French admiral and Marshal of France
Comte de Tourville (1689-1701)
Born 1642 Died 1701
Anne-Hilarion de Cotentin (or Costantin), was the son of Cesar de Cotentin, or Costantin, who held offices in the household of the king and of the Prince of Conde. He is said to have been born at Tourville in Normandy, but was baptized in Paris on the 24th of November 1642, was commonly known as M. de Tourville, and was destined by his family to enter the Order of Malta. From the age of fourteen to the age of twenty-five, he served with the galleys of the Order. At that time the knights were still fighting the Barbary pirates of Algiers and Tunis. The young Anne-Hilarion is said to have been distinguished for courage. His life during these years, however, is little known. The supposed Memoirs bearing his name were published by the Abbe de Magron in the 18th century and belong to the large class of historical romances which professed to be biographies or autobiographies.
In 1667 he was back in France, and was incorporated in the corps of officers of the French Royal navy which Louis XIV was then raising from the prostration into which it had fallen during his minority. The positions of French naval officer and knight of Malta were not incompatible. Many men held both. The usual practice was that they did not take the full vows till they were in middle life, and had reached the age when they were entitled to hold one of the great offices. Until then they were free to marry, on condition of renouncing all claim to the chief places. As Anne-Hilarion de Cotentin married a wealthy widow, the Marquise de Popeliniere, in 1689 at which time he was made count of Tourville, he severed his connection with the Order. Nor does he appear to have served with it at all after his return to France in 1667.
He was at first employed in cruising against the Barbary pirates and the Turks. In the expedition sent against Crete in 1668-69 under command of the Duc de Beaufort he had command of the Croissant (44). The Due de Beaufort was killed, and the expedition was a failure. When the war with Holland in which France and England acted as allies began in 1670, Tourville commanded the Page (50), in the squadron of the Comte d'Estrees (1624-1707) sent to co-operate with the Duke of York. He was present at the battle of Solebay (June 7, 1672), and in the action on the coast of Holland in the following year, when Prince Rupert commanded the English fleet. When England withdrew from the alliance, the scene of the naval war was transferred to the Mediterranean, where Holland was co-operating with the Spaniards. Tourvillle served under Abraham Duquesne in his battles with De Ruyter. He particularly distinguished himself at the battle of Palermo on the 2nd of June 1676.
By this time he was known as one of the best officers in the service of King Louis XIV. Unlike many employed by the king to command his ships in the earlier part of his reign, Tourville was a seaman. He had the reputation of being able to do all the work required in a ship, and he had made a study of naval warfare. The great treatise on naval tactics afterwards published under the name of his secretary, the Jesuit Hoste or l'Hoste, was understood to have been inspired by him. In 1683 he was chef d'escadre rear admiral with Duquesne in operations against the Barbary pirates, and he continued on that service with D'Estrees. By 1689 he had been promoted lieutenant-general des armees navales, and was named vice-admiral du Levant or of the East. In June of that year he took up the commandership-in-chief of the French naval forces in the war against England and her continental allies which had begun in the previous year. From this time till the failure of his resources compelled King Louis XIV to withdraw his fleets from the sea, Tourville continued to command the naval war in the Channel and the Atlantic. His conduct and example during this period were the source of the system of manoeuvring to gain an advantage by some method other than plain fighting.
The personal character of Tourville must be held to account largely for the timidity of the principles he established. Tourville's personal valour was of the finest quality, but like many other brave men, he was nervous under the weight of responsibility. It is no less clear that anxiety to avoid risking a disaster to his reputation was of more weight with him than the wish to win a signal success. He belonged to the type of men in whose minds the evil which may happen is always more visible than the good.
In 1690 he had an opportunity which might well have tempted the most cautious, and he missed it out of sheer care to keep his fleet safe against all conceivable chances, aided perhaps by a pedantic taste for formal, orderly movement. He was opposed in the channel by the allies, who had only fifty-six ships, while his own force, though it included some vessels of no serious value, was from seventy to eighty sail strong. He was feebly attacked by Admiral Arthur Herbert, the newly created Earl of Torrington off Beachy Head on the l0th of July. The Dutch ships in the van were surrounded. The allies had to retreat in disorder, and Tourville followed in 'line of battle' which limited his speed to that of his slowest ship. So his enemy escaped with comparatively little loss.
In the following year he performed his famous 'off shore cruise', in the Bay of Biscay. He moved to and fro in fine order avoiding being brought to battle, but also failing to inflict any harm on his opponent. In the mean-time the cause of King James II was ruined in Ireland.
In 1692 the Mediterranean fleet having failed to join him, he was faced by a vastly superior force of the allies. The French king had prepared a military force to invade England, and Tourville was expected to prepare the way. Having at least a clear indication that he was expected to act with vigour, if not precise orders to fight against any odds, he made a resolute attack on the centre of the allies on the 29th of May off Cape Barfleur, and drew off before he was surrounded. This action which with the pursuit of the following days made up what is called the battle of La Hogue, from the Bay where some of the fugitive French ships were destroyed, or Barfleur, proved his readiness to face danger. But his inability to take and act on a painful decision was no less proved in the retreat. He hesitated to sacrifice his crippled flagship, and thereby detained his whole fleet. The result was that the Soleil Royale herself and fifteen other ships were cut off and destroyed at La Hogue.
In 1693 he was again at sea with a great fleet, and had a chance to inflict extreme injury on the allies by the capture of the Smyrna convoy which included their whole Mediterranean trade for the year. He did it a great deal of harm outside the Straits of Gibraltar, but again he kept his fleet in battle order, and a large part of the convoy escaped. King Louis XIV who had a strong personal regard for him, continued to treat him with favour. Tourville was made Marshal of France in 1693, but the growing exhaustion of the French treasury no longer allowed the maintenance of great fleets at sea. Tourville remained generally at Toulon, and had no more fighting. He died in Paris in 1701. His only son, a colonel in the army, was killed at Denain in 1712.
The English account of the battles of Beachy Head and La Hogue will be found in Ledyard's Naval History. Troude's Batailles navales de la France gives the French version of these and the other actions in which Tourville was concerned. Tourville is frequently mentioned in the Life of Duquesne by M. Jai. (D. H.)
Being the entry for TOURVILLE, ANNE-HILARION DE COTENTIN (or COSTANTIN), COMTE DE or in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.