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17th and 18th Centuries

In what was something of a standard practice during the 17th and 18th Centuries, countries, including the United Kingdom, sent out raiding parties to all corners of the world to conquer foreign lands to increase their overall wealth and prosperity. The technology of ships and weapons was still fairly primitive which meant that this activity was particularly labour intensive, requiring thousands of soldiers and sailors at all times to fight, conquer and stabilise the areas. Wars often broke out between rival nations that were vying for the same geographical areas and for each of these, more manpower was required so as the United Kingdom and ultimately the British Empire grew, more military personnel were then needed. There were seldom enough volunteers to take up these positions in the Navy and Army, so drastic measures were often taken such as the emptying of gaols, privateering and impressment to ‘encourage’ people to join them.

Privateering was essentially the legalised plundering of a conquered enemy, and this was certainly an incentive for many, as ‘prize money’ was offered to supplement the poor wages of the average soldiers and sailors, whilst impressment was the forced enlistment of men by Naval personnel in the name of the King to serve in the Royal Navy. Where the former was moderately popular, the latter was not, however it did account for the bulk of naval personnel in the 17th Century.