Rise of the British Navy in the Renaissance Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1752 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Military

¶ … British Navy from 1461 through 1700 [...] rise of the British Navy during the Renaissance period with a special emphasis on privateering. During the Renaissance, the British Navy was one of the most powerful and commanding forces on Earth. Led by daring and brilliant Admirals such as Drake, the British Royal Navy became the model for building a modern navy, and many other countries attempted to create their own maritime forces like England's. Plagued by privateering and piracy, the British Royal Navy eventually lost its command of the world's seas, but during the Renaissance it was at the peak of dominance and power.

Before the fifteenth century, Great Britain was primarily occupied with issues at home, such as the Hundred Years' War and other civil issues. Exploration was left to other countries, such as Portugal and Spain. However, during the fifteenth century, all that changed, and England began to actively pursue exploration and discovery, especially in the Atlantic. By 1496, explorers such as John Cabot, an Italian living in Bristol, had obtained permission to begin exploring the globe, especially looking for spice trades to the west, which most people felt was the way to reach Asia and the Indies. In 1497, Cabot set sail, and within three months he was back in England, convinced he had found the eastern shore of Asia. Most people believe he actually found Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, or Labrador (Rose, Newton, and Benians 25-26).Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Term Paper on Rise of the British Navy in the Renaissance Assignment

However, the age of exploration had begun, and with it, England's rise as a global naval power to be reckoned with. Exploration continued throughout this entire period, which helped England grow into a world Empire, and also helped expand her Navy and her naval powers. This exploration also helped England found a very successful trade with ports in India and the East after Drake's sail around the world. This helped build their Empire, but also encouraged trade, which encouraged increased shipbuilding and sea voyages. The Navy grew because of economic possibilities, rather than worries about the country's security. There was another compelling reason the Navy grew, too. The royalty did not see the Navy as protecting the country so much as it saw it protecting their own ships from other countries' privateering. Another historian notes, "As the use of artillery grew the armament of sailing vessels continually increased, but still it was rather with a view to their individual safety from pirates than to create a regular sailing navy" (Corbett 7). Thus, the idea of a defensive Navy, such as we utilize today, was not the reason for creating a Navy during the Renaissance. The English created a Navy to plunder and to protect themselves from plundering, and defense was secondary.

The British Royal Navy really began to gain momentum under the reign of the Tudors. Historians Rose, Newton, and Benians continue, "The success of the Tudor monarchy offered a practical field to the dreamer, action to discipline imagination, a material reward for the labours of the scholar and the projector. In no sphere is this so apparent as in that of the maritime adventurer" (Rose, Newton, and Benians 22). By the early sixteenth century, many British captains were setting out to seek a Northwest Passage to China, the Asian coastline, and a quicker way to India and the riches in spices that awaited there. Tudor King Henry VII was responsible for sponsoring many voyages, and King Henry the VIII sponsored two or three voyages of discovery. However, France, Portugal, and Spain were all ahead of England in exploiting the seas at the time. France and Portugal had discovered the rich cod fisheries off Newfoundland, and fished their often, while the English waited a few years before joining them. During this Tudor period, ships were still not distinguished between warships and merchant ships, and there was not a lot of distinction between sailors and naval officers, either. In fact, many officers, such as Lord Raleigh and others were really wealthy gentleman who simply enjoyed the sea, and knew there was a profit to be made in privateering (Lloyd 1-2).

Probably one of the greatest and most well-known English sea captains was Sir Francis Drake, who helped Elizabethan England fight off the advancing Spanish Armada in 1588, which sealed England's superiority of the seas. He took to the sea as a young man, and rose through the ranks to serve Queen Elizabeth I as her admiral. Historians note, "During hard experiences in the Channel he learned the seaman's craft, and the seaman's virtues, obedience, fidelity and utmost hardihood" (Rose, Newton, and Benians 98). For much of his career, Drake was little more than a pirate or privateer, looting Spanish ships for the treasures they contained as they returned home from the New World. His plundering brought him fame at court, and Elizabeth agreed to sponsor a voyage that he had dreamed about for years, an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Drake helped bring the British Royal Navy to prominence by consistently besting the Spanish and Portuguese and making off with many of the riches they had discovered in the New World. He showed the British were crafty and had speedier ships than the cumbersome Spanish vessels, and so, the British began to be feared on the high seas. Drake also helped create a long history of privateering, or commandeering other countries' cargos to help fill England's coffers. Historian Lloyd notes about many other privateers, "Such men as Gilbert and Essex, Grenville and Raleigh, were courtiers and landsmen who were given executive posts at sea for hostilities only" (Lloyd 2). It was profitable, and many men knew it. Drake was not the only privateer, there were many, and the roots of the British Navy are founded in this privateering that lined British royal pockets and the pockets of the privateers, too. Drake was not the first, either. The practice was officially sanctioned by King Henry VII in 1544. Historian Janice E. Thomson writes, "In 1544 Henry VIII, in his war with France, gave blanket authorization for privateering and allowed the privateers to keep all the loot they seized" (Thomson 23). The tradition continued for decades, with many sailors and their masters making a fortune by stealing cargo from ships on their way back from the Spice Islands in Asia or the New World.

The actual Royal Navy really did not come about until the time of Charles V. Before that, the royals had owned a few ships that were considered a Navy, but there were no real rules or order to the ships or service on them. When Drake led his contingent of ships around the world, he instituted some onboard rules and regulations that became part of the Navy's operating procedures (Lloyd 4). However, historian Lloyd continues that Henry VIII could really be called the "father" of the modern British Navy. He writes, "If anyone can be justly called the father of the Navy it is Henry VIII because he was the first to appreciate the importance of heavy guns mounted broadside. He was the first to build a sizeable navy of his own, and the first to provide the skeleton of a naval administration" (Lloyd 8). Henry also created an Admiral of the Navy and this Admiral was in charge of all the ships and operations. He also constructed some of what could be considered "battleships," like the legendary Mary Rose, which has been recovered and is on display in England.

One of the biggest reasons England began to dominate the oceans is because of her lighter, more maneuverable ships that could literally sail rings around the older, more cumbersome ships still being used by Spain and Portugal. One excellent example of this is the famed battle between Drake and his lighter ships and the formidable Spanish Armada in 1588. Drake's ship the Revenge is a perfect example of this ship. Which, historian Lloyd notes, "Drake regarded as the ideal fighting ship. She was 92 ft. long, 32 ft. In the beam, 450 tons burden and mounted 34 guns. Thus she was heavier gunned for her size, faster, with a much higher proportion of length to beam and probably more flush-decked, though no picture of her exists"

Lloyd 11). Ships like the Revenge were well suited to the tight quarters of the English Channel, where most of the 1588 battle took place. The Spanish sent 130 ships and at least 27,000 men into the fight, while the British sent 152 ships into the fight. However, some of the Spanish ships turned back before they reached England, leaving about 123 or 124 to fight the British (Mattingly 12). Not only did the British have a bigger fleet, they were better equipped to fight the Spanish. The Armada was simply outgunned and out sailed, and they had to limp homeward the only way they could, northward around England, Ireland, and then back to Spain. Only a handful of ships made it back home, and thousands of seamen perished on the rocky shores… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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