Leadership in the French Navy during the Revolution and Empire. The Optimist and the Pessimist: Louis-René de Latouche- Tréville (1745–1804) and Pierre Charles de Villeneuve (1763–1806)
Chapter from the book: Guimerá A. & Harding R. 2017. Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World: The Age of Reform and Revolution, 1700–1850.
France’s Revolution constituted a dramatic rupture with improvised solutions of many kinds addressing a lack of officers in its Navy. Serious training initiatives were absent and it found itself dominated. This chapter explores the careers of two survivors from Louis XVI’s navy capable of conducting effective operations. Latouche-Tréville was one of the rare noble officers who succeeded in retaining the confidence of crews inspiring friendship that extended even to English adversaries. He was the only French commander who could boast that he kept Nelson at bay at the head of the Boulogne flotilla in 1803 and again at Toulon (1804) greatly angering the Englishman. His death (August 1804) deprived Napoleon of a serious asset in his plans to invade England. De Villeneuve was to replace Latouche Tréville at the head of the Toulon fleet surviving the Battle of the Nile (1798) in the rear-guard but though a man of foresight, he was hampered by chronic pessimism and passivity. Ultimately de Villeuve was tragically trapped performing a role he knew himself incapable of assuming, and hampered like others by Napoleon’s distrust and arrogance, demonstrating the French Navy’s problems in replacing the noble corps of the Naval Guards after 1789.