Born in Paris, and a prince of the House of Savoy, Eugene was the son of the Comte de Soissons, a French nobleman. It was rumoured that he was the illegitimate son of Louis XIV, however, and Louis strove mightily to keep down his supposed by-blow. Eugene was rebuffed from a commission in the French army and, frustrated, joined the Austrian army as an officer in 1683. He would spend the rest of his life opposing Louis XIV and French ambition in Europe.
For the first part of his career he faced the Ottoman Turks on the battlefield, first coming to prominence during the last major Turkish offensive against the Austrian capital of Vienna in 1688. By the closing years of the 17th century, he was already famous for securing Hungary from the Turks, and soon rose to the role of principal Austrian commander during the War of the Spanish Succession.
Eugene of Savoy (part of a statue in front of the Hofburg in Vienna)
In the opening shots of that war, he defeated French armies in northern Italy. As the area of French offensive action moved north (and as the war spread to include other nations such as England), he joined forces for the first time with his English counterpart, the Duke of Marlborough. Together they defeated the French in Bavaria at the Battle of Blenheim. For the next three years he was engaged in inconclusive fighting in northern Italy and Provence. He then moved north to Flanders, where he joined up with Marlborough again to win the battles of Oudenarde and Malplaquet. Unfortunately, the follow-up invasion of France that would have ended the war was blunted by the marginal victory of Malplaquet, and the retirement of Britain from the war. After one more year of fighting, Austria signed a favourable peace with France in 1714.
One of the new Austrian possessions after this war were the former Spanish, now Austrian Netherlands. Eugene was made governor of this area, then later became vicar of the Austrian lands in Italy. Just two years after the end of the war against France, he led the Austrian armies during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-18. He achieved a series of decisive victories, including the Battle of Belgrade that led to the Treaty of Passarowitz. This temporarily added northern Serbia and Bosnia to the Austrian crown, and ended the Turkish threats to Vienna once and for all. Late in his life he engaged in one last war, the War of the Polish Succession. He died in Vienna in 1736.