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  • Admiral Thomas Mathews (1676 - 1751)
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The Royal Navy (RN)

Founded in 1660

"In times of conflict or peace, the Royal Navy is key to the prosperity of Britain and the stability of the high seas. Explore our role on the global stage."

Image Right - Mary Rose

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's principal naval warfare force. Tracing its origins to the 16th century, it is the oldest service and is known as the Senior Service. From the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century it was the most powerful navy in the world, ["The Royal Navy". Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 3 June 2009.] playing a key part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power. Due to this historical prominence, it is common – even among non-Britons – to refer to it as "The Royal Navy" without qualification.


During the 16th Century Henry VII funded fighting ships by an import levy - establishing the Navy Royal, as it was originally known as. His ships were based at the Tower of London. Henry VIII increased the fleet from five ships in 1509 to thirty in 1514 including the Henri Grâce a Dieu ("Great Harry") of 1500 tons and Mary Rose of 600 tons. Most of the fleet was laid up after 1525 but, because of the break with the Catholic Church, 27 new ships were built with money from the sale of the monasteries as well as forts and blockhouses. In 1544 Boulogne was captured. The French navy raided the Isle of Wight and was then fought off in the Battle of the Solent in 1545, prior to which Mary Rose sank.

There was an Anglo-French war between 1543 and 1549 which saw a battle off the Channel Islands in 1549. In 1580 Spanish and Portuguese troops were sent to Ireland but were defeated by an English army and naval force.

In the 1550s English gentlemen, opposed to the Catholicism of Philip and Mary, took refuge in France and were active in the English Channel as privateers under letters of marque from the French king. Six of their vessels were captured off Plymouth in July 1556.

In the late 16th century the Spanish Empire threatened England with invasion to restore Catholicism in England. Francis Drake attacked Cadiz and A Coruña to delay the attack.

Elizabeth I became involved in a war with Spain and privately owned ships combined with the Royal Navy in raids against Spanish commerce and colonies.

Spanish Armada was a fleet of 130 ships under the command of Duke of Medina Sidonia which, in August 1588, Philip II of Spain sent to escort and army from Flanders to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth I. The Spanish were defeated. A Counter Armada, known as the English Armada, was dispatched to the Iberian coast in 1589, but failed to drive home the advantage England had won upon the dispersal of the Spanish Armada in the previous year. In the 17th century the Navy changed from being a semi-amateur Navy Royal fighting together with private vessels into the professional Royal Navy developing into an officer corps with a defined career structure. The 1707 Acts of Union established the Royal Navy of the united kingdom by merging the three-ship Royal Scots Navy with the Royal Navy of England. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Royal Navy was the largest maritime force in the world. See History of the Royal Navy for more details.

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Royal Navy Ranks

Admiral of the Fleet Adm of the Fleet
Admiral Adm
Vice Admiral VAdm
Rear Admiral RAdm
Commodore Cdre
Captain Capt
Commander CDR
Lieutenant Commander Lt Cdr
Lieutenant Lt
Sub Lieutenant Slt or S/Lt
Midshipman Mid
Officer Cadet OCdt

Warrant Officers and Other Ratings


Warrant Officer, 1st Class WO1
Warrant Officer, 2nd Class WO2
Chief Petty Officer CPO
Petty Officer PO
Leading Hand LH
AbleAble Seaman AB1/AB2

Sources and References
// this project is in History Link