Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815

Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815

Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815

Britain as a Military Power, 1688-1815


In 1688 Britain was successfully invaded, its army and navy unable to prevent the overthrow of the government. By 1815 she was the strongest power in the world, with the most successful navy and the largest empire. This fascinating study assesses the military aspects of this shift, concentrating on the multifaceted nature of the British military effort.


Between the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-9 and the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Britain became the strongest military power in the world, arguably the strongest at any time till then, and also the strongest in relative and absolute terms until the American century of the present age. This book is an attempt to explain this process. It concentrates on the military dimension, because it is all too easy to respond to understandable scholarly interest in themes such as state-building by losing sight of the course of conflict. in place of an emphasis on domestic political and economic factors at the expense of military ones, I have stressed the importance for Britain of armed force directly applied. We have to look at more than just institutional and resource reasons for Britain’s “greatness”.

Another important aspect of this work is its comprehensive nature. Britain’s military history for this period is usually considered in separate compartments: Europe, North America, the West Indies. Land and sea power are also placed in their own compartments. This book is unusual in that it combines land and sea, European and extra-European effectiveness and war. the entire spectrum of roles played by armed force in Britain’s rise to great-power status is synthesized.

The approach is not deterministic; instead, discussion of “structural” aspects of British strength is matched with consideration of the contingent nature of challenge and success. Intensive archival work leads to an emphasis on contingency and provides a sense of exceptions—of the singularity and malleability of events. Britain’s armed forces operated in unpredictable situations and particular circumstances. It is necessary to understand the alternate possibilities in given cases, and to provide a counterpoint to general works that seek similarities and congruences.

With more space, it would have been possible to include much that has unfortunately had to be omitted. Despite the temptation to remove much of the discussion of events, I have left this in because all too few people are

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