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François de Neufville, duc de Villeroi, by Alexandre-François Caminade
François de Neufville, 2nd duc de Villeroi (7 April 1644 in Lyonmarker - 18 July 1730 in Parismarker), Frenchmarker soldier, came of a noble family which had risen into prominence in the reign of Charles IX.

His father Nicolas de Neufville, marquis de Villeroi, Marshal of France (1598-1685) was governor of the young King Louis XIV who later created him a duke. François was brought up in close relations with Louis and became a member of his inner circle. An intimate of the king, a finished courtier and leader of society and a man of great personal gallantry, Villeroi was marked out for advancement in the army, which he loved, but where career soldiers had always a juster appreciation of his incapacity than Louis. In 1693, without having exercised any really important and responsible command, he was made Marshal of France. In 1695, when François Henri de Montmorency-Bouteville, duc de Luxembourg died, he obtained the command of the army in Flanders (see War of the Grand Alliance); William III found him a far easier opponent than the "little hunchback" (the duc de Luxembourg). Villeroi was responsible for the senseless bombardment of Brusselsmarker in 1695, which occasioned its reconstruction in the 18th century giving it the regularity and unity of architecture seen today (although it was again damaged in both World Wars).

In 1701 Villeroi was sent to Italymarker to supersede Nicolas Catinat and was soon beaten by the inferior army of Prince Eugene of Savoy at Chierimarker (see War of Spanish Succession). In February 1702 he was made prisoner at the surprise of the Battle of Cremona, and the wits of the army made at his expense the famous rhyme:
"Par la faveur de Bellone,

et par un bonheur sans égal,

Nous avons conservé Crémone

--et perdu notre général."
In the following years he was pitted against the Duke of Marlborough in the Low Countries. Marlborough's own difficulties with the Dutch and other allied commissioners, rather than Villeroi's own skill, put off the inevitable disaster for some years, but in 1706 Marlborough attacked him and thoroughly defeated him at Ramilliesmarker. Louis consoled his old friend with the remark, "At our age, one is no longer lucky," but superseded him in the command, and henceforward Villeroi lived the life of a courtier, and although suspected of being involved in plots, maintained his friendship with Louis.

Under the Régence Villeroi was governor of the child King Louis XV and held several other high posts between 1717 and 1722, when he fell in disgrace for plotting against Philippe II of Orléans, the regent for Louis XV, and was sent to be governor of Lyonmarker, virtually in exile. His family suffered a further disgrace when two younger members, the duc de Retz and the marquis d'Alincourt were exiled for having sexual relations in the gardens at Versailles. Louis XV recalled Villeroi into high office when he came of age.


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