Minorca’s loss, however, must be set in context. The French takeover of the island hit the London press nearly two weeks prior to George II’s formal declaration.[1] Further, the loss came at the tail end of numerous other known defeats, especially the rout of General Edward Braddock’s army in the backwoods of Pennsylvania by French and Indian forces the year prior. Additionally, the movement of French troops and materials in the south of France seemed well known by many, and reported upon by a few newspapers earlier in the year.[2] Thus, an additional British defeat at the hands of the French certainly placed the Newcastle administration in an unenviable position of further defending its war and foreign affair policies.

To counter the anticipated rancor, numerous historians have noted that Newcastle himself participated in the purposeful deflection of culpability and attempted to transfer blame for Minorca’s loss upon Admiral John Byng. As early as 1796, in Biographia Navalis, historian John Charnock wrote that Byng “seems to have been rashly condemned, meanly given up, and cruelly sacrificed to the safety or popularity of men who had no just claim to either.” Further, wrote Charnock…

Reviewing the whole transaction, future ages can scarcely avoid considering Mr. Byng as a true victim to the mistakes of others… In whatever respect he might be deficient as a commander, the blame certainly attaches, in a much stronger degree, to those who sent him in such a service.[3]

Thus the title of the paper and the inclusion of the phrase “artful emissaries,” are an overt and historical reference to the men and ministers that defended the Newcastle ministry by excoriating the character of Admiral John Byng.[4] All art needs a medium, and the so called “emissaries” chose every possible means and forms of media then known in the mid-eighteenth century in order to paint a most deceptive picture so that, as far as the general public was concerned, John Byng lost Minorca, not the ministry.

To that end, this essay is not about Admiral John Byng or the Newcastle Ministry. Instead this article focuses on the manipulation of various forms of eighteenth century media by which the ministry chose to deflect blame for the loss of Minorca on another. Further, this paper investigates the impact of the media employed and the concomitant popular protests that followed.

(For part one of the introduction see the post “Artful Emissaries”: Media Abuse and Popular Protest – An Active Project.)


[1] The London Evening Press announced the loss of the island on May 6, 1756. The King’s declaration of war against France occurred on the 17th of May.

[2] The London Evening Press, for example, reported on February 17, 1756 that troops, materials, and movement in the south of France pointed toward the taking of Minorca. See Stephen D. Moore, “Losing Minorca: An Event in English Political History,”  (PhD diss., York University, Toronto) fn. 24, p. 80.

[3] John Charnock, Biographia Navalis; or Impartial Memoirs of the Lives and Characters of Officers of the Navy of Great Britain, from the Year 1660 to the Present Time; Drawn from the Most Authentic Sources and Disposed in a Chronological Arrangement vol 4 (London: 1794), 176, 178-79.

[4] The use of the term “artful emissaries” in reference to the Byng Affair actually emanated from contemporary writers and commentators who defended Byng. Scholar Thomas Wright borrowed the phrase and used it often in the publication of his book centuries later. See Thomas Wright, Caricature History of the Georges, 2nd ed., (New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1968), 190-91.

Advertisements