Bouchain back from the past

Has the 1711 siege of Bouchain faded from view? The town itself certainly hasn’t stood the test of time well, if Google Ngram Viewer is to be believed.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.57.03 PM

This should be surprising, since the August attack on Bouchain was one of the more distinctive sieges in the Low Countries. Though a weak town, its investment required Allied troops to ferret out the French from their boggy trenches sheltering the town before they could carry on their trench attacks.

Attacks on lower and upper town of Bouchain, 1711

Attacks on lower and upper town of Bouchain, 1711

This impressive maneuver would later be commemorated in a well-known portrait of Marlborough and his engineer/quartermaster John Armstrong:

John_Churchill,_1st_Duke_of_Marlborough;_John_Armstrong_from_NPG

Bouchain 1711 was also distinctive among the Flanders sieges because the Allied and French commanders disputed whether the garrison had surrendered honorably or as prisoners of war after its capture – spoiler alert: the garrison ended up as prisoners. Then, after the town was in Allied hands, Marlborough’s army was forced to idle nearby for almost a month while its fortifications were repaired. To top it off, the siege was also the last major military operation conducted by the Duke of Marlborough. Attempts by his chaplain (Francis Hare) to describe Bouchain as a masterful siege failed to prevent Churchill’s ouster at the end of the year.

Observation and Relief armies, Bouchain 1711

Observation and Relief armies, Bouchain 1711

The town would be recaptured by resurgent French forces under Marshal Villars a year later, in half the time.

If the 1711 attack has faded from view, perhaps that is due to the faded view of the most famous representations of the siege, the three tapestries at Blenheim Palace commemorating the victory at Bouchain. Yet perhaps there’s hope. For as the linked Daily Mail news story (with lots of photos) indicates, this faded view of the siege has been cleaned and restored, with its brethren to follow.

While good news, even a newly-restored Bouchain Tapestry gives us minimal insight into the siege. The tapestry, like all of the Victory tapestries, provides little more than a stock representation of Marlborough and his entourage on horseback in the standard wooded foreground, with an ornamental border composed of vines and captured arms and the countryside receding into the distance. Hopefully the restoration will make the background, the actual siege itself, a bit more visible. Now if we could only get close-up photographs of those newly-laundered threads.

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3 responses to “Bouchain back from the past”

  1. Erik Lund says :

    I look at the layout of that town and defy anyone to continue arguing that Age of Reason fortifications should not be looked at as hydraulic engineering. (And,yes, I have had that argument with an acknowledged expert who will remain unnamed out of respect.)

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