Admiral Villeneuve wrote the Trafalgar despatch (or compte-rendu) to the Minister of the Marine in Paris when he was a prisoner of war on board the British frigate Euryalus, on the 15th of November. It was forwarded after his arrival in England.
“At midday I signalled to the fleet to begin firing as soon as the enemy was within range and at a quarter past twelve the opening shots were fired by the Fougueux and the Santa Ana at the Royal Sovereign, which led the enemy’s starboard column, with the flag of Admiral Collingwood. The firing broke off for a brief interval, after which it reopened fiercely from all the ships within range. It could not, however, prevent the enemy from breaking the line astern of the Santa Ana.
The port column, led by the Victory, with the flag of 1) and several seventy-fours. These one after the other came up and filed by, slowly past the stern of the Bucentaure. I had just made the signal to the van to put about when the main and mizzen masts both came down. The English ships which had passed through astern of us were attacking us from leeward, but, unfortunately, without suffering any serious loss in return from our batteries. The greater part of our guns was already dismounted and others were disabled or masked by the fall of masts and rigging. Now, for one moment, the smoke-fog cleared and I saw that all the centre and rear had given away. I found, also, that my flagship was the most of windward of all. Our foremast was still standing, however. It offered a means for our making sail to get to leeward to join a group of ships at a little distance which did not seem much damaged: but immediately afterwards the forecast came down like the others. I had had my barge kept ready, so that in the event of the Bucentaure being dismasted, I might be able to go on board some others ship, and rehoist my flag there.
When the mainmast came down I gave orders for it to be cleared for launching, but it was found to be unserviceable, damaged irreparably, either from shot or crushed in the fall of the masts . Then I had the Santisima Trinidad hailed-she was just ahead of us- and ask them either to send a boat or take us in tow. But there was no answer to hail. The Trinidad at that moment was hotly engaged. A three-decker was attacking her on the quarter astern, and another enemy was on the beam to leeward. Being now without any means of repelling my antagonists, the whole of the upper deck and the twenty-four-pounder batteries on the main deck having had to be abandoned, heaped up with dead and wounded, with the ship isolated in the midst of the enemy and unable to move, I had to yield to my destiny. It remained only to stop further bloodshed. That, already immense, could only have been in vain .
All the fleet astern of the Bucentaure was, as I have said, broken up. Many ships were dismasted; others were still fighting, in retreat towards a body of ships to the east. Some of Rear-Admiral Dumanoir’s squadron attempted to rally on the vessels to leeward, while five others kept to windward and exchange shots with the enemy in passing, but only at long range. The rearmost of the five, I believed the Neptuno, a Spanish ship, which was a little to leeward of the others, had to surrender.
From the nature to the attack that the enemy delivered there could not help resulting a pêle-mêle battle, and the series of ship-to-ship actions that ensued were fought out with the most noble devotion. The enemy had the advantage of us, owing to his powerful ships, seven of which were three-deckers, the smallest mounting 114 guns (sic), in weight of metal of his heavy guns and carronades; and in the smartness with which his ships were handled, due to the three years’ experience at sea-a form of training which, of course, had been impossible for the Combined Fleet. The courage and the devotion to France and the Emperor, shown by the officers and men, could not be surpassed. It had evinced itself on our first putting to sea, and also in preparing for battle, by the cheers and shouts of “Vive l’Empereur !” with which the flagship’s signals were received. I did not see a single man blench at the sight of the enemy’s formidable column of attack, headed by four three-deckers, which came down on the Bucentaure.
I have no doubt, Monseigneur, that you have already received accounts of the instances of valour and devotion that were displayed elsewhere, from other officers who have found themselves in a position to forward them. So much courage and devotion merited a better fate, but the moment has not yet come for France to celebrate successes on sea as she has been able to do with regard to her victories on the Continent. As for myself, Monseigneur, overwhelmed by the extent of my misfortune and the responsibility for so great a disaster, I desire only, and as soon as possible, to offer at the feet of His Majesty either the justification of my conduct, or a victim to be sacrificed, not to the honour of the flag, which I venture to affirm has remained intact, but to the shades of those who may have perished through my imprudence, want of caution, or forgetfulness of certain of my duties”.