The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the maritime branch of the British military. Ever since the 8th century the English King has owned and commanded armed ships to defend the English coast and to transport his armies to Europe. Increasing professionalism began to rise from the late 17th century, though even for most of the 18th and even early 19th century men had to be forced to join as ordinary crew members.
This enhanced Royal Navy became the backbone of the British Empire which, at its greatest extent covered a quarter of the world's land mass, and territory in every continent.
The navy was for centuries a male only preserve, until in the 20th century the Women's Royal Navy Service (WRNS) was formed, its members being known as Wrens. The two services were merged in the early 1990s.
Due to the length of a single voyage, and the enforced membership of some of the crew, discipline in the Royal Navy was severe. Men would be flogged with a cat o' nine tails involving up to several dozen lashes before the ships company.
In the 19th and 20th century, the Navy also trained boys from a young age, these boys serving in training ships run by retired officers. Even before this, boys would start as young as 12. Trainee officers of this age were known as midshipmen. Both midshipmen and ordinary boys were subject to corporal punishment, at its severest being the flogging over the barrel of a gun, known as kissing the gunner's daughter.
Three small drawings by William Lionel Wyllie (1851–1931).