French ship Belle Poule

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Four ships of the French Navy have borne the name Belle Poule.


The ships are:

  • the 26-gun frigate Belle Poule (1765), famous for her duel against the English frigate HMS Arethusa on 17 June 1778, which started the French intervention in the American War of Independence; the British 64-gun ship of the line HMS Nonsuch captured her in 1780 and she was broken up in 1801.
  • the 40-gun frigate Belle Poule (1802–1806), which acted as a commerce raider in the Indian Ocean until the British captured her in 1806
  • the 60-gun frigate Belle Poule (1828–1888), famous for bringing back the remains of Napoléon from Saint Helena to France in 1840; she was under command of François d'Orléans, prince of Joinville, and was painted black for the mission
  • The modern schooner Belle Poule, training ship of the Naval Academy, whose actions with the Free French Forces during the Second World War are commemorated by her bearing a French flag with the Croix de Lorraine.


The name Belle Poule derives from an incident in 1533. Francis I was presented with the keys of Toulouse by Paule de Viguier, the baroness Fronteville. Paule was a young girl known for her beauty, and Francis nicknamed her la belle Paule. The name became altered over time to belle poule through the difference between French and Occitan pronunciation.[1] The name was later adopted by a Gironde corsair for his vessel, giving rise to it as a ship name in the French navy.

Another version of the story is that Francis called her belle poule, as a play on words. The word belle is "beautiful", while poule is a reference to her name, Paule, but also means "chick", which in French, as it was later in English, can refer to a young girl.