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Prince Eugene of Savoy (18 October 1663 – 21 April 1736) was a general of the Imperial Army and statesman of the Holy Roman Empire and the Archduchy of Austria and one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history, rising to the highest offices of state at the Imperial court in Vienna.
Born in Paris, Eugene grew up around the French court of King Louis XIV. Based on his poor physique and bearing, the Prince was initially prepared for a career in the church, but by the age of 19 he had determined on a military career. Following a scandal involving his mother Olympe, he was rejected by Louis XIV for service in the French army. Eugene moved to Austria and transferred his loyalty to the Habsburg Monarchy.
Spanning six decades, Eugene served three Holy Roman Emperors: Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles VI. He first saw action against the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 and the subsequent War of the Holy League, before serving in the Nine Years' War, fighting alongside his cousin, the Duke of Savoy. However, the Prince's fame was secured with his decisive victory against the Ottomans at the Battle of Zenta in 1697, earning him Europe-wide fame. Eugene enhanced his standing during the War of the Spanish Succession, where his partnership with the Duke of Marlborough secured victories against the French on the fields of Blenheim (1704), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709); he gained further success in the war as Imperial commander in northern Italy, most notably at the Battle of Turin (1706). Renewed hostilities against the Ottomans in the Austro-Turkish War consolidated his reputation, with victories at the battles of Petrovaradin (1716), and the decisive encounter at Belgrade (1717).
Throughout the late 1720s, Eugene's influence and skilful diplomacy managed to secure the Emperor powerful allies in his dynastic struggles with the Bourbon powers, but physically and mentally fragile in his later years, Eugene enjoyed less success as commander-in-chief of the army during his final conflict, the War of the Polish Succession. Nevertheless, in Austria, Eugene's reputation remains unrivalled. Although opinions differ as to his character, there is no dispute over his great achievements: he helped to save the Habsburg Empire from French conquest; he broke the westward thrust of the Ottomans, liberating central Europe after a century and a half of Turkish occupation; and he was one of the great patrons of the arts whose building legacy can still be seen in Vienna today. Eugene died in his sleep at his home on 21 April 1736, aged 72.
Despite being one of the richest and most celebrated men of his age, Eugene never married and the suggestion is that he was predominantly homosexual. History knows little of his life before 1683. In his early boyhood in Paris "he belonged to a small, effeminate set that included such unabashed perverts as the young abbé de Choisy who was invariably dressed as a girl" wrote the English historian Nicholas Henderson in the 1960s. The Duchess of Orléans, who had known Eugene from those days, would later write to her aunt, Princess Sophia of Hanover, describing Eugene's antics with lackeys and pages. He was "a vulgar whore" along with the Prince of Turenne, and "often played the woman with young people" with the nickname of 'Madame Simone' or 'Madam l'Ancienne'. He preferred a "couple of fine page boys" to any woman, and was refused an ecclesiastical benefice due to his "depravity".
OOf related interest is a popular soldier's song which parodied an imaginary voyage by Eugene and the marquis de la Moussaye on the Rhine. A storm breaks and the general fears the worst, but the Marquis consoles him: "Our lives are safe/ For we are sodomites/ Destined to perish only by fire/ We shall land." A comment made by Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg in 1709, who had served under Eugene, could be read that the prince enjoyed "la petite débauche et la p[ine] au-delà de tout," or that he derived his sexual gratification from the virile member of others.
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