This important new study demonstrates the growing maturity of naval history, for while at first sight it might appear to be aimed at a specialist audience, it skilfully uses a mastery of the specific to enhance our understanding of the general.
2005, the bicentenary of the battle of Trafalgar, has seen a spate of publications relating to Nelson and Trafalgar. Some of us may be justified in thinking that there were already too many books on these subjects. By 1990 there were over 100 biographies of Nelson. Now there are more. Do these books take our knowledge any further forward, and where do Nelsonic studies go from here?
In one of his most irritated moods, Samuel Pepys, sometime naval administrator, recorded in his diary that he and his office had just had the experience of being judged by investigators who were entirely unaware of the nature of the business of running a department of the navy. Pepys’s experience is rather common.
Among the new books that have emerged coincident with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Brian Arthur's How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812–1815 is one that should win attention, both for its provocative title and its revelatory content.
Christopher Magra believes that impressment played a vital role in the origins of the American Revolution. Sailors not only were the shock troops of the resistance movement in popular disturbances in the 1760s and 1770s.
Paul A. Gilje, Professor of United States History at the University of Oklahoma and renowned expert on the history of common people on the waterfront in early America (1), argues in his recently published book on the War of 1812 that the U.S. declared war against Great Britain in 1812 in defense of neutral rights and the safety of American sailors.
As its title suggests, this book covers developments in the medical service of the Royal Navy and among people who travelled aboard ships, whether as serving seamen, convicts, slaves or migrants.
Notwithstanding the outpouring of heavyweight publications that attended the 2005 Trafalgar bicentenary, popular perceptions of life in Nelson’s navy still revolve around the brutal, filthy, drink-sodden hellhole presented in recent television adaptations of Hornblower and William Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth trilogy.
The social history of the navy is a rapidly developing field and there is a recent trend for studies which seek to uncover the complex and varied personal experiences of officers and sailors, as well as to trace broader trends in cultural representation.
At the end of December 1756, Admiral John Byng was put on trial for breaching the Articles of War, instructions set out by the Royal Navy in 1749 to establish and regulate martial behaviour. Byng, who had commanded a fleet of ships during the Battle of Minorca in the late spring of 1756, was accused of failing to do his utmost during the combat.