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The Royal Navy (origins of the British Empire)

How did Britain acquire her vast empire? The key is the sea. Britain was above all a sea power.

Yet just to be an island nation is not enough—there are many island nations that are totally insular (literally, have nothing to do with anyone else—and never leave their island).

There were two reason why the British expanded beyond their island: firstly, the Norman Conquest; and, secondly, an idea.

The English only became great seafarers because they were invaded by the Normans. Because the Normans ruled England and had to keep in contact with their possessions in France it became a requirement to cross and control the Channel.

Conventional post-war histories of the British Empire will say “Britain was not a seafaring nation, most activities were confined to the Channel”. But these histories miss the point—the intense activity in the Channel wouldn’t have happened without the Norman Conquest, the English were a sea-faring nation precisely because they concentrated so much on the Channel.

Just like all things, it starts with a small concentrated nucleus and then spreads out—the English had to trade in an intensive way with Normandy, and that meant they learned to fight for possession of the Channel. In the early days, 1100-1400, this was pretty rough and ready. There wasn’t really a state—and at one point English and French sailors just had a huge battle in the Channel, it amounted to a feud between two groups of men, not much above a brawl at a football match or in a pub.

There just wasn’t a state to “take action” in those circumstances—there were lords you could petition for redress (maybe); and many of these lords were pirates themselves—in this period, the king directed his northern lords to suppress pirates who harried the coast, so the lords took to sea and started to plunder English towns further up the coast instead.

The English attained mastery of the Channel—and then a wider area, a global area. This would never have happened if the Normans hadn’t conquered the English—it was this intense cross-Channel activity that led the English to become master seamen and naval fighters (mainly in contention with the French, the perennial enemy).

However, another factor was required—an idea. This idea, first put down in an anonymous poem in the 1400s, was that “he who controls the sea controls the economy”. In a world before aeroplanes, to control the sea meant to control all trade—and, in consequence, to rule the world.

Indeed, Sir Walter Raleigh formalised this principle over a century later as:

“For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”

The English realised this fact before anyone else at the time (some Roman scholars had realised this centuries before, but it was forgotten). This principle became the basis for English policy—“control the sea”. And, in the end, this led to British control of the world, because the British controlled all trade in the world (in effect) and so all economic activity. In modernity, we know that the side with the larger economy always wins wars—so the side that can control economic activity always wins.

So without this idea the English would never have developed a world empire.

And why did they have that idea? I would suggest it comes down to Alfred the Great—because Alfred made the English literate. The English were among the most literate people in Europe, so they were the first to do things like codify an idea about naval strategy in a poem—and that poem eventually led them to rule the world.

I came to this realisation because I have been reading a five-volume history of the Royal Navy written in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, as I read this document, I also had another realisation—Britain is dead, England is dead.

As I read the volumes, I realised that England has gone through the same 1,000-year cycle as Rome—once they were rough and ready lads pouring out of Dover on their own initiative to beat up the French (throw them overboard—no quarter was given to prisoners in those days, they just threw them off the ship), today they engage in decadent violence, decadent because not outer-directed but internal (vicious).

Indeed, the whole system is in true collapse—for in the 1200s and 1300s the English struggled to win Wales and Scotland (and were already in Ireland), but now even these units want to leave Britain. So the whole political unit has fully collapsed in on itself, right down to its first possessions—just like Rome did. Remember, England was made—it was forged from disparate Anglo-Saxon tribes, and it has now been unmade (in its decadence, it has become so abstract it has abolished itself).

Hence it is swamped with external tribes who nobody knows how to resist and nobody really wants to resist or believes it is possible to resist.

England is over—as I have said before. She was replaced in the 20th century by America, because America is an air power (space power) and air power is greater than sea power, because it lets you hit anywhere. Hence the history of the Royal Navy almost seems quaint and irrelevant, except insofar as you can derive meta-lessons from it about the rise and fall of empires.

England is dead—Hyperborea comes.


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