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ADMIRAL BYNG
 
 




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Admiral Byng: 1756-1758

In April 1756 a French fleet arrives off Minorca to besiege the British in Fort St. Philip. John Byng, sent out with a British fleet to protect the garrison, engages the French in an indecisive battle. The event convinces him that his forces are inadequate to save the island. He withdraws to Gibraltar.

Popular outrage in Britain at this blow to national esteem convinces the government that there is need for a scapegoat. Edward Hawke is sent to replace Byng. In July Byng is brought back to Britain under arrest.
 









At his court martial Byng is cleared of cowardice but is convicted of neglect of duty. Under the existing articles of war this charge carries a compulsory death sentence, but the court puts in a strong plea of mercy. Political tensions are so high that the plea is disregarded. On 14 March 1757, conducting himself with a dignity which is much commented upon, Admiral Byng faces a firing squad on the deck of the Monarque in Portsmouth harbour.

His execution prompts a famous witticism from Voltaire. In England, he writes in Candide in 1759, they consider it wise to kill an admiral from time to time pour encourager les autres (to encourage the others).