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The Battle of Nieuwpoort, between a Dutchmarker army under Maurice of Nassau and Francis Vere and a Spanishmarker army under Albrecht of Austria, took place on July 2, 1600 near the present day Belgianmarker city Nieuwpoortmarker.

Campaign

Against Maurice's better judgment, the Estates General had ordered Maurice to take the army, march south along the coast, and take the pirate nest of Dunkirkmarker.

It was thought that the vicious and long-continued mutiny of a great part of the Spanish troops would make it impossible for the Archduke to collect an army for the relief of Nieuwpoort.

By June 21 Maurice had collected an army for the operation of 12 infantry regiments and 25 cavalry cornets, some 12.000 Foot and 2.000 Horse, on the 22nd he crossed the Scheldtmarker estuary in a multitude of small vessels and moved to Ostendmarker, his base of operations. He left there half a regiment and four cornets to reinforce the garrison and on the 30th started for Nieuwpoort.

When Maurice arrived in front of the place on July 1 he sent 2/3 of his force across the Ysermarker River to blockade it from the West. That night, while he was making preparations for a regular siege he received news that the Archduke was close at hand with a field army. He knew he was cut off from his base, so he ordered his cousin Ernst Casimir (Ernst Casimir I of Nassau-Dietz) with a force to delay the advancing Spanish while he was bringing the best part of the army to cross again the Yser and rejoin the rest of the army to face the Archduke, as he had no option left but to present battle or risk a potentially disastrous retreat by sea.

Ernst Casimir was ordered to seize the Leffinghem bridge, he commanded the Edmonds regiment (Scottish) and the Van der Noot regiment (Dutch) together with four cornets of cavalry and 2 guns, but when he arrived he found the enemy was already in possession of it. Ernst deployed his force behind a ditch, hoping to fight a delaying action, but the Spaniards were already in great strength across the bridge and charged right home, piercing his centre. The infantry was routed at once and the cavalry fled in panic, the Scottish were slaughtered almost to a man and the Dutch fared only slightly better, taking refuge in Ostend. For all purposes, Ernst's command had ceased to exist.

After that cheap victory, the Archduke held a conference with his captains. Most urged to entrench the army across the road to Ostend, forcing Maurice to attack along a narrow front where the Dutch cavalry, mostly heavy, would not be effective against the lighter Spanish cavalry, but the mutineers, that had been rallied by the Archduke on the promise of free plunder, were mad for a fight and out-argued the rest. The army therefore advanced in battle order along the coast. It was midday and the tide was coming in, so that in the end it was forced to abandon the shrinking beach and climb slowly up the slippery sanddunes.

Maurice had just time to assemble his whole army to face the Archduke.

Order of Battle

Battle deployment from VereĀ“s Commentaries

Dutch Army

1st Line
Horace Vere Regiment (English)

Francis Vere Regiment (English)

Hertinga Regiment (Frisian, it was double-sized regiment, with 19 companies, including two companies of Maurice's own Foot Guards)

6 Cornets of Cuirassiers

3 Cornets of Light Cavalry



2nd Line
Domerville Regiment (French Huguenot)

Swissmarker Battalion (4 companies)

Marquette Regiment (Walloon regiment composed entirely of deserters from the Spanish colours)

6 Cornets of Cuirassiers



3rd Line
Ernst Casimir I of Nassau-Dietz Regiment (German, lieutenant-colonel Huysmann in command)

Hurchtenburch (Dutch)

Ghistelles (Dutch, 6 companies strong, as the others had been left in Ostend to reinforce the Garrison)

3 Cornets of Cuirassiers



Spanish Army

1st Line
1st Provisional Tercio (Spanish mutineers)

2nd Provisional Tercio (Walloon mutineers)

7 cornets of light cavalry (mutineers)



2nd Line
Monroy Tercio (Spanish)

Villar Tercio (Spanish)

Sapena Tercio (Spanish)

Avila Tercio (Italian)

1 Cornet of Light Lancers

5 Cornets of Cuirassiers



3rd Line
La Barlotte Tercio (Walloon)

Bucquoy Tercio (Walloon)

Bostockmarker Regiment (English, raised from the deserting garrison of Deventermarker and reinforced by English Catholic refugees)

6 Cornets of Light Cavalry



Early Deployment

North flank:
Dutch : 14 guns, 650 English musketeers.
Spanish : 9 guns, 50 cavalry, 400 infantry.


South flank:
Dutch: 1,200 riders
Spanish: 1,000 riders


Center:
Dutch: 9,350 infantry
Spanish: 7,300 infantry


Battle

The Dutch first line of infantry was placed in a strong defensive position, on top of a stretch of dunes, with guns covering both flanks with enfilade fire. Maurice had posted his best regiments there, under command of the experienced Francis Vere, who ruled out sending any advance party, awaiting for the Spanish army to arrive.

The Spanish sent a screen of 500 harquebussiers to cover their advance, but soon the two unruly mutineer regiments in the vanguard started the attack with a rash charge up the hill. They were repulsed in disorder, while the light cavalry, counter charged by the Dutch cuirassiers, was routed. It was then time for the second line of the Spanish infantry to advance, the Sapena and Avila Tercios in the Dutch right made quick progress against the Frisian regiment, and Maurice sent his entire second line to protect that sector, stabilizing the front.

Maurice then sent his entire cavalry against the Spanish flank, except for the small body of cavalry in the second line, that he kept in reserve behind the infantry. The Dutch cuirassiers easily routed the lighter Spanish cavalry, and the mutineer cornets, that had just rallied, fled the battlefield never to return, however the Dutch were checked by the Spanish third line of infantry, supported by some guns, and retreated with heavy losses.

Meanwhile on the Dutch left, the English regiments faced the old veteran tercios of Monroy and Villar, the elite of the Spanish infantry. The English, well drilled in Maurice's new tactics, kept a rolling fire on the Spaniards, that advanced up the slope at a steady pace, covered by a screen of skirmisher harquebussiers. The fight was even for a time, until it came to the push of pike, the Spaniards finally dislodging the English from the top of the hill. Francis Vere, seeing the risk, asked for reinforcements, but they didn't arrive in time and the English were finally routed. However, the Spaniards, exhausted after a day of fighting and marching on difficult terrain, pressed their advantage very slowly. Even more dangerously, they were disordered, with musket and pike units mixed. Maurice sent his reserve cavalry against them, only 3 cornets strong, but their well-timed charge was unexpectedly very successful. The Spaniards were thrown in confusion and started a slow retreat. Vere, who had been able to rally some English companies behind a battery, joined the fight, and he was reinforced by the regiments in the third line that had finally arrived. The Spaniards, heavily assailed, retreated in disorder.

On the Dutch right, the Archduke had committed his third line into the assault.Maurice saw his chance, and asked his tired cavalry for one last effort. Under command of his cousin Louis another charge was delivered and the Spanish cavalry was finally driven from the field. The Spanish infantry, already engaged at the front, was this time unable to repulse the attack in their flank and started to give ground. After a while the front crumbled and one after another all units were running in confusion, leaving behind their guns. The survivors scattered in all directions, but in the end the inactivity of the Dutch garrison in Ostend allowed the Spanish army to avoid total destruction.

Spanish losses were high, about 2.500 casualties, including many officers. The artillery train was also lost. Besides, most of the casualties were suffered by the elite units of the second line, veteran soldiers very hard to replace.

Dutch losses were also high. With the casualties at Leffinghem included they amounted to around 2.000. Again, it was the best regiments, Scottish and English veterans, who suffered most.

Conclusion

Although Maurice had driven a Spanish army from the field, a rare feat in the late 16th century, the battle achieved nothing. The Dutch lines of communication had already been stretched to the limit and Maurice was soon forced to withdraw as well. The Flemish, which Maurice had hoped to rally to his revolt, remained loyal to the Spanish monarchy. Moreover, the great port of Dunkirkmarker, which had been the principal objective of Maurice's campaign, lay out of reach and in Spanish hands. Dunkirk privateers, "The Dunkirkers", would continue to prey on burgeoning Dutch trade in coming years, although the Dutch would retaliate in kind and thereafter begin to contest the seas with Spain's navy, ultimately supplanting Spain as the world's first naval power by the latter half of the next century.

On the tactical side, the battle was paradoxical, Maurice's infantry reforms were apparently vindicated, however his infantry in the battle had been dislodged from a strong defensive position and it was his cavalry that had saved the day.

The strategic lesson was that it was more advantageous to besiege and capture towns than to win battles. This fact would continue to characterize operations in the Eighty Years' War.

Notes

  1. Also known as the Battle of the Dunes


References

  • Commelin, J. Wilhelm en Maurits van Nassau
  • Vere, F. Commentaries of the Divers Pieces of Service



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