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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2013

8 - The Relief of English Disabled Ex-Sailors, c. 1590–1680


To Alexand[e]r Peterson[,] lately belonging unto ye Leopard[,] who in an engagm[en]t w[i]th ye Holland[e[rs in ye Streights was much burned by Gunpowd[e]r in his hands[,] face[,] legge[,] and should[e]r[,] rec[eive]d a wound in his necke neere ye windpipe by a Muskett bulett[,] six pounds.


In the late sixteenth century England created Europe's first national systems of benefits for rank-and-file disabled sailors and soldiers, an important develop-ment which until quite recently has not been given any systematic attention by scholars. This chapter will provide an analysis of the provision made for disa-bled ex-sailors in the period.

The first national system for ex-sailors was the Chatham Chest, founded in 1590. Subsequently, in 1593, an act created a county-based pension scheme for ex-sailors and soldiers that lasted, with changes, until 1679. During the 1640s and 1650s Parliament ran a central fund that provided 350 hospital places at the Savoy and Ely House, as well as 6500 out-pensions to ex-servicemen, war widows and orphans. From 1653, after the First Dutch War, this provision was formally extended to ex-sailors. With the Restoration this central Parliamentary provision ended. In the late seventeenth century the Royal Hospitals of Green-wich and Chelsea were created for disabled sailors and soldiers respectively.

Historians who have considered the state's relief of disabled ex-servicemen in the early modern period have given little attention to the county schemes and, until recently, the Chatham Chest.