The Broglie 'French Connection' and the
Planned Invasion of England
by Jacques de TRENTINIAN

[Text in blue are translations by the webpage editor, with viewers' assistance.]
The idea of invading England is an old French one, very actively promoted until 1779 by an earlier French Foreign Minister, Choiseul. Its implementation had been carefully designed by the two (almost twins, as they were born within one year of each other) Broglie brothers -- Victor François duc de Broglie, and Charles François, comte de Broglie and marquis de Ruffec.* The younger, Charles Broglie-Ruffec, was reportedly the most gifted of the pair, and during Louis XV's time had been in charge of the "Secret du Roi" -- a special 'intelligence service' that was suppressed in 1774 by Louis XVI when he succeeded his grand fatherto the throne of France. Broglie-Ruffec was also a good genera, as he behaved very efficiently in the defense of Prague against Frédéric II. Charles is also the one who organized the famous ‘Metz dinner' (8 August 1775), when the 18 years old La Fayette was convinced by the visiting duke of Gloucester, the English king George III's brother, that the insurgents' revolt in America was justified.
It was comte de Broglie-Ruffec who suggested to Choiseul to choose Kalb for a secret, 'exploratory' mission in North America in 1767. Later, Broglie-Ruffec was involved with Beaumarchais to devise a scheme to secretly support the American Revolution at its early stage. For a while, Broglie-Ruffec, even nursed the idea to lead the Insurgent' armies in North America. It would be comte de Broglie's subordinates who organized La Fayette's initial departure to America, and who paid for the young marquis' vessel (whatever the legend says) that took him to America. It was comte de Broglie who encouraged La Fayette's association with the knowledgeable de Kalb, who played a significant role in preparing La Fayette for America and in scheming how balance between obeying his family or sailing away on his daring venture to join the American cause.
As early as the 1760s, the comte de Broglie-Ruffec had envisioned a scheme to land French forces in England. He considered what military organization was needed – commander and specific regiments, quantities of beef, number of boats, etc., and what actions to take upon landing. On 17 December 1777, Broglie-Ruffec sent an updated draftinvasion plan to the Louis XVI. Soon after, he was received at court to explain the details. Regiments were moved towards the coasts in 1778. On May 11, 1778, his elder brother, Maréchal Victor François de Broglie was named to command the assembled invasion forces in Britanny and Normandy, while Ruffec, himself, was sent to Metz – a command that frustrated both brothers who were accustomed with working closely with one another.
With the massing of select French regiments in Normandy, special maneuvers were begun to evaluate various battlefield tactics being examined by the French. The comte de Rochambeau was in charge of the evaluation and eventually determined that the tactical methods promoted by Maréchal de Broglie were not the most efficient. In Spring 1779, Maréchal de Broglie was replaced by comte de Vaux to command the invasion army.
Vergennes wrote to his ambassador, Montmorin, at the Spanish court: "il s'agit "d'accréditer le dessein d'une expédition" mais en excluant "toute idée de débarquement et d'invasion". ["We need to make people believe that the goal of the expedition is to invade England, while we exclude all idea of landing and invading." ]
Abbé de Very writes in his journal that Maurepas (Ministre d'Etat) told him about Maréchal de Broglie; "en tout cas, nous le bornerons alors à un commandement insignifiant, puisque nous ne voulons pas faire opérer l'armée….Ici, ce n'est qu'une vaine montre que nous voulons faire à l'Angleterre". ["In any event, we will limit him to an insignificant command since we do not want to use the army ... here [not here in Europe since we want to send it to America]. This [massing the army in northern France] is only a feint that we want to make against England."]
Vergennes again:
"Il ne faut pas se flatter de pouvoir la tenter [la descente] avec moins de 70 vaisseaux de ligne et 70.000 hommes d'effectifs de troupes, dont 10.000 de cavalerie. Si l'on considère ce que cela demanderait en bâtiment, s de transport, en artillerie, …. Il y a de quoi s'effrayer". … "Je pourrais annihiler l'Angleterre, que je m'en garderais comme de la plus grande extravagance".
"It is not necessary to flatter ourselves that we could attempt the descent with less than 70 ship of the line and 70,000 men of which would include 10,000 of cavalry. If we considered what it would mean as for the transport ship and artillery...there is something scary about it. Even if I could annihilate England, I would refrain from such a great extravagance."
In the mean time (August 1778), Floridablanca, Spain's foreign minister, had his ambassador to France present to Louis XVI a strategy similar to Charles de Broglie's plan, with the remark: "... like Carthage by the Romans, England must be destructed at home." It was Spain's requisite to enter the war, take it or leave it. Vergennes tried to reorient the project towards Ireland, where an insurrection against the British might be hoped for.
On June 20, Vergennes had written already to Montmarin:
"comme il ne s'agit pas d'une destruction physique, de faire la conquête matérielle de l'Angleterre et de la réduire à la condition d'une province, n'arrivera-t-on pas au même but si l'on travaille seulement à l'affaiblir dans le plus haut degré où il sera possible d'atteindre?» and further: « [L'Angleterre] est nécessaire dans la balance de l'Europe, elle y tient une place considérable, …."
As what is at stake is not a complete destruction or invading her to the point of transforming her into a mere province, won't we not reach our same goal through merely weakening her trade to the utmost degree we are able to perform and further: "[England] is necessary in the balance of Europe, she holds there a considerable place,..."
Charles François comte de Broglie, after losing a stupid claim, retired to Ruffec and died a few months later in 1781. However, his project of invading England continued to intrigue many later military analysts – none the least being Napoleon Bonaparte.
It can be seen that the French 1779 planned invasion of England had a complex background. As with so many like cases in history, it is complex enough to permit historians to chose whatever quotations are necessary to backup their prejudices or preconceptions. It further can influence the casual history buff to misunderstand the fundamental facts.


Author's notation: Main source is Gilles Perrault 'Le secret du Roi', Vol III "La revanche Américaine, Fayard 1996. Most of the quoted correspondences are likely to be found in Archives étrangères de France, Espagne file, as can be seen in Claude Manceron's Le Vent d'Amérique(Paris, 1974); English translation: The Wind from America (New York, 1978)

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BACKGROUND on the BROGILE FAMILY.

The Broglie brothers: Victor François and Charles François came from a distinguished and famous family of French military leaders. Great grandfather was François Marie (1611-1656), who took the title of comte de Broglie had distinguished himself as a soldier, and died as a lieutenant-general at the siege of Valenza (2 July 1656). Their grandfather was François Marie's son, Victor Maurice, comte de Broglie (1647-1727), who served under Condé, Turenne and other great commanders of the age of Louis XIV, becoming marchal de camp in 1676, lieutenant-general in1688, and finally Maréchal of France in 1724.

The father of François and Charles was the eldest son of Victor Maurice, François Marie, duc de Brogile (?-1745). François Marie entered the army at an early age, and had a varied career of active service before he was made, at the age of twenty-three, lieutenant-colonel of the kings regiment of cavalry. He served continuously in the War of the Spanish Succession and was present at Malplaquet. He was made lieutenant-general in 1710, and served with Villars in the last campaign of the war and at the battle of Denain. During the peace he continued in military employment, and in 1719 he was made director-general of cavalry and dragoons. He was also employed in diplomatic missions, and was ambassador in England in 1724. The war in Italy called him into the field again in 1733, and in the following year he was made marshal of France. In the campaign. of 1734 he was one of the chief commanders on the French side, and he fought the battles of Parma and Guastalla. A famous episode was his narrow personal escape when his quarters on the Secchia were raided by the enemy in September 1734. In 1735 he directed a war of positions with credit, but he was soon replaced by Marshal de Noailles. He was governor-general of Alsace when Frederick the Great paid a secret visit to Strassburg (1740). In 1742 de Broglie was appointed to command the French army in Germany, but such powers as he had possessed were failing him, and he had always been the man of small means, safe and cautious, but lacking in elasticity and daring. The only success obtained was in the action of Sahay (25th May 1742), for which he was made a duke. He returned to France in 1743, and died two years later. Its is his two sons, Victor and Charles, who played roles in France's plans upon entering the War for American Independence. François Marie's grandson, Victor Claude, was to serve in the Allied army in North America.

Victor François, duc de Broglie, (17 October 1718 - 30 March 1804), "Maréchal-général" (rarely attributed and meaning first maréchal de France). He served with his father at Parma and Guastalla, and in 1734 obtained a colonelcy. In the German War he took part in the storming of Prague in 1742, and was made a brigadier. In 1744 and 1745 he saw further service on the Rhine, and in 1756 he was made marchal de camp. He subsequently served with Marshal Saxe in the low countries, and was present at Roucoux, Val and Maastricht. At the end of the war he was made a lieutenant-general. During the Seven Years War he served successively under d'Estres, Soubise and Contades, being present at all the battles from Hastenbeck onwards. His victory over Prince Ferdinand at Bergen (1759) won him the rank of marshal of France from his own sovereign and that of 'prince of the empire' from the emperor Francis I. In 1760 he won an action at Corbach, but was defeated at Vellinghausen in 1761. After the war he fell into disgrace and was not recalled to active employment until 1778, when he was given command of the troops designed to invade England. He played a prominent part in the Revolution, which he opposed with determination. After his emigration, de Broglie commanded the army of the princes for a short time (1792). He died at Mnster in 1804. His son was Victor Claude, prince de Broglie, (1756-1794) mentioned below.

Charles François, comte de Broglie and marquis de Ruffec (20 August 1719 - 16 August 1781) served for some years in the army, and afterwards became one of the foremost diplomatists in the service of Louis XV. He is chiefly remembered in connection with the ‘Secret du Roi', the private, as distinct from the official, diplomatic service of Louis, of which he was the ablest and most important member.

Victor[Claude, prince de Broglie, (1756-1794 guillotined), was the son of Victor François and nephew to Charles François, comte de Broglie, marquis de Ruffec. As early as 1760, his aide maréchal des logis was Jean de Kalb [a lieutenant colonel in the French army at the end of the Seven Years' War], serving, therefore, under Victor's uncle [Charles de Broglie- Ruffec]. Victor Claude, prince de Broglie served in the army, attaining the rank of marchal de camp. He adopted revolutionary opinions, and along with quite a few other distinguished members of the finest aristocracy (and founding members of the Cincinnati de France) served with Lafayette and Rochambeau in America. He was a member of the Jacobian[SP?] Club, and sat in the Constituent Assembly, constantly voting on the Liberal side. He served as chief of the staff to the Republican army on the Rhine; but in the Terror he was denounced, arrested and executed at Paris on the 27th of June 1794. His dying admonition to his little son was to remain faithful to the principles of the Revolution, however unjust and ungrateful.

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Page posted 11 February 2004; revised 23 September 2007.