After the picture by Rigaud, formerly in collection of the marquis de Vog, and known from a replica in the Muse des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles.
Claude-Louis-Hector, duc de Villars was one of the greatest generals of French history. Born at Moulins in 1653, he entered the army through the corps of pages in 1671. His first active service was in the Dutch wars, where he distinguished himself by his daring and resourcefulness, becoming colonel of a cavalry regiment in 1674. Villars was possessed of great diplomatic abilities, serving on an unofficial mission to the court of Bavaria in the 1680s, and as ambassador in Vienna at the end of the Grand Alliance War. However, it was his part in the War of Spanish Succession that raised him to legendary status. After Friedlingen he was made Marshal, for the pacification of Cvennes he was given the Saint Esprit and a dukedom, but those victories were not especially significant. In 1709, when the nation lay apparently helpless against the triumphant Marlborough, he was appointed to command the armies of France. The next year, the English victory at Malplaquet cost them so dear that Marshal Boufflers was able to tell the King: 'If it please God to give your majesty's enemies another such victory, they are ruined'. It took Marlborough two more campaigns to manoeuvre past Villars' defensive lines; but, in the absence of Marlborough, he succeeded in outmanoeuvring and then decisively defeating Prince Eugene in the battle of Denain. The victory saved France. At the end of his life, in the War of Austrian Succession, Villars took to the field again as 'marshal-general of the king's armies' - a title that only Turenne had held before him - dying that year in Turin.