Dutch Naval Decline and British Sea-power Identity in the Eighteenth Century

By Gijs Rommelse, published August 2020


During the eighteenth century, various British authors analysed the decline of Dutch naval power. Anticipating the politico-cultural frame of reference of the British political nation, they invoked the memory of the seventeenth-century Anglo-Dutch wars to dramatize the failure of Dutch sea power. They disagreed about the causes of this development, but seemed unanimous in their conviction that the British nation should not suffer a similar fate. Their choice of the Dutch Republic as an apt lesson in naval failure was motivated by the perceived politico-cultural similarities between both nations. The Dutch were seen as a copy of the ‘self’ – Protestant, globalizing, commercially oriented and averse to absolutist oppression – but they had somehow strayed from the right naval path. Thus, their analytical interest in Dutch naval failure originated from an ideological interpretation of British identity and consequently reinforced and enriched this cultural construct.

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Filed under: Dutch Wars | North Sea
Subjects include: Strategy & Diplomacy

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