how is a trident forged?

Essay by Alex Johnson

With ever increasing public attention being given to maritime security, our author Alex Johnson examines the complex symbiotic relationship between states and their navies.

To what degree can navies be said to be the product of the modern state?

The sea has proven itself repeatedly over the past two millennia as an important domain of war. Navies have provided states with the ability to carry out warfare at great distance and in many different ways which would otherwise be denied to that state. From carrying soldiers across the Mediterranean on triremes to power projection through the use of Nimitz class aircraft carriers, the technology and use of naval forces have changed across time. The term navy itself however is not all encompassing of any militaristic naval force. In order to determine whether navies are the product of modern states this paper shall first look at what is meant by the term ‘navies’ and follow the view that the modern state emerged in Europe after the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 . After establishing the term navies and what that implies for a country that has a navy, a study of the development of the features that make up navies, will show that at least some of the naval forces of the pre-modern era do align in part with what the term navy implies. However, they do differ to a significant degree to the navies of the modern state. Consideration will be given to the view that modern states are in part the result of navies, and will find that the relationship between navies and the modern state is reciprocal. A conclusion will argue that navies are not a product of the modern state, rather that navies have developed alongside the modern state.

The difference between navies and naval forces are not that great, especially since the definition of a navy contains the term naval forces. A naval force is any use of military force across the sea, through transporting soldiers or specially designed fighting vessels. Navies however are slightly different, and much more expensive. Rose’s definition “…a regularly organised and maintained naval force.” , would suggest that navies are permanent, that they are lasting and not just dropped a soon as their immediate use is completed. Naval force must always be maintained, implying that there is a necessary network of dockyards and administration to facilitate this upkeep. What is of great importance is that a navy is ‘organised’, with a clear need for a strong command structure. Those in service of a navy go into service not to achieve some private end, such as the looting of ships seen in the sixteenth century, but as paid professional sailors. Mahan, while discussing the Dutch during the Anglo-Dutch war’s, expresses the view that the Dutch naval forces had not been maintained properly during peace times and rivalries inside the different fleets showed the Dutch naval forces were more a maritime coalition than a unified navy. It is also important to note how a modern navy differs greatly to that in which naval forces of the pre-modern era were utilised. There are three “…modes of action by which navies carried out their purposes: the military, the diplomatic and the policing function.” A navy must therefore be permanent; organised, unified, maintained and administratively supported, but it must also be capable of being used for the military, diplomatic and constabulary purposes provided by government.

The naval forces of pre-modern Britain showed some of the defining features that makes a navy, however not all of the features which were often neglected later on. Possibly the most important feature of a navy as opposed to naval forces, that of a permanent existence, was attempted in multiple places in the sixteenth century. Many claim that “…our true Royal Navy was first organised by Henry the eighth…” however Henry VIII’s naval forces cannot truly be classified as a navy. Henry VIII did keep a permanent naval force, “…a proportion of the smaller ships kept in active service all through the year.” However this was limited to only the smaller ships as the larger battleships were not maintained, largely due to lack of funds and dockyards capable at the time. This idea of a permanent naval force did not last for very long in England. James I’s pacifist policy resulted in the navy degrading to a point that English merchants felt they could not be protected by the Royal Navy against pirates and so were forced to equip their ships at their own expense. It is apparent therefore that in pre-modern England there was not a regular navy. Modern Britain however saw the creation of a national navy by Parliament, “The medieval combinations of King’s ships, vessels of the Cinque ports and vessels fitted out by towns, boroughs and private persons, disappeared and in their place arose a national navy, maintained at the cost of the whole people.” This notion of King’s ships is of great importance for it demonstrates another reason why the naval forces of pre-modern states cannot be considered navies. Just as Mahan observed of the Dutch navy in the Anglo-Dutch wars, the King’s ships were not necessarily a unified force, some belonged to the King while many belonged to merchants or were arrested to service without payment. Pre-modern Britain’s naval force could not therefore be called a navy as most of the ships used for war were hired from merchants. This lack of unified command is one of the greatest reasons why pre-modern Britain’s naval force cannot be considered a navy, as demonstrated by Elizabeth’s reign despite earlier attempts to create a strong chain of command.

Administration and a strong chain of command is of great importance to a navy which was recognised during Henry VIII’s reign. In 1545 the creation of the Council of the Marine created three new admiralty officers and increased the breadth of the officers and their roles. It could be argued to demonstrate an attempt to establish a formal structure and chain of command, whereby officers would be held accountable rather than being allowed to continue in the ad hoc manner they had previously operated. This attempt cannot be considered very fruitful when the actions of Drake and Norris during Elizabeth’s reign are considered. Despite explicit order from Elizabeth I to destroy the remains of the Spanish Armada, Drake and Norris sailed for Lisbon and resultantly achieved nothing. This demonstrates that despite there being administration in place to support a permanent navy, in practice it didn’t create a strong and disciplined chain of command. This is largely because those placed in the new positions were still ship owners and merchants who were renting their ships out during times of war.

Britain was not the only pre-modern state to maintain a somewhat permanent naval force. Venice held a permanent galley force for war making during the latter half of the fifteenth century and they were owned in the opposite way to the ships of West-European ships, “…in Venice the galleys were owned by the state and ‘rented for mercantile uses when they were not needed for war.” Venice therefore kept a regular naval force, in addition Venice also maintained a structure of maintenance. State run arsenals and dockyards were kept and utilised in much the same fashion as the galley forces were. Venice however was limited to only using its naval forces for constabulary purposes and defensive military purposes due to its position between the Ottoman Empire and the Spanish Empire. With the state owned galleys being hired out as protection ships demonstrates this argument. It may be argued that defensive policies denied pre-modern states from creating proper navies when they were potentially capable of doing so, however this was not the case. While the Venetian’s and James I’s defensive policies, in the case of James entirely pacifistic, did stop their respective naval forces from being utilised for leveraging diplomatic pressure; this would prove a great tool for modern states of the eighteenth century. Aggressive expansionist policies, such as those of Philip II of Spain, did not automatically lead to a navy. While, like England in the sixteenth century both Venice and Spain created standing naval forces , none of these states had navies. As these states each had different political aims, and two had the administration necessary to facilitate a navy, the lack of a true navy being developed by these pre-modern states cannot be due only to political goals, but the combination of policy and economic capacity.

The use of naval forces to transport soldiers to foreign theatres of war has proven of great importance across time, thus allowing states to fulfil the diplomatic function of navies. The Vikings and the Normans provide good examples of societies which projected their national strength overseas through their maritime predominance. The three functions of navies have therefore been utilised by different pre-modern states, however none of these pre-modern states created a navy. While the primary goal of navies is to influence events on land for that is where men live, the Vikings most definitely did not have the administration or command structure to maintain a regular force. Moreover, the Normans could not maintain a navy and while in the 1620s to 1630s France developed a permanent navy, it could not say that “…one fifth of the officers were, in 1744, employed.” It is evident therefore that the second largest navy of the eighteenth century, belonging to a modern state, could not afford the expense of maintaining a permanent navy. This lends to the view that only modern states could afford navies.

Navies are extremely expensive, not only are the vessels expensive to build, but the infrastructure required to maintain them is very costly. The combination of both can be enough to ruin even a twentieth century economy such as the Soviet Union. By considering the manner in which pre-modern states raised naval forces before going to war, it is evident that no pre-modern state could fund a true permanent national navy. Clark argues that navies emerge from the total economic capacity and national aspirations of a people . The difference between the way that Britain’s naval forces were funded in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries compared to the late seventeenth century onwards supports Clark’s argument. As previously mentioned, pre-modern naval forces were largely made of hired ships from merchants as Kings could not fund permanent naval forces. Modern states by contrast could, due to more effective taxation systems, utilising the concept that a national navy belonging to the state and not a single ruler, was to be paid for by the nation. The British Parliament shortly after the civil war implemented the first “…Laws and Ordinances Martial to govern discipline, so taking the first step in establishing a professional navy which would act for the state rather than primarily for booty and prize money…”. While privateering was not made illegal until over 200 years later, many sailors still intended to make great prophets from looting defeated enemy ships. A professionalism was to develop in the British navy over the following century, a defining feature of navies as highlighted by Mahan. It is evident therefore that navies were to some extent a product of modern states as only they could fund a navy, and the professionalism needed for a navy only developed in modern states.

Naval forces have proven an important tool for both pre-modern and modern states, with modern states causing changes to naval forces. It is also argued that navies produce change in states. Padfield holds the view that states which have acquired sea power see a change in the character of the people and in the type of government. This is supported by the developments of British policy, changing from the defensive policies shown by Elizabeth I and James I to the expansionist policies of Parliament throughout the eighteenth century. Marx and Engels assert that the discoveries West-European states made overseas, lead to the rise of the bourgeoisie and the fall of feudal society. While this may not be the true cause of the fall of feudal societies in all cases it does appear to be an important factor. Padfield argues that it is a natural process by which seafaring and trade leads to merchants becoming more wealthy than the landowning aristocracies. Hereditary monarchies were forced to lend or get money out of these merchants to fund their policies and so merchant values prevail in government. As the main principle is decentralized power this value spreads throughout the regime until eventually the government structure changes. Padfield’s view is supported by the fall of the English feudal system shortly after the rise of a strong merchant class, as France’s feudal system fell following the rise of the bourgeoisie. It would appear therefore that navies have a profound impact on the states and are to some degree responsible of some of the features of the modern state such as stronger markets, imperial expansionist policies and the spread of ideology.

The evidence in this paper provides an argument that for the most part, navies are not the product of the modern state. The attributes and functions that define navies were developed in pre-modern states, as demonstrated by multiple pre-modern states keeping permanent naval forces and others having the administration that would be required to maintain a navy. Evidence supports the assertion made by Clark that navies are a product of policy and the economic capability of a state. Pre-modern states displayed the policies necessary influencing the developments of naval attributes however, only modern states developed professional navies and had the economic strength to bring them all the attributes of navies together at once. The first creation of a navy coinciding with the beginnings of the modern state is important. Padfield’s view that navies produce change in state and not the other way around, while not necessarily entirely correct, demonstrates that navies and the modern state produced developments in each other. To conclude navies are only to a small degree a product of the modern state, they are rather a product of pre-modern states only capable of being fully realised under the economic power of a modern state.


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