in 1643 on this day the French defeated the Spanish at the battle of Rocroi. This was a major shift in the continental power balance. For over 150 years, since the 1492 “liberation” of Granada in fact, the Spanish were the dominant power in Europe. Their troops were considered to be invincible. Everyone lived in fear of meeting the Spanish “Tercio”.
It was the Spaniards who led efforts to defeat the Turks in the Western Mediterranean and in battles such as the siege of Malta and Lepanto.
The power of the Spanish military was supported by a seemingly endless supply of wealth from their American colonies.
At Rocroi the army of the young Louis XIV, the Sun King, was led by a 21 year old general, Louis duc d’Enghien. In truth the french did not defeat the Spanish Tercios. They won the battle. In the process they drove off the fighting squares of German and Walloon troops who fought for the Spanish Empire. The tercios stood their ground despite repeated cavalry attacks and under savage bombardment from the French artillery.
In the end the Spaniards were offered full battlefield honors by the French in return for their withdrawal. They departed from the battlefield bearing their arms and with their banners and flags displayed.
Nevertheless, this was a huge blow to the morale of Spain and a boost to the confidence of other continental armies. The battle demonstrated that the Spanish were not invincible. From this point on the fortunes of war on the continent were to be decided by France, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Poland and Russia.
At Rocroi the French created their own legend, their own fame.
Below is a Camino poem which says that we do not follow paths, we create them. The link here is that Rocroi lies on the Camino de Santiago route if you start from Flanders, Holland, Denmark or Northern Germany.
Caminante; by Antonio Machado
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Pardon my translation (suggestions for improvement welcome)
Pilgrim, these are your footsteps
the way is nothing more;
Pilgrim, there is no path,
but that created by your walking.
By walking the path becomes,
and looking back
you see what can never
be traveled again.
Pilgrim, there is no path
only wakes in the sea.