1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guichen, Luc Urbain de Bouëxic, Comte de

GUICHEN, LUC URBAIN DE BOUËXIC, Comte de (1712–1790), French admiral, entered the navy in 1730 as “garde de la Marine,” the first rank in the corps of royal officers. His promotion was not rapid. It was not till 1748 that he became “lieutenant de vaisseau,” which was, however, a somewhat higher rank than the lieutenant in the British navy, since it carried with it the right to command a frigate. He was “capitaine de vaisseau,” or post captain, in 1756. But his reputation must have been good, for he was made chevalier de Saint Louis in 1748. In 1775 he was appointed to the frigate “Terpsichore,” attached to the training squadron, in which the duc de Chartres, afterwards notorious as the duc d’Orléans and as Philippe Égalité, was entered as volunteer. In the next year he was promoted chef d’escadre, or rear-admiral. When France had become the ally of the Americans in the War of Independence, he hoisted his flag in the Channel fleet, and was present at the battle of Ushant on the 27th of July 1779. In March of the following year he was sent to the West Indies with a strong squadron and was there opposed to Sir George Rodney. In the first meeting between them on the 17th of April to leeward of Martinique, Guichen escaped disaster only through the clumsy manner in which Sir George’s orders were executed by his captains. Seeing that he had to deal with a formidable opponent, Guichen acted with extreme caution, and by keeping the weather gauge afforded the British admiral no chance of bringing him to close action. When the hurricane months approached (July to September) he left the West Indies, and his squadron, being in a bad state from want of repairs, returned home, reaching Brest in September. Throughout all this campaign Guichen had shown himself very skilful in handling a fleet, and if he had not gained any marked success, he had prevented the British admiral from doing any harm to the French islands in the Antilles. In December 1781 the comte de Guichen was chosen to command the force which was entrusted with the duty of carrying stores and reinforcements to the West Indies. On the 12th Admiral Kempenfelt, who had been sent out by the British Government with an unduly weak force to intercept him, sighted the French admiral in the Bay of Biscay through a temporary clearance in a fog, at a moment when Guichen’s warships were to leeward of the convoy, and attacked the transports at once. The French admiral could not prevent his enemy from capturing twenty of the transports, and driving the others into a panic-stricken flight. They returned to port, and the mission entrusted to Guichen was entirely defeated. He therefore returned to port also. He had no opportunity to gain any counterbalancing success during the short remainder of the war, but he was present at the final relief of Gibraltar by Lord Howe. His death occurred on the 13th of January 1790. The comte de Guichen was, by the testimony of his contemporaries, a most accomplished and high-minded gentleman. It is probable that he had more scientific knowledge than any of his English contemporaries and opponents. But as a commander in war he was notable chiefly for his skill in directing the orderly movements of a fleet, and seems to have been satisfied with formal operations, which were possibly elegant but could lead to no substantial result. He had none of the combative instincts of his countryman Suffren, or of the average British admiral.

See vicomte de Noailles, Marins et soldats français en Amérique (1903); and E. Chevalier, Histoire de la marine française pendant la guerre de l’indépendence américaine (1877).  (D. H.)