Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

The Art of Sailing Warfare

Sam Willis


Boydell Press



Naval warfare is vividly brought to life, from first contact through how battles were won and lost to damage repair.
Our understanding of warfare at sea in the eighteenth century has always been divorced from the practical realities of fighting at sea under sail; our knowledge of tactics is largely based upon the ideas of contemporary theorists [rather than practitioners] who knew little of the realities of sailing warfare, and our knowledge of command is similarly flawed. In this book the author presents new evidence from contemporary sources that overturns many old assumptions and introduces a host of new ideas. In a series of thematic chapters, following the rough chronology of a sea fight from initial contact to damage repair, the author offers a dramatic interpretation of fighting at sea in the eighteenth century, and explains in greater depth than ever before how and why sea battles (including Trafalgar) were won and lost in the great Age of Sail. He explains in detail how two ships or fleets identified each other to be enemies; how and why they manoeuvred for battle; how a commander communicated his ideas, and how and why his subordinates acted in the way that they did.

SAM WILLIS has lectured at Bristol University and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. He is also the author of Fighting Ships, 1750-1850(Quercus).

An e-book version of this title is available (9781846156373), to libraries through a number of trusted suppliers. See here for a full list of our partners.


April 2008
7 black and white, 39 line illustrations
272 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843833673
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BIC HBJD1, 1D, 2AB, 3F
BISAC HIS027000, HIS037050, HIS015000
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Table of Contents

Chase and Escape I: Speed and Performance
Chase and Escape II: The Tactics of Chasing
Station Keeping
Unwritten Rules
The Weather Gage
Fleet Tactics
Fighting Tactics


Will become widely read by students and academics of the subject, in addition to those who are fascinated by the literary world of Hornblower or Aubrey. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF NAUTICAL ARCHAEOLOGY

A very valuable addition to the extensive literature on naval warfare in the age of sail, looking at a neglected topic. The events of individual battles have been extensively discussed, as have the technical aspects of ship construction, but this book fills the crucial gap between those two, and greatly expands our knowledge of the practicalities of naval warfare in this period. HISTORY OF WAR.ORG

Is sure to become the standard reference on naval tactics in the Napoleonic era [and] is enthusiastically recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in this aspect of naval history. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY
As a reference work for what these ships were like, how they handled at sea, and how naval officers sought to capitalize on these material constraints for both offensive and defensive purposes, Fighting at Sea is not likely to be surpassed any time soon. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES
An excellent historical handbook with much to tell modern readers about military command. Highly recommended. CHOICE
[A] superbly researched book [which] contains high-quality maps, many excellent illustrations, and an essential glossary, all of which give a better understanding of Willis's argument. UNITED STATES NAVAL INSTITUTE
A detailed historical study based on extensive research.
When it comes to discussing shiphandling Willis is peerless. Not a page is wasted and virtually everything he writes is fascinating and provocative. This is indeed a wonderful book. Anyone interested in warships should have it on his or her bookshelf for frequent consultation. NORTHERN MARINER

A clear and well-documented account. SEA HISTORY

By emphasising the critical role of practical seamanship and unwritten rules, this book offers students of the subject a new angle on an old subject. MILITARY HISTORY

An insightful analysis of the practical realities of sailing warfare that probes deeply into the technical skills, written and unwritten rules, command and control necessary for the Royal Navy's century of unrivalled success in naval combat. NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL

An illuminating read. SKIRMISH, October 2008