Fears over national security

The British Empire

Rule Britannia / Britannia, rule the waves / Britons never, never, never will be slavesSong based on original poem by James Thomson, 16th century
Britannia, an iconic symbol of the British Empire
Britannia, an iconic symbol of the British Empire

The building of a British Empire was at the heart of Government policy throughout this period. British kings, their ministers and the wealthy men of Britain were convinced the Atlantic slave trade and slave plantations strengthened the navy, the survival of colonies and the development of trade.

These beliefs were shared by other European powers competing for Empire, such as France and Spain. War frequently broke out, especially between Britain and France. Those that ruled the waves controlled links with colonies, the passage of troops and the movement of ships carrying overseas trade.

The hugely popular song 'Rule Britannia' was written in 1740. The lyric Britannia rules the waves was an expression of hope and in 1805 Britain's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar made it a reality.

Maritime success

Sailing ocean-going ships was a highly skilled task for all involved. The Atlantic trade brought a huge expansion in the number of British ships and skilled crewmen.

In times of war, ships and seamen were often pressed into service in the Royal Navy. This is why the Atlantic slave trade was known as the nursery of seamen. It was seen as a way to train potential recruits.

The economy

Britain passed Navigation Acts to ensure trade with the colonies was carried on British ships. The colonies bought their goods from Britain and sold their products to Britain. Taxes levied on imports and exports were used to pay for the armed forces.