The Birth of The Navy Royal.

A.D. 896.
This same year the plunderers in East-Anglia and Northumbria greatly harassed the land of the West-Saxons by piracies on the southern coast, but most of all by the esks which they built many years before. Then King Alfred gave orders for building long ships against the esks, which were full-nigh twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more; and they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They were not shaped either after the Frisian or the Danish model, but so as he himself thought that they might be most serviceable.

The extract above is taken from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Annals from A.D. 881 to A.D. 898) and arguably marks the beginnings of England’s sea power. It took another 500 years however before a regular English fleet – a ‘Navy Royal’ – came into being. It was the activities of James IV of Scotland that let Henry VIII to form the standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships. Henry inherited a small fleet headed by two large carracks (ocean-going merchantmen distinguished by high super-structure fore and aft) called the Regent and the Sovereign.

Over the next few years Henry VIII commissioned other large ships, the most notable were the Mary Rose, Peter Pomegranate and Henry Grace-à-Dieu (“Henry Grace of God”). One thing Henry VIII did inherit from his father was a sound base of naval gunnery. Henry VII had employed French and Spanish gun-founders, and by 1496 they were producing wrought iron guns and iron shot. By 1511 Henry VIII had established a foundry at Hounditch, London, one of its principle tasks being to produce guns to arm his fleet. The Mary Rose was the first ship to carry guns on a gun deck with lidded gun ports marking a revolution in war ship design.

In 1512, England joined with Spain in an alliance against France mustering a fleet of 25 war ships. During the winter of 1512-13 provision was made to keep the ships victualed and the sailors paid marking the start of England’s standing fleet.

Although during the reign of Edward VI and Mary I the Navy Royal was ignored and considered little more than a system of coastal defense, Elizabeth I made naval strength a high priority. It was during Elizabeth’s reign, in 1588, that England was involved in arguably one of the most famous navel actions; the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth knowing of Spain’s intention to launch an invasion of England strengthened her Navy. She instructed Sir Francis Drake to launch a pre-emptive attack on the Spanish fleet at Cadiz capturing or destroying 24 Spanish ships. This action delayed the Armada for a year but this allowed Elizabeth to further strengthen her fleet and by 1588 the Lord Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham, had 197 ships at his disposal.

When the two fleets finally met at the Battle of Gravelines the Duke of Medina Sidonia only had 130 ships at his disposal, but only about 30 were properly armed warships. With its superior maneuverability, the English fleet provoked Spanish fire while staying out of range. The English then closed, firing repeated and damaging broadsides into the enemy ships.

After the Battle of Gravelines the English fleet pursued the Spanish North. Elizabeth I went to Tilbury to encourage her forces, and gave what is probably her most famous speech:

“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonour should grow by me, I myself will take up arms”.

The defeat of the Armada helped solidify the Royal Navy as the most powerful and technically innovative Navy in the world which lasted up until the Second World War. After the Second World War the decline of the British Empire and the economic hardships in Britain at the time forced the reduction in the size and capability of the Royal Navy. The increasingly powerful U.S. Navy took on the former role of the Royal Navy as global naval power and police force of the sea.

History of 1066 Battle Abbey and Battlefield.

On 14 October 1066, Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England at the battle of Hastings.

Arguably it was the most decisive, and certainly the most famous, battle ever fought on English soil. William’s triumph, and his subsequent coronation as King William I (1066-87), marked the end of Anglo-Saxon England, the creation of new ties with Western Europe, and the imposition of a new and more cohesive ruling class.

Society became bound by ties of feudal loyalty, leading to a greater concentration of power in royal hands, while the development of common law had consequences that still affect our lives today, after nearly 1,000 years. Hastings was fought here, on the edge of the town which it ultimately spawned, and whose name has long served as a reminder of that momentous day of conflict – Battle.

The death and violence of 1066 have left no visible trace in the landscape, nor have any relics of the battle ever been found. Nevertheless, the site has remained remarkably intact and covers around 100 acres (40ha). The topography can be explored on foot, and by following the paths it is at least possible to envisage the broad course of events.

The English, under King Harold, had taken position on the ridge-top, where the later buildings lie. At first they watched the Normans advance towards them from below, holding fast behind a wall of shields. Early in the battle, part of the Norman army panicked and retreated, but Duke William rallied his soldiers and successfully counter-attacked. Several ‘pretended retreats’ followed, in which the English were lured into breaking ranks in pursuit, only to be cut down. After some ten hours of fighting, the Normans launched an assault which finally broke the fatally weakened English shield wall. At this stage King Harold was killed, perhaps struck in the eye by an arrow as depicted in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. By nightfall the Norman victory was complete.

No later than 1070, King William ‘the Conqueror’, as he now was, marked his victory by establishing a great Benedictine abbey at Battle. On the one hand, this important religious foundation would serve as a memorial to the dead, and could be seen as a public act of atonement by the king for the bloodshed caused. Even the abbey’s own chronicler was to later write that the fields had been ‘covered in corpses, and all around the only colour to meet the gaze was blood-red’. But there was another purpose to the foundation, one reflecting the more calculating side of William’s nature: it would stand as a symbol of the Norman triumph. Indeed, the abbey chronicler reports the king’s insistence that the high altar in the abbey church was to stand on the very spot that Harold fell.


William envisaged an initial community of 60 monks at Battle Abbey, rising to an eventual total of 140. Building works began almost immediately, and by 1076 the eastern arm of the church was ready for occupation. However, not until 1094, during the reign of William II (1087-1100), was the completed church consecrated. The ceremony was performed by the archbishop of Canterbury, along with seven other bishops, and in the presence of the king and a host of his nobles and courtiers. Meanwhile, as a result of the Conqueror’s generous endowments, Battle was on the way to becoming one of the richest monastic houses of medieval England. It was to flourish for over 400 years until religious life at the abbey was brought to an end in 1538, during the suppression of the monasteries under King Henry VIII (1509-47).

Today, only the outline of the Norman abbey church survives, together with the more extensive remains of a 13th-century extension to the eastern arm. The monks’ dormitory range, also dating from the 13th century, survives rather better and features several superb rib-vaulted chambers at lower level. On the west side of the cloister stood the abbot’s lodging and nearby was the guest range, of which a series of undercroft rooms may still be seen. Best preserved, and most impressive of all, is the abbey’s great gatehouse, rebuilt from 1338 to replace an earlier structure. It stands as one of the finest monastic gatehouses in Britain. On the first floor there is an exhibition, with an extensive collection of artefacts found during excavations on the abbey site.

Following its suppression, King Henry gave Battle Abbey to his friend Sir Anthony Browne (d. 1548) who demolished many of the monastic buildings, including the church. Browne converted the abbot’s lodging into a substantial private house, at the centre of an estate created from the former battlefield and abbey land.

In 1721, the estate passed to the Webster family, and it remained with that family for the following 250 years. During this time, large portions of estate land were sold off, and many of the medieval buildings fell into further ruin. After the First World War, the house was leased to Battle Abbey School, and the school continues to occupy it today. When the Webster trustees finally put the estate up for sale in 1976, the battlefield and all the remaining monastic structures were bought by the government on behalf of the nation.

Anglo-Saxon England Towns.

King Alfred's Statue, Winchester, Hampshire, England, UK.
King Alfred's Statue, Winchester, Hampshire, England, UK.

The Age of Alfred – Paper.

King Alfred the Great was born in the year 849 at Wantage, Berkshire. His parents were Aethelwulf and Osburh. He became king in the year 871, died on October 26th, 899, and was buried at Winchester. He was married to Ealhswith of Mercia and had five children; Aelfthryth, Aethelflaed, Aethelgifu, Edward, and Aethelweard. He was succeeded by his son Edward.
Alfred defended England against Danish invasion and founded the first English navy. A new legal code came into force during Alfred’s reign. He encouraged the translation of scholarly works from Latin, some he even translated himself, and promoted the development of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ensured that Alfreds’ deeds were recorded in history as legends, therefore more is known about Alfred compared to any other Anglo-Saxon king.
In 870, along with his brother Aethelred, Alfred fought countless battles against the Danes. After a series of battles in which the Danes were defeated,including the battle at Ashdown in 871, Alfred succeeded Ethelred as king in April 871. Alfred was not always successful though. Many times he had to resort to buying off the Danes for a brief respite. In 876, the Danes attacked again; and in 878, Alfred was forced to retire to the stronghold of Athelney which was, at that time, an island in the Somerset levels.
His comeback and great victory at Edington in 878 secured the survival of Wessex; and the treaty of Wedmore with the Danish king Guthrum in 886 established a boundary between the Danelaw, east of Watling Street, and the Saxons to the west. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that following his capture of London in 866, all the English people submitted to him, except the ones that were captured by the Danes. Alfred actually could be considered the first King of England. A new landing in Kent encouraged a revolt of the East Anglian Danes, which was suppressed 884-86. After the final foreign invasion was defeated 892-96, Alfred…

Bamburgh Castle - Northumbria
Bamburgh Castle - Northumbria


Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies *

– Anglo Saxon Index A
comprehensive index of Materials for the study of Anglo-Saxon England
– The Dictionary of Old English at the University of Toronto

– Fontes Anglo-Saxonici A Register of
Written Sources Used by Anglo-Saxon Authors
– British Library
– British Museum
– Old English Newsletter Online

(Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England)

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