11 September, 2006

Men who commanded their own firing squads part 2: Admiral John Byng, March 1757

Admiral John Byng of the Royal Navy, like Marshal Ney in last week's post, gave the order to fire to his own firing squad, in his case by dropping a white handkerchief onto the deck of his flagship "Monarch", on which he was shot at Portsmouth in March 1757.

Byng had been found guilty by court-martial of "failing to do his utmost" in preventing the French capture of Minorca in 1756, at the start of the Seven Years War.

Many thought Byng had been made a scapegoat, and Voltaire wrote about his death in Candide, recording that in England 'it is thought good to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others' (pour encourager les autres)

Byng's end is recorded in typically terse naval style in the Master of the 'Monarch's' log recording the execution: 'at 12 Mr Byng was shot dead by 6 Marines and put into his coffin'.

Links: the National Maritime Museum , Peter Davis' site (where you can also download a Windows simulator for a square-rigged frigate) , Letters from Voltaire re. Byng on the Voltaire Soc. America site.

Other posts on this blog of naval interest:
The Spanish Armada
The Battle of Sole Bay
The Capture of Napoleon by the Bellerophon

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