European Naval Warfare

Louis Sicking

in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350-1750

Published in print July 2015 | ISBN: 9780199597260
Published online December 2014 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

European Naval Warfare

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  • History
  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)
  • European History


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The development of early modern European warfare can be understood by focusing on the successive technological and administrative transformations which shaped the navies of European states. The heavy gun at first instance gave galleys a major advantage over sailing vessels. When sailing ships overcame the challenges to use effectively heavy guns (thanks to gun ports and line-ahead tactics), they became dominant in European naval warfare, although galleys remained in use in both the Mediterranean and the Baltic. While distinctive features of early modern navies—arsenals, admiralties, and standing war fleets—came into being in the Middle Ages, it took a long time before these became fully developed and professionalized. At the same time states with large maritime communities, like Great Britain and the Dutch Republic, had a critical advantage, thanks to the availability of merchant vessels remaining important for warfare until c. 1650 and the presence of experienced sailors.

Keywords: Naval history; technology; galley; sailing ship; tactics; naval administration; armed merchantmen

Article.  10820 words. 

Subjects: History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700) ; European History

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