In Love and War
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Historian Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge discovered a treasure trove of letters in the digital inventory of the United Kingdom’s National Archives. The 104 letters were sent to French sailors by wives, siblings and parents between 1757 and 1758 during the Seven Years War.
Morieux explained that the letters, mainly intended for the crew of the Galatée warship, were initially forwarded by the French postal administration from port to port. However, when the Galatée was captured by Britain’s Royal Navy in April 1758, the French authorities sent the letters to England.
Unfortunately, they remained unopened for centuries – until now.
The study showed that the letters were written by common people and detailed the difficulties that many families faced, as well as “how they managed to overcome distance and the fear of uncertainty,” according to Morieux.
In one letter, a wife longing for her husband professed her undying love to him. Another one, however, showed a mother chiding her son for writing to his fiancée and not to her.
Morieux noted that the complaint reveals “universal” family dynamics.
“And here you feel that there is some kind of … really long, ancient trope about tensions in the family between the mother and the daughter-in-law,” he quipped.
The author added that sending letters and long-distance communication was challenging during that period.
But despite the troubles, the artifacts also show how communities remained steadfast in times of crisis.
“It’s about the power of the collective,” said Morieux. “It’s about how these people can only survive by relying on others.”