New book: In Nelson’s Wake


In Nelson’s Wake
The Navy and the Napoleonic Wars
By James Davey

Published by Yale University Press
Distributed by Footprint Books
RRP $62.00 in hardback
ISBN 9780300200652
440 pages Illustrations: 42 color illus. + maps

Local publisher Footprint Books distributes for an eclectic group of renowned international publishers. This book, from Yale University Press, is published in association with the Royal Museums Greenwich, which includes the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum, so it is safe to say it springs from highly respected origins.

The author James Davey is Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum. His previous books include The Transformation of British Naval Strategy: Seapower and supply in Northern Europe 1808-1812.

This book concerns the Napoleonic Wars fought between 1803 and 1815 as distinct from the French Revolutionary wars. As Davey writes, this was the first war fought by the ‘United Kingdom’ with the final political union not occurring until just two years earlier in 1801.

This period saw Britain immersed in a conflict of unprecedented scale and intensity. With France dominant on the European mainland, the fate of Britain rested first and foremost on the Royal Navy. Most famous of all was Horatio Nelson, who won a notable victory over the French at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This victory did not, however, end the war at sea. Over the subsequent decade, the Royal Navy played a crucial role in the struggle against Napoleonic France, and helped ensure his final defeat.

There is an interesting review of this book on Navy Net, the unofficial Royal Navy community website.


It is no surprise that James Davey paid tribute to ‘the legions of historians who have devoted time and effort to studying the history of the navy over the past few decades’. He declares he owes ‘considerable gratitude to every scholar who had edited a volume of letters, written a monograph or articles, or compiled an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry’. He has, of course, included an extensive bibliography with the work.

For any reader keen on naval history, I think this book will be particularly relevant and interesting. In it we see the origins of modern naval warfare and today’s Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

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