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

Irish Despard Origins

At this time all trade with France was banned. Those caught risked confiscation of ships and goods and imprisonment. Desarres clearly had official sanction in Ireland and must have established a similar level of protection in France, almost certainly at Bordeaux. I can only speculate as to his contacts in France, but if he was related to Antoine de Caumont, the de Gramonts and to Henri-Francois de Foix-Gurcon,  then he had access to both wine and other products for trade, and also information on French fleet and troop movements.

In April 1672 Antoine Duc de Gramont, purchased the Territory and Lordship of Lesparre, situated to the north-west of Bordeaux and overlooking the Gironde, from the estate of Bernard d’Epernon (who had died in July 1661, and whose mother was a de Foix-Candalle) for 422,500 Livres. This included the fortified chateau called ‘L’Honneur de Lesparre’. His son, Philibert’s nephew, Antoine IV, was Viceroy of Navarre and Bearn, and Governor of Bayonne. He had a distinguished career in the army and then as a diplomat. As already noted, Philibert was appointed Lt General of Bearn in 1679, and in 1687 Governor of pays d’Aunis and La Rochelle (Saintonge), although this last appointment was subsequently sold. It might thus be claimed that he and his nephew had effective influence over the French coast from La Rochelle down to the border with Spain. The de Gramonts were extremley well-placed to cooperate with Irish partners for mutual commercial benefit, as the following extract (and please note the date) shows : From ‘Corsairs and Navies’ by John s. Bromley (1987) – ‘The Duc de Gramont, who prided himself on being the ‘Director’ of the Basque ‘corsairiat’, complained in 1693 that the minister was according vessels ‘ tous les courtisans qui vous en demandent’……..He further mentioned the Comte de Gramont (Philibert), to whose ‘gens’ the intendent of Dunkirk also referred, though it is not clear whether they were his agents or theirs.’ The King of France had started in 1692 to lend or lease his navy’s ships for private use.

In search of empire: the French in the Americas, 1670-1730’, by James S. Pritchard (2004), tells us too that ‘there was a remarkably successful attack on the Dutch whaling fleet at Spitzbergen in 1693, which was sponsored by the Duc de Gramont. The Duc had convinced Louis XIV to grant Le Pelican of 50 guns and two Bayonne built 36 gun frigates L’Aigle and Le Favori, which were added to three privateers. In August 1693 they destroyed a third of the Dutch fleet. A similar expedition to attack the English cod-fishing trade at Newfoundland was not successful.’



  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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