The French Ship Soleil Royal - What makes the Soleil Royal so famous
Throughout human history, we have always looked to advance beyond our previous technological limits. It is this constant desire to improve, to change, to add what we already have, that has played such a key role in societal development. One aspect that has constantly driven human progress has been how we travel. How can we overcome barriers of land, air, and sea? For the latter, it was the development of boats. Across a period of centuries, we seen ships go from tiny rowboats to grandiose displays of engineering and opulence.
Go back to the 1600s, and few examples of this opulence are more fitting than the Soleil Royal. This ship is one of the most famous to have been developed by the French during the 1600s. a 104-gun ship of the line, it was the flagship used by Admiral Tourville.
The ship itself was a heady combination of glorious, artistic detail and incredible power for the timeline it was built within. The ship itself was first built in Brest in 1669, and was named after King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Indeed, the ship was noted at the time for its magnificent wooden carvings representing Louis XIV.
Despite not having anything like the service history of other ships of the era, the Soleil Royal has become famous across the world. It was a ship involved in two of the most famous battles of the era, and even today retains huge interest for its design.
Why was the Soleil Royal named after King Louis XIV?
The ship itself took the name of King Louis XIV, who was born on September 5th, 1638. Taking on the crown at the age of a toddler, four, in 1643, Louis soon became one of the longest reigning monarchs of his era. He reigned for over 72 years, which is regarded as the longest reign of any monarch across European sovereign history.
During that reign, he played a key role in the transformation of France as a nation. Indeed, his era was one of a golden age for France when it came to things like art, literature, and French progress as a continental power. Though very much a monarch with an eye on domestic culture and progress, France was by no means shy of entering into battle when it had to.
Indeed, the largest war of the era of Louis XIV came in the War of the Spanish Succession; a 13-year war that lasted until 1714. Louis himself knew the esteem in which he was held, which played a role in him declaring himself as the Sun King and taking on the symbol of the sun as his own.
This imagery became instantly recognisable for Louis, and it became a big part of what made him such a famous King of the era. The imagery, opulent and regal, became a symbol of the self-satisfaction and the prestige that Louis held himself within.
What makes the Soleil Royal so famous?
The ship itself, though, was a design to try and appease and honour the Sun King himself. It was developed with class and charm, with the idea of impressing a King with massive standards the key aim. It was developed, built, and then launched from Brest in 1669 and it was recognised for its incredible design. The artwork was stunning, with a taffrail that was developed with the horse-drawn sun god stretching the length of the sky.
A massive figurehead was developed, too, with the design depicting a pair of winged maidens next to a seahorse. It was, even for the standards of today, truly stunning in its artwork and its ingenuity. However, there was more to the Soleil Royal than simply carrying a grandiose look. It also was powered with 104 cannons, making it among the most well-armed ships of the entire ear.
The ship, famed for its opulent royal blue and gold design alongside perfectly wood, was a marvel to look at. Other markings and carvings showed the Soleil Royal opulent side. Gorgeous designs of everything from golden artwork to gorgeous designs that contrasted with the navy blue hull really making a significant impact on the look of the ship.
Indeed, the statuary of the ship, developed by artist Charles Le Brun, can be found within the Louvre, Paris.
What did the Soleil Royal do to achieve legendary status?
As mentioned before, the Soleil Royal was more involved in high-quality battles as opposed to a high quantity of skirmishes. Arguably the most important part of the history of the Soleil Royal, though, comes from the Battle of Beachy Head. This battle took place in July 1690, and the Soleil Royal – now armed with an extra 8 cannons to bring it up to 112 – led the French Navy as its flagship vessel.
The fleet, 70-strong in terms of ship numbers, was sent to take on the combination of the English and Dutch combined forces. These two massive armies would take on the French in the Nine Years’ War, and the battle was seen as one of the most important in the history of the era. Indeed, the battle kicked off on the 10th July and lasted for eight hours, with a French tactical victory overwhelming the joint forces of the English and the Dutch.
The combined armies lost as many as seven main ships of the line, and several fire ships. The French, though, came through the battle without losing a single ship. A large part of this is attributed to the success, power, and valour of the Soleil Royal.
However, it would reach its end when tasked with emptying the English Channel of resistance. They fought off against the Anglo-Dutch fleet in 1692, facing off against an 88-strong fleet of ships. Despite being recommended by his own strategists to avoid battle, Admiral Tourville – instructed by King Louis himself – was forced to engage in battle. The fight was a stalemate, with many ships damaged on both sides – most crucially the Soleil Royal itself.
The Soleil Royal and two other ships were forced aground at Cherbourg, and they were eventually destroyed by repeated assaults from English fireships. Today, the remains of the ship lie under a parking space next to the Arsenal. It is regarded as one of the most opulent, stylish ships of its – or any – era, and though it was eventually destroyed that does little to dull the significant and importance of this most special warship.
Seacraft Gallery – October 2022