Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

Synopsis

The age of maritime expansion and the Anglo-Spanish War have been analyzed by generations of historians, but nearly all studies have emphasized events and participants "at the top." This book examines the lives and experiences of the men of the Elizabethan maritime community during a particularly volatile period of maritime history. The seafaring community had to contend with simultaneous pressures from many different directions. Shipowners and merchants, motivated by profit, hired seamen to sail voyages of ever-increasing distances, which taxed the health and capabilities of 16th-century crews and vessels. International tensions in the last two decades of Elizabeth's reign magnified the risks to all seamen, whether in civilian employment or on warships. The advent of open warfare with Spain in 1585 resulted in a privateering war against the Spanish Empire, seen by some seamen as one of the few boons of the conflict. The other major development was the introduction of impressment, a deeply resented aspect of any naval war and one that brought great hardship to seamen and their families. The relationship between the Crown and its seafarers was a "pull-haul" between a state beset by financial problems of fighting a protracted war on several fronts and employees forced to work in dangerous conditions for substandard wages. The stresses of the war years tell us much about the dynamic of the maritime community, their expectations, and their coping strategies.

Excerpt

Early English maritime expansion and, in particular, the Anglo-Spanish war have been analyzed by generations of historians. Until recently, the focus has been placed on events and participants “at the top.” This book revisits that period but from a different perspective: the men of the seafaring community and their experiences during a particularly volatile period of maritime history.

Without a doubt, the seafaring community had to contend with simultaneous pressures from many different directions; shipowners and merchants, motivated by profit, hired seamen to sail voyages of ever-increasing distance, which taxed the health and capabilities of crews and vessels. International tensions in the last two decades of Elizabeth’s reign magnified the risks to all seamen, whether in civilian employment or on warships. the advent of open warfare with Spain in 1585 ushered in two major developments. First, there was the privateering war against the Spanish empire, seen by seamen as one of the few economic benefits of the conflict. Seamen, however, were not the only ones who went to sea for pillage and plunder; unprecedented numbers of landsmen were also eager to participate in the very popular privateering war. This influx tested the cohesion of the maritime community, largely unprotected by a guild or trade group. the other major development was the introduction of large-scale impressment, a deeply resented aspect of any naval war and one that brought uncertainty and great hardship to seamen and their families.

During the second half of Elizabeth’s reign, seamen were forced into their sovereign’s service in large numbers, a rude shock to laborers accustomed to a great deal of employment freedom. the Crown wrongly assumed that these men would be content to act out their parts in a play that it had . . .

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