The Battle of Lagos, 1759

Date Posted: 17/08/2009

250 years ago this week the Royal Navy fought a battle off Lagos in Portugal that is often overlooked, but which was crucial to the foundation of the naval mastery that Britain enjoyed after 1759. The French Mediterranean fleet was harried by Edward Boscawen until they were forced to split up. Those few that stayed to fight were burned or captured. The result was that the French could rely only on their Atlantic fleet, based at Brest, to realise their ambitions for the rest of the war. They were irrevocably weakened and forced to take risks that would not otherwise have been necessary. The result was the destruction of that French Atlantic fleet at the battle of Quiberon Bay in November 1759. As there is likely to be a strong spotlight on Quiberon Bay in the coming months, don’t forget what happened at Lagos in August that made it all possible.

It is also an important battle for another reason: one of Boscawen’s ships captured a French 74-gunner called La Téméraire, the antecedent of the second rate HMS Temeraire that fought alongside Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805 and was immortalised in JMW Turner’s 1839 painting The Fighting Temeraire.