Austria – The High Command

The Franco-Dutch War (1672–78), often called simply the Dutch War (French: Guerre de Hollande; Dutch: Hollandse Oorlog), was a war fought by France, Sweden, Münster, Cologne and England against the Dutch Republic, which was later joined by the Austrian Habsburg lands, Brandenburg-Prussia and Spain to form a Quadruple Alliance. The war ended with the Treaty of Nijmegen, by which Spain ceded the Franche-Comté and some cities in Flanders and Hainaut to France, while France returned some of its conquests (Maastricht and the Principality of Orange) to the Dutch.

The War of the Austrian Succession (German: Österreichischer Erbfolgekrieg, 1740–48) involved most of the powers of Europe over the question of Maria Theresa’s succession to the Habsburg Monarchy. The war included King George’s War in British America, the War of Jenkins’ Ear (which formally began on 23 October 1739), the First Carnatic War in India, the Jacobite rising of 1745 in Scotland, and the First and Second Silesian Wars.

Officially, it was of course the Emperor who acted as commander-in-chief of his armed forces. However, the Austrian Habsburgs – after Maximilian I – were considered to be a largely unmilitary dynasty better suited to religious and artistic pursuits. At the same time, the dangers of an all-powerful condottiere like Wallenstein – Generalissimus and Obrister Feldhauptmann between 1625–30 and 1631–34, vested with particularly extensive authority – had become fully apparent during the Thirty Years War. For the rest of that conflict, as a consequence of this ‘Wallenstein complex’, the supreme command was repeatedly exercised by members of the Habsburg family, men such as the later Emperor Ferdinand III (1608–1657), commander-in-chief 1634–37, and Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614–1662), second son to Emperor Ferdinand II, commander-in-chief 1639–43 and 1645–46.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, the highest level of command came to be that of Generalleutnant who was the acting commander-in-chief. After the Thirty Years War this position was held successively by Ottavio Piccolomini (1648–56), Raimondo Montecuccoli (1664–80), Charles V Duke of Lorraine (1680–90), Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden (1691–1707) and Eugene of Savoy (from 1708 until his death in 1736).

In 1737, Franz Stephan of Lorraine, later Emperor Francis I, husband to Emperor Charles VF s daughter Maria Theresia, was appointed Generalleutnant. This pointed to the re-militarization of the dynasty under Maria Theresia and Joseph II; admittedly, though, the fortune of war did not really smile upon them: witness Franz Stephan himself, who cut a poor figure during the Turkish War of 1737–39 and the War of the Austrian Succession, his brother Charles of Lorraine (1712–1780) – who led the Austrian army into several crushing defeats – or Franz Stephan’s son Emperor Joseph II. It was not until the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars that Archduke Karl (1771–1847), Generalissimus and minister of war, saved the dynasty’s military reputation by defeating Napoleon I at Aspern in 1809.

In the course of the Thirty Years War, a stable hierarchy of command came into being, comprising the following general officers (in decreasing order of rank): 1. the Feldmarschall, 2. the General der Kavallerie and his counterpart for the infantry and the artillery, the General-Fe Idzeugmeis ter (literally ‘master of the ordnance’, a title still reminiscent of the artillery-based function after which this rank was named), 3. the Feldmarschall-Leutnant and 4. the Generalfeldwachtmeister (from the mid-eighteenth century commonly known as Generalmajor). In 1705 there were 22 Feldmarschälle, 11 Generäle der Kavallerie, 11 Feldzeugmeister, 36 Feldmarschall-Leutnants and 60 Generalfeldwachtmeister, altogether 140 generals.

Between 1648 and 1705, 67 field marshals were appointed, 12 of whom were of Italian origin, with 31 coming from the Reich (including 22 members of ruling families). Only 12 hailed from the Austro-Bohemian lands and three from Hungary. Of the 15 commanders-in-chief (Generalleutnants) appointed between 1600 and 1737, not a single one came from the Hereditary Lands. Similarly, of the eight Presidents of the Aulic War Council in office between 1632 and 1736, only three were members of Austro-Bohemian families. Clearly, generals in the Imperial army were rather cosmopolitan – as, incidentally, was the officer corps as a whole. Especially in the seventeenth century, the Viennese court held Italians in high esteem not only as political advisers, confessors or artists during the Age of the Baroque, but also as military leaders in the army – much to the chagrin of many a ‘German’ officer. Field marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli, an Italian nobleman from Modena, to name only the most distinguished example, held several top positions in the Imperial army for many years. A skilled administrator and theorist of war, he was most influential in seventeenth-century warfare and military thought. Names like those of field marshals Antonio Caraffa (1646–1693), Enea Silvio Caprara (1631–1701) and Federico Ambrosio Veterani (1630–1695) graced the Imperial army during the Turkish wars. Even during the eighteenth century, the percentage of Italians in the officer corps and among the generals was still considerable, albeit declining if compared to the earlier seventeenth century (15–25 per cent around 1630, 8 per cent around 1700). The Welsch element was further reinforced by prominent military leaders from francophone countries such as Prince Eugene of Savoy-Carignan (1663–1736) who, scorned by Louis XIV, entered the Emperor’s service in 1683 or Charles V (1643–1690), Duke of Lorraine and brother-in-law to Emperor Leopold I.

The Scottish and even more so the Irish element, who from the Thirty Years War onwards transfused new blood into the middle and senior officer echelons, achieved prominent positions also in the Habsburg army. This was particularly so after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the Battle of the Boyne, when thousands of Stuart loyalists – the celebrated ‘Wild Geese’ – fled to the Catholic courts of Europe. To mention only two field marshals: Walter Leslie (1606–1667) – together with other Irish-Scottish officers responsible for Wallenstein’s assassination in 1634 and later vice-president of the Aulic War Council – and Francis Viscount Taaffe, Earl of Carlingford (1639–1704); one of Taaffe’s descendants was even to become Austrian prime minister in the later nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century descendants of ‘Wild Geese’ such as Maximilian Ulysses Browne (1705–1757), the latter’s kinsman Franz Moritz Lacy (1725–1801) and Michael Johann Wallis (1732–1798) all became field marshals, Lacy and Wallis even presidents of the Aulic War Council.

Officers from the Reich also featured prominently among the Emperor’s generals. Serving the Emperor still held considerable attraction for the German nobilities. Of the 157 Austrian field marshals appointed in the course of the eighteenth century, by far the majority (49 per cent) came from the Holy Roman Empire, more than half of them being members of its high nobility. Approaching one quarter (22.9 per cent) still hailed from Welsch countries, while 8.9 per cent were of Hungarian origin.

According to Jean Bérenger, the clear preference for foreigners in top military positions resulted from a deliberate policy which sought to ensure that the standing army remained a completely loyal instrument in the hands of the dynasty. In contrast to leading aristocrats, with their provincial landed base and clientele network, foreigners appeared less prone to divided loyalties and to the competing claims of the Emperor and the Estates. Very quickly, however, these condottieri also merged into the native nobility, acquiring titles and landed property. In fact, foreign mercenaries were among the leading beneficiaries from the redistribution of land during the 1620s which followed the defeat of the Bohemian rebellion.

During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a general staff in the modern sense of the word had not yet come into existence, the term Generalstab largely referring to the army headquarters as such. The so-called great Generalstab consisted of all generals serving with the field army, while the small Generalstab comprised the auxiliary services: one or more adjutants general, the quartermaster general (then comparatively low in the hierarchy and responsible for quartering and reconnaissance work), the Generalwagenmeister (in charge of the baggage train), a Generalfeldkriegsauditor or Generalauditorleutnant (for legal matters and court proceedings outside regimental jurisdiction), engineers, the field secretariat (Feldkriegskanzlei), army doctors and so forth.

The council of war (Kriegsrat) was an advisory body on which leading generals offered advice to the commander-in-chief, particularly on the eve of battles. This not only corresponded to the Habsburg-Austrian tradition of decision-making by committees, but also testified to the important role of foreign auxiliary troops under independent command, which normally imposed a kind of coalition warfare involving extensive consultation. Quarrels or other personal differences could quickly lead to disastrous consequences. Allied rulers who supplied auxiliary troops had to be entrusted with supreme or separate command, at times to the detriment of military success, such as in the Hungarian theatre of war during the 1680s and 1690s.

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