"Prince Eugene, the Noble Knight" - The Battle of Petrovaradin in 1716

5 August 1716, during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-1718, the Austrian military genius Prince Eugene of Savoy decisively defeated an outnumbering Ottoman army under Grand Vizier Silahdar Damat Ali Pasha at the Battle of Petrovaradin.

“The Prince exposed himself to a great extent … and was in the greatest of dangers to get sabred or captured by the Turks” (Anonymous Austrian participant of the Battle of Petrovaradin, 1716)

Jacob van Schuppen (1670 - 1751):
"Prince Eugene during the Austro-Turkish War."
(around 1720)

Palatine Elisabeth Charlotte, Liselotte von der Pfalz, was usually quite spot-on in her assessment of her fellow players at the court of the Sun King. In her own, inimitable down-to-earth manner, full of heart-warming common sense. Once she was rather mistaken, though. An “uncleanly and very debauched boy”, she wrote about the third youngest of Olympia Mancini, Countess Soissons’ eight children. The neglected, wraithlike, smallish son of Louis XIV’s poisonous mistress would never get anywhere, the worldly-wise princess concluded. The Sun King intended the lad for a career in the Church, but the very debauched boy wanted to play soldier, walked out on him and turned to Louis’ rival, the Holy Roman Emperor, and promptly ended up in the Siege of Vienna of 1683. It was the beginning of Prince Eugene of Savoy’s career as, according to Napoleon himself, one of the seven greatest commanders in history. At the same time, the epic siege of the capital at the gates of Western Europe marks the beginning of the end of Ottoman supremacy on the Balkans and in Hungary, not least because of Prince Eugene’s brilliance. The Great Turkish War would drag on until the end of the 17th century, protracted by the Sun King’s invasion of the Rhineland and the Palatine, the Nine Years’ War in the west of the Holy Roman Empire, but ended with Prince Eugene’s decisive victory over Sultan Mustafa II at the Battle of Zenta in 1697 and the humiliating Treaty of Karlowitz. It was Zenta that established the House of Habsburg as the dominant power on the Balkans and the treaty marked the first time peace terms were dictated to an Ottoman sultan by Western powers. And while Prince Eugene distinguished himself in the War of the Spanish Succession, teamed up with Marlborough at Blenheim, Oudenarde and Malplaquet and Louis XIV might have rued the day more than once when he drove the debauched boy into the arms of the Habsburgs, the Sublime Porte plotted revenge for Vienna, Zenta and Karlowitz. In 1715 then, with the Austrians still exhausted after the Peace of Utrecht and the efforts of the 18th century’s first global war, the Ottomans struck out against one of the beneficiaries of Karlowitz, the Republic of Venice and their territories in Greece. It took a papal guarantee for Austrian territories in Italy and lots of diplomatic persuasion to goad Emperor Charles VI to take a clear position against the Ottomans. The High Porte reacted with a declaration of War and mustered an army 150,000 strong at Belgrade. Emperor Charles sent Prince Eugene.

Franz Wacik (1883  - 1938): "Prince Eugene at the Battle of Vienna, 1683", illustration from Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "Prince Eugene, His Life in Pictures", 1913

the fortress of Petrovaradin, was known as the Gibraltar of the Danube for a while. During the Great Turkish War, Habsburg wasn’t able to reach out as far down the river as Belgrade, since the late Middle Ages the key fortification on the great river beyond the Great Hungarian Plain. The need for a bridgehead drove the Austrians to extend the works they captured from the Turks in 1687 some 60 miles up the river. They did build a state-of-the-art complex that held out against a first siege in ’94, became the key position of Habsburg’s Military Frontier and the first target of the Ottoman advance up the river. Silahdar Damat Ali Pasha, Grand Vizier and commander of the Turkish army who had taken the Morea, the Peloponnese, from the Venetians during the previous year, arrived on 2 August 1716 before Peterwardein, skirmished with Austrian cavalry, ordered his troops to dig in and lay siege to the fortress. It might have been up to 200,000 men, women and children in the siege lines and Silahdar Ali Pasha’s camp. At least half of them made up the customarily immense Ottoman baggage train, the rest were fighting troops. Field Marshal Prince Eugene arrived with the main body of his army, about 80,000 men, a day later on the left shore of the Danube, crossed the river on a bridge of boats, a breakneck manoeuvre in the middle of the night, and on the next morning at 7 am sharp, with a short prayer, “Mon Dieu!”, eyes raised to heaven for a blink, a curt nod and ”Avancez!“, the Battle of Petrovaradin began. The Ottoman right flank was rolled up immediately, Silahdar Ali Pasha’s Janissaries put up a stiff resistance in the centre, counter-charged, drove the Austrians, Eugene committed his reserves, the Austrian centre held, Eugene seemed to be everywhere at once, always in the thick of it, a timely cavalry charge into the Ottoman flank closed the sack, the battle was won and the slaughter began. The Grand Vizier stood to the last, holding the green banner of the Prophet, an Austrian bullet struck him in the head, the 50,000 survivors of his army took his body back to Belgrade where he was buried. His tomb can be seen to this day. His pompous tent, captured with the rest of his baggage train, is exhibited at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, the Museum of Military History in Vienna.

Franz Wacik: "Eugene's Last Days and the Lion of Belvedere" (1913)

a day and age when European warfare often resembled a kind of brutal minuet, with ritualised marching and countermarching to protect supply lines and achieve strategic goals and bit of distrust against new-fangled weapons like flintlock muskets and bayonets, few commanders really manoeuvred and fought for decisive actions on the battlefields. Prince Eugene stands out as a tactical and logistic genius who, more often than not, personally risked life and limb. He was wounded nine times in battle and during sieges and maybe his personal commitment won him Petrovaradin. It certainly did at Belgrade, a year later, his arguably greatest victory against impossible odds and circumstances. Frederick the Great of Prussia, who personally met his great model in his youth, called Prince Eugene the actual Emperor of Austria and well into the 1720s, he was at least one of the most influential men at the court of Vienna and in the whole of Europe. Along with being one of the richest men on the continent. Other than his Habsburg masters, Eugene of Savoy knew quite well how to be economical. Neither was he above feathering his own nest with the spoils of war and war bonds. And it was quite a nest he built for himself, several palaces in Vienna, a large library, today known as the Eugeniana, the core part of the Austrian National Library, adorned with works of art collected from all across Europe and beyond. He remained a “Mars without Venus” though, as a ditty sung in the side streets and the new coffee houses of Vienna had it. Whether Eugene was homosexual, asexual or simply shy in regards to personal relationships never became quite clear, but he wouldn’t be a Viennese hero without a proper neurosis or three. It seems, however, that he never recovered emotionally from his loveless childhood and lived a loveless life, a fate he shares with his admirer, the other of the two greatest commanders of the 18th century, Frederick the Great. However, there is a legend, handed down by the Austrian Knight of the Neurosis Hugo von Hofmannsthal, that Prince Eugene was at least bewept by the lion he kept in his menagerie in the park of his summer residence, the Belvedere. He, the toothless lion who was driven out to war for the third Habsburg emperor he served in his seventieth year and finally made a mess of it, wasn’t seen by his beloved pet for three days. Eugene lay dying, his lion refused to eat, and then, in the night of 21 April 1736, the lion began to roar, about 3 o’clock in the morning. The animal keeper who went out to ensure that everything was in order, saw, all of a sudden, the lights coming on in every room of the palace and heard the death knell ring. “And so he knew”, Hofmannsthal says, “that his master, the great Prince Eugene, had died within this hour.”

And more about the Battle of Petrovaradin on: