I’ve had to keep this under my hat for the last couple of months, but now that the decision has been ratified, I’m finally able to announce that I’ve been awarded the Society for Nautical Research’s Anderson Prize for the best maritime history book of 2017, for Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy, published by Seaforth. This follows hard on the heels of the same title receiving a Certificate of Merit for the Maritime Foundation’s Mountbatten Award, which has a similar criterion.
To say I’m humbled by this level of recognition for my work would be a considerable understatement, and having previously also won the Samuel Pepys Prize for Pepys’s Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89, as well as the Julian Corbett Prize for naval history many moons ago, there’s a part of me that still pinches myself and thinks that at any moment, somebody’s going to turn round and cry ‘But that book’s really rubbish! The author knows nothing!’ (Maybe they already have; I haven’t looked at my Amazon and Goodreads reviews for quite a while.) On the other hand, there’s a considerable degree of pride, too, and I wish my parents were still around to share in the moment. But I’m glad that so many people, and in that I include all the followers of this blog, are able to share in it, so thank you, one and all, for your support and encouragement, which have been hugely important motivators for me.
It’s also particularly gratifying to win the prize named in honour of Doctor Roger Charles Anderson, and humbling to follow in the footsteps of some of the previous recipients, who include the likes of Andrew Lambert, Richard Woodman, Susan Rose and N A M Rodger. I never had the privilege of meeting Anderson – he died just as I was about to embark on the second year of my undergraduate degree – but, when I began serious academic research on the seventeenth century navy a few years later, I quickly became aware of the extraordinary scale of his contribution to maritime research. His listings of contemporary warships and naval captains were among the first secondary sources on the period that I ever studied. When I moved on to work on printed primary sources, the volumes that he edited for the Navy Records Society, notably the journal of Edward Montagu, first Earl of Sandwich, and the Journals and Narratives of the Third Dutch War, swiftly became indispensable (and still are, whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction). They were also among the first source books for the period that I actually bought, and still sit proudly on my shelves – albeit now joined by a handful of others. (Note: the word ‘handful’ might be a slight underestimate.) When I started looking at manuscript sources in the old Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum, his incredibly eclectic personal collection, built up over his long lifetime (he died at 93), proved to be a goldmine, containing many little known but invaluable documents which opened important windows into the seventeenth century.
Gradually, though, I became aware that Anderson was of a rather different stamp to modern-day maritime and naval historians. For one thing, he happily straddled both worlds, writing as much about medieval and early modern Southampton merchant shipping as he did about seventeenth century naval history. Secondly, he didn’t confine himself to one period, or to one narrow field. He wrote incredibly detailed technical studies of ships’ rigging, alongside ‘big picture’ studies of naval warfare in the Mediterranean and the Baltic from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, as well as others which went all the way back to the trireme. These, in turn, were quite a departure from his first book, Canoeing and Camping Adventures (thank you, Wikipedia). In an age where so many historians confine themselves to astonishingly narrow sub-topics of sub-themes of sub-disciplines, his breadth of interests and depth of knowledge are surely examples to us all. Set all that alongside his roles as a founder of both the Society for Nautical Research and the National Maritime Museum, and as a generous benefactor to both of those institutions and the Navy Records Society, and Anderson clearly has to be ranked as one of the titans of maritime history.
In one respect, however, and only one, I’ll continue steadfastly to reject the example provided by R C Anderson, as I’ve done ever since I first encountered his work, over 35 years ago. According to his obituary in The Mariner’s Mirror- which he edited four times – ‘his writings were often wantonly dull’ (thank you again, Wikipedia). To the best of my ability, I’ve always tried to write books that may have many other failings, but ‘dull’ won’t be one of them. So thank you to the judges for both the Anderson and Mountbatten prizes, and thank you again to all those who have bought or read Kings of the Sea!