Battle of Rio de Janeiro (1711)

The Battle of Rio de Janeiro was a sea battle in the War of Spanish Succession fought in September 1711, between a French squadron under René Duguay-Trouin and the Portuguese defenders of Rio de Janeiro .


There were different reasons for the attack on Rio de Janeiro.
Firstly , the commander Duguay-Trouin had a personal reason : he was almost bankrupt.
The second reason was political. The War of the Spanish Succession wasn't going very well for the French. After the defeat in the Battle of Malplaquet, the enemy was on French soil and French moral was low. A military success was urgently needed. The third reason was a question of honour. The previous year an other buccaneer, Jean-François Duclerc had already attempted an attack on Rio, but this expedition had ended in desaster; Duclerc and 600 of his soldiers were captured. These soldiers were held in unacceptable conditions, and the Portuguese refused to exchange these prisoners , as was stipulated in a Franco-Portuguese treaty from 1707. The French wanted to liberate these prisoners.
A fourth reason was a vague hope to conquer some Brazilian territory, but this wasn't very realistic.


In december 1710 Louis XIV approved the plan of Duguay-Trouin and provided him with a fleet of 15 ships with in total 738 cannons and 6.139 men. The Royal Treasury couldn't finance the armement of the squadron and therefore Duguay-Trouin had to search private financiers in Saint Malo and on the Royal Court, in particular the Count of Toulouse.

Finally the ships could be prepared and to delude the English Navy, allied to the Portuguese, the ships were prepared in different harbours, left at different times and reassembled at sea off La Rochelle on June 9 1711.

The Battle

When the French appeared off Rio de Janeiro on September 11, the Portuguese were completely surprised. The commander of Le Lys, Courserac , leaded the squadron directly in the Bay of Rio straight at the Portuguese warships present. It's commander, admiral Gaspar da Costa, could do nothing else but cutting the cables and beaching his ships.

The governor of Rio, Castro-Morais, had fortified the city after French attacks in previous years, but was unprepared and had to capitulate on September 23.
Master of the city, Duguay-Trouin knew that time was limited and that a fleet would be send from Sao Paolo under command of Antonio de Albuquerque. He plundered the city, forced the release of the French prisoners and a ransom from Castro-Morais, and left the city with a loot of an estimated 4 million pounds, including a shipment of African slaves , which he sold in Cayenne.


The fleet arrived back unmolested in Brest in February 1712. The expedition was a great success for the French, as well military as commercially. The French Navy had proven it was still capable to strike at large distances.
This action would trouble Franco-Portuguese relations for many years to come.


La France, la Marine et le Brésil (French)