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Admiral Benbow’s Letters

Posted by Sam McLean, on February 4th, 2014

Abstract

These letters were sent by Admiral John Benbow to Lord of the Admiralty Sir Robert Rich, during the Nine Years War (1688-1697). Dated 16 June 1696 and 27 June 1697, they discuss the Royal Navy’s ongoing efforts to protect English and allied shipping in the Channel and North Sea in the face of French military action and privateering.
The first letter offers an insight into blockading and amphibious warfare. Benbow discusses the idea of a potential attack on Dunkirk, which he sees as futile unless undertaken by both land and sea simultaneously. An important base for French privateers, pirates, and other threats to allied shipping, the fortified port was then under blockade.
Benbow also mentions notorious privateer Jean Bart (here “Dubart”, or “Du Bart”). Bart, restricted from officer rank in the French navy due to his low birth, had been operating as a privateer in French service since 1672. Operating out of Dunkirk, he had long posed a dire threat to Dutch and English shipping in the area.
The second letter details Benbow’s methods for protecting merchant shipping from such threats. Benbow uses an awareness of tide states to predict Bart’s movements, suggesting that “if to take him or destroy him it must be done at sea”.

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