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The Author's Notes:

It was a spectacular disaster, with yellow fever, typhus and dysentery killing thousands of men. The navy abandoned the expedition, leaving the waters around the anchorage crowded with floating British corpses. A defeat that has been spun as a victory was the utter failure of the Royal Navy to intercept the invasion force of William of Orange as it sailed down the channel.

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A Nelson is just one of a galaxy of successful Royal Naval commanders. Yet there was something special about the diminutive man who lost an eye and an arm in the service of his country. There are the moments of quick thinking as a young commander, at the battle of Cape St Vincent, and then the titanic fleet actions at the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar.

But he was also a considerate leader: his letters to his wife and mistress are always full of descriptions of the health of his men. This was not just a social nicety, but a tactical imperative. Nelson trusted his captains to understand the spirit of his orders and then put them into action as they thought best. Nelson also had a keen appreciation of public relations and fostered the myth of his semi-divinity during his life. He never appeared without a chest full of exotic medals, and his home was a shrine to himself that members of the public were encouraged to visit.

Ultimately we should remember Nelson because he personified an age in which the navy was at its very zenith. Its ships, discipline, doctrines and espirit de corps were absolutely irresistible in battle and ensured that Britain, not France, would dominate the world. Conditions were certainly hard in the sailing navy; rations were rotten, water spoiled within days. It is true that there were dreadful examples of sadistic captains flogging the last topman down from the rigging after furling sails. However these seem to have been isolated, and mutinies were very rare indeed.

The most notable were at the end of the 18th century, at the Nore and Spithead, but these were not occasioned by the punitive regime but by concerns over pay. As a result, commanders like Anson, Nelson, and, later, Fisher, spent a huge amount of time improving the food and conditions of the men under their command. When Captain Nelson boarded not one but two Spanish ships of the line at the battle of St Vincent, he had no cause to doubt that his crew were enthusiastically following him, brandishing cutlasses, belaying pins and pistols.

A There is a widespread fallacy that after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain remained essentially at peace for most of the 19th century. In fact, although the 19th century did belong to Britannia, it was far from peaceful and the navy were at the forefront of the fighting. Partly because of this there was only one large European war in the period, the Crimean War, which saw British fleets engaged in the Black and Baltic seas.

Outside Europe, though, there were countless other vicious battles — from North Africa to China and Uruguay. There were punitive expeditions up the Congo to shell villages in which European traders had been manhandled. There were operations against slave trading in east and west Africa. Governments were supported, toppled or pressured across South America by the application of naval force. In New Zealand, the native Maoris were overwhelmed by expeditions carried in the ships of the Royal Navy. Alexandria was bombarded to bring the Egyptians into line with British strategic goals.

Athens was blockaded until the Greek government paid compensation to a British subject whose house was vandalised by a mob. A Britain ruled the waves, in part, because no one else attempted to. It was inevitable that Britain, with her limited population and resources, could not continue to dominate the planet when the modernised economies of Russia, America and Germany turned their attentions to the sea.

How did Britain come to rule the waves?

At the beginning of the 20th century a multi-polar naval world, of the type seen in the 17th century, returned. Instead nations like Japan, Germany, America and France all built fleets commensurate with their industrial development and their ambitions as naval powers.

The Anglo - Dutch Wars: Every Month

Instead an exhausted Britain recognised the reality of the new world born in the rubble of the First World War; she accepted parity with the United States navy. A In the world is made up of a majority of nation states that largely embrace ideas of free trade, democracy, individual rights, and limited government. English is the international language of business and culture.

This is no accident. It is the result of the domination of the Royal Navy, which underpinned the spread of those British ideas. Large parts of America and Canada could have remained New France, Australia could still be New Holland, the Spanish could have maintained their empire in South America and young children in Indian classrooms today could be learning Portuguese or Dutch rather than English, the Russian empire might stretch down to include parts of the Middle East.

All of these outcomes were perfectly possible were it not for the actions of the Royal Navy. Home Period Georgian How did Britain come to rule the waves? How did Britain come to rule the waves? March 9, at pm. General ancient history. This goes to show why East and West Indiamen of the time were heavily armed and manned. What a great painting!

Love the detail in the English Indiaman but even more love the rare glimpse into what a Spanish Ostend privateer looked like in the s. Very cool! Wish I could find a few more like this one. Pictures of the Week: 09 June Yet more Bloedvlags! In this installment we see no pirates involved at all. Only the Dutch galleon circa , sailing past some fortifications in the distance probably in the Med could be out pirate hunting. These are just quite simply some awesome pictures.

Last here is an interesting replica of the oldest known flag in North America — known as the Bedford flag. Wonder what European event or experience might have influenced its original creator? Makes you wonder. I was both surprised and baffled to find this totally cool flag where I did. The Bloedvlag influence is undeniable. The link above shows the original: MK. So I have found several more really interesting ship paintings clearly showing the Bloedvlag.

So lets look at them and discuss! In the first picture we see an action taking place right off a coastal town. This fight is clearly between the French and the Dutch and pirates are not in the fight. Yet here we see the Bloedvlag displayed prominently. I do not know what battle this is but it does not appear to be in the Mediterranean. In the second picture we see fighting going on between Englishmen and Dutchmen in the boats of the foreground.

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I had initially thought that maybe aid or rescue were occurring, but clearly not. Being that this is a Backhuysen depiction of the Battle of the Texel in the 3rd Anglo-Dutch War we know this is in the channel. So once again — no pirates and we can clearly make out English and Dutch navy ships battling it out. This was another great DeRuyter victory. There to the left is a Dutch ship flying the Bloedvlag. I clearly have more research to conduct on the subject. Could this flag have been flown in the Caribbean?

We know pirates adopted the flag. Could they have seen it there already? Could it be they procured their first flags from the Dutch or from the taking of Dutch military prizes? Several notable pirates took Dutch warships and made them their flagships. Interesting to think about eh??? So today I am featuring more than just one picture. In the first two paintings notice the patrolling Restoration Era English 3rd rates possibly a 2nd rate in the first picture single-handedly dealing with bunches of the nasty Barbary minions.

Notice the English Ensign shot through the transom pole and drooping in the first picture. I actually own an AA Orlinsky recreation of this painting in my private collection. In the third picture we are treated to a Dutch punitive expedition bombarding Tripoli in The pirates have come out to meet the Dutch in full force. I love this picture. Notce the large Barbary warship done more in a Spanish style with a sun and a kneeling figure on the stern.

As I said in the previous post, the Barbary Corsairs built and manned their own large warships and here we see another example. Also notice on the prevalent Dutch Warship the Bloedvlag flying from the tafferel. This one is much like the captured Spanish or Dunkirk version hanging in the Binnenhof in my first picture post — showing the arm with the sword coming out from a cloud. In the final close-up picture we see a Dutch warship engaging Barbary Pirates with the typical Dutch version of the Bloedvlag flying from the tafferel.

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If I can get the funding next year, I will take anyone who wants go into these pictures on that kind of adventure with my own splendid historical video game. So here we see a painting by the noted Flemish painter Laureys a Castro This painting is part of the Dulwich Collection in the UK. It was probably painted sometime in the s. If I had to guess I would say that it is a post Third Anglo-Dutch War and pre-William and Mary era painting based on the styles of the ships depicted alone.

These are left-overs from the ss and the painting likely depicts an action fought around We see a fierce battle between a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet against large Barbary Corsair warships. I love this painting because of the wonderful action frozen in time and the almost cartoon-like composition of Castro. I have an excellent book about slavery I plan to review in the near future that covers the centuries of slavery of White Slaves brought back to Northern Africa as captives of the Barbary Corsairs. If you read my story on Piet Heyn you will observe the short episode where he has to take on supplies at one of these North African ports and negotiates the release of Christian slaves from the Sultan.

This is a true story — it really happened. The Barbary Corsairs were a fearsome opponent that were constantly dealt with by seafaring nations. The Spanish, French, Dutch and English kept navy forces and patrols constantly in the Mediterranean to protect their convoys and shipping from the 16th century onwards — almost to modern times. They not only built their own warships in the European style not just galleys and xebecs, but full blown manowar , but they often used European tactics as well. Dig a little and you can find stories of European defectors that became powerful Barbary warlords.

On the opposite side a smaller Dutch OorlogsFrigat war pinnace fiercely engages the same ship. Notice the colorful Barbary flags with multi-colored stripes and crescent moons. Colors and symbols we see even now in the flags of the North African nations of modern times. To the left foreground we see a damaged Barbary frigate with its bowsprit shot off trying to get into the action. What an awesome painting. These types of actions were commonplace and you can find them in spades in the surviving logs and accounts of the times as well as the art of the period we see right before us.

Many of the ships that engaged these pirates flew the Bloedvlag and I will be showing more paintings in the near future as part of my research of the Bloedvlag and my upcoming historical article on the subject. Stay tuned! This grand painting by the Dutch master Abraham Willearts gives a brief glimpse into a bustling port in the Golden Age. Naples at this time was a powerful city which dominated Italy.

It was a very important Spanish possession until the end of the War of Spanish Succession in Only Paris was larger.

How did Britain come to rule the waves? - History Extra

Naples was the largest port and city in the Mediterranean and ships from all over Europe, the Med, and the Levant called here to off-load and exchange rich cargoes. Looking at this impressive Spanish Manowar in the foreground, one wonders if she has been sent with, troops, official correspondence, important passengers from Spain or if she is just coming in after a patrol to keep the shipping lanes safe from all manner of pirates especially Turkish and Barbary corsairs.

This large galleon tells us a lot about Spanish warships of this time. Along with the typical ornate stern decoration on large galleons of this era we see a large figure head as well of a prince riding upon a leaping white horse.

Her armament is impressive and she boast three full gun-decks and one or two split gun-decks above on either side of her waist. By her size she very likely mounts bronze 50pounders on her lower deck cast in the great foundries of Liege. These were the largest marine guns of the time. Only the large bombards found on War Carracks prevalent in the previous century were larger.

Her flags also tell us a great deal. She flies the Royal Spanish flag with arms and the Cross of Burgundy behind from the mainmast. Below this flag flies probably a Catholic religious pennant. She sports a solid red flag from the stern which means that she has just come from battle, she is the flagship of a squadron or fleet, OR, she has a Spanish Admiral or Royal aboard. A simpler common Spanish naval flag with the Burgundian cross flies from the foremast, and a small naval jack from the sprit topmast as well.

One figure is climbing the foremast. The artist has paid particular attention to lively details. Small craft are shown in the surrounding water. The barge rowing towards the left, in the foreground, has three sets of oars. As well as what appear to be hinged deck sections over a small cargo space in the stern. The deck sections are raised and three men, including the helmsman, are standing or sitting within the small cargo space. In the distance, to the right, a small ceremonial barge with a canopy in the stern is going past the anchored ship.

Another ship at anchor, probably flying the Dutch flag, can be seen in the distance. The bay is full of activity and shipping. Figures are standing on the balconies and terraces of the lighthouse. While others line up on the quay beside it. Figures can, also, be seen standing with fishing rods on the rocks. At the landing steps below the quay, in the bottom right corner, men with oars are standing in a second barge. The mooring lines of the ship at anchor are clearly visible on the steps.

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In contrast with this busy scene are the three larger figures, in the foreground, which cast long shadows on the cobblestones. I just wish I go into it and see the great Golden Age for myself. Reading awesome books on the subject, looking at wonderful paintings, and playing super historically immersive video games set in this time are the only ways we have of doing this unfortunately.

Many of the Spanish cities of the Caribbean were large cosmopolitan cities with huge forts and imposing lighthouses at the same time as this was painted. In fact the painter Willearts has spent a couple years in Brazil which had been a Dutch possession from These were not rural backwaters as so often depicted in movies, media and games.

National Maritime Museum Collections. Looking at the painting one might well assume that Spaniards are in the great hall or that it is located in Spain. However these numerous hanging Spanish flags are the captured trophies of the Dutch military, taken from Spanish regiments and ships both on land and sea over 80 years of bloody conflict with Spain in the war for Dutch independence — which had only ended some three years before this painting was finished. Looking at the flags some are aged and burned and decades old — and others almost perfect.

Indeed these spoils of war are an excellent historical record of Spanish banners from this time. Notice the many embattled Crosses of Burgundy. The most interesting one in my opinion is the Spanish version of the Bloedvlag Bloodflag. This is the red flag with an extended arm with sword. This version has the arm coming out of a cloud which reflects it is a divine arm.

This flag probably came from a Spanish or Dunkirk privateer. These ships would be fast, well armed, and well manned. Dutch squadrons hunting Dunkirkers or Barbary Pirates would all carry large Bloedvlags from their taffrail. The Dutch version usually carried the arm and scimitar quartered towards the upper left. Later this symbol of legitimate pirate hunting and counter privateering was adopted in many different configurations by pirates themselves. I will be doing an upcoming historical article on the Bloedvlag soon. Look for it as an upcoming feature. Just a few short years ago I had the privilege of working on a technology project close to the Hague.

I made it a point on my off time to go visit the Binnenhof. I was so hoping that it would still look like the picture above. Indeed it does look almost identical to the picture with the same large wood rafters above. Unfortunately all of the flags are now long gone.

I suppose they disintegrated or were taken down centuries ago. So I stood there and remembered the picture and imagined myself there during the Golden Age when all of the War Flags would have still been hanging from the rafters. I could almost see them. This battle was the second largest battle of the age of sail with each side fielding over one hundred warships. Only the Battle of Lepanto in was larger and even then most of the ships were oar powered as well as sail powered — so many historians say that the Four Days Battle was indeed the largest battle of purely sailing ships in history.

The battle was part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War and the Dutch scored a significant victory over the English in this decisive battle. Although there are several paintings of the battle, this one is my favorite. The Prince was heavily damaged in this engagement. In all three English admirals lost their lives including the famous Sir Christopher Myngs.