In a remarkable discovery, sealed letters confiscated by the British Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War have been opened for the first time, shedding light on the personal stories of French sailors and their loved ones. These 104 letters, written between 1757-8, were initially meant for the crew of the French warship, the Galatee. They carried heartfelt messages from wives, fiances, parents, and siblings who longed to connect with their beloved sailors.
Unfortunately, the letters never reached their intended recipients. Despite efforts by the French postal administration to deliver them to various ports in France, they consistently arrived too late. When news spread that the Galatee had been captured by the British, the letters found their way to England. They were then handed over to the admiralty in London and kept in storage for centuries.
Professor Renaud Morieux of Cambridge University stumbled upon this collection of confiscated letters while exploring the National Archives in Kew. He expressed his agony at how close they came to reaching their intended recipients but were ultimately left unopened. It was an emotional experience for him as he realized he was the first person to read these intimate messages since they were written.
While some letters were opened and assessed for military value, it was decided that they contained only personal matters and were subsequently stored away. Among them was a letter from Marie Dubosc, the wife of the ship’s first lieutenant Louis Chambrelan. She expressed her undying love and signed off, unaware of her husband’s fate or the fact that his ship had fallen into British hands. Tragically, they never reunited, as Dubosc passed away the following year.
Through painstaking decoding, Professor Morieux traced the names of every crew member mentioned in the letters, from lower-ranking sailors to officers. In addition to deciphering the messages, he conducted genealogical research on these individuals, offering further insights into their lives beyond what the letters revealed.
These rediscovered letters serve as a poignant reminder of our shared human experiences, especially during times of separation caused by uncontrollable events like wars or the ongoing pandemic. Professor Morieux emphasized that people have always found ways to stay connected and show affection, even with the limited means available in the 18th century. Today, we have the luxury of Zoom and WhatsApp, but the emotions expressed in these letters remain timeless.
By preserving these intimate records of ordinary individuals caught in the turmoil of war, we gain a deeper understanding of the human side of historical conflicts. The stories contained in these letters are not unique to France or the 18th century—they are universal narratives that resonate with us today.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How were the letters discovered?
A: The collection of confiscated letters was discovered by Professor Renaud Morieux from Cambridge University during his exploration of the National Archives in Kew.
Q: Were the letters ever delivered to their intended recipients?
A: Unfortunately, the letters never reached the crew of the French warship, the Galatee. They were captured by the British Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War and subsequently forwarded to England.
Q: What happened to the confiscated letters?
A: The letters were handed over to the admiralty in London and stored away for centuries until Professor Morieux’s recent discovery.
Q: Did anyone read the letters before they were stored?
A: Although two letters were opened and assessed for military value, it was determined that they contained only personal matters, resulting in the decision to store them away.
Q: What insights did Professor Morieux gain from decoding the letters?
A: Professor Morieux traced the names of all crew members mentioned in the letters and conducted genealogical research, providing a broader understanding of their lives beyond what the messages revealed.