Sunday, January 27, 2008

“Les Canards du Mein” (“The Ducks of the Main”)

The memories of that day remain indelible, and stir me even as I sit here at my writing desk a generation or more since. Indeed, the haunting images continue to stalk my thoughts and dreams as if they were falcons, determined on harrying their prey until the very end.

Rolling billows of powder smoke had obscured the setting sun, and the roar of cannon and the monotonously deep thundering of drums accompanied the Stygian gloom, to be interrupted periodically by the harsh popping of musketry.

Well I recall those grime-besmirched officers, weeping with the shame of defeat (if not the loss of honour). Tears coursed down in steady rivulets along their weary faces as they barked peremptory orders to try to save the remnants of their shattered and intermingled commands. Their throats were parched with gunpowder and strained by their endless- and all too often futile- exhortations to their men. All were exhausted. All were trying to escape that vast wall of steadily approaching redcoats, whose ranks could just barely be made out in the poorly lit distance, volleying mercilessly all the while.

Everywhere was chaos and misery; the pitiful cries of the wounded for succour, and the low, plaintive moans of the dying lying
in extremis amongst the carnage. The whole made for a ghastly panorama that was the embodiment of Dante's Hell.

It was upon a Saturday evening, June 27th 1743 as dusk fell upon the banks of the River Main. The
Battle of Dettingen was nearing its awful finale. The fates had determined that the day was to be one of the darkest in the annals of French arms, whilst being one of the most Glorious for His Britannic Majesty and Elector of Hanover, King George II, and for his Army of the Pragmatic Sanction.


I had often had the opportunity to play at cards over a bottle or two of claret with those worthy gentlemen
M. le Maréchal Noailles and M. le Duc Grammont. Finer and more pleasant company at the table one could not wish for, but on that day our King would have good reason to rue their services to the Crown.


It was at this moment of darkness that I, the 10th Marquis de Sangfroid, along with the Regt. de St. Vignobles, was given the opportunity to salvage a degree of Honour and Glory from the ruins of Defeat, and to have the chance to redeem at least in part the reputation of French arms that had taken so cruel a blow.

Next- The Action of the Rearguard at Seligenstadt.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Le Regt. de St. Vignobles

The flags and uniforms of the Regt. de St. Vignobles.
(Curiously, there are no references to this regiment in the works of Lucien Mouillard-Ed.)

Raised on behalf of King Louis XIV for service in the Palatine campaign in 1688 by my grandfather, Etienne-Germinal Délancé Bouillon-Cantinat, the 8th Marquis de Sangfroid, Prince Ecclesiastical and Bishop of St.Vignobles.

The regiment wears the blue coat of foreign regiments rather than the justeaucorps gris of the bulk of the French troops. It was decided by the Ministry of War that as the Principality of St. Vignobles found itself wedged between the Duchy of Lorraine and the River Rhine, and thus its borders were not contiguous to the lands of France proper, then logic necessitated that it should be raised as a German regiment in the service of the King. This was despite the fact that at that time, the Duchy of Lorraine was in fact occupied by France and not the independant entity it had been in previous times.

This was a decision that went against the wishes of my grandfather and indeed, one which vexed him considerably. The Bouillon-Cantinats have always considered both our estates- and our warriors- in direct service of the Crown, and worthy of inclusion amongst the roll of native French Regiments.

As way of protest of the decision by the War Ministry to classify his regiment as being "foreign", the Marquis declared that its officers and sergeants would wear reversed colours as a sign of their "true" place in the French Army. Likewise, the Marquis (being a proud man) had his drummers clothed in the yellow and blue of the family livery. This also happened to be a combination of colours being detested- perhaps not entirely without intention on grandpére's part- by the then Minister of War, M. Le Tellier fils, the Marquis of Barbezieux.

(NB: it is said that a certain indiscretion on the part of my grandfather regarding an attractive young niece of the Chevalier de Bejart led to some disfavour within close circles of the court at the time; the lady in question being a ward under the care of of Madame Le Tellier, wife of the minister, as well as being a favourite lady-in-waiting of Madame de Maintenon, wife of the King.

The Bouillon-Cantinats, both male and female, have always had a reputation for being somewhat mercurial in temperament, and none more so than my grandfather the 8th Marquis. His passion for beautiful women and for vignt-et-un had often, alas, obscured his otherwise commendable common sense. )

Upon the field of battle and as both besieger and defender in the siege of many a fortress, the Regiment de St. Vignobles has always distinguished itself for it's coolness under fire and the honour of its officers. It has served with distinction in a number of campaigns since its establishment during the Nine-Year's War, in both the Low Countries and the Palatinate. During the War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of this century it stood steadfast under fire at the great battles of Malplaquet, Oudenaarde and most famously at Denain, where it's gallantry earned praise from the great M. de Villars himself.

One of the proudest moments for the regiment was the refusal of its second battalion, under the command of the Chevalier Ludovici Battisto di Bulgari, to participate in the destruction of the castle at Heidelberg as he considered it to be an action inconsistent with the honour that is expected from an officer in the service of France.

The colours of the regiment feature the motto of the Bouillon-Cantinats, and were designed by the Duchess of Burgundy in 1692. Thus they include the cross of Burgundy, as a reminder both of the origins of St. Vignobles as a part of the estates of Charles the Bold, and of the gracious benevolence shown by the Duchess towards the establishment of the regiment (she being the cousin of my grandmother on the Cantinat branch of our family).

The original uniforms and arms were purchased at her expense as a gift to the family of Bouillon-Cantinat; my grandfather finding himself in somewhat impecunious condition at the time. This is said to have been due to regrettable excesses at the gaming table, during which Mademoiselle Fortune (always a fickle mistress) deserted his cause.

Template courtesy of the invaluable Not By Appointment website (see links)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Bishopric of St. Vignobles

Through inheritance,  marriage, and in reward for centuries of gallant service, the Bouillon-Cantinat estates have increased steadily in size and wealth since their beginnings as the ancient family inheritances of Sangfroid in Picardy.  The years have seen the incorporation of the town and environs of Roué in Artois, as well as other sundry properties of worth.  At present, our holdings now extend to the very limits of the realm since the acquisition of the Ecclesiastical Seat of St. Vignobles.  Alas, it is both the pride and burden of my family that in the latter, it has fallen to us to rule over what is one of the most blessed, and yet cursed, estates of Europe.

After the death of the childless Charles the Bold at the hands of the redoubtable Swiss in 1477, the principality, along with other lands that constituted the former Duchy, were granted (after considerable negotiation) to King Louis XI.  In turn, the King himself turned the Bishopric over gratis to the custody of my forbears in perpetuity, as a token of thanks for their constant service.   In return, The Bouillon-Cantinat family was sworn to uphold the Catholic faith and the interests of the French monarchy.  In addition, an annual tribute of six casks of communion wine was to be made to the crown, which to this day is administered to the devout, lately at the great chapel of Versailles itself.

Thus the land is blessed, in that the vineyards of St. Vignobles are considered to produce some of the finest wines in Europe- nectar to the Gods themselves. 

Cursed, in that it lie between the great and powerful Duchy of Lorraine and the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor himself, and the loss of the region was felt keenly by both.  Powerful is he who boasts possession of its citadel, a forbidding edifice commended by the great Vauban himself, and which has stood for many hundreds of years with a commanding view of the River Rhine.  Thus, the principality has been an object of desire of every Prince of ambition in the region, and only astute diplomacy and the bravery of the House of Bullion-Cantinat have ensured its survival over the years, to the eternal gratitude of the Kings of France.

Vigilance, Prudence, and The Military Arts- as well as a constant faith in the Holy Church- allowed us to exist amongst a sea of our enemies.  Well have we kept to the ancient family motto of the Bouillon-Cantinats: "A Verbis ad Verbera" ( "From Words to Blows').

But in the Year of our Lord 1743, things were looking dark indeed,  and blows were about to fall.

À votre plaisir...

It is I, Louis-Baptiste Sardanapalus Bouillon-Cantinat, 10th Marquis de Sangfroid, Comte de Roué. Chevalier of the Order of the Golden Stirrup, and Hereditary Prince Ecclesiastical of the Bishopric of St. Vignobles (having been ordained priest of the Church of Our Lady of Vignobles soon after taking Holy Orders at the tender age of twelve).

My lineage is that of an honorable house, one that has served and upheld the rights of France, and of the Holy Catholic Church, ever since the time of Charlemagne.

In addition to my services to the Almighty through the saving of souls, I felt it only appropriate that I would also choose to devote much of my life to bringing forward the time that men would meet face-to-face with the Almighty. Hence, at an early age I decided to take up the noble profession of arms as had generations of my family before me.

As a soldier, I have been privileged to have enjoyed the inestimable honour of serving His Excellency M. Le Marechal Maurice, Comte de Saxe, throughout his many campaigns in the Low Countries in the name of His Serene Highness Louis XV, King of France- called le bien aime.

The victories of the Good Marechal were built, not merely by his own genius, but upon that of his officers of Quality who accompanied him on the field of Honour. These being gentlemen who have proved themselves to be amongst the greatest soldiers of France since the apogee of the Sun King.

It is with appropriate humility and thanks to the Lord our God that I may count myself amongst the top tiers of that fellowship.

Allow me, then, the pleasure of entertaining you with the martial stories of my youth; before age, the frailty of memory, and mortality (as is His will) accomplishes that which the musketry, balls and broadswords of the King's enemies were never able to achieve whilst I stood fearlessly amongst the shot and shell upon the bloody fields of Mars.

And indeed, I may touch on my adventures with Venus when relevant to the tales I am about to relate. For a good soldier wishing to reach old age must soon learn to avoid wounding at her gentler, but no less fatal, hands.