Naval History during the 18th Century

The Battle of Cape Passaro, 11 August 1718

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.

1) Historical overview

Naval operations in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13) were with the Dutch against the Spanish and French. They were at first focused on the acquisition of a Mediterranean base, culminating in an alliance with Portugal and the capture of Gibraltar (1704) and Port Mahon in Menorca (1708). In addition Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were obtained. Even so, freedom of action in the Mediterranean did not decide the war, although it gave the new Kingdom of Great Britain (created by the Union of England and Scotland in 1707) an advantage when negotiating the Peace of Utrecht, and made Britain a recognized great power. The British fleet ended Spanish occupation of Sicily in 1718 and in 1727 blockaded Panama.

The subsequent quarter-century of peace saw a few naval actions. The navy was used against Russia and Sweden in the Baltic from 1715 to 1727 to protect supplies of naval stores. It was used at the Cape Passaro in 1718, during the Great Northern War, and in the West Indies (1726). There was a war against Spain in 1739 over the slave trade. In 1745 the navy transported troops and stores to Scotland to defeat the Jacobite rising.

The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48) saw various naval operations in the Caribbean under different admirals against Spanish trade and possessions, before the war subsequently merged into the wider War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). This, in turn, brought a new round of naval operations against France. In 1745 the navy twice defeated the French off Finisterre but their convoys escaped. The Navy also defended against invasion by Charles Edward Stuart the "Young Pretender". By the end of the war, the Navy was fully engaged in the worldwide protection of British trade.

The Seven Years' War (1756–63) began somewhat inauspiciously for the Navy, with a French siege of Menorca and the failure to relieve it. Menorca was lost but subsequent operations went more successfully (due more to government support and better strategic thinking, rather than admirals "encouraged" by Byng's example), and the British fleet won several victories. The French tried to invade Britain in 1759 but their force was defeated at Quiberon Bay. Spain entered the war against Britain in 1762 but lost Havana and Manila, though the latter was given back in exchange for Florida. The Treaty of Paris that ended the war left Britain with colonial gains, but isolated strategically.

At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Royal Navy dealt with the fledgling Continental Navy handily, destroying or capturing many of its vessels. France soon took the American side, and in 1778 a French fleet sailed for America, where it attempted to land at Rhode Island and nearly engaged with the British fleet before a storm intervened Spain and the Dutch Republic entered the war in 1780. Action shifted to the Caribbean, where there were a number of battles with varying results. The most important operation came in 1781 when, in the Battle of the Chesapeake, the British failed to lift the French blockade of Lord Cornwallis, resulting in a British surrender in the Battle of Yorktown. Although combat was over in North America, it continued in the Caribbean and India, where the British experienced both successes and failures. Though Menorca had been recaptured, it was returned to the Spanish.

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/Great Britain

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/Great Britain

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. Anne of England
  2. Anne of Great Britain 1707–1714
  3. George I of Great Britain 1714–1727
  4. George II of Great Britain 1727–1760
  5. George III of Great Britain 1760–1800

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

The Privy Council was chief advisory body to the Monarch during the 18th century consisting of both civil, military and religious advisers.

2.4) The Privy Council of England/Cabinet of Great Britain

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, the British Privy Council, as a whole, ceased to be a body of important confidential advisers to the sovereign; the role passed to a committee of the Council, now known formally as the Council of Ministers but simply known as the Cabinet. The Cabinet of Great Britain is the collective decision-making body of the Monarch's Government of Great Britain, it composed of the Prime Minister of Great Britain and cabinet ministers, the most senior of the government ministers. Ministers of the Crown, and especially Cabinet ministers, are selected primarily from the elected members of House of Commons of Great Britain, and from the House of Lords of Great Britain, by the Prime Minister. Cabinet ministers are heads of government departments, mostly with the office of "Secretary of State for [function; e.g., Defence]". The collective co-coordinating function of the Cabinet is reinforced by the statutory position that all the Secretaries of State jointly hold the same office, and can exercise the same powers.The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive within the Westminster system of government in traditional constitutional theory. The Department of Admiralty became a civil department of state in 1707 that was directed and controlled by a the government minister responsible the First Lord of the Admiralty who was a member of the British Cabinet.

3) The Admiralty of England/Admiralty of Great Britain


Above is the flag of the Board of Admiralty in the 18th century

The Admiralty of England during the 18th 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 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 (1700-1707)
  2. Department of Admiralty (1707-1799)

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 18th 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) War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13)

The War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13) was a European conflict of the early 18th century, triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700. His closest heirs were members of the Austrian Habsburg and French Bourbon families; acquisition of an undivided Spanish Empire by either threatened the European balance of power. The main belligerents were the country's of the Grand Alliance the Holy Roman Empire, Great Britain, Dutch Republic and Habsburg Spain against The Bourbon Alliance of France and Bourbon Spain.

4.2) War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48)

The War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48) (known as Guerra del Asiento in Spain) was a conflict between Britain and Spain lasting from 1739 to 1748, with major operations largely ended by 1742. Its unusual name, coined by Thomas Carlyle in 1858,[2] refers to an ear severed from Robert Jenkins, a captain of a British merchant ship. There is no evidence of the stories that the severed ear was exhibited before the British Parliament.

4.3) War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748)

The War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) involved most of the powers of Europe over the issue of Archduchess Maria Theresa's succession to the Habsburg Monarchy. The war included peripheral events such as King George's War in British America, the War of Jenkins' Ear (which formally began on 23 October 1739), the First Carnatic War in India, the Jacobite rising of 1745 in Scotland, and the First and Second Silesian Wars. The cause of the war was Maria Theresa' alleged ineligibility to succeed to her father Charles VI's various crowns, because Salic law precluded royal inheritance by a woman. This was to be the key justification for France and Prussia, joined by Bavaria, to challenge Habsburg power. Maria Theresa was supported by Britain, the Dutch Republic, Sardinia and Saxony.

4.4) Seven Years' War (1756–63)

The Seven Years' War (1756–63) was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European Great Power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain (including Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and other small German states) on one side and the Kingdom of France (including the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire (until 1762), Bourbon Spain, and Sweden) on the other. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. The war's extent has led some historians to describe it as "World War Zero", similar in scale to other world wars.

4.5) American Revolutionary War (1775–83)

The American Revolutionary War (1775–83) The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies (allied with France) which declared independence as the United States of America.

5) Sources


6) Attribution

  1. (Image of the Battle of Cape Passaro courtesy of User:Sir_Ignel at
  2. (Lord High Admirals Flag 18th century courtesy of Martin Grieve at
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