Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 49.djvu/89
conducive to the comfort and well-being of the pensioners.
Since 1751 he had had a seat in the House of Commons as a nominee of the government or the Duke of Newcastle for Saltash, Okehampton, or Penryn. At the election of 1768 he was thrown on his own resources, and in securing his election for Northampton is said to have expended 30,000l. He was not a wealthy man, and this, added to social extravagance, completed his pecuniary ruin. Early in 1771, therefore, on the prospect of a war with Spain, he very readily accepted the command at Jamaica, hoping that he might also retain his appointment at Greenwich, as had, indeed, been usual. Lord Sandwich, however, refused to allow this, and as the difference with Spain was peaceably arranged, Rodney returned to England in the summer of 1774 no richer than when he went out, and much disgusted with the ministry which had refused to appoint him governor of Jamaica. He had been nominated rear-admiral of Great Britain in August 1771, but for some reason the emoluments of the office had not been paid to him. He now found himself so pressed by his liabilities in England that he retired to France in the beginning of 1775, and for the next four years or more lived in Paris; but, far from economising, he increased his indebtedness, and, when the war with England was on the point of breaking out, he was unable to leave France. There was more due to him as rear-admiral of Great Britain than would have cleared him twice over; but, in his absence, the navy board refused to pay it, and he was only relieved from his embarrassment by the friendly interposition of the Maréchal de Biron, who advanced him one thousand louis, and thus enabled him to return to England in May 1778 (Mundy, i. 180). The often repeated but incredible and unsupported story that Biron was commissioned by the French king to offer him a high command in the French fleet is contradicted by Rodney's letter to his wife of 6 May (ib.)
Rodney returned full of bitterness against Sandwich, who, as first lord of the admiralty, should, he thought, have ordered the navy board to satisfy his just claims. Sandwich cherished an equal resentment against Rodney. The latter had been promoted to the rank of admiral on 29 Jan. 1778, but it was not till towards the close of 1779, when no other officer of standing and repute would accept a command under his government, that Sandwich offered Rodney the command of the fleet on the Leeward Islands station; and Rodney believed that even then it was at the direct desire of the king. It appears certain that at the time and afterwards he considered himself in a peculiar degree the servant of the king. On his way to the West Indies he was to relieve Gibraltar, then closely blockaded by the Spaniards, and for this purpose took command of a fleet of twenty-one sail of the line, which, with frigates and some three hundred storeships and transports, sailed from Plymouth Sound on 29 Dec. On 16 Jan. 1780, to the southward of Cape St. Vincent, he caught the Spanish squadron under Don Juan de Langara, making its way towards Cadiz with a fresh westerly gale. It was of very inferior force, consisting of only eleven ships of the line, two of which were nearly out of sight ahead. Rodney at once grasped the situation and ordered a general chase, the ships to get between the enemy and the land and to engage as they came up with them. Night closed in as the action began, and through it a fearful storm was raging, but neither darkness nor storm stayed the brilliant rush of the English fleet, and the completeness of the result was commensurate with the vigour of the attack. Of the nine Spanish ships engaged, two only escaped: one was blown up, six (including Langara's flagship) were captured, and Gibraltar was relieved without the possibility of hindrance. The disproportion between the forces was so great as to deprive the action of much of its interest, but the peculiar circumstances of it—the darkness, the storm, and the rocks to leeward—enhanced the merit of Rodney's prompt decision. At home the victorious admiral was the hero of the hour, and Sandwich, with sublime impudence, wrote to him, ‘The worst of my enemies now allow that I have pitched upon a man who knows his duty, and is a brave, honest, and able officer.’ He was nominated an extra knight of the Bath; the city of London presented him with the freedom of the city in a gold casket.
From Gibraltar the bulk of the fleet returned to England. Rodney, with four sail of the line, went on to the West Indies, and reached St. Lucia on 22 March, five days before the Comte de Guichen took command of the French fleet at Martinique. On 13 April Guichen put to sea, and Rodney, having early intelligence of his movements, at once followed. The French fleet was still under the lee of Martinique when Rodney sighted it on the evening of the 16th. By the morning of the 17th the two fleets were abreast of, and parallel to, each other, though heading in opposite directions, the French towards the south, the English, some ten or twelve miles to windward, towards the north. Now, early in the century, it had