George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington

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George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington
George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington by Jeremiah Davison.jpg
Admiral of the Fleet George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington by Jeremiah Davison in 1733
Born 27 January 1663
Wrotham, Kent
Died 17 January 1733(1733-01-17) (aged 69)
Southill, Bedfordshire
Buried at Church of All Saints, Southill, Bedfordshire
Allegiance  Kingdom of England
 Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
 Royal Navy
Years of service 1678–1733
Rank Admiral of the Fleet
Commands held HMS Constant Warwick
HMS Hope
HMS Duchess
HMS Royal Oak
HMS Britannia
HMS Nassau
Battles/wars

Glorious Revolution
Nine Years' War

War of the Spanish Succession

War of the Quadruple Alliance

Awards Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath

Admiral of the Fleet George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington, KB PC (27 January 1663 – 17 January 1733) was a Royal Navy officer and statesman. While still a lieutenant, he delivered a letter from various captains to Prince William of Orange, who had just landed at Torbay, assuring the Prince of the captains' support; the Prince gave Byng a response which ultimately led to the Royal Navy switching allegiance to the Prince and the Glorious Revolution of November 1688.

As a captain, Byng saw action at the Battle of Vigo Bay, when the French fleet were defeated, during the War of the Spanish Succession. As a flag officer, he led the bombardment squadron while serving under Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Capture of Gibraltar and then took part in the Battle of Málaga at a later stage in the same war.

Byng was sent to the Mediterranean to thwart any attempt by the Spanish to take Sicily. He encountered the Spanish fleet at Naples and, after pursuing it down the Strait of Messina, sent ahead his fastest ships causing the Spanish fleet to split in two. In the ensuing action, known as the Battle of Cape Passaro, the Spanish fleet was devastated: 10 ships of the line were captured, 4 ships of the line sunk or burnt and 4 frigates were captured at this early and critical stage of the War of the Quadruple Alliance. He went on to be First Lord of the Admiralty during the reign of King George II.

Early career[edit]

Born the son of John Byng and Philadelphia Byng (née Johnson), Byng joined the Royal Navy as a King's Letter Boy in May 1678.[1] He served initially in the fourth-rate HMS Swallow and then transferred to the fourth-rate HMS Reserve in November 1678 and to the fourth-rate HMS Mary Rose in June 1679.[1] He sailed with the fifth-rate HMS Phoenix to Tangier in Summer 1680 and, after a short period of military service with the 2nd Tangier Regiment, he rejoined the Royal Navy as a lieutenant on 23 February 1684 and assigned to the fourth-rate HMS Oxford before returning to HMS Phoenixin which he sailed to the East Indies on a mission to put down a rebellion in Bombay.[1] He transferred to the fourth-rate HMS Mordaunt in May 1688 and to the third-rate HMS Defiance in September 1688.[1]

The first-rate HMS Britannia which Byng commanded as flag captain to Admiral Edward Russell

In October 1688 Byng, still a lieutenant, delivered a letter from various captains to Prince William of Orange, who had just landed at Torbay, assuring the Prince of the captains' support; the Prince gave Byng a response which ultimately led to the Royal Navy switching allegiance to the Prince and the Glorious Revolution of November 1688.[1] Promoted to captain on 22 December 1688, he was given command of the fourth-rate HMS Constant Warwick before transferring to the command of the third-rate HMS Hope in May 1690 in which he saw action at the Battle of Beachy Head in July 1690 during the Nine Years' War. He transferred to the command of the second-rate HMS Duchess in September 1690 and to the third-rate HMS Royal Oak in January 1691 before becoming Flag Captain to Admiral Edward Russell in the first-rate HMS Britannia in December 1693.[1]

Byng was given command of the third-rate HMS Nassau in June 1702 and saw action at the Battle of Vigo Bay, when the French fleet were defeated, in October 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession.[1]

Senior command[edit]

Promoted to rear admiral on 1 March 1703, Byng became third-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet under Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell with his flag in the third-rate HMS Ranelagh later that month. He led the bombardment squadron while serving under Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Capture of Gibraltar in August 1704 and then took part in the Battle of Málaga in August 1704.[1] Knighted on 22 October 1704 and promoted to vice admiral on 3 January 1705, he was elected Member of Parliament for Plymouth later that year.[2]

Byng became Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, with his flag in the first-rate HMS Royal Anne, in late 1705 and then took part in the bombardment of Alicante in June 1706. After taking part in the British defeat at the Battle of Toulon in July 1707 and, while sailing aboard his flagship HMS Royal Anne, Byng was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly in October 1707 when Shovell and four of his ships were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors.[3]

Promoted to full admiral on 26 January 1708, Byng became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet in January 1709 and went on to become a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty on the Admiralty board led by the Earl of Orford in November 1709.[4] Byng stood down as a Lord Commissioner in April 1714 but was reappointed on Orford's return to the Admiralty in October 1714.[4]

The Battle of Cape Passaro at which Byng commanded the British fleet

Byng took part in the suppression of the Jacobite rising by cutting off the Old Pretender's supplies in 1715 and for this he was created a baronet on 15 November 1715. He was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet on 14 March 1718 and, with his flag in the second-rate HMS Barfleur, he was sent to the Mediterranean to thwart any attempt by the Spanish to take Sicily. He encountered the Spanish fleet at Naples and, after pursuing it down the Strait of Messina, sent ahead his fastest ships causing the Spanish fleet to split in two.[5] In the ensuing action on 11 August 1718, known as the Battle of Cape Passaro, the Spanish fleet was devastated: 10 ships of the line were captured, 4 ships of the line sunk or burnt and 4 frigates were captured at this early and critical stage of the War of the Quadruple Alliance.[6]

George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington by Godfrey Kneller circa 1700

Byng was then given power to negotiate with the various princes and states of Italy on behalf of the English crown.[7] Following his return to England, Byng became both Treasurer of the Navy[8] and Rear-Admiral of Great Britain on 21 October 1720.[9] He was admitted to the Privy Council on 3 January 1721[10] and created Baron Byng of Southill in the county of Bedford, and 1st Viscount Torrington in Devon on 21 September 1721.[11] He developed his estate at Southill Park in Bedfordshire in the 1720s.[12]

Byng was installed as a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath on 17 June 1725 and appointed First Lord of the Admiralty during the Walpole–Townshend Ministry in August 1727; in this role he was instrumental in the establishment of the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. He died on 17 January 1733 and was buried in the Byng vault at the Church of All Saints in Southill, Bedfordshire.[13]

Family[edit]

Southill Park, Byng's country house in Bedfordshire

Byng had 15 children, and two of his 11 sons — Pattee (1699–1747) and George (1701–1750) — became respectively the second and third Viscounts Torrington. His fourth son Hon. Robert Byng (1703–1740) became Governor of Barbados (1739-1740) and his fifth son, John Byng (1704-1757), was controversially court-martialled and shot at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe.[14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Byng, George, first Viscount Torrington". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  2. ^ "Byng, Sir George". History of Parliament. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Sobel, p. 6
  4. ^ a b "Sainty, J. C., Lord High Admiral and Commissioners of the Admiralty 1660-1870', Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4: Admiralty Officials 1660-1870 (1975), pp. 18-31.". Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Battles of George Byng". Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  6. ^ Bodart, p. 176
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 5882. p. 1. 30 August 1720. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  8. ^ Sainty, J. C. "Navy Treasurer c. 1546-1836". Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 5896. p. 1. 18 October 1720. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: no. 5917. p. 1. 31 December 1720. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 5988. p. 1. 5 September 1721. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
  12. ^ "Southill Park". Bedfordshire County Council. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  13. ^ "Byng vault". The Mausolea and Monuments Trust. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington". Cracrofts Peerage. Retrieved 16 May 2015. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of England
Preceded by
Charles Trelawny
John Woolcombe
Member of Parliament for Plymouth
1705–1707
With: Charles Trelawny
Succeeded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Parliament of England
Member of Parliament for Plymouth
1707–1721
With: Charles Trelawny to 1713
Sir John Rogers 1713–1721
Succeeded by
Sir John Rogers
Pattee Byng
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Matthew Aylmer
Admiral of the Fleet
1718–1733
Succeeded by
Sir John Norris
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Hampden
Treasurer of the Navy
1720–1724
Succeeded by
Pattee Byng
Preceded by
The Earl of Berkeley
First Lord of the Admiralty
1727–1733
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Wager
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lord Aylmer
Rear-Admiral of Great Britain
1720–1733
Succeeded by
Sir John Jennings
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
New Creation
Viscount Torrington
1721–1733
Succeeded by
Pattee Byng