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.