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By Paul W. Bamford

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Extra resources for Fighting ships and prisons;: The Mediterranean galleys of France in the age of Louis XIV

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Many circumstances, old and new, were limiting the operational utility and general attractiveness of galleys, whereas no changes of any importance were improving the fighting potential of oar-driven craft. But the youthful King Louis XIV and his counsellors obviously believed that galleys still had many forms of usefulness. For reasons already discussed, virtually every contemporary Mediterranean power employed oar-driven craft. France had to face Spain and the city states of North Africa in the Mediterranean, and galleys were useful against them both.

In this light, the galleys of Mediterranean societies were relatively mild forms of public chastisement and constraint, made notorious in France by the spectacle of chained convicts seen throughout the country trudging their way down to the galley base. The trek to Marseilles was apt to be the most severe phase of the punishment inflicted on men condemned to the galleys. By comparison, conditions at the galley base were usually mild. French galleys normally went to sea only during the spring or summer of the year, for a campaign of two or three months at most; during the remainder of the year they were tied up in port (except for irregular forays near Marseilles to exercise or train their oarsmen), and the rowing force was employed ashore.

With superior oarsmen (see p. 44) they could be confident of outrunning pursuers. In fleeing from French galleys the Spanish gave some observers the impression that they were afraid to fight. Clearly, there was no question of that. A Spanish squadron was likely to be numerically inferior to the French because Spanish bases were scattered and there were many problems in uniting all the forces of the King of Spain.

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