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.

Rædwald of East Anglia.

Rædwald of East Anglia
Rædwald of East Anglia

A reassessment of the question of who was the first king of England in
response to the recent restatement by Professor Sarah Foot that it was
Æthelstan of Wessex. We shall consider thus the history of early England in
general and of Rædwald of East Anglia (died c.625) in particular.
Rædwald’s was one of the early English overlords listed by Bede in his
eighth-century Historia Ecclesiastica. Prior to Rædwald’s day, these
overlords seemed to have ruled only south of the Humber. Following his
victory at the Battle of the River Idle near Bawtry in 617 or 617, Rædwald
appears to have extended his overlordship over the North of England as
well. Although Bede does not state this explicitly, this inference emerges
when we unravel Bede’s narrative and reorder the events to which he refers
in a chronological order. As such, Rædwald can be seen to have been the
first king of a united kingdom of the English-speaking peoples.
Also of great interest is Rædwald’s reconciliation of the religious
differences in a transitional age and the part he seems to have played in
the establishment of Roman Christianity in England.
Sutton.hoo.helmet
Sutton.hoo.helmet

Events of the early years of Rædwald’s reign included the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury and his mission from Rome in 597, the conversions of Æthelberht of Kent and Saeberht of Essex and the establishment of new bishoprics in their kingdoms. Bede, when relating the conversion of Rædwald’s son Eorpwald in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, mentioned that Rædwald received the Christian sacraments in Kent. This happened in perhaps 604 or later,[5] presumably at the invitation of Æthelberht, who may have been his baptismal sponsor.[18] The date of his conversion is not known, but it will have occurred after the arrival in Kent of the Gregorian mission in 597:since it is claimed that Saint Augustine (who died in about 605) dedicated a church near Ely, it may have followed Saebert’s conversion fairly swiftly. Rædwald’s marriage to a member of the royal dynasty of Essex helped form a diplomatic alliance between the neighbouring kingdoms of East Anglia and Essex and his conversion in Kent would have affiliated him with Æthelberht, so bringing him directly into the sphere of Kent.
In East Anglia, Rædwald’s conversion was not universally accepted by his household or his own queen. According to the historian Steven Plunkett, she and her pagan teachers persuaded him to default in part from his commitment to the Christian faith.As a result, he kept in the temple two altars, one being pagan and the second one dedicated to Christ. Bede, writing decades later, described how Ealdwulf of East Anglia, a grandson of Rædwald’s brother Eni, recalled seeing the temple when he was a boy. The temple was located at Rendlesham, the regio of the Wuffing dynasty, according to Plunkett. Barbara Yorke explains the dual nature of the temple by suggesting that Rædwald would not have been prepared to reject his old religion and fully embrace Christianity, because this act would have been a public acknowledgment of his inferiority to Æthelberht. Rædwald’s lack of commitment towards Christianity earned him the enmity of Bede as a renouncer of his faith.

The Battle of the River Idle


In 616 or 617, Rædwald assembled an army and marched north, accompanied by his son Rægenhere, and confronted Æthelfrith. He met him on the western boundary of the kingdom of Lindsey, on the east bank of the River Idle. The battle was fierce and was long commemorated in the saying, ‘The river Idle was foul with the blood of Englishmen’. During the fighting, Æthelfrith and Rægenhere were both slain. Edwin then succeeded Æthelfrith as the king of Northumbria and Æthelfrith’s sons were subsequently forced into exile.
A separate account of the battle, given by Henry of Huntingdon, stated that Rædwald’s army was split into three formations, led by Rædwald, Rægenhere and Edwin. With more experienced fighters, Æthelfrith attacked in loose formation. At the sight of Rægenhere, perhaps thinking he was Edwin, Æthelfrith’s men cut their way through to him and slew him. After the death of his son, Rædwald furiously breached his lines and killed Æthelfrith amid a great slaughter of the Northumbrians.
D.P. Kirby has argued that the battle was more than a clash between two kings over the treatment of an exiled nobleman, but was “part of a protracted struggle to determine the military and political leadership of the Anglian peoples” at that time.


This is about the Anglo-Saxon ship burial under Mound One at Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk England. It was discovered in the summer of 1939 and is one of the richest finds in English archaeology.
The excavation was begun by Basil Brown, a local, self-taught archaeologist, hired by Mrs Edith Pretty, the owner of Sutton Hoo, and was completed by a team of professional archaeologists.
It is believed the grave might have been that of King Raedwald of the East Angles (reigned c. 599-624), who, according to the Venerable Bede, converted to Christianity, but also continued to worship the Anglo-Saxons’ traditional pagan deities.
The Anglo-Saxons came to Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries from homelands in north-west Europe. This was after the collapse of Roman rule in Britain, and before the Viking invasions of c. 800-1035.

In 616 or 617, Rædwald assembled an army and marched north, accompanied by his son Rægenhere, and confronted Æthelfrith. He met him on the western boundary of the kingdom of Lindsey, on the east bank of the River Idle. The battle was fierce and was long commemorated in the saying, ‘The river Idle was foul with the blood of Englishmen’. During the fighting, Æthelfrith and Rægenhere were both slain. Edwin then succeeded Æthelfrith as the king of Northumbria and Æthelfrith’s sons were subsequently forced into exile.
A separate account of the battle, given by Henry of Huntingdon, stated that Rædwald’s army was split into three formations, led by Rædwald, Rægenhere and Edwin. With more experienced fighters, Æthelfrith attacked in loose formation. At the sight of Rægenhere, perhaps thinking he was Edwin, Æthelfrith’s men cut their way through to him and slew him. After the death of his son, Rædwald furiously breached his lines and killed Æthelfrith amid a great slaughter of the Northumbrians.
D.P. Kirby has argued that the battle was more than a clash between two kings over the treatment of an exiled nobleman, but was “part of a protracted struggle to determine the military and political leadership of the Anglian peoples” at that time.

Kingdom of the East Angles Ēast Engla rīce
Kingdom of the East Angles Ēast Engla rīce