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The British Navy and the State in the Eighteenth Century

The British Navy and the State in the Eighteenth Century

Clive Wilkinson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The British Navy and the State in the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    The Royal Navy, prominent in building Britain's maritime empire in the eighteenth century, also had a significant impact on politics, public finance and the administrative and bureaucratic development of the British state throughout the century. The Navy was the most expensive branch of the state and its effective funding and maintenance was a problem that taxed the ingenuity of a succession of politicians, naval officers and bureaucrats. By the middle of the century the difficulties its growth created had become critical, and the challenge this presented was taken up by Admiralty Boards led by Anson, Egmont, Hawke and Sandwich. Resolving these problems introduced reform in the navy's administration and in public finance (often pre-figuring later bureaucratic development), but there was a political price to pay when the management of the Navy and its apparent unpreparedness for the War of American Independence made the Earl of Sandwich and the Navy a focus for political opposition to an unpopular government and a disappointing war. Published in association with the National Maritime Museum. CLIVE WILKINSON is a research officer with the Climatological Database of the World's Oceans 1750-1850, University of Sunderland.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-226-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vi-viii)
    Daniel A. Baugh

    When France joined the American Revolutionary War in 1778 the British Navy was far from ready. A year later Spain joined the contest, rendering the situation truly grim because both Bourbon powers had been strenuously building up their navies. Lord Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, told Parliament in early December 1777 that the fleet was more than a match for the Bourbon combination, but this declaration stood in marked contrast to his private assessment. For more than a year he had been beseeching Lord North for authorization to increase the number of British ships in commission. Reliable intelligence indicated...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. 1 The myth of a paper fleet
    (pp. 1-11)

    Britain started and ended the eighteenth century celebrating its Navy. In the interval the Navy played a key part in establishing an empire in America and India, only to lose the former. During much of the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the time when the American colonies were lost, the Navy and its administration was severely criticized on numerous occasions. Among other things this book examines the justification for that criticism, examining the relationship between the Navy and the state to determine what was wrong with the Navy and its ships on the eve of the War of American...

  7. 2 Government and the Navy
    (pp. 12-34)

    Britain’s naval administration in the middle decades of the eighteenth century can best be understood by studying three main areas that can be broadly defined as politics, personalities and systems. Politics encompasses national politics and political patronage and for our specific purposes, interdepartmental politics. The study of individual personalities can examine character and personal ambition as well as political beliefs and ability. These facets overlay and interact with the administrative process. What is of interest is why individuals took on a post or office such as Admiralty Commissioner, what was their function in that position and then what they actually...

  8. 3 ‘Treating the House with contempt’: British naval finance in the eighteenth century
    (pp. 35-65)

    In a debate on the naval supplies on 13 February 1778, Edmund Burke hurled the book of naval estimates at the Treasury Bench exclaiming ‘that it was treating the House with the utmost contempt, to present them with a fine gilt book of estimates, calculated to a farthing, for purposes to which the money granted was never meant to be applied’.¹ This criticism was common in the years immediately before the American Revolution and did little to inspire contemporaries with confidence in the financial administration of the Navy. Indeed, among historians there has been an entrenched view that the Navy’s...

  9. 4 Crisis and victory: The Navy, 1714–62
    (pp. 66-104)

    In the previous chapters we have looked at how the civil branch of the eighteenth-century Navy operated in terms of politics, administration and finance. This chapter and the ones that follow will run through a large part of the eighteenth century chronologically, beginning roughly in the period following the War of the Spanish Succession and ending as the War of American Independence came to its conclusion. A number of themes will be taken up in these chapters. The first of these concerns the efforts of various naval administrations to maintain an adequate and sustainable battlefleet. This was a task complicated...

  10. 5 The peace establishment I: Demobilization and retrenchment, 1763–6
    (pp. 105-138)

    The end of the Seven Years’ War¹ provided a set of unique opportunities as well as a set of serious problems to George III and his ministers. The opportunities lay in the possibilities of administrative and financial reforms long contemplated by the King and his first minister, Lord Bute. The problems left from the war were closely related to these opportunities but apparently irreconcilable with them. The huge burden of war debt had to be reduced but the King also wanted to reduce the high level of taxation. Continuing confidence in the financial credit of the country largely depended on...

  11. 6 The peace establishment II: Stability, innovation, and the Falklands, 1766–70
    (pp. 139-164)

    The naval administration of the Earl of Egmont ended in September 1766. He left a fleet that had undergone substantial and rapid repair and was quickly approaching the level, in terms of numbers of ships, needed to secure Britain’s maritime interests. The dockyards had also undergone a number of important reforms, increasing their efficiency and productivity. Two peacetime administrations followed that of Egmont; the short three-month service of Admiral Sir Charles Saunders and then the administration of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke. Toward the end of Hawke’s tenure at the Admiralty, a crisis arose with Spain over the Falkland Islands during...

  12. 7 Sandwich, Parliament and the paper fleet, 1771–9
    (pp. 165-208)

    This question was asked in the House of Lords in 1779 on a motion to remove Lord Sandwich from the Admiralty. Sandwich was appointed to the Admiralty in early 1771, after the departure of Hawke. He inherited a fleet in good order, a fleet whose maintenance had been carefully co-ordinated and a Navy whose administration and finances had been well managed. When war had threatened with Spain over the Falkland Islands, the Navy was prepared, so well prepared, in fact, that war with the Bourbon powers was averted. In the years that followed the Falklands crisis and as war with...

  13. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 209-212)

    When John Montague, Earl of Sandwich, left the Admiralty at the end of March 1782, the war with America was lost. Cornwallis had surrendered his army the previous October and, in the following spring, the North administration collapsed. With the colonies lost, Britain turned her undivided attention to the defeat of America’s allies. This was now a maritime war with no distraction of fighting on the American continent. On 17 April 1782, in the very month that Augustus Keppel took over as the First Lord of the Admiralty, George Rodney crushed the French at the Battle of the Saintes in...

  14. Appendix 1: Extraordinary estimates 1750–76
    (pp. 213-213)
  15. Appendix 2: Extraordinary estimate, Navy Office, 2 February 1767
    (pp. 214-216)
  16. Appendix 3: Estimate of monies needed (ADM B 177, 5 August 1765)
    (pp. 217-217)
  17. Appendix 4: ‘Plan of Expense of His Majesty’s Navy for the Year 1768’ (ADM B 181, 27 May 1768)
    (pp. 218-219)
  18. Appendix 5: Account of the course of the Navy (fragment, ADM B 183, 6 August 1770)
    (pp. 220-220)
  19. Appendix 6: A list of the ships of the Royal Navy, 1 January 1763, with the condition of the Navy on survey (ADM 7 553)
    (pp. 221-223)
  20. Appendix 7: British Battlefleet 1714–80
    (pp. 224-224)
  21. Appendix 8: Environmental impact on the Navy’s ships, 1710–80
    (pp. 225-225)
  22. Appendix 9: Naval finance and expenditure
    (pp. 226-226)
  23. Appendix 10: The procedure for voting a supply to the Navy
    (pp. 227-227)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 228-239)
  25. Index
    (pp. 240-246)