Naval History during the 17th Century

Painting of the Battle of Ter Heijde 10 August 1653, by Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten.

During the early 17th century, England's relative naval power deteriorated, In the course of the rest of the 17th century, The office of the Admiralty and Marine Affairs steered the Navy's transition from a semi-amateur Navy Royal fighting in conjunction with private vessels into a fully professional institution, a Royal Navy. Its financial provisions were gradually regularised, it came to rely on dedicated warships only, and it developed a professional officer corps with a defined career structure, superseding an earlier mix of sailors and socially prominent former soldiers

1) Historical overview

The development of the single British navy

After 1603 the English and Scottish fleets were organized together under James I but the efficiency of the Navy declined gradually, while corruption grew until brought under control in an inquiry of 1618. James concluded a peace with Spain and privateering was outlawed. Notable construction in the early 17th century included the 1,200-ton HMS Prince Royal, the first three-decker, and HMS Sovereign of the Seas in 1637, designed by Phineas Pett. Operations under James I did not go well, with expeditions against Algerian pirates in 1620/1, Cadiz in 1625, and La Rochelle in 1627/8 being expensive failures.

Expansion of the fighting force

Charles I levied "ship money" from 1634 and this unpopular tax was one of the main causes of the first English Civil War from 1642–45. At the beginning of the war the navy, then consisting of 35 vessels, sided with Parliament. During the war the royalist side used a number of small ships to blockade ports and for supplying their own armies. These were afterwards combined into a single force. Charles had surrendered to the Scots and conspired with them to invade England during the second English Civil War of 1648–51. In 1648 part of the Parliamentary fleet mutinied and joined the Royalist side. However, the Royalist fleet was driven to Spain and destroyed during the Commonwealth period by Robert Blake. The execution of Charles I forced the rapid expansion of the navy, by multiplying England's actual and potential enemies, and many vessels were constructed from the 1650s onward. This reformation of the navy was also carried out by Blake.

The Navigation Act 1651 cut out Dutch shippers from English trade. Operations of the late 17th century were dominated by the three Anglo-Dutch Wars, which stretched from 1652 to 1674. Forty new ships were built between 1650 and 1654. Triggered by seemingly trivial incidents, but motivated by economic competition, they were notable as purely naval wars fought in the English Channel and the North Sea. In February 1653 the English Channel was closed to Dutch ships which were then forced back to their home ports.

The Interregnum saw a considerable expansion in the strength of the navy, both in number of ships and in internal importance within English policy. The Restoration Monarchy inherited this large navy and continued the same policy of expansion of the navy, focusing on making a strong navy full of large ships in order to provide a strong defence under Charles II.[44] At the start of the Restoration, Parliament listed forty ships of the Royal Navy (not of the Summer's Guard) with a complement of 3,695 sailors.

The administration of the navy was greatly improved by Sir William Coventry and Samuel Pepys, both of whom began their service in 1660 with the Restoration. While it was Pepys' diary that made him the most famous of all naval bureaucrats, his nearly thirty years of administration were crucial in replacing the ad hoc processes of years past with regular programmes of supply, construction, pay, and so forth. He was responsible for introduction of the "Navy List" which fixed the order of promotion. In 1683 the "Victualling Board" was set up which fixed the ration scales. In 1655 Blake routed the Barbary pirates and started a campaign against the Spanish in the Caribbean, capturing Jamaica.

In 1664 the English captured New Amsterdam (later New York City) resulting in the Second Dutch War (1665–1667). In 1666 the Four Days Battle was a defeat for the English but the Dutch fleet was crushed a month later off Orfordness. In 1667 the Dutch mounted the Raid on the Medway, breaking into Chatham Dockyard and capturing or burning many of the Navy's largest ships at their moorings,[47] which resulted in the most humiliating defeat in the Royal Navy's history.[48] The English were also defeated at Solebay in 1672. The experience of large-scale battle was instructive to the Navy; the Articles of War regularizing the conduct of officers and seaman, and the "Fighting Instructions" establishing the line of battle, both date from this period. The influence and reforms of Samuel Pepys, the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II, were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.

Wars with France, Spain and America, 1690–1692

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 rearranged the political map of Europe, and led to a series of wars with France that lasted well over a century. This was the classic age of sail; while the ships themselves evolved in only minor ways, technique and tactics were honed to a high degree, and the battles of the Napoleonic Wars entailed feats that would have been impossible for the fleets of the 17th century. Because of parliamentary opposition, James II fled the country. The landing of William III and the Glorious Revolution itself was a gigantic effort involving 100 warships and 400 transports carrying 11,000 infantry and 4,000 horses. It was not opposed by the English or Scottish fleets. Louis XIV declared war just days later, a conflict which became known as the War of the Grand Alliance. The English defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head of 1690 led to an improved version of the Fighting Instructions, and subsequent operations against French ports proved more successful, leading to decisive victory at La Hougue in 1692. These wars would continue for most of the 18th century

2) Organization Seventeenth Century

King Henry VIII built the first naval dock in Britain at Portsmouth, in 1546 he established the Navy Board, which remained almost unchanged for 300 years, created the Office of Admiralty, and set up the administrative machinery for the control of the fleet. For his achievements Henry VIII was known as the father of the English navy.

2.1) High Command of the Armed Forces of England

The Armed Forces of England, also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces, are the military services responsible for the defence of the Kingdom of England, its overseas territories and the Crown Colony's.

2.2) Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of England

During the 17th century English monarch is the "Head of all the Armed Forces of England" and has also been described as "Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Crown".

  1. Elizabeth I of England
  2. James I of England
  3. Charles I of England
  4. Oliver Cromwell as (Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England)
  5. Oliver Cromwell as (Lord Protector Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland)
  6. Richard Cromwell as (Lord Protector Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland)
  7. Charles II of England
  8. James II of England
  9. William III of England and Mary II of England
  10. Anne of England

2.3) Senior Civil and Military advisers to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of England

The Privy Council was chief advisory body to the Monarch during the 17th century consisting of both civil, military and religious advisers.

2.4) The Privy Council of England

During the reigns of the Norman monarchs, the English Crown was advised by a royal court, which consisted of magnates, clergy and officers of the Crown. This body originally concerned itself with advising the Sovereign on legislation, administration and justice.[1] Later, different bodies assuming distinct functions evolved from the court. The courts of law took over the business of dispensing justice, while Parliament became the supreme legislature of the kingdom.[2] Nevertheless, the Council retained the power to hear legal disputes, either in the first instance or on appeal.[3] Furthermore, laws made by the Sovereign on the advice of the Council, rather than on the advice of Parliament, were accepted as valid.

Powerful Sovereigns often used the body to circumvent the courts and Parliament. For example, a committee of the Council — which later became the Court of the Star Chamber — was during the fifteenth century permitted to inflict any punishment except death, without being bound by normal court procedure. During Henry VIII's reign, the Sovereign, on the advice of the Council, was allowed to enact laws by mere proclamation. The legislative pre-eminence of Parliament was not restored until after Henry VIII's death. Though the royal Council retained legislative and judicial responsibilities, it became a primarily administrative body. The Council consisted of forty members in 1553, but the Sovereign relied on a smaller committee, which later evolved into the modern Cabinet.

The Council developed significantly during the reign of Elizabeth I, gaining political experience, so that there were real differences between the Privy Council of the 1560s and that of the 1600s. By the end of the English Civil War, the monarchy, House of Lords and Privy Council had been abolished. The remaining house of Parliament, the House of Commons, instituted a Council of State to execute laws and to direct administrative policy. The forty-one members of the Council were elected by the Commons; the body was headed by Oliver Cromwell, the de facto military dictator of the nation. In 1653, however, Cromwell became Lord Protector, and the Council was reduced to between thirteen and twenty-one members, all elected by the Commons. In 1657, the Commons granted Cromwell even greater powers, some of which were reminiscent of those enjoyed by monarchs. The Council became known as the Protector's Privy Council; its members were appointed by the Lord Protector, subject to Parliament's approval.

In 1659, shortly before the restoration of the monarchy, the Protector's Council was abolished. Charles II restored the royal Privy Council, but he, like previous Stuart monarchs, chose to rely on a small committee of advisers. The Acts of Union 1707 united England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain, replacing the Privy Councils of both countries with a single body, the Privy Council of the United Kingdom

3) The Admiralty of England


Above is the flag of the Board of Admiralty in the 17th century


Above is the flag of the Admiralty Commission during the Interregnum

The Admiralty of England during the 17th century consisted of initially the Office of the Lord Admiral of England (1513-1610) he was the Commander-in-Chief of the English Navy he also held the title of office-of-the-admiral-of-the-fleet when operationally in command of a fleet. among his other duties he was responsible for directing the Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office he was supported by an operational deputy commander-in-chief the Vice-Admiral of England also styled as Vice-Admiral of the Fleet (1410-1707). In 1628 the office of the Lord Admiral was put into commission this led to the creation of the Board of Admiralty the board was led by a government minister known as the First Lord of the Admiralty. However due to a continued state of war during this century the higher ranked Secretary of State of England was responsible for all policy decisions and direction of the navy on behalf of the government until 1679 after which full control of the admiralty returned to the First Lord. In 1702 the office of Lord High Admiral was briefly reprised from (1702-1708).

  1. Admiralty and Marine Affairs Office (1600-1707)

3.1) English Navy

The Navy Royal during this period was the branch of a Kingdom of England's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake-borne, riverine, littoral, or sea and ocean-borne combat operations and related functions. that was controlled by the Admiralty And Marine Affairs Office. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Navy Royal of England and Royal Scots Navy were merged to create a single Royal Navy.

4) Conflicts during the 17th century

The Kingdom of England and hence Navy Royal was involved in a number of armed conflicts either directly or part of joint opposing forces during the 16th century that continued into the 17th century, below is some of the most important ones individual battles and other naval engagements can be found in those articles.

4.1) Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)

The Anglo-Spanish War was an intermittent conflict between the kingdoms of Spain and England that was never formally declared.[2] The war was punctuated by widely separated battles, and began with England's military expedition in 1585 to the Netherlands under the command of the Earl of Leicester in support of the resistance of the States General to Spanish Habsburg rule.

4.2) Dutch Revolt (1568–1648)

The Dutch Revolt was the revolt of the northern, largely Protestant Seven Provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of the Roman Catholic Habsburg King Philip II of Spain, hereditary ruler of the provinces. The northern provinces (Netherlands) eventually separated from the southern provinces (present-day Belgium and Luxembourg), which continued under Habsburg Spain until 1714.

4.3) Eighty Years' War (1568–1648)

The Eighty Years' War also known as the Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648)[2] was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands.

4.4) Anglo-Spanish War (1625–1630)

The Anglo–Spanish War (1625–1630) was a war fought by Spain against the Kingdom of England and the United Provinces from 1625 to 1630. The conflict formed part of the Eighty Years' War and the Thirty Years' War.

4.5) Anglo-French War (1627–1629)

The Anglo-French War (1627–1629) was a military conflict fought between the Kingdom of France and the Kingdom of England between 1627 and 1629 that was part of the broader Thirty Years' War. It mainly involved actions at sea.

4.6) Anglo-Spanish War (1654–1660)

The Anglo-Spanish War (1654–1660) was a conflict between the English Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell and Spain, between 1654 and 1660.

4.7) First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654)

The First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654) or, simply, the First Dutch War, (Dutch: Eerste Engelse (zee-)oorlog, "First English (Sea) War") was a conflict fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

4.8) Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667)

The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) was a conflict fought between England and the Dutch Republic for control over the seas and trade routes, where England tried to end the Dutch domination of world trade during a period of intense European commercial rivalry.

4.9) Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674)

The Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) was a military conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Dutch Republic, that lasted between April 1672 and early 1674. It was part of the larger conflict between the Dutch Republic and her allies (the Quadruple Alliance) and France, and the third of a series of naval wars between the English and the Dutch.

4.10) Nine Years' War (1688-1697)

The Nine Years' War (1688–1697), often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg was a conflict between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire (led by Austria), the Dutch Republic, Spain, England and Savoy.

5) Sources

  2. Council of England

6) Attribution

  1. (Image of the painting of the Battle of Battle of Ter Heijde is courtesy of User: Vincent Steenberg at Commons.Wikimedia.Org.
  2. United Kingdom: Admiralty (Admiralty Flags courtesy of Martin Grieve at CRW Flags).
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