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Prisoners of War

Lead investigator: Evaristo Martinez-Radio Garrido

Treatment of military prisoners in the eighteenth century varied according to the moral standards of the time, religion, social group and honour, both of the prisoner and of the captor. Prisoners of war taken in action, especially in Western countries, were dependent on the moral values that they held in common with their captors, although their future also depended upon their social class and the specific circumstance of being taken prisoner. It was the duty of their captors to provide first aid and shelter as well as meals; and this duty usually fell to the low-middle class members of the groups responsible for their custody.

Obviously imprisonment represented an important upheaval in the citizen´s daily routine and way of life. In spite of the horror involved in a war, we can also recognise that honor and respect could mitigate their situation, and there was some place for humanity. There was, however, an evolution from the beginning of the century to the end of it, in which the French Revolution played a pivotal role.

This project studies changing assumptions about captivity in the Ancien Régime, the different world-views these entail, and changes in the understanding of the laws of war. Through the lens of social History, it engages with crucial questions about the changing European world, and its impact on the freedom and the security of its citizens. The idea of rights of/in war and specifically for prisoners of war are constructions of this period of history that are recognisable in present-day conventions.

This study will trace an evolution from the beginning of the century to the Napoleonic era, accelerated by the phenomenon of the French Revolution. The War of Spanish Succession changed Europe’s foreign affairs considerably and offers an ideal opportunity to analyse the situation of prisoners of war from different countries. My main focus is on the way prisoners of war were treated in the United Kingdom, and British prisoners were managed in other countries. The primary material opens a huge and interesting field in relation to social classes, political affairs and international perceptions of the strength of a nation, as well as hitherto unexplored aspects of military and social history and questions about the exact parameters of humanitarian under the Ancien Régime.