Think of Henry VIII and the stories of his doomed marriages and beheaded wives, his break with the Catholic church and the portraits of him in bloated old age all come to mind. But apart from historians, few people realize that Henry VIII's brilliant strategy led to the creation of the Royal Navy and British domination of the seas for hundreds of years.
It was Henry VIII who first realized that a strong navy would ensure Britain's security and economic success. His idea was to establish a permanent fleet - what he called his "army at sea." From that commitment came Britain's 16th century explorations, developments in martime technology, diet and navigation, its 17th and 18th century trading centers and colonies in the New World, India and the Pacific, and eventually to the biggest empire in history. At its height, in the 19th century, the British Empire covered one quarter of the earth's surface and involved a quarter of its population.