According to family legend, Valois' great-grandfather was lured from France to Switzerland during the Seven Years' War, where he was conscripted into Habsburg service. During the Prussian victory at Liegnitz, he was among the 4,700 Austrian prisoners, and was persuaded to join the Prussian military. After the war he settled in the town of Prussian Holland, a village settled by Dutch refugees during the fourteenth century. (The town is now called Pasłęk and is part of modern-day Poland.) The son of the erst-while prisoner became a merchant, and his son, while studying to be a justice, married the daughter of one of the deputies of the Prussian Parlement. Victor Valois, born in 1841 to this couple, married Minna von Behrendt. He was, by general accounts of other naval officers, a pleasant man who spoke perfect English.
Valois entered the Prussian naval academy and was commissioned on 18 June 1857 and passed his naval exams that year; afterward, he joined the Corvette Amazone on a training cruise around the Baltic Sea. In 1861, he joined the Frigate Thetis for a three-year cruise to East Asia.
At the outbreak of the Prussian war with Denmark, he was officer of the watch on the steam-powered Gunboat Loreley, under command of Captain Hans Kuhn. On 17 March 1864, he participated in the naval battle at Jasmund. At the end of the war in 1866, the Prussian navy was transferred to the North German Confederation.
From 1865 to 1868, Valois circumnavigated the world on the Corvette Vineta, and, subsequently on the Sail Corvette Nymphe. With the rest of the crew of the Nymph, he transferred to the S.M.S. Augusta, as lieutenant commander, where he was both Second Officer and Navigations Officer. After a brief supply trip to Kiel, he navigated the SMS Augusta around the British Isles and attacked several ships of the French navy at Bordeaux, taking two as prizes, and sinking a steam loaded with supplies for the French Army. Subsequently, the Augusta took refuge in the Spanish harbour at Vigo, where it was blockaded by three French warships until 1871, when the ship returned to Kiel.
Valois commanded the cruiser corvette SMS Victoria (France, 1863) in February 1881 on a cruise to Liberia to protest a native attack on the shipwrecked crew of a German merchant ship. He exacted a monetary fine from the Liberian government and shelled the village of the natives involved in the attack.
In early 1890 he left the position of Director (Oberwerftdirektor) of the Imperial Shipyard in Kiel to become commander of the German East Asia Squadron 1890-1892. In December 1890 he was in Australia with SMS Sophie, SMS Leipzig, SMS Arcona and SMS Alexandrine. The purpose of the East Asia Squadron was to protect and promote imperialist interest in Asia and the Pacific. On 21 December 1890 he was as Samoa with his squadron in connection with German plans to annex the Marshall Islands when an approaching hurricane caused him to flee in his flagship Leipzig.
This was a period of tensions and rivalries in the Pacific between the great powers, including Germany and the United States. This tension was increased slightly when Valois brought his squadron into San Francisco on 4 June 1891 without the expected courtesy of raising an American flag. Perhaps it was for this reason that Admiral Andrew E. K. Benham, commander of Mare Island Station did not visit Valois. Nevertheless, this was during the 1891 Chilean Civil War and he was soon ordered south where, along with US and British navies, he was involved in the search for the gun-running Chilean ship Itata (Itata Incident).
The late 1890s were also a period of conflict within the Imperial German navy. The 1898 Navy Law destroyed centralized military control of the navy, placing it in the hands of the erratic Wilhelm II, who was dominated by Alfred von Tirpitz, who favored the construction of the heavy ships, in direct competition with Britain. The law in itself emphasized a fleet strength that relied on the heavily armed battle ships and heavy cruisers. In 1899, he had written a book favoring cruisers if war came with Britain. Such ships, light and fast, could attack Great Britain's merchant ships in case of war. Ships of the great tonnage, called capital ships, were expensive and time consuming to build, and, according to Valois, would not serve the German Marine well. This strategic philosophy, with its emphasis on cruisers, did not match William's (or Tirpitz's) concept of the appropriate German navy that could compete in weight, size, and impressive appearance with the vast British fleet.
His book Seekraft Seegeltung Seeherrschaft published in 1899 caused a stir of interest in international naval circles as in it he admitted that the German naval build up was directed at Britain and proposed that mutual interest of the United States and Germany should lead to an alliance against Britain.
He was considered a progressive in the naval related questions of the time, such as foreign colonies, even after his retirement. As a member of the Kolonialrat (colonial advisory board), he objected to a board recommendation in 1901 against a proposal to free all slaves in Germany’s African colonies by 1920. Valois proposed that all children born to slaves should be born free, but this was overruled as "premature."
He was a long foe of the United Kingdom and supported a strong cruiser fleet as the most feasible way to fight her in a coming war. In the April 1910 issue of Überall, the magazine of the Navy League (Flottenverein), he had a violently anti-British article, "Our Navy in the Service of the Colonial Movement," saying that, "there is at present no greater menace to the world's peace than the presumption of England."
Although he was long retired when the United Kingdom entered the First World War against Germany, he published a pamphlet "Nieder mit England!" (Down with England!) which strongly attacked the new enemy and called for her destruction.
Works authoredVictor Valois, Seekraft Seegeltung Seeherrschaft, 1899.
Victor Valois, Deutschland als Seemacht, Leipzig: Wiegand, 1908.
Victor Valois, Nieder mit England! 1914 or 1915.