With Richard Parker’s surrender and imprisonment, the inevitable retribution began. The British Navy had a tradition of leniency towards certain kinds of mutiny but by the same token ruthlessly suppressed mutinies which struck at the authority of the captain. The Nore mutiny clearly fell into the latter category and the mutineers, by their blockade of the Thames, had forfeited any claim to being considered loyal subjects, a theme, we will recall which was relentlessly repeated by Valentine Joyce and the Spithead mutineers.
The sailors involved in the mutiny were under no illusions about what was coming.
HMS Speedy (14) under Lord Thomas Cochrane takes the Spanish frigate El Gamo (32)
A quick perusal of this blog will show that I’ve shied away from writing much on major figures of the Age of Sail. While I have biographical entries on lesser known figures, like Sir Henry Duncan and Midshipman Flinders, there is no story on Horatio Nelson or, perhaps the most swashbuckling figure of the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Thomas Cochrane.
My reasoning is grounded equally in two sensibilities, practicality and snobbishness. Practicality because these two men have been the subject of an immense amount of study and literature and there is little I could add to anyone’s understanding of either. Snobbishness because these two men, etc. etc.
I’ll be deviating from this a bit as I delve more deeply into Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage novels because Pope, probably because of his background as a chronicler of the Royal Navy, pulls in a significant number of incidents from the lives of these two men as plot elements.
Now to the story.
King’s Captain covers the career of Dewey Lambdin’s naval hero Alan Lewrie from Valentine’s Day 1797 through the collapse of the Nore Mutiny in June 1797.
Following his adventure in Jester’s Fortune, Lewrie finds himself and Jester still under the command of Admiral Sir John Jervis in his Mediterranean Fleet that now, by the loss of Toulon, Corsica, and the Italian states, has been effectively expelled from the Mediterranean.
Major spoilers follow.
Many historical characters wend their way through the nautical fiction of the Age of Sail. The Royal Navy was a fairly small organization, especially in the number of officers, and as employment was gained via interest and patronage it is essential that the heroes in these books have a patron. If the character is to insinuate himself into real events, the patron must be real.
We’ve already touched on the initial sponsor of young Midshipman Alan Lewrie, Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. Fans of Horatio Hornblower will know that he achieved post rank through the patronage of Admiral Sir William Cornwallis. One significant figure crosses the stage frequently but thus far I have yet to encounter him as a patron of one of our heroes.
That figure is the imminently unlovable John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent.
The cat. Scratched by the cat. Let the cat out of the bag. These terms figure prominently in most nautical fiction set during the Age of Sail. Collingwood was famous for his reluctance to use the cat. St. Vincent, on the other hand, not so much.
The Articles of War governed the life of every officer, sailor, and marine in the Royal Navy, and indeed the United States Navy, during the Age of Sail. They are nothing if not a clarion call to duty and subordination to legal authority.
They are clear, uncompromising, and severe. But they kept the Royal Navy at sea during times when Britain seemed sure to be swamped by its enemies on the Continent and made Lord St. Vincent’s 1801 statement before the House of Lords, “I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea,” an observation of fact not a boast.
Read them here.