Friday, September 9, 2011

Abraham Duquesne (1610-1688), A protestant who served in the French royal navy

Marquis Abraham Duquesne (1610-1688). The painting is signed and dated '1838'. A three-quarter length portrait to right in armour and wearing a fair full-bottomed wig. The sitter holds a baton in his right hand. This portrait is either a copy of, or based on an earlier original. Duquesne was a French naval officer during the administrations of Richelieu and Colbert who decisively defeated the combined fleets of Spain and Holland in 1676. After distinguishing himself against the Spanish in the late thirties and early forties he took service with the Swedish navy in 1643 and defeated the Danes. His most famous victory was for his own country when France was in conflict with Spain and Holland in the Mediterranean, and after a series of indecisive engagements against the combined fleet, he defeated it utterly at Catania in 1676, killing its admiral, the great de Ruyter. This painting is on loan from the Greenwich Hospital Collection to whom it was presented by King Louis Philippe in 1839. The painting is signed and dated '1838'

Bombardment of Algiers in 1682, by Abraham Duquesne

Bombardment of Genoa by Duquesne in 1684, by Beaulieu le Donjon

Figurehead of the Duquesne, figuring Abraham Duquesne. Circa 1822

Statue of Abraham marquis Duquesne at Versailles Palace. The staterooms of Versailles shows the elegance of the mansion. The rooms have elaborately painted walls and ceilings, as well as very decorative furniture. Most of them are named after Greek and Roman mythological gods and goddesses. Age and lighting have caused many of the paintings and furniture to fade and/or darken a bit. I used some Photoshop to help revive some of the beauty of the paintings

Abraham Duquesne, marquis du Bouchet (c. 1610 – February 2, 1688) was a French naval officer, who also saw service as an admiral in the Swedish navy. He was born in Dieppe, a seaport, in 1610, and was a Huguenot. He was the son of a naval officer and therefore became a sailor himself, spending his early years in merchant service.

In 1635, he was capitaine de vaisseau (captain) in the French navy. In 1636, he was appointed to the "Neptune" squadron. In May 1637 he gained some fame for capturing the island of Lerins from the Spanish. Around this time, his father died in a conflict with the Spanish, which permanently increased his animosity towards them and he sought revenge. He fought them viciously at the Battle of Guetaria in 1638, during the expedition to Corunna in 1639, and in the battles at Tarragona in 1641, Barcelona and the Cabo de Gata.

Duquesne then left to join the Swedish navy in 1643. On the side of the Swedes, he fought the Danish fleet at the Battle of Colberger Heide where King Christian IV himself was in command of the Danish fleet, in the frigate Regina 34. Later at Fehmarn, the Danes were defeated, their admiral Pros Mund killed and his ship taken. After a peace had been reached between the Danes and the Swedes in 1645, he returned to France.

He suppressed a revolt at Bordeaux (which was materially supported by his most hated foe, the Spanish) in 1650, during the Fronde outbreaks. During that same year, he created at his own expense a squadron with which he blockaded the Gironde, forcing that city to surrender. This earned him a promotion in rank to chef d'escadre (Rear-Admiral), a castle, and a gift of the entire isle of Indre, Loire-Atlantique. The French and the Spanish made peace in 1659, which left him to fight pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1667 he is promoted 'Lieutenant-Général' (Vice-Admiral). He distinguished himself in the Third Dutch War, fighting as second in command of the French squadron at the Battle of Solebay and later supporting the insurgents in the revolt of Messina from Spain, fighting Admiral Michel Adriaanzoon de Ruyter, who had the united fleets of Spain and the United Provinces under his command. He fought the combined Dutch-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Stromboli and the Battle of Agosta where De Ruyter was mortally wounded. On the 2nd of June he was present as second in command when the French fleet under Comte and Vivonne attacked and partly destroyed the Spanish-Dutch fleet at the Battle of Palermo, which secured French control of the Mediterranean. For this accomplishment he received a personal letter from Louis XIV and was given, in 1681, the title of marquis along with the estate of Bouchet, even though he was a Protestant!

He made many enemies at court because of his loyalty to Protestantism, even though Colbert protected him. Nevertheless Louis XIVth did establish his estate, called Le Bouchet, as a marquisate ; this was a reward for his outstanding service to the crown. However, the conditions were : "that there would be no act of worship of the Pretended Reformed Religion on his estate". But no other favour was shown to him ; the king said to the marquis, "I am sorry, sir, that you prevent me from granting other favours to a man of such outstanding capacities as yourself." Unperturbed, Duquesne replied, "When I fought against Your Majesty's enemies, sir, I never thought about which religion they belonged to. All that mattered to me was the fact that you had given orders to attack."

Duquesne also fought the Barbary pirates in 1681 and bombarded Algiers between 1682 and 1683, to help Christian captives, and bombarded Genoa in 1684.

After the Revocation of the edict of Nantes, Duquesne was allowed to stay in France without having to abjure his faith, even though all the other protestant naval officers at this time had to either abjure or emigrate. But Seignelay, the Minister for the Navy, who had also been instrumental in drawing up the Edict of Fontainebleau, struck his name off the list of officers in the royal navy in 1686 - indeed, Seignelay was renowned for his hatred of Huguenots in general and had a particular aversion to Duquesne.

He died in Paris on the 1st of February 1688 and was buried on his estate, Le Bouchet, where his body still lies. However, one of the sons who had emigrated put his heart in an urn and took it to Aubonne in Switzerland, where it was placed in a large family tomb which can still be seen today.

His wife had to abjure in order not to lose all the family possessions and his children were forced to leave the country.

  • The Marquis Duquesne de Menneville, another famous mariner, was his grandnephew
  • 8 vessels of the French Navy have been named in his honour

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