History Naval Warfare What Was Naval Power Essay

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History Naval Warfare

What was naval power in the age of sail and how did different sea going states exercise it from the period 1650-1850?

"There is a deep landlubber bias in historical and social research," writes Charles King. "History and social life, we seem to think, happen on the ground. What happens on the water…is just the scene-setter for the real action when the actors get where they are going. But oceans, seas, and rivers have a history of their own, not merely as highways or boundaries but as central players in distinct stories of human interaction and exchange." Current essay is an exploration of the naval power and sea command during the period of the age of sail (1650-1850). The author has mentioned the war history and war strategies of major navies and sailors during this era. The author has also discussed how different sea going states exercise naval power for commercial purpose and for creating monopoly. [1: Charles King, The Black Sea: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 3.]

Naval Power in East Asia

One important and big navy we see in East Asia during 16th century is China. China being a developed and huge state in this era is a good reason to explore its war strategies to control sea. Timothy describes that during this period "rather than saying that 'the Chinese economy was ebbing with the tide of the Atlantic,' we should think of the tide of the Atlantic as being pulled by the Chinese moon." While China had no control over sea yet it's was center of activity in the sea shores. [2: Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), 12.]

The Ming-Qing transition in China during the 17th century was a result of naval warfare strategies. The coastal depopulation in the reign of Qing during 1661-1683 caused damage to the lives of millions of people in southeast China and resulted in the largest forced migration of this period. Yet it was a policy to control the sea as well as to create an artificial land boundary. Greater Fujian has a great importance in Chinese history because it became one of the throttlehold of self-governing authority and was thorniest foundation to resist Qing rule. In 1661 the Qing was defeated by Zhen Zhilong militarily and had to depopulate the coast. We see in this era that Qing state to hold the control of the sea adopted a strategy by scattering the residents of coastal areas in the form of pirates, smugglers and Elites. These strategies finally gained conquest of Taiwan by demilitarizing the littoral and creating a new Qing-centered maritime order.

It is important to include the naval strategies of Fujian as it covers two main problems of Chinese empire, these are: 1) Being a rich and huge realm, China was a magnet which attracted traders all through the world. The kingdom was unendingly insecure due to its borders being imperceptibly delimited while its military was in less numbers; and 2) Though there was dire need to defend the country the issue china faced was how can and to what extend the defense can be afforded? To what extent the frontier control can be built without being too expensive [3: I get this from Warren I. Cohen's analysis of Tang-era instability in East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 88.]

During the 1650-1850 we see that sea power was a major way to get control. The country which has a strong navy was considered strong. We see that during this period, European sea routes expanded which facilitated the direct contact between a diverse societies, states and civilizations. So this period is considered by historians as European expansion of trade and settlement through its sea power. [4: See, for instance, two very different studies of this period: Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies (New York W.W. Norton & Co, 1997); Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley: University of California, 1982).]

Historical research studies by scholars like C.R. Boxer and Holden Furber mentioned the rivalries, antagonism, and divisions between European merchants during 16 to 18 century before the 1590, Portuguese put much effort to create trading monopoly in the Indian Ocean. Similarly during the 1600 and 1650,
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European rivalries also started expedition to access the spice trade meant groups for instance the Dutch and English obsessed on spice. Yet they did intimidate the existing trade networks in the ocean. And also during the 1650 and 1700, the French also entered in this competition of trade and started competing with the Portuguese, Dutch, and English to get access to precious trading goods. This competition resulted in the monopoly of English East India Company (EIC) on the sea trade [5 C.R. Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415-1825 (London: Hutchinson, 1969); Holden Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600-1800 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976). For a critique of the earlier work, see Sanjay Subrahmanyam, introduction to Maritime India, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), xi-xvii.] [6: See, for instance, their experiences on the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa C.R. Boxer, Portuguese Conquest and Commerce in Southern Asia, 1500-1750 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1985); M.N. Pearson, Merchants and Rulers in Gujarat: the Response to the Portuguese in the Sixteenth century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).] [7: On various trading companies, see Glenn Joseph Ames, Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade (DeKalb, Ill: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996); Boxer, The Portuguese Seaborne Empire; Furber, Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient; Philippe Haudrere, La compagnie francaise des Indes au XVIIIe siecle, 2 ed, 2 vols. (Paris: Les Indes savantes, 2005); Kerry Ward, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). The term European is meant to encompass traders also sailing from the Americas.]

British Navy

In the early period we also see impressments of seaman by British navy. Another important event of the history of naval warfare strategies during this era is the Britain Second Hundred Years. War. Against France Between 1689 and 1815 that was fought to gain control of Europe and colonial regions all through the world. In this war naval action focused in the northern seas, naval conflict commencement with the wars of William III and Anne (1689-97; 1702-13) happened in the waters of the Caribbean, North America, and the Mediterranean. At that period of time, England was also in the middle of expanding it unparalleled commercial trade out of the country. The combination of war and commercial aspects resulted in a pressure on England's maritime labor market. Through impressments the English (later British) state removed Atlantic. It was this period that impressments system was introduced and seafarers had no right to use free will and forced to be part of navy [8: For studies that also use the series of Anglo-French wars to define the .long. Eighteenth century, see Jeremy Black, Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815 (London: UCL Press, 1999) and Lawrence Stone, ed., An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815 (London: Routledge, 1994). Different historians have made the eighteenth century even longer by identifying common themes in British and European history stretching from the Stuart Restoration in 1660 to the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832. See, for example, Frank O.Gorman, The Long Eighteenth Century: British Political and Social History, 1688-1832 (London: Arnold, 1997) and William Prest, Albion Ascendant: English History, 1660-1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).] [9: For England.s joint expansion in overseas naval and commercial activity, see Paul M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (1976; reprint, Malabar, FL.: Robert E. Krieger, 1982), 64-76; Ralph Davis, The Rise of the English Shipping Industry in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (London: Macmillan, 1962), 22-3; Lloyd, British Seaman, 115-17; and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 148.]

This impressments system was a negative naval warfare strategy in many ways. First, this was both an integrative and disparaging power in the Atlantic. Although press gangs were helpful in uniting Britain and its Atlantic terrains in a system of unified marine defense, this system was also accustomed of creating fissures, apprehensions, and unsteadiness within British Empire in its beginning. In the process of capturing seamen, press gangs were authorized to damage careers, disintegrate families, and infuriate docks communities. While by doing all this they were able to provide sufficient manpower for the Royal Navy that was essential to control the seas in the eighteenth century. In short it can be said that impressments made empire.

Though British used this strategy to gain control and monopoly in the sea, ultimately the negative effect of impressments system was a main cause of destruction of Britain's first Atlantic empire in…

Sources Used in Documents:

BibliographyAmes, Glenn Joseph. "Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade." DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, (1996).Black, Jeremy. "Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815." London: UCL Press, (1999).Boxer, C.R. "The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415-1825." London: Hutchinson, (1969). Brewer, John. "Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, (1988).Charles King, "The Black Sea: A History" Oxford: Oxford University Press (2004), 3.Diamond, Jared. "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies." New York W.W. Norton & Co., (1997).Kennedy, Paul M. "The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery." Malabar, FL.: Robert E. Krieger, (1982).Pearson, M.N. Merchants and Rulers in Gujarat: The Response to the Portuguese in the Sixteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.Timothy Brook, The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), 12.Warren I. Cohen East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 88.]


The author discussed the sea power in the age of sail i.e., 1650-1800 and how different countries adopt this power. For this purpose the author analyzed main sea powers during this period i.e., Purtogues, Dutch, French and English in the Atlantic Ocean and Chinese navy. The author concluded that sea power was the main source of authority for any country. The courtiers with powerful fleet ships and navy were dominant in the world.

Mostly the countries having command on sea used this dominance to expand trade. There are also evidences of unfair means to occupy other countries as well to maintain this occupation. The author also discussed how the British Royal Navy used impressments system to forcefully include the seaman in the Royal Navy.


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