A captain of a British naval ship in the reigns of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs who had risen by promotion through service in the navy, as opposed to the courtiers who were appointed to posts of command simply because of their influence at court. There was always great bitterness between tarpaulin captains and what were known as gentlemen captains, for, as Sir Henry Mainwaring wrote in his Discourse on Pirates (1617), the ability to command a ship with ‘discretion and judgement, to manage, handle, content and command the company, both in fear and love’ was beyond the capability of the gentleman captain. That crews also preferred to be commanded by a tarpaulin captain can be appreciated by the example of a dozen seamen at the funeral of a tarpaulin captain, Sir Christopher Myngs, who was killed in 1666 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–7). They begged to be given a fireship, a notoriously dangerous form of attacking an enemy, so that they could ‘do that that shall show our memory of our dead commander and our revenge’. See also warfare at sea.
Subjects: Maritime History.