En flute (sometimes armee en flute or armed en flute) is a naval term from the age of sail which was used to describe a partially or completely disarmed warship - one with some or all of its cannon removed. There are at least two different explanations for the origins of the term. One explanation offered by modern authors such as Bernard Cornwell in the Richard Sharpe books is that a ship with its guns removed shows a row of empty gunports and resembles a flute.

Another explanation given by an 1832 encyclopedia of technical terms indicates that a ship was considered en flute if it had no guns, or if it had one or more lower tiers of guns removed in order to use the gun decks as holds. This source claims that the term is a reference to a cargo-carrying ship known as a 'flute.' The Dutch built period ships known as fluyts (pron. "flight"), which were small to medium ships used exclusively for carrying cargo. Hence, a ship en flute would be one visibly configured to carry cargo.

Whichever etymology one chooses, however, the definition is the same - a ship with at least one complete row of cannon removed, leaving empty gunports.

* Browne, Daniel Jay. "The Etymological Encyclopedia of Technical Words and Phrases." Wm. Hyde & Co: Boston, 1832, p. 83.
* Cornwell, Bernard. "Sharpe's Prey." Harper Collins: New York, 2001.

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