The second son of Henri, duke of Bouillon and sovereign prince of Sedan, by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of William the Silent, prince of Orange, he was born at Sedan. He was educated in the doctrines of the Reformed religion and received the usual training of a young noble of the time, but physical infirmity, and particularly an impediment of speech (which he never lost), hampered his progress, though he showed a marked partiality for history and geography, and especial admiration of the exploits of Alexander the Great and Caesar. After his father's death in 1623, he devoted himself to bodily exercises and in a great measure overcame his natural weakness. At the age of fourteen he went to learn war in the camp of his uncle, Maurice of Nassau, and began his military career (as a private soldier in that prince's bodyguard) in the Dutch War of Independence.
Frederick Henry of Nassau, who succeeded his brother Maurice in 1625, gave Turenne a captaincy in 1626. The young officer took his part in the siege warfare of the period, and won special commendation from his uncle, who was one of the foremost commanders of the time, for his skill and courage at the celebrated siege of 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc) in 1629. In 1630 Turenne left the Netherlands and entered the service of France. This step was dictated not only by the prospect of military advancement but also by his mother's desire to show the loyalty of the Bouillon dominions to the French crown.
Cardinal Richelieu at once made him colonel of an infantry regiment. He still continued to serve at short intervals with the prince of Orange, who was the ally of France, and his first serious service under the French flag was at the siege of La Motte in Lorraine by Marshal de la Force (1634), where his brilliant courage at the assault won him immediate promotion to the rank of maréchal de camp (equivalent to the modern grade of major-general). In 1635 Turenne served under Cardinal de la Valette in Lorraine and on the Rhine. The siege of Mainz was raised but the French army had to fall back on Metz from want of provisions. In the retreat Turenne measured swords with the famous imperialist General Gallas, and distinguished himself greatly by his courage and skill. The reorganized army took the field again in 1636 and captured Saverne (Zabern), at the storming of which place Turenne was seriously wounded. In 1637 he took part in the campaign of Flanders and was present at the capture of Landrecies (July 26) and in the latter part of 1638, under Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar (1608—1639), he directed the assault of Breisach (reputed the strongest fortress on the upper Rhine), which surrendered on December 17. He had now gained a reputation as one of the foremost of the younger generals of France, and Richelieu next employed him in the Italian campaign of 1639—40 under "Cadet la Perle," Henri de Lorraine, count of Harcourt (1601—1666). On the 19th of November 1639 he fought in the famous rearguard action called the battle of the "Route de Quiers," and during the winter revictualled the citadel of Turin, held by the French against the forces of Prince Thomas of Savoy. In 1640 Harcourt saved Casale and besieged Prince Thomas' forces in Turin, which were besieging in their turn another French force in the citadel. The latter held out, while Prince Thomas was forced to surrender on September 17, 1640, a fourth army which was investing Harcourt's lines being at the same time forced to retire. The favourable result of these complicated operations was largely due to Turenne, who had by now become a lieutenant-general. He himself commanded during the campaign of 1641 and took Coni (Cuneo), Ceva and Mondovi.
In 1642 he was second in command of the French troops which conquered Roussillon. At this time the conspiracy of Cinq Mars in which Turenne's elder brother, the duke of Boufflon, was implicated, was discovered.
The earlier career of Turenne was markedly influenced by the relations of the principality of Sedan to the French crown; sometimes it was necessary to advance the soldier to conciliate the ducal family, at others the machinations of the latter against Richelieu or Mazarin prevented the king's advisers from giving their full confidence to their general in the field. Moreover his steady adherence to the Protestant religion was a further element of difficulty in Turenne's relations with the ministers. Cardinal Richelieu nevertheless entrusted him with the command in Italy in 1643 under Prince Thomas (who had changed sides in the quarrel). Turenne took Trino in a few weeks, but was recalled to France towards the end of the year. He was made a Marshall of France (December 19) and was soon sent to Alsace to reorganize the "Army of Weimar" — the remnant of Duke Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar's troops—which had just been severely defeated at Tuttlingen (November 24—25, 1643). He was at this time thirty-two years of age and had served under four famous commanders. The methodical prince of Orange, the fiery Bernhard, the soldierly Cardinal de la Valette and the stubborn and astute Jiarcourt had each contributed much to the completeness of Turenne's training, and he took the field in 1644 prepared by genius and education for the responsibilities of high command.
The work of reorganization over, Marshall Turenne began the campaign in June by crossing the Rhine at Breisach, but was almost instantly joined by an army under the duc d'Enghien (afterwards the great Condé), who, as a prince of the royal house, took the chief command of the united armies of "France" and "Weimar." The four famous campaigns which followed brought to an end the Thirty Years' War. The chief event of the first of these was the desperately-fought battle of Freiburg against [[Count Mercy]'s Bavarians (August 3, 5 and 9, 1644), after which Philipsburg was successfully besieged. Before the capitulation Enghien withdrew and left Turenne in command. The marshall opened the campaign of 1645 with a strong forward movement, but was surprised and defeated by Mercy at Mergentheim (Marienthal) on May 2. Enghien was, again sent to the front with the army of France and Turenne's army was greatly increased by the arrival of a Swedish force and a contingent from Hesse-Cassel. The Swedes soon departed, but Enghien was at the head of 20,000 men when he met the Bavarians in a battle even more stubbornly contested than Freiburg. Mercy was killed and his army decisively beaten at Allerheim.
Ill-health forced Enghien to retire soon afterwards, and Turenne was for the third time left in command of the French army. He was again unfortunate against the larger forces of the imperialists, but the campaign ended with a gleam of success in his capture of Trier (Trèves). In the following year (1646) he obtained more decided successes, and, by separating the Austrians from the Bavarians, compelled the elector of Bavaria to make peace (signed March 14, 1647). In 1647 he proposed to attack the thus weakened army of the emperor, but was ordered into Flanders instead. Not only was the opportunity thus lost but a serious mutiny broke out amongst the Weimar troops, whose pay was many months in arrear. The marshall's tact and firmness were never more severely tried nor more conspicuously displayed than in his treatment of the disaffected regiments, among whom in the end he succeeded in restoring order with little bloodshed. He then marched into Luxembourg, but was soon recalled to the Rhine, for in 1648 Bavaria had returned to her Austrian alliance and was again in arms. Turenne and his Swedish allies made a brilliant campaign, which was decided by the action of Zusmarshausen (May 17), Bavaria being subsequently wasted with fire and sword until a second and more secure pacification was obtained. This devastation, for which many modern writers have blamed Turenne, was not a more harsh measure than was permitted by the spirit of the times and the circumstances of the case.
The peace of Westphalia (1648) was no peace for France, which was soon involved in the civil war of the Fronde. Few of Turenne's actions have been more sharply criticized than his adhesion to the party of revolt. The army of Weimar refused to follow its leader and he had to flee into the Spanish Netherlands, where he remained until the treaty of Rueil put an end to the first war of the Fronde. The second war began with the arrest of Condé and others (January 1650), amongst whom Turenne was to have been included; but he escaped in time and with the duchesse de Longueville held Stenay for the cause of the "Princes"--Conde, his brother Conti, and his brother-in-law the due de Longueville. Love for the duchess seems to have ruled Turenne's action, both in the first war, and, now, in seeking Spanish aid for the princes. In this war Turenne sustained one of his few reverses at Rethel (December 15, 1650); but the second conflict ended in the early months of the following year with the collapse of the court party and the release of the princes.
Turenne became reconciled and returned to Paris in May, but the trouble soon revived and before long Conde again raised the standard of revolt in the south of France. In this, the third war of the Fronde, Turenne and Conde were opposed to each other, the marshall commanding the royal armies, the prince that of the Frondeurs and their Spanish allies. Turenne displayed the personal bravery ef a young soldier at Jargeau (March 28, 1652), the skill and wariness of a veteran general at Gien (April 7), and he practically crushed the civil war in the battle of the Faubourg St Denis (July 2) and the reoccupation of Paris (October 21). Conde and the Spaniards, however, still remained to be dealt with, and the long drawn out campaigns of the "Spanish Fronde" gave ample scope for the display of scientific generalship on the part of both the famous captains. In 1653 the advantage was with Turenne, who captured Rethel, St Menehould and Muzon, while Conde's sole prize was Rocroy. The short campaign of 1654 was again to the advantage of the French; on the July 25 the Spanish were defeated at Arras. In 1655 more ground was gained, but in 1656 Turenne was defeated at Valenciennes in the same way as he had beaten Conde at Arras. The war was eventually concluded in 1657 by Turenne's victory at the Dunes near Dunkirk, in which a corps of English veterans sent by Cromwell played a notable part (June 3-14); a victory which, followed by another successful campaign in 1658, led to the peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.
On the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661 Louis XIV took the reins of government into his own hands and one of his first acts was to appoint Turenne "marshall-general of the camps and armies of the king." He had offered to revive the office of constable of France (suppressed in 1627) in Turenne's favour if the marshall would become a Roman Catholic. Turenne declined. Born of Calvinist parents and educated a Protestant, he had refused to marry one of Richelieu's nieces in 1639 and subsequently rejected a similar proposal of Mazarin.
He had later married a daughter of the Protestant Marshal de la Force, to whom he was deeply attached. But he sincerely deplored the division of the Christian church into two hostile camps. He had always distrusted the influence of many dissident and uncontrolled sects; the history of Independency in the English army and people made a deep impression on his mind, and the same fear of indiscipline which drove the English Presbyterians into royalism drew Turenne more and more towards the Roman Catholic Church. How closely both he and his wife studied such evidence as was available is shown by their correspondence, and, in the end, two years after her death, he was prevailed upon by the eloquence of Bossuet and the persuasions of his nephew, the abbe de Bouillon, to give in his adhesion to the Orthodox faith (October 1668). In 1667 he had returned to the more congenial air of the "Camps and Armies of the King," directing, nominally under Louis XIV, the famous "Promenade militaire" in which the French overran the Spanish Netherlands. Soon afterwards Conde, now reconciled with the king, rivalled Turenne's success by the rapid conquest of Franche Comte, which brought to an end the War of Devolution in February 1668.
In Louis XIV's Dutch War of 1672 Turenne was with the army commanded by the king which overran the Dutch United Provinces up to the gates of Amsterdam. The terms offered by Louis to the prince of Orange were such as to arouse a more bitter resistance. The dikes were opened and the country round Amsterdam flooded. This heroic measure completely checked Turenne, whom the king had left in command. Europe was aroused to action by the news of this event, and the war spread to Germany. Turenne fought a successful war of manoeuvre on the middle Rhine while Conde covered Alsace. In January 1673 Turenne assumed the offensive, penetrated far into Germany, and forced the Great Elector of Brandenburg to make peace; later in the year, however, he was completely out-manoeuvred by the famous imperial general Montecucculi, who evaded his opponent, joined the Dutch and took the important place of Bonn. In June 1674, however, Turenne won the battle of Sinzheim, which made him master of the Palatinate. Under orders from Paris the French wasted the country far and wide, and this devastation has usually been considered the gravest blot on Turenne's fame, though it is difficult to say that it was more unjustifiable than other similar incidents in medieval and even in modern war. In the autumn the allies again advanced, and though Turenne was again outmanoeuvred, his failure on this occasion was due to the action of the neutral city of Strassburg in permitting the enemy to cross the Rhine by the bridge at that place. The battle of Enzheim followed; this was a tactical victory, but hardly affected the situation, and, at the beginning of December, the allies were still in Alsace. The old marshall now made the most daring campaign of his career. A swift and secret march in mid-winter from one end of the Vosges to the other took the allies by surprise. Sharply following up his first successes, Turenne drove the enemy to Turkheim, and there inflicted upon them a heavy defeat (January 5, 1675). In a few weeks he had completely recovered Alsace. In the summer campaign he was once more opposed to Montecucculi, and after the highest display of "strategic chess-moves" by both commanders, Turenne finally compelled his opponent to offer battle at a disadvantage at Sassbach. Here, on July 27, 1675, he was killed by almost the first shot fired. The news of his death was received with universal sorrow.
Turenne's most eloquent countrymen wrote his eloges, and Montecucculi himself exclaimed: "II est mort aujourd'hui un homme qui faisait honneur a l'homme." His body was taken to St Denis and buried with the kings of France. Even the extreme revolutionists of 1793 respected it, and, when the bones of the sovereigns were thrown to the winds, the remains of Turenne were preserved at the Jardin des Plantes until September 22, 1800, when they were removed by order of Napoleon to the church of the Invalides at Paris, where they still rest.
Turenne was one of the great captains whose campaigns Napoleon recommended all soldiers to "read and re-read." His fame as a general was the highest in Europe at a period when war was studied more critically than ever before, for his military character epitomized the art of war of his time (Prince de Ligne). Strategic caution and logistic accuracy, combined with brilliant dash in small combats and constancy under all circumstances of success or failure may perhaps be considered the salient points of Turenne's genius for war. Great battles he avoided. "Few sieges and many combats" was his own maxim. And, unlike his great rival Condé, who was as brilliant in his first battle as in his last, Turenne improved day by day. Napoleon said of him that, his genius grew bolder as it grew older, and a modern author, the duc d'Aumâle (Histoire des princes de la maison de Condé), takes the same view when he says: "Pour le connaltre il faut le suivre jusqu'à Sulzbach. Chez lui chaque jour marque un progrés." In his personal character Turenne was little more than a simple and honourable soldier, endowed with much tact, but in the world of politics and intellect almost helpless in the hands of a skilful intriguer or casuist. His morals, if not beyond reproach, were at least more austere than those prevalent in the age in which he lived. He was essentially a commander of regular armies. His life was spent with the troops; he knew how to win their affection; he tempered a severe discipline with rare generosity, and his men loved him as a comrade no less than they admired him as a commander. Thus, though Condé's genius was far more versatile, it is Turenne whose career best represents the art of war in the 17th century. For the small, costly, and highly trained regular armies, and the dynastic warfare of the age of Louis XIV, Turenne was the ideal army leader.