The Battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692

A depiction of an action that took place a century earlier, in 1692 during the War of the English Succession, between the French and Anglo-Dutch fleets. The latter was at sea in the Channel in May 1692. The Comte de Tourville was in Bertheaume Bay awaiting a large reinforcement from Toulon. His force was intended to convoy the French invasion fleet which was to put James II back on the English throne. On 17 May he left his anchorage and with 44 ships of the line went in search of Edward Russell, the British commander-in-chief. However, he was inferior to the Anglo-Dutch fleet with a force of less than half their strength, which included 99 ships of the line. He acted rashly by attacking the allied centre and rear. The Dutch were in the van and so were not engaged, and Russell ordered them to double-back. Although the French fleet fought hard they were only saved from destruction by the poor visibility, which became too thick for general fighting in the early afternoon.

The Battle of Barfleur was the prelude to a French disaster. This partly stemmed from Tourville's impatience in not awaiting the arrival of d'Estrées, with his squadron from Toulon. During the evening of 19 May, the wind freshened and the pursuing allies came into partial action again. It was at this point in the battle that Richard Carter, Rear-Admiral of the Blue Squadron, was killed. Throughout 20 May, the chase to the west continued and on the following morning at 11.00 the French 'Soleil Royal', 106 guns, went aground near Cherbourg, Tourville having already disembarked. Together with the majority of his fleet, Tourville took refuge in the Bay of La Hogue. Sir Ralph Delavall's initial attempt to destroy the 'Soleil Royal' and the two large ships with her, the 'Admirable', 90 guns, and the 'Triomphant', 74 guns, was repulsed. However on 22 May, he renewed his attack with his boats and destroyed all three. The same day the rest of the fleet worked its way into the Bay of La Hogue to get within striking distance of the rest of the French fleet. The next day, Monday 23rd, the boats of the fleet were ordered in under Vice-Admiral George Rooke in the 'Neptune', 96 guns. The French ships were so close to the shore that the French cavalry rode into the water to protect them. Altogether, 12 French men-of-war were destroyed, together with several transports. With the destruction of so much of Tourville's fleet, the threat of invasion disappeared.

The centre of the painting is a narrow stretch of water between the converging English and French lines of battle; the French are positioned on the left, with the 'Soleil Royal', in starboard-quarter view, the chief focal point. She is engaged to the right with the 'Britannia', 100 guns, port-quarter view, preceded by the 'London', 96 guns, and followed by the 'St Andrew', 96 guns. In the left background, the 'Royal William', 100 guns, can be seen in close action with one of the other French flagships and in the right background a Dutch Vice-Admiral is in action with a third. In the left foreground, a French two-decker is sinking, stern on, and her crew are transferring to a small vessel under her stern. In the right foreground a small English ketch has been dismasted and the wreck of another ship is depicted in the right foreground.

The artist started his painting career as an assistant to a ship's painter on Sir Charles Knowles's ship, and he rose to become one of the principal painters of naval actions of the18th century.

Object Details

ID: BHC0332
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Paton, Richard
Events: Nine Years' War: Battle of Barfleur, 1692
Date made: 18th century
People: Keats, Richard Goodwin
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 1295 mm x 2032 mm; Frame: 1570 mm x 2340 mm

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.