Postgraduate Spotlight: Jack Abernethy

Blog written by Jack Abernethy

16681587_1267182066650398_6844218243846179756_n

Me on a recent trip to the far north of Scotland. It was in Thurso, near John O’Groats, that several skippers signed an oath of allegiance to the Marquis of Montrose in support of Charles II

My name is Jack, and I am currently a student at St Andrews, studying Scottish History. I was recently awarded the British Commission for Maritime History’s prize for Undergraduate Achievement (a prize given to only six students across Great Britain) for my Honours dissertation, entitled “The Specter at the Feast: The Royalists at Sea in the First Anglo-Dutch War, 1652-1654.” The dissertation aims to correct the long-held notion that Prince Rupert and his privateering fleet of the late 1640s and early 1650s was the only royalist maritime threat to the English Commonwealth after the conclusion of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

To give some background: after the execution of Charles I in 1649, many royalists fled to the continent, especially to the Dutch Republic. At the same time, Prince Rupert, Charles’ nephew and a royalist commander on land and at sea, was leading a privateering fleet from Ireland to Africa and beyond. In Britain, royalist maritime bases supporting Charles were being dismantled by the Commonwealth. Between 1652 and1654, England went to war with the Dutch over religious, political, and economic issues, and the subsequent war heralded in a new era of naval warfare. Despite the attack on the Netherlands, the royalist threat was not yet finished.

Before I began my deeper exploration of the era, I had found it particularly appealing: I have always had an interest in maritime history and after having done some previous work on the First Dutch War, I wanted to continue to pursue this interest. While I was considering ideas for my thesis, I found words such as “royalists,” “privateers,” and “pirates” arising constantly in scattered sources, such as calendars of state papers and personal papers. However, I found no work that connected them within a coherent narrative. As a result, I began to wonder (with governments in the Netherlands and France hostile to the Commonwealth) whether seaborne royalist endeavors had increased during this time, and sought to answer this question for myself.

IMG_8370.jpg

SRA, Anglica IV, 521. SE/RA/2102/IV/521. The Answer of the CoS, 28 May 1652

Two names in particular began to arise in reference to royalist privateers or pirates: William Balthazar and Richard Beach. The classification of these men has caused confusion. For instance, if they were receiving privateering commissions from a deposed government, were they still valid belligerents, or, as many sources suggest, were they just pirates? Through the collection of sources from both the Commonwealth and royalist exiles, I sought to create a more unbiased and holistic understanding than previously offered. Balthazar and Beach, along with other anonymous privateers, did a shocking amount of damage during the Dutch War. For example, the port of Barnstaple, in Devon was subject to near economic ruin, while captured mariners between England and Brittany were often pressed by royalists or marooned on the French coast. I found this research the most interesting, as it gave me an opportunity to tell the stories of people often ignored, and it was also vastly entertaining because of the swashbuckling characters and sea-battles that were described.

I also began to look for sources farther afield  in both digital and physical archives. My last chapter dealt with British maritime immigration. It was said that during the Dutch War between 5000 and 6000 British sailors were in the Dutch marine. An investigation into Dutch sources became necessary, as well as learning some Dutch language along the way! I did not try to address the contention directly, so instead, I gave several examples of men who definitely served in the Dutch navy. A good example was Robert Callwine, a mariner from Stirling, who along with several Scottish shipmates nearly drowned when he was attacked by the English fleet. Another sailor I encountered was one John Scott, a sailor of local interest, having hailed from our very own St Andrews! I also used my research as an excuse to travel to Edinburgh and to collect as many sources in the NRS as possible, including several I had to transcribe from original Scots language manuscripts. Among other documents of interest I found was one letter I discovered while on a class trip to Sweden: a 1652 letter from the English Commonwealth to Queen Christina in Sweden seeking reassurance that their ships would be mutually entertained in each other’s harbors and protect each other from becoming “infested” by their enemies.

In the future, I hope to publish my dissertation. In the meantime, I will return as a student to St Andrews in January to begin my MRes, continuing my research into Anglo/Scottish-Dutch history, and writing a dissertation on Scottish soldiers in the Dutch Republic between 1600 and 1655. In my free time, I enjoy playing the fiddle, running, and I have also been entering biographies of Scottish immigrants on the Scotland, Scandinavia, and Northern Europe (SSNE) database for Professor Murdoch.

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials allowing for in depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: