The Modern Era saw great change in naval technology and warfare. The period saw the creation of explosive shells, iron-clad ships, steam-powered vessels, and more. Dramatic advances like these created considerable shifts in global political and economic power.
The political scene in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries can best be described by one word: revolutionary. It was a time not only for the revolution of people, but the revolution of ideas, with the birth of romanticism and nationalism. Indeed, the great shifts of political power of this era made a stable, strong navy a crucial factor of a regime’s longevity.
A Depiction of a British Ship of the Line at the Battle of Trafalgar
(Turner, The Battle of Trafalgar)
Prior to the second half of the 19th century, the premiere style of western warships was little different from the galleons of the Early Modern Era. Perhaps the paragon of 18th and early 19th century shipbuilding was the British ship of the line. A first-rate ship of the line could be equipped with over 100 guns, and a crew of 700-850 (Konstam 6). These British vessels would play a key role in the large naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
The Battle of Trafalgar, during the War of the Third Coalition,
marked an important turning point, not only in naval warfare, but in the political scene of the world. On October 21, 1805, 27 British ships of the line under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson defeated Napoleon’s 41-ship French and Spanish fleet. Their victory played a significant role in the development of the Napoleonic wars and the American War of 1812. Not only did the victory affirm Britain’s role as the world’s foremost seapower, the destruction caused to the French fleet was key in the prevention of an invasion of Britain. This also meant that Britain could continue their blockade of France, who were major trade partners with France. British interception of France-bound American shipments was a large catalyst of the start of the War of 1812 (British Blockade of France: 1805).
The First Ironclad Warship, La Gloire
(The Iron-Coated French Frigate La Gloire)
The most profound changes however, can be seen with the industrial revolution, and the subsequent innovations in maritime engineering. With innovations such as steam-powered vessels, iron and steel-armored ships, and massive improvements in naval weaponry; the latter half of the 19th century saw a massive overhaul in the way ships were designed, and moreover, how naval warfare was waged. The edge given to those who utilized these innovations was...