seeks to exploit the enemy's flanks, attacking them from multiple directions and avoiding where their defenses are strongest. A successful envelopment lessens the number of casualties suffered by the attacker while inducing a psychological shock on the defender and improving the chances to destroy them. An envelopment will consist of one or more enveloping forces, which attacks the enemy's flank(s), and a fixing force, which attacks the enemy's front and "fixes" them in place so that they cannot withdraw or shift their focus on the enveloping forces. While a successful tactic, there are risks involved with performing an envelopment. The enveloping force can become overextended and cut off from friendly forces by an enemy counterattack, or the enemy can counterattack against the fixing force.According to the United States Army there exist four types of envelopment:

A flanking maneuver or single envelopment consists of one enveloping force on a flank. attacking one of the enemy's flanks. This is extremely effective if the holding forces are in a well defensible spot (e.g. Alexander the Great's hammer and anvil at the Battle of Issus) or if there is a strong, hidden line behind a weak flank (e.g. Battle of Breitenfeld (1631) and Battle of Rocroi).

A pincer movement or double envelopment consists of two simultaneous flanking maneuvers. Hannibal devised this strategy in his tactical masterpiece, the Battle of Cannae. Later on, the Rashidun Caliphate General Khalid ibn al-Walid applied the maneuver in a decisive battle against the Sassanid Empire during the Battle of Walaja. In 1940 and 1941, in World War II, the Germans repeatedly employed this tactic to encircle hundreds of thousands of enemy troops at once, namely in the Battle of France and in Operation Barbarossa against the USSR.

An encirclement whereby the enemy is completely surrounded and isolated in a pocket. The friendly forces can choose to attack the pocket or invest it (to stop resupplies and to prevent breakouts) and wait for a beleaguered enemy to surrender.

A vertical envelopment is "a tactical maneuver in which troops, either air-dropped or air-landed, attack the rear and flanks of a force, in effect cutting off or encircling the force".

Francisco de Melo

Dom Francisco de Melo (1597 – 18 December 1651) was a Portuguese nobleman and general.

Georges Mareschal

Georges Mareschal (8 April 1658, Calais – 13 December 1736, Château de Bièvres) was a French surgeon. In 1707 he was ennobled, and was known as Georges Mareschal, seigneur de Bièvre.

He was the son of John Marshall, an Irish gentleman who was knighted in 1643 for his service during the Battle of Rocroi. In 1677 Mareschal moved to Paris, where he worked as a surgical assistant. From 1684 onward, he worked at the Hôpital de la Charité, where in 1688 he became master-surgeon, later earning the title of chief-surgeon (1692).He was first-surgeon to Louis XIV and then to Louis XV. In 1723 he was awarded the Ordre de Saint-Michel for successfully treating the Infanta of Spain. In 1731, with François Gigot de la Peyronie (1678–1747), he founded the Académie Royale de Chirurgie. He is credited with making improvements in lithotomical surgery.

Jean de Gassion

Jean, comte de Gassion (1609 Pau – 1647 Lens) was a Gascon military commander for France, prominent at the battle of Rocroi (1643) who reached the rank of Marshal of France at the age of thirty-four. He served Louis XIII and Louis XIV and died of wounds at the siege of Lens.

List of military tactics

This page contains a list of military tactics.

The meaning of the phrase is context sensitive, and has varied over time, like the difference between "strategy" and "tactics".

Louis, Grand Condé

Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (8 September 1621 – 11 December 1686) was a French general and the most famous representative of the Condé branch of the House of Bourbon. Prior to his father's death in 1646, he was styled the Duc d'Enghien. For his military prowess he was known as le Grand Condé.

May 19

May 19 is the 139th day of the year (140th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 226 days remain until the end of the year.

Peace of Münster

The Peace of Münster was a treaty between the Lords States General of the United Netherlands and the Spanish Crown, the terms of which were agreed on 30 January 1648. The Treaty is a key event in Dutch history marking formal recognition of the independent Dutch Republic and formed part of the Peace of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War.

Pincer movement

The pincer movement, or double envelopment, is a military maneuver in which forces simultaneously attack both flanks (sides) of an enemy formation.

The pincer movement typically occurs when opposing forces advance towards the center of an army that responds by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks to surround it. At the same time, a second layer of pincers may attack on the more distant flanks to keep reinforcements from the target units.


Rocroi is a commune in the Ardennes department in northern France.

The center was a fortified city, the walls of which are in the shape of a stylised star.

Rocroi order of battle

The following units and commanders of the French and Spanish armies fought in the Battle of Rocroi on May 19, 1643.


Saint-Python (officially spelt Sainct-Pieton and St-Piton during different periods preceding 1800) is a commune in the Nord department in northern France named after Piatus of Tournai. Its inhabitants are called Saint-Piatiens or Piatonnais.


A tercio (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈteɾθjo] "third") or tercio español ("Spanish third") was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.

The tercio was an administrative unit with command of up to 3,000 soldiers, subdivided originally into 10, later 12 compañías, made up of pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers. These companies were deployed in battle and were further subdivided into units of 30 soldiers. These smaller units could be deployed individually or brought together to form what were sometimes called Spanish squares. These powerful infantry squares were also much used by other European powers, especially the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire.

The care that was taken to maintain a high number of "old soldiers" (veterans) in the units, and their professional training, together with the particular personality imprinted on them by the proud hidalgos of the lower nobility that nurtured them, made the tercios for a century and a half the best infantry in Europe. Moreover, the tercios were the first to efficiently mix pikes and firearms. Tercio companies dominated European battlefields in the sixteenth century and the first half of the 17th century and are seen by historians as a major development of early modern combined arms warfare.

Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague. Casualties were overwhelmingly and disproportionately inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, most of the rest being battle deaths from various foreign armies. In terms of proportional German casualties and destruction, it was surpassed only by the period January to May 1945; one of its enduring results was 19th-century Pan-Germanism, when it served as an example of the dangers of a divided Germany and became a key justification for the 1871 creation of the German Empire.Initially a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the European great powers. These states employed relatively large mercenary armies, and the war became less about religion and more of a continuation of the France–Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence.

The war was preceded by the election of the new Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, who tried to impose religious uniformity on his domains, forcing Roman Catholicism on its peoples. The northern Protestant states, angered by the violation of their rights to choose, which had been granted in the Peace of Augsburg, banded together to form the Protestant Union. Ferdinand II was a devout Roman Catholic and much less tolerant than his predecessor, Rudolf II, who ruled from the largely Protestant city of Prague. Ferdinand's policies were considered strongly pro-Catholic and anti-Protestant.

These events caused widespread fears throughout northern and central Europe, and triggered the Protestant Bohemians living in the then relatively loose dominion of Habsburg Austria (and also with the Holy Roman Empire) to revolt against their nominal ruler, Ferdinand II. After the so-called Defenestration of Prague deposed the Emperor's representatives in Prague, the Protestant estates and Catholic Habsburgs started gathering allies for war. The Protestant Bohemians ousted the Habsburgs and elected the Calvinist Frederick V, Elector of the Rhenish Palatinate as the new king of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Frederick took the offer without the support of the Protestant Union. The southern states, mainly Roman Catholic, were angered by this. Led by Bavaria, these states formed the Catholic League to expel Frederick in support of the Emperor. The Empire soon crushed the perceived Protestant rebellion in the Battle of White Mountain, executing leading Bohemian aristocrats shortly after. Protestant rulers across Europe unanimously condemned the Emperor's action.

After the atrocities committed in Bohemia, Saxony finally gave its support to the Protestant Union and decided to fight back. Sweden, at the time a rising military power, soon intervened in 1630 under its king Gustavus Adolphus, transforming what had been simply the Emperor's attempt to curb the Protestant states into a full-scale war in Europe. Habsburg Spain, wishing to finally crush the Dutch rebels in the Netherlands and the Dutch Republic (which was still a part of the Holy Roman Empire), intervened under the pretext of helping its dynastic Habsburg ally, Austria. No longer able to tolerate the encirclement of two major Habsburg powers on its borders, Catholic France entered the coalition on the side of the Protestants in order to counter the Habsburgs.

The Thirty Years' War devastated entire regions, resulting in high mortality, especially among the populations of the German and Italian states, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Southern Netherlands. Both mercenaries and soldiers in fighting armies traditionally looted or extorted tribute to get operating funds, which imposed severe hardships on the inhabitants of occupied territories. The war also bankrupted most of the combatant powers.

The Dutch Republic enjoyed contrasting fortune; it was removed from the Holy Roman Empire and was able to end its revolt against Spain in 1648 and subsequently enjoyed a time of great prosperity and development, known as the Dutch Golden Age, during which it became one of the world's foremost economic, colonial, and naval powers. The Thirty Years' War ended with the Treaty of Osnabrück and the Treaties of Münster, part of the wider Peace of Westphalia. The war altered the previous political order of European powers. The rise of Bourbon France, the curtailing of Habsburg ambition, and the ascendancy of Sweden as a great power created a new balance of power on the continent, with France emerging from the war strengthened and increasingly dominant in the latter part of the 17th century.

Franco-Spanish War

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