A week after the naval victory over the French at Quiberon Bay, Richard noted the “Day of General Thanksgiving, observed for the great and plentiful harvest, and the train of successes the Lord has been pleased this year to give us over our Enemies in Europe, Asia, Affrica and America”. The Battle of Quiberon Bay was the icing on the cake, rounding off the ‘annus mirabilis’ which saw British forces triumph around the world.
Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum. ‘The Battle of Quiberon Bay’ by Nicholas Pocock, painted in 1812.
Quiberon Bay is situated off the French coast near St Nazaire. The English fleet under Sir Edward Hawke had been attempting to bottle up the French navy in Brest harbour so as to stop any possible invasion plan; a vicious storm had developed, forcing the bulk of the English fleet to run for cover in the Channel, but enough ships remained to see the French attempt to break the blockade under cover of the storm. The English with 24 ships of the line, re-grouped and chased the French into Quiberon Bay, notorious for its shallows and rocky passages. In the teeth of the gale Hawke’s ships cornered the French under the command of Marshal de Conflans. After a battle which lasted for hours in the storm-lashed bay, the English captured, or forced aground, six of the French ships of the line.
Battle of Quiberon Bay, the Day after. Richard Wright, 1760.
Marshal de Conflan’s flagship, the mighty Soleil Royal, was driven onto the shallows, and torched. Two and a half thousand experienced French sailors were killed or captured. Although a number of large French ships escaped, they were but a shadow of the original force, and posed little threat to the British navies for the rest of the Seven Years War. The battle was a turning point in the balance of sea power, and so when news of the victory reached London, the Day of Thanksgiving was announced. The clergy took to their pulpits in droves to praise the Lord for helping us trounce our enemies, and Horace Walpole remarked that “our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories”.
For Richard and the rest of the population it was apparent that the very real threat of invasion by the French was completely finished – it must have been a huge relief. After years of demoralizing news the country had triumphed over the French in every theatre of war. With hindsight it can be said that 1759 marked the occasion when the British Empire eclipsed the French one. And Richard was able to sit down with a sharp pair of scissors, spectacles perched on the end of his nose, and cut out a piece of paper to show the might of Britsh Armed Forces.