Jean Bart Statue

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Place Jean-Bart
Dunkirk

Who Was Jean Bart?

Right in the middle of Place Jean Bart, is a statue of Jean Bart by David Angers (1848). Monsieur Bart is depicted with a swash buckling demeaner, long hair, a flamboyant hat and holding up a sword defiantly.

It’s a great statue, but who is Jean Bart?

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The townsfolk of Dunkirk proudly present the most celebrated corsair in French history – Jean Bart. He is a local hero, born, bred and buried in Dunkirk, whose memory transcends time by remaining firmly entrenched in the hearts of the people for more than 300 years, for he is the man who saved France from famine.

He started life life as the humble son of a sailor and privateer and went to sea at the tender age of 12. In 1968, while still a lad, he witnessed the English besiege his home town (then part of the Spanish Netherlands) under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Louis XIV, the French ‘Sun King’ sent his troops to join the English. The Spanish were beaten at he Battle of the Dunes. A deal was struck and the town was handed over the English. In one extraordinary day Dunkirk was Spanish, French and English!

Cromwell died in 1650 and Charles II returned to England to take up the thrown. But he was broke and sold Dunkirk to Louis XIV thereby returning Dunkirk to the French.

Bart joined the naval services under the command of Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter grabbing the opportunity to fight the English, learning tactics that he used later. His allegience was always to France and when war broke out between the French and Dutch (1672-1678) he commanded a French fleet of privateering vessels. Six battles later he had captured 81 ships. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Navy.

His finest hour was in 1969 when his country faced famine. He set out with a Dutch squadron and captured 130 ships laden with Russian and Spanish wheat, thereby saving his country from starvation. In 1694 he was elevated to the ranks of nobility with a peerage.

Everywhere you look in the town of Dunkirk there are homages to Jean Bart. The jewellery shop sells his fingers in gold, the chocolate shop does so in chocolate and the Belfry, with its 48 bells, plays out the Jean Bart tune on the hour.