The earliest naval battle in British waters was in 719, the fleet being possibly founded by King Alfred the Great. King Canute maintained the fleet manned by mercenaries, but Edward the Confessor abolished it. The Normans had smaller fleets but by the reign of Henry V the fleet was large and impressive, but there was no continuity. Henry VIII built up his own fleet to counter the threat of James IV of Scotland. Henry’s best known vessel was the Mary Rose.
The Navy Board was set up for administration and operated until 1832 when it combined with Board of Admiralty.
Elizabeth 1 encouraged the growth of privately owned vessels – the Armada fleet was made up of Royal and private navies. Lack of funding under Charles 1st caused the navy to declare for Cromwell in the Civil War. He greatly increased the fleet.
Between 1688 and 1815 there were frequent sea battles between France and England including Nelson’s victories on the Nile and Trafalgar. In battles with Spain Gibraltar was captured and remains the major British base in the Mediterranean.
Scientific surveys were undertaken by the RN including the voyages of Captain Cook to New Zealand and Australia.
From 1815 the Royal Navy was supreme on the world’s oceans and they played crucial roles in both world wars. By 1945 it had nearly 900 warships and 866,000 men and women.
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