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Royal Navy

 

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

The Royal Navy is part of Her Majesty's Naval Service, which also includes the Royal Marines. The professional head of the Naval Service is the First Sea Lord who is an admiral and member of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom. The Defence Council delegates management of the Naval Service to the Admiralty Board, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Royal Navy operates three bases in the United Kingdom where commissioned ships are based; Portsmouth, Clyde and Devonport, the last being the largest operational naval base in Western Europe.

Medieval fleets, in England as elsewhere, were almost entirely composed of merchant ships enlisted into naval service in time of war. From time to time a few "king's ships" owned by the monarch were built for specifically warlike purposes; but, unlike some European states, England did not maintain a small permanent core of warships in peacetime. England's naval organisation was haphazard and the mobilization of fleets when war broke out was slow.

By mid-1217, English royalists began to gain the advantage over the rebellious Barons and their French allies. Again needing more troops, Louis requested from his wife Blanche of Castile to assemble more troops for him. Up to the task, Blanche assisted in gathering forces for her husband, with a massive French force being assembled by August 1217, at the port of Calais. At the head of the French transports was Eustace the Monk, Louisí best naval commander, whom had helped Louis escape many English blockade, such as the one in Winchelsea in January 1217.

During the early 17th century, England's relative naval power deteriorated, and there were increasing raids by Barbary corsairs on ships and English coastal communities to capture people as slaves, which the Navy had little success in countering. Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of powerful ships, but his methods of fundraising to finance the fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War. In the wake of this conflict and the abolition of the monarchy, the new Commonwealth of England, isolated and threatened from all sides, dramatically expanded the Navy, which became the most powerful in the world.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Royal Navy was the largest maritime force in the world, but until 1805 combinations of enemies repeatedly matched or exceeded its forces in numbers. Despite this, it was able to maintain an almost uninterrupted ascendancy over its rivals through superiority in financing, tactics, training, organisation, social cohesion, hygiene, dockyard facilities, logistical support and (from the middle of the 18th century) warship design and construction.

During these years, the Navy also conducted amphibious operations that captured most of the French Caribbean islands and the Dutch colonies at the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon. Though successful in their outcome, the expeditions to the Caribbean, conducted on a grand scale, led to devastating losses from disease. Except for Ceylon and Trinidad, these gains were returned following the Peace of Amiens in 1802, which briefly halted the fighting. Menorca, which had been repeatedly lost and regained during the 18th century, was restored to Spain, its place as the Navy's main base in the Mediterranean being taken by the new acquisition of Malta. War resumed in 1803 and Napoleon attempted to assemble a large enough fleet from the French and Spanish squadrons blockaded in various ports to cover an invasion of England. The Navy frustrated these efforts, and following the abandonment of the invasion plan, Nelson defeated the combined Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar (1805).

Missouri Civil War Museum