The history of the English navy over the past four hundred years is in effect the history of England. In the evolution of Britain and its empire the influence of the sea and sea power, though commonly overlooked by historians, is all-important. This book traces the development of our merchant and fighting fleet in peacetime and in war from the days of Chaucer's Shipman to the French Revolution.
Sea power was the governing factor in the politico-religious struggle with Spain in the 16th century, in the desperate maritime, commercial and colonial rivalry with the United Provinces in the 17th, and in the long drawn-out duel with the French monarchy in the 18th, which finally gave Great Britain the empire of the seas. It was sea power which halted the hitherto victorious advance of the Counter-Reformation and shattered the hopes of Philip of Spain and the Papacy. It was sea power which later gained and retained the carrying trade of the world, formerly enjoyed by the Dutch. The reigns of William III and Anne saw British power and influence firmly established in the Mediterranean, and during the next two centuries our Mediterranean fleet was one of the deciding factors in international relations. At the crisis of the Seven Years' War it was the sea power of Great Britain—wielded by Pitt and Anson with consummate skill—which settled the fate of North America and India. In the American War of Independence our navy held out against severe odds, and on the restoration of peace, rapidly regained its former commanding position throughout the seven seas. On the verge of the final decisive struggle with France towards the close of the 18th century the British fleet was perhaps the most formidable fighting force on earth.
Since the end of the last century there has been no really comprehensive naval history of England covering the period from the beginning of the 15th century onwards. This book is doubly useful. The historical narrative is distinguished by an impressive range and high standard of accuracy. In addition, the author examines in detail the effect of naval development on our entire history—on war, politics and religion, and on economics and social life.
G. J. MARCUS is an enthusiastic naval historian. He received a D.Phil. from Oxford for his study of Irish and Norse voyages in the Middle Ages. He is the author of Quiberon Bay: The Campaign in Home Waters 1759 and is a regular contributor to The Mariner's Mirror and The Royal United Service Institution Journal. He has also had articles published in the English Historical Review, History and other journals.