Safeguard of the Sea: A Naval History Of Britian 660-1649 Paperback – Jun 1 2004
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"Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves...." The dominance of the British Royal Navy in maritime history is legendary, but this has not always been the case. Various attempts to build and sustain a national standing Navy were attempted by a number of rulers, from Edward the Confessor in the 11th century to Henry V in the 15th century. It wasn't until the Tudor reign (1485 to 1603), however, that a permanent, effective Navy emerged. Until this time the shores of Britain had been susceptible to attack and invasion.
N.A.M. Rodger's compendium on the history of the Royal Navy (the first of a four volume set) reminds us that "the successful navies have been those which rested on long years of steady investment in the infrastructure ... of a seagoing fleet." Emphasizing the important role the Tudors played in building the financial foundation for the Navy, Rodger focuses on the role of Elizabeth I's administration and the amount of money shipbuilding absorbed during her reign. He also traces the evolution of professionalism in the Navy, demonstrating how the rank of naval officer became socially respectable, even though it was not exclusively open to just nobles--indeed, Francis Drake came from an impoverished background--setting a standard that would see the British Navy dominate the oceans for many years.
A fellow in the British National Maritime Museum, Rodger's unique understanding of this history comes across well as he explores a number of themes, ranging from policy and strategy to ship and weapon design. He gathers this information from Anglo-Saxon, Danish, French, Irish, and Spanish sources, carefully weaving these materials into an immense tapestry of incredible depth and scope. In years to come The Safeguard of the Sea promises to be the definitive account of British Naval History long after Britannia has stopped ruling the waves. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
A comprehensive thousand-year chronicle of naval history around the British Isles and of the vital importance of sea power in safeguarding a realm that provided an inviting target for marauders. Rodger (The Insatiable Earl, 1994) assistant keeper at London's Public Record Office, notes that England, in the period from the seventh to the ninth centuries, was profoundly vulnerable to penetration from the sea; Vikings, Celts, Danes, Bretons, and others raided without hindrance. Rodger lucidly covers both the tentative British exploration of the sea and the long evolution of seagoing ships, ranging from Viking longboats to the large galleys and caravels of later centuries that combined economy, speed, and maneuverability. Ships were vital to trade, and thus to a nations growth. Rodger points out that the sea, once English ships began to patrol it, served as both a defensive barrier and as a highway for trade and exploration. It took a long time, however, for England to effectively make the sea its first line of defense. Many incursions occurred even after the Norman conquest in 1066. Henry V, the first monarch to understand the use of sea power as a primary weapon of war, built a fleet that struck at the heart of French power in Normandy in 1415, finding it more effective than launching an expensive, risky overland campaign. The defeat of the seemingly invincible Spanish Armada in 1588 under Elizabeth I raised Britain to the status of world power. Government-backed piracy against English rivals brought home much revenue, since the sea was regarded as being beyond laws, treaties, and truces. Rodger includes over 250 pages of illustrations, notes, maps, a chronology, exhaustive data on ships, a glossary, and a bibliography, creating a kind of pocket reference library about England and the sea in the time period covered. An outstanding reference work, and a considerable scholarly achievement, but not a work recommended for leisurely reading. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
This book does cover countless conflicts and engagements, but the focus is upon the navy as an organization; a challenge to and a reflection of the evolving institutions of finance, government and society.
The author's command of the subject is overwhelming. Thankfully, the book itself is not. The thematic structure of the book imposes a sense of order upon an otherwise confusing mass of information.
The illustrations and maps are of limited interest, though the text needs no adornment. Those interested in the design of warships can find appropriate drawings in other sources.
The author does display some biases, particularly with regard to the influence of religion on British politics, but those biases are unobtrusive and lend added provocative interest to the book.
It may seem strange to say that a book of this length and scholarship is hard to put down, but this one truly is.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Britain's beginnings as a naval power were hardly auspicious. For centuries, most English kings eschewed maintaining a standing naval force, preferring to rely instead on conscripting merchant ships in time of need. That this was possible was due in part to the nature of naval warfare during the Middle Ages, which was largely an extension of land warfare; battles consisted of the crews of opposing ships engaging in hand-to-hand combat, almost always in the shallows or just off the coast. Yet Rodger notes that naval power was invaluable in granting mobility to an attacking force, a fact that was lost on most medieval English kings. Of their ranks, Rodger sees only Richard I and Henry V as understanding the value of sea power, and he credits both the French and the Castilians for superior strategic thinking in naval warfare during this period.
Though Rodger notes that both naval technology and combat tactics began to change in the 15th century, it was the 16th century that saw the emergence of England as a sea power. This he credits to the creation of an administrative structure to support the navy, a development lacking during the medieval period. This provided support for a standing force that could quickly and effectively be mobilized to deal with naval threats, as it was in 1588 to face the Spanish Armada. Rodger devotes an entire chapter to the naval showdown of 1588, penetrating through the myths to provide a thorough analysis of the battle that reversed the expansion of Spanish power. Yet the Armada was just the first battle in a fifteen-year war that created both a long-range merchant fleet and a group of people who realized the fortunes that could be made at sea - essential prerequisites to England's emergence as a true maritime power.
England's development into the dominant naval power she would become was hardly a linear one, though; as the years after peace was signed with Spain saw her naval position deteriorate. Though corruption played a role in this, Rodger sees the medieval structure of government assuming the burdens of a modern state as the main problem. Nowhere was this better represented in the naval challenges facing Charles I, who faced increasing demands for a different kind of force, one capable of defending England's new merchant fleet. The civil war resolved the challenges created by this demand, as the conflict between the king and Parliament led to the creation of the means of financing a modern naval force. Rodger ends with England in possession of a fractured, demoralized navy, yet one poised to make the great strides in the decades to come that would establish Britain as a world power.
Rodger relates all of this in a narrative that is extremely engaging, one that is backed by impressive scholarship. Yet this book is not without its flaws. Rodger assumes a degree of knowledge about ships and naval terminology that may be lacking in his reader, a problem that could have been addressed with a better glossary. More glaring is his lack of perspective. In endeavoring to construct a naval history of Britain, Rodger tends to view every major development through this lens. As a result, occasionally he overrates the role sea power plays in British history, as when he argues that the failure to provide an adequate maritime defense was a significant factor in the Peasants' Revolt in 1381 - something that might have come as a surprise to its participants, who would have argued that it had more to do with the poll tax and the restrictions of serfdom than the inadequacies of naval policy.
These problems should not obscure the overall excellence of Rodger's work. This is an invaluable study of Britain's emergence as a naval power, one that is essential reading for any student of early Britain or fans of naval history. One can only hope that the other volumes in the trilogy can measure up to the high standards he set with this book.
First an foremost this is a naval history and tends to gloss over other elements of history except where they are necessary to drive forward the narrative. Second this is a British naval history and Scottish, Welsh and Irish naval history are given appropriate coverage in the text.
Rodger builds a powerful argument about the role and importance of the Navy in British history. He describes in detail the fitful development of the Navy and the many false starts in naval administration. The overwhelming impression left by this book is that there was no inevitability that Britain as an island nation would become a predominant naval power. Indeed, Rodgers does an excellent job in demonstrating the relative poverty of the British navies that was not effectively resolved until after the Civil War. Perhaps Rodgers most valuable contribution is in his coverage of the role of the Navy in the Civil War as a key factor in the success of the Parliamentarian side in this conflict.
This book is the first in a trilogy of histories; we can only hope that the future volumes match the excellence displayed by this first installment.
Absolutely chock-full of notes and references, this nontheless flows as well as any historical novel, highlighting the hitherto unseen good and bad points of the various rulers of the day, and the key role that naval support provided, giving a new slant on history and politics. There are more twists and turns to the story than any TV soap could possibly invent.
What comes across loud and clear is the futility of war: the waste of money and resources in the pursuit of expansion is illustrated by the singular lack of success by all parties to make any substantial territorial gains - French, Dutch, Flemish, Scots or Scandinavian.
Imbedded in the politics is a reasoned overview of the development of the ship; from longboat and cog, through galley, hulk and caravel to the rise of the 3-masted ship-rigged vessel which came to dominate naval warfare in the following 200 years. The gradual change from supply and support vessel to an active ingredient of the war machine develops as technology improves, and the viability of funding a navy become more financially and logistically sound.
As one might expect from a work of this scope, the text is rounded off with a conclusion condensing the preceding 1000 years into a précis with the author's informed slant. There are 5 appendices (chronology, ships, fleets, pay & officials), a large reference, glossary, abbreviations and a huge bibliography.
For a complete overview of the mediaeval history of the British Isles, you can't go far wrong with this excellent book. Then read the follow-up - twice as large, covering a third of the time. *****