Pierre-Charles Villeneuve

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Pierre Charles Silvestre de Villeneuve
Amiraldevilleneuve.jpg
Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve
Born31 December 1763
Valensole, France
Died22 April 1806(1806-04-22) (aged 42)
Rennes, France
AllegianceRoyal Standard of the King of France.svg  Kingdom of France
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  French First Republic
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  First French Empire
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War
French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars

Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve (31 December 1763 – 22 April 1806) was a French naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. He was in command of the French and the Spanish fleets that were defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. [1]

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Royal Navy Admiral

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Battle of Trafalgar 1805 battle of the Napoleonic Wars

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Contents

Early career

Villeneuve was born in 1763 at Valensole, [1] Basses Alpes, and joined the French Navy in 1778. He took part in Naval operations in the American Revolutionary War, serving as an ensign on Marseillais, in de Grasse's fleet. [2]

Valensole Commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Valensole is a commune in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in southeastern France.

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Department of France

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence is a department in Southeastern France, located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. Formerly part of the province of Provence, it had a population of 161,916 in 2013. Its main cities are Digne-les-Bains (prefecture), Manosque, Sisteron, Barcelonnette, Castellane and Forcalquier. Inhabitants of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence are called the Bas-Alpins or Bas-Alpines referring to the department of Basses-Alpes which was the former name of the department until 1970.

French Navy Maritime arm of the French Armed Forces

The French Navy, informally "La Royale", is the maritime arm of the French Armed Forces. Dating back to 1624, the French Navy is one of the world's oldest naval forces. It has participated in conflicts around the globe and played a key part in establishing the French colonial empire.

Despite his aristocratic ancestry, he sympathised with the French Revolution, dropping the nobiliary particle from his name, and was able to continue his service in the Navy when other aristocratic officers were purged. He served during several battles, and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1796 as a result of this.

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

A nobiliary particle is used in a surname or family name in many Western cultures to signal the nobility of a family. The particle used varies depending on the country, language and period of time. However, in some languages the nobiliary particle is the same as a regular prepositional particle that was used in the creation of many surnames. In some countries, it became customary to distinguish the nobiliary particle from the regular one by a different spelling, although in other countries these conventions did not arise, occasionally resulting in ambiguity. The nobiliary particle can often be omitted in everyday speech or certain contexts.

At the Battle of the Nile in 1798 he was in command of the rear division. His ship, Guillaume Tell, was one of only two French ships of the line to escape the defeat. [1] He was captured soon afterwards when the British took the island of Malta, but he was soon released. He was criticised for not engaging the British at the Nile, but Napoleon considered him a "lucky man" and his career was not affected.

Battle of the Nile Naval battle between Britain and France

The Battle of the Nile was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from the 1st to the 3rd of August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had raged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km². The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.

In 1804, Napoleon ordered Villeneuve, now a Vice Admiral stationed at Toulon, to escape from the British blockade, overcome the British fleet in the English Channel, and allow the planned invasion of Britain to take place. To draw off the British defences, Villeneuve was to sail to the West Indies, where it was planned that he would combine with the Spanish fleet and the French fleet from Brest and attack British possessions in the Caribbean, before returning across the Atlantic to destroy the British Channel squadrons and escort the Armée d'Angleterre from their camp at Boulogne to victory in England.

Toulon Prefecture and commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Toulon is a city in southern France and a large port on the Mediterranean coast, with a major French naval base. Located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, Toulon is the capital of the Var department.

English Channel Arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France

The English Channel, also called simply the Channel, is the body of water that separates Southern England from northern France and links the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the busiest shipping area in the world.

Great Britain island in the North Atlantic off the north-west coast of continental Europe

Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi), it is the largest of the British Isles, the largest European island, and the ninth-largest island in the world. In 2011, Great Britain had a population of about 61 million people, making it the world's third-most populous island after Java in Indonesia and Honshu in Japan. The island of Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and together these islands, along with over 1,000 smaller surrounding islands, form the British Isles archipelago.

Battle of Trafalgar

Prelude to the battle

After an abortive expedition in January, Villeneuve finally left Toulon on 29 March 1805 with eleven ships of the line. He evaded Nelson's blockade, passed the Strait of Gibraltar on 8 April and crossed the Atlantic with Nelson's fleet in pursuit, but about a month behind owing to unfavourable winds. In the West Indies Villeneuve waited for a month at Martinique, but Admiral Ganteaume's Brest fleet did not appear. Eventually Villeneuve was pressured by French army officers into beginning the planned attack on the British, but he succeeded only in recapturing the island fort of Diamond Rock off Martinique. On 7 June he learned that Nelson had reached Antigua. On 8 June he and his fleet were able to intercept a homeward-bound convoy of 15 British merchant vessels escorted by the frigate HMS Barbadoes and the sloop or schooner HMS Netley. The two British warships managed to escape, but Villeneuve's fleet captured the entire convoy, valued at some five million pounds. Villeneuve then sent the prizes into Guadeloupe under the escort of the frigate Sirène. [3] On 11 June Villeneuve set out for Europe with Nelson again in pursuit.

Strait of Gibraltar strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea

The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Gibraltar and Peninsular Spain in Europe from Morocco in Africa.

Martinique Overseas region and department in France

Martinique is an insular region of France located in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of 1,128 square kilometres (436 sq mi) and a population of 376,480 inhabitants as of January 2016. Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. One of the Windward Islands, it is directly north of Saint Lucia, northwest of Barbados and south of Dominica.

Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume French admiral

Count Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume was a French Navy officer and Vice-admiral.

On 22 July Villeneuve, now with twenty ships of the line and seven frigates, passed Cape Finisterre on the northwest coast of Spain and entered the Bay of Biscay. Here he met a British fleet of fifteen ships of the line commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder. In the ensuing Battle of Cape Finisterre, a confused action in bad visibility, the British, though outnumbered, were able to cut off and capture two Spanish ships.

For two days Villeneuve shadowed the retreating British, but did not seek a battle. Instead he sailed to A Coruña, arriving on 1 August. Here he received orders from Napoleon to sail to Brest and Boulogne as planned. Instead, perhaps believing a false report of a superior British fleet in the Bay of Biscay, and against the Spanish commanders' objections, he sailed away back to Cádiz, rendering Napoleon's planned invasion of Britain wholly impossible.

The battle

At Cádiz the combined French and Spanish fleets were kept under blockade by Nelson. In September, Villeneuve was ordered to sail for Naples and attack British shipping in the Mediterranean, but he was initially unwilling to move and continued in blatant disregard of Superior Admiralty Orders.

In mid-October he learned that Napoleon was about to replace him as commanding officer with François Étienne de Rosily-Mesros and order him to Paris to account for his actions. (Napoleon had written to the Minister of Marine, "Villeneuve does not possess the strength of character to command a frigate. He lacks determination and has no moral courage.") Before his replacement could arrive, Villeneuve gave the order to sail on 18 October.

Inexperienced crews and the difficulties of getting out of Cádiz meant that it took two days to get all 34 ships out of port and in some kind of order. On 21 October 1805 Villeneuve learned of the size of the British fleet, and turned back to Cádiz, but the combined fleets were intercepted by Nelson off Cape Trafalgar. Nelson, though outnumbered, won the Battle of Trafalgar, and Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure was captured along with many other French and Spanish ships.

Aftermath and death

The British sent Villeneuve to England but released him on parole; during this time he lived in Bishop's Waltham in Hampshire. He stayed at the Crown Inn public house and his men, who numbered 200, stayed in local houses. He was allowed to attend the funeral of Lord Nelson at Bishop's Waltham. Freed in late 1805, he returned to France, where he attempted to go back into military service, but his requests were not answered.

On 22 April 1806, he was found dead at the Hôtel de la Patrie in Rennes with six stab wounds in the left lung and one in the heart: [4] a verdict of suicide [1] was recorded. The nature of his death ensured that this verdict was much mocked in the British press of the time and suspicions abounded that Napoleon had secretly ordered Villeneuve's murder. [5]

Legacy

Historians have not been kind to Villeneuve. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, "His decision to leave Cádiz and give battle in October 1805, which led directly to the Battle of Trafalgar, cannot be justified even on his own principles. He foresaw defeat to be inevitable, and yet he went out solely because he learnt from the Minister of Marine that another officer had been sent to supersede him ... It was provoked in a spasm of wounded vanity." [1] Despite the defeat at Trafalgar his name is etched on the Arc de Triomphe.

Literary references

C. S. Forester's unfinished novel, Hornblower and the Crisis , had Horatio Hornblower planting false orders from Napoleon to Villeneuve sending Villeneuve out to fight the British fleet. In another novel by Alexander Kent (the pen name of Douglas Reeman), Honour This Day, a battle between the British and Spanish navies is described as the British try to prevent the Spaniards from joining forces with the French navy under Villeneuve. The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton details the actions of a spaceship called Villeneuve's Revenge. Its captain is from a French ethnic planet who repeatedly expresses his hatred of "Anglos."

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Hannay, David (1911). "Villeneuve, Pierre Charles Jean Baptiste Silvestre"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 84.
  2. VILLENEUVE, Pierre-Charles de, (1763-1806), vice-amiral
  3. James (1837), Vol. 3, p.351.
  4. A.V., Mort de l'Amiral Villeneuve, Revue Française, 1835 . Retrieved 21 May 2009.
  5. Adkins, Roy (2005), Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle, (Page 323) Abacus, ISBN   978-0-349-11632-7

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