San Antonio bound in April – not that Texas is a favored destination. But that’s where the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) will be holding a conference entitled “Protest Issues and Actions.” I glommed onto a few key words from the call for papers announcement last November: “protest, past, dissent, rhetoric, politics, impact, and media” to come up with a brief title and abstract. 

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Title: “Artful Emissaries”: Media Abuse and Popular Protest in 1756 Britain

Abstract: Beginning in June of 1756, and lasting well into April the following year, popular protest racked Britain. Two issues predominated: the loss of Minorca to French forces in April, followed by a poor harvest and subsequent food riots. The food riots were specific to the British island. However, the loss of Minorca ignited protests not only in England, Scotland and Ireland, but popular clamor also arose in the colonies: Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, specifically. Further, and more interestingly, the Newcastle administration purposely and with cool calculation, secretly used all forms of British media available in order to conflagrate the Minorca protests.

Thus, from London, on the 28th of August, 1756, Horace Walpole wrote to George Montagu about the popular protest that swirled throughout the United Kingdom. “There is nothing new, but what the pamphlet shops produce,” exclaimed Walpole, “however it is pleasant, to have a new print or ballad every day – I never had an aversion to living in a Fronde.” By connecting the British press to a known past uprising (the Fronde occurred in France), Walpole acknowledge the powerful influence contemporary media held during the popular uprisings that racked the United Kingdom for nearly a full year.

This paper focuses on, perhaps, one of the first calculated instances of using media for propaganda purposes, to excite riots against a proscribed villain – Admiral John Byng. While ministers attempted to dodge culpability for Minorca’s loss onto Byng, opposition Patriot Whigs and Tories equally manipulated the media to reflect Byng’s excoriation back on the ministry. In the aggregate, the popular protest that arose, in what I dub the “Byng Affair,” appeared media driven, intense and nationalistic.

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That turned out to be the easy part. The writing of the paper, well, that’s been a bit of a sore spot with me – and it’s been itching. I have determined that the best course of action is to post portions of it – paragraph by paragraph if necessary – right here on my blog. So today is the first of that installment. So without any further ado, below are the first two paragraphs to the Paper “Arfult Emissaries”: Media Abuse and Popular Protest in 1756 Britain.” Critical comments are highly encouraged!

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“Arfult Emissaries”: Media Abuse and Popular Protest in 1756 Britain.”

At the end of November 2010, Chris Friend, an independent journalist posted his observations of the controversy regarding alleged overreaching airport security, otherwise known to us as the TSA pat-downs scandal. Passenger John Tyner’s “Don’t touch my junk,” statement to San Diego Airport Transportation Security Administration personnel became the media replay hit leading up to America’s busiest travel time of the year: Thanksgiving. Posting to his blog a couple of days after the holiday, Friend noted that “despite the overblown [media] hype, there were no protests on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.” Indeed, according to Friend, the anticipated TSA pat down protest was nothing more than “a media-driven frenzy whipped up to scare travelers before the busiest travel day of the year. And it’s exactly that type of sensationalism that has led to the Fourth Estate’s plunging credibility.”[1]

Transition to August of 1756 where popular uprisings spread throughout the British empire prompting Horace Walpole to fire off a letter to his friend George Montagu. “There is nothing new,” stated the British Parliamentarian, “but what the pamphlet shops produce: however it is pleasant, to have a new print or ballad every day – I never had an aversion to living in a Fronde.”[2] Walpole’s reference to the Fronde, or the French uprising of provincial nobles against the absolutist regime of Louis XIV, certainly cast Walpole in a tongue in cheek light. The uprisings throughout Britain were not a fight among nobles and elites. Rather it was, as M. J. Cardwell states, Britain’s “most intense [and] politically significant crises”[3] at the beginning throes of the Seven Years’ War. The loss of a Mediterranean island called Minorca to French forces in May sparked massive protests beginning in June of 1756 that not only erupted out of the confines of London, but spilled over to numerous cities and counties in England, Wales, and Scotland, and eventually took hold in Ireland and colonial America as well. Such an empire-wide conflagration certainly necessitated not only the announcement of such a loss but several mediums by which the announcement traveled. This paper argues that the media played a central role in fanning the flames of popular unrest during the summer and fall of 1756. Further, the use, or abuse, of the media was directed by a cabal of men loyal to, and within, the ministry of Thomas Pelham-Holles, also known as the Duke of Newcastle.


[2] Lewis, W. S., and Ralph S. Brown, eds. Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with George Montagu vol. 9 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937), 195.

[3] John M. Cardwell, Arts and Arms: Literature, Politics and Patriotism During the Seven Years War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 2.

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