Prince Eugene - George Upton

The Little Capuchin

Prince Eugene of Savoy-Carignan, the hero of this story, takes foremost rank among the greatest generals and statesmen of all times. This strange French-sounding name may seem odd for a German hero; but in this case it is quite misleading, for no one ever had deeper German sympathies; no German soldier ever hated the people on the banks of the Seine more bitterly. He gave them plenty of hard blows, and has been christened by the German people —and not without reason—"Prince Eugene, the chivalrous knight."

Prince Eugene was born in Paris, although his ancestral land was Savoy, the well-known duchy, formerly part of upper Italy, a barren mountainous country. He first saw the light in the capital city of that country which was afterwards to suffer so cruelly by his mailed hand, The ways of Providence often seem strange, as in this instance, when in the heart of France the man was born who was to teach France and the Frenchmen respect for the Germans. France had ever been arrogant toward Germany, and was particularly so at that time and until, in 18131415 and later in 1870 and 1871, she was taught a wholesome lesson.

And now I must tell you how Prince Eugene came to be born in Paris. In the first half of the seventeenth century Prince Thomas Francis of Savoy, youngest son of the reigning Duke Charles Emanuel the First, founded the collateral line of the house of Savoy-Carignan. His wife was Marie of Bourbon, sister and heiress of the last Count of Soissons; his two sons, Emanuel Philibert and Eugene Maurice. The latter took the title of Count of Soissons and married Olympia Mancini, a niece of the notorious French minister, Mazarin. From this marriage sprang three daughters and five sons, of whom Prince Eugene was the youngest.

History tells us that Prince Eugene's father was a man of gracious manners and of a brave and genial disposition. He distinguished himself in feats of arms, and was therefore a favorite at the court of King Louis the Fourteenth of France. Eugene's mother was a beautiful woman and very fond of the gay life of the time; to her all the homage was rendered that feminine beauty and wit were wont to receive at the brilliant court of "His Most Christian Majesty."

The palace of Count Eugene Maurice of Soissons was situated upon the site where the great Grain Market of Paris now stands. If one of my readers should happen to visit that city he may look upon the spot and meditate upon the instability of all earthly things. This palace had a long, memorable, and brilliant history. In the fourteenth century it was the property of King John of Bohemia, of the house of Luxembourg; it next served as the cloister of a sect of expiatory nuns and later passed into the hands of the notorious Catherine de Medici, who furnished it in all the extravagant taste of the time. It stood in the midst of splendid gardens, embellished with fountains and colonnades; and in the interior of the park was a chapel of truly royal magnificence. It may be, that in this sacred spot Catherine de Medici, mother of that monster, Charles IX, may have conceived the idea, for the advancement and honor of her church, of the Paris massacre. It was in this palace that Eugene was born, October 18, 1663, one hundred and fifty years before the great battle of Leipzig, a victory which broke the power of the first Napoleon over Germany. This date, which the year 1813 made a memorable one for Germany, would seem more suitably marked in our calendars by the name of "Eugene" or "Lebrecht" rather than by that of some saint.

Before we concern ourselves with Eugene or his parents, let us finish the history of the palace of Soissons. For almost a century it remained in the hands of the family. Then a dishonest Scot by the name of Law founded a bank in Paris, which soon became bankrupt, beggaring many thousands of the well-to-do citizens. At last the city of Paris bought the ill-fated building in order to erect on the site of so much crime and sin, wild lust and miserable treachery, a very practical building, the above-mentioned Grain Market, thereby to wipe out the dark past.

Eugene's cradle stood in the midst of gay and luxurious surroundings. The palace of Soissons was the resort of the flower of the French nobility. Brilliant fetes, in which the King never failed to be among the guests, followed one another, and the youthful mistress, the beautiful Italian, Olympia Mancini, was the flower of them all. At last the magnet lost its power, as it is ever prone to do where court life is subject to the moods and caprices of a tyrannical ruler. Intrigues were set on foot against the Count and Countess of Soissons; their powerful relative, the minister Mazarin, had long been dead, and both of them were banished from the court by a royal decree dated March 30, 1665, and ordered to their country estates. One can imagine the feelings of Olympia particularly, who had been the petted favorite and ornament of the royal court for years. She shed no vain tears over her fate, however, but cherished in her heart a thirst for revenge. She now hated with a deadly hatred the King whom she had loved and honored, and this sentiment she inculcated in her children. This seed, hatred of the house of Bourbon and particularly of the King, fell in good soil. Her son Eugene preserved this heritage from his mother throughout his whole life.

Eugene was ten years old when his father suddenly died. After this blow, fortune seemed utterly to forsake the Countess. In order to retrieve it, she was ready to seize on any means, even the most unworthy. She studied astrology and fortune telling, and in this way became associated with a person named Voisin, who was finally prosecuted as a poisoner. Just in time Olympia, learning that she was to be arrested as an accomplice, fled to Flanders. But even abroad, in Brussels, she was pursued by the hatred of her former friends. It was Louis's minister Louvois particularly who heaped insults upon her.

For the honor of Eugene's mother, the Countess of Soissons, it must be said that the totally unfounded rumors against her were at last silenced. Not a trace of complicity with the crime of the Voisin woman has been discovered. The talented Countess soon made many influential friends in Brussels. Her salon became very popular, and these social triumphs somewhat compensated for the wrongs suffered in Paris.

At the time of her flight the Countess had left her children with the mother of her deceased husband, the Princess of Carignan. Their grandmother sought to give them a good education and to provide for their future. Four of her grandsons were already in the army, three in France, and one, Julius, in the German imperial service; but she had difficulties with Eugene, the fifth and youngest. In short, Eugene was intended for the priesthood, but was determined to become a soldier instead. Of princely birth, as a member of the clergy, his future would have been secure; in time he might have enjoyed fat revenues, and sometime and somewhere have occupied a bishop's seat. This goal might have tempted many of his rank, but it was not so with him. He might also have entered into service at court and would probably have prospered outwardly there, but with his nature and talents how unhappy he would have been if thus misplaced! The mere thought of becoming a courtier and toady of his French majesty, the "Most Christian King," who was as bigoted as he was godless, treacherous, and unjust; who had driven Eugene's parents into banishment and had heaped unjust suspicion, insult, and injury upon his mother, was repugnant to him.

He was firmly resolved to become a soldier. In his earliest youth he had shown a pronounced, even unconquerable predilection for the profession, and had concentrated all his dreams and hopes and his whole education upon it. Mathematics had always been his favorite study. With resolute purpose he had applied himself to the study of geometry under a friend of Vauban, the great French master of fortifications, whose excellent buildings, walls, moats, redoubts, lunettes, and bastions caused German soldiers trouble enough, even in the last war. His favorite book was the life of Alexander, the great King of Macedonia, by Curtius; his principal models were Hannibal and Caesar. He would pore over every work on battles and sieges he could find, and his eyes glistened when he heard the clashing of weapons. Possessing such tastes and talents, there was but one insuperable obstacle to his becoming a soldier: he was of a very delicate physique and had been sickly in his early years. Although he persistently exercised and took every means to harden and toughen himself, his nature could not be altered, and to his great chagrin he remained small and delicate even when he had reached maturity.

"I shall be a soldier for all that," he often said with great determination to those who good naturedly meant to discourage him, and then he would add: "but no carpet-knight or soldier on parade, like those who guard the Louvre day and night that His Majesty may sleep soundly, and who swagger about in gold and silver braid, conniving at the adventures of the princes and royal family. No! I wish to be a real soldier; one who is ready in the face of any hardship to do his sworn duty to the death."

Here his good grandmother of the house of Bourbon probably smiled and shook her finger in warning; and no doubt her grandson answered her: "If it be God's will, you shall yet see me a field-marshal at the head of an army."

It was useless to gainsay such a spirit as this. Eugene had a head of his own, as they say, and had quietly made up his mind to let time solve the problem. There was still another difficulty and a very serious one. The will of the King had destined the little fatherless boy, whom circumstances had also deprived of a mother's guidance, for the Church instead of the army. It is very likely that he thought that such an obstinate little princeling of the house of Savoy should not be allowed to have his own way, but must be taught to obey.

We shall see what came to pass. Of course it was impossible to contend with a Louis the Fourteenth, for he had plenty of means for compelling obedience. He had long ago made up his mind to break this youthful obstinacy and prevent Eugene from entering the French army. At last came the time when Eugene must decide. Through good friends he had several times tried to sound the King's disposition in the matter, and always with discouraging results. Eugene, whom the King sarcastically called "the little abbe,"  said to himself: "You must be a man, and if you ever intend to march at the head of an army and confront an enemy armed to the teeth, you cannot afford to be afraid of the King of France! So there!"

One fine day Eugene begged for an audience, which was granted. At last he stood before His Majesty, King Louis the Fourteenth, whom his creatures called "The Great." Eugene and Louis! One cannot imagine two natures more unlike in every respect, inwardly and outwardly. One elevated Germany to a. position of honor and power; the other would have been glad to drag it down in order to be worshipped as its ruler. Standing erect, with clear and honest eyes, in a resolute voice, Eugene presented to the King his petition for a commission in the army.

When he had finished, the King's eyes rested upon him for some moments with an expression of derision. The "little abbe"  had never before seemed so repulsive to him. Eugene certainly was far from being a paragon of beauty. His complexion was dark, he was small in stature, and his nose was comparatively large. His upper lip was so short that his mouth remained constantly open, disclosing the front teeth. The redeeming feature was his eyes which, intelligent and fiery, gazed intently at the King as though they would read his fate from his lips.

"You are disobedient, abbe,"  said the King; in a cutting voice; "you oppose my will."

"Not your will, Your Majesty," answered Eugene, "but only an office for which I have no inclination."

"But you are not fit for a soldier," said the King, measuring him from head to foot with an almost disdainful look. "You will never be able to bear the hardships of the service. As I happen to know, your father had destined you for the priesthood. Take back your petition."

"All my ancestors have followed the profession of arms," answered Eugene; "it is the most honorable one for a prince, it is—"

"Silence with your arguments," interrupted the King; "I am in no mood to listen to them. You know my wish. I will suffer no contradiction. A prince of Savoy-Carignan should—"Here the King cleared his throat and could not at once find the right expression for what he wished to say.

"Should," Eugene took up the unfinished remark, "should at least have the liberty of deciding his own future and of choosing his profession."

"The little abbe  is excited," said the King in a disdainful tone. Then he continued, "It shall be as I have commanded. Your Reverence must enter into holy orders very shortly."

"Your Majesty," replied Eugene with a firmness of voice and manner far beyond his years (for he was then only seventeen), "you force me to declare that I shall embrace the profession of arms in spite of everything."

"But not under my flag, not in France," cried the King forbiddingly.

"Then I am compelled to seek another sovereign and another fatherland."

"Do so, Prince. You are dismissed."

Eugene immediately obeyed this command. His future was decided.

Eugene and Louis XIV


"This person's face is very repulsive to me," said the King to his courtiers. "The Soissons were all pig-headed and this fellow has inherited his mother's audacious spirit besides. Louvois is right, all these Soissons must learn to submit."

So thought the King. But man proposes; God disposes. This Soissons (Eugene) at least did not feel the power of the King of France; the reverse was the case, which we shall see as our history proceeds. The heart of Prince Eugene was light as a feather when he had turned his back upon the King and his grand palace. Now all was clear between them; he had spoken his mind and told the King the truth, as he had probably never heard it spoken before by one of his vassals.

When one considers, it was certainly a very daring procedure. Abruptly and quickly he had broken all the ties that bound him to the King and his house. It was certainly not a bad thing to have the powerful King of France for a cousin. Had Eugene, according to the King's demand, become a priest, he would have fared well, might have folded his hands on his knees and have enjoyed a very comfortable living. But now it was necessary to stand on his own feet and to act with hands and brain. Thousands would certainly have decided differently, would have preferred the certain to the uncertain and have considered that a piece of bread in the mouth is better than a feather in the cap.

Eugene did not belong to this order of mankind. Fate had early taken him in hand. His father's cares and his mother's tears had sunk deeply into his heart. He was too good a son to forget easily the wrongs inflicted by the King. He had also been early introduced to the frivolous life at court, and had conceived a disgust for it. Thirdly and lastly, he had a lively faith in God. He believed firmly in an all-wise heavenly control of the universe, had put his trust in the King of kings, and was at peace with himself. He would never have been a successful priest, but he was enthusiastic for the profession of arms.

The next problem for Eugene to solve was, under whom he should seek service. France was not the world. There were many potentates under whose banners he could find honor and fame. He hesitated but a short time; then his intuition came to his aid and he chose the German Emperor. Strangely enough, although a Frenchman by birth, his heart had always turned to Germany; from youth German deeds of valor had inspired him. Added to this, his uncle, the Duke of Savoy, was on the most friendly terms with the Emperor Leopold the First, and his brother Julius, who had entered the imperial service shortly before, had already been assigned to the command of a regiment.

Eugene lost no time. He said farewell to his grandmother and to his brothers and sisters, and packed his belongings. These, no doubt, were not numerous, for his pleasure-loving mother had attended to that; and besides, the parental legacy had been widely distributed. But this troubled Eugene very little. In eating, in drinking, and in dress he was accustomed to the greatest simplicity; and in case of need he had a rich uncle in Savoy, who would have considered it a disgrace, as he had a great deal of family pride, to let his young relative suffer want.

Accompanied by a single servant, Eugene left Paris and shook the dust of the proud capital from his feet. It is said that he vowed never to enter France again except as her enemy, sword in hand, at the head of a German army. We shall see later how this came to pass. And now let us heartily wish good luck to our determined young Savoyard.