1691: The Smyrna fleet reaches England

Smyrna fleet
Campagne du large Smyrna fleet arrives in Kinsale 1691
Map part 1: Arrival of the Smyrna Fleet
Date:May - July 1691
Outcome:Alliance Advantage
United Provinces

1 1691: Between Beachy Head and Barfleur

1.1 Smyrna fleet

Reading about the decisive battles of Beachy Head (1690) and Barfleur / La Hogue (1692), one might wonder what happened in between. The naval campaign of 1691 is often referred to as the Campagne du Large. The French evaded battle by cruising the high seas (Large) west of Bretagne for three months, waging a campaign outside of the English Channel.

In fact the 1691 campaign has three phases: The struggle for the Smyrna fleet (this page), was about the alliance trying to secure the arrival of this merchant fleet. The real Campagne du Large was about an attempt by the alliance to bring the French to battle and the French evading to open sea. The last phase was about the alliance keeping the seas late in the season and the French fleet's failure to supply Limerick.

1.2 The Smyrna fleet

A reference to a 'Smyrna fleet' would be very clear to seventeenth century Europeans. For our readers some explanation is in order. A 'Smyrna fleet' was a fleet of merchant ships named for sailing/trading with the city of Smyrna (nowadays Izmir) in the Turkish empire. Ships trading with Iskendrun and Alexandria could join this fleet on most of its trip. The significance of a fleet being a 'Smyrna fleet' was in its individual ships carrying a much richer cargo than a ship trading in Europe. Ships from Iskendrun often carried goods that were brought over land from the Indies.

These were times of extreme danger at sea, but it did not mean that all ships required the same level of protection. About one month before the Smyrna fleet would sail, a fleet had sailed from Cadiz to Oostende, escorted by only 3 warships. The Smyrna fleet would have 14, and would bring out both the French and the Anglo-Dutch main battle fleet.

2 Geography of the Channel

2.1 Prevailing winds

In the English Channel the winds tend to blow from the South West. If one considers only the wind that is useful for sailing, the picture is even more pronounced. While most of the wind from the southwest makes good sailing weather, much of the northern and eastern winds are only up to 3 Beaufort. All this is shown in the wind roses for the climate of South West England (bottom of the page). In a wind rose the length of each spoke represent how often the wind blows from that direction. In this case the colors denote the force of the wind.

2.2 The tides

The English Channel has some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world. Most countries have a tidal range of 1.5m, but the Channel regularly nears 5 or 6 m. This is caused by the English Channel being a funnel that faces the Gulf Stream. Because the water has nowhere else to go it creates the tidal range, and very powerful tidal currents that are unknown in most other places of the world. These currents are especially strong in the central part of the Channel, where they can reach 3-4 knots. In other parts of the Channel they can be up to two knots.

In the seventeenth century the maximum speed of a sailing ship was probably in the range of 8 knots if it sailed before a fair wind. On average the speed of an East Indies ship did not even reach 3 knots. All this makes it understandable that in case of little wind, or the wind not blowing from the desired direction, the tidal current could annull any attempt to move forward, but could also make a ship move against the wind. The logical consequence was that in case of too little wind, ships would let themselves be moved my the tide if it went in the desired direction, and then anchor to await the next tide.

2.3 Prevailing current

The net effect of the Gulf Stream and other geographical facts is that there is a net current from the English Channel to the North Sea. I did not research this, but it can only add to the funnel effect of the Channel.

2.4 Protected Harbors

Falmouth, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Weymouth etc.: the list of English channel ports with good harbors is long. In order to be a refuge for ships, most of them did however require some fortification. Henry VIII provided this by building the device forts, a series of artillery fortifications. Many of these could be defeated by a bombarding fleet and landing party, but that was hardly relevant for a fleeing ship that was pursued by some other ships. This was a very significant advantage for the alliance in battle. In case their fleet was defeated, they could expect that many of their damaged ships could find refuge somewhere.

On the French side of the English Channel there are far fewer harbors: Brest, Saint-Malo, Cherbourg, Honfleur, Le Havre, Dieppe, Boulogne, Calais. Of these Brest and Saint-Malo were good and fortified. Cherbourg was a good harbour, but not fortified. Honfleur had a good harbour with tidal basin, but was not fortified. Le Havre was fortified, but heavy warships had to unload their guns to reach it. Dieppe was a good harbour but hardly fortified. Boulogne-sur-Mer was not a good harbour. Calais was very well fortified, but not a good harbour. All this was a potential problem for the French if they were defeated in battle: their damaged ships would generally not be able to find refuge.

2.5 Conclusions on Geography

All in all geography gave the alliance a distinct advantage while fighting in the English Channel. They had more good harbours, these harbours were safer, and the prevailing winds kind of guaranteed that these could easily be reached. Part of this geographical advantage was man-made. The English had fortified their harbors. The French had fortified some harbors, but these investments could hardly be compared to the investments they made in the Low Countries. All this made it hazardous for the French to fight in the English Channel.

3 Tourville's Orders

3.1 The French Navy subject to the Finance minister

For Tourville there was at least one big difference between the 1690 campaign and the 1691 campaign. In November 1690 Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay died. He was succeeded by Louis Phélypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain. Phélypeaux was also the Contrôleur général des finances, and as such responsible for financing France. The merits of Seignelay and Phélypeaux are disputed. However, there can be little doubt that Seignelay's prime interest was a strong French Navy, while Phélypeaux considered it as one of the many prioriteis of Versailles. Apart from that, Seignelay's long stay as naval secretary probably meant that he had picked up some understanding of naval affairs. To the contrary the fresh Phélypeaux probably lacked a proper understanding of naval affairs.

3.2 Transcript of Tourville's orders

The consequences of the appointment of Phélypeaux are summarized in the orders Tourville got for the campaign. These are dated 26 May 1691 are printed in Sue's work. It's titled 'Instruction pour le sieur comte de Tourville, vice-amiral de France, commandant l'armée navale du roi. A Marly, le 26 mai 1691. I made a rough translation:

I The count of Tourville has been informed of the number of ships that his majesty has armed in his ports for his navy. He will see more details in the attached list, that is the names and power of the ships as well as the officers his majesty has chosen to command them.
II The measures the enemies have taken to speed up their armament will oblige Tourville, to do anything in his power to ready the ships that still require some work when he receives this instruction. His majesty commands him to end any difficulties that the captains may raise and that can cause delay.
III His Majesty has given Tourville orders to make any ships still in Brest sail to Belle-Île-en-Mer. He has sent the same orders to all other ports, so he hopes that his navy will be concentrated there and ready for action at the end of the month.
IV His Majesty requires that as soon as the fleet is assembled, it sails. It will then post itself at the entrance of the Channel, so that no ship can enter or leave it without falling in the power of his majesty's ships.
V His Majesty notifies Tourville for that matter that the English and Dutch Smyrna fleet have left Livorno on 7 April, and have arrived before Alicante on 7 May. These can be at the entrance of the Channel in early June. It's paramount in his majesty's interest that Tourville is able to attack these fleets. And, his majesty insists to make it clear that if Tourville captures this fleet, estimated at 30,000,000, he does a greater service to the execution of his majesty's plans, than when he gains a second victory over the enemy fleet.
VI Apart from this fleet, the capture of which will ruin the most important trade of the enemies, there will be other fleets in the Channel this summer. Tourville can capture these without incurring any risk to his majesty's ships.
VII However important Tourville's tasks are, and however great his application, these do not form the prime objective of his majesty equipping a fleet for this campaign. His majesty want to further explain the ultimate goal of Tourville's actions.
VIII His Majesty has been informed that his enemies have armed all the ships that they could put to sea. He does not doubt that that if their fleets are joined, they will be superior in numbers. His majesty is however also convinced that his ships are superior by the valor of their officers, the quality of the shipmates and the weigth of their artillery. Apart from all this his Majesty does not intend for Tourville to enter the Channel to look for the enemy. He only wants Tourville to cruise at the entrance of the Channel, so he can enter it when ordered.
IX His Majesty's principal designs are to safeguard his coast from landings by his enemies, and to make their preparations useless. He wants Tourville to execute the above manoeuvres and meanwhile wait for news of the enemies' movements.
X In case the enemies sail from the Channel in superior numbers, his Majesy does not want Tourville to attack them. To the contrary, he requires that Tourville evades them while upholding his Majesy's navy's reputation as much as possible. Meanwhile Tourville should profit from the favorable occassions his capabilities and experience can create. His Majesty is certain that at sea there are occassions where the smaller number can become superior to the larger.
Tourville commented on this article by writing back: It's necessary to be informed of the number and power of the enemies' ships. One should not hesitate to attack them if their forces outnumber ours by only a small number, by 6, 7 up to 8. As I had the honor of telling your Majesty earlier: As soon as the two fleets have neared each other and are capable to reconnoiter each other, it is impossible to avoid combat. If an enemy fleet wants to attack and has the advantage of the wind and the season makes that the night takes only 3-4 hours and if the winds do not facilitate a separation, evading combat is hardly possible. The only option is to abandon all slow sailing vessels, and that will intimidate the sailors in such way that one can hardly bring them to battle ever again. All staff officers and experienced sailors agree on this fact, and that the best option for such a case is to await the enemy and fight.
XI However, in case the enemies sail from the Channel with a number of ships less or equal to that of his Majesty's fleet, his Majesty want Tourville to attack. That he figths them and tries to draw them to the French shore.
XII If the enemies have exited the Channel and sail to Bourg-Neuf, La Rochelle or Bordeaux, his Majesty wants Tourville to follow them. He should attack without delay when numbers are about equal. His majesty leaves it up to Tourville to take the necessary measures in such a case.
XIII If the enemies after exiting the Channel, sail to Ireland, his Majesty wants Tourville to follow them. If they then enter the Galway river or the Limerick river he wants Tourville to attack them just like he has been ordered in the previous article regarding an attack on the French coast. (Note that both Galway and Limerick still adhered to James II's party at the time.
XIV His Majesty does not think the enemies can do anything other than the above after exiting the Channel. In case their design is to remain in the Channel they might want to land somewhere, or to attack some town. If this is west of Cape La Hogue, his Majesty wants Tourville to attack them whatever their numbers. In case it happens between Cape La Hogue and Dunkirk he wants Tourville to wait for orders. It seems very unlikely that they can execute such an attack with enough ships, and still have enough to face Tourville. Furthermore there are no extra troops on the enemy ships, and any such attack will reduce their crews, which makes it unlikely that they can put up a strong fight in such a case. Therefore, however many ships the enemy may have in such a case, it is likely that his majesty's ships will be stronger. In case Tourville is as lucky to gain a victory on the enemies, his Majesty wants him to push it as far as possible. In case the enemies flee, he wants Tourville to pursue them to their ports.
Here Tourville wrote back: I am convinced that when no extra troops are on the enemies' fleets, they will not execute anything serious in the Channel, except to attract his Majesty's navy to enter it. It is certain that a fleet that comes to combat an other fleet will not make any detachment of its crews. The only thing that I think the enemies, that are very superior in number, can execute is to use some of these to support their bombing vessels that are destined to attack Dieppe. (continues with a remark about either Saint-Malo or Dieppe)
XV In case it happens that no battle is fought till August, the enemies will be weaker because of the number of ill sailors they will inevitable have by that time, knowing they allready have several. In such a case his Majesty considers his ships can probably attempt something against the enemies. He hopes that the health of his sailors will be better than before, because of his care in ensuring that only proper supplies are brought on board. He recommends to Tourville to carefully investigate the main causes of any illness that happens on the fleet, and to give the orders he deems necessary to evade them.
XVI His Majesty informs Tourville that as soon as possible he will make the 7 ships at Dunkirk sail to Brest or Rochefort. Because these ships can join Tourville at the entrance of the Channel, or on the coast of Ireland, in case Tourville has to go there, his Majesty requires Tourville to send these ships signals to recognize each other. He should send them to the commander, and a copy to Desclousseaux. He should also send them to Begon, Gabaret, Louvigny and Patoulet for the vessels they have to send to him while he is at sea.
XVII His Majesty insists that Tourville remains at sea from the moment he sails till the first of September (that is three months). Nevertheless, it's possible that by an accident that his Majesty cannot predict, Tourville is forced to enter a port. In such a case, his Majesty wants it to be the anchorage of Belle-Île-en-Mer, that of Groye or another at the coast, except for Bertheaume or Brest. He forbids Tourville to enter there, except when all his vessels are damaged by combat in such a way that they cannot keep the sea for the rest of the campaign. If however, by September 1 Tourville does not have any other order, his Majesty wants him to sent 5 ships to Brest, 10 to Port Louis and 25 to Rochefort. And his majesty wants Tourville to let him know which ships he wants to send to which port.
To which Tourville wrote back: I will opt for Belle-Île-en-Mer as much as possible, but the port of call depends on the wind and the accidents that happen at sea. In such circumstances it is impossible for me to determine where ships will end up. Some will be forced to enter the Channel, others at Brest, others at Belle-Île-en-Mer and others at La Rochelle. It is more important that the fleet stays together and retreats to the same spot because of the difficuties that can arise from a separation.
Marly 26 May 1691, Louis, and further below Phelipeaux

3.3 Evaluating these orders

On the surface these orders seem quite clear: Cruise for three months at the entrance of the English Channel and try to capture the Smyrna fleets. Do not enter the Channel further than Cape La Hogue without further orders. Attack the enemy if they exit the Channel in equal numbers. Attack the enemy if they attack the French coast west of La Hogue, or the Irish Coast under French control. Protect the French coast.

It all seems to make sense as long as one disregards three facts: The French did not need to count numbers to know they were outnumbered by a few ships. The big unknown was whether it would be by a few ships, or by a few dozen ships, which would be the case if the alliance succeeded in equipping in time. Like Tourville remarked, one had to get close to the enemies to determine their number, and once you are close it's often not possible to evade combat. The third fact is that the primary mission of the alliance fleet was to bring in their Smyrna fleets. It was therefore certain that the alliance fleet would turn up at the entrance of the Channel.

Tourville would most probably have liked to fight the enemy near Brest or south of it. Such a battle would have been fairly low risk, because Tourville would have many opportunities to retreat. However, the most likely outcome of such a battle would not be a big victory. A rather bloody and indecisive affair with a few ships lost on either side was far more likely. In such a case Tourville could easily be accused of disobeying orders if the enemy numbered a few ships more, (which could of course only be determined after the battle.) All combined these orders could have no other effect than forcing the French fleet to retreat before the alliance fleet.

My conclusion is that these orders probably achieved what they intended to achieve. Which was to make French naval strategy totally subservient to the army strategy. The navy's goal would be to protect the French coast and to prevent any mishaps at sea from interfering with the land strategy. Low risk (by cruising outside the Channel) attempts to capture merchant shipping were fine, but risking a battle was sincerely discouraged. The only real exception was the case of a landing west of Cape La Hogue, but in such a case hazarding a naval battle would again serve the land strategy, whatever the consequences to the navy.

4 The French Order of Battle

4.1 Sources

Sue has an order of Battle of the French fleet, as he writes it left Brest in June 1691. The Dutch Mercury for 1691 has a subdivision in squadrons, but with the shipnames translated to Dutch. This OOB is also in the OHC of 23 Aug 1691, and therefore definitely seems to be from a later date. The most complete and detailed OOB is in Boismele, which has 73 ships and 21 burners. It is an almost 100% match with the OOB in the Dutch Mercury, but with a subtle differences.

The correct order of Battle is that found in Sue. The main difference between Sue's list and the other two are the Dunkirk ships. Below all ships in Boismele that are also in Sue are preceded with an 'S'. All ships that are in Boismele, but are not in Sue are preceded with a 'D' if they are in the Dunkirk list. It then is a matter of checking Forbin's memoirs. These state he was indeed mounted on the Perle, but that a squadron of heavy ships (like his own ship) was blockaded in Dunkirk and therefore could not take part in the campaign.

To Boismele's list I added the names of the captains of the ships if these were also at Beachy Head. From that it becomes clear that there was not that much difference btween the French Battle fleet for 1690 and that for 1691. We'll get back to this while looking at the alliance fleets. The gun numbers in the Dutch Mercury are generally 4+ lower than those in Boismele. It kind of seems that the Mercury version has the same source as Boismele, but based the number of guns on counting them. Which of course leads to excluding swivel guns.

French OOB on leaving Brest 1691 Vanguard
Ship guns men Captain Cap. at Beachy Headnotes:
S Le Foudroyant84600 De Relingue Bliksemer 86 Launched 1691
S L'Ardent 70420 Ch. d'Amfreville D'Infreville Brandende 66 (Lym)
   Le Fidel 54300 Ch. de Rodes Fourbin Getrouwe 56
S Le Constant 70450 De Pallas Vergenoegde 66 (Lym)*
S Le Grand 86600 Panetier D'Estrées Groote 86
S Le Triomphant78500 Challard Flacourt Heerser 76
S L'Excellent 64375 Rivau Thuet (Lym) Montbron Uitstekende 60
S Le Neptune 50300 Bassiniere (Lym) Fourbin Zeegod 44
S Le Brave 62375 Ch. de Genlis De Champigny Beleefde? 44, lacking on 22 June
S L'Assuré 64400 Montbron (Lym) Ch. de Montbron Verzekerde 60
S Le Dauphin Royal100800Chateaurenault Chateaurenault Kon Dauphin 100
S Le Belliqueux78500 Ch. de Belle FontaineDesfrancs Vechter 76
S Le Fier 80500 Ch. de Rosmadé (Lym)Relingues
S Le Courtisan 64400 Colbert st Marc Pointis Hoveling 60
S Le Vigilant 54373 Ch. de Chateau-RenautChalais Naarstige 50
S Le Précieux 60350 Ch. d'Ervaut Périnet Kostelijke 54
S Le Brillant 64380 Ch. de Combes Beaujeu Blinkende 64
S Le François 52300 B. des Adrets (Lym)D'Ailly Fransman 46
S L'Illustre 76500 De Combes Rosmadek Doorluchtige 76
S Le St Philippe84581Forant Coëtlogon Philippus 80
S Le St Esprit 70400 Belle-Isle H. Geest 76
S Le St Louis 60380 Roque Persin Rognepercin St. Louis 76
S Le Téméraire 62380 Ch. du Salais (Lym)Rivault-Huet Stoute 76
S Le Bon 56360 de Rouvroi Digoine De Goede 54
*Content = vergenoegde
French OOB on leaving Brest 1691 Corps de Bataille
Ship gunsmenCaptain Cap. at Beachy Head notes:
S Le Furieux 60375 Serguigni Desnots Dolle 60
D La Perle 56350 Fourbin (D) N/a Parel 46
S Le Hardi 74330 Montbron Desgout Stoute 50 Monbault (Lym)
S Le Superbe 76420 Cogolin Hoogmoedige 66
S Le Victorieux96800 De Vilette Zegepraalende 96
S Le Terrible 80500 Vaudricourt (Lym) Pannetié Verschrikkelijke 76
S L'Arc en Ciel54350 Quene-Monier St. Maure Regenboog 44
S Le Fort 60375 Ch. de la Rongere (Lym)Harteloire Sterke 50
S L'Arrogant 60375 Ch. des Adrets (Lym) Adrets Beroemer 60
S L'Appolon 62400 Palliers (Lym) Bidemelt Apollo 58
D Le Serieux 62400 Marq. de Blenac (D) Bellefontaine Dunkirk list
S Le Magnifique86600 Coetlogon D'Amfreville Heerlijke 60
S Le Soleil Royal106900Tourville Tourville Kon. Zon 100
S Le Conquérant84600 De la Porte Vilette Overwinnaar 78
S Le Henry 66400 l'Arteloire D'Amblimont Henricus 64
S Le Gaillard 66380 Champigni Lustige 60
S Le Saint Michel60360 Ch. de Villars Villars St. Michiel 66
S L'Aquilon 56350 Beaujets Beauveais Noorde wind 56
D Le Moderat/Modéré56350Devis (D) Gematigde 58
S Le Sage 54350 Ch. de la Guiche (Lym) Wijze 56
S L'Aimable 70400 Magnou (Lym) Ch. de Réals Beminnelijke 56 **
S Le Magnanime 84550 de Flacourt Grootmoedige 80
S La Couronne 76500 St. Hermine Langeron Kroon 76
S Le Ferme 64400 Chevigny (Lym) Vaudricourt Standvastige 60
S Le Sans Pareil60370 Levy (Lym) De la Rongère Onweergadeljke 56
*Commander of this squadron
** In Sue as Estimable
French OOB on leaving Brest 1691 Rear
Ship gunsmenCaptain Cap. at Beachy Head notes:
S Le Fleuron 60360 Mongon (Lym) Chabert Blom 56
   L'Indien 54330 Forville Indiaan 44
S L'Entreprenant 60370 Sevigné (Lym) Seppeville Onderneemer 60, lacking on 22 June
S La Syrène 60400 De la Galissionière Meermin 54, lacking on 22 June
S Le Souverain 84600 Langeron Nesmond Overheerser 84
S L'Invincible 70450 De Bidaut Onverwinnelijke 66
S Le Trident 54330 Roche Allard (Lym) Riberet Drietand 54
S Le Diamant 60370 Ch. de Feuquires Serquigny Diamant 58
D L'Entendu 66400 Jean Bart Same as Esprit in Dunkirk?
S Le Florissant 76500 Marq. de SeppevilleCogolin Floreerder 76
S L'Orgueilleux 98800 Marq. d'Amfreville Opgeblaazene 90, lacking on 22 June
S Le Tonnant 82500 De Septeme (Lym) De la Porte Verbaasde 76 (as etonné)
S Le Vermandois 60375 Ch. Amfrevill (Lym)Duchallard Vermandois 60
S L'Agréable** 64370 Ch. d'Ailli Aangename 60
S Le Courageux 60370 La Motte (Lym) Sévigny Moedige 60
S Le Fendant 56350 De la Vigerie Vigerie Scheurende 56
S Le Laurier 64350 De Reals Laurierboom 54
S L'Heureux 70420 Des Francs Gelukkige 66
S Le Pompeux 76500 De Cap S. Lié D'Aligre Prachtige 76
S Le Monarque 92750 Nesmond Monarch 80
D Le Maure 60380 Des Augers (D) De Swarte
S Le Parfait 66400 De Machaut Magault Volmaakte
S L'Intrépide 80460 D'Amblimoont Gabaret Onversaagde
S Le Glorieux 64420 Ch. de Chateau Morant Belle-Ile Erard
*Commander of this squadron
**Boismele has Capable in stead of Agréable
Burners and fluyts
Ship gunsmenCaptain Cap. at Beachy Headnotes:
B. Le Drole Naudy Aardige
B. Le Dur* Girardin Longchamp Harde
B. La Jolie Longchamps Mooie
B. La Maligne Motte-Lonnart De Bussi Kwaadaardige
B. L'Espion Ch. d'Amont Las Terras Verspieder
B. L'Insensé Boilonge Ongevoelige
B. L'Hameçon La Brousse Unknown cap. Hoek
B. L'Impertinente Mara Unknown cap.
B. Le Boutte-feu6 Moërau Estiennes Brandstooker
B. Le Dangereux6 Tourteau Gevaarlijke
B. La Friponne Maniere Bedriegster
B. Le Facheux Cadenort Verguin
B. La Vieille Cerpant
B. La Pétillant Verguin Pestilentiaale
B. Le Renard 6 Cever Snoode
B. L'Extravagant Des Lauriers Montambre Uitspoorige
B. Le Serpent 6 Robert Slang
B. Le Rusé Buffi
B. Le Déguisé 6 La Lande La Lande Vermomde
B. L'Inquiete 6 Colombe Onrustige
B. Fanfaron 6 Longchamps La Seurue Snoever
B. ? Ongeschikte**
B. ? Moeilijke**
B. ? Verachte**
B. ? Looze**
Fluyt Invoerster
Fluyt Raazende
Fluyt den Ezel
Le Moteux 30 160La Badine (Lym) From Lym. list
*Misspelled as Dru in 1691
**Names in the Dutch list that I could not trace to the French
In Sue, not in Boismele
Ship gunsmen Captain Cap. at Beachy Headnotes:
S Le Bourbon 62 400 Serinet (Lym) Hervault Bourbon 64
S Le Prince 56 350 Des Adrets Prins 60
S Le Content 68 380 St. Pierre Vergenoegde 60*
* The Dutch list indeed has two ships as Vergenoegde
French ships in Dunkirk at that time*
Ship guns men Captain Beachy Head Barfleur notes:
Le Serieux** 62400Marq. de Blenac Bellefontaine Marq. de Blenac
Le Moré/Maure 60380De Longer Des Augers as De Longer
Le Civil 64 Mannour
L'Esprit 64 Bart
La Perle 52 300Fourbin Forbin
Le Moderat/Modéré56350Devis D'Ivry as Devis
Le Tigre 36 Vieux Pont
Le Jeu 36 Dericourt
Kingfisher 40 Maison Nette
L'Aurore 20 Chev. Mouton
Le Conte 44/46 M. ... Marq. de Blenac
Le Feurieux 44 M. ...
Le Hercule 44 De La Gilette
Le Bienarmé 26 Jolibox
Le Profonde 40 M. ...
Redieux 36 Ville Sittard
Le Portier 40 David
Brittanie 36 M. ...
*Mercurius for 1691 p 161
The French main battle fleet in 1691
(excluding ships in Dunkirk)
Size At Beachy H.1691
100+ guns   2   2
90+ guns   1   3
80+ guns   9 12
70+ guns 12 14
60+ guns 21 26
50 guns 16 11
40 guns   6
Total: 67 68

5 The Dutch Order of Battle

5.1 Sources

An early Dutch OOB is in the OHC for 29 May. The Dutch order of Battle as it was in The Downs in June 1691 was published in the Amsterdamsche Courant for 26 June 1691. It contains a reference to letters from The Downs and seems to be about ships that were actually there. The Dutch Mercury for 1691 has an almost exact copy of the list. A later list of all ships that had been equipped for the main fleet and were mostly at sea is in the OHC for 12 July 1691 The Dutch Mercury also has a list of the ships blockading Dunkirk.

I'll start my investigation of the Dutch OOB by listing the ships in the Mercury. The ships that can also be found in the early OOB are marked with an 'e'. The Dunkirk list is added. A final list is that of those ships that are in the list of equipped ships for the main fleet, but not in the list of the Downs nor in the Dunkirk list. Logically these are the ships of admiralties that were late in equipping. The number of Zeeland and Friesland ships in this list is conspicuous.

With all that we can make an overview of the strength of the Dutch ships in the main battle fleet in 1691. We can also compare against the fleet at Beachy Head plus what should have been at Beachy Head. In short the Dutch ships intended for the main battle fleet were about one third more numerous than in 1690, but far more powerful. In terms of broadside weight the Dutch ships with the main fleet in 1691 probably had twice the fire power of the ships they had at Beachy Head.

Dutch OOB in the Downs on 18 June 1691
Van der Putte's 1st squadron
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Brandenburg (A) 92 Ph. van der Goes e
Zierikzee(Z) 60 RA Evertsz
Maagt van Dort(M) 64 Van der Kolck
Hollandia (A) 72 A.F. van Zeyl e
Zeelandia(Z) 92 VA van der Putte*
Reygersberg(A) 72 A. Stilte e
Veere(Z) 60 Mosselman
Ripperda(A) 50 H. Lynslager e
Amsterdam(A) 64 C. van der saan e
B. Oranjeboom
Frigate Harder(N) 6 Jaco van Veen e
Snauw Zeepost 8
*Commander of this squadron
Dutch OOB in the Downs on 18 June 1691
Almonde's main squadron
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Leyden(A) 64 P.C.Dekker e
Princes(A) 92 RA G. Schey e
Comeetstar(A) 64 Bontemantel eB. repl. J. Cuyper
Schattershoef(A) 50 Wassenaer e
Cap. Generaal(M) 84 J. Convent eOrig. for Tromp
Prins(A) 92 LA Ph. van Almonde e
Gelderland(A) 72 Graef van Nassau e
Nimwegen(A) 50 Graef van Benthem
Haarlem(A) 64 A. Manart e
Calansoogh(A) 64 P. van der Dussen e
B. 6 Gebroeders(A) Simon J. Jongh e
B. Vesuvius(A) G. d Pon e
Frigat de Pauw(A) 14 Comm. Varckevisser e
*Commander of this squadron
Dutch OOB in the Downs on 18 June 1691
Callenburgh's rear squadron
Ship gunsmenCaptain e?notes:
Schieland(M) 58 Van Regteren
Veluwe(M) 64 Brakel e
Schiedam(M) 50 Jacob van der Goes To Lymerick mid-July
West Vriesland(N) 82 Jan Muys
Kasteel v. Medenblik(N)86 VA Callenburgh
De Maase(M) 70 Pieterson e
Gelderland(M) 64 Paradys
Seven Provintie(M)76 RA J. Snelle eSnelle + Aug.'91
Wakende Kraan(M) 76 J. de Liefde e
B. Mercurius(N) Marten Dick
Frigat Faam 16
Frigat Mercurius
B. Wijnbergen
*Commander of this squadron
Dutch part of the OOB before Dunkirk June 1691
Vlissingen(Z) 52 225 La Palma
Jupiter 34 124 Bolk
Wapen v. Hoorn(N)52 210Vice-Comm Kalf*
Groenwijf 36 120 Teengs
Berg Etna 28   85 Ronkessen
Kon. Maria 24 119 Le Sage
Sneek 40 150 Van Bassen
Ooststellingwerf(A)50210 Comm. van Tol*
Agatha(A) 50 210 De Veer
Bruinvis 20   70Crayenstein
Brak(F) 36 173Heremyt 17 Aug. said to sail for Dunkirk
Gaasterland(A) 50 210SbN Draaks*
Honslaersdijk(M) 50 210Heemskerk 17 Aug. said to sail for Dunkirk
Gorinchem 40 130 Labouw
Sterrenberg 20   L'Amoureus
*Commander of this squadron
Ships equipped for the main fleet, but
not in the above lists
Ship gunsmen Captain notes:
Prov Utrecht(M) 50 La Cave 17 Aug. said to sail for Dunkirk
Premier Noble(Z) 72 A. de Boer Arr. Plymouth 16 July
Goes(Z) 50 Barent Martense Late Sep. said to sail to Ireland
Middelburg(Z) 48 Holthuys
Coning William(Z) 92 For Evertz
Alkmaar(N) 50 Jan van der Poel Also in the early OOB, to Lymerick mid-July**
Noort Holland(N) 72 De Jongh Arr. Plymouth 16 July
Waesdorp(F) 66 VA Enno Doedes Star Left Texel mid June
Gideon(F) 56 Pieters Left Texel mid June
Groot Frisia(F) 74 Hidde de Vries 11 June ready in the Vlie, writes from Ushant OHC2607
Prins Casimier(F) 70 Van der Pitt 11 June ready in the Vlie
Castricum(F) 52 Stoffel Cornelisz Middagten***15 June left Hellevoetsluis
Stad en Lande(F) 50 Carsten Carstense Ros*** 15 June left Hellevoetsluis
Yacht Kraenvogel(A) 16 D. Huybert 31 March left Amsterdam, to Lymerick mid-July
Fluyt Lastdrager(A) Comm. Jolle Jolles
Fluyt Kon. David(A) Comm. Binckes
* Middagten also ordered to Lymerick mid-July (Mercurius)
** Before Gravelines 4/14 June 1691 Finch VolIII
*** Castricum and Stad en Lande captains
Dutch ships in main battle fleet in 1691
(excluding ships before Dunkirk)
Size During Beachy H.1691
90+ guns   1   4
80+ guns   1   3
70+ guns   6 10
60+ guns 12 11
50 guns   8 12
40 guns   1   -
Total: 29 40

6 The English Order of Battle

6.1 The English part of the Anglo-Dutch fleet

For the English fleet in 1691 we have a list in the OHC of 28 June 1691 . We'll use it as a basis for analyzing the English fleet of 1691. One of the first things we'll have to do it to substract the English ships that participated in the blockade of Dunkirk. These are marked as 'to Dunkirk'.

We'll end with an extensive comparison of the English fleet as it was in 1691 and how it was during Beachy Head.

English OOB 1st squadron Corps de Bataille (Blue) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Windsor Castle 96 660 Churchill
York 60 460 Main
Expedition 70 460 Dover
Chester 50 230 Chamberlain
Hamptoncourt 70 460 Graydon
Souveraign 100815 VA Delaval*
Royal Catherine 90 540 Cornwal
Woolwich 50 230 Kempthorn To Dunkirk
Suffolk 70 460 Billop
Monmouth 70 400 Raines
*Commander of this squadron
English OOB 2nd squadron Corps de Bataille (Blue) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e? notes:
Northumberland 70 460 Cotton
Bonadventure 50 230 Hubbard To Dunkirk
Defiance 70 420 Gurny
Eagle 70 460 Leake
Duke 96 660 Adm. Killegrew* **
Coronation 96 660 Skelton
Swiftsure 70 420 Clark
Dutchess 96 660 Clements
Monk 60 340 Hoskins To Dunkirk
*Commander of this squadron
** Position of Commander of the fleet
English OOB 3rd squadron Corps de Bataille (Blue) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Cambridge 70 420 Lestock
Edgar 70 445 Torply
Centurion 50 230 Wivel
Ossery 96 660 Tyrrel
London 100730 RA Shovel*
Resolution 70 420 Lord Danby
Kent 70 420 Nevil
Lyon 60 390 Wiseman To Dunkirk
Captain 70 460 Jones
*Commander of this squadron
English OOB 1st squadron Rear (Red) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Sterling Castle 70 460 Waters
St. Albans 50 230 Fitz Patrick
Lennox 70 460 Munden
Essex 96 660 Bridges
Neptune 96 660 RA Rook
St. Michael 96 650 Hoson
Restoration 70 460 Gother
Dreadnought 60 460 Beaumont
Hope 70 460 Pickard
*Commander of this squadron
English OOB 2nd squadron Rear (Red) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Sandwich 96 660 Hastings
Warspight 70 400 Fairborn
Elizabeth 70 460 Priestman
Brittania 100715 Adm. Russel
St. Andrew 100730 Lord Berkley
Exeter 70 460 Meese
Deptford 50 250 Ker
Royal Oak 60 340 Bing
Plymouth 60 340 Dean
*Commander of this squadron
English OOB 2nd squadron Rear (Red) 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Harwich 70 420 Robinson
Berwick 70 460 Martin
Foresight 50 230 Gillam
Grafton 70 460 Bokenham
Victory 100780 VA J. Asby
Vanguard 90 660 Carter
Montague 60 355 Foulks
Burford 70 460 Harlow
Happy Return 50 250 Monk
Albemarle 96 660 F. Wheeler
*Commander of this squadron
English OOB Frigats and Hospital ships 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
F. ...serness
F. Suados
F. Milford
F. Greyhound
F. James Galley
F. Mermaid
Spencer Hospital
Baltimore Hospital
Concord Hospital
Society Hospital
English OOB Smaller Ships 18 June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain e?notes:
Yacht Salamander
Yacht Fubbs
Owners Love
English part of the OOB before Dunkirk June 1691
Ship gunsmen Captain notes:
Crown 50 230 Wilmot
Bonaventure 50 230 Hobbert
Lion 60 340 Wiseman
Dover 52 230 Withiken
Woolwich 54 280 Kigwin
Monk 60 340 Buckingham*
English ships in main battle fleet in 1691
(excluding ships before Dunkirk)
Size During Beachy H.1691
100+ guns   1   5
90+ guns   7 12
80+ guns   1
70+ guns 19 24
60+ guns   1   5
50 guns   4   6
40 guns
Total: 33 52
To add 1691 ships in Spain

7 Naval Strength and Strategy for 1691

7.1 Changes in the power ratio

Main battle fleets in 1690 and 1691
(excluding ships before Dunkirk)
Size During Beachy H. 1691
France Alliance France Alliance
100+ guns   2   1   2   5
  90+ guns   1   8   3 16
  80+ guns   9   2 12   3
  70+ guns 12 25 14 34
  60+ guns 21 13 26 16
  50+ guns 16 12 11 18
  40+ guns   6   1
Total: 67 62* 68 92
*At Beachy this number was less
Beachy Head 1690
Anglo-Dutch losses
Size   English Dutch
100+ guns
  90+ guns
  80+ guns
  70+ guns   1 2
  60+ guns 4
  50+ guns 1
  40+ guns
Burners 3

The above analysis of the fleets seems exaggerated, but the resulting table to the left is a clear result. The French fleet had held a numeric advantage during Beachy Head, and probably also an advantage in quality, and certainly in command. In 1691 this was different. The numeric advantage was clearly with the alliance. With regard to quality the alliance fleet had also improved dramatically: It now had a significant advantage in the number of three decks ships (all ships with 80+ guns) employed. With regard to command there were still doubts, but these would not be solved in 1691.

Combining the table of 1690 vs. 1691 with the loss table for Beachy Head (to the right) explains what happened after the French fleet had achieved a strategic victory in the Battle of Beachy Head. The French fleet had chipped away a significant part of the fleet that the alliance had at sea in 1690. However, the fleet that the alliance equipped for 1691 had little to do with their 1690 fleet.

In 1691 the English 1st rates that had been rotting in dock for years were suddenly put to sea. The Dutch, who were never known for constructing big ships, suddenly equipped 7 three-deckers. Meanwhile the French fleet for 1691 was very much the fleet they had equipped in 1690.

7.2 French Strategy changed

In the light of all the above the instruction to Tourville cited above certainly makes sense. In 1690 Tourville had sailed to Whight while certain that the alliance battle fleet was not stronger than his. In 1691 Versailles and Tourville knew very well that in all likelyhood the alliance battle fleet would be significantly stronger than theirs.

The great unknown was whether the 18 June Alliance OOB, that totalled 80 ships, was the alliance fleet that Tourville would meet. If it were these 80 ships, with some of them missing, Tourville's 68 might stand a chance. This situation, where the alliance would be late in equipping, is probably what Tourville hinted at when writing: One should not hesitate to attack them if their forces outnumber ours by only a small number, by 6, 7 up to 8. Tourville's comment makes sense, even apart from what the English fleet did, or did not do, at Beachy Head.

7.3 Strategy while slightly outnumbered

If a fleet is clearly outnumbered, it generally cannot hope to redress this situation by fighting a general battle. In stead the usual strategy for such cases is to attempt to first weaken the enemy numbers by fighting small battles, in which the outnumbered army has a local advantage. These opportunities in small battles will happen when the enemy is confident enough to use the ocean for its commerce. In 1691 this was clearly the case. Numerous convoys crossed the seas and offered opportunities for small battles.

The above sounds problematic for a smaller fleet that does not have superior speed or information. How it can chose to fight in advantageous situations and evade battle when outnumbered? Chosing to fight is simple if the small navy heavily outnumbers an enemy; it will simply use its fastest ships to start the fight. In a situation where two main battle fleets are involved, the advantage of the wind is important: In the above Tourville states that if enemy has the advantage of the wind one cannot evade a battle.

The big question is what would happen if Tourville bumped into a main battle fleet that was 20 ships stronger than his? Looking through all preceding naval battles one can conclude that as long as the fleet was not routed, the consequence would not be grave. A probable outcome would be the separation of the fleets by dusk, and the loss of a few ships. Serious calamities would happen only when Tourville would not be able to separate his fleet from the enemies'. It therefore made sense to specifically instruct Tourville not to enter the Channel, where it would generally be more difficult for the French to retreat from a major battle.

7.4 The alliance strategy for 1691

After Torrington's failure at Beachy Head, and the later commission, Russel had been appointed Admiral of the fleet on 23 December 1690. According to Burchett he had instructions to sail to such stations on the French coast as were most proper to annoy the enemy, and protecting the trade.. Further directives were that he should not leave the Downs till 20 Dutch ships of war, or at least 18 had joined him, and after he had dispatched a squadron to block Dunkirk. All this from Burchett, who remarked that Russel thus had an instruction that empowered him to proceed, from time to time, in such manner as might best enable him to destroy the enemy, either by Sea or Land, without expecting particular orders.

Burchett's remark that Russel was limited by the express provision: that if bad weather rendered it unsafe for him to keep the sea, he should repair to, and remain at Torbay till further order can be interpreted in two ways. The most obvious one is that the Admiralty did not want Russel to risk ships by staying at sea in a storm. A more sophisticated explanation is that the Admiralty did not want Russel to stay at sea out of fear that taking shelter from a likely storm might lead to accusations of cowardice or neglect.

Without seeing Russel's instructions, a comparison of these instructions does give the impression that Sue was right. Tourville got instructions that kind of laid a burden of proof on him. Tourville was allowed to engage in battle if he found himself 'in the majority' after arriving on the battlefield. Tourville was allowed to seek shelter from a storm after a storm 'forced' him to take shelter. Russel's instructions seemed the opposite: We want you to fight, and we trust you to do it, but first wait till you have 75 ships. We want you to fight, and we trust you to do it, but be sure to retreat to Torbay if yout expect a storm.

Another aspect of Alliance naval strategy for 1691 was revealed in Queen Mary orders of 7 May: Russel was to proceed into the Soundings and from there to detach a considerable number of ships to Galway in Ireland, to impede French succour, or to destroy it. It was left up to discretion how this was to be done while averting the ill consequences of a separation. Russel anwered that it was impossible to send such a detachment while keeping it ready to rejoin the main fleet.

To sum it up: The primary strategic goal of the alliance navy was to secure trade. As seen above the alliance had equipped a very strong fleet to achieve this. Ideally it wanted to fight a battle that would weaken the French fleet, and make the seas safer for commerce. If the French fleet evadaded battle, the alliance fleet would patrol the western entrance of the Channel, and ensure commerce by controling the seas. Meanwhile a smaller fleet would blockade the French ships in Dunkirk.

In 1691 the most important aspect of protecting trade was securing the arrival of the Smyrna fleet sailing from Cadiz to England. The composition of this fleet is listed here, all its adventures before it reached Cadiz are left out because they have little to do with the actions of the Alliance and French main battle fleets in 1691.

7.5 Different strategies for Ireland

There is one crucial aspect of Anglo-Dutch and French strategy that is not obvious from the orders of their fleets. That is the strategy for Ireland. William III had a clear strategy aimed at driving the French out of Ireland by amassing superior forces in that theater. The French had a strategy that aimed to keep the Irish resistance alive at minimal cost, so it could amass superior forces on the continent. The connection to the naval strategy would have been small if the Gallo-French land forces did not suffer a decisive defeat, and could take the field again in 1692, but this was not to be.

The first French convoi to Ireland in the OHC 25 01 1691.

8 Spain

8.1 Cadiz 90/91 convoy

Anglo-Dutch Convoy to Cadiz 1690/91
Ship gunsmen Captain notes:
Rupert Aylmer
Scepter Rogers
Kingfisher Johnson
Mordaunt Butler
Reserve Cromoly Careened in Livorno
Saphire Cap. Killegrew
2 Burners
A Yacht
Dutch ships
Ship gunsmen Captain notes:
Prov. Utrecht Philip Schrijver 13 Mar to Med.
Noort Holland Rudolf Swaen 13 Mar to Med.
Orange Cornelis Verhoeven 13 Mar to Med.
A burner 13 Mar to Med.
OHC 13 March 1691

The Sea Powers regularly sent a fleet of about 10 warships and slightly more merchant ships to Spain in December or January of each year. This is how our Smyrna fleet acquired an extra strong escort. Let's list the warships of the convoy that arrived in Cadiz on 31 January 1691. Of these 3 Dutch warships continued to the Mediterranean on 13 March together with the merchants Juff. Maria Joost Gillisz and St. Marcus Gerrit Hendricks both to Genua and the St. Rochus Cornelis van Beveren to Alicante. They left together with 5 English warships 2 burners and a yacht. Because the winds these ships anchored in Gibraltar. What's most relevant is that on their return the warships of this fleet joined the Smyrna Fleet.

8.2 The Smyrna fleet in Cadiz

16 June 1691: the merchant ships arriving in Cadiz*
Ship Captain notes Ship Captain notes
Anna Charles Pickering From Smyrna** Arcke Noë Gerrit Nieuwlant Scandrona**
Richard John Cole Admirael de Ruyter Jan Pain Scandrona**
St. George Charles Gibson From Smyrna** Generale Vrede Christiaan Vlies Scandrona**
Smyrna Factor John Shovel From Smyrna** Juffrouw Maria Adriaan Gouwenaer Alexand. and Livorno**
Olive Branch James Potter Vergulde Leeuw Pieter Fonteyn From Smyrna**
Prince George Nicolas Casteleyn Hollandia Frans Bernards From Smyrna**
Expedition John Jewel From Smyrna** Juffrouw ErckenraetPieter Harmensz. Bennebroek-**
Vergulde Leeuw Bail Scandrona** Stad Amsterdam Willem Metaelman From Smyrna**
Asia Haselwood Postillion Huybert Petit
Levantine Merchant Parrington Scandrona** Roos Jan Bogaert
Italian MerchantGeorge Fening Scandrona** De Rhijn Christobal Warrier
Factor of AleppoJohn Frost Scandrona** Rosario and TheresiaSimon Pualuga
Bernardiston William Wackelin Scandrona** St. Jan** Jochem Fransz.** Malta and Alicante
Concordia Richard Jennings Scandrona** While leaving Cadiz
Virgin William Wallace Malaga** Joachim Fransz Celdery
Amistad John Leterly Maegt van Dort Aris Halfstok AC30-06-1691
Heritage Wiliam Patu St. Joseph Aris Domene AC30-06-1691
New Industry Caleb Grantham
Success Peter Huys Levant**
William and Mary William Barward
New Africa William Ades
OHC 16 June 1691
** combined with a list in the Dutch Mercury p21, p70 & p130
16 June 1691: the escort of the convoy arrives in Cadiz*
Ship CaptainnotesShipCaptainnotes
Falcon Ward Original escort Vlaerdingen PolOriginal escort
Tiger Cole Original escort Vrede LaerOriginal escort
Oxford Ninges Original escort
Greenwich Eduard Original escort
Newcastle Lambert Original escort
Saphire Killegrew Cadiz 90/91 convoy Orange Van der Hoeve Cadiz 90/91 convoy
Mordaunt Butler Cadiz 90/91 convoy Noort Holland Swaen Cadiz 90/91 convoy
Rupert Aylmer Cadiz 90/91 convoy Stad Utrecht Schrijver Cadiz 90/91 convoy
English Burner Cadiz 90/91 convoy Dutch Burner ? Cadiz 90/91 convoy
English Burner Cadiz 90/91 convoy
OHC 16 June 1691

On 14 May 1691 the Smyrna fleet arrived before in Cadiz. There was some trouble with quaraintaine, which had not been full in Livorno, and this did cause some delay. This problem with quarantaine seems to be what caused the governor of Cadiz to forbid the entrance of the convoy into the Bay of Cadiz. The convoy did not comply with this order and 16 warships and 45 merchants did anchor in the bay. The number of merchants suggests that the list of merchants we have here is not correct. It furthermore seems that quarantine was the reason that the convoy did not do any business in Cadiz, and did not resupply.

Part 2 The Alliance moves to Brest and Kinsale

9 from Spain to Ireland till 7 July

9.1 The Smyrna convoy leaves Cadiz

The convoy had at least 84 ships when it left CadizOHC 31 July 1691; proving that our tables are not complete. It started its trip on 26 MayOHC 31 July 1691, or 27 MayOHC 19 June 1691. The fleet had not succeeded in resupplying at Cadiz. Therefore admiral Aylmer ordered an inventory of all suppliesOHC 31 July 1691. It led Aylmer to distribute 10,000 pounds of bread over the ships. The convoy had fair wind for 8 days, up to and including 2-3 JuneOHC 31 July 1691.

The fast merchant ship 'Zeven Provinciën' of Frans Wiltschut was with the convoy when it left CadizOHC 19 June 1691. It travelled with the convoy for 8 days, till it was at the height of Cape St. Vincent, the most south western point of PortugalOHC 19 June 1691. The English Admiral then invited all captains on his ship by signal shots. In a council of war they unanimously decided to sail to Kinsale in stead of the Channel, but that 2 yachts or frigates would be sent into the Channel when at its height, in order to advertise the fleet, and then to report to Kinsale. Frans Wiltschut was also present in this council of war(follows from combining the news). When Aylmer noticed Wiltschut's resolution and ability to continue on his own, he gave him a letter for Admiral Russel. The content of which was that Aylmer did not know the condition of the Anglo-Dutch and French fleets, and had therefore decided to sail to Kinsale. He thought it necessary to inform Admiral RusselOHC 19 June 1691. The rationale for sailing to Kinsale was primarily that it would make it much harder for the French fleet to intercept the convoy. At Kinsale the convoy could also retreat upriver till the allied main battle fleet arrived.

What happened next is kind of incredible for the modern reader: The Zeven Provinciën had a very favorable wind, and therefore sailed straigth passed The Downs and only delivered this letter when it arrived in Rotterdam on 17 June OHC 19 June 1691. The comment in the paper that one therefore had to sent the letter to England 'with the mail to England' is even more baffeling. The English admiral could have given Wiltschut a reasonable sum of money to deliver the letter to any English Channel port, but these kind of expenses were probably not foreseen.

After 2-3 June continuous north and north-east winds, hindered all progress and pushed the convoy west. By the time that Frans Wiltschut had arrived in Rotterdam, the Smyrna fleet was still struggling against the wind and had been pushed west. On 18 June it was at 41 degrees latitude (c. height of Madrid) 150 miles of the Portuguese coast (Letter from Philip Schryver in the Mercurius p. 22). The French and allied fleets had not even reached open sea.

9.2 The French fleet prepares and sails

Letters from Brest of 25 May noted the return that morning of the convoy that had been to IrelandAC7Jun1691. In the OOB these are marked with '(Lym)' behind the captain's name. 5 warships were still at Rochefort, but were hastily equippingAC7Jun1691. All together 67 ships were ready, but the ships from Dunkirk still lackingAC7Jun1691. Letters from Brest of 8 June noted that 2 of the ships from Rochefort had arrived at Belle-Isle. Men of the other 3 from Rochefort had been used to replace sick men on other parts of the fleet. All this resulted in 44 ships in Brest and 25 in Belle-Isle AC21061691.

On 21 June 1691 Tourville ordered his fleet to sail from Brest. He noted that the Orgueilleux, Entreprenant, Brave and Syrène were still missing, but also that only the arrival of the Orgueilleux was important. He assured Versailles that he would take measures to facilitate the arrival of these ships to the fleet at a later time. On 28 and 29 June the French finally sailed from Brest with a north eastern wind. Its strength was 70 ships, some burners, 4100 guns and 29000 men. The papers cited that it did not have orders to sail into the Channel, nor to seek the enemy fleet. In the Paris letters of 6 July he was (wrongly) believed to go to Scilly. Other sources had his fleet cruising between Brest and Belle-Ile. Statements that he was (trying) to block allied commerce and would fall back to the French coast once the combined fleet neared were more correct. The thought that he would then do battle on the French coast were again not correct. That he had sent frigates to Cape Finisterre is possibleOHC 12 July 1691.

After cruising for a while Tourville noted that the Smyrna convoy might sail west of the Isles of Scilly. On 7 July he asked Versailles for permission to patrol the area 100 km west - a bit - south west of the Scillies. Pontchartrain answered that it would suffice to sail a bit closer to the center of the Channel. That way Tourville could prevent the Smyrna Convoy from entering the Channel and would still be able to guard the French coasts. Tourville replied that it was impossible to do both. He noted that the positions to capture the Smyrna Convoy and that to defend the French coasts were 200 km apart.

9.3 The alliance battle fleet sails

On 30 May Russel had his fleet ready, and was planning to the leave the Downs on a course to Torbay on the 31st. A South West wind prevented the fleet from sailing, and while the VA of Zeeland and 3-4 Dutch ships arrived, Russel decided to wait for the original Dunkirk squadron to join him. On 1 June he received orders from Queen Mary to sail to Brest. This was against his original plan to campaign west of Brest. Russel was afraid that a long stay before Brest would make his soldiers sick, but he set to execute the orders. On 2 June the fleet again sailed from the Downs, but after reaching Nesse, it was beaten back by a hard gale from the South West.

News then reached the admiralty that 100 French transports had reached the Shannon, and that their escorts cruised between the Shannon and Galway. New orders were therefore sent for Russel to proceed forthwith to Brest, but to send a frigate to Kinsale to learn what the French were up to. He was authorized to send a detachment to the west of Ireland or St. George's Channel if he thought he could thwart the French plans. He was also adivsed to get the best information about the body of the French fleet, and to give special attention to the Smyrna fleet. Russel was authorized to sail from Brest to Cape Clear, but was advised to stay before Brest till the Smyrna fleet was safe.

On 19 June the alliance fleet left The Downs while the wind was contrary, which was believed to be extraordinaryOHC28061691. The fact that by 22 June there were rumours that the Smyrna fleet had been sighted at the heigth of Cape Finisterre and was sailing to KinsaleOHC28061691 makes this understandable. On 19 June the Dutch part of the main battle fleet counted 28 ships of the lineOHC28061691.

On 24 June the fleet was 6 leagues South East of Whight, when it held a council of war, that decided that the fleet would sail to a point 8 leagues west of Ouessant (Burchett). From there ships should be sent to Brest to gather information(Burchett). On 26 June the alliance battle fleet was thought to be near Whight (OHC30-06-1691). The alliance battle fleet under Russel came as far as Plymouth on the 29th, but was beaten back to Torbay on 29 June(Burchett). Here he received a letter from Aylmer dated of Cape St. Vincent(Burchett), without a doubt the letter given to Wiltschut sent from Rotterdam. This letter made Russel believe the Smyrna fleet to be in Ireland, or at least very near the Soundings.

The fleet weighed anchor on 2 July. Off of Dartmouth an express from Mr. Greenhill, the naval agent at Plymouth, warning that the French were at sea with 80 sail, so the fleet made all haste to get ot Ushant(Burchett). Others had that in the morning of 3 July the fleet left Torbay, 85 ships strongOHC 12 July 1691. On 5 July it passed FalmouthAC 17 July 1691, from where it would cross the Channel.

10 from Spain to Ireland 7 July - 13 July

10.1 The Smyrna fleet at the heigth of Nantes

On 7 July Smyrna would be on 47 degrees latitude and 9 degrees longitude (the latter probably not counted from Greenwich). 47 degrees latitude is at the heigth of Nantes in France. 9 degrees latitude could mean 9 degrees east from El Hierro or 9 degrees west from Greenwhich, or Paris. I think El Hierro is most likely. That longitude would compute to that of the west coast of Spain, even so, longitude calculation was not very exact at the time. These delays depleted the English victuals, and so the well-provisioned Captain Schrijver helped the English with 4,000 pounds of breadOHC 31 July 1691.

10.2 The alliance battle fleet sails to Ouessant

After passing Falmouth on 5 July, the alliance battle battle fleet crossed the Channel and sailed to Ouessant (Ushant). On 8 July the fleet had Ushant 9 leagues to the East South East(Burchett). It knew the French fleet had sailed and searched for it 8 miles east and west of Ouessant. From the Princes MariaAC 21 July 1691 the message was that the French fleet was 81 ships strong, but that the alliance fleet had stronger artillery, and was therefore planning to attack.

Not finding the French fleet near Ouessant, Admiral Russel thought that the French fleet could have gone to Ireland to intercept the Smyrna fleet. He therefore set course to Ireland, according to messages of 8 JulyOHC 19 July 1691. Burchett has that a council of war unanimously decided to look for the Smyrna fleet near Cape Clear, and then to return to Brest immediately if there was no news there. On 11 July the alliance fleet was sighted at the heigth of Scilly sailing to IrelandOHC 24 July 1691. Admiral Almonde sent letters on 11 July from a position 8 miles north west of ScillyAC 26 July 1691. Meanwhile lots of ships were sent to cruize for the Smyrna fleet(Burchett).

On 12 July Hidde de Vries on the Groot Frisia wrote that after missing the French before Ouessant, lack of wind and contrary winds had limited their progress, but that they were only 8 miles SSE from Scilly and sailing to Ireland. On that same 12 July the alliance fleet was spotted 7 miles SSW from Land's end by the Friendship from Boston arriving in Plymouth the next dayOHC 24 July 1691 On 13 July the alliance battle fleet was still near Scilly, and planning to sail to Ireland if it did not receive new ordersOHC 26 July 1691.

On 14 July one warship of 50, the Frigate de Pauw under Varckevisser and 3 galjoots came into Plymouth for provisioning and with letters from the fleet to the admiraltyOHC 26 July 1691. There they found Premier Noble of Cap. de Boer, the Noord Holland Cap. de Jong and 2 supply ships under Jolle Jollesz and Cap. Binkes, these had left Texel 11 days beforeAC 26 July 1691. Others have that the Frigate Windhond (GreyHound) had arrived in Plymouth on 15 July. That it had left the fleet between Ouessant and Scilly on 14 July (prob. wrong location), and that Russel wanted to sail to Ireland. This message also had the computation of the strength. 57 English ships with 4174 guns and 35 Dutch with 2346 guns against 92 French with 6520 guns, making an alliance advantage of 1572.

10.3 English convoy to West Indies

Because the Alliance fleet could not find the French fleet near Ushant, an English convoy to the West Indies left Plymouth on 10 July or shortly before. The convoy was escorted by the warships Mary Rose and Constant Warwick and sailed with a South SouthEast windOHC 19 July 1691.

10.4 The French battle fleet

From France the news by the Paris letters of 13 July was that, on hearing of the approaching alliance fleet, the French fleet had sailed to a position at the height of Ouessant and the Scilly islands (which is a confusing remarkOHC 19 July 1691. Bonrepas had arrived back in Paris a few days earlier and had repeated Tourville's opinion that fighting on the English coast was too dangerousOHC 19 July 1691. In Tourville's writing his cruising position was at the entrance of the Channel. That is between Scilly and Ushant. Later he would writeSue that he stayed put at that position till 17 July. At that time the Orgueilleux brought him a letter from the captain of the burner mentioned below, claiming that the enemy fleet had 86 ships.

Meanwhile, letters from Brest of the 13th stated that a burner with supplies, that had sailed a few days before, had encountered the enemy fleet near Ushant. The alliance fleet had no flags, and when the burner was close it detached 3 ships to capture it. The captain of the burner then torched his ship and fled with almost all his men in the ship's sloop, with which he reached BrestOHC 26 July 1691. These same Letters from Brest of the 13th stated that a ship with messages encountered the alliance fleet 4 miles of Ouessant and therefore returned to portOHC 26 July 1691. From the Dutch fleet Hidde de Vries wrote about hte incident with the burner.

It was believed that Tourville evaded a fight, because he had the advantage of the wind for 4 daysOHC 26 July 1691.

10.5 The convoy arrives in Kinsale

On 7 July in the evening the wind turned west and the Smyrna fleet started to make progress. On 11 July the fleet captured the Danish three mast galjoot Sturgeon laden with wine, brandy and Syrop. On 12 July the fleet sigthed Cape ClearOHC 31 July 1691. In the afternoon of the 13th all ships entered the harbor of Kinsale. This went with some difficulty as Aylmer lost his bowsprit. The Swallow was also damaged and Schryver's Wapen van Utrecht was hit by an English ship (Letter from Philip Schryver in the Mercurius p. 22). Rumors had that the fleet would continue to England on the 19thOHC 28 July 1691 but proved false.

11 Smyrna Fleet to England 14 July - 25 July

11.1 Smyrna fleet joined by battle fleet

On 18 July LG 16/26 July1691 the alliance battle fleet was near Cap Clear, when it heard of the arrival of the Smyrna Fleet in Kinsale. On 20 July the alliance battle fleet was before Kinsale, and the convoy still in that harbor. The French fleet was reported 16 miles from Kinsale, but all the above denies this claim. On the 21st the convoy sailed out of Kinsale, and started the last stretch of its trip, which would see it escorted by the main battle fleet. There were letters from Hidde de Vries, from the ship of Cap. van der Goes, from the merchants Pieter Fonteyn and Jan Pijn, as well as from Almonde, who indicated that after escorting the Smyrna Fleet into the Channel, the Battle Fleet would seek out the FrenchOHC 31 July 1691.

11.2 Tourville captures a Barbados Convoy

The English Barbados Convoy of 2 warships and 17 merchants destined to the West Indies accidently sailed into Tourville's fleet. On 22 July it met an outlying frigate 20-24 miles WSW of Scilly. This immediately came to blows with the escorting frigates, while the merchants fled to save themselvesOHC 07Aug1691. The 'frigate' proved to be the third rate L'Heureux(70) under DesFrancs. The Mary Rose(50) and Constant Warwick attacked it together with a merchant of 24 guns and a pinas. After an hour the merchants retreated, and an hour later the smaller warship Constant Warwick also retreated. After three hours the Mary Rose surrendered, just before it was about to be boarded.

Tourville saw the Barbados fleet as 2 warships escorting 14 merchants. He ordered his best sailing ships to pursue, and also the rest of his fleet, so it would not get separated. Dense fog made him doubt that he would capture any of these, and made him order his whole fleet to a halt.

The next morning (23 July) Tourville noted another fleet to the south east. He ordered his fleet in a line of battle because it was likely that it was the Anglo-Dutch fleet trying to intercept him. The fleet proved to be a French fleet returning from Ireland. Meanwhile he learned of the capture of the Mary Rose(50), the merchant of 24 guns (and 300t), and two smaller onese laden with food stuff. From a letter found on the captured Mary Rose he found out that the Smyrna fleet had reached Kinsale. The Constant Warwick was later captured without resistance by M. de Saint Pierre. One of the escaped supply ships, the Matthew of London, would later sink during a stupid incident in Plymouth, and also be raised. The Spanish Alliance would report 3 merchants as continuing their voyage to BarbadosOHC 09 Aug 1691

The French fleet returning from Ireland would arrive in Nantes on 31 JulyOHC 09Aug1691

11.3 The Alliance fleet escorts

After leaving Kinsale the alliance battle fleet and the Smyrna fleet sailed to the Channel on 21 July. It had sent frigates to scout before it, and after nothing was found it left the Smyrna fleet east of Scilly on 23 July. After that the Smyrna fleet was on its own again. The battle fleet steered to Brest again(Burchett).

The English warship Adventure, which had been sent to tell the Smyrna fleet of the imminent arrival of the battle fleet to Kinsale, would meet the French fleet on its return. It was chased by up to 14 ships, but happily escaped. The French fleet had been sighted at 49.5 degrees latitude 30 minutes westAC 02 Aug 1691. The James Galey, which had sailed with the fleet from Kinsale brought the news that it had sailed to Plymouth.

On 26 July the Smyrna fleets sailed past Plymouth. Of the escorts the Saphire came into Plymouth to careen, as well as Aylmer's Rupert, which was found to be unfit for dutyOHC 07 Aug 1691. Later two Dutch warships were reported in Plymouth, probably for the same reasonOHC 09 Aug 1691. 230 sick of the main fleet were brought into Plymouth by hospital ships. These hospital ships also brought the news that they had left the battle fleet between Ushant and Scilly on 25 JulyOHC 07 Aug 1691. Shortly after the English Smyrna fleet arrived. The warships in the Downs and the merchants on the river (i.e. Thames), most being in on 31 JulyOHC 07 Aug 1691. On 3 August the Dutch Smyrna fleet arrived in Texel, 22 ships strong together with those that had sailed along from Cadiz. It had only 4 escorts, but Cap Tol had added 2 from his Dunkirk SquadronOHC 07 Aug 1691.

12 Results & Analysis

12.1 Results

The results of the Smyrna Fleet phase of the 1691 naval campaign can be summarized like this:

12.2 Analysis

The French naval position and overall strategic position did not deteriorate due to naval action during the Smyrna Fleet phase of the 1691 campaign. Of course interception of the Smyrna fleet would have been better, but that would have also required some luck.

All this changed when at the end of the phase with the Smyrna Fleet, the 22 July French defeat at Aughrim took place. This changed the strategic context in which the French operated, and should have led to a change in strategy for the next phase. In the Campagne du Large we'll see that such a change was not made.

13 Sources

Burchett wrote extensively about the 1691 campaign in Memoirs of transactions at sea by Josiah Burchett, printed 1703.

On the Dutch side De Jonge does not pay much attention.

Direct sources are the London Gazette, and Dutch newspapers, especially the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant (OHC).

14 Notes