BYNG, Sir George (1664-1733), of Southill, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. 27 Jan. 1664, 1st s. of John Byng of Wrotham, Kent by Philadelphia Johnson of Loans, Surr. m. (lic. 5 Mar. 1691) Margaret, da. of James Master of East Langdon, Kent, 11s. 4da. suc. fa. 1683. Kntd. 22 Oct. 1704; cr. Bt. 15 Nov. 1715; Baron Byng of Southill and Visct. Torrington of Devon 21 Sept. 1721; K.B. 27 May 1725.
Entered R.N. May 1678; cadet, Grenadiers at Tangier May 1681; ensign 4 Ft. 1681, lt. 1683, capt. 1688; lt. R.N. 1683, capt. 1688, r.-adm. 1703, v.-adm. 1705, adm. 1708, r.-adm. of Great Britain 1720, adm. of the Fleet 1727.
Commr. for the registry of seamen 1696-9; muster master of the marines 1698-9; e. bro. of Trinity House 1698-d., master 1711-13; special envoy to the Dey of Algiers 1703; ld. of Admiralty Nov. 1709-Apr. 1714, Oct. 1714-Oct. 1721; plenipotentiary to Fez and Morocco 1718 and to the Princes and States of Italy 1718-20; treasurer of the navy 1720-4; P.C. 3 Jan. 1721; 1st ld. of Admiralty July 1727-d.; commr. of claims for the coronation of George II 1727; commr. of Greenwich Hospital.
In 1688 Byng, then a lieutenant, played an important part in bringing the fleet over to William of Orange. He subsequently attached himself to another political sailor, Admiral Russell, later Lord Orford, one of the Whig junto, under whom he became a lord of the Admiralty in 1709 and again when Orford returned to the Admiralty on George I’s accession. In 1715 he commanded the fleet protecting the coast from invasion, for which he was rewarded with a baronetcy. Nevertheless, the Jacobites entertained hopes of his defection, apparently encouraged by Byng himself, either as a re-insurance or a ruse de guerre.1 When Orford went into opposition with Townshend and Walpole in 1717, Byng adhered to the Government, who sent him next year in command of a large fleet to the Mediterranean, where he destroyed the Spanish fleet at the battle of Cape Passaro. According to Hervey, Byng
who knew the late King’s mind, and never had aucun but pour aucune action but the making of his court and his fortune, undertook this affair ... very unsafe and unwarrantable clandestine orders, transmitted to him from the late King, through the hands of Bernstorff, his German minister. [He] succeeded, beat the Spaniards, put the Emperor in possession of Sicily, got vast sums of money, cheated the sailors, and returned home, thanked, caressed, and rewarded, instead of being censured, broke, or hanged; which indisputably, he ought to have been, for risking an English fleet without a legal authority.
On George II’s accession Byng, now Lord Torrington, was appointed first lord of the Admiralty.
He had been in his youth a resolute, able, enterprising fellow; mercenary and knowing in his business; but now so declining in a very advanced age that the edge of all these qualities, except his avarice, was pretty well blunted. He was now nothing more than an inferior man, weakened both in body and mind, neither able to execute or project any great things, and fit only to direct in the common routine of sea affairs, which long experience in that business made him as capable of as any other man in the fleet.2
For some years before his death, 17 Jan. 1733, the duties of first lord were being performed by Sir Charles Wager.