University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > Structures of Warfare at Sea during the First British Civil War,1642-1646

Structures of Warfare at Sea during the First British Civil War,1642-1646

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The wars which erupted in the three British kingdoms in the middle of the seventeenth century are regarded as one of the most turbulent periods in British history, as levels of violence and destruction rose to a point rarely witnessed before or since. Much scholarship and popular writing has focused on these wars within the British kingdoms, but comparatively less well-known is the warfare which took place in the seas geographically defining and linking these kingdoms. Yet the maritime sphere was an important theatre of the British civil wars, especially because of the supremacy of marine transport in the early modern period. This paper will explore the structures of warfare at sea during the period of the first civil war, the longest phase of sustained violence in the wars of the three kingdoms. While warfare (by which is understood the perpetration of deliberate, organised violence) regularly occurred at sea before 1642, the civil wars brought an increase in the level of violence and a shift in the nature and organisation of maritime warfare. Parliament, with the support of influential figures in the London maritime community, took control of the royal navy, which increased in size and operations during the 1640s. While both parliamentarian and royalist privateering occurred, as well as violent encounters with foreign ships, parliament’s control of the navy gave it the most effective instrument of warfare at sea. This in turn lent legitimacy to parliament’s claims to maritime authority, as it challenged Charles I for the role of sovereign arbiter at sea as well as on land, forcing warfare at sea to be reinterpreted in new terms.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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