On many occasions during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, Great Britain and
other Maritime powers, like Denmark, the Dutch Republic, France and Spain fought each other
in sea battles, near the British Isles or elsewhere in the world’s oceans. During these naval wars,
ships of the Royal Navy and the competing navies were joined by numbers of privately owned
fighting ships. As privateers, these eagerly competed in the race for the spoils of war.
All this fighting resulted in the loss of many lives and fine ships. But not all ships were sunk.
When confronted with a hostile force, merchant ships often were apt to strike their colours and
surrender without a fight. The ships (naval and merchant) and their cargoes were captured and,
considered ‘prizes’ by their captors. In the case of British captures, the British High Court of
Admiralty would establish whether the prize was ‘legally taken’. If so, ship and cargo were at the
Ships that became prizes often carried, besides passengers and cargo, mail that was to be
delivered at the ship’s destination. All ships papers, including this private mail, were seized and
made part of the dossier kept by the British High Court of Admiralty. Intercepted mail and legal
documents of the British High Court of Admiralty were kept for possible future use in the
court’s archives stores including the Tower of London. There they were forgotten for many
years. They finally ended up as the 'Prize Papers', part of the High Court of Admiralty archives in The National Archives. Over the years they were reboxed, renumbered and recatalogued, and the subject of a public exhibition in 1960, but not very much used.
After the rediscovery of the value of these letters by Dutch researchers in the 1980s, the Prize
Papers have gradually become recognized as an invaluable source for new perspectives on the
early modern global world and a number of scholars have tapped these sources for various
questions. There have been first steps in establishing a network of researchers who work on the
Prize Papers: the Prize Papers Consortium and an informal, international network of researchers
who have been preparing this conference.
This international conference aims to bring together scholars who have worked
on the Prize Papers (or related materials) to discuss their research and projects and to
think about ways of using the source material for future research. The international
conference is one of several steps towards establishing a European research network on
the Prize Papers. The conference is intended as a forum for sharing research projects and ideas among all attendees.
The conference will be organized around the following themes:
• Politics & Economy
• Language & Literacy
• Family & Friends
• Colonial Cross-overs and Confrontations
• Practices, Artefacts, Spaces and Body
Registration starts on Monday 6 October 11.00, with the closing ceremony on Wednesday
8 October at 14.30.
When & Where
The National Archives
The National Archives is the official archive and publisher for the UK government, and for England and Wales. We are the guardians of some of our most iconic national documents, dating back over 1,000 years.
The National Archives' collection of over 11 million historical government and public records is one of the largest in the world. From Domesday Book to modern government papers and digital files, our collection includes paper and parchment, electronic records and websites, photographs, posters, maps, drawings and paintings.