I’ve just over a week until I leave California and return to the archives in London. The four chapters I wrote for my dissertation are simply not enough to produce a serious book: a few chapters too short! There remain four unanswered questions which are: 

  1. The Trial. I admit it. I put off Admiral John Byng’s court martial. I won’t sugar coat it. Although I do have access to some good secondary accounts, and also the Charles Fearne transcripts (and others) of the the proceedings, I know little about eighteenth-century military trials. I know that Byng was found guilty of Article 12 of the Navy Code written in 1749, but that article was controversial, so much so that all twelve jurors unanimously begged King George II for mercy (which did not come).  Infer, then, that the amount of politics involved in the Byng trial looms rather large. Stating that, however, is one thing, but how am I to know unless I have something to compare it with. Thus, in order to acquire a better grasp of the mid-eighteenth-century court martial system and the politicking thereof,  I must compare and contrast Byng’s trial to others. In 1747, two admirals, Thomas Mathews and Richard Lestock  accused each other of mishandling a battle off Toulon, France. This trial actuated the changes to the Naval Codes, which added Article 12 unto which Byng was executed just ten years later. Going in the other direction, in 1779, Admiral Augustus Keppel demanded a court martial after a battle did not go his way. That court martial found in favor of Keppel, but politicking certainly inserted itself into Keppel’s acquittal. By looking at the Mathews/Lestock, Byng, and Keppel trials I should better be able to report on eighteenth-century military court proceedings and, more importantly, to search for similarities and anomalies between the three.
  2. The Merchant and Financier Purview. I cannot write about British nationalism in the eighteenth century without knowing how the great financiers  and merchants
    Byng Coin with Byng

    A coin accusing Byng of selling Minorca. Such coins and other ephemera were likely traded at Byng “riots” throughout England.

    of London felt over the loss of Minorca, that small Balearic Island in the Mediterranean which had been a British possession since 1708. Visions surrounding the occupation of the island always seemed to far outsell its reality. Many pamphlets surrounding the Byng Affair are apt to point that out. Nonetheless, Minorca was a possession of the Empire and its loss seen by some as a significant blow. The Newcastle/Fox ministry collapsed in October and November of 1756. How much of that collapse was brought about because of a loss of support from both merchants and financiers as it related to the Empire? I have the observations of William Beckford and James West concerning their viewpoints on Minorca’s loss, but I have little else. If I could gather the thoughts of those who were likely most affected, those who operated and financed the Levant Company: John West (1st Earl de la Warr), James Porter (ambassador at Constantinople), and some of the consuls representing the company throughout the Mediterranean. Such knowledge would assist me in gauging the national and Empire-wide implications of Minorca’s loss.

  3. The Protests. Though I devoted a chapter to the anti-Byng “riots” of 1756 and 1757, my historical senses tell me that the bulk of these riots were not cathartic, but
    Byng Protest Map

    Location of known Byng “riots”

    instead instructive, pure theatre put on by elites and middling sorts to control events on the ground while scoring political points. Much has been written about the Loyalty Associations British elites deployed during the French Revolution. But everything has a history, or at least a precedent. I suspect that a “good old boy” network existed and was employed to target Byng to force a public perception that John Byng did not do a proper job of it in the Mediterranean. This task is the most difficult of the four.

  4. Condition of the Royal Navy. Understanding the military draw down at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1748) is fairly well known. Many historians have looked at the finances of the state, John Brewer comes to mind, but not how the state paid back the costs of the war, nor how spending cuts affected the Royal Navy. I spent a great deal of effort in my dissertation explaining the manning and supply shortages of 1755 and 1756, but not the years between 1748 and 1755. Numerous reports from various captains and admirals in 1755-1756 make astonishing statements about the horrid conditions of naval stores and facilities just as the nation needed them to operate at full efficiency. Terrible conditions were not specific to any one port, nor the British archipelago, but rather seemed apparent as far away as Gibraltar and other Empire-wide naval stations. I do not as of yet possess a firm grasp as to how the Navy Office and the Admiralty Office accrued its funding to keep the Royal Navy and its facilities in good repair. I must look at the draw up to the War of the Austrian Succession and well as the draw up for the American Revolution to make a full comment.