Shipwrecks on the shores of England were not just catastrophes for merchants and mariners, but opportunities for inhabitants of the coast. The goods and fittings of stricken ships, if not lost to the waves, became subject to predation by interests and agencies on land. In the eyes of seaboard communities, shipwrecks brought an augmentation of material resources; they were windfalls of wealth, justified as seigneurial entitlements, fruits of office, or gifts of God. The shorelines, beaches, and intertidal zones of shipwrecks became contested spaces, as salvagers and scavengers competed with survivors for the bounties of the sea. Social history, legal history, and maritime history met at the water’s edge where, as the proverb said, it was an ill wind that blew nobody any good.
Introducing Shipwrecks and the Bounty of the Sea, to be published late autumn 2022 or early in 2023 by Oxford University Press, it draws heavily on High Court of Admiralty and State Papers to examine competing claims of manorial proprietors, Admiralty droit holders, 'the barbarous country people', and the crown. It examines coastal communities in action, within contested environments of greed, opportunity, material exchange, and law.
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