Professionalism and the Fighting Spirit of the Royal Navy Rules, Regulations, and Traditions that made the British Royal Navy an Effective Fighting Force during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815
Nicholas James Kaizer
Acadia University (2015)
During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815), the armies of the French Republic and Empire performed very well – for much of this period, France dominated Europe. However, the oceans were a different matter. The British Royal Navy enjoyed a long period of spectacular naval operational success, allowing Britain to maintain and expand its colonial empire, protect its extensive seaborne trade, and protect British territory from the French armies which had overrun much of Europe. There were many factors in the navy’s success, such as its administration or shortcomings of its enemies.
This thesis explores the role of the Royal Navy’s various rules, regulations, and traditions on its effectiveness. The Royal Navy used the allure of prize money to motivate its personnel, and used the threat of unemployment to motivate its officers. Many regulations and traditions ensured that the naval officer corps was strong and fit for service. Above all, the navy cultivated and encouraged a “fighting spirit” or an “offensive ethos” among personnel. Through the above-mentioned motivations and threats, along with the Navy’s official Articles of War and various incarnations of Fighting Instructions, officers and crewmen were encouraged to conform to the navy’s offensive ethos. They were encouraged to engage the enemy whenever possible, even against superior odds. As victories mounted during the late Eighteenth Century and into the Napoleonic Wars, morale soared in the Royal Navy, causing the men of the fleet to openly seek battles with the enemy and to fully expect victory even against superior odds. It was a strategy which cultivated good morale in the Royal Navy and ensured that the fleet was able to fulfill Britain’s war aims.