chapter  5
16 Pages

Seapower and Empire: Cause and Effect?

There are probably not many historians who would argue explicitly that naval warfare has had no influence on British history, however few choose to study the subject. There does not seem, however, to be any consensus as to what its influence and importance were. Instead we meet a widespread but unvoiced assumption that the real historical significance of the navy depends on the extent to which it was involved with whatever is the particular writer’s special subject. So we have the navy as a factor - usually a marginal factor - in diplomatic, political, social, economic and other histories, while the naval historians themselves have tended to assume, rather than define, the navy’s importance. Insofar as there is a dominant interpretation, it is probably that which links navy and empire. Imperial historians, apt like all historians to place their own subject in the centre of the intellectual world, find it easy to regard naval history as a more or less peripheral adjunct to it, and the Royal Navy as simply ‘the most developed arm of the British empire’.1 The underlying assumption seems to be that naval history belongs with imperial history if it belongs anywhere, although certainly not at the centre of the subject.2