|I. Ancestry and Youth|
Anne-Hilarion de Cotentin, Comte de Tourville, a descendant on his maternal side of the noble family of La Rochefoucauld, was born in 1642, at the Castle of Tourville in Normandy. His father, Caesar, Baron de Tourville and de Fimes, was at one time attache of the Duc de Saint-Simon, and afterward first gentleman in waiting and a close friend of King Louis XIII. He died in 1647 when Anne-Hilarion was only five years of age. |
Slender, pale, and almost delicate as a boy, it was little thought that this frail child was destined to spend forty-five years of his life in active service on the sea and become one of the foremost commanders of his time.
Anne-Hilarion was the youngest of three brothers and, as cadet of the family, he was destined for the famous Order of the Knights of Malta, into which he was entitled to enter by his noble birth. Admitted to the Order as a Knight of Justice at the age of fourteen, he became a member of the privileged band of sixteen pages who daily attended on the Grandmaster - a widely coveted distinction, and one for which a large number of candidates yearly enrolled their names.
After three years of page duty, Tourville spent twelve months in probation. Then at eighteen he was received as a professed Knight of the Order. This was the opening of his career as a seaman.
Frothingham, J. P. (1909). The founding of French sea-power. In Sea fighters from Drake to Farragut (pp. 122-123). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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|II. Early Success Against Barbary Corsairs|
After being received into the Order of the Knights of Malta, the next seven years of his life were passed on the Mediterranean. There he protected the commerce of Europe as he fought against the Barbary Corsairs. In his first encounter with these Muslim pirates from North Africa, he exposed himself heedlessly to the raking fire of the enemy and fought with a reckless daring that gained him the admiration of friend and foe. Wounded in three places, he still kept his gallant stand and refused to be carried off the deck.|
A long succession of heroic deeds won for him a reputation for ability and intrepid courage that spread from Venice to the royal court of France. The Venetian Republic, grateful for his services in freeing her from the depredations of the Algerine sea robbers, gave him the titles of "Protector of Maritime Commerce" and "Invincible Seaman". Louis XIV, whose attention had been attracted by accounts of the Maltese Knight's successful cruises, called him to court. In 1667, Tourville sailed for Paris and was presented to the King who received him with flattering approval.
His career was now assured. The great monarch, with his insatiable love of glory and his passion for war, keenly realized the necessity of surrounding himself with the best naval and military talent of France. Tourville, shortly after his presentation, received his commission as captain in the royal navy and was given the command of a ship.
Frothingham, J. P. (1909). The founding of French sea-power. In Sea fighters from Drake to Farragut (pp. 123-125). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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|III. Franco-Dutch War (1672-78)|
The relations of France to other continental nations were meanwhile rapidly reaching a crisis, and the services of Tourville were to be needed before long in the waters of the English Channel in the war against Holland. France and Great Britain had united to crush the power of the Netherlands, and in 1672 sent a formal declaration of hostilities to the Dutch Republic.|
Although Holland was almost powerless to repel the formidable French army that overwhelmed her by land, she was fully able to offer a stubborn resistance to the allies on her natural element, the sea. In the first important naval engagement of the war, the Battle of Solebay, Tourville served in his capacity of captain under Vice-admiral d' Estates against the great Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. But in this contest the French squadron took little or no active part, leaving the hard fighting to their British allies. This was not the case in the Mediterranean, which during the next four years became the center of operations and where the French bore the full brunt of the war.
Great Britain, weary of hostilities, withdrew from the contest and signed a treaty of peace with the Dutch. France was left to continue the war alone. Determined to destroy the commerce of the Netherlands, she sent her men-of-war to the Mediterranean and in the waters of the south. She acquitted herself with honor, and her young squadrons won their first laurels at Stromboli (January 8, 1676), at Augusta (April 22, 1976), and at Palermo (June 2, 1676).
In these great battles of the Mediterranean, which established French supremacy in southern waters, Tourville took an active part under the leadership of Admiral Abraham Duquesne, the famous pioneer seaman and able commander in the new navy, whose exploits were dear to the hearts of all Frenchmen. Many gallant young seamen, the best fighters in France, served under the veteran leader who was to make his country the mistress of the Mediterranean; but the dashing figure of Captain Tourville, the future Marshal of France, then only thirty-four years of age, stood out from the rest in brilliancy and promise.
The victory was brilliant and complete. The French were masters of the Mediterranean. Spain could no longer be counted as a great naval power, and the navy of Holland had been so reduced, and its strong leaders so decimated, that there was little hope of its reconstruction. A short while after the decisive victory of Palermo, Tourville became seriously ill and, after struggling against a congestion of the lungs for some weeks, he yielded to the advice of his friends and asked the minister of marine for leave of absence.
On or around February 1, 1677, Tourville returned to Toulon to oversee the equipment of the new ship that had been assigned him, the Monarque. However, no further action of note took place before the signing of the treaty of peace between France and the allies. The famous Treaty of Nijmegen was signed on August 10, 1678 between Louis XIV on one side and half of Europe on the other. During the fifteen years that followed, France for once in her history held naval supremacy over all other nations.
Frothingham, J. P. (1909). Sea fighters from Drake to Farragut. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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|IV. Work with Colbert During Peacetime|
Peace on the water highways brought activity and constructive energy in the dockyards. French Minister of Finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert and his son, the Marquis de Seignelay projected vast improvements in harbor defenses, roadstead facilities, ship-building, and fleet equipments. The total number of warships in the French navy rose to two hundred and nineteen classified vessels of all kinds, including one hundred and twenty ships of the line. Besides these there were a large number of small unclassified craft which brought the list up to almost one thousand. |
The improvement of quality was given attention as well. Colbert's chief aim was progress and perfection in construction. At Versailles in 1678, under his eyes and those of the king, Tourville directed the building of a frigate according to a new design. Light but was heavily armed, it was better than its predecessor and even an advance on the British model. Merchant marine as well as military marine, commerce as well as war, received the careful attention of Colbert, and the next few years were devoted to strengthening the entire naval department.
Frothingham, J. P. (1909). The conquest of the Mediterranean. In Sea fighters from Drake to Farragut (pp. 142-143). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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|V. Bombardment of Algiers (1682-83)|
The commerce of Europe was again endangered by the piratical excursions of the Barbary Corsairs. To strike a severe blow to these enemies of trade, it was necessary to attack them in their main retreat. Algiers was the chief lair of the sea robbers. There they led their captured prizes and fortified themselves in its ample harbor. There thousands of Christian captives languished in prison or in servitude. To maim or destroy this center of piracy was the next project of Louis XIV.|
The city was to suffer a fearful punishment for the audacity of her buccaneer rulers. In the summer of 1682, and again in 1683, a French fleet under Duquesne and Tourville sailed into the harbor of Algiers, and among the heavy ships of the line could be seen for the first time several newly invented, small, flat-bottomed, bomb galiots, each of which carried two mortars and four guns.
Shells fell like rain upon the roofs of the city. Day and night the mortars plied their deadly missiles, and every minute a burning bomb swept through the air and exploded in the streets, doing fearful damage. Palaces and mosques fell in a mass of ruins. Storehouses were destroyed, and houses crumbled to the ground. The city was a scene of wild confusion and disorder. Tourville, now Lieutenant-General (Vice-Admiral), always at the post of danger, and first in every perilous enterprise, came and went in a small boat under an incessant fire from the forts to watch the work of the mortars.
Algiers sued for peace, but Duquesne refused to listen to any overtures until all the French prisoners had been released from bondage. For five days there was silence on the bay and a respite in the city, while boat after boat came and went between the shore and the fleet. Seven hundred Christian slaves were restored to liberty. By the time the people of Algiers finally surrendered, and Tourville dictated the conditions of a treaty of peace, thirty-five hundred shells had inflicted great damage on the city.
Frothingham, J. P. (1909). The conquest of the Mediterranean. In Sea fighters from Drake to Farragut (pp. 143-144). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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|VI. Attack on Genoa (1684)|
In April 1684, Louis XIV determined to punish Genoa because under the shelter of that Republic every kind of intrigue had been hatched against France. A fleet was therefore consigned to the charge of Admiral Duquesne and Tourville. |
On May 5th, the fleet drew up before the city and, after about ten days negotiation, it opened fire on the 17th doing very great injury to the public edifices. On the 24th, it was resolved to make a descent and Tourville, accompanied by his nephew as a volunteer, headed this with 200 men. It was successful, but the death of the only surviving son of his elder brother caused him such intense grief that he could hardly continue his duty. When the bombardment was renewed, he does not appear to have done more than fire the suburbs and return to shipboard, but the fleet soon retired beyond the Mole and stopped the engagement. Duquesne was now recalled with the principal portion of the fleet to France. De Tourville remained in command of a squadron of observation, consisting of five ships of war and four galiots, in order to cut off the port from all commerce until the Doge made his submission.
Cust, E. (1869). Marshal de Tourville. In Lives of the warriors who have commanded fleets and armies before the enemy: Warriors of the seventeenth century (Vol. 3 Pt. 2, p. 501). London: J. Murray.
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