Log in

Book Review, NRJ 65.1

February 19, 2020 12:00 PM | David Eddy (Administrator)

The British Civil Wars at Sea, 1638-1653

Richard J. Blakemore & Elaine Murphy

In The British Civil Wars at Sea: 1638-1653, Richard Blakemore and Elaine Murphy offer a concise, yet thoroughly researched account of the British civil wars from a naval perspective. This is a long overdue study and a largely neglected aspect of the British civil wars and naval history.

A refreshing aspect of this work this that it strays from previous fashions of Anglocentrism and embraces a more holistic view of the civil wars by analyzing Royalist, Confederate, and Scottish naval activities. Discussions of Confederate naval efforts are particularly intriguing, especially the Confederation’s attempts to develop a naval administration from scratch and wage war at sea using privateers. Scottish naval efforts are only touched on briefly and are discussed more in terms of clan rivalries. The authors do make it clear, however, that after 1644 the Scots relied heavily on Parliament’s warships.

When Parliament is examined the authors convincingly argue that the civil wars had a transformative effect on the navy by elevating it from a position of vulnerability in 1639 to a well-honed instrument of national security by the First Anglo Dutch War. They argue that this transformation took place when Parliament instituted state-control over the navy. This was followed by augmenting the naval administration, investing in infrastructure, and shipbuilding programs. Such activities necessitated improved revenue collection and lines of credit. These developments not only allowed Parliament to wage a more successful war at sea than its opponents, but it moved Britain more in the direction of a fiscal-military state. By changing the political nature of the navy, parliament brought forth a new crop naval officers that rose to prominence during the wars.

An important theme throughout this work is the role of navies in support of ground forces. Not only did navies secure supply lines and logistically support armies, but they were instrumental in providing relief to beleaguered coastal garrisons or enforcing blockades against enemy held ports. The authors are careful, however, not to overemphasize the role of navies in the success of campaigns by pointing out their limitations. The book, however, demonstrates that naval support was key in facilitating a successful land campaign. This point is keenly felt with the navy assisting Cromwell in the conquest of Ireland and Scotland.

Although the coastal regions of the British Isles provided the primary theater of operations, the authors impress upon the reader that the civil wars had a larger impact on the Atlantic World. Naval activities extended to the Azores, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Bermuda, and the American colonies.

This is a thoughtful and well-written book. Blakemore and Murphy successfully navigate the confusing political and religious turmoil of the period. Furthermore, they do not dwell heavily on tactics and technology, as it is not essential to this work. Instead, they provide just enough background to enhance their analysis and their voluminous footnotes indicate where readers can find more information. Consequently, this book should find broad appeal amongst scholars and students.

  • Woodbridge, Sussex: The Boydell Press, 2018
  • 6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiv + 225 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $115.00
  • ISBN: 9781783272297

Reviewed by David Bennett, North Carolina Maritime Museums

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software