The French had achieved their immediate object by capturing of Namur. The French, not wishing to fight, took up a strong defensive position in accordance with the strategical methods of the time. The French army lay facing north-west with its right on the Zenne at Steenkerque and its left towards Enghien. Their supposition was that the enemy would not dare to attack it.
William III had replaced Waldeck as supreme allied commander. The allied army was encamped about Halle. Of the 20 British regiments in the Allied army, 8 were Scottish, including the famed Mackay Regiment, who had landed with William at Torbay in 1688. The Allies, who would otherwise probably have done as the French marshal desired, were by the fortune of war afforded the opportunity of surprising a part of the enemy's forces. Accordingly, William set his army in motion before dawn on 3 August and surprised the French right about Steenkerque. He completely misled the enemy by forcing a detected spy to give Luxemburg false news. In the 17th century when the objects of a war were, as far as possible, secured without the loss of valuable lives and general decisive battles were in every way considered undesirable, a brilliant victory over a part, not the whole, of the enemy's forces was the tactical idea of the best generals.
The Allied advanced guard of infantry and pioneers, under the Duke of Wurttemberg, deployed silently around 5:00 a.m. close to the French camps. The main body of the French army was farther back and forming up after the passage of some woods. Belatedly, Luxembourg became aware of the impending blow. When the fight opened, Luxembourg was completely surprised and he could do no more than hurry the nearest foot and dragoons into action as each regiment came on the scene.
The march of the Allies' main body was mismanaged. Valuable time was lost. At 9:00 a.m. Wurttemberg started methodically cannonading the enemy while waiting for support and for the order to advance. The French worked with feverish energy to form a strong and well-covered line of battle at the threatened point. The allied main body had marched in the usual order with one wing of cavalry leading, the infantry following, and the other wing of cavalry at the tail of the column. On arrival at the field they were hastily sorted out into infantry and cavalry, for the ground was only suitable for the former.
Only a few Allied battalions had come up to support the advanced guard when the real attack opened at 12:30. Although the advanced guard had already been under arms for nine hours and the march had been over bad ground, its attack swept the first French line before it. The British and Danes stubbornly advanced and the second and third lines of the French infantry gave ground before them. However, Luxembourg was rapidly massing his whole force to crush them. During this time the confusion in the allied main body had reached its height.