Sunday 21 July 2013

A Celebrated Strategist: Charles de Croix, Count of Clerfayt

François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt (Hainaut, Belgium, 14th October 1733 - Vienna, Austria, 21st July 1798)

Engraving of François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt

I have always liked the cut of a military man's jib and a flamboyant name is equally welcome so I thought I'd take to my secretaire and prepare a little something about the Count of Clerfayt, a gentleman who more more than fits both criteria!

Clerfayt was born in the Austrian Netherlands in the Castle of Bruille. His ambitions were clear from and early age and he joined the Austrian army at the age of 20, seeing action in the Seven Years' War within two years. Clerfayt was highly courageous and rose through the ranks at an incredible rate. By the time the Treaty of Hubertusburg was signed and the war ended, the Count had risen to the rank of Oberst and was awarded the Military Order of Maria Theresa.

Loyal beyond question to Emperor Joseph II, Clerfayt distinguished himself further at the 1787 revolt in the Netherlands and was again promoted, this time to the rank of Feldmarschal-Leutnant. The Count was enormously successful in his chosen career as he roundly trounced the Turks and was rewarded by yet another promotion, by now attaining the rank of Feldzeugmeister.

In 1792, Clerfayt's army successfully engaged French forces at Croix-sous-Bois during the War of the First Coalition before going onto a number of battles in the Netherlands, including the siege of Maastricht. Further successes followed and in 1794 he succeeded the Duke of Saxe-Coburg as commander in chief, though it was at this point that his fortunes took a turn for the worse. In October of that year,  Clerfayt's troops were driven back at the Battle of Wattignies in the first of a series of defeats that eventually culminated in his negotiating a less than favourable armistice with the French. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Johann Thugut, had not been consulted on the decision and Clerfayt was forced to resign, moving into a new career in politics.

Photograph of the grave of François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt
Clerfayt's Grave

Ambition, bravery and loyalty were the watchwords of Clerfayt's time in the military. His career may have ended somewhat abruptly but his reputation remained intact; the Count died in 1798 and remains a highly respected figure in the history of the Austria as one of the greatest soldiers and strategists the country has ever known.


John Shelley said...

An interesting figure, and talented general against Frederick the great in his younger days, but "one of the greatest"? That's debatable, he was widely recorded for his cautious nature. Fortescue calls him “incurably supine”. After the Battle of Mouscron (1794) the Duke of York said of him - “No man on earth has more personal courage than General Clerfayt, but unfortunately his lack of resolution and decision as a general is beyond all description".

After being reproached for abandoning Namur in June 1794, ‘Ah!’ said he, showing the place where part of his arm had been carried away at the siege of Thionville, and how his body was covered in ulcers, ‘I am only the shadow of a man’” (Phipps Vol II p.174). French opponents regarded him similarly - "He was a skillful general, made too cautious by long experience" (Saint-Cyr) "prudence personified" (Soult).

Just sayin', like :)

Catherine Curzon said...

Perhaps I was being overly generous as a newly-minted blogger when I wrote this. Hmm... :-)