Tag Archive | Admiral Byng

29th October 1704. To Encourage the Others.

Admiral John Byng was the son of George Byng, Viscount Torrington, his promotion, he was a captain at 23, being due to his father’s influence also an admiral. Baptised Today in 1704, 53 years later in March 1757, John was shot on the quarter-deck of his flag ship, HMS Monarch for failing to do his duty.(1)

Execution of Byng. Artist unknown.

Minorca’s deep-water port of Mahon was a strategic Mediterranean haven in the 18th century,  and Byng had been sent in April to relieve the garrison at Fort St Michael then besieged by the French.(2)

To this end he was to carry 700 troops from Gibraltar to Port Mahon, but in the meantime the French had landed a force and were besieging the Fort. A subsequent Council of War convened by Byng decided against committing more troops and dispatched a letter home to this effect.

So having arrived at the island on May 9th 1756, he left the region without landing reinforcements and without blockading the French line between Toulon and Minorca.

King George II was not best pleased: ‘this man will not fight’ and after in June Minorca had surrendered, Byng was summoned home and arrested destined to be the scapegoat.

Mobs went round shouting, ‘swing, swing, Admiral Byng’, who was charged with ‘failing to do his utmost’.


Captain Augustus Hervey described the sad state of Byng’s squadron, the senseless orders to relieve Fort St Philip, patrol the high seas and protect Gibraltar-all at the same time.(3)

In the British Fleet there was a sense of injustice and Hervey supported Byng throughout his trial, believing more famous men were protecting themselves. 

Voltaire later in his satirical novel Candide viewed the shooting of Byng as serving as a warning to his colleagues (pour encourager les autres).

The execution of the Admiral might be construed as too severe a reading of the 1749 amended Articles of War, after our defeat at the Battle of Toulon which were aimed to ensure officers couldn’t evade responsibility for their actions, certainly by pulling strings.

However after this inglorious start to The Seven Years’ War (1756-63) in the conflict between Britain and France for overseas supremacy we did under Wolfe and Clive destroy French influence in America and India.

Britain also won Martinique, St Lucia, St, Vincent, Grenada, Tobago, Havana, Manila, some of which was later returned to the French and Spanish.

Recent petitions, by relatives, for a pardon for Byng have fallen on deaf ears.

(1) It was traditional to quote baptismal date as opposed to birth date. He was shot on 14th March.

(2) Or Menorca.

(3) Hervey was later Earl of Bristol.


telegraph.co.uk/Family Hope for Pardon. Jasper Copping.23.6.2013/Pic.

theguardian.com.Bates and Norton-Taylor. 15.3.2007.

historytoday.V 57 Iss 3. 3.3.2007. Richard Cavendish.


30th June 1690. The Scapegoat of the Battle of Beachy Head, or Beveziers if you’re French.

The Families of the ennobled Torrington titles seemed blighted, as apart from The Hon. Admiral John Byng, being shot on his own quarter-deck for losing Minorca in 1757: as Voltaire said, ‘as a warning to his colleagues’ (pour encourager les autres), a previous holder of the Torrington title, was the scapegoat for our naval defeat in 1690. The Royal Navy was a hard task-master.

It was Today  on the 30th June 1690 (Old Style Julian Dating) (1)  in the Nine Years’ War, against France, that Admiral Arthur Herbert, 1st Earl Torrington, Commander of the English and Dutch Fleets was defeated at Beachy Head.

The result internment in the Tower of London, court-martial and dismissal from the Service. This despite being acquitted of any charges relating to the defeat and the fact that he had commanded William’s invasion Fleet to England.

Torrington, credited with the notion of ‘The Fleet in Being'(2), had advised against battle against the French superior naval force, but was opposed by Queen Mary; King William was in Ireland fighting the supporters of Catholic James II, which concluded at the July Battle of the Boyne.

Mary and her Council of Nine, which included the Lords Carmarthen and Nottingham along with Admiral Russell were unconvinced of the French strength and ordered Torrington to fight, who after consultation with his Flag-Officers decided they couldn’t disobey orders.(3)

The inevitable defeat was the greatest tactical victory by the French over the English and the Dutch, when we lost 11 ships to the French none. The control over the Channel thus fell to the French under Admiral Tourville, who also fell foul of the his superiors by his failure to capitalise on victory by not pursuing the defeated Fleet resulting in his being dismissed the Service.

The command of the Channel, causing panic in London, invasion was feared and the French could now in effect stop William III’s later return from Ireland.


SAM_1928 (2)

Battle of Beachy Head (1690). The Dutch under Cornelis Evertson were in the van under their commander of the White Squadron.  Torrington commanded the Red in the centre, and Ralph Delaval (junior member of the of Seaton Delaval Family), and created vice-Admiral on the accession of William, led the rear Blue Squadron.

This naval defeat was a catalyst for rebuilding the Navy and our global power. However the shortage of funds caused the new Bank of England to support the King by raising £1.2 million in 12 days, half of which went to the Navy.

The consequent new money and a four-fold rise in sailors along with demand for iron, nails, timber and other materials, resulted in economic prosperity for the now enlarged Kingdom, after the Scottish Union in 1707.

Britain from now on was to ‘Rule the Waves’ for the 18th and early 19th century, whilst France maintained her strength on land especially later under Napoleon.

The later execution of Byng resulted from a severe reading of the 1749 amended Articles of War after our defeat at the Battle of Toulon. By 1779 these were made less severe.

In the British Fleet, however there was a sense of injustice and Captain Augustus Hervey, later Earl of Bristol supported Byng through his trial, believing more famous men were protecting themselves. Here again it appears to have been a case of someone being made a scapegoat to protect higher echelons.

(1) Regarding dating Old Style refers to that before we lost 11 days in 1752, after which we get New Style.

      Search my Blog for 31st May 2014, for information on Dating.

(2) Baron Herbert of Torbay and Earl of Torrington (1648-1716) of the Second Creation (of 1689), which became extinct on his death. Torrington was the first to use the phrase ‘Fleet in Being’ where battle would only take place under favourable conditions and by the reserved presence of ships for potential use, which can cause an enemy problems, always wary of the threat of its deployment.

A ‘Fleet in Being’ is also part of ‘sea-denial’ in that ships would avoid straying into an area where the tactic was being used, as happened in WWII Battle of the Atlantic with German U-boats and the Tirpitz.

The First and unrelated Creation of the Earl of Torrington was between 1660-1688 becoming extinct.

(3) Admiral Russell, 1st Earl Orford (1653-26th Nov 1727) was Admiral of the Fleet in 1690 and First Lord of the Admiralty 1694.

First Post for July looks at Trouble in the Docks in 1949.