The French-born Austrian general Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736) led the military campaigns that laid the foundation of Hapsburg power in central Europe. He was widely admired as a model soldier, diplomat, and patron of the arts.
Prince Eugene of Savoy was born in Paris on Oct. 18, 1663, the fifth son of Count Eugene Maurice of Soissons and Olympia Mancini. His father died in 1673, and Eugene was brought up haphazardly at the French court, where he acquired a longing for military glory and a dislike for the ecclesiastical career intended for him. When Louis XIV denied him permission to join the battle against the Turks besieging Vienna in 1683, Eugene left Paris secretly and went to Austria, casting his lot thenceforth with the house of Hapsburg.
Fighting in Hungary against the retreating Turks, Prince Eugene rose from colonel to major general in 1685 and to lieutenant general in 1687. Wounded at Belgrade in 1688 and again at Mainz the following year, he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Savoy in 1691, where he showed a political understanding equal to his military talents. In 1693 he was named field marshal, the highest rank in the imperial service. In 1697 he was given the supreme command of imperial forces in Hungary, and on September 11 he destroyed the much larger Turkish army at Zenta. Leopold I gratefully rewarded Eugene with honors and estates, which, together with his share of the enormous booty won at Zenta, made him one of the richest men in Europe.
When Leopold I challenged France for the Spanish succession in 1701, Eugene opened hostilities in northern Italy, establishing a firm position there in spite of weak support from his government. A series of financial and political crises in Vienna led in 1703 to his appointment as president of the imperial war council. He began at once to reorganize the army. In 1704 he joined forces with the Duke of Marlborough in southern Germany, and together they destroyed the French and Bavarian armies on August 13 at Blenheim.
With Austria now safe from invasion, Eugene returned to Italy. By Sept. 6, 1706, he had driven the French from Turin, and in 1707 he invaded southern France, only to withdraw after besieging Toulon. Leaving Italy secure, he resumed his collaboration with Marlborough. Together they defeated the French at Oudenaarde on July 10, 1708, and the next month laid siege to Lille. It was the high tide of allied victory against France. Their victory at Malplaquet in 1709 left the allies demoralized by their tremendous losses. The unexpected death of Joseph I, Leopold's successor, changed the political balance of Europe. A new ministry in England dismissed Marlborough and negotiated a separate peace with France. Eugene carried on the hopeless war briefly, then in 1714 negotiated the Treaty of Rastadt between Louis XIV and the new emperor Charles VI.
In 1716 Eugene undertook another campaign in Hungary, where the Turkish menace arose once again. His victories at Peterwardein and Belgrade in August led to the triumphant Peace of Passarowitz in 1718 and to the end of the Turkish threat to Europe.
During the years of peace that followed, Eugene's political influence waned. Though he was still involved in the pressing military and political affairs of Austria, his relationship with Charles VI was cool. Eugene turned more and more to his books and gardens, his menagerie of exotic animals, his paintings, and his buildings. In 1734 he again led Austria in war against France over the Polish succession. His powers had gone, and the war ended ingloriously. On his return to Vienna in October 1735, he laid down his official duties. He died in the night of April 20/21, 1736.
Further Reading on Eugene of Savoy
The best biography of Eugene in English in Nicholas Henderson, Prince Eugene of Savoy (1965), which unfortunately was written before the appearance of the definitive treatment of Eugene's career in German by Max Braubach. Readers should be warned that the so-called Memoirs of Prince Eugene of Savoy, Written by Himself, a book found in many libraries, is a fabrication written by Prince Charles Joseph of Ligne (trans. 1811).
Additional Biography Sources
McKay, Derek, Prince Eugene of Savoy, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.