Prince Charles Edward Stuart set sail from Nantes at the end of June 1745 on board the frigate Du Teillay. This ship met up with the larger Elisabeth at Belle-Ile before heading to Scotland with some 700 men, 20 cannon, 11,000 arm and 2,000 broadswords. However, the journey to Scotland would not be plain sailing.
As the ships rounded the south-west coast of England they spotted the royal navy warship HMS Lion. The Lion quickly steered towards Prince Charles’ group and pulled up alongside the Elisabeth. As they came within range both ships opened fire. The Lion was designed for combat with 64 guns whereas the Elisabeth was likely heavier and less well equipped. Nevertheless both ships bombarded each other with shot after shot.
The Du Teillay with Prince Charles aboard apparently tried to fire at the Lion on a couple of occasions but was fairly easily pushed back. The smaller ship had little choice but to hand back out of range and watch as the action between the two ships continued.
It is said the ships fought for several hours. The Elisabeth could not outrun the Lion but it managed to cause substantial damage. After hours of relentless fire the Lions masts were badly damaged, at least 45 men were killed and many more were injured. The Captain of the Lion, Captain Percy Brett was wounded along with most, if not all, of his lieutenants. The Elisabeth though was no better. The British sailors of the Lion had displayed their impressive skill and the Elizabeth was also badly damaged. On board the Captain was killed along with many others. The ships had no choice but to give up and return to their respective ports. The HMS Lion headed back towards Plymouth whilst the Elizabeth would head back to Brest.
This however, left the Jacobite party in a bit of a quandary. The Elisabeth held much of the essential arms and men that the Jacobites needed to kick-start the ’45 Rising with a show of strength, to lose it would be a big loss. With the damage it had incurred the Elisabeth was said to be listing quite badly in the water, so any attempt to try to move supplies across to the Du Teillay would have been too dangerous. Some aboard the Du Teillay suggested they should head back alongside the Elisabeth and regroup to try again another day. However, Prince Charles was seemingly against this as he feared people would see it as another failure and he would face ridicule. Thus the Elisabeth slowly struggled back to Brest whilst the Du Teillay continued on heading for the Western Isles of Scotland.
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