Thursday, 30 June 2016

A visit to the Hoffburg to see Charles...

On occasion my significant other (she who must be, and frequently is, obeyed) and I have the opportunity to do a city break. Last year she asked me where I would like to go next and without pause for breath I said... 'VIENNA!!!!!'

Now, why I hear you ask would I be so keen to go visit Vienna, the romance and attractiveness of the Austrian capital notwithstanding?

Well, as those who follow my blog will know I collect an Austrian army from the Napoleonic wars and am quite a fan of Archduke Charles, the man who was one of the only people to thrash the mighty Napoleon in a fair fight. The army that I am collecting and modelling is Archduke Charles' army of the Battle of Wagram of 1809

One little visit to Vienna would allow me to gaze upon the rather dynamic statue of this Titan of military achievement, the Archduke statue in the Heldenplatz outside the Hoffburg palace, seat of the Habsburg dynasty for 700 years, take a brief excursion from the city centre to the battlefields of Aspern-Essling, site of the aforementioned whooping and of course a little further out visit Deutsch Wagram where Napoleon got his own back on an inexcusably far too indolent Charles!

These things just begged to have three blog posts written about them. I thought I would share my visit to Charles with you first, packed out with a little biography work on the man himself!

Now, one thing can be guaranteed when I travel to a European destination to see a statue or monument that I particularly want to see... and that's that it will be festooned with scaffolding for some bloody music event that's happening the day after we leave... and that's why there are no photos of Charles here with the Hoffburg in the background... cos it was all covered in scaffolding!

But without further ado... ladies and gentlemen; I give you his Royal Highness Archduke Charles!

Karl Ludwig Johann Josef Lorenz of Austria (commonly known as Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen) was born on 5th September 1771 in Florence, Tuscany. The third son of Emperor Leopold II and his wife Maria Luisa of Spain. He was the younger brother of Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor (until Napoleon dismantled the Holy Roman Empire following the disaster of Ulm and Austerlitz!) and despite suffering from depression and epilepsy Charles earned widespread respect as both a battlefield commander and as a reformer of the monolithic Austrian military juggernaut! He has been considered to be one of Napoleons most ablest opponents and is frequently alikened to the Irish Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

He began his career fighting the armies of Revolutionary France. Early in the wars of the First Coalition, beginning with command of a Brigade at Jemappes in 1792, he saw victory at Neerwinden in 1793 marking him as one of the officers to watch in Europe, before tasting defeat at Wattignies, 1793 and Fleurus in 1794,at which he was present but did not command.

In 1796, at the age of 25 and as chief of all Austrian forces on the Rhine, Charles out-generaled future Marshall Jean-Baptiste Jourdan at Amberg and Wurzburg and forced Jean Victor Marie Moreau to withdraw across the Rhine. He pursued a strategy of falling back carefully and avoiding a decisive main force engagement he left mere light infantry screens to cloud his movements before pouncing successfully. This mixture of strategic, operational and tactical genius marked him amongst his contemporaries as one of the greatest generals in Europe!

In 1797 he was sent to arrest the victorious march of General Bonaparte in Italy and he managed to extricate the overmatched Austrian forces from annihalation with great skill. In the campaign of 1799 he once more faced Jourdan whom he defeated in the battles of Ostrach and Stockrach, following up his success by invading Switzerland and defeating the mighty Massena in the First Battle of Zurich, after which he re-entered Germany once more driving the dirty frogs across the Rhine!

Ill health forced him to retire to Bohemia at this time but he was soon recalled to undertake the task of checking Moreau's advance on Vienna. The results of the Battle of Hohenlinden however forestalled his attempts practically before he had even take charge leading to Charles striking the Armistice of Steyr. 

His popularity was now such that the Perpetual Diet of Regensburg (a provincial local government) which met in 1802 resolved to erect a statue in his honour and to give him the title of Saviour of his Country, but Charles refused both distinctions. (Humble AND Genius? See where hes different from Napoleon?)

He played little part in the military misadventures of the 3rd Coalition culminating with the catastrophic losses of Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, only commanding the remnants of the Army of Italy which in the face of events elsewhere was subordinated to Germany as the primary theatre. Austria was whooped on the Danube (Austerlitz and Ulm) whilst  Massena had his revenge on Charles at the Battle of Caldiero.

Following the treaty of Pressburg following Austerlitz, Charles embarked on a radical and far reaching reformation of the Austrian military bringing into practise Corp organisations as opposed to the previous Wing system. He reviewed and adjusted Austrian infantry and cavalry formations, pioneering the use of Battalion Masses as a viable alternative to Square formations. At a serious disadvantage against artillery with such a close packed huddle of men BUT very easy for conscript troops to form and maintain in the face of Cavalry assaults.

In 1806 Francis II (who, following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Emperor was now Francis I of Austria) names Archduke Charles, already a Field Marshall as Commander in Chief of the Austrian Armies and head of the Council of War. Supported by the prestige of being the only general who had proved capable of beating the French he promptly initiated the far reaching reforms mentioned above, replacing the old fashioned methods of the 18th Century root and branch.

These army reforms were not yet complete when the War Party in Austrian politics managed to force a war with Imperial France against the vehement opposed wishes of the Archduke.

Even with incomplete reforms however the Austrian army of 1809 proved to be a very different animal of that encountered by France 4 years earlier, with Austrian troops proving time and time again capable of trading shot pound for pound without breaking... if only Charles had better, and more aggressive subordinates!

In the 1809 the initial conquests of the Austrian army's invasion of Bavaria were neutralised by defeats at Abensburg, Landshut and Eckmuhl but following the evacuation of Vienna the Austrian army, with Charles at the helm delivered a serious defeat to Napoleon at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. 6 weeks later though the war reached its climax at the Battle of Wagram on the sunny, green and verdant Marchfeld outside Vienna. The Austrian army of this day was a formidable foe, capable of soaking up far more damage than previous incarnations and in this battle was only defeated after a desperate struggle with an unprecedented loss of life by both sides... and even then Charles managed to extract his army from the field intact and withdraw effectively screened by his cavalry and light infantry.

At the end of the campaign the Archduke gave up all of his military offices.

When Austria joined the ranks of the 6th Coalition in 1813 Charles was not given any command and the post of Commander in Chief went to Prince of Schwarzenburg. Charles spent the rest of his life in retirement, except for a short spell in 1815 when he was the military governor of the Fortress Mainz. In 1822 he succeeded to the duchy of Saxe-Teschen soon after marrying Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg spawning many brats!

The caution which the Archduke preached so earnestly in his own written works on strategy, for which his contemporary Von Clausewitz roundly pilloried him, was displayed by Charles apparently only when the situation suited, even though his education certainly seemed to emphasise the defensive at all costs. He was at the same time capable of engineering and executing the most daring of offensive strategies whilst his handling of troops, whether in wide turning movements, as at Wurzburg and Zurich or in the masses of Aspern-Essling and Wagram was certainly the equal to any leader of his day with only a single exception. Napoleon!

His campaign of 1796 is considered almost faultless. That he sustained defeat in 1809 was due in part to the great numerical superiority of the French and their allies and in part to the unfinished condition of his troops with a war forced upon them far too soon. His indolence on the Marchfeld following his victory at Aspern-Essling is however inexcusable and open to much criticism.

As a military writer and thinker his opinion carried the greatest weight, however his opinions cannot be considered anything but outdated by 1806. He waged wars of territory whilst his main opponents were waging wars of annihilation. Caution and the importance of strategic points was central to his system. The rigidity of this geographical strategy may be gathered from the prescription that this principle is never departed from.

Again and again he repeats the advice that nothing should be hazarded unless ones army is completely secure... a maxim he roundly ignored in his stunning campaign of 1796. Strategic points he says, not the defeat of the enemy's army, decide the fate of ones country and must constantly remain the Generals main concern, a maxim never more roundly disabused than in the war of 1809 by the master of the War of Annihilation!

This statue of the mighty Archduke is modelled on a popular painting by Johann Peter Krafft in which Charles is seen snatching up the Colours of the Zach Regiment, rallying them and personally leading them back into the fray at the Battle of Aspern-Essling thus stabilising the centre of the Austrian line and preventing a complete collapse under the repeated charges of French heavy cavalry divisions!

Of course it wouldn't be seemly for a wargamer such as myself to do such a biopic of the mighty man himself without posting my own icon of the moment he rallies the Zach regiment... and here is my own Generals base for use with my Grande Armee Austrian army...

and just to sign off with, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a couple of shots of the Deathmask of the Archduke which is held in Aspern Church with one of the museums to 1809... so this is actually what the man looked like. Genius he may have been... but looker, he was not!

For me, now I'm going to go back and finish off my Austrian III Korp under Kollowrat! More on that later...


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. Glad you liked it. Questions of morality aside I suppose we could say that the history of warfare is the history of man. At the end of the day, we are no different than the animals of the forests. Power and Territory. It will never be overcome I think. Even when we think society has reached a place where we would rather sort our differences across a conference table, you will get some inbred strapping bombs onto brainwashed kids and telling them that its a win for them!

      Still, the uniforms are cool though, right? :D