John Mordaunt (British Army officer)

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Sir John Mordaunt
Born 1697
Died 23 October 1780
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Rank General
Battles/wars Jacobite Rebellion
Seven Years' War
Awards Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath

General Sir John Mordaunt KB (1697 – 23 October 1780) was a British soldier and Whig politician, the son of Lieutenant-General Harry Mordaunt and Margaret Spencer. He was best known for his command of the Raid on Rochefort which ended in failure and his subsequent court-martial which cleared him of blame.

Early career[edit]

He entered the army in 1721, was promoted captain in George Wade's Regiment of Dragoon Guards in 1726, and captain and lieutenant-colonel in 1731, in the 3rd Foot Guards. He entered Parliament for Pontefract in 1730, for which he sat until 1734, and was then member for Whitchurch 1735–1741 and Cockermouth 1741–1768. He was a steadfast Whig and supporter of Robert Walpole.

He is listed as "Colonel John Mordaunt" in the list of founding governors in the 1739 Royal Charter of the Foundling Hospital, even though it seems he was only lieutenant-colonel at the time.

On 18 December 1742 he was promoted colonel of the Royal Regiment of Ireland, which was sent in 1744 to protect the Netherlands against French invasion. However, it was recalled in November 1745 to put down the Jacobite rising of 1745, and Mordaunt was promoted brigadier-general. He was present for several engagements of that campaign, rallying and re-forming the beaten troops after the Battle of Falkirk. He commanded one of the two divisions of the army when it left Edinburgh under the command of the Duke of Cumberland. He commanded the third line (reserve) at the Battle of Culloden, and was detached after the battle to pursue the Highlanders. Cumberland presented him with the coach of Bonnie Prince Charlie as a mark of favour.

In 1747, he was promoted major-general and made colonel of a dragoon regiment (later the 12th Dragoons). He led a brigade of infantry with great distinction at the Battle of Lauffeld, and was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath after the end of the war. He was appointed Governor of Sheerness in 1752. James Wolfe, who was his houseguest while courting his niece in 1754, remarked on his civility and pleasant manner.

Rochefort[edit]

On the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756, he was placed in charge of training troops at Blandford. The next year, he was picked by George II as the commander of a hit-and-run "descent" to be made upon the French port of Rochefort, seconded by Henry Seymour Conway and Edward Cornwallis. This attack was planned on the basis of a report by Lt. Robert Clerk that the defences at Rochefort, as of 1754, were inadequate to hold off an assault. However, very little was known about the number of French troops in the area or the state of preparation, and both Mordaunt and Conway were uneasy about the expedition. The naval commanders, Sir Edward Hawke and Sir Charles Knowles were also unenthusiastic. However, the plan was championed at the highest levels, by William Pitt and Sir John Ligonier, and the commanders were reconciled with their mission.

The force of 31 warships and 49 transports carrying 10 battalions of soldiers set sail on 6 September 1757, and captured the Île d'Aix on 21 September. However, they now discovered that shallow water would prevent the ships from approaching closer than a mile and a half from shore, requiring a long and hazardous landing by boats. A council of war aboard HMS Neptune on 25 September considered further reports by Clerk that the defenses might have been improved, and reports by neutral ships of French preparation to resist the landing. The officers concluded that assaulting Rochefort was "neither advisable nor practical". A second council, called on 28 September aboard HMS Ramillies, decided on a night attack upon the forts at the mouth of the River Charente, the first embarkation to be led by Mordaunt in person. However, the navy called it off due to strong winds at the last minute, and Hawke declared the next day his intention to depart immediately. Mordaunt and his subordinates were compelled to concur, and the expedition returned on 6 October.

Pitt was furious at the failure of the expedition, and the expenditure of more than £1,000,000 without result. George II appointed the Duke of Marlborough, Lord George Sackville and John Waldegrave to form a board of inquiry into the expedition. The board, "It does not appear to us that there were then, or at any time afterwards either a Body of Troops or Batteries on the Shore sufficient to have prevented the attempting a Descent" and that it did not believe the defences of Rochefort could have been sufficiently improved so as to repel an assault. In the wake of the inquiry, Mordaunt was tried by court-martial in December. However, due to the discretion inherent in his initial instructions, he was unanimously acquitted of disobedience. Nonetheless, George II removed Mordaunt, Conway and Cornwallis from the staff in July 1758.

Later career[edit]

Mordaunt retained his commission, but never again held a senior field command. He was promoted general in 1770, and was Governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed from 1778 until 1780, when he died in his home near Southampton. He never married and left no children.

References[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Lowther
Sir William Lowther, Bt
Member of Parliament for Pontefract
1730–1734
With: Sir William Lowther, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir William Lowther, Bt
The Viscount Galway
Preceded by
John Selwyn
John Selwyn
Member of Parliament for Whitchurch
1735–1741
With: John Selwyn
Succeeded by
John Selwyn
John Wallop
Preceded by
William Finch
Eldred Curwen
Member of Parliament for Cockermouth
1741–1768
With: William Finch 1741–1747, 1747–1754
Sir Charles Wyndham, Bt 1747
The Earl of Thomond 1754–1761
Charles Jenkinson 1761–1767
John Elliot 1767–1768
Succeeded by
Sir George Macartney
Charles Jenkinson
Military offices
Preceded by
Regiment raised
Colonel of John Mordaunt's Regiment of Foot
1741–1743
Succeeded by
Peregrine Lascelles
Preceded by
John Armstrong
Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Ireland
1742–1747
Succeeded by
John Folliott
Preceded by
Thomas Bligh
Colonel of Sir John Mordaunt's Regiment of Dragoons
1747–1749
Succeeded by
James Cholmondeley
Preceded by
Sir John Ligonier
Colonel of Sir John Mordaunt's Regiment of Horse
1749
Succeeded by
Henry de Grangues
Preceded by
The Viscount Cobham
Colonel of the 10th Regiment of Dragoons
1749–1780
Succeeded by
William Augustus Pitt
Preceded by
The Lord Cadogan
Governor of Sheerness
1752–1778
Succeeded by
Francis Craig
Preceded by
Sir John Clavering
Governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed
1778–1780
Succeeded by
Hon. John Vaughan