Battle of Steinkirk, 1692


3rd August 1692

Battle of Steinkirk (Steenkerken). Victory of General Luxembourg over William III of England.


The battle of Steenkirk (Steinkirk, Estinkerke) fought on July 23rd/August 3rd 1692 between the Allies under William III. 


England and the French commanded by the duke of Luxemburg. Previous to the battle the French army lay facing north-west, with its right on the Senne at Steenkirk and its left towards Enghien, while the army, qf William III. was encamped about Hal. 


In accordance with the strategical methods of the time, the French, not ~wisbing to fight after having achieved the immediate object, th,e~ capture of Nam1fr, took up a strong position, supposing the enemy would not dare to attack it, while the Allies, who would otherwise in all probability have done as the French marshal desired, were by the fortune of war afforded the opportunity of surprising a part of the enemys forces. For in the 17th century, when the objects of a war were as far as possible secured without the loss of valuable lives, and general decisive battles were in every way considered undesirable, a brilliant victory over a part, not the whole, of the enemys forces was the tactical idea of the best generals, and accordingly William, having completely misled the enemy by forcing a detected spy to give Luxemburg false news, set his army in motion before dawn on July 23rd! August 3rd to surprise the French right about Steenkirk. 


The advanced guard of infantry and pioneers, under the duke of Wurttemberg, deployed close to the French camps ere Luxemburg became aware of the impending blow; at this moment the main body of the army farther back was forming up after the passage of some woods. When the fight opened, Luxemburg was completely surprised, and he could do no more than hurry the nearest foot and dragoons into action as each regiment came on the scene. But the march of the Allies main body had been mismanaged; while \Vrttemberg methodically cannonaded the enemy, waiting for support and for the order to advance, and the French worked with feverish energy to form a strong and well-covered line of battle at the threatened point, the Allies main body, which had marched in the usual order, one wing of cavalry leading, the infantry following, and the other wing of cavalry at the tail of the column, was being hastily sorted out into infantry and cavalry, for the ground was only suitable for the former. 


A few battalions only had come up to support the advanced guard when the real attack opened (12.30). The advanced guard had already been under arms for nine hours, and the march had been over bad ground, but its attack swept the first French line before it. The English and Danes stubbornly advanced, the second and third lines of the French infantry giving ground before them, but Luxemburg was rapidly massing his whole force to crush them, and meanwhile the confusion in the allied main body had reached its height. Count Soims, who commanded it, ordered the cavalry forward, but the mounted men, scarcely able to move over the bad roads and heavy ground, only blocked the way for the infantry. Some of the English foot, with curses upon Solms and the Dutch generals, broke out to the front, and Solms, angry and excited, thereupon refused to listen to all appeals for aid from the front. 


No attempt was made to engage and hold the centre and left of the French army, which hurried, regiment after regiment, to take part in the fighting at Steenkirk. Williams counter-order that the infantry was to go forward, the cavalry to halt, only made matters worse, and by now the advanced guard had at last been brought to a standstill. 


At the crisis Luxemburg had not hesitated to throw the whole of the French and Swiss guards, led by the princes of the royal house, into the fight, and as, during and after this supreme effort, more and more French troops appeared from the side of Enghien, the Allies were driven back, contesting every step by weight of numbers. Those troops of the main body, foot and dragoons, which succeeded in reaching the front, served only to cover and to steady the retreat of WUrttembergs force, and, the coup having manifestly failed, William ordered the retreat. 


The Allies retired as they had come, their rear-guard showing too stubborn a front for the French to attack. The latter were indeed in no state to pursue. Over eight thousand men out of only about fifteen thousand engaged on the side of the Allies were killed and wounded, and the losses of the French out of a much larger force were at least equal. Contemporary soldiers affirmed that Steenkirk was the hardest battle ever fought by infantry, and the battle served not only to illustrate the splendid discipline of the old professional armies, but also to give point to the reluctance of the generals of those days to fight battles in which, once the fighting spirit was unchained, the armies shot each other to pieces before either would give way.



Killed at Steinkirk:



Extract from History of the First Royal Scots at Steinkirk

For many years the Royals had shown what they could do when fighting for the French, and at Steinkirk (1692), they showed how terrible they could be when fighting against them.


Among the foremost in this action, as the old chronicler wrote, "was seen the brave Sir Robert Douglas at the head of the 1st battalion of his regiment, emulating the noblest actions recorded in the annals of war. Having led his battalion against the troops behind the first hedge, "he soon cleared it of its French defenders, and drove one of the battalions from the field in confusion. A second hedge was assailed and carried by the Scots in a few moments, a third was assaulted - the French stood their ground - the combatants fought muzzle to muzzle, but again the Royals proved victorious, and the third hedge was won. The toil of conflict did not cool the ardour of the veteran Scots, but forward they rushed with a loud huzza, and attacked the troops lining the fourth hedge. Here the fighting was severe but eventually the Royals overthrew a fourth French battalion and drove a crowd of combatants from their cannon."

Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie, Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Foot, killed at the Battle of Steenkirk, July 24th, 1692.

In this desperate conflict the battalion lost one of its three colours. Sir Robert Douglas, seeing the colour on the other side of the hedge, leaped through a gap, slew the French officer who bore the colour, and cast it back into the midst of his own men; but this act of heroism cost him his life, a French marksman having shot him dead while in the act of rejoining his ranks. "Thus the Scots commander improved upon the Roman general. For the brave Posthumous cast his standard in the middle of the enemy for his soldiers to retrieve; but Douglas retrieved his from the middle of the enemy, and cast it back for his soldiers to retain."









Excerpts from The Glories and Traditions of the British Army. (Naval and Army illustrated Feb 26th 1897). The First Royal Scots or Lothian Regiment by Chas Lowe



In 1684, the military uniform again modified the cravat. The sudden and unexpected victory of the French at the Battle of Steinkirk caught the French officers of the conquering regiment unawares. Unable to complete their detailed toilettes, which included the meticulous wrapping of their cravats, they hastily put them around their necks, twisted the ends and tucked them through the buttonholes of their military jackets to secure the loose-hanging ends. This new style was called the "Steinkirk" and was quickly adopted by both men and women in Paris.