On this day in 1674 occurred one of those events in Dundee‘s life which, like many others, is shrouded in uncertainty.
In 1672, at 24 years old, he had been commissioned as a junior Lieutenant in Sir William Lockhart’s Scots Regiment serving under the command of the Duke of Monmouth in the French Army of Marshall Turenne. With the ending of this war the following year, Monmouth returned to Britain with his forces. Dundee travelled around Europe for some months then, with the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch war, he returned to Holland, volunteering for William of Orange’s personal guard and was given the rank of Cornet.
In the summer of 1674 William led his army south into the territory of Northern France. This area was defended by a French force commanded by the Prince de Conde, one of the ablest captains of the age. For five weeks both armies manoeuvred around each other without engaging in decisive battle. On the 10th of August, William decided to head for Paris in order to force the enemy into fighting.
Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conde
Conde sensed his opportunity and detached a force of 500 horsemen to engage the Dutch vanguard near the village of Seneffe, 30 km NE of Mons in modern Belgium. In the meantime, Condé tried to surround the 60,000 allied troops with the 45,000 men at his disposal. His horsemen successfully kept the Dutch vanguard busy, but his attempted envelopment of the main allied force failed. After ten hours of heavy struggle Condé’s force had suffered 8,000 dead or wounded and William’s army 11,000. Both armies retreated from the battlefield claiming victory.
During the course of the battle William’s horse foundered when in close proximity to the enemy. Dundee pulled William onto his own horse and carried him away from danger. William duly rewarded this personal service by giving Dundee a commission as Captain in his own regiment of Horse Guards. A body of men commanded by the Count de Somes, who subsequently led the Hanoverian van at the Battle of the Boyne.
William of Orange unhorsed during the battle
This was the last battle fought by Conde in a long and illustrious career and his conduct of it has been heavily criticised. Particularly as on three occasions he personally led cavalry charges against the Dutch forces at great risk to himself. Nonetheless he was subsequently grandly received by Louis XIV at Versailles. An event magnificently captured on canvas by Jean-Leon Gerome.
Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles following his victory at Seneffe. The Grand Condé advances towards Louis XIV in a respectful manner with laurel wreaths on his path, while captured enemy flags are displayed on both sides of the stairs.
There is no mention of Dundee’s rescue of William in any contemporary accounts of the battle. And the tale itself has been contemptuously rejected by the erstwhile British historian Thomas Macaulay, who was, unfortunately, not fully familiarised with all of the primary sources. Nonetheless, it is clear that Dundee did provide William with some significant personal service around this time. The truth of it is acceptable to all but the die-hard who, in Daviot’s words, will be satisfied with nothing less than William’s personal account with the signature twice witnessed. Whether this event took place at Seneff or the later siege of St Omer in 1677, it clearly did happen. Thus demonstrating his courage in battle and ensuring that his mettle was known to the Prince of Orange.
After the Peace of Nimeguen in 1678, the continent was once more at peace and Dundee resigned his commission in the Dutch service and crossed over to Britain taking with him a reputation for courage and ability that at once recommended him to the King and Duke of York for a man likely to be useful in such affairs as they had then on hand.