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Friday, 9 May 2014

9 May, 1766 - Thomas Arthur Lally, Comte de Lally was executed for losing Pondicherry in India to the English. The General was convicted of ‘treason’ as a result. He was decapitated by sword before a huge crowd at the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville in Paris on this day.

He was born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family, from whom the son inherited his titles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he served in the war of 1734 against Austria; he was present at Dettingen (1743), and commanded the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade at Fontenoy (May 1745). He was made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV.

He had previously served the Jacobite cause, and in 1745 accompanied Prince Charles Edward to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the battle of Falkirk (January 1746). Escaping to France, he served with Marshal Saxe in the Low Countries, and at the capture of Maastricht (1748) was made a maréchal de camp.

When war broke out with Britain in 1756 Lally was given the command of a French expedition to India. He reached Pondicherry in April 1758, and at the outset met with some measure of military success.

He was a man of courage and a capable general, but the desperate situation he found himself in -short of troops, money and supplies, and been put in charge of what was really a pretty hopeless task made him take severe measures to raise cash from both natives and Frenchmen alike. He tried to enforce rigid discipline on those who were slow at obeying. His relations with the Admiral of the east Indian French Fleet were disastrous and he he felt abandoned when the fleet departed for Mauritius.

In consequence everything went wrong with him. He was unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and had to retire from the Siege of Madras (1758) owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He was defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash (1760), then besieged in Pondicherry. On January 16 1761, Lally was forced to capitulate at Pondicherry where he had been besieged for months. The fortress was razed and Lally was sent to Great Britain as a prisoner of war.

On arrival in London in September 1761 he heard that he was accused in France of treason, and insisted, against advice, on returning on parole to stand his trial. He was kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial began; then, after many painful delays, he was sentenced to death on May 6, 1766, and three days later beheaded. Louis XV tried to throw the responsibility for what was undoubtedly a judicial murder on his ministers and the public, but his policy needed a scapegoat, and he was probably well content not to exercise his authority to save an almost friendless foreigner.

The son of an Irish Jacobite exile The Count de Lally was 64 years old when he was beheaded and had been a loyal servant of the Ancien Regime throughout his lifetime. This execution was one of the worst inequities of the government of Louis XV. Lally was eventually pardoned and his Name restored to the honourable position it had held before these unfortunate events unfolded. His judicial murder is one of the most infamous cases in French legal History.