Pritchard's chief concern is to explain why Bourbon France, the richest and most poewerful state in Europe in the middle of the eighteenth century, failed to exercise its power at sea. Through a close examination of naval organization -- the secretaries of state for the navy, central bureaus, officers of the sword and pen, seamen, arsenals, workers, probems of shipbuilding, ordnance production and material acquisition, and finances -- he shows the navy as both an institution embedded in society and an instrument of government. The tensions arising from the contradiction between an institution composed of individuals who sought to advance their own and group interests and an instrument that existed to fulfil government ends were aggravated by an administation of men rather than norms. Pritchard traces many of the shortcomings of naval administratrion to the intensely personal bonds and idiosyncratic behaviour of the individuals who ran it. Many of Pritchards's conclusions run counter to the generallly accepted accounts of problems in the French navy during this period and to the usual view of Choiseul as the saviour of French maritime power.
The first complete study of this period of French naval administration, Pritchard's work parallels Baugh's on the British navy.