Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Has anyone wondered?

Apologies for the forthcoming self-indulgent post, but sometimes questions occur and one wonders if there's an answer out there. I mentioned some time ago in that book meme that I was reading NAM Rodger's magisterial The Command of the Ocean, vol 2 of his trilogy on the Royal Navy. For various reasons, work and a sudden tendency to the frivolous being the most prominent, I'm still reading it now. It's a very well written and thought-provoking book, and quite hot on the fact that the role of the Navy isn't discussed nearly enough in non-naval histories of Britain.

While considering this, and reading on, it struck me that a case could very well be made that the Royal Navy was actually the driving force behind much of Britain's development, economic and industrial over the early modern period. The great shipyards at Chatham employed specialist workers on production lines, were far and away the largest employers in Europe and required significant degrees of finance.

The British system of banking, essentially borrowing from the people rather than individual financiers, was designed at least in part to cover the costs of the Navy; the last straw that broke Parliament's back in 1641 was Ship Money; the creation of a dominant empire was based on the naval gains of the Seven Years War, and protected and enhanced by naval dominance; the revitalisation of agriculture was at least partially sparked by the logistical demands of an enlarged Navy.

All very half-formed thoughts I realise, and as I'm no longer an academic of any shade I'm not going to be taking them that much further, but it's interesting stuff nonetheless, and makes the relative absence of the Royal Navy from social and economic histories of Britain somewhat baffling.

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