Entry, training, and education of the eighteenth-century British naval officer : a synthesis



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The eighteenth century can be viewed as the pivotal point in the development of the British Empire. Between the years 1701 and 1783, Britain witnessed a series of climacteric developments: the French bid to establish hegemony in Europe was effectively halted; 1739 saw a series of wars begin which would reach world-wide proportions during the next forty years; the basis of the First British Empire would be lost and the foundation of the Second Empire established. During these events the British Navy played a crucial role, one in which her officers were of decisive importance. The way in which these men entered the service, the training and education they received, helped in part to develop in them a professional competence that was unsurpassed during the century. The argute policies instituted by Samuel Pepys, Secretary of the Admiralty during the last quarter of the seventeenth century, had a lasting impact on entry, training, and education in the century following his death. His innovations were directly responsible for the continued refining of the pre-commissioning process and for this reason his programs and philosophies are examined in depth. The entry process affords a unique view into the social and political diversities of the period. Young men chose the Navy as their profession for a variety of reasons, some of which can be traced to political influence and position within the social strata. The three avenues of entry: volunteer per order, captains servants, and from the lower deck traded positions of importance throughout the century with captains servants finally establishing itself as the predominant mode of entry. The role education played in the early career of the naval officer was a polemical one between naval administrators and officers. The value of education was not yet realized by most members of the officer corps, yet Admiralty officials continued to press forward for some kind of formal educational program. Individuals outside the service realized the importance of education but came into conflict with parents who preferred the more positive results gained for their sons by the use of patronage and influence. There was universal agreement as to the benefits accrued from thorough training. Each captain had his own method of imparting knowledge and strove to develop competent seamen whose experience would stand them in good stead throughout their careers. The training a midshipman received was perhaps the single most important ingredient in his development and the Admiralty established examination procedures to insure that his knowledge would be broad enough to make him an effective leader. Thus, entry, training, and education were vital to the development of the British naval officer in the eighteenth century. These three factors were in part responsible for the success of the British Navy during these critical years of imperial conquests.



History, Great Britain, Royal Navy, Officers, Training