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Deterrence through Strength

British Naval Power and Foreign Policy under Pax Britannica

Rebecca Berens Matzke

Publication Year: 2011

The notion of a Pax Britannica—a concept implying that Britain’s overwhelming strength enforced global peace in the era that began with Napoleon’s defeat in 1815—largely ended with the British Empire itself. Although most historians still view this period as a departure from the eighteenth century, when lengthy coalition wars were commonplace, critics argue that Britain had only limited means of exercising power in the nineteenth century and that British military or naval strength played an insignificant role in preserving peace.
In Deterrence through Strength, Rebecca Berens Matzke reveals how Britain’s diplomatic and naval authority in the early Victorian period was not circumstantial but rather based on real economic and naval strength as well as on resolute political leadership. The Royal Navy’s main role in the nineteenth century was to be a deterrent force, a role it skillfully played. With its intimidating fleet, enhanced by steam technology, its great reserves and ship-building capacity, and its secure financial, economic, and political supports, British naval power posed a genuine threat. In examining three diplomatic crises—in North America, China, and the Mediterranean—Matzke demonstrates that Britain did indeed influence other nations with its navy’s offensive capabilities but always with the goal of preserving peace, stability, and British diplomatic freedom.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Maps

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pp. vii-viii

In the past several decades historians have expressed doubt about the validity of a Pax Britannica. The point of entry for this research was an impression that such doubts seemed, . . .

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pp. ix-x

The help, thoughts, and advice of many people have gone into the writing of this book. It began as a dissertation for Cornell University and has been completed during my time . . .

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1. British Power in the Early Victorian Period

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pp. 1-9

In 1893 Joseph Chamberlain popularized the term Pax Britannica to describe an era that had begun with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.1 Although Chamberlain . . .

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2. Politics, Policymaking, Principles, and Strategy

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pp. 11-35

It is all well and good to speak of Britain’s foreign policy in the early Victorian period, but what exactly does that mean? Who made British foreign policy between 1838 . . .

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3. The Instruments of Power

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pp. 37-63

From 1838 to 1846 British governments could make foreign policy decisions based on the Royal Navy’s ability to project the nation’s power. Examining the state . . .

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4. Britain Gets Its Way in North America

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pp. 65-103

Anglo-American relations in the late 1830s and early 1840s provide insights into Britain’s use of naval power in diplomacy. Despite formidable geographical . . .

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5. China: Adjusting the Signal

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pp. 105-153

Anglo-Chinese relations between 1838 and 1846 give evidence of the worldwide reach of Britain’s commercial and naval power. In dealing with China, Britain . . .

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6. The Mediterranean and the Problem of France

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pp. 155-216

Historians who doubt the importance of British power in sustaining a Pax Britannica most often point to Europe for evidence. If Britain could not influence European . . .

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7. Restoring Britannica to Pax Britannica

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pp. 217-225

British naval power could and did influence other states in the early Victorian era. With a commanding fleet in commission and reserve, new steam warships, . . .


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pp. 227-288


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pp. 289-300


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pp. 302-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780803236141
E-ISBN-10: 080323614X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235144
Print-ISBN-10: 0803235143

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 3 maps
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military
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OCLC Number: 741509750
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Deterrence through Strength

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- Mediterranean Region.
  • China -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- China.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Deterrence (Strategy).
  • Sea-power -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century
  • Great Britain -- History, Naval -- 19th century.
  • Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- 1837-1901.
  • Mediterranean Region -- Foreign relations -- Great Britain.
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