Marie Henri Daniel Gaulthier de Rigny, better known in Greek history as Admiral de Rigny, was born on February 2, 1782 in the city of Toul in the region of Meurthe in France. His father, according to a French biography, was “Jean François Gautier de Rigni”; he was an officer and Knight of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis. Henry de Rigny lost him at the age of ten. His mother’s name was Perpétue Louis. His family was conservative and royalist, which forced them to leave France after the French Revolution, leaving the young de Rigny to his aunt with the rest of his brothers.
After completing his studies at the Brest Naval Academy, de Rigny enlisted in the French Navy as a cadet on the frigate “Embuscade” in 1798. He later became a non-commissioned officer and was placed on the frigate “La Bravoure” and then on “Le Muiron”. He took part in many operations against the English fleet and in missions to the French Antilles. In 1803 he was a Sublieutenant, appointed captain of a corvette. In 1806 and 1807 he served in the naval guard, which had been placed under the auspices of the Army. He fought in the campaigns in Prussia, Poland, in the battles of Iena and Pultusk, as well as in the sieges of Stralsund and Graudentz, where he was wounded.
Henri de Rigny also participated in the campaign in Spain in 1808, and he took part in battles in Rio-Secco and Sommo-Sierra, where he was again wounded. He also fought at Wagram in 1809, with the rank of Lieutenant. In 1811 he was promoted to Commander, and in 1816 to Captain. In May 1822 he was called to command the French naval forces in the East. During this time he carried out many missions against Greek and Turkish piracy in the Mediterranean and managed to ensure the safety of the navigation. His courage and qualifications were appreciated and he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in 1825.
During his naval presence in the East, he closely followed the conflicts between Greeks and Turks, and his philhellenic feelings led him many times to play the role of mediator between the Greeks and the Turks.
At the Battle of the Mills (Myloi in Peloponnese, Greece), for example, according to the Minutes of the Greek Senate and Rigas Palamidis, Dimitrios Ypsilantis received from de Rigny (who was present in the Bay of Myloi) advice and food supplies, which helped him achieve his goal. Moreover, Admiral de Rigny welcomed on his ship and cured the wounded General Makrygiannis. In addition, after the failed campaign of Karystos in 1826, when the Turks burned villages in the area, de Rigny rescued a large number of Greeks trying to escape.
A top case of his actions in favour of the Greeks, was his intervention for the release of Greek and Philhellenes prisoners after the failed battle of Haidari (Athens), but also for the safe removal and capitulation of the Athens Guard of the Acropolis sieged by the Turks, without hope of salvation, in June 1827. The Admiral’s correspondence was published in the Geniki Efimeris of August 1827; it testifies his tireless efforts to ensure the safety of those who were leaving the fortress, warriors and civilian population. In fact, as reported by Christos Byzantios, the Regular Corps boarded the Flag ship of Admiral de Rigny, who had mediated with Kioutachis Pascha all the previous time. There the Regular Corps “received great care” after the deprivations it had suffered, while the other warriors of the guard boarded other French ships.
De Rigny also took several initiatives to distribute food aid to alleviate the army and the poor Greek population. This fact is confirmed by the correspondence of Kapodistrias with the three Admirals of the allied forces.
The great moment in the career of Admiral de Rigny, was his participation in October 1827 in the Naval Battle of Navarino. De Rigny was the captain of the flagship of the French fleet (the frigate “La Sirène”). The French fleet cooperated with British and Russian forces. The Three Powers were called upon to enforce to the warring Greeks and Turkish-Egyptians the decisions of the Treaty of London of June 1827 (Greek Peace Treaty), which called for an end to hostilities and the start of peace talks, while allowing the foundation of a Greek state under the sovereignty of the Sultan. The treaty contained a very important article, according to which the country that would not accept the conditions would be forced by the Great Powers to capitulate. As expected, the Greek side willingly accepted the proposal of the three allies, while Turkey did not accept the Treaty.
Ibrahim had other plans, and continued with undiminished intensity his military operations in the Peloponnese, on land and sea, and the gradual transfer of the Greek population to Africa. It should be noted here that the allies had asked the Greek fleet, commanded by Cochrane, to withdraw to the Aegean. However, commander Hastings was left to patrol the Corinthian gulf, and after the battle of Agali (Itea), he neutralized the Turkish fleet, thus forcing Ibrahim to organize military and naval operations in the area. With this attitude, he gave the allied fleet the pretext it needed to achieve a final solution.
The Turkish-Egyptian fleet was significant both in number of ships and in firepower. But the crews were lacking in capabilities, and could not face the Allied fleet on the high seas. So Ibrahim chose to set a trap for the Allied fleet at Navarino, where he could muster the power of his ship’s cannons and that of the forts’ cannons, and have a good chance of success.
The fleets of the three powers entered the Gulf of Navarino and anchored in order to implement the Treaty. That is, either to persuade Ibrahim to leave (which was impossible), or to destroy his fleet, and thus his ability to receive supplies.
The Turkish-Egyptian fleet had managed to anchor in the lagoon and had formed a semicircle. Despite warnings from the British and the French Admiral, Ibrahim did not comply and opened fire on an English boat. The naval battle followed, on October 8/20, 1827, in which Ibrahim’s fleet was almost completely destroyed by the fleet of the three forces. The Turkish fleet consisted of 89 ships and 41 transporters, while the Allied ships did not exceed 30. The report of the naval battle was published in the newspaper “Geniki Efimeris of Greece”, on October 19, 1827.
The European and American public opinion accepted with enthusiasm the result of the naval battle, as it was considered a victory of a people who had shed for six years their blood for their freedom, without the full support that the civilized world should have given them. The battle of Navarino saved the Greek Revolution from collapse and was a decisive step to ensure Greek independence a little later.
The role of the French forces and Admiral de Rigny was crucial. It is worth emphasizing that this victory was also important for France, which was again victorious in an important naval battle, after a long time. Admiral de Rigny had managed to organize the French fleet and make it re-combatable and equal to that of the other great powers.
Finally, it is worth remembering that the Battle of Navarino was the last major naval battle in history conducted entirely with sailing boats.
This brilliant victory resulted in de Rigny being honored in France with the rank of Vice-Admiral, the title of Earl and the post of Naval Commander of Toulon.
After the Battle of Navarino, Ibrahim found himself in a very difficult position: in August 1828, an agreement was signed between the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, and Admiral Codrington. The agreement provided for the Turkish-Egyptian army to leave the Peloponnese and return to Egypt. Ibrahim systematically refused to abide by the agreement. This resulted in France setting up the famous Expédition de Morée (15.000 troops), to clear the area of Turkish-Egyptian troops. With short military operations by the French troops, supported by de Rigny’s navy, all the castles of Peloponnese surrendered: Navarino (October 6, 1828), Methoni (October 7, 1828), Koroni (October 9, 1828) and of course the castle Moria near Rio of Patras (October 30, 1828). In all these operations, which founded the freedom of Greece, de Rigny’s role was decisive.
The French Admiral de Rigny had reached himself a personal agreement with Ibrahim on the process of withdrawal and embarkation of the Turkish-Egyptian troops, as shown by an agreement between them published in the newspaper L’Abeille Grecque, dated September 7, 1828. It is worth noting that the French expeditionary force had explicitly forbidden the departure of the Greek population together with the Turkish-Egyptians, without accepting any exceptions and for any reason.
The SHP has in its collection an important handwritten letter sent by Admiral de Rigny to Madame de Rigny in Paris dated “On the 14th (October 1828) in Navarino”. Unfortunately the reading and translation of the letter has not been possible so far, due to the extremely illegible graphic character of the author. However, from words and parts of phrases that we were able to discern and translate, we can say with confidence that in the three condensed pages of the letter, de Rigny refers to personal issues, but mainly to the course of the operations related to the departure of the Turkish-Egyptian troops: “… I just saw the exit (of Ibrahim’s troops) to Egypt, a complete abandonment … ”.
The letter was transported by a French warship to Marseilles, where it was disinfected, and then by mail-wagon to Paris, where it arrived on November 16, 1828.
Shortly afterwards, de Rigny returned to France, accompanying General Maison’s French troops.
In 1829, Admiral de Rigny asked to be appointed Minister of the Navy, but ultimately refused to take up his duties, and at his request was re-appointed commander of the French naval forces of the East, a position that he held until 1830, when he was forced to return to Toulon again for health reasons.
In 1830, after the July Revolution, he was appointed Minister of the Navy for a short time, and then again in March 1831. In the same year he was elected Member of Parliament, and remained Minister. During his tenure he fought for the settlement of issues related to the promotion of officers, but also for the protection of French interests in the country’s colonies, through specific legislation. On April 4, 1834, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs until November 10. He then returned to the Ministry of the Navy and remained Minister until March 4, 1835. He then resigned, but retained the title of Secretary-General of the Navy.
In June 1834 he was re-elected Member of Parliament, while in August 1835 he served on a French mission in Naples. When he returned to France in October, he fell ill. He died on November 6, 1835 in Paris, at the age of 53. About a year before he died he married Adèle Narcisse Defontaine with whom he had a daughter who was born after his death.
His funeral speech, published in Le journal des débats, underlines the charitable sentiments of de Rigny and his tireless work to combat piracy in the Aegean, to protect the Greek refugees, the captives, the persecuted by the Turks-Egyptians and especially the hungry ones of whom de Rigny took care, providing money and clothing sent from France. His contribution to the exchange and rescue of Greek prisoners by Ibrahim, is vividly reflected in the French press of Greece.
During his career he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Legion of Honor, on August 12, 1832, in France, the Russian medal of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky and the English medal of the Order of the Bath, of the Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, of Savoy. In Greece he was honoured with the medal of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer.
Many streets in Attica and other cities in Greece bear his name.
Moreover, Mount Rigny in Greenland bears the name of the great French Admiral.
His name was also given to streets in many cities in France (Paris, Nancy, Toul, Saint-Amand-Longpré, Arc-lès-Gray).
A monument in Pylos, Greece, dedicated to the brave Admirals and pioneers of the Battle of Navarino, bears his name.
De Rigny helped significantly the struggle of the Greeks, during most of its phases and on many occasions. Under his capacity of commander of the French fleet at the Battle of Navarino, his name remains indelible to remind his crucial contribution to the liberation and independence of Greece.
Greece and the Greeks, pay homage to the great Admiral.
SOURCES – BIBLIOGRAPHY
- Correspondance du comte J. Capodistrias, président de la Grèce, Tome 2, Genève, Paris, 1832.
- Driault Édouard – Michel Lhéritier, Histoire diplomatique de la Grèce, de 1821 à nos jours, τ. 1, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1925.
- Ασπρέας Γεώργιος, Πολιτική ιστορία της νεωτέρας Ελλάδος (1821-1912), Αθήνα, Χρήσιμα βιβλία, 1930.
- Βακαλόπουλος Απόστολος, Ιστορία της Ελληνικής Επαναστάσεως του 1821, Αθήνα, ΟΕΔΒ, 1971.
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- Γενική Εφημερίς της Ελλάδος, τεύχη των ετών 1827 και 1828.
- Εφημερίδα Journal des Débats, 12 Νοεμβρίου
- Εφημερίδα L’Abeille Grecque, αρ. φ. 91, 17/29 Σεπτεμβρίου 1828, αρ. φ. 99, 16/28 Οκτωβρίου 1828, αρ. φ. 100, 20 Οκτωβρίου/1 Νοεμβρίου 1828.
- Ηλεκτρονική βάση απονεμηθέντων παρασήμων της Λεγεώνας της Τιμής http://www2.coulture.gouv.fr/documentation/leonore/leonore.htm, Dossier LΗ2330/67.
- Πρακτικά των συνεδριάσεων της Γερουσίας, Περίοδος Ε΄, 1858, συνεδρίαση 31/1/1857, Εν Αθήναις, Εκ του Δημοσίου Τυπογραφείου, 1858.