Reply To: HBMS/HMS – usage in 18thC

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    HBMS – His Britannic Majesty’s Ship, usually abbreviated to HBM Ship – was commonly used in Journals of proceedings (“ship’s logs”) and in orders or other formal documents from the union of 1705 until c.1800. I have seen examples well into the C19th, especially in documents relating to visits to a foreign port. Look at the inside front cover of your passport and you will see our own dear Queen still referred to as “Her Britannic Majesty” – long may it be so.
    HMS – much more usually HM Ship or even the full title – was also used from the same period, but became more common than HBM Ship in documents after the American (Revolutionary) War of Independence, for no particular reason.
    There were quite a few other important “royal” navies after the key events you mention, the Spanish, Russian (“Imperial”), Swedish, Danish and Portuguese being the most obvious, so I don’t think the dropping of “Britannic” was due to a lack of need to differentiate. More probably just a lessening of formality in the service, or sheer speed in administration as the paperwork radically increased towards the end of the C18th.
    “HMS” as the main prefix does not become common in ship’s logs or elsewhere until the early part of the C19th, although of course there were occasional earlier examples. The prefix was not adopted officially until the middle of that century and until the C20th there are many examples of documents in which there is no prefix at all for RN vessels, particularly in the date lines for letters from a ship, or in references to a ship in letters and dispatches.
    On a similar vein, it is interesting that the (British) Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are to my knowledge the only such services not to state their nationality in their titles.
    Justin Reay