Turenne (1611-1675)

Turenne, a great military leader, was converted from Protestantism to Catholicism ; this experience was very significant for him.

His youth

  • Henri of la Tour d'Auvergne, viscount of Turenne © Collection privée

Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, viscount of Turenne, was born in Sedan in 1611. He was the second son of the duke of Bouillon, prince of Sedan and Elisabeth de Nassau, who was the daughter of William the Silent, founder of the Republic of the Dutch United Provinces.

First, he served in the army of the princes of Nassau.

In 1630, as his mother had concluded a treaty with Louis XIII, he joined the army of the King of France as a colonel and campaigned in Italy, in Lorraine (1633), then in Alsace and the Netherlands.

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648)

Turenne campaigned in Italy in 1640 as a first lieutenant and took Turin. In 1643, he again campaigned in Italy and was appointed marshal of France when Louis XIVacceded to the throne.

From 1644 onwards Turenne led the German army, progressing from one battlefield to another, gaining a large number of victories, which culminated in the Treaty of Westphalia,thus ending the Thirty Years War. France had joined this conflict in 1635, fighting with the protestant princes and the Swedes against the armies of the Empire (the Habsbourgs of Austria and Spain).

The Fronde (1648-1654)

In the Fronde against Mazarin, first he joined the parliamentary « Fronde » in 1649, then he fought for Condé (the Great Condé, great grandson of Louis de Condé) in the service of the King of Spain in 1650. However, he came back into the service of the King of France for good in 1651.

In 1652, he campaigned against Condé and the Spanish, thus enabling the king to win back Paris and he delivered Arras in 1654.

The Franco-Spanish War (1656-1659)

Turenne took Dunkirk in 1658 and invaded Flanders, which led to the treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Turenne was then appointed governor of the Limousin and in 1660 field marshal of the royal armies and camps ; he was also given the responsibility of re-organizing the army.

The War of Devolution and the War of Holland

In 1667, Turenne prepared the War of Devolution (1661 – 1668) with Louis XIV ; this was against Spain and he took Charleroi and Tournais. In 1672, he began to fight in the War of Holland (1672 – 1678), taking Arnheim, then he entered Germany and occupied Westphalia.

In 1673, he lost several battles in Germany and quarrelled with Louvois, the military secretary of State serving Louis XIV. In 1674, Turenne had to maintain France’s hold of Alsace with only a reduced number of soldiers ; he crossed the Rhine and set fire to the Palatinate, but the Imperial armies also crossed the Rhine and took Strasbourg. Turenne manoeuvred in the Vosges in the depths of winter and surprised the Imperial armies in Mulhouse – he also won the battle of Turckheim. The Imperial armies crossed the Rhine once again, but returned to Alsace a few months later. Turenne was killed by a bullet when he was on reconnaissance in Sasbach (Germany).

His personal life

Turenne was born a protestant ; in 1651 he married Charlotte de Caumont, who died without issue in 1666.

He was a strong protestant of moderate views and used his influence with the king to defend the protestant cause. But he had doubts about his faith and was attracted to the Jansenist beliefs. Finally, in 1668, Pierre Nicole and de Bossuet convinced him that he should become a catholic ; however, he remained a man of moderate views and continued to read the Bible.

He wrote many memoirs and letters.

Louis XIV had Turenne buried in the abbey of St. Denis, but Bonaparte had his body transferred to the Invalides in 1800, honouring him as a great military strategist.


  • Books
    • BERENGER Jean, Turenne, Fayard, Paris, 1987
    • WEYGAND Général, Turenne, Flammarion, Paris, 1942

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