1688 and all that

Military History Carnival Edition Four has clearly been timed to catch me in transition from the southern to the northern hemisphere, so I'm a couple of days late in posting about it. For me, the most interesting post was Philobiblon's on the suggestion that the so-called Glorious Revolution was successful because the Dutch ships were more technologically advanced than the English ones -- in particular, they were faster and so were able to sweep in and unload their troops before the Royal Navy had time to react. This reminds me of Palmerston's remark in 1845 to the effect that steam power made the same scenario possible at that time. I wonder if 1688 influenced his thinking on this matter?

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2 thoughts on “1688 and all that

  1. Roger Todd

    Lord Palmerston in 1845, on the coming of the steam ship:

    "… the Channel is no longer a barrier. Steam navigation has rendered that which was before impassable by a military force nothing more than a river passable by a steam bridge."

    You speculate that 1688 could have been on Palmerston's mind when he made that remark. Perhaps, but unlikely, as he had a far more recent demonstration of the power of advanced technology - the First Opium War, in which the aptly named Royal Navy paddle steamer Nemesis (and other steamers) had put in an incredible performance. Not only did she roam at will up and down various Chinese rivers, destroying whole fleets of war junks and clobbering forts into submission, but on 25 May 1841, she towed an invasion fleet of seventy sailing ships carrying two thousand troops to Tsingpu, a natural harbour from which the British then attacked Canton.

  2. Post author

    Thanks, I'm sure this (and even more so, the French naval construction programme) were the immediate context for Palmerston's statements, but I guess I'm trying to get to the origins of the bolt from the blue school of thought, the idea that it's possible to evade almost any naval defences (even if only temporarily) and invade Britain. The Chinese lacked steam power when they were attacked, the British obviously wouldn't if the French attacked them, so alarmism as regards the defence of Britain seems unwarranted, unless it's unique technological capabilities that Palmsterton is alluding to (the steamer will always get through, perhaps). Or it could be that he's not actually claiming this, and that all he's saying is that Britain didn't yet have enough steamships. It's hard to tell from the snippets I've seen quoted. I'll have to look into this one day ...

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