Origin Story of the Royal Navy in Dispute

Discussion in 'Past & Historical Events' started by nivek, Aug 31, 2020.

  1. nivek

    nivek As Above So Below

    New Research Disputes 10th Century Origin Story of the Royal Navy

    Spend time around Brits long enough and one learns there are two things one should never speak ill of – the royal family and the Royal Navy. (There’s probably more, but that’s all we need for this story.) While the royal family has had its ups and downs and its vast amount of rumors, false narratives and historical rewrites, the Royal Navy has held steady its reputation as longtime military power that was established by Alfred the Great, King of Wessex from 871 and King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 to 899. While the reputation has sailed through world wars, the origin story has been sunk – not by a torpedo but by a scholar.

    “The idea that Alfred founded the navy is widespread – and the claim has been uncritically reproduced by such reputable authorities as the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Encyclopædia Britannica and BBC’s history webpage.”

    That “idea” includes the story of the infant English navy’s first victory, 20 years after its founding, in a battle with Viking ships. Matthew Firth, a Flinders University Medieval Studies PhD candidate, and Dr. Erin Sabo, a specialist in early medieval literature and medieval maritime culture, collaborated on a new study into the English naval origin story, published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and summarized in a press release. What they found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, an Old English history of the Anglo-Saxons, puts the birth of the English navy years before the reign of Alfred the Great.


    “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles report an engagement in 851 involving an ealdorman Elchere and King Æthelstan of Kent (839–c.853), who reputedly defeated a Viking force near Sandwich – the first recorded instance of a victory for an English fleet. It implies that a tradition of defensive naval action existed from at least the reign of Alfred’s father, Æthelwulf of Wessex (839–858).”

    The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles puts the birth of the English navy back on generation, and perhaps even further. That doesn’t take away from the reputation Alfred the Great has for upping the quality of the navy, does it?

    “Alfred’s ship designs, as described in the records, were impractical and failed as a maritime force in its first naval battle against more experienced Viking sailors.”

    Poor Alfred. It’s a good thing he had his reputation for encouraging eduction, promoting lessons in Old English rather than Latin, improving the legal system and being an all-around merciful guy to help hold on to his “the Great” moniker – the only English king to ever be called that formally (Cnut the Great was a Danish prince first). Maybe his claim to fame was putting his successors on the right path to building a naval powerhouse.

    “Suggestions of vast patrol fleets maintained by his successors are both logistically and technologically impossible.”

    HMS Bulwark

    Sigh. Eventually, someone got it right and the Royal Navy helped the British Empire rule the seas up until World War II. It’s still formidable and technologically advanced, but others have taken the place of the Vikings as flotillas they would best leave alone. The good news is, the Royal Navy still has a better reputation than the royal family.

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  2. pigfarmer

    pigfarmer tall, thin, irritable

    And it's still freakin' cool no matter what !

    Not sure why they needed to pump all that $$ into Queen Elizabeth though. I can't help but look at all large aircraft carriers, such as those new Ford class multibillion dollar national investments, like the pre-WW2 battleships that became obsolete in a blink.
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  3. AD1184

    AD1184 Honorable

    Neither of these things is true. A lot of people are not too fond of the royal family (even though many of us are not republicans either) and will not chastise people for criticizing it, and the Royal Navy is little more than a bad joke in the present day, with far more admirals than ships, and what few ships it does have rarely move because they are stuck in harbour awaiting repairs.

    The new aircraft carriers are an embarrassment. The Coalition government under David Cameron decommissioned the Ark Royal, the Royal Navy's only aircraft carrier able to launch jets, in 2011, after 26 years in service, and scrapped all the Sea Harriers. That left the Navy without any air capability at all until the Queen Elizabeth was able to provide a limited one in 2018. If air capability was deemed unnecessary for a period of seven years, it is not clear why it should ever become necessary again.
  4. pigfarmer

    pigfarmer tall, thin, irritable

    When I think Royal Navy I am thinking of toasts of "confusion to the French !!" and laying your ship alongside that of the enemy. Cutlasses and pistols boys !

    Hard to argue the aircraft carrier's utility but I can't help but feel that a few hypersonic missiles or some other nasty modern contrivance will put an end to that. The US has made good use of it's carriers during and since WWII and this is why we have them. Why exactly at this point the UK needed a non-nuclear carrier of it's own isn't immediately obvious. HMS Queen Elizabeth will come get it's contingent of whatever variant F-35 it carries, if it hasn't already, and the defense contractors will all be happy.

    Good news is, anachronistic or obsolete or whatever, there will be a brand new USS Enterprise in a few years and we can all breathe easy.

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