Earl of Torrington (1689-1716)
First Lord of the Admirality
Born 1647 Died 1716
Arthur Herbert, British admiral, was the son of a judge, Sir Edward Herbert (c. 1591-1657). He entered the navy in 1663, and served in the Dutch wars of the reign of Charles II, as well as against the Barbary pirates. From 1680 to 1683 he commanded in the Mediterranean.
His career had been honourable, and he had been wounded in action. The known Royalist sentiments of his family combined with his reputation as a naval officer to point him out to the favour of the king, and James II appointed him Rear-Admiral of England and master of the robes. The king no doubt counted on his support of the repeal of the Test Acts, as the admiral was member for Dover. Herbert refused, and was dismissed from his places. He now entered into communication with the agents of the Prince of Orange, and promised to use his influence with the fleet to forward a revolution. After the acquittal of the Seven Bishops in 1688 he carried the invitation to William of Orange.
The Revolution brought him ample amends for his losses. He was named First Lord, and took the command of the fleet at home. In 1689 he was at sea attempting to prevent the French admiral Chateau-Renault from landing the troops sent by the king of France to the aid of King James in Ireland. Though he fought an action with the French in Bantry Bay on the l0th of May he failed to baffle Chateau-Renault, who had a stronger force. Being discontented with the amount of force provided at sea, he resigned his place at the admiralty, but retained his command at sea. In May 1689 he was created Earl of Torrington.
In 1690 he was in the Channel with a fleet of English and Dutch vessels, which did not rise above 56 in all, and found himself in front of the much more powerful French fleet. In his report to the Council of Regency he indicated his intention of retiring to the Thames, and losing sight of the enemy, saying that they would not do any harm to the coast while they knew his fleet to be 'in being'. The council, which knew that the Jacobites were preparing for a rising, and only waited for the support of a body of French troops, ordered him not to lose sight of the enemy, but rather than do that to give battle "upon any advantage of the wind". On the 10th of July Torrington, after consulting with his Dutch colleagues, made a half-hearted attack on the French off Beachy Head in which his own ship was kept out of fire, and severe loss fell on his allies. Then he retired to the Thames. The French pursuit was fortunately feeble (see Tourville, Comte De) and the loss of the allies was comparatively slight. The indignation of the country was at first great, and Torrington was brought to a court martial in December. He was acquitted, but never again employed.
Although twice married, he was childless when he died on the 14th of April 1716, his earldom becoming extinct. The unfavourable account of his moral character given by Dartmouth to Pepys is confirmed by Bishop Burnet, who had seen much of him during his exile in Holland. An attempt has been made in recent years to rehabilitate the character of Torrington, and his phrase 'a fleet in being' has been widely used (see Naval Warfare, by Vice-Admiral P. H. Colomb).
See Charnock's Biog. Nov., i. 258. The best account of the battle of Beachy Head is to be found in The Account given by Sir John Ashby Yice-Admiral and Rear-Admiral Rooke, to the Lords Commissioners (1691).
Being the entry for TORRINGTON, ARTHUR HERBERT, EARL in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.