The Prize Papers archive, part of the archives of the High Court of Admiralty kept in The National Archives (TNA) Kew, is commonly regarded as one of the most valuable archives in the field of maritime history.
In the course of its many naval engagements the British Royal Navy seized numerous enemy ships. Documents pertaining to tens of thousands of these seized ships (“prizes”), Dutch and French, Spanish and Portuguese, but also Danish, Swedish, German, Italian and American have been preserved. Every ship's file contains at least one document in English: transcriptions of the interrogations by the Prize Courts of the captain and other crew members aboard ships taken as lawful prizes.
This huge collection is of interest not only to maritime historians, but also to social, economic, political and cultural historians too. The English authorities enquired about the origin, the route and planned destination, tonnage, freight and crew members, about citizenship, national allegiance, and the personal migration history of the interrogated crew members. The answers were interpreted into English, and written down by professional secretaries. This results in a wealth of information, standardized in its presentation, always in English. As the Prize Papers are international in nature, they enable comparisons between different maritime nations.
Brill has digitized the interrogations, and made them available online to researchers all over the world. Prize Papers Online provide images of each interrogation , while the answers to the fourteen most researched questions have been transcribed and stored in a searchable database. Names of places have been standardized according to authorized LoC conventions. Because of the large scope, the product is divided into three collections, each matching a (set of) war(s) in which England was involved from the second half of the seventeenth until the end of the eighteenth century, and offered separately or as a complete set to academic institutions worldwide through Brill’s online platform for research collections.