Published by The History Press in 2013, Britannia’s Dragon is the first comprehensive naval history of Wales.
Relative to its size, Wales has a very long coastline that forms three of the country’s four sides (and much of the fourth comprises the River Severn, once navigable for much of its length). Nowhere in Wales is more than about fifty miles from the sea. From the earliest times, Welshmen have used the sea, and in turn, the sea has shaped the history of the country in many ways; indeed, English seapower was arguably one of the most decisive factors in ending the nation’s independence. The disproportionately substantial contribution of the Welsh to piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries has long been recognised, and the book includes some coverage of that theme, but the role of Welshmen in ‘official’ naval services has been comparatively neglected.
Wales had its own royal dockyard, Pembroke Dock, which built some of the most famous ships of the Victorian navy. Scores of warships have borne Welsh names, from the Dragon of 1512 to its namesake HMS Dragon five centuries later. The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion was founded by a Navy Office clerk. In later years, thousands of Welsh men and women worked in shore facilities that supported the navy, from Kete to Pwllheli and from Cardiff to Holyhead. Welshmen sailed with Drake, Blake and Nelson, with Cook, Franklin and Scott, and in the campaign to suppress the slave trade. They also sailed under foreign flags; H M Stanley, for instance, served in the Union Navy in the American Civil War, and the first ships of the United States Navy – including its most revered ship of all, USS Constitution – were designed by the grandson of a Meirionnydd Quaker. A Welsh naval officer probably stopped Napoleon conquering Egypt, and perhaps India thereafter. The decisions taken by a Welshman were a crucial factor in determining the outcome of the Battle of Jutland. Without Welsh-smelted copper, it is debatable whether Nelson would have won at Trafalgar; without Welsh-mined coal, it is arguable whether the Victorian Navy could ever have imposed the Pax Britannica.
Based extensively on original sources held in archives throughout Wales and elsewhere in Britain, Britannia’s Dragon presents a substantial amount of new and sometimes surprising evidence, challenging some ‘sacred cows’ of both Welsh and British history.