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Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse

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Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse (May 29 1750 - July 24 1812) was a French admiral.

Early careerEdit

Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse was born in Auch, which lies in the heart of Gascony. The father of Villaret de Joyeuse was of minor nobility from Languedoc. He originally joined the "gendarme du roi", but he had to leave at the age of sixteen after killing one of his comrades in a duel.

Unable to enter the elite naval schools, he entered the navy as a voluntaire in 1768. In 1773 he served as a lieutenant on the Atalante serving in the Indian Ocean. In 1778, he distinguished himself at the siege of Pondicherry, earning the rank of capitaine de brûlot.

He afterwards served under Suffren, who gave him the command of the frigate Bellone after the Battle of Cuddalore. He was later transferred to the frigate La Dauphine, and became first officer aboard the Suffren's ship of the line Brillant.

In 1782, Suffren made him his aid, and gave him a seemingly impossible mission: escape the English fleet aboard and warn the 2-ship of the line and 2-frigate division, which blockaded Madras, about a superior English fleet coming its way to annihilate it. "You will probably be taken on your way or on your way back, make it out as you can, but fight well!". He set sail about Naïade, a small frigate, and after 4 days encountered the 64-gun HMS Spectre. Villaret eluded his opponent by sailing in shallow waters, where his larger and heavier opponent could not follow. Close to Madras, he finally engaged the English ship, striking his colours after a 5-hour battle, Naïade having over 2,4 metres of water in her hull. The English captain refused to accept Villaret's sword, saying: "Sir, you have given us a fairly beautiful frigate, but you made us pay dearly for her!". Villaret was taken prisoner, but the sound of the battle had warned the French squadron which had left and avoided destruction. Villaret was exchanged in 1783, and made Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Louis in July. He was promoted to lieutenant de vaisseau in 1784 for his service. After the war, Villaret served a number of years on shore in the harbour of Lorient.

French RevolutionEdit

Unlike the majority of naval officers, Villaret did not emigrate during the French Revolution.

In 1791, he was given command of the frigate La Prudente, whose mission was to transport troops to Saint-Domingue. Arriving shortly before the breakout of the slave revolt that launched the Haitian Revolution, he helped the governor transport troops around the island.

On the 14th of March 1792, he swore the "civic oath", making bounds to the Republic, while his brother emigrated. Promoted to Capitaine de Vaisseau in 1792, he was given the command of a ship-of-the-line, Le Trajan. In 1793, he commanded of a small squadron patrolling the Vendean coast, in order to prohibit the British from aiding the Vendean rebels. When the rest of the Brest fleet sailed down to Belle-Isle, a mutiny broke out among many ships in the fleet. Villaret was one of the few officers who had maintained order aboard his ship.

In 1794, Jeanbon Saint André named Villaret-Joyeuse as the commander of the Brest Fleet due to his record of maintaining discipline aboard his ship, even during the turmoil of the revolution. That same year, Villaret was promoted to the rank of contre-amiral. Assisted by Saint André, Villaret reorganized and revitalized the Brest fleet. The creation of a naval artillery school was among the numerous measures taken by Saint André and Villaret-Joyeuse.

Battles of PrairialEdit

In the summer of 1794, Villaret sailed with 23 ships-of-the-line and 16 frigates to protect a 170-ship convoy arriving from the United States. In order to protect this shipment, Villaret was forced to engage a 25-ship British fleet in the Battles of Prairial, of which the British referred to the main engagement as the Glorious First of June. Although defeated, he rallied his remaining ships and rescued five ships that had surrendered and the grain convoy reached Brest unmolested.

Supported by Saint-Andre, Villaret-Joyeuse kept his command despite the defeat. He blamed the defeat on the conduct of several of his captains who had failed to fulfil their duties. In September 1794, Villaret-Joyeuse was promoted to vice-amiral. In December, the Committee of Public Safety ordered him to sail out to attack British commerce in what is known as the Coisière du Grand Hiver. Although the cruise did lead to the capture of a number of British merchant ships, the French fleet was battered by storms in which several ships were sunk, and all the surviving ships suffered heavy damage.

In June 1795, he was ordered to sail with 9 ships to relieve a small squadron held up near Belle-Isle. During the First Battle of Ile de Groix, Villaret chased away the small British squadron blockading Belle-Isle. Unable to bring them to battle, Villaret attempted to return to Brest, however contrary winds forced him to sail towards Lorient. Close to Lorient, Villaret was discovered by British admiral Alexander Hood’s fleet, which was guarding the expedition to Quiberon. During Second Battle of Ile de Groix, several of Villaret’s ships disobeyed his orders and sailed away at full speed, abandoning three slower ships to the British.

In 1796, Villaret resigned in protest against the state of the Navy and in opposition to the Directory’s plan for an invasion of Ireland, as he had instead advocated a campaign to the Indian Ocean.

Political careerEdit

In 1797, he was elected to the Council of Five Hundred as a representative of Morbihan. As a member of the Clichy Club, he made several speeches about the colonies, speaking out against the emancipation of slaves. He also lobbied in favour of enhancements of the Navy.

Victim of the Coup of 18 Fructidor due to his connections to royalists and his steady opposition to the Executive Directory, Villaret avoided deportation to Guyanne, but was exiled to Île d'Oléron, where he remained for three years.

Return from exile - Saint DomingueEdit

In 1801, Napoleon ended Villaret-Joyeuse's exile and returned him to active command.

In December 1801, he commanded the 12-ship Brest fleet that carried the major portion of General Emmanuel Leclerc’s expedition to Saint Domingue. Conflicts over command led Villaret to return to France with the majority of the fleet.

Captaine-General of MartiniqueEdit

In April 1802, Napoleon named him Capitaine-General of Martinique and Sainte-Lucie. Taking control of Martinique in September, he governed the island in the name of the Emperor, facing both the threat of slave-uprisings, yellow fever and British invasion.

He cooperated with the fleets of Admiral Edouard Jacques Burgues de Missiessy and Pierre-Charles Villeneuve who sailed into the Caribbean in 1805. In January 1809, a large British expedition invaded Martinique and laid siege to the fortress at Fort-de-France. The month-long siege ended on 24 February when the British were able to bring up their heavy artillery.

Upon his return to France, Napoleon, who was angered at the surrender, had Villaret court-martialed for surrendering the island too quickly. Initially found guilty, Villaret pleaded his case and eventually received a pardon from Napoleon in 1811: "Bravery and fidelity plead in favour of the vice-admiral (...) did his faults lose the colony? At most, they shortened its keeping for a few days." As Napoleon prepared for the invasion of Russia, he named Villaret governor of Venice in April 1811, where he was occupied with the maritime affairs. Villaret retained this position until 24 July 1812 when he died of hydropsy.

To honour him, Napoleon had his name engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

HonoursEdit

  • Knight of the Order of Saint-Louis – 15 July 1783
  • Knight of the Legion of Honour – 11 October 1803
  • Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour - 14 June 1804
  • Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour – 2 February 1805

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