Raimondo Montecuccoli

Raimondo Montecuccoli.
Valiant Leader and Cultured Protagonist of Seventeenth Century Europe

Raimondo Montecuccoli: he made eternal in his writings what he accomplished with his deeds
Ugo Foscolo 

Without question, the most famous member of the Montecuccoli family is General Raimondo. He was born at the fortress of Montecuccolo on 21 February 1609 to Galeotto II, Count of Montecuccolo, Sassorosso and Burgone, and Anna Bigi, maid of honour at the Este court of Duchess Virginia de’ Medici. 

After a brief spell at Montecuccolo, Raimondo followed the family to Brescello, where Galeotto had been nominated governor. His father died while he was still young , and at the age of ten he was welcomed as a page at the court of Duke Cesare’s brother, cardinal Alessandro d’Este, the Bishop of Reggio, who took his situation to heart and saw to it that the boy’s rigorous education went ahead routinely.

The short period he spent at the cardinal’s magnificent court, which was to have considerable weight in Raimondo’s cultural education, was suddenly cut short by the death of the prelate in 1624.

In defiance of his mother’s plans, who had hoped for an ecclesiastical career for him or that he would become a courtier at the Este court, at the tender age of sixteen Raimondo followed in the footsteps of General Rambaldo di Collalto and enlisted in the Emperor of Austria’s army.

Although his cousins Ernesto and Girolamo, of the Montese branch, already held important positions in the same army, this was no guarantee of favouritism for his glowing career. In spite of this he swiftly rose through the ranks to become Field Marshal, a role assigned to him thanks to his personal gifts of determination, courage and valour.

When Raimondo arrived in Austria, the Thirty Years’ War was in full swing, which was to last from 1618 to 1648, with supremacy over Europe at stake. The young soldier found himself immediately embroiled in the toughest of battles in which he displayed his soldierly qualities and his talent for military strategy.

In 1639 he was captured by the Swedish and imprisoned in the Castle of Stettino, where he would remain for three years. Raimondo took advantage of this enforced inactivity to draw on the palace’s rich library, and devoted himself to the study of warfare, weapons, war machines and fortress defence systems. The fruits of this period were a copybook entitled “On Battles”, and his “Treatise on War”.

Raimondo’s talent did not escape the Imperial court’s notice, which from that moment on held him in great esteem. At this point Raimondo began his travels throughout Europe, meeting the most eminent personalities of the time and, as a diplomat representing the Emperor, visited Queen Christine at the Swedish Court , and he travelled to London, where he met Oliver Cromwell. It was in this period that Raimondo married Margarethe Dietrichstein, a noblewoman from a family of some influence at the Imperial court. 


Raimondo’s greatness came out of his vast cornucopia of knowledge acquired over the years, as well as a multifaceted patrimony of practical experience accumulated in the formative years of his life: the Thirty Years’ War, his travels to the capitals of Europe, and his meetings with the most eminent personalities of the period.

These were the occasions which allowed him to analyse the most modern state apparatuses, the organisation of armies, the strategies of the great leaders he found himself fighting alongside or against: Wallenstein, Tilly, the King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus, and the French generals Condé and Turenne. Over time his thinking became more refined and led to brand new reformative ideas in the military and political fields, such as the logistics of war and the necessity for a permanent army. 


In an era of giants battling for supremacy over Europe, Raimondo found himself on the side of the weakest one: the Habsburg Empire. Internally divided, ruled by an emperor who was politically and militarily feeble, forced to deal with such powerful adversaries as the France of Richelieu, Mazarin and Louis XIV, King Gustavus Adolphus’ Sweden and the Ottoman Empire once again present on the European scene. 


Raimondo was to participate valiantly in all the military campaigns of Europe from 1625 to 1675, but the deed that shines above the rest is his clamorous victory of 1664 over the Turks at the Raab river, in what is now Hungary, which stopped the Ottoman armies from infiltrating the heart of the Empire. 

This was followed by a period of truce during which Raimondo devoted himself to studying science and writing “Aphorisms on the Art of War”, his only work known in Italy, in a famous edition edited by the poet, Ugo Foscolo.

However, according to some academics, Raimondo’s masterpiece on strategy is in fact an episode of the war against Louis XIV’s France in 1675, which Napoleon himself was to become an admirer of. What was astonishing was the manoeuvre with which Raimondo, after cutting off the enemy army’s supplies, cunningly managed to deceive the French commandant Turenne, evading his attempts to face him in open combat.

Turenne was to die shortly afterwards under a hail of fire from the Imperial artillery.  The war dragged wearily on but petered out the same year without a significant victory for either of the warring parties. It was however a political success for the Imperial troops, who had been able to put paid to France’s hegemonic attempts.

Beyond his victories in the battlefield, Raimondo’s fame is linked to his numerous writings which, for their language and style, are considered of major significance in the eighteenth-century literary panorama. A man of wide culture and great experience, he wrote various treatises on the military arts, many of which have been lost, which were an instant success and were translated into many different languages. His theories and ideas concerning techniques, manoeuvres, and fortification projects were acclaimed by the most modern European states.  

The last years of Raimondo’s life were marred by envy and malice by a faction of the court who did not agree with his methods of waging war and were hostile towards his plans to  reform the army and the state. They resorted to accusing him of embezzlement and acquiring riches dishonestly, but Raimondo manage to defend himself and prove his honesty. 

After a period of illness and distress, Raimondo died in Linz on 16 October 1680. The solemn funeral was held in the capital, according to the express wishes of Raimondo himself, and his body was buried alongside that of his wife, Margarethe, at the Am Hof Church in Vienna. Only his viscera were removed and buried in the Capuchin Church in Linz after the embalming of his corpse. After Raimondo’s death, Emperor Leopold followed his suggestions, setting in motion reforms of the state and the army which were to allow Austria to become a great European power in just a few decades.