|Map part 3: Fall of Limerick|
|Date:||25 Sep. - Dec. 1691|
|Outcome:||Strategic alliance victory|
|Enno Doedes Star|
1 From Campagne du Large to the Fall of Limerick
In the second phase of the siege of Limerick both sides tried to decide the siege by a naval intervention. The French equipped a strong fleet to supply Limerick. The alliance equipped an even stronger fleet to prevent that. While both sides were very concerned about sending a superior force to the theater, both sides would come too late. The small alliance squadron that was present near Limerick therefore determined the outcome of the siege1.
1.2 20 September: the big ships have left
On 18 September the alliance battle fleet had arrived in Portsmouth, and it was clear that the its three-deckers would be laid up. This changed the whole context of the naval campaign. On both sides the percentage of three-deckers was about 25%. Somewhat higher in the British, and somewhat lower in the Dutch fleet. The power ratio between the fleets therefore returned to what it had been before the French laid up their heavy ships.
1.3 Both fleets would sail to Ireland
All this meant that it was time for the French to send a convoy to save Limerick. What is not known is whether the French naval authorities had fundamental objections to sending three-deckers to Ireland, but they did have a kind of template for a convoy to Ireland. It was to count a few dozen ships of the line, but none of them heavier than a third rate, and sailed early or late in the year. It kind of explains the French not taking action while the alliance three-deckers were at sea. In the end a fleet with about 20 ships of the line would sail under Châteaurenault.
The alliance was bent on preventing a French convoy from saving Limerick. They prepared to send a superior fleet of 34 ships of the line under VA Ralph Delaval. It was to await a French convoy bound for Limerick and to destroy it. A secondary task was to see to the safety of the small alliance squadron that had been blocking the Shannon since early August. It consisted of 5 small ships of the line and some frigates and burners under Captain Coal. It was likely to be destroyed if the French convoy sailed up the Shannon, but it prevented the French from just sending some frigates.
1.4 The siege progresses
Meanwhile the siege would make unexpected progress. Soon the besiegers crossed to the north bank of the Shannon. On 3 October the defenders unexpectedly began to capitulate. The French convoy would come too late.
2 Alliance Strategy
|Fleet planned for Ireland|
|3||Wakende Kraen (M)||76||De Liefde|
|3||Hollandia(A)||72||A.F. van Zijl||10 December in Holland|
|3||Gelderland (A)||72||Graef van Nassau||10 December in Holland|
|3||Pr. Casimir (F)||70||Van der Lit|
|3||Waesdorp (F)||66||VA Enno Doedes Star|
|3||Leyden (A)||64||P.C. Decker|
|3||Maegt van Dordt (M)||64||Van der Kolck|
|3||Zierickzee (Z)||60||RA Evertsz||4 Dec in Vlissingen under Mosselman|
|3||Schieland (M)||58||Van Regteren|
|4||Goes (Z)||50||Barent Martensz|
|4||Nimwegen (A)||50||Graef van Benthem||To the UP with Callenburg on 28 Dec. AC 3 Jan. 1691|
|Dutch list also in OHC 9 October 1691 details added from other sources.|
|Smaller ships planned for Ireland|
|Bu. Berg Aetna||Jan Mattijsse|
|Bu. Vesuvius (A)||G. du Pon|
|Bu. De Son||Arend Vinck|
2.1 Delaval's orders
In late September Russel gave Ralph Delaval orders for the rest of the campaign. These are found in Burchett p 105, referred by Finch (p 265). Delaval's orders give a good insight in the alliance thoughts about the campaign, Burchett's rendering is cited here:
In the first place he (Delaval) was ordered to take under his command the English and Dutch ships mentioned in an annexed list (the tables for Ireland on this page), and to send such of them as were first ready, to the appointed station between 20 and 30 leagues SW of Cape Clear, to which he was to follow with the rest as soon as 't was possible.
There he was to cruise in such manner as he should judge most proper, to protect the trade, and prevent the town of Limerick being succoured by the French, which it was reported that they intended to do with 20 ships of war under command of Monsieur Châteaurenault.
He was cautioned to have a particular regard to the safety of the squadron that had for some time been employed under command of Captain Coal in the Shannon, and ordered to bring them thence at his return home, if not otherwise disposed of by the Lords of the Admiralty.
But not withstanding these orders pointed out a particular station, if (from any intelligence of the enemy's proceedings) he should judge it for the service to alter the same, it was entirely left to his discretion; and the time limited for his cruise was the 30th of the present month, when he was to return to Spithead, and to send the several ships to their respective places assigned for their being refitted as, if he received not orders on the contrary before.
To these instructions her majesty in council was pleased to direct the following particulars should be added (Burchett probably meant that the following orders were given at a later time), viz.
1. That he should continue on the station till the 15/25th of October unless he received other orders, or that he did sooner hear of the surrender of Limerick.
2. That he should not recall the ships from the Shannon, without the consent of the Lieutenant General (Ginkel)
2.2 Alliance strategy
Delaval's orders give a clear insight in the alliance strategy for the autumn of 1691. A battle fleet of 34 ships of the was to cruise south of Ireland, and thereby to achieve two objectives: 1) Covering merchant shipping in the Channel and 2) Preventing a French battle fleet from reaching Limerick. The alliance squadron under Captain Coal was to keep Limerick isolated, and to defeat smaller attempts to supply Limerick. It was expected that this would lead to the conquest of Limerick and thus the whole of Ireland.
Obviously, the alliance governments were aware that they had to combine army and navy efforts. Ginkel had communicated that the squadron under Captain Coal was essential for a successful siege of Limerick. From a strictly naval point of view however, retaining the squadron on the Shannon meant exposing it to almost certain destruction if a French fleet arrived. Expressly forbidding Delaval from retreating the squadron without Ginkel's consent was an extraordinary order, but it showed how well the alliance understood the situation.
A smaller fleet of 24 ships of the line was set apart and planned for Cadiz. Part of it would sail in the Channel, but nothing would come of such an expedition before the end of the year.
2.3 French strategy
|French Fleet planned for Ireland 21 September 1691|
|Content||68||Comte de Relingue|
|Brilliant||64||Chev. de Combes|
|Assuré||64||Chev. de Montbron|
|Bourbon||62||D'Alligre Saint Lié|
|Courtisan||64||Cobert de Saint Mar|
|Saint Michel||60||Chev. de Villars|
|Fendant||56||De la Vigne Trellebois|
|Fort||60||Chev. de la Rongère|
|Diamant||60||Chev. de Feuquière|
After the news of Aughrim Pontchartrain gave Châteaurenault his first orders to escort a convoy to Ireland. There is a list of ships for Châteaurenault dated 20 August 1691 (not the table here), and there is a memo 'Memoire touchant les precautions a prendre pour secourir l'Irlande' dated August 1691. The Crisis of French seapower, 1688-1697 has a reference to these. Simms has references to letters from Brest (and?) by Fumeron that on 24 August or 3 October the convoy could not sail before 5 or 15 September.
Crisis of French seapower, 1688-1697 had that Pontchartrain ordered Châteaurenault south on 27 August to attack the Spanish silver fleet. Next that Pontchartain then reverted to his original idea of supplying Limerick and ordered Châteaurenault to sail as soon as possible once the allied fleet was in port. It could be that talk of the alliance only blockading Limerick (cf. previous chapter) had induced this wavering.
Indeed a French fleet would be present near Cadiz in late October. It would be interesting to investigate whether this negatively affected the succours for Ireland.
The French wanted to send a big convoy with a strong escort and many supplies, but this of course took some time, and led to all kinds of delays in fitting out ships and collecting supplies. That was to be expected, but in such case a change of plan was disastrous. By 21 September there was at least a list (cf. table) of ships for Ireland, found in Le Maréchal De Château Renault (1637-1716).
3 Autumn Fleets 25 September
3.1 Delaval in Portsmouth
By 25 September VA Ralph Delaval had put his flag on the Berwick(70), he was to go out with a fleet of Dutch and English men of war LG 14 September 1691. Delaval's fleet was said to count 30 warships and a number of burners OHC 2 October 1691 For the Dutch ships remaining at sea there is a list of ships for Ireland, and a list for Cadiz (cf. table for Callenburg's fleet below). The conclusion is that the Dutch indeed intended to keep almost all their ships of the third rate and less at sea. The ships to Ireland were expected to stay in Ireland till 25 October, after which they would escort the ships that had arrived in Ireland from Barbados and elswhere (cf. Siege of Limerick part 1) to England OHC 9 October 1691.
On 29 September Delaval sailed from Portsmouth (Spithead) to Ireland, but had to return the same day due to contrary winds OHC 9 October 1691. By 5 October Delaval was still held back in St. Helens by contrary winds AC 11 October 1691.
3.2 French preparations to save Limerick
By 2 October the Comte de Sourdis had been nominated to succeed St. Ruth if Limerick would hold out till the end of the campaign. From Nantes many supplies, weapons and ammunition were transported to Belle-Isle to be loaded in the convoy OHC 6 October 1691
By 5 October it was clear that Nesmond would command a squadron to the West Indies. It would have 6 ships of 44-56, 4 frigates of 18-26, and 4 of the ships that had been captured from the English Barbados convoy earlier. Merchant ships from St. Malo, Havre, Rochelle and other places that wanted to go to the Caribbean were noted to sail with this squadron AC 11 October 1691. By 9 October Tourville was daily expected to arrive at court OHC 13 October 1691
3.3 The alliance batters Limerick
On 25 September Sligo surrendered. By then the alliance had made a very large breach in the English town of Limerick. Fires had burned two stores of biscuit and one store of brandy, leading the Irish to move their stores to the Irish town. The Jacobite horse was still on the road from Limerick to Killaloe, north of the Shannon, and defending the passages.
3.4 The alliance crosses the Shannon
In order to really besiege Limerick, the alliance had to take the north bank of the Shannon. Ginkel made a ruse by abandoning some points adn retreating some guns. Feigning that he wanted to break up the siege. On 26 September the Royal Dragoons with a detachment then suddenly passed the Shannon. Brigadier Clifford with 4 dragoon regiments attempted to stop them on foot. They were routed with the loss of all their equipment and 2 guns. The alliance engineers then made a pontoon bridge to enable easy crossing of the Shannon.
On 27 September Captain Taaff deserted to the alliance. He reported there were about 6,000 fooot left in the town, badly clad, and with only about 10 days of bread left. The alliance therefore expected to take Limerick soon LG 24 September 1691.
3.5 Slaughter at Thomond bridge
|Picture of the old Thomond Bridge|
After the alliance cavalry had forced the Shannon, the Irish cavalry retreated into the mountains. Ginkel then ordered the rest of his cavalry and dragoons over the Shannon into County Clare. These were to be followed by 13 regiments of foot, a force the Jacobites could not stand up to in battle. On 2 October Ginkel himself passed the Shannon. He marched west till he came to the fort that covered Thomond Bridge, a bridge on the west side of the English town.
Ginkel attacked the fortress at 4 PM, and the Jacobites sent two large detachements to help the fortress. All were beaten, and fled back to the town. In the confusion the governor had the bridge drawn up to prevent the alliance from entering together with those they pursued. This left many defenders exposed, and in the slaughter about 600 were killed and 300 taken prisoner. It also meant that Limerick was completely encircled.
3.6 Limerick unexpectedly surrenders
All this caused that on 23 September / 3 October Limerick began to capitulate LG 1 October 1691 On 3 / 13 October the articles for the surrender of Limerick and all other posts the Jacobites still held in Ireland were signed, and a gate of the Irish town delivered to the alliance LG 12 October 1691
The surrender was unexpected. The town still had a large garrison, and Ginckel obviously did not think the present breaches in the wall enough for a successful assault. Some think that morale collapsed after Thomond Bridge e.g. Sieges of Limerick has:
This latest disaster had a profound influence on the morale of the garrison. Relations between the Irish and French officers, never particularly harmonious, were further strained due to the fact that it was a French major who had raised the drawbridge. That night a council of war was held at which it was decided to call for a truce and look for terms from Ginkel. Though further resistance was certainly possible, the events of that day, and of the previous week, had left the garrison with little enthusiasm for continuing the fight. They had held out for over a month, but now, completely cut off from the surrounding countryside, and with no sign of further help arriving from France, a prolongation of the siege must have seemed pointless. And so on the afternoon of 23 September the Irish drums sounded a parley in both the Irish and English towns, and soon after the guns around Limerick fell silent.
4 Past Limerick 14 October
4.1 Past Limerick
The surrender of Limerick on 13 October 1691 had put an end to Jacobite Ireland. A very professional alliance army of about 25,000 men had conquered all the major population centres and strong holds, and forced its adversaries from the island. Of course the French could try to ignite a new war in Ireland, but that would require simultaneously landing thousands of French troops, quickly capturing a good harbour, and fighting the alliance fleet any time it dared to approach such a harbour. For starters, it seems unlikely that the French would have been able to gather the amount of transports needed to transport the required number of troops.
4.2 Alliance Fleet actions
On 16 October Delaval again sailed from Portsmouth to Ireland, but by then the surrender of Limerick was known, and it was thought he would only collect the West Indies ships from Kinsale OHC 30 October 1691. But, he was again drive back by contrary winds.
On 9/19 October Delaval finally sailed westward from Portsmouth. On 12/22 October he arrived in Weymouth (halfway) LG 12 October 1691 On 19/29 October Delaval sailed out of Torbay and on the 30th passed Plymouth, with all ships to the west following him LG 22 October 1691. On 30 October in the evening Delaval passed Land's End OHC 13 November 1691. On 4 November the Centurion, Plymouth and Adventure, with 2 transports of ammunition entered Kinsale, having left Delaval about 25 leagues from there LG 5 November 1691. Delaval then returned due to heavy thunderstorms (that would also hit Chateau-Renault and Callenburg), on 9/19 November Delaval and his squadron anchored in Spithead (Portsmouth) LG 9 November 1691.
The squadron of Enno Doedes Star was spotted on 30 October near Cape Lizard. As 40 sail, of which 20 Dutch and English warships under VA Enno Doedes Star. Probably this was just Delaval's fleet named as Star's fleet. The observation was made by Captain Jan Hartman of the Koning David. Accompanied by some ships to the West Indies, he had left Plymouth on 29 October. On the 30th he met Star's squadron, which he left on the 31st. On 5 November he ran into a three-day storm at about the same height he was on in the Storm of Galicia in 1690. On 9 November 6 ships to Lisbon and Setubal left the convoy. On 16 November the convoy saw 5 ships behind them. Perhaps the '4 warships and 2 frigates cruising near Cape St. Vincent' On 23 November he arrived in Cadiz OHC 1 January 1691.
4.3 Callenburg's squadron
|Dutch squadron planned for Cadiz under VA Callenburg|
|Groot Frisia (F)||74||Hidde de Vries||To the UP with Callenburg on 28 Dec. AC 3 Jan. 1691|
|Noord Holland (N)||72||De Jong|
|Premier Noble (Z)||72||A. de Boer|
|Amsterdam (A)||64||Cornels van der Saen|
|Haarlem (A)||64||A. Manard|
|Ripperda (A)||50||H. Lijnslager|
|Schiedam (M)||50||Jacob van der Goes|
|Bu. Mercurius (N)||Marten Dick|
|Bu. 6 gebroeders||Comm. de Jong|
|List from OHC 9 October 1691 details added from other sources.|
On 21/31 October Callenburg's squadron sailed from Spithhead to the west LG 22 October 1691. On 2 November Callenburg entered Plymouth, with c. 12 warships and 2 burners OHC 13 November 1691, and on 3-4 November he sailed out again LG 26 October 1691. He did not reach his destination, because on 11 December 10 Dutch warships under Callenburg came to St. Helens from the west LG 3 December 1691.
4.4 West Indies fleet escorted to the Channel
On Monday 3 December the West Indies fleet of about 200 ships left Kinsale with the Plymouth and 11 other warships LG 30 November 1691. Probably the West Indies fleet and the Virginia fleet combined. On 5 December 8 ships bound for Falmouth left the convoy and arrived there on 9 December. On 10 December the main fleet continued, but several that belonged to Plymouth left it and arrived in Plymouth. These were: the Good Intend, Nantwich, Boneta, Salamander and America OHC 20 December 1691. Some others, and the Centurion arrived the next day. On 11 December the rest of the West Indies fleet and 12 escorts arrived in The Downs LG 3 December 1691.
4.5 The Dutch East Indies fleet comes in
On 26 July Dutch East Indies fleet had left Cape Town for the United Provinces. Of the Faem, Crabbe, Goudestein, Blois, Bantam, China and Emeland OHC 8 November 1691, six (Bantam, China, Blois, Goudesteyn) from Ceylon, Faem and Crab from Bengal OHC 11 December 1691) together with two escorts and a galiot? that had picked them up at the Cape, were in Portsmouth on 31 October LG 22 October 1691. Later the Emeland from Bengal proved not to be part of the six OHC 10 November 1691 On 2 December these ships would sail from Portsmouth with a Dutch VA and several ships of war LG 23 November 1691. On 4 and 5 december these 6 ships arrived in diverse ports in Holland OHC 8 December 1691
The Langewijck (for Delft) and the Nierop (for Rotterdam) came from the Cape straight to Goeree on 6 November and then Hellevoetsluis LG 2 November 1691, having left Batavia on 28 March OHC 8 November 1691. The Schaepsherder seemed to belong to these two, but had not yet arrived OHC 10 November 1691. The Schaapsherder later turned out to have arrived in Norway OHC 19 July 1691
4.6 Alliance strategy replanned
The plans for Dutch VA Star going to Ireland and VA Callenburg going to Cadiz (cf. the tables above) would be changed. After much time had been lost due to contrary winds, the expedition to Cadiz was replanned. Delaval would lead it, and in order to make this acceptable the Dutch part would be led by a Rear Admiral, in this case Evertsen. By 28 December it was thought that the Cadiz fleet had left Portsmouth AC 3 January 1691, but in the end Delaval and the Dutch Setubal fleet of 60 ships would leave Portsmouth on 10 January 1692 LG 31 December 1691
4.7 French Fleet actions
|Contents of the French convoy|
|Maréchaux des Logis||12|
|Balots de Mousquets||214|
|Balots de Fusils||242|
|Pierres à fusil||20,000|
|Quaisses à Moulins à bras||9|
|Souflet, & Enclume||1|
|Plomb en tables||3,000|
|Plomb en Saumons||17,104|
|Tonneaux de blé, &c.||400|
The Mercure Galant for October had that for a long time Chateau-Renault had been held back by contrary winds. On 22 October he was ready to sail and only waiting for the tide2. According to Gu�rin he actually sailed on 24 October. There is a partial list of the content of this convoy. The escort would more or less be that in the table above for 21 September, but I would not be surprised if part of it had sailed for the Mediterranean.
On 16 October a French Advice ship of 4 guns and 40 men left Brest. It was to scout ahead for the 30 French escorts. Whether the French fleet was in Torbay or Plymouth, and whether they would have to fight or not. The vessel was captured near Ouessant by the Dutch privateer Jacoba, and brought to an English harbor OHC 3 November 1691. This was probably the French 'Snauw' of 4 guns and 4 Swivels captured by the Zeeland Jacoba near Ouessant. This also confirmed that 20 French warships had left Brest for the Straigths OHC 3 November 1691
By 8/18 October there was a message in (already taken) Limerick that a fleet of 33 warships and a number of transports was in Dingle Bay LG 26 October 1691 By 14/24 October there was a message in Dublin that a fleet of French warships and transports with supplies and ammunition had come into the bay of Dingle on the coast of Kerry LG 19 October 1691. These reports were false (cf. above & below).
On 26 October 2 fishing ships arrived in Brest. They had left the coast of Ireland and were then pursued for 40 miles by 4 vessels and 2 barques. They brought the confirmation of the fall of Limerick. They believed that 27 warships and 3 frigates were cruising before the Shannon, but had no further particulars. Therefore the French waited with sending Chateaurenault a message to return OHC 8 November 1691. The 2 November letters from Brest had 'many absurdities' like that Chateau-Renault had been near the Shannon, where he had found only 9 English warships and two frigates. That he would transport the Irish troops to France, that he wanted the alliance to hand him the food required for the crossing etc. etc. This was news that was not believed in Brest OHC 15 November 1691
On 2 November in Dublin the reports about Dingle were said to have been false, but that by then 25 warships and 25 transports were on the coast of Kerry. According to Guérin the French fleet arrived in the Shannon on 30 October. The French commander in Limerick had conferred with Tollemache. They agreed that the French fleet could come up the Shannon, and that transports would be used to evacuate the remaining French and the Irish that wanted to go with them to France LG 2 November 1691. The French fleet took the Frigate Wolf and a vessel with beer, but let them when it understood about the agreement OHC 22 November 1691
About 1,500 Irish boarded alliance ships in Cork. The Jacobites still in Limerick boarded the French transports on 11 November LG 9 November 1691 One of the transport his a rock, and of the 400 on board about 100 drowned. On 6/16 November the French fleet left, consisting of 18 warships, 6 burners and 20 transports. Their cargo was said to have been 30,000 arms, many provisions and wine and brandy for sale LG 26 November 1691.
By 7 December Versailles was worried for Chateau-Renault's squadron, when 2 privateers came to Brest with reports of many ships separated by bad weather, and battling against contrary winds. They had sent Demericourt with 6 ships to Camaret and to meet Chateau-Renault OHC 13 December 1691. By 14 December the English captains that had accompanied Chateau-Renault to Brest were about to leave. By then there were 4 warships and 2 frigates cruising near Cape St. Vincent and St Jean de Luz, and 3 frigates of 24 were sent to reinforce these AC 27 December 1691
4.8 Some French merchant shipping
It seems as though the French had waited for the alliance fleet to retire before recommencing shipping on their own coast.
On 3 November letters from Cowes (Isle of Wight) had that Holland and Zeeland privateers had attacked a French fleet of 3 escorts OHC 17 November 1691 and 27 ships sailing from Dieppe to Calais and Dunkirk with wine, brandy and salt. They had taken 8 ships and brought them to Cowes 13 November 1691. On 8 November the Oostende privateers Bestenbuttel jr., Ambrosius and Beyeren entered their home port with 2 prizes, the total for Oostende ships being 7 OHC 15 November 1691. Later an express from the Spanish Netherlands Admiral Duke of Holsteyn brought that his ship had taken 4 prizes with wine brandy and other cargo after cruising for 4 days OHC 15 November 1691. Later is was said that Jan Charles, captain of the Duke of Holsteyn had retaken 4 ships with potash and things from the north OHC 17 November 1691. From Vlissingen 14 French ships with brandy and 1 with sugar were reported as brought in OHC 17 November 1691.
Letters from London on 13 November had that a frigate had taken a merchant ship out of a fleet 4 warships and 30 merchants sailing from Le Havre to Portugal OHC 20 November 1691
From London on 18 December that in the past week about 20 French merchant ships had been brought to Wight by storms. One of 200 tons and 16 guns was beached. Three others were taken by Lord Danby's (Captain of the Resolution) sloop.
Letters from Dunkirk of 21 December had that a convoy from Camaret had arrived in Dieppe and Le Havre, while loosing some ships to Zeeland privateers. Also that on 17 December some merchants and escorting frigates had left Dunkirk for Brest AC 27 December 1691
5 Results and Analysis
The results of the final phase of the 1691 campaign were:
- The overwhelming majority of the alliance fleet merchant fleets from overseas arrived safely during the Limerick campaign.
- The French merchant fleets seem to have waited till the very end of the campaign before resuming shipping, and then faced relatively severe losses.
- The battle fleets did not loss ships in figthing
- Limerick was conquered by the alliance, and thereby Ireland
- About 10,000-15,000 Irish troops swelled the ranks of the French army
- Most of Ginkel's army became available for war on the continent.
5.2 Contrary winds
The wind played a big role in this last phase of the campaign. It blew from the west for weeks. Delaval first tried to sail west from Portsmouth on 29 September, but he was beaten back repeatedly. On 22 October (the day that Chateau-Renault finally sailed) Delaval had come no further than Weymouth, and it was 30 October when he passed Plymouth. It's therefore more than likely that Châteaurenault would have been at Limerick earlier if the winds had been more favourable, but then he would probably have met Delaval's superior fleet.
So the wind caused that both battle fleets arrived on the scene too late. The result was that the small squadron of Captain Cole was all by itself able to continue to block the Shannon and to enable merchant ships to supply the besiegers. This made that it decided the siege.
5.3 French tardiness
So the wind played a big role in the loss of Limerick, but then the question remains why the French did not sail at an earlier date, when the wind wouldn't have bothered them. Say right after they heard of Russel running into a storm? What would have been required?
The needs of the defenders consisted above all in gunpowder and weapons. Sending some ships with a few hundred barrels of gun powder and some weapons would have gone a long way to prop up the defense and its morale. Sending even a few companies of French troops would also have boosted morale. All this was readily available. What the French indeed send was much more than was immediately required.
The French knew that any convoy would have to overcome the squadron of Captain Coal. They knew a published strength of 8 warships and 2 burners, and from the name of its commander, the French could have deduced that the warships were most probably only 4th rates. Therefore a sound strategy would have been to send a small supply fleet of about a dozen warships including some small third rates. This would probably have lifted the siege.
There are three plausible reasons why the French did not opt for sending a smaller convoy at an earlier date. 1) The French thought Captain Coal's squadron much stronger than it was. Cf. that the 2 November letters from Brest had 'many absurdities' like that Chateau-Renault had found only 9 English warships and two frigates on the Shannon. 2) The French took there time because they thought it made more sense to send a stronger and better convoy at a somewhat later time. This is not that unlikely, but when they were ready, they were further delayed by contrary winds. 3) The French were afraid to risk ships.
5.4 Analysis of the campaign
From a purely naval perspective the results of the whole 1691 campaign were quite OK for France. If we count ships losses alone, we could say that because of the loss of 3 big alliance ships in the September storm, the overall advantage was with the French. Moving away from simply counting warship losses it's often claimed that French strategy was very successful because its fleet had bound the alliance fleet, and so created the opportunity for commerce raiding.
Jean Bart indeed wreaked havoc in the North sea after he escaped from Dunkirk, but in this respect one also has to consider that (apart from writing biographies) the Zealand privateers were probably just as successful as the French. However, counting the numbers of captured merchant ships is not a very reliable way to measure the success of commerce raiding. What is important is the overall picture of merchant shipping on both sides, i.e. whether the available merchant ships dared to sail and the percentage of these that did get to their destination.
With the French battle fleet not getting east of Brest, and Dunkirk blockaded, it seems that French trade came to a standstill in the Channel. Only in the winter we see some small convoys attempting to sail3. On the alliance side merchant shipping in the Channel faced little trouble. Merchants were dependant on escorts, and this caused delays, but once present they rarely came under attack.
5.5 The strategic value of Ireland
The conquest of Ireland made alliance merchant shipping to England and the United Provinces a lot safer. From a direct tally of convoys captured before and after this campaign this is not obvious. It becomes clear if one considers how most ships were lost to privateers. Most of the time losses were incurred when bad weather or an attack by superior forces had scattered a convoy. Individual ships that could not find shelter in a port where then easily captured by small privateers. In turn these often sailed fast enough to escape to nearby ports when enemy warships turned up. In 1691 lots of Irish ports became safe havens for alliance merchant shipping and became hostile to French privateers.
Direct sources about the events are the London Gazette, and Dutch newspapers, especially the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant (OHC), and Amsterdamsche Courant (AC). For the events near Ireland, the LG is a better (because more direct) source, but the Dutch newspapers had far more space for naval affairs. Therefore they often provide details that have been left out in the LG.
The Gazette de France did not have that much news about the events. It did not have much correspondents in the area, and the few places (Limerick, Galway) that could provide it with news were soon blocked by the alliance. It therefore copied news from the English and Dutch papers. (These were read in Versailles). It could have provided news about the French fleet in Brest, but of course Versailles had an interest in keeping naval preparations a secret.
Le Maréchal De Château Renault (1637-1716) has the OOB for Châteaurenault's squadron.
Burchett wrote extensively about the 1691 campaign in Memoirs of transactions at sea by Josiah Burchett, printed 1703.
The Crisis of French seapower, 1688-1697 by Geoffrey Symcox has references to Pontchartrain's orders for Châteaurenault.
Simms The surrender of Limerick 1691 about the delay in France sending aid to Limerick.
The Manuscripts of Allan George Finch have a lot about the 1691 campaign.
Collection of articles about Limerick
On the Dutch side De Jonge does not pay much attention.
|1) The fact that it sounds stupid is reason to mention it here: The Siege of Limerick was decided by some very small war ships. This was not exceptional. The siege of Londonderry also depended on small ships, and I'll probably come up with more examples. It's almost as if both parties were not willing to risk ships to supply Ireland.|
|2) Mercure Galant for October 1691 page 328.|
|3) It cost France a lot of money that the war closed the naval (cheap) route to ship goods from the south of France to the north and v.v. Imagine that you have to transport tons / barrels of wine by horse and wagon from Bordeaux to Paris over terrible roads. It would take weeks, and cost salary for the drivers, horse fodder etc. only to transport a few barrels. In the AC 8 Nov 1692 I found a reference to such an overland convoy with wine and brandy from Le Havre to Dunkirk.|