The Defense of Minorca

T.H. McGuffe analyses the failure of Admiral Byng to relieve the besieged British forces against French onslaught.

Nearly all Englishmen know something of Admiral Byng, and how he was shot “to encourage the others”. But his notorious dereliction of duty off Minorca in 1756 was only one incident in a deeply complicated affair. The French attack on the island, which had been in British possession since 1708, gave the signal for the outbreak of open fighting in the Seven Years War; it brought to a head an international quarrel of almost two years’ standing. During those years the English and French had been unofficially shooting one another among the forests and rivers of North America, engaging in unauthorized battle at sea, and manoeuvring for position and allies on the Continent. In June 1755, two French warships had been attacked and captured while peacefully convoying an expedition to Quebec; and by the late months of the year, Admiral Hawke, in the words of Horace Walpole, was catching little French ships in the Bay of Biscay “like crawfish”.

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