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The use by British crowds of victorious admirals to articulate patriotic and libertarian ideas during the wars of the long eighteenth century is well known. But conflict also posed awkward questions about masculinity and issues surrounding it. Was military prowess compatible with politeness, with religiosity? During the 1790s, the fight to the death with revolutionary France made such questions hard to ignore, being compounded by the fact that Britain's most celebrated leader – Nelson – was not a paragon of virtue. This article shows how evangelicals sought to resolve these tensions by advancing a different set of ideals founded on piety and professionalism: by finding heroes of their own. This has crucial consequences for our understanding of how they and the ideas they championed became so prominent in late Hanoverian public life. In contradistinction to recent work suggesting that they exploited causes that were already popular – moral reform, antislavery – this article shows how they advanced a powerful providential narrative in which Christian heroes and godly policy were what made Britain great, a narrative whose veracity was ‘proven’ by wartime successes, especially in the navy, and which would remain highly influential well into the nineteenth century.

Corresponding author
Magdalene College, Cambridge, cb3
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I am indebted to Dr Michael Ledger-Lomas and to the anonymous referees for their suggestions, and am also grateful to audiences in Cambridge, Winchester, London, and Oxford for comments and questions on earlier drafts.

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1 Daniel Sykes to Marianne Thornton, 26 June 1815, Edinburgh, Royal Bank of Scotland Archives, PT/2/71.

2 Fisher, D. R., ed., The history of parliament: the House of Commons, 1820–1832 (7 vols., Cambridge, 2009), vii, pp. 357–62.

3 Stott, Anne, Wilberforce: family and friends (Oxford, 2012), pp. 7486.

4 Wilberforce to James Currie, 21 Jan. 1794, cited in Pollock, John, Wilberforce: God's statesman (London, 1977), p. 126.

5 R. I. and Wilberforce, S., The life of William Wilberforce (5 vols., London, 1838), iv, p. 261.

6 Thornton, Percy Melville, Some things we have remembered (London, 1912), pp. 2956.

7 Knight, R. J. B., The pursuit of victory: the life and achievement of Horatio Nelson (London, 2005), pp. 549–50; see also Hayward, Joel S. A., For God and glory (Annapolis, MD, 2003).

8 Sidney, Edwin, The life of Lord Hill (London, 1845), pp. 225–9, 383–95.

9 Smith, G. C. Moore, The life of John Colborne, Field-Marshal Lord Seaton (London, 1903), pp. vii, 6; Meille, J. P., General Beckwith: his life and labours among the Waldenses of Piedmont, trans. Arnot, W. (Edinburgh, 1873).

10 Atkins, Gareth, ‘Religion, politics and patronage in the late-Hanoverian Navy, c. 1780–c. 1820’, Historical Research (forthcoming).

11 Jenks, Timothy, Naval engagements: patriotism, cultural politics, and the Royal Navy, 1793–1815 (Oxford, 2006), pp. 126.

12 See Colley, Linda, Britons: forging the nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992), pp. 237319; Lincoln, Margarette, Representing the Royal Navy: British sea power, 1750–1815 (Aldershot, 2002).

13 Jordan, Gerald and Rogers, Nicholas, ‘Admirals as heroes: patriotism and liberty in Hanoverian England’, Journal of British Studies, 28 (1989), pp. 201–24; Wilson, Kathleen, The sense of the people (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 137205; Conway, Stephen, ‘“A joy unknown for years past”: the American War, Britishness and the celebration of Rodney's victory at the Saints’, History, 86 (2001), pp. 180–99.

14 See Semmel, Stuart, Napoleon and the British (New Haven, CT, 2004), pp. 72106.

15 Snape, Michael, The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 1556; Blake, Richard, Evangelicals in the Royal Navy, 1775–1815: blue lights and psalm-singers (Woodbridge, 2008), pp. 69139.

16 Anderson, Olive, ‘The growth of Christian militarism in mid-Victorian Britain’, English Historical Review, 86 (1971), pp. 4672.

17 Gregory, Jeremy, ‘Homo religiosus: masculinity and religion in the long eighteenth century’, in Hitchcock, Tim and Cohen, Michèle, eds., English masculinities, 1660–1800 (London, 1999), pp. 85110; Reyk, William Van, ‘Christian ideals of manliness in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’, Historical Journal, 52 (2009), pp. 1053–73.

18 Roberts, M. J. D., Making English morals (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 1748; Brown, Christopher Leslie, Moral capital (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006), pp. 333–89.

19 Hoock, Holger, Empires of the imagination: politics, war and the arts in the British world, 1750–1850 (London, 2010), pp. 172–5.

20 Aston, Nigel, Christianity and revolutionary Europe, c. 1750–1830 (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 211–96; Brown, Stewart J. and Tackett, Timothy, eds., The Cambridge history of Christianity, vii: Enlightenment, reawakening and revolution, 1660–1815 (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 497595.

21 Carl, Horst, ‘Religion and the experience of war’, in Forrest, Alan, Hagemann, Karen, and Rendall, Jane, eds., Soldiers, citizens and civilians (Aldershot, 2008), pp. 222–42.

22 Broers, Michael, The politics of religion in Napoleonic Italy: the war against God, 1801–1814 (London, 2002); Clark, Christopher, ‘The Napoleonic moment in Prussian church policy’, in Laven, D. and Riall, L., eds., The Napoleonic legacy (Oxford, 2000), pp. 217–36.

23 Hole, Robert, Pulpits, politics and public order in England, 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 95173.

24 Pratt, J. H., ed., Eclectic notes (London, 1865), pp. 87–8, 236–7, 299–300.

25 See, among others, Newton, John, The imminent danger (London, 1794); idem, Motives to humiliation and praise (London, 1797); Goode, William, Mercies in judgment (London, 1797); Venn, John, Reflections in this season of danger (London, 1798); idem, The ground of encouragement (London, 1803).

26 [Smith, Sydney], ‘Styles on Methodists and missions’, Edinburgh Review, 14 (Apr.–July 1809), pp. 4050, at p. 48. See also Coffey, John, ‘Tremble, Britannia!: fear, providence, and the abolition of the slave trade, 1758–1807’, English Historical Review, 127 (2012), pp. 867–84.

27 See Claydon, Tony, Europe and the making of England, 1660–1760 (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 125219 for some of the ways in which such rhetoric played in the century after the Restoration.

28 Pratt, Eclectic notes, p. 330.

29 Wilberforce to William Hey, n.d., [1798], ibid., p. 86n.

30 Wilberforce to Hannah More, 4 Oct. 1798, Wilberforce, Life, ii, p. 312.

31 Pratt, Eclectic notes, p. 86n.

32 John Venn to Marianne Thornton, 8 Nov. 1805, Birmingham, University Library, Church Missionary Society papers, Venn MSS, C20, fo. 216; Christian Observer (1805), p. 11.

33 Redford, George and James, John Angell, The autobiography of the Rev. William Jay (2nd edn, London, 1855), p. 367.

34 Roberts, William, Memoirs of the life and correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More (4 vols., London, 1834), iii, p. 232; Christian Observer (1805), pp. 260, 711; ibid. (1806), pp. 747–50.

35 [Marks, Richard], Nautical essays (London, 1818), pp. 157–61; see also Simpson, Thomas Brown, A sermon preached…on Thursday December 5, 1805 (London, 1805); Styles, John, A tribute to the memory of Nelson (London, 1805).

36 More to Wilberforce, 2 Jan. 1806, Durham, NC, Duke University, Wilberforce papers, box 2 folder 2.

37 Cecil, Richard, The pageant is over! (London, 1852), p. 12.

38 White, Colin, ‘“His dirge our groans – his monument our praise”: official and popular commemorations of Nelson in 1805–1806’, in Hoock, Holger, ed., History, commemoration and national preoccupation: Trafalgar, 1805–2005 (Oxford, 2007), pp. 2348, at p. 27; Hoock, Empires, pp. 132–61.

39 Ibid., pp. 163–7.

40 Ibid., pp. 172–5.

41 Hervey, James, Meditations among the tombs (London, 1746), p. 44.

42 Curnock, Nehemiah, ed., The journal of the Rev. John Wesley (8 vols., London, 1909–16), v, p. 46.

43 Cobbett's parliamentary debates, viii (1807), cols. 978–9. For later discussions of Wilberforce as a providential agent, see Elliott, H. V., Horae apocalypticae (3 vols., 3rd edn, London, 1847), iii, pp. 430–9.

44 Tennant, Bob, Corporate holiness: pulpit preaching and the Church of England missionary societies (Oxford, 2013), pp. 125–35.

45 Church Missionary Society Annual Report (1811), pp. 187–9.

46 Gregory, ‘Homo religiosus’, pp. 90–8.

47 Steele, Richard, The Christian hero (London, 1755), p. 3.

48 Ibid., pp. 5–59.

49 Hanway, Jonas, Thoughts on the duty of a good citizen (London, 1755), p. 29.

50 Hanway, Jonas, Three letters (London, 1758), letter i, p. 4. For more on Hanway, see Lloyd, Sarah, Charity and poverty in England, 1680–1820 (Manchester, 2009), pp. 5761.

51 McCormack, Matthew, ‘The new militia: war, politics and gender in 1750s Britain’, Gender and History, 19 (2007), pp. 483500.

52 Wilson, Kathleen, ‘The island race: Captain Cook, Protestant evangelicalism and the construction of English national identity, 1760–1800’, in Claydon, Tony and McBride, Ian, eds., Protestantism and national identity (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 265–90, at pp. 270–2.

53 Carey, Eustace, Memoir of William Carey (London, 1836), p. 18; Sivasundaram, Sujit, ‘Redeeming memory: the martyrdoms of Captain James Cook and Reverend John Williams’, in Williams, Glyndwr, ed., Captain Cook: explorations and reassessments (Woodbridge, 2004), pp. 201–29, at pp. 205–6.

54 Hayley, William, ed., The life and letters of William Cowper (London, 1835), pp. 224, 231.

55 Sivasundaram, ‘Redeeming memory’, pp. 205–6.

56 Gisborne, Thomas, An enquiry into the duties of men in the higher and middle classes of society in Great Britain (London, 1794), p. 198n.

57 Conway, Stephen, The British Isles and the American War of Independence (Oxford, 2000), pp. 239–66.

58 Gibbon, Edward, The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (6 vols., 2nd edn, London, 1781), iii, pp. 632–3.

59 Fordyce, James, Addresses to young men (2 vols., London, 1777), ii, pp. 224, 230; Milner, Joseph, Gibbon's account of Christianity considered (York, 1781), p. 261.

60 Doddridge, Philip, Some remarkable passages (2nd edn, London, 1748), pp. 107–11.

61 Ibid., pp. 201–3.

62 Ibid., p. 132.

63 Cited in Snape, Michael, The redcoat and religion (Abingdon, 2005), p. 80.

64 See Rivers, Isabel, ‘Philip Doddridge's New Testament: The Family Expositor (1739–56)’, in Hamlin, Hannibal and Jones, Norman, eds., The King James Bible after 400 years (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 124–45.

65 See, for instance, Ramsay, James, Sea sermons, or a series of discourses for the use of the Royal Navy (London, 1781); Malham, John, Sixteen sermons on the most interesting subjects to seamen (London, 1792); Clarke, James Stanier, Naval sermons preached on board his majesty's ship the Impetueux (London, 1798); Burder, George, Sea sermons (London, 1822).

66 The Christian officer's panoply (London, 1789) was by the same anonymous author, Andrew Burn.

67 Gisborne, Enquiry, pp. 79–80, 84.

68 Ibid., pp. 200–1.

69 Ibid., pp. 194n., 202n.

70 Blake, Evangelicals, pp. 114–24.

71 P. Campbell to Gambier, 15 July 1794, Georgiana, Chatterton, Lady, ed., Memorials, personal and historical of Admiral Lord Gambier (2 vols., London, 1861), i, pp. 248–9.

72 Rodger, N. A. M., The command of the ocean: a naval history of Britain, 1649–1815 (London, 2004), p. 549; Chatterton, ed., Gambier, ii, pp. 92–4. Wilberforce, Life, iii, p. 344; Spencer Perceval to Wilberforce, 26 Aug. 1807, Duke University, Wilberforce papers, box 2, folder 2; Christian Observer (1807), p. 757.

73 More to Gambier, 14 Nov. 1807; Porteus to Gambier, 3 Dec. 1807, Chatterton, ed., Gambier, ii, p. 88.

74 See Blake, Evangelicals, pp. 190–6.

75 Gurney, W. B., Minutes of a court martial holden on board His Majesty's ship Gladiator (Portsmouth, 1809); Chatterton, ed., Gambier, ii, pp. 328–9.

76 [Marks], Nautical essays, pp. 160–1.

77 Sir William Hotham, cited in A. B. Sainsbury, ‘Saumarez, James, first Baron de Saumarez (1757–1836)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

78 He should, of course, have said St Paul's. Raikes, Henry, Memoirs of the life and services of Vice-Admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton (London, 1846), p. 401.

79 Ibid., pp. 411, 423.

80 Sidney, Edwin, The life of the Rev. Rowland Hill (London, 1834), p. 111.

81 Byrn, John D., Crime and punishment in the Royal Navy: discipline on the Leeward Islands station, 1784–1812 (Aldershot, 1989); Rodger, Command, pp. 492–4.

82 Blake, Evangelicals, pp. 35–68, 153–73.

83 Follett, Richard R., Evangelicalism, penal theory and the politics of criminal law reform in England, 1808–30 (Basingstoke, 2001), pp. 6789.

84 Tosh, John, A man's place: masculinity and the middle-class home in Victorian England (New Haven, CT, 1999), p. 4.

85 Cavell, Janice, Tracing the connected narrative: Arctic exploration in British print culture, 1818–1860 (Toronto, 2008), pp. 101–16.

86 Rodger, N. A. M., ‘Honour and duty at sea, 1660–1815’, Historical Research, 75 (2002), pp. 425–47.

87 Wilberforce, William, A practical view (4th edn, London, 1797), pp. 219–20.

88 Hamilton, C. I., ‘Naval hagiography and the Victorian hero’, Historical Journal, 23 (1980), pp. 381–98.

89 Snape, Redcoat, pp. 67–89; Blake, Evangelicals, pp. 82–4; Tennant, Holiness, p. 140.

90 Christian Observer (1805), pp. 726–7; The first Bible Society (London, 1874).

91 An account of the Naval and Military Bible Society (NMBS) (London, 1804), p. 4.

92 Led by the lawyer William Cardale (1777–1826), the bankers Ambrose Martin (c. 1744–1826) and W. H. Hoare (1776–1819), and three Eclectic clergymen, Josiah Pratt (1768–1844), William Goode (1762–1816), and Basil Woodd (1760–1831).

93 Report of the Proceedings of the NMBS (1806), pp. 13–14.

94 NMBS reports (1806–15), passim.

95 Account of the NMBS, p. 6.

96 NMBS report (1815), pp. 18–19.

97 Christian Observer (1810), p. 186.

98 Wolfe, R. B., English prisoners in France (London, 1830), p. 89.

99 E.g. Reports of the British and Foreign Bible Society…volume the first, for the years 1805, to 1810, inclusive (London, 1810), p. 139.

100 Christian Observer (1813), p. 60.

101 Ibid. (1815), p. 123.

102 Brown, Ford K., Fathers of the Victorians (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 351–60; Ross, John, Memoirs and correspondence of Admiral Lord de Saumarez (2 vols., London, 1838), ii, pp. 298–9.

103 Notwithstanding the Mary Anne Clarke affair, the duke of York appears to have been retained as a philanthropic patron.

104 ‘Court martial of Admiral Harvey, 22 May 1809’, The National Archives, ADM 1/5396.

105 Christian Observer (1812), p. 539.

106 Canton, W., The history of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) (5 vols., London, 1904–10), i, pp. 50–1.

107 Innes, Joanna, ‘State, church and voluntarism in European welfare, 1690–1850’, in idem and Cunningham, Hugh, eds., Charity, philanthropy, and reform from the 1690s to 1850 (Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 1565.

108 Allen, John, ed., Memoirs of the life of the late Major-General Andrew Burn (2 vols., London, 1815), i, ‘list of subscribers’.

109 Pedersen, Susan, ‘Hannah More meets Simple Simon: tracts, chapbooks and popular culture in late eighteenth-century England’, Journal of British Studies, 25 (1986), pp. 84113.

110 Marks, Richard, The seaman's friend (London, 1850), pp. 50, 83.

111 Ibid., pp. 85–116.

112 [Marks], Nautical essays, passim.

113 Kverndal, Roald, Seamen's missions: their origins and early growth (Pasadena, CA, 1986).

114 Henry Thornton to John Bowdler, 16 Feb. 1812, Cambridge, University Library, Thornton MSS, ‘Family letterbook and recollections’, Add. 7674/1/N, fos. 238–9.

115 Canton, BFBS, i, p. 1.

116 Christian Observer (1816), p. 729.

117 Ibid. (1811), pp. 824–5.

118 See, for example, Chalmers, Thomas, Thoughts on universal peace (Glasgow, 1816).

119 Semmel, Napoleon, pp. 83–100.

120 Naval Chronicle (1813), p. 476.

121 Samson, Jane, Imperial benevolence (Honolulu, HI, 1998); Blake, Richard, Religion in the British Navy, 1815–1879: piety and professionalism (Woodbridge, 2014), pp. 173272.

122 Severn, Derek, ‘The bombardment of Algiers, 1816’, History Today, 28 (1978), pp. 31–9; Bartlett, C. J., Great Britain and sea power, 1815–1853 (Oxford, 1963), pp. 61–5.

123 Christian Observer (1816), pp. 616–18; Times, 16 Sept. 1816, p. 3.

124 Oldfield, J. R., ‘Chords of freedom’: commemoration, ritual and British transatlantic slavery (Manchester, 2007), pp. 832; Huzzey, Richard, Freedom burning: anti-slavery and empire in Victorian Britain (Ithaca, NY, 2012).

125 Brenton, L. C. L., ed., Memoir of Vice Admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton (new edn, London, 1855), p. lvii.

126 Ibid., p. ccxxiv.

127 Church Missionary Society annual report (1811), pp. 187–9.

128 The British Review and London Critical Journal (1824), p. 24; Cavell, Connected narrative, p. 114.

129 Gurney, J. H., God's heroes and the world's heroes (London, 1855), p. 328.

130 For an important summary of that distinction, see Hilton, Boyd, The age of atonement: the influence of evangelicalism on social and economic thought, 1785–1865 (Oxford, 1988), pp. 735.

131 Marshman, J. C., Memoirs of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock (London, 1860), p. 42; Aylen, W. H., The soldier and the saint; or two heroes in one (London, 1858), p. 10.

132 Huxley, Leonard, ed., Scott's last voyage (2 vols., London, 1914), i, pp. 605–7.

133 Roberts, English morals, pp. 17–48; Brown, Moral capital, pp. 333–89.

* I am indebted to Dr Michael Ledger-Lomas and to the anonymous referees for their suggestions, and am also grateful to audiences in Cambridge, Winchester, London, and Oxford for comments and questions on earlier drafts.

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