Article

British Armed Forces, from the Glorious Revolution to Present

Ian F. W. Beckett

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online February 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0073
British Armed Forces, from the Glorious Revolution to Present

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There has always been a sense in which the British experience of armed forces has been regarded as an exception. That exceptionalism has derived from Britain’s island status and its absence of vulnerable land frontiers. The Royal Navy’s “wooden walls” protected the British Isles from invasion in the modern era even after steam power had been thought to have “bridged the Channel” in the 1840s. The advent of air power in the 20th century provided a new challenge. But, even in the summer of 1940, whatever the heroics of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy still represented a formidable obstacle to an actual invasion attempt. Command of the sea likewise enabled the army not only to garrison a far-flung empire but also to be a “projectile” fired by the navy. In reality, Britain could not afford to neglect land participation in major continental wars, and always required continental allies in order to prevail, but there was at all times a tendency to view the army as essentially a small imperial constabulary out of sight and out of mind. Certainly, there was no belief in the need for continental-style conscription and the armed forces were mostly enlisted on a purely voluntary basis other than in the 20th century. The relationship between the armed forces and British state and society has also reflected the steady evolution of a constitutional monarchy and representative democracy. While army and navy both emerged as truly organized national forces under the Tudors, it is not unreasonable to take the constitutional settlement of 1689—particularly as related to the enhanced capacity of the state to raise revenue for army and navy—as a convenient starting point for the study of the British armed forces.

Article.  14369 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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