Montag, 21. Oktober 2019

The siege of Freiburg in 1744 (part 3)

A painting by Pierre Nicolas Lenfant shows us a somehow idealized situation[1]. The king himself who visited the siege more as a spectator then as a commander wears his red dress, well known from different battle paintings by Parocel and Lenfant. (Look at the painting in the collection of Versailles: ) He is talking to some officers and generals and his position is characterized by the Loretto-chapel at the left of the painting. The guns are bombarding the town and the Austrian artillery answers the fire. What Lenfant paints is a mixed bag. The artillery is firing but the river Dreisam still is in the old riverbed in front of the town’s walls, which are partly destroyed already. The buildings at the Schlossberg are completely arising of the painter’s fantasy – you just have to compare them with historical maps. The most important features of the fortress like the “Salzbüchsle” or “Fort Aigle” (as the French called it) which were heavily modified in the 1720s after the lesson the Austrians learned from the 1713-siege, looked completely different. But for some studies of French camp-life, uniforms and the French view on the siege this painting really is interesting. The painter gave the landscape a more romantic atmosphere with rocky hillsides and nice exotic looking trees while in this period the hillsides were covered with vines.

The king's view at the town from the Lorettoberg.

The Loretto-chapel today.

The presence of the king was in fact of no great significance for the battle itself. In many biographies of Louis XV it is mentioned in a foot note at the most because his recreation from his serious illness in 1744 is of more importance for the outcome of the war than the siege of Freiburg. Bernier[2] gives a good impression of the character of the “bien aimé”, a better picture for sure then Reed Browning, although his book about the war is highly readable[3]. The king had his headquarters at Munzingen in the same castle where prince Charles of Lorraine stayed at the time of his attempts to cross the Rhine at Breisach in 1743. All sources mention that he observed the siege from the Lorettoberg. There was an agreement that the French would not bombard at the minster of Freiburg, if the Austrians would not shoot at the position of the French king. But it seems that the Austrians shot in his direction nevertheless because it’s possible to find a cannonball even today near his place of observation[4].

The canonball in the wall of the Loretto-chapel - although in my opinion neighter the caliber nor the place of the canonball make sense to me.
An indiscription at the Loretto-chapel mentioning the presence of king Louis XV observing the siege from that Point in 1744.
The inscription mentions the battle of 1644 too. The chapel was built in 1657 in memory of the bloody battle during the 30-years war.

Naturally Louis XV didn’t come to share the bloody warfare with his soldiers and for sure he didn’t share the heavy work of thousands of French peasants who were brought to Freiburg to build a new riverbed for the Dreisam. The king himself showed not much affection to stay until the town was won. He departed with his entourage at the morning of the 7th November shortly before the French troops entered the town.

A view from the place of the Salzbüchsle, where nowadays is a modern tower, on the landscape.
Please note the two small hills in the middle distance. The lower one is the Lorettoberg, the position of the French king in 1744.

Text: André Hanselmann
Photos: André Hanselmann

[1] Pierre Nicolas Lenfant: „Siège de Fribourg, 11 octobre 1744“ at the château de Versailles, No. d’invitaire MV 187
[2] Olivier Bernier: „Ludwig XV. – Eine Biographie“ Benzinger, Zürich, 1986
[3] Reed Browning: „The War of the Austrian Succession“ St. Martin's Press, New York, 2008
[4] Tilman Spreckelsen: „Patenschaft fürs Kirchenschiff“ Die Zeit, 10. September, 1998

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