13th November 1754
Spy Philippe d’Auvergne is born in Jersey
Born in Jersey in 1754, Philippe d’Auvergne joined the Royal Navy aged 16 at the start of what would prove to be a varied and daring career. Three years later, he sailed to the arctic in search of the Northwest Passage from Europe to the Pacific. Also onboard was Horatio Nelson – later to become the famed admiral – who was four years d’Auvergne’s junior.
At that time, things were hotting up in America, with the States declaring independence from Britain. D’Auvergne sailed to Boston, then New York, and it was during this tour that he was promoted to command his own ship.
France formed an alliance with the Americans who were fighting for their independence, which naturally put the country at odds with Britain. Thus, when d’Auvergne returned he found himself engaged directly against the French and was taken prisoner when his ship was sunk.
A wealthy benefactor
At this point there was a curious turn in d’Auvergne’s fortunes. The Duke of Bouillon heard about d’Auvergne and arranged for him to be freed in exchange for French prisoners being held by Britain. Why? Because the Duke believed they may be distantly related and he needed someone to inherit his estate.
Once released, d’Auvergne returned to the sea, traveling to the Caribbean and India, among other places, where he saw further action against French interests and French allies.
All the while, the Duke of Bouillon continued to search for proof that he and d’Auvergne may be related and, finding it by the time d’Auvergne had reached his early 30s, the duke formally adopted him and d’Auvergne was thenceforth Prince of Bouillon.
He took on the command of several gunboats defending Jersey during the French Revolution, and was provided with what, at the time, would have been an almost unlimited budget by Britain to stir up trouble in France. He used it to set up a network of spies throughout the country while also smuggling in counterfeit currency to cause massive inflation. He constructed the Prince’s Tower at La Hougue Bie, which was tall enough to be clearly visible from France, allowing it to be used to send signals across the water.
d’Auvergne’s plans scuppered
Naturally his involvement in French affairs didn’t endear d’Auvergne to the French authorities and he was never able to inherit from the Duke of Bouillon.
The Hampshire Chronicle reported, on 4 October 1802, “It was rumoured a days [sic] ago that a gentleman of the name of Bouillon had been arrested at Paris and sent to the Temple. As the circumstance did not at all concern this country, we did not take any notice of it. A letter from Paris, however, states that it is the Prince de Bouillon, a British officer and subject, who commanded at Jersey… When peace was made, he went to France to claim the property of the late Prince of Bouillon, which is very large. Whether supposing him an emigrant or resentful at the calamities he had occasioned to France, he was arrested; but Mr Merry claimed him a British born subject, and after five days confinement he was set at liberty. The Prince has not recovered his property which we believe is confiscated, on the ground that the late Prince of Bouillon was an emigrant.”
Bankrupted, d’Auvergne left Jersey for London and, on 18 September 1816, committed suicide.
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