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Mercenary gentlemen? The transnational service of foreign quarterdeck officers in the Royal Navy of the American and French wars, 1775-1815

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pIn the late eighteenth century, like most European fleets, the British Royal Navy still employed some foreign officers. This phenomenon, almost completely unexplored, seemingly embodies a contradiction between the national and the transnational meanings of honour. Using archival and printed sources, this article examines the foreign presence, or lack thereof, in four distinct categories of ‘quarterdeck’ officer: commissioned officers, ‘young gentlemen’ (aspirant officers), surgeons and assistant surgeons, and a final miscellaneous group fulfilling special tasks, sometimes ashore. The peculiar values attached to the officer class, and the relative social and occupational positioning of these four categories, serve to test the real motives behind ‘national’ acceptance and exclusion: beyond the opposing discourses of gentlemanly and professional cosmopolitanism on the one hand, and patriotic duty, loyalty and emerging anti-mercenarism on the other, the levels of foreign presence among navy officers should be explained mainly with reference to supply and demand on the international labour migration market. The distinction between natives and foreigners was culturally and politically meaningful in a wartime context, and strategically deployed by various actors to regulate access and exclusion, but it can also operate as a red herring for the social historian. This has broader implications for the way in which we conceptualize honour, patriotism and the nation at the turn of the nineteenth century.</jats:p>



4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

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Historical Research

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Oxford University Press (OUP)


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AHRC (1653421)
Robinson College Lewis-AHRC Studentship (2015-18) Huntington Library W. M. Keck Foundation Fellowship (2020)