Political affairs were at this time causing Marie Antoinette great anxiety. One of her most frequently expressed wishes had been that the French fleet should have an opportunity of engaging that of England in a pitched battle, when the judicious care which M. de Sartines had bestowed on the marine would be seen to bear its fruit. But when the battle did take place, the result was such as to confound instead of justifying her patriotic expectations. In April, the English Admiral Rodney inflicted on the Count de Grasse a crushing defeat off the coast of Jamaica. In September, the combined forces of France and Spain were beaten off with still heavier loss from the impregnable fortress of Gibraltar; and the only region in which a French admiral escaped disaster was the Indian Sea, where the Bailli de Suffrein, an officer of rare energy and ability, encountered the British admiral, Sir Edward Hughes, in a series of severe actions, and, except on one occasion in which he lost a few transports, never permitted his antagonist to claim any advantage over him; the single loss which he sustained in his first combat being more than counterbalanced by his success on land, where, by the aid of Hyder Ali’s son, the celebrated Tippoo, be made himself master of Cuddalore; and then, dropping down to the Cingalese coast, recaptured Trincomalee, the conquest of which had been one of Hughes’s most recent achievements. The queen felt the reverses keenly. She even curtailed some of her own expenses in order to contribute to the building of new ships to replace those which had been lost; and she received M. de Suffrein, on his return from India at the conclusion of the war, with the most sincere and marked congratulations. She invited him to the palace, and, when he arrived, she caused Madame de Polignac to bring both her children into the room. “My children,” said she, “and especially you, my son, know that this M. de Suffrein. We are all under the greatest obligations to him. Look well at him, and ever remember his name. It is one of the first that all my children must learn to pronounce, and one which they must never forgot.”
She was acting up to her mother’s example, than whom no sovereign had better known how to give their due honor to bravery and loyalty. Such a queen deserved to have faithful friends; and Suffrein was a man who, had his life been spared, might, like the Marquis de Bouille, have shown that even in France the feelings of chivalry and devotion to kings and ladies were not yet extinguished. But he died before either his country or his queen had again need of his services, or before he had any opportunity of proving by fresh achievements his gratitude to a sovereign who knew so well how to appreciate and to honor merit.
Peace is re-established.—Embarrassments of the Ministry.—Distress of the Kingdom.—M. de Calonne becomes Finance Minister.—The Winter of 1783-’84 is very Severe.—The Queen devotes Large Sums to Charity.—Her Political Influence increases—Correspondence between the Emperor and her on European Politics.—The State of France.—The Baron de Breteuil.—Her Description of the Character of the King.