Maritime Art

The Battle of La Hogue, 1692

By W. Woollett after B. West, (1781)

In 1688 Prince William of Orange and his wife, Mary (James’ daughter) invaded England and seized the crown. England became protestant. The Battle of La Hogue in 1692 was the result of the French attempting to place the exiled catholic English King, James II, back on the English throne. The attempt was thwarted by a combined English and Dutch fleet which met the French at sea at Barfleur, inflicted a significant defeat and then followed it up at La Hogue, driving the injured French ships ashore and burning them.

The ship in the centre background of this line engraving, created almost a century after the event, is the Soleil Royal, flagship of the French admiral the comte de Tourville, and one of the most magnificent ships built in the age of sail. This was her final action: she was disabled by gunfire off Cherbourg and then set on fire by an allied fireship. There are two other ships on fire in this image, in the foreground to right (her stern is visible) and left (her bow is visible). The English and Dutch fought well together in this battle, united against their common enemy, but this image focuses in particular on the Dutch achievement. In the foreground a Dutch officer stands with his sword in hand with the Dutch colours to his right.

By the end of the action fifteen French ships of the line had been destroyed. In terms of seapower it was one of the most significant battles of the period. French losses were so severe that they abandoned any attempt at invasion and also any attempt at contesting for naval superiority over the English and Dutch.

This is a line engraving of a painting by Benjamin West, made in 1778, 86 years after the event but at a time when Britain was facing invasion again from a rejuvenated France, then allied with America during the war of American Independence.

The Society has published a number of important articles on this period.

English Privateering in the War of 1688 to 1697 covers the neglected Nine Year’s War period in study of privateering. Highlighting the linguistic evolution of the terms “piracy” and “privateering”, it traces the evolution of vessels issued with letters of marque during the period, exploring the typical design of privateering vessels. Role of the Channel Islands as a privateering base is explored and deals with the politics of seized cargoes as handled by the Admiralty Court and the relative difficulty of controlling the personalities of individual privateers.

The Reduction of the French Mediterranean Fleet 1702–1719 considers the period immediately after La Hogue. After the losses sustained at Cherbourg and La Hogue following the battle of Barfleur in 1692, Louis XIV remained keen to continue building up his navy to a size equal to or exceeding in strength the combined English and Dutch fleets. Within a few days he authorized six replacement First Rank ships (three-deckers) and five Second Rank (large two-deckers); more followed with a year. By 1694, however, the economic crisis in France brought this expansion to an end. Louis was forced to choose between his battlefleet and his army, and strategic realities determined that he chose the latter. This article explores the changing nature of the French navy in the period between 1702 and 1719 and examines in detail the reduction of the French Mediterranean fleet, the flotte du Levant.

Rigging in the Seventeenth Century Part I is the first of a multi-part article which explores how the first quarter of the seventeenth century saw a rise of a method of rigging ships which lasted almost unchanged in its principal features for more than a hundred years. This article examines the rigging of the seventeenth century to show the changes and developments that there were, and to point out where difficulties arise and to suggest and invite explanations thereof. The inquiry is founded on works of rigging and seamanship, inventories of particular ships, contemporary pictures, prints, models and chance allusions in contemporary writings.

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