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By the time of Billy's impressment in 1797, naval warfare has changed, especially with the military use of gunpowder. The British navy is at war with France and has just experienced the great victory at Trafalgar, about which it feels very proud; but it has also just endured two mutinies, one at Spithead and the other at Nore. As a result of these two recent events, the navy is both vulnerable and volatile. Many of the old grievances are still festering.
Many grievances have gone un-addressed. The navy is stretched beyond its means, thus, the impressment of Billy and other young men, most of whom deeply resent having been taken from their families. The sailors are also pushed beyond their limits because of lack of help and support. There is a mutual distrust between the sailors and officers, and things are even more strained between them since the Great Mutiny at Nore. Sometimes an officer will keep his sword drawn as he gives orders to his men.
These chapters continue with Background Information. There is some history on the mutinies that have been occurring due to the horrendous workload and lack of respect given to the sailors; the grievances have not been solved, and the sailors continue to resent their officers. Tension is high on the navy ships, and vigilance to code and law is the rule.
There is also a quick background given on Trafalgar, with particular emphasis on Nelson. In spite of his odd, theatrical behavior, Nelson is presented as the type of officer who inspires his men. Later in the book, Captain Vere will be compared to him.