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Book Review, NRJ 67.3

February 12, 2023 10:16 AM | PAUL R MITCHELL (Administrator)

The Power and the Glory: Royal Navy Fleet Reviews from earliest times to 2005

Steve R. Dunn

Steve R. Dunn’s The Power and the Glory examines the history of British Royal Fleet Reviews from 1346 to 2005. Known for their pomp and ceremony, Royal Fleet Reviews displayed British Naval might and connected the monarch to the pride of the nation’s military. In times of dominance or decline, these reviews came to reflect the state of the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom.

Dunn begins his work by explaining the concept of a fleet review and outlining the early roles of the fleet. The navy reflected the ability to project power against France, and many early fleet reviews preceded operations against England’s rival. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, British monarchs regularly used fleet reviews to celebrate themselves, honor and impress foreign monarchs, and to demonstrate the power of the Royal Navy before military operations and after victories.

With the power of the Royal Navy at its zenith during the nineteenth century, fleet reviews became much more common and took on new roles during the reign of Queen Victoria. Reviews continued to be a stage for diplomacy with foreign rulers, using the impressive strength of the Royal Navy to attempt to keep balance in post-Napoleonic Europe and protect British interests in areas where European empires vied for control. Fleet reviews also showcased technologies advancements such as ironclads, new battleships, and submarines, further demonstrating British naval prowess. The vast expense of a navy as large as Great Britain’s made the pageantry of these events important to instill a love of the fleet in the minds of the taxpaying public.

The two world wars placed a serious strain on extravagant expenditures such as fleet reviews and they declined in both number and scope. Acceptance of political realities in the post-war era led to a more defense-based Navy which even included other NATO vessels as part of a monarch-attended review. Reviews dwindled in number significantly over the last fifty years and there has not been one at all since 2005, mirroring the serious post-World War II decline of the Royal Navy.

The book includes numerous in-depth descriptions of fleet reviews over several centuries, including their planning, purpose, execution, Royal thoughts and interactions, and descriptions of the ships involved. Dunn provides a great deal of context about British naval history between his details on each review, essentially telling an abbreviated history of the Royal Navy through fleet reviews. Dunn describes Royal Fleet Reviews as “a history of the Royal Navy and of the United Kingdom in miniature.” This keeps a solid narrative through numerous otherwise isolated events.

In addition to the chronological chapters of the book, Dunn deftly explains concepts foreign to some readers such as the types of fleet reviews and the Royal Yacht. The high-quality images used (both paintings and pictures) bring the majesty of these events to life and allows for a better insight into the massive scope of a fleet review. The book is well cited and contains several appendices for detail-oriented readers. If this book has a weakness, it is that Dunn does not always examine the aftermath of a review compared to its desired effect. The qualities this book possess certainly outweigh this drawback however, and The Power and the Glory would be a worthy addition to the library of a professional historian or casual naval history enthusiast.

  • Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2021
  • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021
  • 7” x 10”, hardcover, 320 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index. $44.95
  • ISBN: 9781526769022

Reviewed by: Tony Peebler, Texas Christian University

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