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Duty, Discipline and Leadership in the British Royal Navy

Edward Riou between James Cook and Lord Nelson

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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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6 The King’s Officer

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Abstract: This chapter analyses the manner in which Riou’s character traits blend into his role as a King’s officer and reflects his interpretation of his duty towards the people serving under his command as well as the way he established and maintained discipline. The chapter finally evaluates his performance in command of a warship and as a leader of men.

6.1 Duty

Riou’s concept of duty went far deeper than the standards prevalent in the Royal Navy at that time. Thomas Byam Martin thus reported about Riou’s perception of his responsibilities as a captain:

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