DESCRIPTION: "Good news to you I will unfold, 'Tis of brave Rodney's glory." In 1782 Rodney defeats De Grasse and the French fleet off Fort Royal. Five French ships are captured and thousands slain. "Now may prosperity attend Brave Rodney and his Irishmen"
AUTHOR: Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain (Owen Roe O'Sullivan) (1748?-1784) (source: Hoagland; cf. Moylan)
EARLIEST DATE: before 1845 (broadside, Bodleian Firth c.12(24))
KEYWORDS: battle navy death sea ship
April 12, 1782 - Admiral George Brydges Rodney defeats French Admiral the Count De Grasse at the Battle of the Saintes in the Caribbean and brings the captured French ships into Fort Royal
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Moylan 8, "Rodney's Glory" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 349-351 "Rodney's Glory" (1 long text)
Bodleian, Firth c.12(24), "Rodney's Glory," J. Pitts (London), 1819-1844
NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(133a), "Rodney's Glory," unknown, c.1890
NOTES [500 words]: Moylan: "Serving with Rodney was a thirty-three-year-old Irishman -- the Gaelic poet Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain from Sliabh Luachria.... He took part in the engagement with De Grasse and composed this song ... as a way of ingratiating himself with his commander and thereby obtaining his discharge. The ploy was apparently unsuccessful...." - BS
According to Herman, pp. 316-318, George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792) was anything but a good example: although he made captain at the astonishing age of 23, he "had an unquenchable greed for money that corrupted everything he touched. He stole from captured prizes... and cheated other officers out of prize money. He treated everyone with high-handed arrogance... He was also a degenerate gambler, and the outbreak of war found him in France, hiding from debtor's prison." Similarly Brumwell/Speck, p. 31, describe him as having "a difficult temperament and notorious hunger for prize money." He bankrupted himself with gambling and in bankrolling his campaigns for parliament.
But he was known as a fighter, so he was pulled out of retirement to command the Leeward Islands station during the late stages of the American Revolution. (He was thoughtfully supplied with several officers to watch over his accounts and actions.) It was a rather desperate time for Britain; the navy was still recovering from severe budget cuts under the Prime Minister Grenville in the 1760s (Cook, pp. 56, 114-115).
In 1780, at Cape Finisterre (the so-called "Midnight Battle"), he changed naval rules by attacking from the windward, making it impossible for a defeated enemy to simply flee. This was vital to saving Gibraltar (Brumwell/Speck, p. 331).
But his great victory was the Battle of the Saintes. Britain had lost at Yorktown the year before, and de Grasse's fleet which has won the naval part of the Yorktown campaign threatened to destroy the British position in the Carribean as well. Britain was in extreme danger -- the British had written off the American colonies, but the Spanish and others were now joining the French in their war on Britain (Stokesbury, pp. 168-169, 172).
De Grasse, based at Fort Royal at Martinique, was supposed to rendezvous with the Spanish and attack Jamaica. Instead, Rodney caught him on April 12. According to Dupur/Johnson/Bongard, p. 637, he sank one ship and captured five (a sixth of the French fleet). Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 265, however, says he captured nine ships then and after. Stokesbury, p. 173, credits Rodney with capturing five shipes including De Grasse's flagship, "which they battered to a pulp. De Grasse was a broken man." Despite these discrepancies, every source seems to agree that his win at the Saintes allowed Britain to continue its mastery of the sea, allowing it to remain a great Colonial power even after the loss of the American colonies..
Rodney was rewarded with a peerage and a pension of 2000 pounds a year, although even this was not sufficient to pay his debts (Brumwell/Speck, p. 332). - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Brumwell/Speck: Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001
- Cook: Don Cook, The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American colonies 1760-1785, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995
- Dupuy/Johnson/Bongard: Trevor N. Dupuy, Curt Johnson, and David L. Bongard, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, 1992 (I use the 1995 Castle edition)
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
- Keegan/Wheatcroft: John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft, Who's Who in Military History from 1453, 1976, 1987 (I use the 1991 LPR reprint)
- Stokesbury: James L. Stokesbury, Navy & Empire, Morrow, 1983
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