The Victory Of La Hogue


On the dismissal of the Earl of Torrington from the command of the navy,

Edward Russel was appointed admiral and commander-in-chief; but twelve

months elapsed before an opportunity occurred for wiping out the

dishonour of the engagement off Beachy Head.

As soon as Louis XIV. perceived that it was impossible to support the

war in Ireland any longer to advantage
he resolved to employ the forces

still left with King James to serve his purpose in another way. With

this view, he concerted with the malcontents in England an invasion of

the coast of Sussex; and though for this design it was necessary to draw

together a large number of transports, as well as a very considerable

body of troops, he had both in readiness before his purpose was so much

as suspected here. The land forces consisted of fourteen battalions of

English and Irish troops, and about nine thousand French soldiers,

commanded by Marshal de Belfondes; so that in all there were not less

than twenty thousand men. The fleet of transports consisted of three

hundred sail, and was well provided with everything necessary for the

invasion. In short, nothing was wanting to the execution of this design

in the beginning of April but the arrival of Count d'Estrees' squadron

of twelve men-of-war, which was to escort the embarkation; while the

Count de Tourville cruised in the Channel with the grand fleet, ready to

put to sea but detained by contrary winds. Things being in this

position, King James sent over Colonel Parker and some other agents to

give his friends intelligence of his motions; and some of these people,

in hopes of reward, gave the first clear account of the whole design to

the English government; upon which, order after order was sent to

Admiral Russel to hasten out to sea in whatever condition the fleet

might be.

There were at this very critical juncture two considerable squadrons at

sea; one under the command of Sir Ralph Delaval, sent to bring home a

fleet of merchantmen from the Mediterranean; the other under

Rear-admiral Carter, near the French coast. It was apprehended that the

French would have endeavoured to intercept the former; and therefore, on

the last of February, orders were sent by the Groin packet-boat to

Vice-admiral Delaval, to avoid coming near Cape St. Vincent, but rather

to sail to Dingle Bay, the mouth of the Shannon, or some other port

thereabouts. But, for fear these orders might not reach him soon enough

at Cadiz, an advice-boat was ordered to cruise for him off Cape Clear,

with instructions to put into Cork or Kingsale. However, both these

orders missed him, and he was so fortunate as to arrive in the beginning

of March, 1692, safe in the Downs.

Rear-admiral Carter was ordered to continue cruising with his squadron

of eighteen sail as near the French coast as possible, in order to be

the better and earlier informed of the movements of the enemy. King

William, as soon as he arrived in Holland, took care to hasten the naval

preparations with unusual diligence; so that the fleet was ready to put

to sea much sooner than had been expected, or at least much sooner than

it had done the year before, and was also in a much better condition.

Admiral Russel went on board in the beginning of May, and soon after

received orders to cruise between Cape la Hogue and the Isle of Wight

till the squadrons should join him, though he had proposed the junction

should be made off Beachy Head. However, he obeyed his orders as soon as

he received them, and plied down through the sands with a very scanty

wind, contrary to the opinion of many of his officers and all the

pilots, who were against hazarding so great a fleet in so dangerous an

attempt; and yet to this bold stroke of the admiral's was due his

subsequent success.

On May the 8th the fleet came safe off Rye, and that night the admiral

sent to the Dutch admiral to weigh and make sail after him, that no time

might be lost. He also sent a squadron of small ships to look for Sir

Ralph Delaval, being in great anxiety until the whole confederate fleet

was collected in one body. On May 11th he sailed from Rye Bay for St.

Helen's; where in two days' time he was joined by Sir Ralph Delaval and

Rear-admiral Carter with their squadrons. While here, the admiral

received a letter from the Earl of Nottingham, as secretary of state,

written by Queen Mary's direction, wherein he was informed that a

scandalous and malicious report had been spread with regard to some of

the officers of the fleet, to the effect that they were disaffected or

not hearty in the service, and that Her Majesty had thereupon been

pressed to discharge many of them from their employment; but Her Majesty

charged the admiral to acquaint his officers that she was satisfied this

report was raised by the enemies of the government, and that she reposed

so entire a confidence in their fidelity that she had resolved not to

displace so much as one of them. Upon this the flag-officers and

captains drew up a very dutiful and loyal address, dated from on board

the Britannia at St. Helen's, May 15th, 1692, which was the same day

transmitted to court, and on the next presented by the lords of the

Admiralty to Her Majesty, who was pleased to make the following wise and

gracious answer, which was published that night in the Gazette: "I

always had this opinion of the commanders; but I am glad this is come to

satisfy others."

When all the ships, English and Dutch, were assembled the admiral

proposed that a small detachment of six or eight frigates might be sent

to hover about the coast of Normandy, and that the grand fleet should

lie westward of that place, in order to protect them from the enemy.

This proposition being in part approved, he detached six light ships to

gain intelligence, and sailed on May 18th for the coast of France. The

next day, about three in the morning, the scouts westward of the fleet

fired swivel-guns, and made the signal of discovering the enemy.

Immediately orders were given for drawing into a line of battle; and the

signal was made for the rear of the fleet to tack, in order to engage

the sooner if the French stood to the northward. A little after four,

the sun dispersing the fog, the enemy were seen standing southward. The

admiral upon this caused the signal for the rear to tack to be taken in,

and bore away with his ship to leeward, that each ship in the fleet

might fetch his wake and then be brought to and lay by, with his foretop

sail to the mast; that so others might have the better opportunity of

placing themselves according to the manner formerly directed for such an


The confederate fleet was in good order by eight, having the Dutch

squadron in the van, the red in the centre, and the blue in the rear.

About ten the French fleet bore down upon them with great resolution.

About half-past eleven Count Tourville in the Royal Sun brought to and

began the fight with Admiral Russel, being within three-quarters

musket-shot. He plied his guns very warmly till one, but then began to

tow off in great disorder; his rigging, sails, and topsail yards being

very much injured. About two the wind shifted; so that five of the

enemy's blue squadron posted themselves, three ahead and two astern of

their admiral, and fired very briskly till after three. The admiral and

his two seconds, Mr. Churchil and Mr. Aylmer, had all these ships to

deal with. The fog was so thick about four that the enemy could not be

seen; and, as soon as it cleared up, the French admiral was discovered

towing away northward; upon which the admiral followed him and made the

signal for chasing.

While this passed between the admirals, Sir Cloudesley Shovel got to the

windward of Count Tourville's squadron and engaged them; but the fog

growing darker than before, they were forced to anchor. The weather

clearing up a little, the French followed their flying admiral, and the

English chased the best they could. About eight in the evening it grew

foggy again, and part of the English blue squadron, having fallen in

with the enemy, engaged about half an hour, till, having lost four

ships, they bore away for Conquet road. In this short action

Rear-admiral Carter was killed.

The 20th of May proved so dark and foggy, that it was eight o'clock

before the Dutch discovered the enemy; and then the whole fleet began to

chase, the French crowding away westward. About four in the afternoon

both fleets anchored; about ten they weighed again, and about twelve

Admiral Russel's foretop mast came by the board.

On the 22nd, about seven in the morning, the English fleet continued the

chase with all the success they could desire; about eleven the French

admiral ran ashore and cut her masts away; upon which her two seconds

plied up to her and other ships began to hover about them; and the

English admiral ordered Sir Ralph Delaval, who was in the rear, to keep

with him a strength sufficient to destroy these ships, and to send the

rest, under his command, to join the body of the fleet. In the evening a

great number of the enemy's ships were seen going into La Hogue. On the

23rd the admiral sent in Sir George Rooke with several men-of-war,

fire-ships, and all the boats of the fleet, to destroy these ships in

the bay. On their entering it was perceived that there were thirteen

sail; but they were got up so high that none but the small frigates

could reach them. Sir George, however, was resolved to execute his

orders; and therefore, having manned his boats, he went in person to

encourage the attempt, burnt six of them that night, and the other seven

the next morning, together with a great number of transport ships, and

other vessels laden with ammunition. This remarkable piece of service,

the greatest that happened during the whole affair, was performed under

a prodigious fire from the enemy's battery on shore, and within sight of

the Irish camp, with the loss only of ten men.

Sir John Ashby, with his own squadron and some Dutch ships, pursued the

rest of the French fleet till they ran through the Race of Alderney,

among such rocks and shoals that our pilots were absolutely against

following them; for which the admiral was censured, though some of the

ablest seamen in England were of opinion that there could not be a more

desperate undertaking than the flight of the French ships through that

passage. Though despair might justify the French in making the attempt,

clearly prudence forbade the English from following them.