1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/La Hogue, Battle of

LA HOGUE, BATTLE OF, the name now given to a series of encounters which took place from the 19th to the 23rd (O.S.) of May 1692, between an allied British and Dutch fleet and a French force, on the northern and eastern sides of the Cotentin in Normandy. A body of French troops, and a number of Jacobite exiles, had been collected in the Cotentin. The government of Louis XIV. prepared a naval armament to cover their passage across the Channel. This force was to have been composed of the French ships at Brest commanded by the count of Tourville, and of a squadron which was to have joined him from Toulon. But the Toulon ships were scattered by a gale, and the combination was not effected. The count of Tourville, who had put to sea to meet them, had with him only 45 or 47 ships of the line. Yet when the reinforcement failed to join him, he steered up Channel to meet the allies, who were known to be in strength. On the 15th of May the British fleet of 63 sail of the line, under command of Edward Russell, afterwards earl of Orford, was joined at St Helens by the Dutch squadron of 36 sail under Admiral van Allemonde. The apparent rashness of the French admiral in seeking an encounter with very superior numbers is explained by the existence of a general belief that many British captains were discontented, and would pass over from the service of the government established by the Revolution of 1688 to their exiled king, James II. It is said that Tourville had orders from Louis XIV. to attack in any case, but the story is of doubtful authority. The British government, aware of the Jacobite intrigues in its fleet, and of the prevalence of discontent, took the bold course of appealing to the loyalty and patriotism of its officers. At a meeting of the flag-officers on board the “Britannia,” Russell’s flag-ship, on the 15th of May, they protested their loyalty, and the whole allied fleet put to sea on the 18th. On the 19th of May, when Cape Barfleur, the north-eastern point of the Cotentin, was 21 m. S.W. of them, they sighted Tourville, who was then 20 m. to the north of Cape La Hague, the north-western extremity of the peninsula, which must not be confounded with La Houque, or La Hogue, the place at which the fighting ended. The allies were formed in a line from S.S.W. to N.N.E. heading towards the English coast, the Dutch forming the White or van division, while the Red or centre division under Russell, and the Blue or rear under Sir John Ashby, were wholly composed of British ships. The wind was from the S.W. and the weather hazy. Tourville bore down and attacked about mid-day, directing his main assault on the centre of the allies, but telling off some ships to watch the van and rear of his enemy. As this first encounter took place off Cape Barfleur, the battle was formerly often called by the name. On the centre, where Tourville was directly opposed to Russell, the fighting was severe. The British flag-ship the “Britannia” (100), and the French, the “Soleil Royal” (100), were both completely crippled. After several hours of conflict, the French admiral, seeing himself outnumbered, and that the allies could outflank him and pass through the necessarily wide intervals in his extended line, drew off without the loss of a ship. The wind now fell and the haze became a fog. Till the 23rd, the two fleets remained off the north coast of the Cotentin, drifting west with the ebb tide or east with the flood, save when they anchored. During the night of the 19th/20th some British ships became entangled, in the fog, with the French, and drifted through them on the tide, with loss. On the 23rd both fleets were near La Hague. About half the French, under D’Amfreville, rounded the cape, and fled to St Malo through the dangerous passage known as the Race of Alderney (le Ras Blanchard). The others were unable to get round the cape before the flood tide set in, and were carried to the eastward. Tourville now transferred his own flag, and left his captains free to save themselves as they best could. He left the “Soleil Royal,” and sent her with two others to Cherbourg, where they were destroyed by Sir Ralph Delaval. The others now ran round Cape Barfleur, and sought refuge on the east side of the Cotentin at the anchorage of La Houque, called by the English La Hogue, where the troops destined for the invasion were encamped. Here 13 of them were burnt by Sir George Rooke, in the presence of the French generals and of the exiled king James II. From the name of the place where the last blow was struck, the battle has come to be known by the name of La Hogue.

Sufficient accounts of the battle may be found in Lediard’s Naval History (London, 1735), and for the French side in Tronde’s Batailles navales de la France (Paris, 1867). The escape of D’Amfreville’s squadron is the subject of Browning’s poem “Hervé Riel.”  (D. H.)