Corsair of Dunkerque
Jean Bart was born in the city of Dunkerque (Dunkirk) in 1650. Now, it is a French coastal city several miles from the border with Belgium. In earlier times, though, dominion over the city changed hands frequently. It was acquired by the French in 1646 and then lost to the Spanish Netherlands in 1652, which in turn lost it to the English in 1658. In 1662, French King Louis XIV purchased Dunkerque from King Charles II for £320,000. Thus, by the time Jean Bart was 12, he had been the subject of three kingdoms. At about that time, he joined the independent-minded Dutch Navy and served under the famous Admiral De Ruyter. When war broke out between France and the Netherlands in 1672, Jean Bart returned to Dunkerque to fight his previous comrades. At the time, only members of the nobility were eligible to serve as officers in the French Navy, so Jean Bart obtained letters of marque and became a corsair, attacking Dutch ships on behalf of the French King. He was amazingly successful in his efforts, so much so that the French made an exception and commissioned him into its Navy in 1679. He fought bravely and successfully in the Nine Years’ War against the English, the Dutch, and their allies. Politically, the conflict ended in a negotiated settlement, but Jean Bart rose to the rank of Admiral and obtained a peerage due to his many exploits. He is credited with the capture of over 300 enemy ships during his career as a corsair and a naval officer. He died of pleurisy in 1702 and is buried in Dunkerque, where his statue has been erected in the town square and he is still remembered favorably to this day.