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.
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.