The History of the British Merchant Navy

By Richard Woodman

Volume 1: Nepyune’s Trident: Spices & Slaves 1500 – 1807


Those of you who are familiar with Richard Woodman’s books will be aware of his meticulous research and attention to historical detail and this professional ethos to his subject will inevitably ensure that this series of five volumes will become the definitive history of the Merchant Navy. This is not a large format “coffee table” book full of photographs, sketches and plans (there are plenty of excellent examples of this genre elsewhere) but a serious historical work detailing how the “merchants’ navy” established trading posts and routes throughout the world which laid the foundations for, and subsequently underpinned, the British Empire. However, far from being a dull list of dates and events, by drawing on contemporary records, this book provides a fascinating account of  trading voyages, wars, piracy and slavery as gripping as any work of fiction.

How was it that a small dot on the world map came to rule over one sixth of the world’s land mass? Common perception is that Britain’s Royal Navy opened up the world to establish international trade but Richard Woodman dispels that myth, revealing that in fact the opposite was true. The Empire was established by British merchants trading goods carried in merchant vessels and this important but oft neglected fact is summed up by the author in his introduction thus:

Although late  on the maritime scene – following the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch – the British soon came to dominate the oceans of the world not simply by the naval power-projection available to them after the end of the Napoleonic War in I8IS, but by the often aggressive, sometimes amoral – and always opportunist ambitions of her merchants and their ability to facilitate trade by means of shipping. Almost nowhere in conventional mainstream history will you discover an analysis of British merchant shipping as an historical instrument of empowerment and imperial expansion, let alone of social advancement and the betterment of mankind.Yet it was unequivocally a fundamental engine of history, so-much-so that in I92I  the United States’ ambassador to the Court of St James was moved to eulogy

‘I deem it no exaggeration to say that whether in war or peace, the British Mercantile Marine has rendered more service to more men of more nations than any other human agency.

The 17th century poet Edmund Waller (1606 -1687) summed it up succinctly:

Others may use the ocean as their road

only the English make it their abode.

A fascinating read for any mariner and essential reading for any historian or politician!


History of the British Merchant Navy VOL 1; Neptunes Trident

ISBN 978-0-7524-4814-5

The History Press Ltd
The Mill
Brimscombe Port
Stroud Gloucestershire
GL5 2QG 
Telephone  01453 883300


Price £30 (currently £21 0n Amazon).

Volume 2 BRITTANIA’S REALM, has just been published with the remaining three volumes scheduled for publication during the next two years.

One Response to “The History of the British Merchant Navy”

February 16th, 2010 at 08:01

You have hit the mark. In it something is also idea good, I support.


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