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  • Leadership Networks and the Effectiveness of the British Royal Navy in the Mid-Eighteenth Century

    Richard Harding

    Chapter from the book: Guimerá A. & Harding R. 2017. Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World: The Age of Reform and Revolution, 1700–1850.


    This chapter considers an aspect of the evolution of the professional competence of naval office: leadership exercised by flag officers in the British Royal Navy before 1789. The ideal of leadership subsequently invoked in popular naval histories owed much to the campaigns against France (1793 –1815) personified by the heroic figure of Horatio Nelson but this has detracted from consideration of how naval command functioned before the French Revolution. Network analysis and decision theory may inform such an inquiry. Influence on naval leadership can be characterised as the outcome of political and social networks, administrative networks and popular opinion within the context of general resources to be converted into naval assets. Nelson’s example in 1805 can provide a benchmark but earlier admirals were not trying to meet the expectations of later generations of historians influenced by his example. Looking at the years 1740-6 it can be seen solid connections representing confidence and communications between such networks did not exist, with the Earl of Winchelsea failing to command support and respect. Networks were fragmented until George Anson’s rise to prominence just as political fragmentation was resolved in 1746 with his leadership relatively uncontested and public opinion generally amenable. Predecessors to Anson like Edward Vernon also had many of his merits but not the opportunities to function with success due to more disjointed networks.

    How to cite this chapter
    Harding, R. 2017. Leadership Networks and the Effectiveness of the British Royal Navy in the Mid-Eighteenth Century. In: Guimerá A. & Harding R (eds.), Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book2.c

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Additional Information

    Published on March 30, 2017