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The spymaster who supported a counter-revolution

Philippe d’Auvergne’s life was that of a great adventurer. In his life, he rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy, saw service in the American Revolution, earned the confidence of an ageing duke, led the defence of his homeland against the barbarity of the French Revolution, funded the royalist cause, and marched with his contingent at the Battle of Waterloo. His is a life that is barely known outside his homeland, but one which should be more celebrated alongside those others who fought the evils of revolution.

Philippe d’Auvergne was born on the Island of Jersey, the son of an old family on that Island. His family had a long history of service in the Army, however, the young and ambitious d’Auvergne opted for the Royal Navy as it offered faster promotion.

His early career would see him serving amongst such luminaries as Horatio Nelson and saw him serve in many an expedition. It would be during his service against the rebellious colonies of North America that he would obtain his first commission. This came as a result of his sterling service in the capture of New York where he prevented a retreat and in the Battle of Rhode Island where he was crucial in leading negotiations between the British leadership and the rebel leaders. However, in spite of this, he grew frustrated with the ineffective command of the British Army, which was only half-hearted in its efforts against the rebels.

Upon request, he was granted permission to return home, but during his journey, he was captured by the French, then allies of the rebels.

D’Auvergne in captivity soon came to the attention of a French official who raised his situation with Godefroy de La Tour d’Auvergne, Duke of Bouillon. The Duke, on account of Philippe d’Auvergne’s name, arranged for him to be released as part of a prisoner exchange. However, during the time that Philippe was a guest of Duke Godefroy, he so impressed him that the Duke decided to seek a way in which the young man could inherit his title. The Duke had had two sons, one who had been killed and the other who was severely disabled and would be unable to father an heir. The Duke, seeking to avoid the title defaulting to the de Rohans invested in research to find a link by which d’Auvergne could inherit the title.

It was discovered that Philippe d’Auvergne was descended from a cadet branch of the Counts d’Auvergne who had settled in Jersey in the Middle Ages. This connection allowed the Duke to declare Philippe as the next Duke should his surviving son father no children. The Duchy of Bouillon, today part of Belgium, was an ancient sovereign state within the Holy Roman Empire. This, combined with the French estates of the Tour d’Auvergne family and their immense wealth, meant that the title was not a mere empty one, it was one of high prestige and importance.

However, before Philippe could assume his title, disaster struck in the form of the French Revolution, which saw the Duke of Bouillon flee his possessions and the Duchy forcibly annexed by the vicious and greedy monster that was the new French Republic. It was at this point that Philippe would adopt one of the most essential duties of his life – that of a spymaster.

Philippe at this time was living in Jersey, a mere nine miles at its closest point from the French coast. The Island had come close to being captured in a surprise attack by French forces in 1781. Those fears were renewed with the revolutionary mania that had broken out across the Channel. D’Auvergne was appointed as commander of various floating batteries around the Island. As part of his duties, d’Auvergne was also granted monies by the British government to be distributed to French emigres fleeing the horrors of their homeland. He would also establish a school for their children.

La Hougue Bie, from where Philippe d’Auvergne ran his operations in France. D’Auvergne would later construct a great gothic tower, known as the Prince’s Tower (since demolished) from which he could monitor and signal agents in France. By Man vyi – Self-photographed, Public Domain,

His role, however, was also expanded to the fostering of rebellion against the French government. Among his actions, he maintained a network of spies, erected a tower on an ancient site called La Hougue Bie to signal royalists on the French coast; he helped to undermine the French economy by providing Assignat notes (banknotes in use at the time of the French Revolution) that caused hyperinflation in France. He was also involved in an attempted royalist landing in Quiberon.

D’Auvergne would continue to collect intelligence against the French throughout the Napoleonic Wars, however as emigres began to return home following the amnesty by the Empire, his role diminished. Things became harder for d’Auvergne during this time. His fellow Jerseymen, envious of his success spoke openly against him, and many French emigres expressed disgust at the treatment of the man who had helped them through the worst of the Revolution.

The death of Duke Godefroy’s son, childless, in 1802 meant that Philippe was the rightful heir to the Duchy. He made two attempts to gain his rightful title, the first in 1802 which resulted in his arrest when he refused to serve the superior Napoleon Bonaparte. The second was during the Restoration in 1814. King Louis XVIII, in gratitude for Philippe’s service to the royalist cause over the past decades, formally recognised his claim and declared him Duke of Bouillon. When Napoleon Bonaparte returned during the Hundred Days, the new Duke of Bouillon marched at the head of a small contingent of his Duchy to the Battle of Waterloo. However, in his noble act came his downfall. The new Kingdom of the Netherlands and the de Rohans would be the ones to bring about the final collapse of the Duke’s position.

The Congress of Vienna would redraw the map of Europe in the most dramatic way since the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The end of the Holy Roman Empire meant that many of the old sovereign lands that had made it up had to be changed. The Duchy of Bouillon was one such sovereignty that would at this time disappear from the map, falling under the Netherlands. At the same time, the de Rohans successfully lobbied the Congress of Vienna for recognition of their claims to the lands of the Tour d’Auvergne family in France, many of which had been ravaged by Revolution and stolen by the Bonapartist regime.

Philippe d’Auvergne attempted to change the mind of the Congress but to no avail. The involved meant that when he died in 1816, he was bankrupt.

Philippe d’Auvergne, at the end of his life, had attained the rank, Monseigneur His Serene Highness Philippe d’Auvergne, by the Grace of God and the will of his people, Duc de Bouillon, Vicomte de Turenne, Duc d’Albert and de Chateau Thierry, Comte d’Auvergne, Comte d’Evreux et du bas Armagnac, Baron de la Tour, Oliergues, Maringues and Mont-gacon – Peer of France. Philippe d’Auvergne’s role in the counter-revolution was small but reflects the best efforts of those, many of who are forgotten, who stood fast against the evil tide that swept France in 1789 and sought to engulf the whole world. Philippe, the spymaster, was amongst those who aided brave Frenchmen who fought in Lyons, Paris, and the Vendee. His memory is part of that which must be kept alive, lest the world forget the tyranny republicanism and wholeheartedly embrace the myth of the French Revolution and others like it, for it is only by reflecting upon the bravery and courage of such men as Philippe d’Auvergne will such selfless service yield a return to the proper government that so much of the world lacks in this age.