I recently found a source referenced on wikipedia — Hill, J. R. (2002). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford University Press. pp. 135–137. ISBN 0-19-860527-7. — which allegedly states that at times about one quarter of British sailors were recruited against their will.

While I can't access that source, if the summary is correct, this means the phenomenon was a lot more widespread and relevant (to both the life of people in coastal areas and to the ultimate strength and success of the British navy) than I previously thought.

However, most of the information on impressment I could find was pertaining to the British and US navies. Was this a specifically or primarily English practice — or is it just reporting bias?

I am especially curious whether the Iberian naval empires (Spain and Portugal) or the Dutch also practiced it to such a significant extent. Also, if they originally didn't, did they maybe take inspiration from the English and later introduce it, as a draft-of-sorts though of course limited by the required qualifications of the people it targeted?

  • Voting to close as the Wikipedia article on impressment answers directly. If you feel that somehow doesn't answer the question please edit to explain.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Apr 12 at 23:45
  • 1
    @BrianZ the linked article seems to center on the Royal Navy, the OP is asking specifically about other countries.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 13 at 0:07
  • FWIW, one of the reasons given for the British victory at Trafalgar was the abysmal performance of the Spanish ships, manned by impressed crews with little experience.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 13 at 0:08
  • 2
    I'm of two minds on this one. The WP page does say right in the first paragraph "European navies of several nations used forced recruitment by various means.", and goes on to imply the lack of non-British sources can be ascribed to the sheer size of the British navy. OTOH, sources talking about other navies doing it shouldn't have been too tough to come up with, if they actually did it too.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 13 at 0:26
  • The question could be improved by making it clear whether naval conscription in European navies is considered equivalent or different to British naval impressment for the purposes of the question.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Apr 13 at 7:41

1 Answer 1


The Dutch navies did not use impressment or the draft, except during the periods when they were operated by the French or Spanish.

Impressment in the UK was the process of drafting experienced sailors from the merchant fleet to serve in military fleet alongside the unskilled volunteers.

Culturally, and at times explicitly, the Dutch military fleet was an arm of the merchant fleet. The merchant fleet armed ships to protect trade. They weren't stealing experienced sailors from themselves to do so: they were hiring sailors in their normal way.

When the French and Spanish were operating Dutch fleets, they would have been using drafted sailors and convicts. They may have used impressment as well, but I have no details.

  • 2
    Please add source(s) to your answer. Thank you. Commented Apr 13 at 3:23
  • That's not correct. During the First Anglo-Dutch war, several admiralties (Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Noorderkwartier) did resort to press gang methods to fill up the fleet.
    – Jos
    Commented Apr 14 at 1:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.