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A Short History of the Royal Navy 1217-1815 Volume II 1689-1815

A Short History of the Royal Navy 1217-1815
Volume II 1689-1815
Author: Hannay David
Title: A Short History of the Royal Navy 1217-1815 Volume II 1689-1815
Release Date: 2019-02-03
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 38
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First Published in 1909


I submit this second part of the Short History of theRoyal Navy to the kindness of the reader and theanimadversions of reviewers with a profound sense of itsdeficiencies. That some were inevitable where so much hadto be told in so narrow a space is no excuse for such errorsas I have committed. It is my sincere hope that they arenot very frequent nor very gross, and that my book does atleast indicate the main outlines of the polity and theachievements of the navy. It is my pleasant duty to thankthe Reverend William Hunt for his kindness in revising myproofs, and for the many excellent suggestions he made. Ihave also to present my thanks to Messrs. Blackwood forgiving me their permission to make use in Chapter III. ofmatter published in Blackwood’s Magazine; and to the proprietorsof the Saturday Review for allowing me to makeuse of articles on the mutinies of 1797, formerly published inthat periodical.




I. The War with France till 1693 1
II. Expeditions, Convoy, and the Privateers 49
III. The Men and the Life 80
IV. The Two Colonial Wars 98
V. The Seven Years’ War till 1758 133
VI. The Years of Triumph 166
VII. The American War till 1780 204
VIII. The American War till the Fall of Yorktown 243
IX. The Close of the War and the East Indies 271
X. The First Stage of the War 293
XI. The War till the End of 1797 323
XII. The Mutinies 355
XIII. The Nile 385
XIV. Invasion till the Close of 1801 411
XV. Trafalgar 436
XVI. The Command of the Sea 467
Index 493




Authorities.—Burchett, Memoirs of Transactions at Sea 1688-1697; Lediard,Naval History of England; Colomb, Naval Warfare; Troude, Bataillesnavales de la France; Delarbre, Tourville et la Marine de son temps; Toudouze,Bataille de la Hougue; Lambert de Sainte-Croix, Marine de France 1689-1792;Code des Armées Navales; Crisenoy, L’Inscription maritime; Calmon-Maison,Châteaurenault; Martin Leake, Life of Sir John Leake; De Jonge, Geschiedenisvan het Nederlandsche Zeewesen.

The Revolution of 1688 drew a line across the history ofEngland, and marked the termination of the greatstruggle between King and Parliament. From that timeforward it was settled beyond all dispute that when the twodiffered the last word was not to be with the king. Oursovereigns have ruled by a Parliamentary title, and theauthority which conferred the Crown must always be superiorin fact, if not in theory, to the Crown itself. Within Parliamentthe dominating body must necessarily be the House ofCommons, which has the command of the purse. After 1688the Crown, or the aristocracy, could only govern by securingthe support, by means of pocket boroughs, by persuasion or corruption,of a majority of the Lower House. The navy, like therest of the nation, was deeply affected by the change. Fromthis time forward we hear little of the personal influence of theking. It was to the House of Commons that the navy appealed.Officers who wished to push their fortunes no longer thought of[2]securing the goodwill of the sovereign or of a favourite. Theybecame members of the House of Commons and earned promotionby serving a Parliamentary party. In one way thechange was for the manifest good of the navy. It now hada master who might be unwilling to pay handsomely, butwho both would and could pay whatever he chose to promisewith a regularity far beyond the power of the king. In theyears following the Revolution there were indeed complaintsof wages in arrear and of necessities neglected. But this wasonly during the first period of strife. The increasing wealthof the nation supplied Parliament with ample means, andafter a time the money was always regularly forthcoming.In another way the change was not so good. A great dealof party spirit was introduced into the navy, and there weretimes when Whig and Tory animosities interfered with theloyal discharge of duty.

The Revolution also dates, if it did not cause, an evolutionin the navy. After 1688 the sea service was sharply markedoff from the army. During the reign of King James it hadnot been uncommon to find men who had served alternatelyas soldiers and sailors, while some held double employments.Isolated cases of the kind may be met with later, but theybecame very rare, and soon disappeared altogether. Theformation of a large standing army, and the participation ofEngland in Continental wars, drew off the gentlemen volunteerswho had been found in the fleets of Charles II. The stamp ofman described in old plays as “a coxcomb but stout,” had anatural preference for the army. It did not take him off dryland, and the practice of retiring into winter quarters enabledhim to combine a great deal of pleasure with his fighting. Aship was at all times but a prison, and in those it was a prisonvery much overcrowded and abounding in foul smells. Thenavy was left entirely to the tarpaulin who had been bred tothe sea, and could endure its hardships.

The final victory of the tarpaulin element in the corps ofnaval officers brought with it both good and evil. The goodlay in their seamanship. Even a bad seaman is better thanan ignorant or careless landsman in command of a ship. Thepurely technical part of the navy’s work, that which consistedin the mere handling of the vessel, was better done in[3]the years following the Revolution than had been the casebefore, except during the Interregnum, when also the sailorshad been the predominant element. The evil which camewas of a kind not to be wholly attributed to the disappearanceof the military officer from the higher ranks of the fleet.It was that there was a distinct fall in the purely militaryspirit, and as a navy is a fighting as well as a navigating force,this was a misfortune. When we speak of a fallen militaryspirit, it is not meant that there was any sinking in the merecourage of the service, but only that the naval officer as hebecame at the Revolution and as he remained till far into theeighteenth century, was first and foremost a seaman, and thathe had a tendency to discharge the military side of his dutyin blind obedience to various rules of thumb. Two reasonsmay be assigned for this. Times of revolution are very oftenfollowed by times of lassitude. The seventeenth century hadbeen very stormy, and it was to be expected that the Englishmanof the following generations would be a less daring andoriginal man than his ancestor of the Civil War time. Thesailors shared in the general deadening and commonplacenessof their age. It was only natural that men who went to seaas boys, and were never asked to be more than sailors, shouldnot have tried to be more. Then it was the misfortune of thenavy that just at a time when it was tending to stupidity inmilitary conduct, it was called upon by authority to obey aset of hard and fast rules.

Mention has already been made of the fighting ordersdrawn up by the admirals of the Commonwealth at the closeof the First Dutch War, and reissued by Penn when he sailedon his expedition to San Domingo. It will be rememberedthat these rules established the line ahead as the regularformation for a fleet about to engage the enemy. After theSecond Dutch War they were reissued by the Duke of Yorkwith certain additions of his own, and they became theorthodox pattern for the navy’s method of fighting. It is tothem that we owe it that the line of battle passed from beingthe order adopted for the purpose of coming most effectuallyinto action with the enemy, and grew to be regarded as anend in itself. The duke’s orders would not perhaps havehampered a more original generation; but they were sure[4]to have a deadening effect upon men who felt no naturalimpulse to think. The admiral who conformed to theorders could always plead that he had obeyed authority,whereas if he departed from them, and his independence wasnot justified by a brilliant victory, he would be in considerabledanger of being accused of insubordination. The harm doneby these instructions arose mainly from two of the articles.No. VIII. lays it down that “if the enemy stay to fight (hismajesty’s fleet having the wind), the headmost squadron ofhis majesty’s fleet shall steer for the headmost of the enemy’sships.” No. XVI. contains the following peremptory instruction:“In all cases of fight with the enemy, the commandersof his majesty’s ships are to keep the fleet in one line, and (asmuch as may be) to preserve that order of battle which theyhave been directed to keep before the time of fight.” Theduke had foreseen that an English fleet, being to leeward,might wish to force on a battle. In this case it was directedthat the van upon obtaining a favourable position for thepurpose, should tack and break through the enemy. Sosoon as it had broken through it was to turn, and attackfrom windward. In the meantime the centre and rear wereto remain to leeward, and co-operate with the van. Butthis was a very difficult manœuvre to carry out against evena moderately efficient opponent. Ships performing it wouldbe liable to lose spars and to drift to leeward towards theirown centre. Moreover, an enemy who kept his wind and stoodon might possibly file past, and so deliver the fire of all, or thegreater part, of his ships into the unsupported English van.Article III., which prescribed this method of attack, remaineda mere counsel of perfection, and was soon dropped out of thefighting orders. It was, I venture to affirm, never acted onexcept by Howe on the 29th of May 1794, and then withonly partial success.

The course followed by English admirals was less complicatedand risky than this, but also less likely to proveeffectual when fully carried out. When they were to leewardand the enemy would not attack them, they manœuvred togain the weather-gage. When they had the wind of theenemy, they came down on him with their fleet in line—theleading ship of the English steering for the leading ship[5]of the enemy, and the others behind for their respectiveopponents. Thus the two fleets engaged van to van, centre tocentre, rear to rear. To take “every man his bird” was thefamiliar naval image for a well-conducted action with anenemy who did not shirk. Of course this method onlyapplied

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