1711 - The Siege

Documentary's blog

The story

At the end of September of 1711, the two great armies that battled in “la Guerra de Successió” (The Succession War), Bourbon – Duke Lluís de Vendôme – and Austrian - marshal Guido Von Starhemberg – meet in “Prats de Rei” (Anoia), in the pathway the Bourbon pretend to follow to attempt a definitive attack against Barcelona.

Forecasting a very long battle, Duke of Vendome prepares through “Pinós” a path to Cardona so his men and canons can travel through it to carry out the siege that should cause the capitulation of Cardona’s Castle. The Bourbons designated for this operation, under the command of Count of Muret, camp at “Pla de Bergús”, two hours from Cardona’s Castle (7 km), where more Philip V’s troops arrive, proceeding from “La Seu d’Urgell” and led by General Arpajou. In total, from 9.000 to 11.000 men (with about 3.000 horses), all under the command of Muret are ready to initiate an attack.

At the same time, Starhemberg who knows the expedition and Muret’s intentions of attacking by surprise, sends reinforcement to Cardona to defend the castle, under the commands of General Count of Eck (German). About 800 men are added to the regiments of Catalonia, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, regiments which had already united months ago in case there was a presumable attack. With the arrival of Eck, the castle’s garrison goes up to the 1.868 soldiers. The Count of Eck becomes the highest responsible for the square as far as military goes, relegating the governor Manuel Desvalls at the coordination, a quite difficult job in a context where five different languages have to coexist.

While, the French (with the support of a little crew of Castilian commanded by General Bracamonte) are approaching “Pla de Bergús”, about 600 castle’s soldiers install a trenched camp at the west of the village, behind two advanced defense towers. After two days of bombing, on November 17th of 1711 Muret’s troops initiate an attack with 1600 men, thus forcing a precipitated and disorganized withdrawal of the allies to the castle, although lots of them will be rounded to a ravine in which stands one of the strongholds of the fortress where they will downfall. Betwixt the defenders of the trenched camp and the soldiers that come out to hedge them, the castle losses about 600 men (from 1.868 to less than 1.300). Muret takes over the village, success which makes us think of an imminent surrender.

Pla de Bergús “Pla de Bergús” (recreation of the aspect that probably had the pathway from where the Bourbons came).

Starhemberg wants to respond immediately, but he can’t neglect the line of “Prats de Rei”, where Felip V’s army, commanded by Vendôme, was to move forward. First of all and for precaution, he sends a little regiment of about 300 men at the command of General Bathée, who sets in the bridge of “Malagarriga” (the only bridge that exists from Manresa to Cardona crossing the Cardener river). The immediate goal of the contingent is of containment in case the French get over Cardona and keep their progress to Barcelona, fact that would leave the rear of “Prats de Rei” uncovered. But Bathée also has the mission to study the terrain as well as the situation of the enemy. Plus he must plan a release in medium term, which he will have to direct himself.

Soldiers opening fire with their war artillery and machinery

For 34 days, the French bomb the fortress, but the height of it makes it difficult for the projectiles to reach the castle. Land access was also complicated, but after two non-successful weeks of bombing, the Bourbons try to reach the castle by excavating tunnels. All attempts fail and that causes a great number of casualties (between dead and prisoners).

During the siege there were numerous fights, except from the nights which were absolutely quite. That makes understandable that Count of Gehlen (Austrian colonel, regiment of Starhemberg) got to introduce 150 ally grenadiers, chosen by Starhemberg, inside the castle on the second day of the siege. Gehlen’s mission was to refresh the troop and to bring with him the 150 most tired men, but the surprise was that the tired soldier decided not to withdraw. As we said previously, in between these 150 men of reinforcement there was Antoni Desvalls, brother of Manuel Desvalls and leader of the Catalan militias.

During the siege, the Bourbon forces lived a bitter-sweet experience; from the crazy victory of the first raid in the village to the frustration of not being able to conquer the castle. The energy as well as the food and the ammunition scarce in both sides and not only in between the battlers as any siege strategy would pretend.