Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve (31 December 1763 – 22 April 1806) was a French naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. He was in command of the French and Spanish fleets defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.
At the Battle of the Nile in 1798 he was in command of the rear division. His ship, Guillaume Tell, was one of only two French ships of the line to escape the defeat. He was captured soon afterwards when the British captured the island of Malta, but he was soon released. He was criticised for not engaging the British at the Nile, but Napoleon considered him a "lucky man" and his career was not affected.
In 1804, Napoleon ordered Villeneuve, now a Vice Admiral stationed at Toulon, to escape from the British blockade, overcome the British fleet in the English Channel, and allow the planned invasion of Britain to take place. To draw off the British defences, Villeneuve was to sail to the West Indies, where it was planned that he would combine with the Spanish fleet and the French fleet from Brest, attack British possessions in the Caribbean, before returning across the Atlantic to destroy the British Channel squadrons and escort the Armée d'Angleterre from their camp at Boulogne to victory in England.
On 22 July Villeneuve, now with twenty ships of the line and seven frigates, passed Cape Finisterre on the northwest coast of Spain and entered the Bay of Biscay. Here he met a British fleet of fifteen ships of the line commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder. In the ensuing Battle of Cape Finisterre, a confused action in bad visibility, the British, though outnumbered, were able to cut off and capture two Spanish ships.
For two days Villeneuve shadowed the retreating British, but did not seek a battle. Instead he sailed to A Coruña, arriving on 1 August. Here he received orders from Napoleon to sail to Brest and Boulogne as planned. Instead, perhaps believing a false report of a superior British fleet in the Bay of Biscay, he sailed back to Cádiz, making the planned invasion of Britain wholly impossible.
However, in mid-October he learned that Napoleon was about to replace him as commanding officer and order him to Paris to account for his actions (Napoleon had written to the Minister of Marine, "Villeneuve does not possess the strength of character to command a frigate. He lacks determination and has no moral courage"). Before his replacement could arrive, Villeneuve gave the order to sail on 18 October.
Inexperienced crews and the difficulties of getting out of Cádiz meant that it took two days to get all 34 ships out of port and in some kind of order. On 21 October 1805 Villeneuve learned of the size of the British fleet, and turned back to Cádiz, but the combined fleets were intercepted by Nelson off Cape Trafalgar. Nelson, though outnumbered, won the Battle of Trafalgar, and Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure was captured along with many other French and Spanish ships.
SPOOKED! the Beckhams Paid [Pounds Sterling]1.5m for This French Mansion but Have Never Spent a Single Night There. Could the Explanation Lie in a Violent Death . . . and a Terrifying Ghost?
May 06, 2006; Byline: PETER ALLEN IN BARGEMON ON A warm spring morning earlier this week, a burly English labourer cut an unlikely figure as he...