Friday, February 25, 2011

French Fleet off the Coast

The Jacobite Rising of 1745, with Charles Edward Stuart entering Scotland from France, formed the backdrop for Walter Scott's "Waverley".  The year prior to that, partly in response to Jacobite requests, the French themselves toyed with an invasion of England.  French ships were seen off the coast early in 1744.  Just as the French were readying their invasion, a major storm developed, and by the 25th of February the French Fleet dispersed, ending the threat.  Unfortunately for the English, the storm also prevented Sir John Norris from encountering some of the French ships when he had a distinct advantage.  The situation is described in a letter written by Horace Walpole a few days later:

'To Sir Horace Mann.

March 1st, 1744.

I wish I could put you out of the pain my last letters must have given you. I don't know whether your situation, to be at such a distance on so great a crisis, is not more disagreeable than ours, who are expecting every moment to hear the French are landed. We had great ill-luck last week: Sir John Norris, with four-and-twenty sail, came within a league of the Brest squadron, which had but fourteen. The coasts were covered with people to see the engagement; but at seven in the evening the wind changed, and they escaped. There have been terrible winds these four or five days, our fleet has not suffered materially, but theirs less. Ours lies in the Downs; five of theirs at Torbay-the rest at La Hague. We hope to hear that these storms, which blew directly on Dunkirk, have done great damage to their transports. By the fortune of the winds, which have detained them in port, we have had time to make preparations; if they had been ready three weeks ago. when the Brest squadron sailed, it had all been decided. We expect the Dutch in four or five days. Ten battalions, which make seven thousand men, are sent for from our army in Flanders, and four thousand from Ireland, two of which are arrived. If they still attempt the invasion, it must be a bloody war!..'

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