The Causation of the 1797 Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: History

Abstract

I intend to study the causation of the 1797 Royal Navy mutinies, on which there has been no dedicated study since 1935. The methodology and
historiography of this topic require updating. I hope to determine the relative importance of socio-economic factors, and political factors as causes of the
mutinies and so both will be studied in detail. I would use a quantitative approach to investigate the scale of the fall in the real wages of sailors due to rising
prices and static wages for over a century. Naval food, discipline, and living conditions would also be considered as potential sources of discontent.
Comparisons with the conditions among soldiers and merchant sailors must also be drawn to place the experiences of naval seamen into the relevant
context. I would also qualitatively analyse the role of political ideology and rhetoric as a cause of mutiny. The problem of establishing the extent to which
such ideas permeated among the sailors must be constantly borne in mind. The few previous studies of the mutinies have assumed that any political cause
would have had French Revolutionary origins. While I would investigate this possibility very seriously, I would also like to evaluate the extent to which
British patriotic, counter-revolutionary ideology and rhetoric might not have been equally, or more responsible. I intend to question whether the mutineers,
in their demands for better pay and conditions, were more motivated by the rhetoric of 'Ancient British Liberties' rather than that of French Revolutionary
'Liberté'. I find this proposed project exciting as an opportunity to make an original contribution to a subject that has received very little attention and to do
so in a comparative way which combines the methodologies and skills of economic, social, and ideological history.

Publications

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Easton C (2021) The Bloody Flag: Mutiny in the Age of Atlantic Revolution, by Niklas Frykman in The English Historical Review

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Easton C (2019) Counter-Theatre during the 1797 Fleet Mutinies in International Review of Social History