1708 – French expedition against Scotland

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1708 – French expedition against Scotland

The campaign took place in March 1708


Already in November 1707, Jacobite agents had persuaded Louis XIV that there was enough potential support in Scotland and requested French troops, weapons, money, artillery and ammunition.

For the campaign of 1708, the French planned to land about 6,000 men in north-east Scotland to support a Jacobite uprising which would restore the Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain. Rear-Admiral Chevalier Claude de Forbin-Janson was chosen to command the naval squadron while the Lieutenant-General Comte de Gacé (soon to be promoted to Maréchal under the name of Maréchal de Matignon) commanded the landing force (12 bns).

A fleet of small privateers was assembled at Dunkerque for the planned expedition. Indeed, Forbin had insisted on using a larger number of small but fast privateers, with reduced crews and fewer guns to accommodate the troops. However, such a squadron could not hope to win in a naval battle against ships of the line.

In February, the British ambassador at The Hague, obtained the first intelligence of the real destination of the French squadron assembling at Dunkerque.

The British reacted by transferring 10 bns from the Low Countries to England, and a large fleet under Admiral Byng was stationed in the English Channel.


By the end of February 1708, some 6,000 troops were ready to embark.

On 9 March, James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of James II, arrived at Dunkerque to take part in the expedition.

A British squadron (40 warships) under Sir George Byng arrived off the nearby port of Gravelines, preventing the French from departing.

The French squadron was supposed to sail from Dunkerque on 10 March, but the son of James II fell ill and the troops were disembarked while he recovered.

The departure had been postponed to 13 March, a gale delayed the expedition for two days.

On 15 March, Queen Anne informed the British Parliament of the planned French expedition against Scotland.

After a week, Byng was forced to return to England for resupply. Forbin seized the opportunity and James Stuart and the troops re-embarked.

On 17 March, 24 French privateers and 8 small men of war set sail from Dunkerque. A strong gale forced the fleet to anchor between Ostend and Nieuport for the night. It remained there until 19 March when it finally set sail for the Firth of Forth. Rather than following the coastline, de Forbin kept out to sea to avoid being spotted and ended up north of the proposed landing site.

On 24 March, Forbin's squadron reached the Firth of Forth. Forbin sent 2 frigates forward to make the agreed signals, but they received no answer. In fact, British troops had already reached Scotland and the Jacobites had been unable to prepare a landing.

On 25 March, Forbin's squadron anchored near Fife Ness.

On 26 March, Forbin searched for a landing place, allowing Byng's squadron (42 ships of the line) to catch up with them.

Unable to face Byng's squadron in battle, Forbin headed north.

For two days, Forbin's squadron vainly tried to enter the Moray Firth.

Forbin finally decided to sail for France. Most of his ships made it back to Dunkerque although they were pursued by the British around the north of Scotland and west of Ireland. Only the Salisbury (50), forming par of the rearguard, was captured.

Forbin's squadron sustained severe damage to both ships and men.


The expedition successfully diverted a large part of the British Navy and several regiments stationed in Ireland and Southern England, but produced no tangible results for the cause of the Stuarts in Great Britain.


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Pelet and François Eugène de Vault: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 8, 1848, pp. 5-7
  • Burton, Philip: Speculum Britannicum: or, a View of the miseries ... brought upon Great Britain by intestine divisions, in the last and present centuries, London, 1778, pp. 176-180
  • Torchet de Boismêlé, J.B., and Charles Antoine Bourdot de Richebourg andThéodore de Blois: Histoire générale de la marine, Vol. 3, Amsterdam, 1758, pp. 161-165

Other sources

Wikipedia – Planned French invasion of Britain (1708)