HBMS/HMS – usage in 18thC

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    F.M.R. F

      At a recent golden wedding I was asked (at the brandy stage!) why C18th HM ships are sometimes referred to as HMS and at other times as as HBMS.
      Off the cuff I said that HBM is still the formal title of the Sovereign but that [Glorious] 1st June, Nile, French Revolution etc had resulted in there being only one King with an effective fleet hence the shorter title. Can anyone give me the correct answer?
      Martin Foreman


        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

        Frank Scott

          I know that the Swedish Navy also use the prefix ‘HMS’. Indeed some years ago I had a very enjoyable week in one of their schooners, HMS Falken, observing how they do things in sail training (very efficient they are too!).
          Frank Scott

          Tony Beales

            One early use of “H.M.S.” which could be considered “official” was on naval gold medals awarded to captains after the battles of St Vincent, the Nile and Trafalgar. Interestingly the use changed from “H.M.S. THE VANGUARD” at the Nile to “H.M.S. MINOTAUR” at Trafalgar.
            “His Majesty’s Ship” was much more common than “His Britannic Majesty’s Ship” in the ship’s musters and the small number of ship’s logs that I have looked at dating from 1770 to the end of the American War of Independence (as it was called in my schooldays). The Ship’s musters I have seen, have printed “MUSTER-TABLE of His Majesty’s Ship the ….. between the …”, etc. (with spaces for the hand written name and dates). In ship’s logs, other ships are usually mentioned just with the prefix “the”, but occasionally with “His Majesty’s Ship” or various abbreviations of it. A quick flick through a few images throws up one reference to “H.M.S. Barfleur” in 1782.
            Although it is used elsewhere, I don’t actually recall seeing “His Britannic Majesty” used in the logs I have read from that period. However, this is based on just a small sample of documents.
            Tony Beales

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