Eagles on French flagships?

Discussion in 'History' started by Bunter, Jul 12, 2013.

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  1. I recently acquired a current copy of the magazine Military History and I found in it an account of the Battle of Trafalgar. Included was an extract from a letter written by Jean-Jacques Magendie who was captain of Bucentaure, Admiral Villeneuve's flagship. I found this part of it particularly interesting:

    ".....I went on deck again at the moment when Admiral Villeneuve was constrained to strike [surrender], to prevent the further slaughter of brave men without the power of retaliating, which was done after three and a quarter hours of the most furious action, nearly always at pistol range. The relics of the eagle were thrown into the sea, as were all the signals." (My italics)

    Does this mean that French flagships carried eagles, the way that French infantry regiments did? If so, did we ever capture any?
  2. More research is ongoing! My esteemed friends who are fluent in French and Spanish are uncovering most interesting facts which I will report when a clear answer has emerged, but for the time being it seems safe to say that French capital ships of the Napoleonic Wars carried solid eagles (not just flags with eagles on them). The Royal Navy never succeeded in capturing one but one is reported to have survived and is in Spain. This is bloody fascinating.
  3. wet_blobby

    wet_blobby War Hero Moderator

    Are you sure Jack never nicked one? He managed to get his sticky fingers on everything else.

    Were they eagles on a staff like an infantry Regt would have or more of a ships badge?
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  4. From the incomplete research I have gone through so far, as far as I can see the eagle was made of metal and was fixed at the base of the main mast. There was certainly one on Villeneuve's flagship at Trafalgar, because apart from its remains being chucked into the sea to prevent our lot taking it, earlier on Villeneuve took it and made to throw it aboard the English ship that was alongside - to encourage the French crew to greater efforts. The eagle that is reported as being a survivor in Spain was taken from a French 74 that was unable (or unwilling) to leave the safety of a Spanish harbour when the rest of the joint fleet left to seek their fate off Cape Trafalgar. After our victory the Spanish did one of their regular side changing acts and took the French ship as she lay tied up. The sources I have found so far state clearly that Jack never liberated an eagle from a French ship. I am making enquiries from the National Maritime Museum and other sources and will attempt to keep this forum up to date on my discoveries.
  5. Last edited: Jul 13, 2013
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  6. Soleil,
    Very many thanks for this pointer, it has saved me and my mates who were researching much work! I think actually I can now say our work is done and our questions are answered. Very grateful, much appreciated.
    I'll have a lie down now.
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