It turns out that Byng, in spite of his distinguished naval career, was executed for the "crime" of, well, not trying hard enough.
For Navy veteran and Butte College history instructor Joseph Krulder such a fate demands fuller explanation than that offered by conventional military and political accounts. Using "microhistory," he delves into the social, cultural and economic backdrop to the "Byng affair" "with a very small time frame over a very wide region."
The resultant study breaks new ground in showing how cultural forces were manipulated by political elites to cast Byng as "an emblem of cowardice and treason despite the ample evidence that says otherwise...." In short, Byng was the fall guy.
"The Execution Of Admiral John Byng As A Microhistory Of Eighteenth-Century Britain" ($160 in hardcover from Routledge; also for Amazon Kindle) is a scholarly work yet highly accessible.
Chapters explore the shaping of public opinion, such as the use of ballads, by Byng himself as well as his enemies, "to generate and guide public sentiment concerning the political crisis caused by Minorca's loss."
Newspapers presented partisan versions of Byng's story. The monetary costs of processing sea vessels captured by the Royal Navy may have (ironically) prevented Byng's fleet from being fully outfitted. Sailors brought aboard from inland towns spread sickness.
In a story untold until now, Krulder traces anti-Byng sentiment expressed in sermons. There were food shortages in 1755-1756, anti-Byng "riots" portrayed as violent, and competing trading interests around the world diverting attention and undermining the idea of British nationalism and the empire's purported invincibility. Krulder concludes Parliament's inquiry into Minorca's loss had a "scripted outcome."
His final chapter notes that political and social machinations are not unknown in the modern U.S. Navy, suggesting that a story seemingly so far removed from us is a cautionary tale for today as well.