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Chasing the enemy under neutral cover: French seizures of Danish ships in Nantes during the Directory period

Abstract : This article considers neutral shipping from an actor-centred perspective. It begins with the study of four cases of Danish ships seized by French privateers in the Atlantic in 1797 and 1798, which were subsequently judged and condemned in Nantes. The points of conflict between the practices of neutral commerce and the legal framework are investigated to determine how the fate of a neutral ship vacillated between good prize and release, between seizure and freedom. The central issue was how to prove the true neutral nature of a venture. Even if the fate of a neutral ship theoretically depended on national legislation, in reality the final judgement of a neutral prize depended to a certain extent on local interests, particularly local investment in privateering. In that respect, the condemnation of the richest prizes was a very important financial issue for the local society in Nantes. This was why the privateers tried to take advantage of the slightest fault to prove the enemy character of their prize, whereas the neutral captain and his lawyer pleaded the sincerity and the good faith of the expedition. As this article shows, the ultimate fate of an intercepted neutral ship was determined by a complicated interplay of factors: local mercantile activities, legal interests and diplomatic priorities, which combined to make each case special.
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Submitted on : Thursday, July 1, 2021 - 11:16:20 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, October 19, 2021 - 6:22:59 PM




Éric Schnakenbourg. Chasing the enemy under neutral cover: French seizures of Danish ships in Nantes during the Directory period. International Journal of Maritime History, SAGE Publishing, 2016, 28 (1), pp.133-146. ⟨10.1177/0843871415624171⟩. ⟨hal-03275532⟩



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