Ask MHQ: Who Was Known as the General of Europe?

Prince Eugene’s leadership earned him Napoleon’s respect and honors throughout Europe (Library of Congress).
Prince Eugene’s leadership earned him Napoleon’s respect and honors throughout Europe (Library of Congress).

Q: I recall various statues in Berlin, Hungary, and elsewhere in Europe of a military leader known as “the General of Europe.” I also remember a world history course that I took many years ago that discussed “the General of Europe.” Who was he? I think he may have been Prussian, Hungarian, or perhaps German.

—Kashara Hard
Sierra Vista, Ariz.

A: Given the contentious nature of European countries, the whole concept of a “General of Europe” sounds impossible, but there is one very strong contender: Prince Francis Eugene of Savoy and Carignan, who fought for the Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Napoleon regarded him as one of the greatest military commanders in history, worthy of mention on a short list along with Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar. Frederick the Great described him as “the greatest war hero of our century” and the “actual emperor.”

Born in Paris in 1663, Eugene tried to join the French army at age 19, but King Louis XIV rejected him as physically unfit and effete. He then went to Vienna, where he distinguished himself in the Austrian military. Rising to field marshal in a decade, he drove the Ottoman Turks from much of Eastern Europe—most notably at Zenta in 1697, Petrovaradin in 1716, and Belgrade in 1717. Eugene also took his revenge against Louis XIV for rejecting him; he teamed up with John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to defeat French armies at Blenheim (1704), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709).

With his faculties fading during a last, primarily defensive campaign against the French in 1735, Eugene died of pneumonia in 1736, more than a half century after he first stepped onto the battlefield.

Our research did not turn up a statue dedicated to Eugene in Berlin, but a street there bears his name. He was buried with great splendor in a Vienna cathedral, and his heart was entombed in a church in Turin, which he liberated from the French in 1706. There are statues of him in Vienna and Budapest, and a gate in Belgrade is named for him. One of Austria-Hungary’s mightiest battleships of World War I was named Prinz Eugen, and in World War II, the Italian fleet included the light cruiser Eugenio di Savoia.

Adolf Hitler saw to it that one of Germany’s newest heavy cruisers was christened Prinz Eugen—a diplomatic sop to his native Austria and to the regent of his ally Hungary, Admiral Miklós (Nich­olas) Horthy. With so many countries honoring him, Prince Eugene comes as close to a “General of Europe” as anyone can get.

—Jon Guttman is the research director of MHQ and author of several books on military history.

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