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Records of French Prizes uploaded to Prize Papers portal

Court records, ship’s papers and mail-in-transit revealing the details of French ships captured during the War of the Austrian Succession are now available online for the first time.

Ten ships captured by the English from their French opponents between 1740 and 1748 have been uploaded online as part of the Prize Papers project.

Collected during the early modern naval practice of prize-taking, the records offer valuable insight into the legality of ship capturing, the international trading of goods and the personal stories of war during the 18th Century.

Dr Amanda Bevan, Head of Legal Records at The National Archives, said: ‘We have uncovered the stories of ships captured by the Royal Navy and privateers in the wars of the 1740s. Any letters on board, for delivery across the seas, were confiscated: the Prize Papers project is virtually delivering them to and across the world, 300 years later.’

Prof Dr Dagmar Freist, director of the Prize Papers project, said: ‘With the publication of these exemplary ships, we provide an insight into the research potential of the manifold documents surviving as Prize Papers in The National Archives, UK. More so, we demonstrate the incredible benefit of sorting, cataloguing, digitizing and presenting this vast collection as open access for academic research and the interested public, which is being made possible by the funding of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. For the first time, researchers can search the prize papers on document level, on a large scale, and they can establish various relations between documents, captures, court processes, actors, time and place in this beta version of the Portal.’

The Prize Papers project is part of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities and funded as part of the Academies Programme of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. The project is based at The National Archives and the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, in Germany.

Since 2018, both teams have been working to catalogue and digitize documents seized from more than 35,000 captured ships between 1652 and 1817, including 160,000 undelivered letters.

The collection of documents and artefacts provide an interesting look into the daily lives of people around the globe, preserving the history of societies and cultures spanning across a 165-year period.

The papers uploaded to the portal yesterday are from The National Archives’ HCA 32 series. Three of the ten ships have been studied in detail and are available as case studies on the project homepage. The digital images of all ten ships, accompanied by detailed metadata, are available on the open access Prize Papers portal.

For further information on the project, please visit the project homepage.

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