4. The Keppel-Palliser affair was the cause celebre
of the new session of Parliament. It proved to be an embarrassment to the North ministry because it showed the government's fundamental weakness, the divisions between it and the military and naval officers ordered to carry out its policies, and it highlighted the problems inherent in the involvement of generals and admirals in politics. Ostensibly the affair concerned the men's behavior during the battle off Ushant in July. Many,
however, recalled the trial and execution of Admiral Byng in 1757 and saw it as an effort by Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty and the “James” or “Jemmy Twitcher” mentioned by JA below, to find a scapegoat in the person of an opposition admiral for his failure to attain a decisive victory.
Keppel complained privately that Palliser had failed to obey his signal to reform the line of battle at Ushant, and thus prevented the British fleet from reengaging the French under Orvilliers. The matter remained private until an open letter by Palliser defending his conduct led Keppel to raise the issue during debates over the naval estimates on 2 Dec. Palliser, considered by many to be the creature of Lord Sandwich, then demanded that Keppel be tried on the capital charges of incompetence in preparing to engage, breaking off the fight prematurely, running away, and failing to pursue the enemy. On 11 Dec. the Admiralty agreed to a court-martial and, because of Keppel's health, the Commons on 17 Dec. and the Lords on the 23d passed a bill permitting the trial to be held on land. The court-martial began at Portsmouth on 7 Jan. and ended on 11 Feb. with Keppel's complete exoneration. The decision was greeted with riotous celebrations, during which the Admiralty, as well as the homes of Palliser, Sandwich, North, and Germain, were attacked (Mackesy, War for America
, p. 239–243; Alan Valentine, Lord North, 2
vols., Norman, Okla., 1967, 2:56–59;
, 19:1379–1385; 20:91–111; London Chronicle,