Subjects at sea : navigating power in the British Mediterranean, 1661-1783




Harasemovitch-Truax, Alexis Alida

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In 1608 an English court ruled that those born within the King’s domain were English subjects. Subjects had obligations to the Crown, but they also received certain rights and privileges. On land they were protected by the common law and could petition the King. At sea, treaties kept them safe from the “Barbary pirates”—privateers that captured ships and ransomed or enslaved their sailors. During wartime, British subjects could privateer themselves, with a commission to plunder the ships of England’s enemies. What would “British subject” come to mean as the King’s domains expanded across the seas? Even as the British began to embark on the territorial conquests that would subject people on the other side of the globe to British rule, Britain was already cultivating a maritime empire of diverse subjects right in the heart of Europe. Subjects at Sea explores the often forgotten history of the eighteenth-century British Mediterranean. In this maritime sphere, sailors, diplomats, inhabitants, and imperial administrators interpreted and negotiated British sovereignty and subjecthood through accommodation, collaboration, and diplomacy—not colonization or conquest. It explores the entangled political, social, and cultural currents of government policy and individual experience through the lens of subjecthood. Resource-poor and on the very doorstep of imperial rivals France and Spain, Britain’s tiny military strongholds in Gibraltar and Menorca would depend on successful diplomacy with North Africa for provisions. With few native-born Britons to hand, imperial administrators needed new subjects to sail the ships that would supply and protect the colonies. A series of decrees and treaties extended many of the rights and protections of subjecthood to the diverse inhabitants of these colonies, regardless of their religion or national origin. Long before its global imperial conquests of the 1760s, Britain developed a diverse maritime empire in the Mediterranean—affirming the subjecthood of Catholics and Jews, Moroccans, Genoese and others. These diverse and mobile people would don, shed, and transform British subjecthood as they navigated the conflicting currents of trade, war and power in the eighteenth-century Mediterranean. In so doing their world offers new insights into the varied history of the eighteenth-century British Empire.



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