Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Roucoux Anecdote, or: "Why I prefer Marshal de Saxe to Frederick the Great"

The good Marshal would have been just that much more fun to be with at the dining table- and the quality of the wine being passed around would no doubt have been a lot better than that which graced the tables of Sansoucci in Potsdam.

This anecdote relates an incident that took place just before the Battle of Roucoux. It really encapsulates the sense of honour and wit we like to associate with the be-wigged, self-confident and elegant gentlemen of the 18th Century.

John Lindsay, the 20th Earl of Crawford, was a Scottish noble with a long and proud lineage. In 1739 he was appointed the first colonel of the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot (the Black Watch) and served in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession. He was a man clearly in possession of steely nerves, a quick mind- and fluent French.


"(The Earl of Crawford)…so remarkable for his courage and thirst of glory, exhibited a very extraordinary instance of presence of mind on the morning that preceded this battle.

He and some volunteers, accompanied by his aide-de-camp, and attended by two orderly dragoons, had rode out before day to reconnoitre the situation of the enemy, and fell in upon one of their advanced guards. The sergeant who commanded it immediately turned out his men, and their pieces were presented when the earl first perceived them.

Without betraying the least mark of disorder, he rode up to the sergeant, and assuming the character of a French general told him in that language that there was no occasion for such ceremony. Then he asked if they had perceived any of the enemy’s parties? And being answered in the negative, “Very well” said he, “be upon your guard; and if you should be attacked, I will take care that you shall be sustained.” So saying, he and his company retired before the sergeant could recover himself from the surprise occasioned by this unexpected address.

In all probability he was soon sensible of his mistake; for the incident was that very day publicly mentioned in the French army. The prince of Tingray, an officer in the Austrian service, having been taken prisoner in the battle that ensued, dined with mareschal count Saxe, who dismissed him on his parole, and desired he would charge himself with a facetious compliment to his old friend the earl of Crawford.

He wished his lordship joy of being a French general; and said he could not help being displeased with the sergeant, as he had not procured him the honour of his lordship’s company at dinner. "

“Memoirs of the Kings of Great Britain
of the House of Brunswic- Lunenburg”
-William Belsham
Dublin, 1802

John Lindsay, 20th Earl of Crawford


1 comment:

Bluebear Jeff said...

You are correct, sir. Truly a most noble reply.

-- Jeff