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A Social and Economic History of the 1797 Fleet Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore



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This thesis presents an analysis of the 1797 fleet mutinies at Spithead and the Nore based on an application of methodologies drawn from social, economic, and cultural history. Using both quantitative and qualitative sources, I present a new interpretation of these momentous events that reveals the centrality of perceptions of fairness and ‘good usage’ to their causation, course, and legacy with implications for historiographies of labour relations and popular protest. I have analysed the evidence used in previous studies to support the interpretation that the mutinies were revolutionary in their intentions and concluded that this does not provide a credible case. For the first time, I have quantified the impact of the stagnation of sailors’ wages between 1653 and 1797 on their purchasing power and conclude that this was a, but not the, cause of mutiny. Through the study of mutineer writings, rhetoric, and behaviour, I argue that insult and hurt pride were key motivators of mutiny and that relative rather than absolute naval conditions were pivotal causes of dissatisfaction. I assert that complex social inversions were employed by mutineer leaders to create legitimacy and encourage obedience towards their regime while minimising the need for violence or coercion. The practical challenges inherent to daily life during mutiny are contended to have encouraged continuity and moderation on both sides. Far from a ‘terror’, the judicial response to the mutinies was, I conclude, both pragmatic and conciliatory, while also within precedent for naval justice and reflective of judicial practice in civil society. The public perceptions of the mutinies are found to have been hotly contested and rehabilitation of the navy had to wait for redemption provided by victory at sea. Frequent comparisons are drawn between naval practice and the wider attitudes and prevailing circumstances in British society on shore.





Morieux, Renaud
Colville, Quintin


Mutiny, Royal Navy, Protest, Social Inversion, French Revolution, Social History, Economic History, Cultural History, Naval History, Maritime History, Standard of Living, Purchasing Power, Spithead Mutiny, Nore Mutiny, Fleet Mutiny, 1797 Mutiny, Memory, Commemoration, Execution, Judicial System, Crime and Punishment, Petitions, Admiralty, Age of Revolutions, Maritime Radicalism, Revolutionary Atlantic, Moral Economy, Counter-theatre, Richard Parker, Sailors' Wages, Naval Wages


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge