A Social History of British Naval Officers, 1775-1815

February 2017
10 black and white, 17 line illustrations
306 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037060, HIS027150, HIS015000

A Social History of British Naval Officers, 1775-1815

Evan Wilson

Who were the men who officered the Royal Navy in Nelson's day?
This book explores the world of British naval officers at the height of the Royal Navy's power in the age of sail. It describes the full spectrum of officers, from commissioned officers to the unheralded but essential members of every ship's company, the warrant officers. The book focusses on naval officers' social status and its implications for their careers. The demands of life at sea conflicted with the expectations of genteel behaviour and background in eighteenth-century Britain, and the ways officers grappled with this challenge forms a key theme. Drawing on a large database of more than a thousand officers, the book argues that, contrary to the prevailing view, officers were mostly from the middling sort, not the landed elite. It shows how the navy attracted hordes of hopeful commissioned officers, how unemployment was common for the majority even in wartime, and how only a select group managed to gain promotion to post-captain. The book corrects our understanding of the men who lived and served in the wardrooms of the Royal Navy and refocusses our attention away from those who won fame and fortune and onto ordinary naval officers.

EVAN WILSON is Associate Director of International Security Studies and Lecturer in History at Yale University.

Table of Contents

The Education of Young Gentlemen
Commissioned Officers' Careers
Warrant Officers' Careers
The Wardroom as a Social Space
Patronage and Promotion Prospects
Pay and Prize Money
Domestic and International Comparisons
Naval Officers' Social Status


A valuable contribution to existing scholarship which deserves its place on the shelves of academics and amateurs. THE NELSON DESPATCH

[Wilson] has presented a strong case for adjusting our idea of the background, the career path, prospects and social standing ofwarrant and commissioned officers between 1775 and 1815. This book will appeal to people studying the Royal Navy of the long eighteenth century, the development of naval officers, and the ideas of "nobility" and "gentleman". NORTHERN MARINER/LE MARIN DU NORD

Highly recommended, both as an excellent guide to the late eighteenth century naval officer corps, and as a model for conducting naval history in combination with social and cultural perspectives. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

A valuable contribution to maritime scholarship. JULIAN STOCKWIN

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