Blakeney, William (DNB00)

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BLAKENEY, WILLIAM, Lord Blakeney (1672–1761), the defender of Minorca, was an Irishman of English descent, and was born at Mount Blakeney in the county of Limerick in 1672. His father was a fairly wealthy country gentleman, and represented the borough of Kilmallock in the Irish House of Commons for many years, and expected his eldest son to lead the same life as himself. But young William Blakeney caught the martial enthusiasm of the Revolution period, and organised a small military force in 1690, when only eighteen, out of his father's tenants, with which he kept the Rapparees at bay, and defended the paternal estate. He was permitted to join the army in Flanders as a volunteer, and won his ensigncy at the siege of Venloo in 1702. He served throughout the campaigns of Marlborough as adjutant of his regiment, and is said to have first exercised regiments by the beating of drums and the waving of colours, and even to have once exercised the whole allied army in this way before certain German princes. After the peace of Utrecht came a long period of peace, during which promotion went by favour and by court or parliamentary influence, which Blakeney did not possess, so that he was an old man of sixty-five when he was at last promoted colonel in 1737. During this long period he always remained with his regiment, taking a fatherly interest in both officers and men, and never going on leave or running after promotion. This long neglect was said to be due to the misrepresentations of Lord Verney; but the Duke of Richmond, when appointed colonel of his regiment, at last took notice of him, and obtained him a command in the expedition to Carthagena, with the rank of brigadier-general, in 1741. His services were highly appreciated, and by the aid of the same powerful patron he was promoted major-general in 1744, and made lieutenant-governor of Stirling Castle. The Scottish insurrection of 1745 gave him his opportunity. The highlanders besieged Stirling Castle, and Blakeney, to keep them from joining the main body, allowed them to raise siege works for some weeks. When, however, these siege works became formidable, he ordered a sudden attack on the highlanders, who were utterly defeated and lost three hundred men. His good service was not forgotten by George II, who promoted him major-general in 1745, lieutenant-general in 1747, and lieutenant-governor of the island of Minorca.

He at once went to Minorca, and as Lord Tyrawley, the governor, preferred stopping at home, Blakeney was left in chief command for ten years. He earnestly pressed for more men, and for money for repairs. But the ministry of Pelham and Newcastle grudged money not spent in maintaining their parliamentary majority, and neglected his entreaties. On the breaking out of the Seven Years' War in 1756 an expedition was hurriedly despatched from France under the debauchee Duc de Richelieu and Admiral la Galissonnière against Minorca. The French government well knew how the defences of Minorca had been neglected, and that a rapid attack before reinforcements could reach the garrison must be successful. Blakeney knew also that without reinforcements he could not hold out long, but determined to wait resolutely for those reinforcements. When Admiral Byng retreated all hope was lost, and Blakeney, after seventy days' defence of an almost indefensible fortress, surrendered on the honourable terms that his garrison was to be transported to Gibraltar, and not made prisoners of war. The gallant defence of Minorca had greatly excited the minds of the English people, and the veteran of eighty-four, who had never gone to bed for seventy days, was as popular as Admiral Byng was execrated. After giving truthful evidence at Byng's trial as to the state of Minorca, Blakeney received great honours from George II, and was made a knight of the Bath, colonel of the Enniskillen regiment of infantry, and finally Lord Blakeney of Mount Blakeney in the peerage of Ireland. His popularity continued unabated; a statue of him by Van Most was erected in Dublin; and when he died, on 20 Sept. 1761, at the age of eighty-nine, he was buried, amidst general mourning, in Westminster Abbey.

Blakeney was a soldier of the soldiers, always living among them, enjoying his punch as well as any of them, and beloved by them. In his family relations he was always exemplary; he used to live on his pay, and to allow his brothers to live on his estate of Mount Blakeney. One brother swindled him grossly; but he made no change in his arrangements, and merely transferred his estate to another brother.

[Memoirs of the Life and Actions of General William Blakeney (anon.), London and Dublin, 1757; Letter to the Right Honourable Lord B——y being an Inquiry into the merit of his Defence of Minorca, London, 1757; Full Answer to an Infamous Libel intituled a Letter to the Right Honourable Lord B——y. 1757.]

H. M. S.