The French Revolutionary Wars catapulted Britain into a conflict against a new enemy: Republican France. Britain relied on the Royal Navy to protect its shores and empire, but as radical ideas about rights and liberty spread across the globe, it could not prevent the spirit of revolution from reaching its ships.
In this insightful history, James Davey tells the story of Britain’s Royal Navy across the turbulent 1790s. As resistance and rebellion swept through the fleets, the navy itself became a political battleground. This was a conflict fought for principles as well as power. Sailors organized riots, strikes, petitions, and mutinies to achieve their goals. These shocking events dominated public discussion, prompting cynical—and sometimes brutal—responses from the government.
Tempest uncovers the voices of ordinary sailors to shed new light on Britain’s war with France, as the age of revolution played out at every level of society.
“Davy’s account is vital. . . . His thorough and well researched analysis breathes of fresh air through some very old yarns.”—Tom Petch, Aspects of History
“Clear structure and logic-flow, enlivened by vividly depicted characters and incidents. . . . The attentive reader will benefit from fresh understanding of a period of huge importance in our history.”—M. K. Barritt, Naval Review
“Opens fresh perspectives on a critical period in British history, highlighting the challenge of radical politics in the 1790’s.”—Adam Lambert, BBC History Magazine
“Davey subverts the genre with a very different story about the Royal Navy, one that looks not across the Channel at the foreign foe, but rather gazes inward to emphasize the deep social and political conflicts that destabilized both nation and navy throughout the revolutionary 1790s.”—Niklas Frykman, Mariner’s Mirror
“This magnificent book really lifts the lid on the sailing navy at war, for the 1790s were indeed tempestuous years. James Davey presents intricate, powerful evidence from a very wide range of sources. This book puts into context the recent contentious arguments between historians about impressment and mutiny. It will recalibrate the historical debate.”—Roger Knight, author of Convoys
“This book breaks new ground. Well researched and readable, it firmly links the naval mutinies of the revolutionary 1790s to shore-based insurgency, while its international reach also allows it to take in the revolts of enslaved Africans in the West Indies.”—Margarette Lincoln, author of London and the Seventeenth Century
“Erudite, balanced, innovative, and based on deep engagement with the sources, Tempest recovers sailors’ voices and listens to them carefully. In the process, it offers an impressively lucid case for the relevance of the late eighteenth-century Navy to British history—and to the present.”—Sara Caputo, author of Foreign Jack Tars