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List of French sail frigates

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Rieuse, a 26-gun oar-assisted frégate légère (1674–1698).

This article is a list of French naval frigates during the Age of Sail, from the middle of the 17th century (when the type emerged) until the close of the sailing era in the middle of the 19th century. The tables excludes privateer frigates (i.e. those owned by individuals or business enterprises), which were not part of the Marine Royale, as well as frigates built for the French East India Company (Compagnie des Indes) unless the latter were subsequently acquired by the French Navy.

Note that throughout this article the term "-pounder" refers to French pre-metric units of weight - livres - which were almost 8% greater than UK/US units of the same name; every other maritime power likewise established its own system of weights and each country's 'pound' was different from that of every other nation. Similarly French pre-metric units of length (pieds and pouces) were 6.575% longer than equivalent UK/US units of measurement (feet and inches); the pre-metric French pied ("foot") was equivalent to 324.8394 mm, whereas the UK/US foot equalled 304.8 mm. These differences should be taken into account in any calculations based on the units given below.

Classification of frigates

Early French naval frigates, until the 1740s, comprises two distinct groups. The larger types were the frégates-vaisseau, with batteries of guns spread over two decks; these were subdivided into frégates du premier ordre or vaisseau du quatrième rang (French Fourth Rates) usually with a lower deck battery of 12-pounder guns, and an upper deck battery of either 8-pounder or 6-pounder guns; and frégates du deuxième ordre or vaisseau du cinquième rang (French Fifth Rates) with a lower deck batter of 8-pounder guns, and an upper deck battery of either 6-pounder or 4-pounder guns. The smaller types were the frégates légères, with a single battery of (usually) 6-pounder or 4-pounder guns, plus a few small guns on its superstructure or gaillards. The 'modern' sail frigate, with its main battery on the upper deck, and no ports along the lower deck, emerged at the start of the 1740s.

This article categorises frigates according to the weight of the projectile fired by the main battery; the first 'true' frigates in the 1740s carried either 6-pounder or 8-pounder guns, but development soon standardised around the 12-pounder frigate, carrying thirteen pairs (occasionally fourteen pairs) of 12-pounder guns on the upper deck, and usually three pairs of 6-pounder guns on the quarterdeck and forecastle (collectively referred to as the "gaillards" in French). During the American Revolutionary War, larger types carrying an 18-pounder or even 24-pounder main battery (and more secondary guns on the gaillards) were introduced, and following the French Revolution these became predominant. Finally in the 1820s, a new type of 30-pounder armed frigate was brought into service.

Design and construction

In general, French frigates were more lightly built than their British equivalents. This reflected not a poorer quality of design (French designs were often highly prized by the Royal Navy, which copied the designs of a number of the French frigates that they captured, and built a quantity of vessels to the same designs, but with heavier scantlings), but resulted from a different strategic need. French frigates were perceived as being away from port for limited periods; they had less room for storage of provisions for protracted overseas deployments, and they sacrificed durability for speed and ease of handling. British frigates, in comparison, were more solidly built to endure lengthy times at sea (in particular, to remain for several months on blockade service off enemy harbours) and thus were more able to withstand extreme weather conditions, but were slow in comparison.

The number of guns is as rated; from the 1780s, many carried some obusiers (from 1800, carronades) or swivels also.

Frigates of Louis XIV (1643–1715)

This table commences with a listing of early French naval frigates of the second half of the 17th century and the early 18th century (under the reign of Louis XIV – the "Sun King" – from 14 May 1643 to 1 September 1715). Note that numerous French warships underwent changes of names on 24 June 1671, with many other changes of names on various occasions.

Under the classification system introduced by Colbert in 1669, as altered in 1671, the "quatrième rang" (fourth rank) covered two-decked frigates (generally carrying a main battery of 12-pounder guns) of between 36 and 46 guns, amended in 1683 to between 40 and 46 guns, while the "cinquième rang" (fifth rank) comprised smaller frigates, both single-decked and two-decked (generally carrying a main battery of 8-pounder guns) of between 28 and 34 guns, increased in 1683 to between 30 and 36 guns. Below this rank were the unranked frégates légères ("light frigates") carrying fewer guns.

Frigates of the 1st Order (or 4th Rank Vessels)

These were two-decked ships, usually carrying 12-pounder guns in their lower deck battery, and generally an upper deck battery of 6-pounders (although there were exceptions to these calibres). They were classed as fourth rank vessels (vaisseaux du quatrième rang). While not rated as ships of the line, inevitably several of these frigates not infrequently found themselves taking a place in the line of battle, although their main function was for cruising and for trade protection/attack.

Enemy frigates or equivalent captured by the French Navy 1675–1705 and classed as Frégates du Premier Ordre.

Frigates of the 2nd Order (or 5th Rank vessels)

These generally carried 8-pounder guns in their lower deck battery, and were classed as fifth rank vessels (vaisseaux du cinquième rang). Note this list is incomplete, and requires expansion.

Enemy frigates or equivalent captured by the French Navy 1654–1703 and classed as Frégates du Deuxième Ordre.

Light Frigates (Frégates légères)

These were single-decked unranked ships (i.e. classified as below the cinqième rang), carrying a battery of 6-pounder or 8-pounder guns on their sole gundeck. An estimated 162 of these were placed in service between 1661 and 1715, of which the following is simply a partial list, and needs expansion.

Enemy frigates or equivalent captured by the French Navy 1654–1703 and classed as frégates légères

Frigates under Louis XV (1715–1774)

From 1715 onwards, it is more appropriate to classify frégates according to their principal armament, i.e. by the weight of shot fired by the principal battery of guns carried by those ships - although the older categories of 4th Rank (frégates de premier rang), 5th Rank (frégates de second rang) and unrated light frigates (frégates légères) nominally remained in force until the 1780s. The smaller frigates were those mounting 6-pounder guns in their main battery, while larger frigates carried 8-pounder or 12-pounder guns (note that these "pounds" were actually French livres, of about 7.9% greater weight than British Imperial pounds). Later in the century, 18-pounder or 24-pounder frigates were introduced, and from the 1820s 32-pounder guns were carried as the principal battery on larger frigates.

6-pounder armed frigates (most are frégates légères)

8-pounder armed frigates (frégates du deuxième ordre)

12-pounder armed frigates

18-pounder/24-pounder armed frigates

Frigates of Louis XVI (1774–1792), the Revolutionary era and the First Empire (to 1815)

8-pounder armed frigates

12-pounder armed frigates

Thétis, Cybèle, and Concorde, were built on the same pattern, but armed with 18-pounders.

12-pounder frigates captured or purchased by the French Navy 1774 – 1815.
The above list excludes some 12-pounder frigates captured from the British Navy at various dates, or from other navies.

18-pounder armed frigates

Until 1779 the standard armament on the frigate was the 12-pounder gun, but in that year Britain and France independently developed heavy frigates with a main battery of either 26 or 28 x 18-pounder guns (plus a number of smaller guns, usually 8-pounders or 6-pounders, on the gaillards – the French term for the quarterdeck and forecastle combined). From 1786 the standard designs of Jacques-Noël Sané became predominant and – while other classes of frigate were built – Sané designs were used for the vast majority of frigates built thereafter up to 1814.

18-pounder frigates captured by the French Navy.

24-pounder armed frigates

Fight of the Poursuivante – 28 June 1803, Louis-Philippe Crépin.

France experimented early with heavy frigates, with a pair being built in 1772 (however the 24-pounder guns of this pair were quickly replaced by 18-pounders in service). Several more were constructed during the French Revolution, but the Romaine class of "frégate-bombardes", to which curious design (incorporating a heavy mortar into the design) at least thirteen vessels were ordered (24 were originally planned), proved over-gunned, and no further 24-pounder armed frigates were begun until after 1815.

The original programme had provided for a total of twenty-four vessels of this class, of which twenty were actually ordered between October 1793 and April 1794. Apart from the nine vessels listed above, three further vessels begun in 1795/98 were intended to be of this class – Pallas at Saint-Malo, and Furieuse and Guerrière at Cherbourg; but all were completed as 18-pounder armed frigates (see above). Another two vessels to this design – the Fatalité (ordered in 1793 at Saint-Malo) and Nouvelle (ordered in 1794 at Lorient) - were never completed; the remainder of the original programme appear never to have been begun.

Frigates under Louis XVIII and later (1815–1860)

After 1815, French frigates continued to be graded according to the calibre of their main battery as frégates portant du 18, 24 or (after 1820) 30. However, in 1827 they were classified as either 1st, 2nd or 3rd class. The 1st class carried a main battery of 30-pounder guns, and the 2nd class a main battery of 24-pounder guns. The 3rd class initially comprised the remaining pre-1815 vessels with 18-pounder guns, but after 1830 a new group of 3rd class frigates was built with 30-pounder guns (although fewer in quantity than the 1st Rate frigates carried). In 1837 this classification was amended to base the division on the number of guns carried.

Third class frigates (from 1830), 30-pounder armed

Initially defined as frigates with a main armament of 18-pounder guns, this category was amended to define them as frigates of either 46 or 40 guns.

Second class frigates, 24-pounder armed

Initially defined as frigates with a main armament of 24-pounder guns, this category was amended to define them as frigates of 58 guns, later either 52 or 50 guns.

French frigate Némésis, at the Siege of Đà Nẵng, Vietnam in 1858.

First class frigates, 30-pounder armed

Initially defined as frigates with a main armament of 30-pounder guns, this category was amended to define them as frigates of 60 guns.

Note that four 74-gun ships of the line were cut down (razéed), all at Brest Dockyard) during the 1820s, to become 1st class frigates of 58 guns, retaining their two complete gundecks, but with the gaillards (quarter decks and forecastles) removed. They carried 28 x 36-pounder guns, 28 x 36-pounder carronades, and 2 x 18-pounder guns:

See also


  1. ^ Demerliac (1996), p.68, #424.
  2. ^ "The French Navy in 1816". 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 


  • Demerliac, Alain (1996). La Marine de Louis XVI: Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1774 à 1792. Nice: Éditions Omega. ISBN 2-906381-23-3.  (A series of volumes: (i) 1614–1661 (ii) 1661–1715 (iii) 1715–1774 (iv) 1774–1792 (v) 1789–1799 (vi) 1800–1815.)
  • Boudriot, Jean; Berti, Hubert (1992). Frégate – Marine de France 1650–1850. Paris: Editions Ancre. ISBN 2-903179-11-5. 
  • Winfield, Rif; Roberts, Stephen (2015). French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786-1861: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84832-204-2. 
  • Jenkins, Ernest Henry (1973). A history of the French Navy, from its beginnings to the present day. ISBN 0-356-04196-4. 
  • Gardiner, Robert (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1860–1905. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-133-5. 
  • Gardiner, Robert (1999). Warships of the Napoleonic Era. London: Chatham. ISBN 1-86176-117-1. 
  • Winfield, Rif (1997). The 50-gun Ship. London: Chatham. ISBN 1-86176-025-6. 

External links