Recovering Naval Power

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Recovering Naval Power: Henry Maydman and the Revival of the Royal Navy. Edited By John Hattendorf and Geoffrey Till. Routledge, 2024.

Reviewed by Peter Jones

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Recovering Naval Power is a nautical and publishing curio. In 1691 the former purser Henry Maydman wrote the 372 page book Naval Speculations and Maritime Politicks: Being a Modest and Brief Discourse of the Royal Navy of England. That is the short title. The book discussed the difficulties the Royal Navy faced at the time, the reasons for its decline and what could be done about it. Maydman’s analysis had some timeless qualities about them, but despite that it was never, until now republished and only available in microfilm and digital copies in scholarly databases.

It is therefore to the considerable credit of those two distinguished naval historians Professors John Hattendorf and Geoffrey Till have teamed up to not only to have Henry Maydman’s Naval Speculations finally republished but to add a most necessary commentary on it. While both men were aware of the Naval Speculations, it was the perusal of a rare copy of it in the 12th century Salisbury Cathedral Library in 2020 that spawned the idea for this book.

Recovering Naval Power is divided into three parts. Part I is a detailed introduction to Naval Speculations and its context within history and the state of the Navy. Part II is Maydman’s Naval Speculations whilst Part III is modern reflections on the work. The latter, not unsurprisingly noting the nationalities of the Hattendorf and Till have a particular focus on the US Navy and the Royal Navy. Geoffrey Till has also used Maydman’s observations in his Commodore Sam Bateman Prize winning book How to Grow a Navy: The Development of Maritime Power. An Australian reader will find Part III of particular interest in the context of AUKUS, but can readily see that some of the observations could easily apply to the Royal Australian Navy whose future fleet is still in a state of flux and personnel issues loom large.

As readers will appreciate the language of Maydman can be convoluted and picturesque. I offer part of his analysis on recruitment as an example,

“As for the government thereof, so also for the breeding and maintaining of mariners and maritime people, such a policy as shall produce a sufficient number of the product of the people of the nation by a kind of willing constraint to addict themselves to maritime lives, I say, sufficient for the increase of our power at sea and to supply the places at all times of those that the wars and accidents thereof, shall from time to time consume.”

Naval Speculations is an enjoyable read for all of that, but the reader will be grateful for John Hattendorf and Geoffrey Till’s skilful scholarship in drawing out its nuggets. This is work by first class historians at the top of their game.

Recovering Naval Power is dedicated by John Hattendorf and Geoffrey Till’s to their long time ‘academic shipmate’ James Goldrick. As they say “Scholar, Admiral and Gentleman’. Before he passed away James had thoroughly enjoyed reading an advanced copy of How to Grow a Navy, I am sure he would have delighted in reading Recovering Naval Power.

As with many Routledge publications Recovering Naval Power’s pricing is not for the faint-hearted. The hardcover is about $276 whilst the Kindle version is around $80. I suggest accessing an e-copy through a library. You will find it a rewarding read.

We owe John Hattendorf and Geoffrey Till a considerable debt for this book. Maydman was an astute observer of naval affairs and highlighted the many factors that contribute to a navy being effective. He is to be celebrated.

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