Prince Eugen von Savoyen in a contemporary painting

François-Eugène, Prince of Savoy-Carignan, known as Prinz Eugen von Savoyen in German and Eugenio, Principe di Savoia in Italian (October 16, 1663April 24, 1736) was one of the most brilliant generals in the history of the Habsburg Empire.


Eugene of Savoy was born in Paris. His mother, Olympia Mancini, was a niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin. Officially, Eugene was born a prince of the House of Savoy, as an heir to Olympia's husband, the Comte de Soissons. However, it was rumoured that Olympia had actually been been impregnated by the French king, Louis XIV. She was banished from France during Eugene's childhood as a suspect in a plot to poison her supposed former lover.

As a young man, Eugene was part of the circle of the transvestite Abbé de Choisy. Eugene was rebuffed from a commission in the French army by Louis XIV, some say because of his mother's disgrace, some because of his slight build, and some because Louis was offended by Eugene's cross dressing. Whatever the reason, Eugene fled the French court, and volunteered with the Austrian army as an officer in 1683. He maintained a lifelong hatred of Louis XIV, and would spend the rest of his life opposing French ambition in Europe.

For the first part of his career, Eugene faced the Ottoman Turks on the battlefield, first coming to prominence during the last major Turkish offensive against the Austrian capital of Vienna in 1683. By the closing years of the 17th century, he was already famous for securing Hungary from the Turks. In 1697 he crushed the Ottoman army in the Battle of Zenta, and he soon rose to the role of principal Austrian commander during the War of the Spanish Succession.

In the opening shots of that war, Eugene 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, Eugene 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 (1704). For the next three years he was engaged in fighting in northern Italy and Provence. He defeated French armies in battle of Turin (1706). In 1707 Louis XIV had to withdraw French forces from Italy.

Eugene then moved north to Flanders, where he joined up with Marlborough 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.

Also in 1714, Eugene began construction of the Belvedere, a baroque palace in the 3rd district of Vienna. Construction of various parts of the palace complex continued until 1723. Despite his obvious thirst for glory through wars, political appointments, and buildings, Eugene never married. Some assume that forgoing the social prestige (and indeed almost necessity) of marriage points to likely homophilia. His city mansion in Vienna, the Prinz Eugen Palais includes homoerotic carvings on the exterior, and statues of muscular, naked men on the grand staircase, but there is no surviving record of a male relationship. Eugene of Savoy is often referred to as a "Mars without a Venus".

Monument to Prince Eugen at the Heldenplatz in Vienna.

One of the new Austrian possessions after the War of the Spanish Succesion was 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, Eugene led the Austrian armies during the Austro-Turkish War of 1716-18. With the Victorys of Peterwardein Hungary was freed from the Turkish and the Stronghold of Belgrade was captured by Eugene august 22 1717, attacking them unexpected over a pontoon bridge. This Victory is eternalized in the traditional song Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter (Prince Eugene, the noble knight). The Battle of Belgrade led to the Treaty of Passarowitz. This temporarily added northern Serbia and the Bosnian bank of the Sava river to the Austrian crown, and ended the Turkish threats to Vienna once and for all. Late in his life, Eugene engaged in one last war, the War of the Polish Succession.

Eugene died in Vienna in 1736, in his sleep, after a night of playing cards with his old friend, the Countess Balthyany. A legend maintains that a lion in his palace zoo died the same night. Eugene is buried in a chapel of honor in the Cathedral of Saint Stephan.

At his death, Eugene was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. His fortune passed to his niece, Princess Victoria of Savoy-Carignan, whom he had never met. She sold his extensive library to the Austrian emperor, and it formed the core of what is today the Austrian National Library.

The World War I British monitor HMS Prince Eugene, Austro-Hungarian battleship Prinz Eugen, and the World War II German 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division Prinz Eugen, heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and Italian light cruiser Eugenio di Savoia were named after Eugene of Savoy, whose was the only person whose name was given to warships of four different navies.

See also