Fate, Fortune or Faithlessness? Camaret Bay 18th June, 1694 Part 1

This piece was first run in Wargames Illustrated in 2016. I thought it a solid multi-parter to run on the blog whilst I am holidaying.

Contemporaneous notoriety

The disastrous attack at Camaret Bay on June 18th 1694 was a very English tragedy. From a distance of 322 years it is easy to understand that a relatively minor operation which went badly wrong and resulted in the death of a largely forgotten general is of little if any significance. Although few may have been aware of the Battle of Camaret Bay or Thomas Tollemache before reading this piece it is likely that most if not all readers have heard of John Churchill and more than a few of King James II and Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Seignur de Vauban, Marshal of France. Each is linked directly or indirectly to a disastrous military adventure which in its own way will have shaped subsequent momentous historical events.

Tollemache by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

If we hopped into the DeLorean and set the dial to April 1694 the names of our protagonists would be as ubiquitous as Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Adele are to us today. In particular during this the fifth full year of the reign of William and Mary, a military A- lister would mostly definitely have been Lieutenant General Thomas Tollemache (sometimes Talmash or Tolmach). Aged 43, veteran of Tangier, Colonel of the Coldstream Guards, Brigadier General of Foot in Ireland, distinguished at Walcourt in ’89, Aughrim in ’91, Steenkirke in ’92 and Neerwinden in ’93.

English infantry - Camaret was an 'All England' affair

He was the rapidly rising star in the English army and perhaps destined for the top job. Known as a bit of a hothead very like another of his ascendant brother officers - John Cutts the warrior poet, aged 33 who was also a significant player in the Camaret escapade.

Tollemache was a contemporary and many would say the pre-eminent rival of yet another famous officer of the day, Lieutenant General John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough aged 44, and at this point in time out of favour with the monarchy and on gardening leave in Oxfordshire having been in the gossip magazines for all the wrong reasons.

This Toff schemer has a bit too much of the Choir Boy molester look about him!

Disunited together

The command structure and distribution of power amongst King William’s generals was a turbulent and seething broth of jealously, intrigue and secret pacts. The King instinctively trusted his Dutch entourage more than the English establishment. The most powerful in England had made possible his ascension to the throne but his political survival instincts compelled him to doubt their loyalty and trustworthiness. What must have appeared as hugely disrespectful ingratitude to many in England was viewed differently by the joint monarchs and their advisors.

Cut out of the Camaret equation - not a Dutchman in sight!  Regiment Waldeck- Pyrmont.

 A lingering suspicion that these king-makers would once more turn towards James Stuart resulted in many falling foul of court intrigue. John Churchill notwithstanding his military talent was one such. After a promising start in 1688 and military successes at Walcourt in 1689 followed by a textbook operation at Cork and Kinsale in 1690, the politically adroit Marlborough played a couple of very bad hands and found himself well and truly locked out of the game at the highest level and by the King and Queen personally.

Steenkirke was a defeat but many English officers emerged from the cauldron with enhanced repuatations for bravery.

Tollemache was getting lots of the airtime that his rival probably had planned to occupy which can’t have made for an easy relationship between the two generals.

Success in Ireland brought riches and fame to many yet the strategic direction and ideas championed by several senior English officers were not aligned with those of Dutch and other Allied commanders as the Nine Years War entered its sixth year. As a consequence the planned attack on Brest became predominantly an English operation.