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Duty, Discipline and Leadership in the British Royal Navy

Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson


Martin Rütten

Edward Riou (1762–1801) was a sea officer in the British Royal Navy. As a midshipman, he participated in the third voyage of Captain James Cook. He gained popular acclaim for saving HMS Guardian after she had struck an iceberg. Riou was killed in the Battle of Copenhagen (1801). Lord Nelson lamented Riou’s death as an irreparable loss. Later authors alluded to him as a «perfect naval officer».

This biography sheds new light on Riou’s notions of his duty as a King’s officer and on his methods to enforce cleanliness and discipline aboard the ships he commanded. It introduces dissenting appraisals by men who served under him. As a microhistorical study, this biography analyses Riou’s leadership style and puts him into his social context by comparing him with his fellow officers.

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2 Biography


Abstract: This chapter provides the basic information about Edward Riou’s life and his career.

Edward Riou was born on 20 November 17621 in the parish of Faversham in Kent. He was the second son of Stephen Riou, a former officer whose Huguenot ancestors hailed from Vernoux in Ardèche in Southern France.2 With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1785, the Huguenots had lost their former privileges, were forbidden to practice divine service and were increasingly subjected to deprivations like the notorious dragonades in order to force them to convert to Catholicism. As a consequence, about a quarter of them had fled their home country in the following years.3

Amongst these refugees was Edward’s grandfather Étienne Rioux who, at the age of eleven, accompanied his uncle Mathieu Labrune to Switzerland in 1687.4 After a first station at Berne5 they finally settled in Geneva. While Mathieu set up as a merchant, Étienne in 1693 entered Lord Galway’s6 regiment as an officer cadet. In 1695 he was present in the siege of Casale in Piedmont.7 In the following year, he took his leave after his uncle had asked him to assist him with his business.8 In 1698, they moved to London ← 43 | 44 → where once again they established themselves as merchants.9 According to Étienne’s son Stephen they were engaged in exporting East India and English goods to Holland, Germany and Italy and did so with great success.10 In 1702, Étienne was naturalised in England.11...

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