Anglo-French Relations The Cloak of Secrecy A personal voyage of detection

Irish Despard Origins

Early in April (1692), the French and Irish troops, destined for the expedition, were assembled, between Cherbourg and La Hogue, in Normandy; and James, with his son the Duke of Berwick, and Marshal de Bellefonds, arrived on the 24th at Caen. Initially the build-up of this force was thought by the English to be targeted at capturing the Channel Islands. However, intelligence received by Nottingham by April 19 indicted that a full scale invasion of England was planned. (From ‘The British army of William III’ 1689-1702 By John Childs (1987))

The embarkation of the troops might then have been commenced. But, for several weeks, the Protestant winds’ as they were styled in England, prevented the attempt, by damaging the French transports, and by preventing the junction of the Toulon fleet, and other vessels, with the Brest fleet under the famous Chevalier Comte de Tourville; while the several English squadrons thus had time to unite under Admiral Russell, with the Dutch fleet under Admiral Van Allemonde. (Russell was Edward Russell, first cousin to the executed Rye House plotter Lord William, and married to his sister Margaret, and hence kin to Ruvigny. He with Henry Sidney was one of the ‘Immortal seven’ inviting William to England. He had sole command of the English fleet 1691-2.)

Louis, and his Minister of the Navy, the Marquis de Seignelay, informed that there would be a great Jacobite defection in the English fleet on meeting his, and that the Dutch were not ready to join the English, at length ordered Tourville to enter the Channel, and give battle. Tourville sailed accordingly. But, the Dutch meanwhile joining the English, the Jacobites despatched intelligence of the fact to France, whence 10 light vessels were sent after Tourville with the news, and a counter-order, that he was not to fight, till strengthened by the Toulon fleet. None, however, of the 10 reached him, and in May 29th between Barfleur and La Hogue, he met the combined fleets.

They, according to their published ‘line of battle’, consisted of 99 sail of the line, 40,675 men, and 6994 cannon, besides nearly 30 frigates, or fire-ships. Of these, there were, for action, 88 sail of the line, including 36 three-deckers, besides minor vessels, or fireships.



  1. Please don’t publish my name or email. I have not read everything here, so perhaps I missed this information, but the reason that the Despards in Ireland are traced only to the date you mention is that the family, as Huguenots had fled to Ireland from France after The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

    1. Thank you for that. However – from 1572 until 1692 there are no records showing the use of the Despard or d’Espard names in either Ireland or England. There are no records of the use of that name in France before that date. Balzac, writing in circa 1840 used that name in a coded fashion which I analyse in my article.

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