The Rise of the Royal Navy

Being an island nation, England and later Great Britain invested greatly in developing its navy which, by the end of the 18th century, was the most powerful in the world. However, the start of the Royal Navy began much earlier in English history [1], Henry VIII ordered the construction of the first shipyard in 1540 [2]. The Royal Navy as named was officially established in 1660 and 1661 by the Naval Discipline Act. However, it would be in the 1700’s when it would become the supreme maritime force in the world. During the 18th century, ship classes began to be formed for better organization and the Navy began to take its modern shape Wars in the early 18th century helped to solidify and secure the British Royal Navy as the dominate navy in the world, overcoming their biggest rival in the sea, France [3]. In addition, during this period, improvements in navigation and longitude helped to make sailing safer than in previous decades [4] British maritime dominance remained throughout the 18th century and grew during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. British conquest of French territories increased the resources that Britain could use in its navy [5]. Aiding in this was the Quotas Act passed by Parliament in 1795 which set a number of men from areas of Great Britain that were to serve in the Royal Navy depending on the population of that region. Other recruitment came from volunteers and from the impressment of merchant sailors or prisoners who were given the option of serving in the navy or prison [6]. British supremacy over the French Navy was secured with the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, in a decisive victory over France in the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, the British Navy would be unmatched for the rest of the century and well into the 20th century [7].

Written by Jacob Isenga

Sources:

[1] Encyclopedia Britannica. “The British Navy” Encyclopedia Britannica website. Accessed 11-26-18. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Royal-Navy

[2] Royal Navy National Museum. “A brief history of the Royal Navy”. Royal Navy National Museum website. Accessed 11-27-18. Retrieved from http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/homepage_collections_slidshows/public/modules/image/A%20brief%20history%20of%20the%20RN.pdf

[3] Napoleon.org. “The British Navy:1795-1802”. Napoleon.org website. Accessed 11-26-18. Retrieved from https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/articles/the-british-navy-1793-1802/

[4] Royal Navy National Museum. “A brief history of the Royal Navy”. Royal Navy National Museum website. Accessed 11-27-18. Retrieved from http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/homepage_collections_slidshows/public/modules/image/A%20brief%20history%20of%20the%20RN.pdf

[5] Napoleon.org. “The British Navy:1795-1802”. Napoleon.org website. Accessed 11-26-18. Retrieved from https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/articles/the-british-navy-1793-1802/

[6] Napoleon.org. “The British Navy:1795-1802”. Napoleon.org website. Accessed 11-26-18. Retrieved from https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/articles/the-british-navy-1793-1802/

[7] Encyclopedia Britannica. “The British Navy” Encyclopedia Britannica website. Accessed 11-26-18. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Royal-Navy

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About Bethany Kilcrease

Associate Professor of History at Aquinas College
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