In July 1642 Charles I's splendid navy defected to Parliament without firing a shot. Throughout the First English Civil War the king thus faced the humiliation of fighting his own 'royal' navy. Far more was at stake, of course, than injured pride. As Clarendon observed, the loss of the fleet was 'of unspeakable ill consequence to the King's affairs', and dealt a devastating blow to his chances of winning the war. 1 While command of the navy could never guarantee victory, without it Parliament would have faced almost certain and rapid defeat.
Charles had shown an energetic interest in the navy ever since his accession, and indeed before. He oversaw the major shipbuilding programme of the 1630s which added a succession of powerful new vessels to the fleet, including the massive Sovereign of the Seas ( 1637), which in size and design anticipated the warships of Nelson's age. This new armada was designed, as the Sovereign's name suggests, to assert the king's domination over the loosely defined waters surrounding the Stuart kingdoms. After 1635 annual levies of ship-money enabled Charles to set out impressive flotillas each summer in the Channel. While the ostensible purpose was to suppress piracy and privateers, their primary aim was to affirm Charles's honour and sovereignty. Their function was diplomatic rather than military; Charles had neither the will nor the means to be drawn into wars with the Dutch or French, and was relieved that their warships chose to avoid confrontations. The ship-money fleets helped to maintain a naval balance of power in the Channel, and to keep open the Spanish sea route to Flanders. But hopes that Spain would repay him with financial support or diplomatic help to further his aims in the Palatinate failed to materialize. Nor did Charles make much progress in enforcing his claims to maritime sovereignty over the Dutch fishingfleets in the North Sea, for large warships proved ill-suited to the task of chasing fishing-boats. Nor, ultimately, did he succeed in asserting his authority in the