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Royal Navy Fighting force that defends Britain's coastal waters and its merchant shipping. The first naval fleet in Britain was built by Alfred the Great in 878 to fight off the Viking raids. In the 16th century, Henry VII built the first specialist naval ships and established the first dockyards. The following centuries saw a struggle for naval supremacy between Britain, France, and the Netherlands, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). British victory heralded the supremacy of the Royal Navy that lasted into the 20th century. Since World War II, the role of the Royal Navy has diminished.
Royal Navy. See navy.