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J D Davies
Today’s Royal Navy remains inspired by Nelson and the Navy of the Napoleonic Wars, which is understandable give its near complete domination of the seas. But who inspired them? The answer is, in part, their illustrious but less well known forebears of the seventeenth century; this book is about them.

The Seventeenth Century was a tricky time for England, Scotland (then a separate kingdom) and Ireland; the Civil War (1642-51), the restoration (1660) and the Glorious Revolution (1688 ) meant three changes of rule and there was usually some intrigue or possible usurpation going on. There were also external wars, including three against the Dutch, operations against Spain which captured Jamaica and towards the end of the period skirmishes with France. Oh, and the garrisoning and eventual evacuation of Tangier. Add to this a few escapades in the Baltic and Mediterranean as well as actions in support of the East India Company and it can readily be seen that the Navy was very busy. For much of this book’s period Pepys’s was either in the Admiralty, running the Admiralty or criticising the Admiralty; his diaries form a rich vein of (sometimes scurrilous) information on the Navy of the period.

This book is essentially an encyclopedia of the Royal Navy at the time. It covers everything from shipbuilding, armament and dockyards to battles, strategy and commanders. The amount of information it contains is impressive and it is lavishly and well-illustrated. It is clear from the start that the author is expert in his field. He also writes clearly and well, the prose reads easily and there are the occasional leavening of a dry wit.

As each section reads as a standalone there is some repetition. This will reward those who dip into and out of the book and, I hope, be forgiven by those who plough through from cover to cover. The story itself sweeps one along. Snippets remind one of context; a ship of the line carried more artillery than any European Army could field. This was before accurate clocks were available, so it was not unknown for entire fleets to be lost due to navigational errors. Coldstream Guards readers will be delighted that General Monck features frequently (an early purple posting). Indeed, perhaps the most striking lesson from this book is that, notwithstanding internal combustion engines, nuclear weapons and computers, how little has changed for the Navy. There is an awful lot of ocean to be covered by a very few warships.

This book is excellent, verging on outstanding. If the Navy’s history interests you buy this book. If it doesn’t, shame on you and buy this book.

Five out of five.

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