Admiral François Étienne de Rosily-Mesros

François Étienne de Rosily-Mesros
Admiral intended to take command of the French-Spanish fleet at Cadiz in 1805 who then commanded the remnants of the French fleet

Born: January 13, 1748

Place of Birth: Brest, Finistère, France

Died: November 12, 1832

Place of Death: Paris, France

Arc de Triomphe: ROSILY on the east pillar


The son of a navy captain, François Étienne de Rosily-Mesros entered the navy at age fourteen as a garde de la marine in 1762. That year he embarked on the vessel Sage and took part in the expedition to Rio de Janeiro. In 1763 and 1764 Rosily served on the frigate Malicieuse that served against the corsairs of Salé. Over the next few years he crossed the Atlantic Ocean multiple times, visiting Newfoundland, Martinique, Saint-Domingue, Spain, Portugal, and the Antilles. In 1770 Rosily was promoted to ensign of vessel and in 1771 he set out on the vessel Berryer as part of Kerguelen's expedition headed to Île-de-France. Once there he joined the ship Fortune and in 1772 he was was part of Kerguelen's squadron that discovered the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean. He returned to France in 1774, in 1777 he took command of Coureur, and in 1778 he was promoted to lieutenant of vessel. In the summer of 1778 Rosily's ship accompanied Belle-Poule in the English Channel and he took part in the battle when Belle-Poule engaged. He was captured by the British cutter HMS Alert, but Rosily refused to be considered a prisoner of war since war had not yet been declared. Regardless the British held him in England for twenty months.

Released in February of 1780, Rosily was made a Knight of Saint Louis. Later that year he commanded the frigate Lively and he protected convoys in the Gulf of Gascony. In April of 1781 he joined Admiral Guichen's squadron on the Dauphin-Royal but then in October he was sent to the Indian Ocean on the vessel Fendant. In December of 1782 Rosily took command of the frigate Cléopâtre in Suffren's squadron and he took part in a combat that year. Serving in the Indian Ocean, he was promoted to captain of vessel in 1784. That year Rosily took command of Vénus and over the next few years he sailed the coast of Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the coast of India. In 1778 he took command of Méduse at Pondicherry and in 1790 he became commander of the French naval division of India. Rosily sailed along the straits of Conchinchina, the coasts of China, and the Philippines. In 1793 Rosily was promoted to rear admiral and he took command of the navy at Rochefort. He was named director and inspector general of the depot of maps and plans of the navy in August of 1795 and then in September of 1796 he was promoted to vice admiral.

Rosily's next major command came in 1805 when Napoleon named him commander of the combined fleet of France and Spain at Cadiz. However, Admiral Villeneuve learned that he was to be replaced by Rosily and so he sailed out from Cadiz and then lost the Battle of Trafalgar. After the loss, Rosily took command of the French ships that managed to make their way back to Cadiz. He remained in command of the the French ships at Cadiz since he was blockaded by the British navy and unable to leave Cadiz. In 1808 as Napoleon's troops took over Spain, Rosily found himself trapped on all sides. Insurgents rose up against him and the Spanish fleet turned on him, joined by the British fleet. Rosily was forced to surrender and he returned to France where he resumed his position as director of the depot of the navy.

In 1809 Rosily was named a Count of the Empire and in 1811 he was appointed a member of the council of inquiry that examined the conduct of Victor Hugues who was accused of surrendering without enough fighting at Cayenne. That year he was also named to the bureau of longitudes and appointed president of the council of naval constructions. In 1816 he was named a free associate of the academy of sciences and over the years he wrote many books.


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Updated May 2018

© Nathan D. Jensen