1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Oudenarde

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OUDENARDE (Flemish Oudenaerde), a town of Belgium in the province of East Flanders, 18 m. S. of Ghent. Pop. (1904) 6572. While it is best known for the great victory gained by Marlborough and Eugene over the French under Vendôme in 1708, Oudenarde has many features of interest. The town hall, which took ten years to build (1525–1535), has after that of Louvain the most elaborately decorated façade in Belgium. It was designed by H. van Peede and G. de Ronde, and is in tertiary Gothic style. The belfry tower of five storeys with three terraces, surmounted by a golden figure, is a striking feature. The council chamber contains a fine oak door and Gothic chimney-piece, both c. 1530. There are also two interesting old churches, St Walburga, partly of the 12th and partly of the 14th century, and Notre Dame, dating from the 13th century. The former contains several fine pictures by Craeyer and other old Flemish masters.

The Battle of Oudenarde (June 30th–July 11th 1708) was fought on the ground north-west and north of the town, which was then regularly fortified and was garrisoned by a force of the Allies. The French army under the duke of Burgundy and Marshal Vendôme, after an abortive attempt to invest Oudenarde, took up a defensive position north of the town when Marlborough and Eugene, after a forced march, arrived with the main Allied army. The advanced guard of the Allies under General (Lord) Cadogan promptly crossed the Scheldt and annihilated an outlying body of French troops, and Cadogan established himself on the ground he had won in front of the French centre. But the Allied main army took a long time to defile over the Scheldt and could form up (on the left of Cardogan’s detachment) only slowly and by degrees. Observing this, Burgundy resolved to throw forward his right towards Oudenarde to engage and hold the main body of the Allies before their line of battle could be formed. This effected, it was hoped that the remainder of the French army could isolate and destroy Cadogan’s detachment, which was already closely engaged with the French centre. But he miscalculated both the endurance of Cardogan’s men (amongst whom the Prussians were conspicuous for their tenacity) and the rapidity with which in Marlborough’s and Eugene’s hands the wearied troops of the Allied could be made to move. Marlborough, who personally directed the operations on his left wing, not only formed his line of battle successfully, but also began seriously to press the forces that had been sent to check his deployment. Before long, while the hostile left wing still remained inactive, the unfortunate troops of the French centre and right were gradually hemmed in by the whole force of the Allies. The decisive blow was delivered by the Dutch marshal, Overkirk, who was sent by Marlborough with a large force (the last reserve of the Allies) to make a wide turning movement round the extreme right of the French, and at the proper time attacked them in rear. A belated attempt of the French left to intervene was checked by the British cavalry, and the pressure on the centre and right, which was now practically surrounded, continued even after nightfall. A few scattered units managed to escape, and the left wing retreated unmolested, but at the cost of about 3000 casualties the Allies inflicted a loss of about 6000 killed and wounded and 9000 prisoners on the enemy, who were moreover, so shaken that they never recovered their confidence to the end of the campaign. The battle of Oudenarde was not the greatest of Marlborough’s victories, but it affords almost the best illustration of his military character. Contrary to all the rules of war then in vogue, he fought a piecemeal and unpremeditated battle, with his back to a river, and with wearied troops, and the event justified him. An ordinary commander would have avoided fighting altogether, but Marlborough saw beyond the material conditions and risked all on his estimate of the moral superiority of his army and of the weaknesses of the French leading. His conduct of the battle, once it had opened, was a model of the “partial” victory—the destruction of a part of the enemy’s forces under the eyes of the rest—which was in the 17th and 18th centuries the tactician’s ideal, and was sufficient to ensure him the reputation of being the best general of his age. But it is in virtue of having fought at all that he passes beyond the criteria of the time and becomes one of the great captains of history.