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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

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          The Royal Navy 1793-1800
The Royal Navy 1793-1800: Birth of a Superpower
By Mark Jessop
Pen & Sword, 2018, ISBN 978-1526720337, UK £19.99 / US $34.95

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The years chosen for this study of the Royal Navy comprise a period in which major changes affected almost all of Europe and Britain grew to become the most powerful navy in the world. This is an account of both world events and the impact they had on the navy and those at home and at sea. It opens in 1793, when news arrives in England of the beheading of the French monarch, Louis XVI. The first chapter sets the stage, introducing readers to the lay of the land and the readiness of the navy in the months prior to France’s declaration of war. Over the next eight years of fighting, the public bears a high price to defeat Napoleon. Not only are income taxes introduced for the first time, but freedoms are lost, and families are torn apart.

What sets this book apart from other histories of the Royal Navy is twofold. First, it contains tidbits of information not found in other such works. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it connects ordinary people in their everyday lives to a world at war and shows how this conflict alters both them and the navy. Nor is this your typical history; rather, it is a combination of fact and fiction. Each chapter begins with a fictional account steeped in historical facts from the perspective of unnamed participants. For example, chapter two recounts the tale of a Cornish miner who took the king’s shilling rather than face unemployment. The miner is imagined, but he represents one of eighty real miners who served aboard Sir Edward Pellew’s Nymphe when she encountered the French Cléopâtre. The next chapter, on the other hand, tells the story of a press gang and the what ifs and regrets a victim might ponder.

A host of topics are covered within the chapters: the cost of maintaining a navy and the number of vessels in the beginning and at the end; who was aboard the ships and what did they do; the Admiralty; medical care; seamen’s pay, prize money, and the 1797 mutinies; and hazards at sea. Chapters six and seven examine specific naval strategies and battles, such as blockades, the Glorious First of June (the first fleet action of the war), the Siege of St. Jean d’Acre, amphibious operations, Barbary pirates, and the Battles of Cape St. Vincent and Aboukir Bay. The last chapter discusses the importance of gunnery practice, naval stations in the Caribbean, and the decline of British trade in the West Indies.

This book begins with a list of major events between 1793 and 1800. It ends with two bibliographies and an extensive index. At the center of the book is a section containing black-and-white artwork and a series of maps. Footnotes, rather than endnotes, make it easy for readers to check source citations, read definitions, or discover other pertinent information not contained in the main text.

The inclusion of the fictional scenes allows readers to make a personal and more immediate connection with the war and world at the end of the eighteenth century. This is a highly readable history of the Royal Navy that packs an abundance of information into a scant 159 pages. Readers need not be familiar with either the navy or nautical language to grasp the content, and the book serves as a good introduction to the Royal Navy at a critical time in history.

 

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