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Chateau-Renault, Francois Louis De Rousselet

CHATEAU-RENAULT, FRANCOIS LOUIS DE ROUSSELET, Marquis de (1637-1716), French admiral, was the fourth son of the third marquis of Château-Renault. The family was of Breton origin, but had been long settled near Blois. He entered the army in 1658, but in 1661 was transferred to the navy, which Louis XIV. was eager to raise to a high level of strength. After a short apprenticeship he was made captain in 1666. His early services were mostly performed in cruises against the Barbary pirates (1672). In 1673 he was named chef d'escadre, and he was promoted lieutenant général des armées navales in 1687. During the wars up to this date he had few chances of distinction, but he had been wounded in action with the pirates, and had been on a cruise to the West Indies. When war broke out between England and France after the revolution of 1688, he was in command at Brest, and was chosen to carry the troops and stores sent by the French king to the aid of James II. in Ireland. Although he was watched by Admiral Herbert (Lord Torrington, q.v.), with whom he fought an indecisive action in Bantry Bay, he executed his mission with success. Château-Renault commanded a squadron under Tourville at the battle of Beachy Head in 1690. He was with Tourville in the attack of the Smyrna convoy in 1693, and was named grand cross of the order of Saint Louis in the same year. Though in constant service, the reduced state of the French navy (owing to the financial embarrassments of the treasury) gave him few openings for fighting at sea during the rest of the war.

On the death of Tourville in 1701 he was named to the vacant post of vice-admiral of France. On the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession he was named for the difficult task of protecting the Spanish ships which were to bring the treasure from America. It was a duty of extreme delicacy, for the Spaniards were unwilling to obey a foreigner, and the French king was anxious that the bullion should be brought to one of his own ports, a scheme which the Spanish officials were sure to resent if they were allowed to discover what was meant. With the utmost difficulty Château-Renault was able to bring the galleons as far as Vigo, to which port he steered when he learnt that a powerful English and Dutch armament was on the Spanish coast, and had to recognize that the Spanish officers would not consent to make for a French harbour or for Passages, which they thought too near France. His fleet of fifteen French and three Spanish war-ships, having under their care twelve galleons, had anchored on the 22nd of September in Vigo Bay. Obstacles, some of an official character, and others due to the poverty of the Spanish government in resources, arose to delay the landing of the treasure. There was no adequate garrison in the town, and the local militia was untrustworthy. Knowing that he would probably be attacked, Château-Renault strove to protect his fleet by means of a boom. The order to land the treasure was delayed, and until it came from Madrid nothing could be done, since according to law it should have been landed at Cadiz, which had a monopoly of the trade with America. At last the order came, and the bullion was landed under the care of the Gallician militia which was ordered to escort it to Lugo. A very large part, if not the whole, was plundered by the militiamen and the farmers whose carts had been commandeered for the service. But the bulk of the merchandise was on board of the galleons when the allied fleet appeared outside of the bay on the 22nd of October 1702. Sir George Rooke and his colleagues resolved to attack. The fleet was carrying a body of troops which had been sent out to make a landing at Cadiz, and had been beaten off. The fortifications of Vigo were weak on the sea side, and on the land side there were none. There was therefore nothing to offer a serious resistance to the allies when they landed soldiers. The fleet of twenty-four sail was steered at the boom and broke through it, while the troops turned the forts and had no difficulty in scattering the Gallician militia. In the bay the action was utterly disastrous to the French and Spaniards. Their ships were all taken or destroyed. The booty gained was far less than the allies hoped, but the damage done to the French and Spanish governments was great.

Château-Renault suffered no loss of his master's favour by his failure to save the treasure. The king considered him free from blame, and must indeed have known that the admiral had been trusted with too many secrets to make it safe to inflict a public rebuke. The Spanish government declined to give him the rank of grandee which was to have been the reward for bringing home the bullion safe. But in 1703 he was made a marshal of France, and shortly afterwards lieutenant-general of Brittany. The fight in Vigo Bay was the last piece of active service performed by Château-Renault. In 1708 on the death of his nephew he inherited the marquisate, and on the 15th of November 1716 he died in Paris. He married in 1684 Marie-Anne-Renée de la Porte, daughter and heiress of the count of Crozon. His eldest son was killed at the battle of Malaga 1704, and another, also a naval officer, was killed by accident in 1708. A third son, who too was a naval officer, succeeded him in the title.

A life of Château-Renault was published in 1903 by M. Calmon-Maison. There is a French as well as an English account of the part played by him at Bantry Bay and Beachy Head, and the controversy still continues. For the French history of the navy under Louis XIV. see Léon Guerin, Histoire maritime de la France (1863), vols. iii., iv.; and his Les Marins illustres (1861). Also the naval history by Charles Bouzel de la Roncière.

(D. H.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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