Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 26.djvu/177

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Herbert
Herbert
171

was still excessive, and tactical science had as yet devised no way of cancelling it.

Torrington still desired to avoid a decisive action, and apparently intended to permit the rear, under Sir Ralph Delavall [q. v.], to engage the French rear on fairly equal terms, while the weaker van, consisting of the Dutch division, should stretch along to the head of the enemy's line, and engage at such a distance that they could not be doubled on, and he himself should guard the gap necessarily opened in his line. Unfortunately Evertsen, the Dutch commander, in mistaken jealousy of his country's honour, ran down and engaged the French at close quarters. The head of their line was consequently doubled on, was sadly maltreated, and was saved from destruction only by the turn of the tide, which swept the French ships away from the Dutch, who let go their anchors. And so the battle ended; one Dutch ship, which did not anchor, was taken by the French, and several others were seriously damaged, and were destroyed, to prevent their falling into the enemy's hands; one English ship only, the Anne, being dismasted, was run ashore near Winchelsea, and set on fire by her captain. Tourville neglected to follow up his advantage, and after following the allied fleet for four days in an orderly manner, and without pressing their retreat, gave up the pursuit and retired down Channel. As the combined fleet came to the Nore the alarm in the country was exceedingly great; the militia was called out, and so far as possible the coast was put in a state of defence. Torrington afterwards maintained before the House of Commons that he had never felt this alarm; that he had always said that while we had a fleet in being, the French would not dare to make an attempt; that, indeed, if he had fought otherwise 'our fleet had been totally lost, and the kingdom had lain open to an invasion;' but 'that if the management of the fleet had been left to the discretion of the council of war, there would have been no need of the excessive charge the kingdom was put to in keeping up the militia, nor would the French have gone off so much at their ease.'

As soon as it was known that the English-Dutch fleet had anchored at the Nore, the Earl of Pembroke and the other lords of the admiralty were sent down to inquire into the supposed mismanagement. They examined the vice- and rear-admirals, and most of the captains of the red division, and reported virtually that there was a primâ facie case against the commander-in-chief (The Lords Commissioners' Letter to the Queen's Majesty, 1691). The Dutch too were loud in their complaints; the king was naturally sympathetic, and the principal secretary of state was Torrington's personal enemy. He was therefore committed to the Tower, and afterwards, 8 Aug., by order in council, to the custody of the marshal of the admiralty. His gross misconduct was everywhere taken for granted, and the king, in his speech on the opening of parliament, 2 Oct., said: 'I cannot rest satisfied till an example has been made of such as shall be found faulty.'

An attempt was made to have him tried by impeachment before the House of Lords, but it was rightly determined that a court martial would be more proper. The curious question then arose as to how the court-martial could be ordered, it being pointed out that by the act of 13 Charles II the power was vested only in the lord high admiral, and therefore not in lords commissioners. To get over the difficulty a bill was rapidly run through parliament, though with a very close division in the House of Lords, and the protest of several who contended that it was unconstitutional to try a man for his life by a jurisdiction that did not exist at the time the alleged offence was committed, and that the act was unnecessary, as a lord high admiral might be at once appointed (Journals of the House of Lords, 21, 30 Oct.)

The court-martial was eventually held at Sheerness on 8-10 Dec., under the presidency of Sir Ralph Delavall, who had commanded the rear division in the action, and is said to have been no friend of Torrington's. The charge was a capital one, being, in legal form, that he had not engaged the enemy, whom it was his duty to engage, that he had kept back from the fight, and that he had not assisted a known friend in view. Torrington's defence appears to have mainly followed the lines of his speech to the House of Commons, dwelling upon the inferior strength of the English fleet, and the probability of a great disaster if it had imitated the recklessness of the Dutch. He said that he had served at sea for twenty-seven years, been in more battles and lost more blood than any gentleman in England. If these facts did not prove his courage, if his sacrifices on behalf of the revolution did not prove his integrity, no man's reputation could be safe.

The defence and the evidence adduced by Torrington were sufficient, and the court fairly and honestly, so far as we can judge, fully acquitted him on all the charges. He had, however, been previously deprived of the command, and he never applied for another. It is commonly said that the king still considered him guilty, and never forgave him. It is probable enough that William did not consider it advisable to employ him at sea, both