Academic journal article The Historian

Ships, Sailors, and Mediators: England's Naval Aid to Sweden 1658-1659

Academic journal article The Historian

Ships, Sailors, and Mediators: England's Naval Aid to Sweden 1658-1659

Article excerpt

DURING THE EARLY MODERN ERA, the composition and purpose of European navies underwent a dramatic change. Beginning in the sixteenth century, western European rulers began to establish overseas empires and long distance trade began to increase. These trends led many monarchs to encourage naval development in order to protect their subjects' access to foreign markets, to curb piracy, and to help assert their authority throughout their personal territories and abroad. As a result, naval forces gradually changed from temporary forces that private groups organized and financed to professional, permanent institutions that the state administered and funded. These changes also gave naval forces new purposes. With the state gaining a monopoly over the running and funding of navies, these forces increasingly became employed in promoting the ruler's policies. (1) The development of the English navy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries serves as a primary example of the changing nature and purposes of naval forces in early modern Europe.

The Royal Navy began to take permanence during the 1500s. Under Henry VIII's direction the navy grew to consist of fifty-three ships and to have a permanent administration. (2) During Queen Elizabeth's reign, the navy became a formidable defensive force when its leadership revamped the fleet's ships to adopt the latest advances in gunpowder weapons and firing tactics. (3) The fleet's size underwent another period of expansion during the reign of Charles I as the king commissioned the building of new ships in order to assert the crown's authority in the Channel and the North Sea, to curb piracy, and to maintain English merchants' access to northern European markets. (4) It was during the mid-seventeenth century, however, that England's navy grew to a level of permanency, power, and professionalism that it became capable of promoting and defending the kingdom's policies overseas. In particular, during the Interregnum, the English Parliament commissioned the building of and purchase of many new warships, revamped naval administration under Parliament's control, created fleets of warships that were no longer supplemented by merchant ships, and created the financial mechanisms to continually fund growing naval expenses. (5) These factors allowed the navy during the 1650s to consolidate Parliament's authority throughout its territories with the capture of the Scilly and the Channel Islands and to defend English economic interests in wars against the Dutch and the Spanish. (6) The experiences gained in these conflicts created a professional officer corps and veteran sailors who possessed the resources and the experience to not only provide defense for England but also to protect and promote England's interests abroad. (7) One of the English navy's first tests of its ability to carry out the government's wishes overseas came in 1658 with English naval intervention in a war between Denmark and Sweden.

In 1655, Charles X Gustavus of Sweden invaded Poland to expand his kingdom's influence in the eastern Baltic region. The conflict soon spread when the Danish king, Frederick III, attacked Sweden's western borders to hinder his neighbor's growing political influence. This war caused a shift in the balance of power in northern Europe. Because the Swedish army almost conquered Denmark, the Danes signed two treaties that gave Sweden sovereignty over the Sound's eastern shore, thus denying the Danish king control over the major navigable entrance to the Baltic and signifying Sweden's status as the region's dominant political power. (8)

This war concerned the members of the English government because it restricted English merchants' trade activities and potentially limited the navy's access to ship-building materials. (9) In order to maintain access to the Baltic markets and to insure that England's arch-economic rival, the Dutch, did not gain greater influence in northern Europe, Richard Cromwell and his Council of State allowed the Swedish crown to recruit English sailors for service in the Swedish navy and sent English warships to the Baltic to aid the Swedish campaigns. …

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