The Execution of Admiral John Byng as a Microhistory of Eighteenth-Century Britain
According to Voltaire's Candide, Admiral John Byng's 1757 execution went forward to 'encourage the others'. Of course, the story is more complicated. This microhistorical account upon a macro-event presents an updated, revisionist, and detailed account of a dark chapter in British naval history. Asking 'what was Britain like the moment Byng returned to Portsmouth after the Battle of Minorca (1756)?' not only returns a glimpse of mid-eighteenth century Britain but provides a deeper understanding of how a wartime admiral, the son of a peer, of some wealth, a once colonial governor, and sitting member of parliament came to be scapegoated and then executed for the failings of others. This manuscript presents a cultural, social, and political dive into Britain at the beginning of the Seven Years' War. Part 1 focuses on ballad, newspaper, and prize culture. Part 2 makes a turn towards the social where religion, morality, rioting, and disease play into the Byng saga. Admiral Byng's record during the 1755 Channel Campaign is explored, as is the Mediterranean context of the Seven Years' War, troubles elsewhere in the empire, and then the politics behind Byng's trial and execution.
1. "Sung Hoarse": The Intersect of Byng and Ballads
2. "More Dangerous Enemies": Newspapers, Pamphlets, and Print Wars
3. "The Moment They Have Permission": Byng and Prize Culture
4. "The Fierce Anger of God": Byng and Religion
5. "Grinding the Face of the Poor": Byng, Dearth, and Morality
6. "A Mob to Declare": Three Concurrent Riots
7. "Dangerously Ill of Fevers": Disease, Society, and Manning Issues
8. "Hot Water": The 1755 Channel Campaign
9. "This Island": Minorca in Context and in Battle
10. "The Empire": India, North America, and Byng
11. "Error in Judgement": Trial, Inquiry, and Sentencing
Conclusion: "To Bingyfi" and Other Concluding Remarks
"Dr. Joseph Krudler’s The Execution of Admiral John Byng is an engaging and accessible microhistory – a snap shot mid 18th century England – that touches on British North American, Mediterranean, and Indian history. Here we can see how a shorter book can span Empire history and intersects with diplomatic, naval, legal, social, and economic history. A richly documented and thoughtful analysis, Execution is also an splendid candidate for methodological and historiographical discussions. It is truly a fine effort."
Jonathan Swainger, University of Northern British Columbia, Canada
"...a well-researched and sensible book that asks readers to set aside some of what they think they know about Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War..."
Evan Rothera, Global Maritime History, 2021
"this book provides useful context for the fractious political atmosphere in Britain in 1756" - EVAN WILSON, U.S. Naval War College