Dutch Prize Papers

The Prize Papers are documents seized by British navy and privateers from enemy ships in the period 1652-1815. These papers are part of the the archive of the High Court of Admiralty and are kept at The National Archives in Kew (London). Approximately a quarter of all documents in the Prize Papers collection originates from Dutch ships. Apart from ship’s journals, lists of cargo, accounts, plantation lists and interrogations of crew members, this collection also contains approximately 38,000 business and private letters. The letters originate from all social strata of society and most of them never reached their intended destination.


The huge variety of the Prize Papers makes it suitable for different types of research. It means that the Prize Papers can be used for a wide range of research topics, for example, for developments in language and dialect, trade, material culture, social relationships and knowledge transfer from the 17th to the 19th centuries. A large international research project by the universities of Oxford and Birmingham led by Jelle van Lottum focused on the migration of sailors and the distribution of human capital, based on records of interrogations of crew members. This research was financed by the Economic and Social Research Council (2011-2016).

HCA 32 / 1845.1: A box with ship’s documents, court papers, ship’s journals, cash books and a wallet with a small French prayer book, seized in the 17th century during the Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars. Source: Sailing Letters Journal IV, Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 2011, 12; picture: Erik van der Doe

Preservation and digitisation

The award at the end of 2015 of a substantial subsidy to Huygens Institute by Metamorfoze, the national programme for the preservation of paper heritage, made it possible to preserve and digitise 144.000 pages of selected documents (www.metamorfoze.nl).

The National Archives, HCA 30 / 342, scanned document

Subproject: VRE

In order to make all digitised and various documents accessible, Huygens Institute is developing a Virtual Research Environment (VRE), aimed at improving ‘searchability’ and increasing micro and macro research possibilities. The VRE is financed by Samenwerkende Maritieme Fondsen (www.samenwerkendemaritiemefondsen.nl). Check out the website Dutch Prize Papers.

For information about text recognition and the application of transcription software, see two blogs, published on Maritiem Portal in August 2021 and July 2023.


Email: prizepapers@huygens.knaw.nl

Selection of literature and data sets