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English sailors, sailing


Both medieval and early modern English writers described the tumultuous, raging sea as the epitome of chaos and evil. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both manuscript and print documents connected seething storms with the power and influence of evil, especially the devil. As the Reformation advanced, this link included Satan’s supposed minions, witches. In addition to these texts, woodcut illustrations confirmed in very stark terms, a direct association between the devil, the sea, and sailors’ supposedly anti-religious behavior and beliefs. One powerful image revealed “the man in the shyppe” tormented by the devil; others depicted the devil steering a vessel to its doom. This causal link created resilient stereotypes about what was perceived as sailors’ lack of Christian, especially Anglican, values and beliefs. In I challenged the notion of English seafarers as “the other”. Here, he identifies part of the process that labeled seamen as “the other” as one of social memory. This artifact of social memory, that the devil and the malevolent sea were intimately connected, cast an fiction so robust – that sailors were naturally irreligious and superstitious, dismissive of formal religion – that it endured throughout the period.