Books

This month’s arrival of Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean is an important reminder of the potential danger of the weather in that part of the world, weather which directly affected the influence of seapower upon history during the Age of Sail. This volume, the second of the private papers of George Rodney, offers a fascinating insight to the challenges of wielding seapower in the Caribbean in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

The Rodney Papers, Volume II, 1763-1780

Vol 151 (2007), Professor D. Syrett

George Brydges Rodney is one of the great British admirals of the Age of Sail. A participant, and in many instances a major player, in some of the great naval events of the 18th century, Rodney’s career as a navy officer spans three great naval conflicts of his time – the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War, and the American War.

Rodney, even though a towering figure in the Royal Navy of the 18th century, has attracted comparatively little attention. Overbearing, avaricious and difficult, yet talented and ambitious, George Brydges Rodney has never attracted much sympathy or understanding. He was nevertheless an original thinker and one of the great admirals of the eighteenth century.

This, the second of three volumes of the correspondence of George Brydges Rodney, covers the admiral’s life from the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 until August 1780. This was perhaps his most eventful, extraordinary and controversial period; from being a successful admiral, a member of Parliament and the Governor of Greenwich Hospital, Rodney plunges into debt and a debtor’s exile in France, only to rise again as a victorious admiral and as a national hero.

At the end of the Seven Years War Rodney was disappointed and bitter at the failure of the British government to reward him for his prominent part in the capture of Martinique and other French islands in the West Indies.

He was made baronet in 1764 and governor of Greenwich Hospital in 1765. He had already been a member of Parliament for Saltash in 1751-4, and sat for Okehampton, Penryn and Northampton consecutively between 1759 and 1774.

In 1768 he was involved in one of the most costly elections in eighteenth century parliamentary history. He secured election at Northampton, but his finances were broken. Furthermore, he had begun to gamble heavily and, with a limited income, fell into the hands of moneylenders. In 1770 he attempted to recoup his finances by becoming Commander-in-Chief at Jamaica.

Nevertheless in the West Indies until 1774 Rodney managed a successful period of diplomacy with Spain, of intelligence gathering, and of navigational surveying especially off the coast of Florida. Even so, he returned to England deeply in debt and was forced to flee to France to escape his creditors.

The war with the American colonies proved to be Rodney’s salvation. After war with France had broken out, in 1779 the British government was desperate for an admiral who could fight and win battles. Rodney was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Leeward Islands.

His success in battle and skillful conduct of the naval war in the West Indies in 1780 restored Rodney’s public standing. The stage was set for his most famous victory, the Battle of the Saintes in 1782, and the restoration of his private finances. George Brydges Rodney had gone through a dramatic change of fortunes. The character of that man is revealed here. This volume will permit re-assessment of this outstanding British admiral of the American War of Independence for a new generation of historians.

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About David Syrett

Born 8 January 1939 in White Plains, New York was the son of a well-known historian of the early American republic and editor of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton,. He graduated from Columbia University in 1961, completed his MA there in 1964 and moved to the University of London, where he completed his PhD in 1966 with a thesis on “Shipping and the American War of Independence”. He became Distinguished Professor of History at Queen’s College, City University of New York .

His principal areas of interest were eighteenth-century British naval history and the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II.

He died in New York on 18 October 2004, and his widow, Elena Frangakis-Syrett, has published some of his work posthumously.

His publications include

• Shipping and the American war, 1775-83: a study of British transport organisation (Athlone Press, 1970).
• The Siege and Capture of Havana, 1762 (Navy Records Society, 1970).
• The Royal Navy in American Waters, 1775-83 ( Scolar Press, 1989).
• The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815 (Navy Records Society, 1994).
• The Defeat of the German U-boat: the Battle of the Atlantic ( University of South Carolina Press, 1994).
• The Royal Navy in European Waters during the American Revolutionary War (University of South Carolina Press, 1998).
• The Battle of the Atlantic and Signals Intelligence: U-boat situations and trends, 1941-45 (Navy Records Society, 1998).
• The Battle of the Atlantic and Signals Intelligence: U-boat tracking papers, 1941-47 (Navy Records Society, 2002).
• The Rodney Papers, selections from the correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume I (Navy Records Society, 2005).
• Admiral Lord Howe: A Biography (Spellmount, 2006).
• The Rodney Papers: selections from the correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume II (Navy Records Society, 2007).
• Shipping and Military Power in the Seven Years War: The Sails of Victory (Liverpool University Press, 2007).

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