Billy Budd Historical Context

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Between 1794 and 1797, the number of seamen and marines serving in the British navy jumped from 85,000 to 120,000. England was at war with France at this time, and the navy's need for manpower was immense. Most of the men in the British naval service had not chosen to be there. While some men did join the navy, sailors could also simply be taken off merchant ships by a warship's officer, as happens to Billy Budd. The sailors from merchant ships were valued for their sailing experience, and "topmen" such as Billy - those who could work up in the riggings - were especially useful.

Some men were "impressed" into naval service: these were the able-bodied men who could not be convinced to join the navy, so they had to be "pressed," or forced, to join, often through brutal means. Impressed men often...

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This section contains 575 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
Buy the Billy Budd Study Guide
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Billy Budd from Novels for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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