Battle of Toulon (1744)

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Battle of Toulon
Part of the War of the Austrian Succession
Action off toulon 4.jpg
A Spanish illustration of the battle, Naval Museum of Madrid
Date21 to 22 February 1744 New Style
11 to 12 February Old Style
Result Franco-Spanish victory [1]
Bandera de Espana 1701-1748.svg Spain
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Bandera de Espana 1701-1748.svg Juan Navarro
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg Claude Bruyère
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Thomas Mathews
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg Richard Lestock
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg William Rowley
27 ships of the line
3 frigates
3 smaller warships
30 ships of the line
3 frigates
6 smaller warships
Casualties and losses
149 killed, 467 wounded
3 ships damaged, 1 scuttled
133 killed, 223 wounded, 17 captured [2]
5 ships damaged, 1 fireship sunk [2]

The Battle of Toulon, also known as the Battle of Cape Sicié, took place between 21 and 22 February 1744 NS [lower-alpha 1] near the French Mediterranean port of Toulon. Although France was not yet at war with Great Britain, ships from their Levant Fleet sailed out with a Spanish force, which had been trapped in Toulon for two years, to break the blockade imposed by the British Mediterranean Fleet.


The initial engagement on 21 February was largely indecisive and the British continued their pursuit until midday on 22nd before their commander, Admiral Thomas Mathews, called off the chase. With several of his ships in need of repair, he withdrew to Menorca, which meant the Royal Navy temporarily lost control of the waters around Italy and allowed the Spanish to take the offensive against Savoy. [3]

In his report, Mathews blamed his subordinate Richard Lestock for the failure and the issue was hotly debated in Parliament. At the subsequent court-martial, Mathews was held responsible and dismissed from the navy in June 1747, while Lestock's political connections meant he was cleared of all charges. [4] Another seven captains were removed from command for failing to engage the enemy and the investigation led to changes that required individual captains to be far more aggressive.

France declared war on Britain shortly after the battle but it led to recriminations with the Spanish, who suffered most of the casualties and complained of a lack of support. The French admiral, Claude Bruyère, was removed from command while the resulting ill-feeling limited further co-operation between the two sides. [5] The Spanish commander Juan José Navarro and his ships spent the rest of the war blockaded in Cartagena, Spain by Mathews' successor William Rowley.


British commander, Admiral Thomas Mathews, whose poor relationship with his subordinate Richard Lestock impacted the battle Admiral Thomas Mathews.jpg
British commander, Admiral Thomas Mathews, whose poor relationship with his subordinate Richard Lestock impacted the battle

The immediate cause of the War of the Austrian Succession was the death in 1740 of Emperor Charles VI, last male Habsburg. This left his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, as heir to the Habsburg monarchy, [lower-alpha 2] whose laws excluded women from the succession. The 1713 Pragmatic Sanction waived this and allowed her to inherit, but this was challenged by Charles Albert of Bavaria, the closest male heir. [6]

While the House of Habsburg was the largest single component of the Holy Roman Empire, its pre-eminent position was challenged by rivals like Bavaria, Saxony and Prussia. With the help of France, these states turned a dynastic dispute into a European conflict and in January 1742 Charles of Bavaria became the first non-Habsburg Emperor in nearly 300 years. He was opposed by Maria Theresa and the so-called Pragmatic Allies, which in addition to Austria included Britain, Hanover and the Dutch Republic. [7]

Although French and British troops fought against each other at Dettingen in June 1743, the two countries were not yet formally at war. In contrast, Spain and Britain had been fighting the War of Jenkins' Ear since 1739, primarily in South America but also in the Mediterranean, where in 1742 a Spanish squadron led by Juan José Navarro took refuge in the French naval base of Toulon and were prevented from leaving by the British Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Thomas Mathews. In the 1743 Treaty of Fontainebleau, Louis XV of France and his uncle Philip V of Spain, agreed to a joint invasion of Britain and by late January 1744, more than 12,000 French troops and transports had been assembled at Dunkirk. [8]

In an attempt to divert British naval resources from the invasion route, Navarro was ordered to force his way out of Toulon and make for the Atlantic, supported by the French Levant Fleet under Claude Bruyère. Their opponent, Thomas Mathews, had entered the Royal Navy in 1690 and enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career before being appointed Commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean in 1742. He had a poor relationship with his deputy Richard Lestock, a fact recognised by both officers who had each separately requested that Lestock be reassigned, a request ignored by the Admiralty. The tension between the two men meant Mathews failed to properly discuss tactics with his subordinate prior to the battle, a factor which partially contributed to the later confusion over orders. [4]


Map of the battle Toulon, 1744 RCIN 729009.jpg
Map of the battle

On 21 February 1744, the combined Franco-Spanish fleet of twenty-seven ships of the line and three frigates put to sea with Mathews in pursuit. The British ships were generally larger and more heavily armed than their opponents, carrying over 25% more cannons overall. [9] Both fleets adopted the traditional formation of vanguard, centre and rear, with Navarro and the Spanish ships in front, followed by two French squadrons. [10] On the British side, Mathews led the van, William Rowley the centre and Lestock the rear. [11]

Light winds made manoeuvring difficult and caused the two fleets to become spread out but around 11:30 Early in the evening of 21 February, the fleets began to approach each other and prepare for battle, with Mathews signalling his ships to form line of battle. [12] The line had still not been properly formed as night fell, leading Mathews to hoist the signal to come to (halt by turning into the wind), intending for his ships to first finish forming the line. [12] The van and centre squadrons did so, but Lestock, commanding the rear, obeyed the order to come to immediately, without having formed the line. [12]

By daybreak on 23 February, the rear of the British fleet was separated by a considerable distance from the van and centre. [12] Mathews signalled for Lestock to make more sail, reluctant to start the attack with his ships still disorganised, but the slowness of Lestock to respond caused the Franco-Spanish force to start to slip away to the south. [12] Mathews feared that they would escape him and pass through the Strait of Gibraltar to join the French force gathered at Brest for the planned invasion of Britain. [12]

Knowing that his duty was to attack, Mathews hoisted the signal to engage the enemy aboard his flagship HMS Namur, and at one o'clock left the line to attack the Spanish rear, followed by Captain James Cornewall aboard HMS Marlborough. [12] In doing so, the signal to form the line of battle was left flying. The two signals flying simultaneously created confusion. A number of British commanders, including Captain Edward Hawke, followed Mathews' example, but many did not. [12] His other commanders were either too uncertain, or in the case of Lestock, unwilling to cooperate with him. [13]

The British fire ship HMS Anne Galley, aflame and sinking short of her intended target, the Spanish flagship Real Felipe Combate de Tolon.jpg
The British fire ship HMS Anne Galley, aflame and sinking short of her intended target, the Spanish flagship Real Felipe

Heavily outnumbered and unsupported, Namur and Marlborough managed to successfully engage their opposite numbers in the enemy line, but suffered considerable damage. [12] At the rear of the ships being attacked, five more Spanish ships followed, at some distance due to the slow speed of the one ahead: Brillante, San Fernando, Halcon, Soberbio and Santa Isabel. There was some exchange of fire between these and the lead ships of the English rear. Most of Lestock's ships in the rear remained inactive during the battle. [14]

The main action was being fought around Real Felipe, Navarro's flagship. Marlborough purposefully crossed the Spanish line, but suffered such severe damage that she was deemed to be on the verge of sinking. The Hercules, astern of the Real Felipe, vigorously fought off three British ships. The Constante, immediately ahead of the flagship, repelled the attack of a British ship-of-the-line, which was promptly replaced by two more, with which she continued to fight for nearly three hours. [14]

The French ships came about at 5 o'clock to aid the Spanish, a manoeuvre interpreted by some of the British commanders to be an attempt to double the British line and surround them. [12] The Spanish, still on the defensive, neglected to capture the defenceless Marlborough, though they did retake the Poder, which had previously surrendered to the British. [12] The Franco-Spanish fleet then resumed their flight to the southwest, and it was not until 23 February that the British were able to regroup and resume the pursuit. They caught up with the enemy fleet again, which was hampered by towing damaged ships, and the unmanoeuvrable Poder was abandoned and scuttled by the French. By now the British had closed to within a few miles of the enemy fleet, but Mathews again signalled for the fleet to come to. The following day, 24 February, the Franco-Spanish fleet was almost out of sight, and Mathews returned to Hyères and sailed from there to Port Mahon, where he arrived in early March. [12]


Naval officers attending the 1746 court martial; note the crowds gathered to attend the proceedings, a mark of the level of public interest Cour martiale en 1745 pour les capitaines anglais battus en 1744 devant Toulon.jpg
Naval officers attending the 1746 court martial; note the crowds gathered to attend the proceedings, a mark of the level of public interest

Tactically, the battle was indecisive while the invasion of Britain was abandoned soon after, but Mathews' withdrawal to Menorca temporarily lifted the blockade of the Gallispan army in Northern Italy, allowing them to take the offensive. [15] It also led to recriminations among the victors; Philip V of Spain made Navarro Marqués de la Victoria, or "Marquis of Victory", a title reflecting domestic opinion that the battle was a Spanish success negated by the poor performance of the French. He also insisted de la Bruyère be removed from command, while and the resulting ill-feeling minimised future co-operation between the two sides, while Navarro and his ships spent the rest of the war blockaded in Cartagena, Spain by Rowley, who had succeeded Mathews as commander in the Mediterranean. [5]

France declared war on Britain and Hanover in March, then invaded the Austrian Netherlands in May. [16] These were significant consequences, allegedly resulting from the failure of the British fleet to win a decisive action against an inferior opponent, [lower-alpha 3] and Parliament demanded a public enquiry. At the subsequent court-martial, seven captains present at the battle were cashiered for failing to do their "utmost" to engage the enemy as required by the Articles of War, another two were acquitted while one died before trial. [lower-alpha 4] [18]

Mathews was also court-martialled on charges of having brought the fleet into action in a disorganised manner and failing to attack the enemy when the conditions were advantageous. Although his personal courage was not in question, he was found guilty of failing to comply with the official "Fighting Instructions" which required him to engage in "Line of battle", and dismissed from the navy in June 1747. Despite ignoring his commander's orders, Lestock was acquitted because in doing so he followed the precise letter of the instructions and was promoted Admiral of the Blue, although he died shortly afterwards in December 1746. [19]

Richard Lestock, whose acquittal was widely criticised and led to changes in the "Fighting Instructions" Richard Lestock.jpg
Richard Lestock, whose acquittal was widely criticised and led to changes in the "Fighting Instructions"

The judgements were unpopular with the public, a contemporary declaring "The nation could not be persuaded...Lestock should be pardoned for not fighting, and Mathews cashiered for fighting". [20] His acquittal was largely due to his political connections, [4] and recognising the inquiry had been hampered by political and civilian interference, in 1749 Parliament updated the 1661 Articles of War to enhance the autonomy of naval courts. It also amended the section that read:

Every Captaine and all other Officers Mariners and Souldiers of every Ship Frigott or Vessell of War that shall in time of any fight or engagement withdraw or keepe backe or not come into the fight and engage and do his utmost to take fire kill and endamage the Enemy Pirate or Rebells and assist and relieve all and every of His Majesties Ships shall for such offence of cowardice or disaffection be tried and suffer paines of death or other punishment as the circumstances of the offence shall deserve and the Court martiall shall judge fitt. [21]

Article XII in the 1749 version was changed to permit the court far less discretion in terms of punishment, wording that would result in the 1757 execution of Admiral Byng. [22] It now read;

Every Person in the Fleet, who thro’ Cowardice, Negligence or Disaffection, shall in Time of Action withdrawn, or keep back, or not come into the Fight or Engagement, or shall not do his utmost to take or destroy every Ship which it shall be his Duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of his Majesty's Ships, or those of his Allies, which it shall be his Duty to assist and relieve, every such Person so offending and being convicted thereof by the Sentence of a Court Martial, shall suffer Death. [23]

Order of battle


Franco-Spanish fleet [24]
Ship Rate Guns Commander Notes
Borée Third-rate 64Captain Marqueu
Toulouse Fourth-rate 60Captain Dárton
Tigre Fourth-rate 50Captain Saurin
Éole Third-rate 64Captain Charles d'Albert du Chesne  [ fr ]
Alcyon Fourth-rate 56Captain Lancel
Duc D'Orléans Third-rate 68Captain Dornés
Espoir Third-rate 74Captain D'Hericourt (Ensign of Gavaret)
Trident Third-rate 64Captain Caylus
Heureux Fourth-rate 60Captain Gramier
Aquilon Fourth-rate 60Captain Louis-Philippe de Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil
Solide Third-rate 64Captain Chateauneuf
Diamant Fourth-rate 50Captain Claude Louis d'Espinchal, Marquis de Massiac
Ferme Third-rate 70Captain Gorgues
Terrible Third-rate 74Vice-Admiral Claude-Élisée de Court de La Bruyère
Captain Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel de la Jonquière, Marquis de la Jonquière
Saint Esprit Third-rate 68Captain Poison
Sérieux Third-rate 64Captain Alexandre de Cheylus  [ fr ]
Oriente Fourth-rate 60Captain Joaquín Manuel de Villena y Guadalfajara  [ es ]
América Fourth-rate 60Captain Aníbal Petrucci
Neptuno Fourth-rate 60Captain Enrique Olivares 
Poder Fourth-rate 60Captain Rodrigo de Urrutia y de la Rosa  ( POW )Captured by the British
Recaptured and scuttled by the French
Constante Third-rate 70Captain Agustín de Iturriaga  [ es ]  Badly damaged and taken under tow
Real Felipe First-rate 110Admiral Juan José Navarro
Captain Nicolas Geraldino 
Badly damaged and taken under tow
Hércules Third-rate 64Captain Cosme Álvarez
Brillante Fourth-rate 60Captain Blas Clemente de Barreda y Campuzano
Halcón Fourth-rate 60Captain José Rentería
San Fernando Third-rate 64Captain Nicolas de la Rosa, Count de Vega Florida
Soberbio Fourth-rate 50Captain Juan Valdés
Santa Isabel Third-rate 80Captain Ignacio Dauteville

4 frigates [25]
4 fire ships [25]


British Fleet [24]
Ship Rate Guns Commander Notes
HMS Chatham Fourth-rate 50Captain Richard Hughes
HMS Nassau Third-rate 70Captain James Lloyd
HMS Chichester Third-rate 80Captain William DilkesDilkes court-martialled and dismissed, later restored
HMS Boyne Third-rate 80Captain Rowland FrogmoreFrogmore died before being court-martialled [26]
HMS Barfleur Second-rate 90Rear-Admiral William Rowley
Captain Meyrick de L'Angle
Damaged; 25 killed, 20 wounded [27]
HMS Ranelagh Third-rate 80Captain Henry Osborn
HMS Berwick Third-rate 70Captain Edward Hawke 17 members of the Prize crew taken prisoner when the French recaptured the Poder [28]
HMS Stirling Castle Third-rate 70Captain Thomas Cooper
HMS Bedford Third-rate 70Captain Hon. George Townshend
HMS Feversham Fifth-rate 40Captain John Watkins
HMS Winchelsea Sixth-rate 20Captain William Marsh
HMS Dragon Fourth-rate 60Captain Charles Watson
HMS Royal Oak Third-rate 70Captain Edmund WilliamsWilliams court-martialled and dismissed
HMS Princess Third-rate 70Captain Robert PettDamaged; 8 killed, 20 wounded [29]
HMS Somerset Third-rate 80Captain George Slater
HMS Norfolk Third-rate 80Captain Hon. John Forbes Damaged; 12 killed, 25 wounded [29]
HMS Marlborough Second-rate 90Captain James Cornewall   Badly damaged; 53 killed, 138 wounded [29]
HMS Dorsetshire Third-rate 80Captain George BurrishBurrish court-martialled and dismissed
HMS Essex Third-rate 70Captain Richard NorrisNorris court-martialled and dismissed
HMS Rupert Third-rate 60Captain John Ambrose Ambrose court-martialled and suspended for a year
HMS Namur (Flagship) Second-rate 90Admiral Thomas Mathews
Captain John Russell 
Damaged; 8 killed, 20 wounded [26]
HMS Dursley Galley Sixth-rate 20Captain Giles Vanbrugh
HMS Anne Galley [30] Fire ship 8Commander James Mackie  Blew up, 25 killed [29]
HMS Sutherland Hospital ship18Lieutenant Lord Colville
HMS Salisbury Fourth-rate 50Captain Peter Osborne
HMS Romney Fourth-rate 50Captain Henry Godsalve
HMS Dunkirk Third-rate 60Captain Charles Wager Purvis
HMS Swiftsure Third-rate 70Captain George Berkeley
HMS Cambridge Third-rate 80Captain Charles Drummond
HMS Neptune Second-rate 90Vice-Admiral Richard Lestock
Captain George Stepney
HMS Torbay Third-rate 80Captain John Gascoigne
HMS Russell Third-rate 80Captain Robert Long
HMS Buckingham Third-rate 70Captain John Towry
HMS Elizabeth Third-rate 70Captain Joshua Lingen
HMS Kingston Third-rate 60Captain John Lovatt
HMS Oxford Fourth-rate 50Captain Harry Powlett
HMS Warwick Third-rate 60Captain Temple West
HMS Mercury Fire ship 8Commander Moses Peadle


  1. The dates of the battle were 21 to 22 February 1744 (New Style (NS)) according to the Gregorian calendar then used by France and Spain. The British still used the Julian calendar, which gave dates of 10–11 February 1744 (OS)
  2. Often referred to as 'Austria', this included Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma
  3. Modern historians argue these actions had been agreed in October 1743 and were unaffected by Toulon [17]
  4. These were; (1) George Burrish; HMS Dorsetshire (2) John Ambrose; HMS Rupert (3) Edmund Williams; HMS Royal Oak (4) Richard Norris; HMS Essex (5) Thomas Cooper; HMS Stirling Castle (later restored) (6) James Lloyd; HMS Nassau (7) William Dilkes; HMS Chichester

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The Battle of Toulon, also known as the Battle of Cape Sicié, took place between 21 and 22 February 1744 NS near the French Mediterranean port of Toulon. Although France was not yet at war with Great Britain, ships from their Levant Fleet combined with a Spanish force, which had been trapped in Toulon for two years, to break the blockade imposed by the British Mediterranean Fleet.


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  3. Dull 2009, p. 52.
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  5. 1 2 Anderson 1995, pp. 138–139.
  6. Anderson 1995, p. 3.
  7. Black 1999, p. 82.
  8. Harding 2013, p. 171.
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  11. Allen 1842, pp. 323–324.
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  13. Lecky, William Edward Hartpole (1892). A History of England in the Eighteenth Century. London: Longmans, Green. p. 19.
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  16. Lindsay 1957, p. 430.
  17. Anderson 1995, p. 130-132.
  18. Beatson 1788, pp. 329–330.
  19. Bruce 1998, p. 224.
  20. Hervey 1779, p. 270.
  21. 'Charles II, 1661: An Act for the Establishing Articles and Orders for the regulateing and better Government of His Majesties Navies Ships of Warr & Forces by Sea.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628–80 (1819), pp. 311–314. Date accessed: 8 June 2010.
  22. Ware 2009, pp. 151–53.
  23. 'Admiral Byng's defence, as presented by him, and read in the Court January 18, 1757,... Containing a very particular account of the action on the 20th of May, 1756, off Cape Mola,...' John Byng, 1757, pp. 10–11.
  24. 1 2 Battles of the British Navy by Joseph Allen, Vol. I, p. 150. and Schomberg, I., Naval Chronology, App. 36, London, 1802
  25. 1 2 Schomberg, I., Naval Chronology, App. 36, London, 1802
  26. 1 2 Allen 1842, p. 327.
  27. Allen 1842, p. 331.
  28. Allen 1842, p. 330.
  29. 1 2 3 4 Allen 1842, p. 329.
  30. Ships of the Royal Navy:The Complete Record of All Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy J. Colledge, Ben Warlow p.17


Further reading

Coordinates: 42°46′45″N5°41′27″E / 42.77917°N 5.69083°E / 42.77917; 5.69083