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Title: A history of the administration of the Royal Navy and of merchant shipping in relation to the Navy from MDIX to MDCLX, with an introduction treating of the preceding period

Author: M. Oppenheim

Release date: August 8, 2022 [eBook #68713]

Language: English

Original publication: United Kingdom: John Lane, 1896

Credits: MWS and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)





















List of Illustrations viij
Preface ix
Introduction—The Navy before 1509 1
Henry VIII, 1509-1547 45
Edward VI, 1547-1553 100
Mary and Philip and Mary, 1553-1558 109
Elizabeth, 1558-1603 115
James I, 1603-1625 184
Charles I, 1625-1649, Part I—The Seamen 216
—— Part II—Royal and Merchant Shipping 251
—— Part III—The Administration 279
The Commonwealth, 1649-1660 302
Appendix A—Inventory of the Henry Grace à Dieu 372
—— BThe Mutiny of the Golden Lion 382
—— CSir John Hawkyns 392
—— DA Privateer of 1592 398
Index 401



The Tiger (of Henry VIII). Hand-coloured in facsimile of a portion of the original MS. in the British Museum, (Add. MSS., 22047) Frontispiece
Wyard’s Medal, 1650. From one of the four Remaining Medals (British Museum) Title Page
The Seal of the Navy Office xiij
An Elizabethan Man-of-War. From a contemporary Drawing in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, (Rawlinson MSS., A 192, 20) 130
The Medway Anchorage (temp. Elizabeth). Hand-coloured in facsimile of a portion of the Original MS. in the British Museum, (Cott. MSS., Aug. I, i, 52) 150



Of the following pages the Introduction and the portion dealing with the period 1509-1558 are entirely new. The remainder originally appeared in the English Historical Review, but the Elizabethan section has been rewritten and much enlarged in the light of fresh material found since it was first printed, and many additions and alterations have been made to the other papers. Of the four Appendices three are new.

Sixteen years ago the doyen of our English naval historians, Professor J. K. Laughton, wrote,

‘Every one knows that according to the Act of Parliament, it is on the Navy that “under the good providence of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of the kingdom chiefly depend,” but there are probably few who have realised the full meaning of that grave sentence.’[1]

Since those words were penned, a more widely diffused interest in naval matters has permeated all classes of society, and there is, happily, a vastly increased perception of what the Navy means for England and the Empire.[2] The greater interest[x] taken in naval progress has caused a new attention to be bestowed on the early history of the Navy, and there is little apology required for the plan—however much may be needed for the execution—of a work dealing with the civil organisation under which the executive has toiled and fought. Whole libraries have been written about fleets and expeditions, but there has never yet been any systematic history of the organisation that rendered action on a large scale possible, or of the naval administration generally, and although its record does not appear to the writer to be a matter for national pride, it has its importance as a corollary of—and if only as a foil to—that of the Navy proper. This work as a whole, is therefore intended to be a history of the later Royal Navy, and of naval administration, from the accession of Henry VIII until the close of the Napoleonic wars, in all the details connected with the subject except those relating to actual warfare.

The historical evolution of many of the great administrative offices of the state, as they exist now, can be, in most cases, observed through the centuries and the course and causes of their growth traced with sufficient exactness. Originally a delegation of some one or more of the functions of the monarch, they have developed from small and obscure beginnings in the far off past and increased with the growth of the nation. The naval administration of to-day has no such dignity of antiquity. It will be for the readers of these volumes in their entirety to decide whether it has earned that higher honour which comes of loyal service performed with justice to the subordinates dependent on it,[xi] and with honesty to the British people who have entrusted it with such important duties.

The Board of Admiralty came into power subsequent to the period at which this volume ends. It dates, properly from 1689, or, at the utmost, reaches back to 1673, but its forerunner, the modern administration which is the subject of the present volume, sprang full grown into life in 1546 when the outgrown mediæval system ended. The Admiralty Board is in the place, and administers the duties, of the Lord Admiral, but that officer although the titular head of the Navy never had any very active or continuous part in administration, nor was the post itself a very ancient one. James, Duke of York, afterwards James II, was the first Lord Admiral who really took actual charge of domestic naval affairs and the Admiralty succeeded him, and to his powers, thus overshadowing the Navy Board. Between 1546 and 1618, the Navy was governed by the Principal Officers, controlling the various branches of naval work, who constituted the Navy Board; between 1618 and 1689 we have a transitional period when the Navy Officers, Commissioners of the Admiralty, Parliamentary Committees, Lord Admiral, and the King, were all at different times, and occasionally simultaneously, ruling and directing. The Admiralty now more nearly represents in function and composition the old Navy Board, abolished in ignominy in 1832, than the Board of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries with which, except in the power still retained by the First Lord, it has little in common but name.

Our subject then in this volume, is the Navy[xii] Board as the predominant authority between 1546 and 1660. Although a history of the modern administration should in exactness, therefore, begin in 1546, an academic preciseness of date would be obtained at the expense of historical accuracy since Henry VIII remodelled the Navy, before he touched the administration. The year of his accession has therefore been chosen as the starting point. But it should be borne in mind that there is very much less difference between the great and complex administration of to-day, and the Navy Board or—as it was then sometimes called—the Admiralty, of 24th April 1546, than between the Board of 24th April and what existed the day before. Within the twenty-four hours the old system had been swept away and replaced; its successor has altered in form but not in principle.

The sources of information are sufficiently indicated by the references. The great majority of them being used for the first time, subsequent inquiry may modify or alter some of the conclusions here reached. Unless a date is given in a double form (e.g. 20th February 1558-9) it will be understood to be new or present style, so far as the year is concerned. Few attempts have been made to give the modern equivalents of the various sums of money mentioned during so many periods when values were continually fluctuating. With one exception all the MS. collections known to the writer, likely to be of value, have been fully examined, but there are also many papers not available for research in the possession of private owners. The one exception referred to is the collection of Pepys MSS., at Magdalene College, Cambridge. An[xiii] application to examine these was refused on the ground that a member of the university was working at them. It is to be hoped that this ingenuous adaptation of the principles of Protection to historical investigation will duly stimulate production.

There remains the pleasant duty of thanking those from whom I have received assistance. To Mr S. R. Gardiner, and Professor J. K. Laughton, I am obliged for various suggestions on historical and naval questions; to Professor F. Elgar for information on the difficult subject of tonnage measurement. I have to thank Mr F. J. Simmons for assistance in the task of index compilation and proof-reading.

As this is the first opportunity I have had of publicly acknowledging my indebtedness to Mr E. Salisbury of the Record Office, I am glad to be now able to express my sincere gratitude to that gentleman for constant and cordially given help in many ways during the five years this book has been in preparation.

September 1896.



The Modern Navy.

The creation of the modern Royal Navy has been variously attributed to Henry VII, to Henry VIII, and to Elizabeth. Whichever sovereign may be considered entitled to the honour, the statement, as applied to either monarch, really means that modification of mediæval conditions, and adoption of improvements in construction and administration, which brought the Navy into the form familiar to us until the introduction of steam and iron. And in that sense no one sovereign can be accredited with its formation. The introduction of portholes in, or perhaps before the reign of Henry VII, differentiated the man-of-war, involved radical alterations in build and armament, and made the future line-of-battle ship possible; the establishment of the Navy Board by Henry VIII, made the organisation of fleets feasible and ensured a certain, if slow, progress because henceforward cumulative and, in the long run, independent of the energy and foresight of any one man under whom, as under Henry V, the Navy might largely advance, to sink back at his death into decay. Under Elizabeth the improvements in building and rigging constituted a step longer than had yet been taken towards the modern type, the Navy Board became an effectively working and flourishing institution, and the wars and voyages of her reign founded the school of successful seamanship of which was born the confidence, daring and self-reliance still prescriptive in the royal and merchant services.

The origin of the Navy:—William I.

It is not the purpose of this work to deal with the history, of the Navy previous to the accession of Henry VIII, but no real line of demarcation can be drawn in naval more than in other history, and it will be necessary to briefly sketch the conditions generally existing before 1509, and in somewhat[2] more detail, those relating to the fifteenth century.[3] In the widest sense the first Saxon king who possessed galleys of his own may be said to have been the founder of the Royal Navy; in a narrower but truer sense, the Royal Navy as an appanage of imperial power, and an entity of steady growth, really dates from the Norman conquest. The Saxon navy although respectable by way of number, was essentially a coast defence force, mustered temporarily to answer momentary needs, and lacking continuity of existence and purpose. There is but one instance of a Saxon fleet being employed out of the four seas, that which Canute used in the conquest of Norway, and in it the Scandinavian element was probably larger than the Saxon. With the advent of William I, the channel, instead of remaining a boundary, became a means of communication between the divided dominions of one monarch, and a comparatively permanent and reliable naval force, both for military transport and for command of the passage between the insular and continental possessions of the Crown, became a necessity of royal policy. For nearly two centuries this duty was mainly performed by the men of the Cinque Ports who, in return for certain privileges and exemptions, were bound, at any moment, to place fifty-seven ships at the service of the Crown for fifteen days free of cost, and for as much longer time as the king required them at the customary rate of pay.[4] These claims, practically constituting the Cinque Ports fleet a standing force, were ceaselessly exercised by successive monarchs, and, at first sight, such demands might seem to be destructive of that commercial progress which is the primary basis of the growth or maintenance of shipping. But the methods of warfare in those ages were more profitable than commerce, and the decay of the Ports was not due to poverty caused by the calls made upon their shipping for military purposes. The existence of the Cinque Ports service was indirectly a hindrance to the growth of a crown navy, since it was obviously cheaper for the king to order the Ports to act than to man and equip his own vessels; it was not until ships of larger size and stronger build than those belonging to the Ports were required, that the royal ships came into frequent use.

Results of the Conquest:—Growth of Trade and Shipping.

As well as mobilising the Cinque Ports fleet, the sovereign was able to issue writs to arrest the ships of private owners throughout the kingdom, together with the necessary number of[3] sailors, when rival fleets had to be fought or armies to be transported. The Normans, descendants of the Vikings, must have been better shipbuilders and better seamen than the Saxons, and the large number of nautical words that can be traced back to Norman French bear witness to improvements in rigging and handling due to them. The Crusades must have reacted on the English marine by bringing under the observation of our seamen the construction of ships belonging to the Mediterranean powers, then far in advance of the North in the art of shipbuilding. And during the century which followed the Conquest, the foreign trade, which is the nursery of shipping, was steadily growing. Under the Angevin kings the whole coast line of France, from Flanders to Bayonne, was, with the exception of Brittany, subject to English rule, and the inter-coast traffic that naturally followed was the greatest stimulus to maritime enterprise this country had yet experienced. The result was seen in the Crusade of 1190, when the fleet of Richard I for the Mediterranean was made up of vessels drawn from the ports of the empire, but many of them doubtless belonging to the continental possessions of the crown; and as John certainly possessed ships of his own, it may be inferred that Richard, and his predecessors also had some. When a general arrest was ordered, foreign ships were seized as well as English, and this practice continued as late as the first years of Elizabeth. Richard I issued, in 1190, regulations for the government of his fleet. These regulations doubtless only methodised customs already existing, and as they dealt with offences against life and property bear the mark of their commercial origin. Offences against discipline must have been punished by military law and military penalties, and required no new code.

John:—The Clerk of the Ships.

During the reign of John we meet the first sign of a naval administration in the official action of William of Wrotham, like many of his successors a cleric, and the first known ‘Keeper of the king’s ships.’ This office, possibly in its original form of very much earlier date and only reconstituted or enlarged in function by John, and now represented in descent by the Secretaryship of the Admiralty, is the oldest administrative employment in connection with the Navy. At first called ‘Keeper and Governor’ of the king’s ships, later, ‘Clerk of the king’s ships,’ this official held, sometimes really and sometimes nominally, the control of naval organisation until the formation of the Navy Board in 1546. His duties included all those now performed by a multitude of highly placed Admiralty officials. If a man of energy, experience, and capacity, his name stands foremost in the maintenance of the royal fleets during peace and their preparation for war; if, as frequently happened, a merchant or[4] subordinate official with no especial knowledge, he might become a mere messenger riding from port to port, seeking runaway sailors, or bargaining for small parcels of naval stores. Occasionally, under such circumstances, his authority was further lessened by the appointment of other persons, usually such as held minor personal offices near the king, as keepers of particular ships. This was a method of giving a small pecuniary reward to such a one, together with the perquisites he might be able to procure from the supply of stores and provisions necessary for the vessel and her crew.

In the course of centuries the title changed its form. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the officer is called ‘clerk of marine causes,’ and ‘clerk of the navy;’ in the seventeenth century, ‘clerk of the acts.’ Although Pepys was not the last clerk of the acts, the functions associated with the office, which were the remains of the larger powers once belonging to the ‘Keeper and Governor,’ were carried up by him to the higher post of Secretary of the Admiralty.

Henry III.

With the reign of Henry III we find the royal ships large enough to become attractive to merchants, who hired them from the king for freight, perhaps at lower rates than could be afforded by private owners. There is hardly a reign, down to and including that of Elizabeth, in which men-of-war were not hired by merchants, and the earlier trading voyages to Italy and the Levant during the last quarter of the fifteenth century were nearly all performed by men-of-war let out for the voyage. The Navy was mainly made up of sailing vessels even before the reign of Henry III, and by that period many of them possessed two masts, each carrying a single sail. The conversion of a merchantman into a fighting-ship was accomplished by fitting it with temporary fore and after castles, which became later the permanent forecastle and poop, the addition of a ‘top castle’ or fighting top, and the provision of proper armament. Doubtless the king’s own ships were more strongly built, and better adapted by internal arrangements for their work, than the hired merchantmen. The supreme government of the Navy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was in the hands of the King’s Council, who ordered, equally, the preparation and fitting of ships and the action of the admirals commanding. These officers, known during the greater part of the thirteenth century as keepers or governors of the sea, were usually knights or nobles in command of the soldiers. While holding commission they appear to have had jurisdiction in the matter of discipline on board their fleets, but not of law suits or maritime causes until 1360; before that date such causes were dealt with at common law.[5] There were usually two, one having charge of the East,[5] the other of the South Coast, but occasionally, an officer had a particular section placed under his care, such as the coasts of Norfolk and Suffolk. Their period of service was commonly short and often only for a special employment. The maintenance of a fleet was a part of the King’s Household expenses; in the Wardrobe Accounts for 1299-1300 are the amounts paid for fifty-four vessels and their crews hired for the conveyance of stores for the Scotch war.


Galleys, although frequently mentioned, were at no time a chief portion of our fleets. Large fleets were mainly composed of impressed merchantmen, and galleys are expensive and useless for trading purposes compared with sailing ships; the natural home of the galley was the landlocked Mediterranean, and even there its utility was limited to the summer months, so that it was still less suitable for Northern latitudes. But the great difficulty was in manning them. Forced labour by captives taken in the continual warfare normal amongst the states on the Mediterranean littoral solved that problem for them, but here the cost of the free oarsman, to whom the drudgery was in any case distasteful, was prohibitive. We shall see that, down to the close of the sixteenth century, attempts were at various times made to form such a service, but always unsuccessfully, and the supreme moment of the galley service, so far as it ever existed here, was the reign of Edward I.[6] This king steadily increased the strength of the Navy. In 1294 and 1295 galleys were built by him at York, Southampton, Lynn, Newcastle and Ipswich, of which at least two pulled 120 oars apiece. Perhaps the experiment was conclusive for, neither as regards number or size do such ever occur again. Although Edward III had one or two built, most of those he employed were temporarily hired from the Genoese or from Aquitainean ports, and the total number bore a very small proportion to the sailing vessels in his fleets. The records of the first years of Edward II show that the crown possessed at least eleven vessels, all sailing ships, but the circumstances of the reign were not conducive to the growth of a Royal Navy, although there seem to have been ten ships in 1322.

Edward III:—Relative estimation of Army and Navy.

A far-seeing statesmanship in relation to the political value of sea-power has been attributed to Edward III on the strength of the victories of 1340 and 1350, and of two lines of a poem, written nearly a century later, referring to the gold noble of[6] 1344.[7] This view assigns to Edward a knowledge, in the modern sense, of ‘the influence of sea-power on history’ greater than that possessed by such a statesman as Edward I, and a policy in connection with maritime matters of which the results, at anyrate, were directly the opposite of his intentions. The claim to be lord of the narrow seas was not a new one, and was as much and merely a title of dignity as any other of the sovereign’s verbal honours, not following the actual enforcement of ownership but consequent to the fact of the channel lying between England and Normandy.[8] And it was a title also claimed by France. There is no sign in the policy of the early kings of any perception of the value of a navy as a militant instrument like an army, or any sense of the importance of a real continuity in its maintenance and use. Society was based on a military organisation, but there was no place in that organisation for the Navy except as a subsidiary and dependent force. Fleets were called into being to transport soldiery abroad, to keep open communications, or to meet an enemy already at sea, but the real work of conquest was always held to be the duty of the knights and archers they carried from one country to another. There is no understanding shewn of the ceaseless pressure a navy is capable of exercising, and the disbandment of all, or the greater part, of the fleet was usually the first step which followed the disembarkation of troops or a successful fleet action. In an age when the land transit of goods was hampered by innumerable disadvantages, the position of England, dominating the natural way of communication between the prosperous cities of the north and their customers, was one of splendid command had its far-reaching political possibilities been realised. That they did not comprehend a function only understood many generations later cannot be made a subject of censure, but it has a distinct bearing on the question of Edward’s superiority in this matter to his predecessors and successors. In the same way as theirs the methods of Edward III were directed to conquests by land, and, once the troops were transported or an opposing fleet actually in existence was crushed, the Channel was left as bare of protection to merchantmen, and as destitute of any power capable of enforcing the reputed sovereignty of the narrow seas, as it remained down to the days of the Commonwealth.[7] Beyond the fact that in 1340 and 1350 Edward commanded in person, where his predecessors had been represented by deputies, his action in relation to the Royal Navy differs in no respects from theirs. The gold noble of 1344, into which so much meaning has been read, was struck in combination with the people of Flanders for political and trading purposes, and in connection with Edward’s intrigues to obtain their financial and military support. It is noteworthy that in December 1339, six months before the battle of Sluys, Flanders, Brabant, and Hainault, agreed that a common coinage should be struck, and this, in all probability, marks the first inception of the noble when Edward realised the purposes to which a common coinage for England and the Low Countries might be made to work. In 1343 the Commons petitioned for a gold coin to run equally in England and Flanders and thus strengthened the king’s purpose. But the ship on this coin, the noble, was obviously an afterthought since the florin, the first issue of the same year, called in on account of its unpopularity, bore the royal leopard on the whole and half noble and the royal crest on the quarter one; if therefore the king meant all that is supposed to be implied by the device it occurred to him very suddenly and subsequent to the first, and deliberately thought out, issue.[9] All that the writer of the Libel of English Policie says is that, in 1436, the noble proves to him four things. Further reasons, in relation to other passages of the poem, will be adduced on a later page to show that his work is only one more instance among the many in which individual and unofficial thinkers have been in advance of the statesmanship of their age and whose views, ignored by their contemporaries have become the accepted opinions of a subsequent period.

Edward III:—Commercial policy in relation to shipping.

The commercial policy of Edward III was emphatically not one of protection to English shipping, being a nearer approach to free trade than existed for centuries after his death. During the greater part of his reign the needs in ships for his campaigns were supplied from the accumulations of the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, the second of which was not necessarily disastrous to commerce. But when these were exhausted it was found that a system which had aimed merely at obtaining a highest possible yearly revenue for the purpose of supporting armies had, whether or not in itself, fiscally praiseworthy resulted in the ruin of English shipping. In 1372 and 1373, the Commons complained of the destruction of shipping and the decay of the port towns, and it is collateral evidence of Edward’s real lack of insight into the value of a marine—its slow creation[8] and its easy loss—that some of the causes to which they attributed these circumstances were directly due to a reckless indifference to, or ignorance of, the only conditions which could render a merchant marine, subject to conscription, possible.[10] Vessels, they said, were pressed long before they were really wanted, and until actually taken into the service of the crown, ships were idle and seamen had to be paid and supported at the expense of the owners; the effect of royal ordinances which had driven many shipowners to other occupations, and the decrease in the number of sailors due to these and other causes, formed further articles of remonstrance.[11]

The year which saw the decease of the ‘Lord of the Sea,’ was marked by the sack of Rye, Lewes, Hastings, Yarmouth, Dartmouth, Plymouth, Folkestone, Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight, a sufficient commentary on the title, and an adequate illustration of the system which had left absolutely no navy, royal or mercantile, capable of protecting the coasts.

Payment of hired ships.

In 1378 the Commons again attributed the defenceless state of the kingdom not so much to the late king’s impressment of ships as to the losses and poverty caused by non-payment, or delay in payment for their use, and lack of compensation for waste of fittings and stores. Every meeting of Parliament was signalised by fresh representations, and that of 1380 obtained a promise that owners should receive 3s 4d a ‘ton-tight’ for every three months, commencing from the day of arrival at the port of meeting; in 1385 this allowance was reduced to two shillings, and remained at that rate, notwithstanding frequent petitions for a return to the older amount, for at least half a century.[12] It is not known when the payment of 3s 4d a ton was first introduced, nor on what principle it was calculated, but, in 1416, the Commons said that it ran ‘from beyond the time of memory.’ The following petition, undated, but probably belonging to one of the early years of Henry IV, shows that it was older than the Edwards, and, incidentally, yields some interesting information:

‘To the very noble and very wise lords of this present Parliament very humbly supplicate all owners of ships in this kingdom. That[9] whereas in the time of the noble King Edward and his predecessors, whenever any ship was commanded for service that the owner of such a ship took 3s 4d per ton-tight in the three months by way of reward for repair of the ship and its gear, and the fourth part of any prize made at sea, by which reward the shipping of this kingdom was then well maintained and ruled so that at that time, 150 ships of the Tower were available in the kingdom;[13] and since the decease of the noble King Edward, in the time of Richard, late King of England, the said reward was reduced to two shillings the ton-tight, and this very badly paid, so that the owners of such ships show no desire to keep up and maintain their ships, but have them lying useless; and by this cause the shipping of this kingdom is so diminished and deteriorated that there be not in all the kingdom more than 25 ships of the Tower.’[14]

They then beg a return to the old rates. We may gather from this document that, at some time during the reign of Edward III there were one hundred and fifty large fighting ships available, and there is some reason to believe that, both in number and size, the fourteenth and fifteenth century navy has been too much underrated when compared with that of the sixteenth century. At least one merchantman of the time of Edward III was of three hundred tons, others were of two hundred, and it will be shown that, in the middle of the fifteenth century, the number and tonnage of merchant vessels will compare favourably with any subsequent period up to, and in fact later, than the accession of Elizabeth.

The close of the xiv century:—The French Navy.

While, under Richard II, the guard of the seas was maintained with chequered success by hired ships, the French, under the able rule of Charles V, not only possessed a navy but had founded a dockyard at Rouen completely equipped according to the ideas of the age.[15] Thirteen galleys and two barges are mentioned in this account, with all the tools, fittings, and armament necessary for building, repairing, and equipment, and constituting a complete establishment such as did not exist in England until more than a century later.[10] The accession of Charles VI, and the internal dissensions which culminated in Azincourt, determined an essay not again attempted on the Northern or Western coasts until the ministry of Richelieu.

Richard II and Henry IV.

The first Navigation Act,[16] ‘to increase the Navy of England which is now greatly diminished,’ by making it compulsory for English subjects to export and import goods in English ships, with a majority of the crews subjects of the English crown, can only be regarded as a suggestion of future legislation. In fact, it was practically annulled by a permissive amendment the following year. More disastrous to merchants than the losses due to warfare were the operations of the pirates who swarmed on the Northern Coasts of Europe during these centuries, and who appear to have become unbearably successful during the reign of Henry IV. This king appears to have cared little for his titular sovereignty of the seas, ignored every petition of Parliament for redress of the especial grievances affecting shipowners, and used such fleets as he got together, as his predecessors had used them, simply as a means of transporting troops to make weak and useless attacks at isolated points. Tunnage and poundage had been first levied by an order of Council in 1347, and year by year following, by agreement with the merchants; from 1373 it became a parliamentary grant of two shillings on the tun of wine, and sixpence in the pound on merchandise, for the protection of the narrow seas and the support of the Navy.[17] The tunnage and poundage now given was, if applied at all to naval purposes, not used with the least success. It was then, in May 1406, together with the fourth part of a subsidy on wools, handed over to a committee of merchants, who undertook the duty of clearing the seas for a period of sixteen months. The arrangement between the king and the committee was quite an amicable one, but in October of the same year Henry withdrew from the agreement, and it is doubtful whether the members of the committee ever received any portion of their outlay.

Growth of Trade and Shipping.

If the Norman Conquest gave the first great impulse to English over-sea trade, the events of the close of the fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries may be held to mark the second important era in the development of merchant shipping by the opening up of fresh markets. Hitherto the products of the countries of the Baltic had been mainly obtained through the agency of the merchants of the Hansa, who had their chief factory in London, with branches at York,[11] Lynn, and Boston. In the same way English exports found their way to the north only through Hansa merchants and in Hansa ships. For two centuries they had held a monopoly of the purchase and export of the products of the north, by virtue of treaties with, and payments made to, the northern powers, and an unlicensed, but very effective, warfare waged on all ships which ventured to trade through the Sound. But the war against Waldemar III of Denmark, the depredations of the organised pirate republic known as the Victual brothers, followed by the struggle with Eric XIII of Sweden, were times of disorder lasting through more than half a century, from which the Hansa emerged nominally victorious but with the loss of the prestige and vigour that had made its monopoly possible. While it was fighting to uphold its pretensions the Dutch and English had both seized the opportunity of forcing their way into the Baltic, and when, in 1435, the Hansa extorted from its antagonists a triumphant peace the real utility of the privileges thus obtained had passed away for ever.

Coincidently with these events economic changes were taking place at home which, by favouring the accumulation of capital, had also a direct influence on the demand for shipping. The temporary renewal of possession in the coast line of France was a spur to trade with it in English bottoms. The growth of the towns, the necessity the townsmen experienced for the profitable use of surplus capital, and the slow change, which commenced under Edward III, in the national industry from wool exportation to cloth manufacture, were all elements which found ultimate expression in increased export and import in native shipping.[18] Possibly the most important factor in the change was the commencing manufacture of English cloth, instead of selling the wool to foreign merchants and buying it back from them in the finished state.[19] During the reign of Henry V, English ships were stretching down to Lisbon and the coast of Morocco, and British fishermen were plying their industry off Iceland. Not long afterwards the first English trader entered the Mediterranean, and the numerous entries in the records relating to merchant vessels show the flourishing state of trade. By example, and doubtless by persuasion, Henry himself assisted in the renewal.

Henry V:—The Royal Ships.

Under Henry’s rule the crown navy was increased till in magnitude it exceeded the naval power of any previous reign; the character of the vessels, bought or built, shows that they[12] were provided for seagoing purposes rather than the mere escort or transport of troops which had been the object of preceding kings, and which object would have been equally well served by the hired merchantmen that had contented them. The king himself hired at various times many foreign vessels, but purely for transport purposes.

The following, compiled from the accounts of Catton and Soper, successively keepers of the ships, is a more complete list of Henry’s navy than has yet been printed:—[20]

SHIPS Built Prize Tons
Jesus of the Tower 1000
Holigost of the Tower 1414 760
Trinity Royal of the Tower 1416 540
Grace Dieu of the Tower 1418 400
Thomas of the Tower[21] 1420 180
Grande Marie of the Tower 1416 420
Little Marie of the Tower 140
Katrine of the Tower
Christopher Spayne of the Tower 1417 600
Marie Spayne of the Tower 1417
Holigost Spayne of the Tower 1417 290
Philip of the Tower
Little Trinity of the Tower 120
Great Gabriel of the Tower
Cog John of the Tower
Red Cog of the Tower
Margaret of the Tower
CARRACKS Built Prize Tons
Marie Hampton 1416 500
Marie Sandwich 1416 550
George of the Tower 1416 600
Agase of the Tower 1416
Peter of the Tower 1417
Paul of the Tower 1417
Andrew of the Tower 1417
BARGES Built Prize Tons
Valentine of the Tower 1418 100
Marie Bretton of the Tower
BALINGERS Built Prize Tons
Katrine Breton of the Tower 1416
James of the Tower 1417
Ane of the Tower 1417 120
Swan of the Tower 1417 20
Nicholas of the Tower 1418 120
George of the Tower 120
Gabriel of the Tower
Gabriel de Harfleur of the Tower
Little John of the Tower
Fawcon of the Tower 80
Roos 30
Cracchere of the Tower 56

It will be noticed that there is no galley in this list; one is referred to in the accounts, but had apparently ceased to[13] exist, her fittings being used for other ships. Oars occur among the equipments, but probably in most cases, for the ‘great boat’ which with a ‘cokk’ was attached to each vessel. Few cannon were carried—if the schedules represent the full armament—the Holigost six, the Thomas four, the George and Grace Dieu three each, the Katrine and Andrew two. The inventories of stores at this date show very little difference from the preceding century in the character of tackle and gear, nor is there any great alteration for some two centuries from 1350. English vessels were, on an average, smaller at this time than either Italian, Spanish, or German. The tomb of Simon of Utrecht, a Hansa admiral who died in 1437, has a sculpture of a three-masted vessel; if any of Henry’s were three-masted they were certainly the first of that class in our service. The statement of Stow, however, that the vessels captured in 1417 ‘were of marvellous greatnesse, yea, greater than ever were seen in those parts before that time,’ is, if patriotic, as absurdly incorrect as some other of his naval information. The payments for hired ships show that vessels of 400 and 450 tons, belonging to Dantzic and other ports, were taken up for the transport of troops and, putting aside the tonnage of some of the English ships, there is no reason to suppose that the North German traders were the largest of their kind. The prizes of 1416 were Spanish and Genoese carracks in French pay, captured by the Duke of Bedford in the action of 15th August off the mouth of the Seine;[22] those of 1417 by the Earl of Huntingdon in that of 25th July.

The tonnage of the English built ships shows that there was now a well marked tendency to increase in size, probably due to Henry’s initiative. The usual measurement, in the fifteenth century, of a barge was about sixty or eighty tons, and of a balinger[23] about forty. But a man-of-war balinger might be much larger as in the Nicholas of the Tower, the George, and the Ane. There is very little information as to the conditions under which Henry’s ships were built. The Trinity Royal, Grace Dieu, Holigost and Gabriel were certainly constructed at Southampton, the two last named under the supervision of William Soper, then merely a merchant of the town, who remained many years unpaid the money advanced by him for that purpose; in April 1417 he was given an annuity of twenty marks a year, doubtless by way of reward.[24] The Thomas of the Tower was rebuilt at[14] Deptford in 1420; the Jesus, and the Gabriel Harfleur were rebuilt at Smalhithe, in Kent, but in years unknown. The hulls of several of the ships were sold or given away before the end of the reign.

At one time the king seems to have commenced building abroad. There is a letter of 25th April 1419 from John Alcetre, his agent at Bayonne, describing the slow progress of the work upon a ship there and the sharp practices of the mayor and his associates who appear to have undertaken the contract. Alcetre anticipated that four or five years would elapse before its completion, and it is quite certain that it was never included in the English navy. The most noteworthy points in the details given, are the lengths over all and of the keel—respectively 186 and 112 feet—so that the fore and aft rakes, together, were 74 feet, just about two-thirds of the keel length.

Henry V:—The Grace Dieu.

The only one of Henry’s ships of which the name is still remembered is the Grace Dieu, and she was, if not the largest, probably the best equipped ship yet built in England. She was not constructed under the superintendence of either Catton, the official head of the administration, or of Soper, and with two balingers, the Fawcon and the Valentine, and some other work cost £4917, 15s 3½d.[25] Besides other wood 2591 oaks and 1195 beeches were used among the three vessels and for the various details mentioned, and it is to be remarked that, although the Grace Dieu must have represented the latest improvements, she, like the others, appears to have had only one ‘great mast’ and one ‘mesan,’[26] but two bowsprits. These carried no sails and were probably more of the nature of ‘bumpkins’ than spars. She was supplied with six sails and eleven bonnets, but their position when in use is not described, and some of them were perhaps spare ones. The order to commence her was placed in Robert Berd’s hands in December 1416, when Catton was still keeper and Soper was engaged in naval administration. It would appear to be entirely subversive of discipline and responsibility to distribute the control among three men, each of whom possessed sufficient position and independence to ensure friction, and we can only guess that the motive was pecuniary.

The Administration.

The first keeper of the ships under Henry V was William Catton by Letters Patent of 18th July 1413, who from the third to the eighth year of the reign of Henry IV had been bailiff of Winchelsea, and who subsequently held the bailiffship of Rye conjointly with his naval office. He was succeeded from 3rd February 1420 by the before-mentioned William Soper. Berd’s name only occurs in connection with the Grace Dieu. The river Hamble, on Southampton water, was then, and down to the close of the century, the favourite roadstead[15] for the royal ships lying up, and was defended at its entrance by a tower of wood which cost £40,[27] a storehouse with a workshop[28] was also built at Southampton, and one existed in London near the Tower. If the vessels were not built in royal yards or by royal workmen we may infer the control of a crown officer from the fact of a pension of fourpence a day having been granted, when broken down in health, to John Hoggekyns, ‘master-carpenter of the king’s ships,’ and builder of the Grace Dieu, the first known of the long line of master shipwrights reaching down to the present century.

The fittings of ships do not differ materially from those quoted by Sir N. H. Nicolas under Edward III; we find a ‘bitakyll’[29] covered with lead, and pumps were now in use. Cordage was chiefly from Bridport, but occasionally from Holland, and Oleron canvas was bought abroad. Flags were of St Marie, St Edward, Holy Trinity, St George, the Swan, Antelope, Ostrich Feathers, and the king’s arms. The Trinity Royal had a painted wooden leopard with a crown of copper gilt, perhaps as a figure head. The largest anchor of the Jesus weighed 2224lb. The balingers, besides being fully rigged, carried sometimes forty or fifty oars, twenty-four feet long apiece, for use in calms or to work to windward. But even a vessel like the Trinity Royal had forty oars and a large one called a ‘steering skull,’ to assist the rudder we may suppose. The fore and stern stages were now becoming permanent structures. Two ‘somerhuches’ were built on the Holigost and Trinity Royal. Somerhuche was the summer-castle or poop of the early sixteenth century, and the cost, £4, 11s 3d, equivalent now to some £70, seems too great for a mere timber staging.[30] Sails were sometimes decorated with the king’s arms or badges, but probably only in the chief ships and for holiday use.

Henry VI:—The Sale of the Navy.

After the death of Henry V one of the first orders of the Council was to direct the sale of the bulk of the Royal Navy.[31] Modern writers who hold that the spirit of the ‘Libel of English Policie’ was that representing the ideas of the time must explain this startling contrast between fact and theory. The truth is that the ‘Libel’ described, not existing conditions, but those that the writer desired should exist; the whole poem is a lament over past glories and an exhortation to retrieve[16] the maritime position of the country, but the poet did not look at what lay behind a couple of victories at sea and the capture of Calais.[32] After the real triumphs of Henry V and the memories associated with Edward III, the state of things in the Channel doubtless appeared very evil, although they were hardly worse during the reign of Henry VI than was usual, and not nearly so bad as under James I and Charles I. The poem was really an attempt to obtain continuity in naval policy, a thing of which the meaning is, even now, scarcely understood, and which in 1436, when the man-at-arms was the ideal fighting unit, had as little chance of being accepted and carried out as though it had preached religious toleration.

Changed character of the Keeper’s appointment.

By Letters Patent of 5th March 1423, William Soper, merchant of Southampton, a collector of customs and subsidies at that port, and mayor of the town in 1416 and 1424, was again appointed ‘Keeper and Governor’ of the King’s ships, under the control[33] of Nicholas Banastre, comptroller of the customs there; no such clause existed in the patent of 1420. For himself and a clerk Soper was allowed £40 a year, but Banastre was not given any salary. The appointment is noteworthy for more than one reason. It is the first, and apparently the only, instance in which a keeper of the ships acted under the supervision of another officer little his superior in the official hierarchy, and it, with the previous patent of 1420, marks the commencement of a custom frequent enough afterwards of naming well-to-do merchants to posts in the administrative service of the navy. Besides greater business capacity such a man was useful to the government in that he was expected to advance money, or purchase stores, on his own credit when the crown finance was temporarily strained. There is little doubt that Soper’s appointment was of this character, and that his salary, was really by way of interest on money advanced by him for the construction of the Holigost and Gabriel, and for other purposes, years before. The first named ship was built in 1414, the other perhaps later, but it was not until 1430 that he received the sum which represented the final instalment of their cost.[34] By the will of Henry V the whole of his personal possessions were ordered to be sold and the proceeds handed over to his executors to pay his debts.[17] They received, in 1430, one thousand marks from the sale of the men-of-war, the remainder of the money obtained from this source being retained by Soper in settlement of his claims dating from 1414.

The Navy a personal possession of the King.

The transaction is interesting both as showing that the Council did not consider the men-of-war—if compulsorily put up to auction under the will—of sufficient importance to buy in, and as illustrating the fact that the royal ships were personal possessions of the sovereign in which the nation had no interest of ownership. Tunnage and poundage had been granted for ‘the safe keeping of the sea,’ but the application of the money was at the discretion of the king. He might use it to pay hired merchantmen or he might build ships of his own with it, or with the revenue of the crown estates to fulfil the same purpose; in neither case had Parliament any voice in the employment of the money. While calling upon the Cinque Ports to fulfil the conditions of their charters and impressing merchant ships throughout the country, he might keep his own navy idle; there was no national right to profit by its existence. The tunnage and poundage grant did not interfere with the king’s title to seize every ship in the kingdom, and was only an attempt to secure payment to owners, and the wages and victualling of the crews; it in no way placed upon him the responsibility of providing ships, the supply of which was ensured by the unrestricted exercise of the prerogative, and that prerogative was not used any less frequently because of the existence of the tunnage and poundage. As years passed on and the power of the trading classes increased, and the need for specialised fighting ships grew greater, they made their ethical right to the use of the navy for ordinary purposes felt in practice and implicitly recognised by the crown. Hence the distinction became less and less marked but the note of possessive separation between the ‘King’s Navy Royal’ and the trading navy which was, legally, also the king’s and is so referred to in sixteenth century papers, is to be traced to as late as 1649. Since that date the title ‘Royal Navy,’ although associated with our proudest national memories is, historically, a misnomer as applied to the navy of the state.


In 1425, Parliament raised tunnage and poundage to three shillings on the tun of wine and one shilling in the pound on merchandise, at which rate it continued. Probably very little of it was applied to the specific purpose for which it was given, the struggle for the crown of France absorbing every available item of revenue for the support of armies; in 1450 one of the articles against the Duke of Suffolk was that he had caused money given for the defence of the realm and safety of the sea to be otherwise employed. There still remains a sufficient[18] number of complaints and petitions to show to what little purpose our maritime forces were used. In 1432, the Commons formally declared that Danish ships had plundered those of Hull, to the amount of £5000, and others to £20,000 in one year, and requested that letters of reprisal might be issued.[35] Such attempts to clear the Channel as the government recognised sometimes bore a suspicious resemblance to piracy legalised by success. In 1435, Wm. Morfote of Winchelsea petitioned for a pardon, having been, as he euphemistically put it, ‘in Dover Castle a long time and afterward come oute as wele as he myghte,’ and then, ‘of his gode hertly intente,’ had been at sea with 100 men to attack the king’s enemies. He found it difficult to obtain provisions which seems to have been his only motive in asking for a pardon. The answer to the petition, while granting the pardon for ‘an esy fyne,’ more plainly calls him an escaped prisoner.[36] He was member for Winchelsea in 1428.

Although Parliament was continually complaining of foreign piracy there can be no doubt that English seamen had nothing to learn, in that occupation, from their rivals. ‘Your shipping you employ to make war upon the poor merchants and to plunder and rob them of their merchandise, and you make yourselves plunderers and pirates,’ said a contemporary writer.[37] By a statute[38] of Henry V, the breaking of truce and safe conduct was made high treason, and a conservator of safe conducts, who was to be a person of position enjoying not less than £40 in land by the year, was to be appointed in every port. Under Henry VI, safe conducts were freely granted to neutrals to load goods in enemies’ ships, and protests were made by the Commons about their number and that they were not enrolled of record in the court of chancery and so led to loss and litigation.

Henry VI:—Merchant Shipping.

Notwithstanding the normal drawbacks of piracy and warfare, the over-sea trade of the kingdom seems to have been steadily expanding. A branch of traffic which employed many vessels, and must have been a valuable school of preparation for the longer voyages of the next generation, was what may be called, the pilgrim transport trade. The shrine of St James of Compostella was then the favourite objective of English external pilgrimage and there are innumerable licenses to shipowners to carry passengers out and home. In 1427-8 twenty-two licenses were granted, and in 1433-4 the number reached 65;[39] in 1445, 2100 persons were carried there and back.[40] Some of the licenses were granted to Soper, who was engaged in the business as well as in ordinary trade to[19] Spain, and it is to be remarked that they were sometimes issued during the winter months—January, February, March,—showing that English seamanship was outgrowing the tradition of summer voyages. In 1449 we have the first sign of the bounty system on merchant ships of large size which, in the next century, systematised into five shillings a ton for those of 100 tons and upwards. John Taverner of Hull, had built the Grace Dieu, and in that year, was allowed certain privileges in connexion with lading the vessel in reward for his enterprise.[41] The document seems to imply that she was a new ship, but in 1444-5, she was exempted from the harbour dues at Calais because drawing too much water to enter the harbour,[42] and is probably referred to in 1442.[43]

There are two most valuable papers still existing which enable us to form some idea of the number and size of the merchantmen available for the service of the crown. The first of June 1439[44] is a list of payments for ships taken up for the transport of troops to Aquitaine, and is unfortunately mutilated in some places. Its contents may be thus classified:—

London 2 1 1 1
Hull 2 1 1
Saltash 1
Plymouth 1
Exeter 1
Fowey 1 1 1
Bideford 1
Bristol 2
Penzance 1
Barnstaple 1 1
Southampton 1
Winchelsea 1
Ipswich 1 1
Ash 2
Lynn 1 1
Boston 1
Teignmouth[45] 1
Unknown[46] 1 2 2

Twenty-two other vessels are of eighty tons, twenty of sixty, and six are under forty tons; in two cases the tonnage is not given, nine more are foreign including two from Bayonne, then an English possession, and ten entries are nearly altogether destroyed.

The next list, of 1451,[47] is also one of vessels impressed for an expedition to Aquitaine:—


London 1 3 1
Bristol 1
Southampton 2 1 1 1
Dartmouth[48] 2 2 1 1 2 1 1
Plymouth 2 2 1
Lynn 1 1 1
Fowey 1 1 1 1 1
Looe 1 1
Weymouth 1 1
Penzance 1
Falmouth 1
Portsmouth 1
Winchelsea 1
Ash 1
Hoke 1
Calais 1 2

One vessel of one hundred and forty, one of two hundred, and one of two hundred and twenty tons belong to places unnamed, and there are twenty-three ships of from fifty to ninety tons.

There are, then, at least thirty-six ships in the 1439, and fifty in the 1451, list of one hundred tons and upwards. It must be remembered that they are not schedules of the total available reserves drawn up during a naval war, with an enemy’s fleet at sea, or under the pressure of a threatened invasion, but merely represent the number of vessels required to transport a certain military force, and form only a proportion—whether large or small we know not—of the maritime strength of the country. Certainly the numbers for Bristol did not represent the total resources of that city, and Newcastle and Yarmouth, to name only two flourishing ports, do not occur in either list. Assuming the method of tonnage measurement to have been the same during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries we have here registers which will compare favourably, both in number and size of vessels, with those of the earlier twenty years of the reign of Elizabeth,[49] and imply a naval force superior in extent to anything existing during the greater part of the sixteenth century. There is contemporary evidence from a French author, one therefore not likely to be more than just to England, as to the flourishing condition of the merchant marine during the reign of Henry VI.[50] The author makes the English herald claim that his countrymen ‘are more richly[21] and amply provided at sea, with fine and powerful ships than any other nation of Christendom, so that they are kings of the sea, since none can resist them; and they who are strongest on the sea may call themselves kings.’ The answer of the French herald, too long to quote, after admitting that ‘you have a great number of fine ships,’ is only devoted to showing that France possesses all the natural advantages which go to the formation of maritime power, and that the French king, ‘when he pleases,’ would become supreme at sea. Obviously down to the time of the loss of the English conquests in France, and the outbreak of the wars of the Roses, the wave of prosperity which commenced with the century had not altogether spent its force.

Great or small, the progress was, at anyrate, not a bounty-fed one, since shipowners were experiencing the usual difficulties in obtaining payment merely for the use of their vessels. The bill for ships provided in 1450, came to £13,000, nearly one fourth of the yearly revenue of the crown, but the Treasury, exhausted by the ceaseless demands made upon it by the garrisons in France could not pay.[51] The king, therefore, appealed to his creditors and has left it on record that as £13,000 was a sum

‘Wyche myght not esely be perveyed at that tyme wherefore we comauded oure trusty and welbelovid Richard Greyle of London and others to labour and entrete the seyd maistres, possessores, and maryners for agrement of a lasse sume, the wych maistres, possessores, and maryners by laboar and trete made with hem accordyng to our seid comaundement agreed hem to take and reseve the sume of £6,200 in and for ful contentacyon of their seid dutees; and bycause the seid £6,200 myght not at that tyme esely be ffurnysshed in redy mony we graunted to ye seid maistres and possessores by oure several letters patentes conteynyng diveise sumys of money amountyng to the sume of £2,884 that they, their deputees or attornies shold have to reseyve in theire owne handes almaner of custumes and subsidies of wolle, wollefell and other merchaundises comyng into dyverse portes.’[52]

This was perhaps all they obtained of the £13,000, and such incidents, of which this was doubtless only one, explain the discontent of the trading classes with the house of Lancaster. Shipowners and merchants might be trusted, in the long run, to take care of their own interests, but the seamen were more helpless, and it may be supposed that if employers had to accept less than a fourth of their dues the men did not fare better if as well. Their protests were sometimes neither tardy[22] nor voiceless. The murder of Bishop Adam de Moleyns at Portsmouth on July 9, 1450, is directly attributed to an attempt to force sailors to accept a smaller amount than they had earned, and the bias towards the house of York, shown by the maritime population generally, may be ascribed to this cause.

Henry VI:—The Royal Ships hired out.

Henry V had not considered it beneath the dignity of the crown to hire out his ships to merchants for voyages to Bordeaux and elsewhere when they were not required for service; the Council of Regency, therefore did not hesitate to follow the same course. In 1423 the Holigost was lent to some Lombard merchants for a journey to Zealand and back for £20; and the Valentine from Southampton to Calais for £10.[53] As the Holigost was of 760 tons a rate of £300, in modern values, or about eight shillings a ton for a voyage probably occupying nearly two months, cannot be considered excessive, and does not imply any great fear of sea risks, whether from man or the elements.

And sold.

In the meantime, in virtue of the Council order of March 3, 1423, the destruction of a navy progressed merrily. During 1423 the following vessels were sold to merchants of London, Dartmouth, Bristol, Southampton, and Plymouth, and, from the prices, many of them must have been in good condition[54]:—

George (Carrack), £133 6 8
George (Balinger), 20 0 0
Christopher, 166 13 4
Katrine Breton (Balinger), 20 0 0
Thomas, 133 6 8
Grande Marie, 200 0 0
Holigost (Spayne), 200 0 0
Nicholas, 76 13 4
Swan, 18 0 0
Cracchere, 26 13 4
Fawcon, 50 0 0

Anchors and other stores were sold and, in 1424, the storehouse and forge at Southampton went for £66, 13s 4d; if there were to be no ships there was certainly no reason to keep up any establishment for their repairs. In the same year eight other vessels, mostly described as worn out, followed their sisters. They were sold for very low prices and the description of their state may be exact, although two at least were nearly new, and what we know of administrative methods in later times does not warrant an implicit faith, especially under a Council of Regency. When a 550 ton ship, like the Marie Sandwich, brought only £13, it must be assumed that she was almost worthless even for breaking up, or that the proceedings were not devoid of collusion.

Henry VI:—Subsequent Naval Administration.

We have no record of the expenditure for the first years of Henry’s reign but, from 31st August 1427 to 31st August 1433, the sum of £809, 10s 2d was spent by Soper for naval purposes, being an average of £134, 18s 4d a year.[55] The[23] Trinity Royal, Holigost, Grace Dieu, and Jesus were still in existence, but dismantled and unrigged at Bursledon. Apparently there were no officers attached to them, or at Southampton, of sufficient experience to assume responsibility, since Peter Johnson, master mariner of Sandwich, was paid for coming to superintend the removal of the masts of the Grace Dieu. The Trinity Royal was so far unseaworthy and useless as to be imbedded in the mud of the river Hamble, and fifteen Genoese and other foreign master mariners were employed about dismasting her. There seems at this time to have been some purpose of rebuilding the Jesus, because she was taken to a dock lately prepared at Southampton, and, of the whole amount before mentioned, £165, 6s 10d was laid out in unrigging her, towing to Southampton, expenses of dock, etc. As the sails and stores of the vessels sold in 1423-4 were still under Soper’s care, a new storehouse, 160 feet long and 14 feet broad, was built at Southampton. That at London had not been closed in 1423, possibly because it may have been within the precincts of the Tower, and much of the equipment of the four great ships still remaining was kept in it.

During the four years ending with the 31st August 1437, £96, 0s 2½d was received from the Exchequer and £72, 1s 6d from the sale of cordage, etc., belonging to the ships;[56] the expenditure was £143, 6s 5¾d. For the two years ending 31st August 1439, the outlay on the Royal Navy was £8, 9s 7d. The ‘Libel of English Policie,’ which is now held to have represented the views of the governing statesmen was therefore given to the world when the estimates for the crown navy averaged £4, 4s 6½d a year.

Economy had been further exercised by the discharge of the shipkeepers as superfluous, and possibly one of the results of this careful thrift was the destruction of the Grace Dieu by fire, while lying on the mud at Bursledon, during the night of the 7th January 1439.[57] Some loose fittings were saved and 15,400lbs. of iron recovered from the burnt wreck. Soper’s next account, from 31st August 1439, ends on 7th April 1442, during which time he received £3, 10s from the Exchequer and £3, 0s 11¾d for 1222lbs. of lead from the ships. The disbursements were £4, 16s 4d, chiefly incurred in breaking up the cabins[58] on the Trinity Royal and Holigost and taking away the timber; the Jesus appears to have been too far perished to experience even this fate.[59]

From 7th April 1442, Soper was succeeded by Richard[24] Clyvedon, a yeoman of the crown[60] by Letters Patent, dated 26th March 1442, but at the smaller fee of one shilling a day which had been received by Soper’s predecessors. In all probability Soper’s salary was very irregularly, if at all paid, and an official outlay which averaged some £1, 10s a year, offered few opportunities in the way of perquisites to a prosperous merchant. For five years and ninety days, from 7th April 1442 until 6th July 1447, the receipts were £61, 2s 7d, all from the sale of stores originally belonging to the vessels sold in 1423-4; no expenses of any sort had to be met since the bare hulks of the Jesus, Trinity, and Holigost, still existing were left to take care of themselves.[61] The next and last accounts continue for the following four years and nine months to the 7th April 1452, when they cease. The amount received was £73, 11s 4½d, again altogether from the sale of stores; the expenditure was £16, 12s 10d, mostly referable to the cost of a chain fixed across the Hamble.[62] As only the rotting hulls of the Trinity and Holigost now remained, it is difficult to estimate its value so far as they were concerned, but for the first time for nearly forty years, there were now fears of French reprisals.

Henry VI:—The Substitutes of the Navy.

It must not, however, be supposed that because the Royal Navy was not kept up, no measures were taken to protect maritime interests. The predecessors of Henry V had employed a combination of royal and impressed ships; Henry V apparently intended to increase the crown navy until it was powerful enough to enable him to rely on it for every purpose but that of transport. Rightly or wrongly the Protector and Council adopted a different system and one which was continued through all the political changes of the reign. Instead of keeping up a royal force, or of pressing ships and placing them under the crown officers, indentures were entered into now and again with certain persons supposed to be competent to provide under their own command an agreed number of ships and men to keep the sea for a specified time. In favour of this plan it was perhaps argued that it was cheaper than any other, and that it should prove sufficiently effective as the coast of France was either in English occupation or belonged to a neutral or ally in the Duke of Brittany, and that an expensive Royal Navy was unnecessary when a French navy was impossible and only the ordinary rovers of the sea had to be met and destroyed. Against it might be urged that, besides the delay inevitable to the process of collecting merchantmen at a given rendezvous, it was the object of the persons undertaking the work to make a profit on the[25] bargain and that they would probably minimise effort, time, and expense, as much as practicable. So far as the scanty evidence enables us to judge it is possible that, until the loss of the French coastline, the plan, had it been carried on under the authoritative supervision of an able and honest crown official, might have worked successfully. Doubtless the economy promised was the final argument because, once the Royal Navy had been suffered to perish, there was never throughout the reign any financial possibility of restoring it. By 1433 the royal expenses were nearly double the revenue; and the Lord Treasurer, Cromwell, told the King, ‘nowe daily many warrantis come to me of paiementes ... of moche more than all youre revenus wold come to thowe they wer not assigned afore; whereas hit aperith by your bokes of record which have been showed that they have been assigned nygh for this eleven yeere next folowyng.’[63]

As many of the debts of Henry V for hire of ships and men’s wages were still unpaid, the conditions were evidently not favourable to the direct action of the crown either in replacing its own navy or taking ships into pay. An intermediary of recognised position to whom a payment was usually at once made on account, doubtless inspired more confidence in owners and men. Although not the first in point of time, the commission of Sir John Speke by an agreement of 2nd May 1440, is noticeable in that the service was apparently the first in which the men were paid and victualled at a weekly rate, one and sixpence a week wages and the same for victuals.[64] For at least two centuries the rate had been threepence a day, with usually an additional sixpence a week ‘reward,’ and this reduction of pay seems to imply that there were plenty of men to be obtained. In 1442 the Commons themselves arranged the period—2nd February to 11th November—during which a fleet was to be at sea, and even designated the ships which were to serve, together with the allowances to officers and men.[65] There were to be eight ships, all merchantmen, manned by 1200 men, and each of the eight was to be attended by a barge and balinger having respectively 80 and 40 men apiece. There were also four pinnaces. One of the ships is the Nicholas of the Tower of Bristol. ‘Of the Tower’ was the man-of-war mark, and this is the only one found in the lists of merchantmen of the century. The Nicholas of the Tower of Henry V was sold to some purchasers belonging to Dartmouth, but may have passed into Bristol ownership. It was the crew of this vessel, usually described as a man-of-war, who seized and[26] executed the Duke of Suffolk on his passage to Flanders when exiled in 1450.

The seamen’s pay, two shillings a month, if not an error of entry, can only be explained by the expectation of a liberal division of prize-money, one half of which was to be shared among masters, quartermasters, soldiers and sailors. The other half was divided into thirds, of which two went to the owners and one to the captains and under-captains. The victualling was now one and twopence a week. The captains and under-captains were military officers; there was no ship-captain in the modern sense although the master, whose pay was sixpence a day, was his nearest equivalent. The conditions were beginning to slowly change during this century, but hitherto the fighting had been done on board ship by the soldiers embarked for the purpose. The duty of the sailors, whether officers or men, was only to handle the vessel at sea or in action. The fleet does not appear to have put to sea till August, although the undertakers, Sir William Ewe, Miles Stapylton, and John Heron, were receiving money for its preparation in June.[66] In 1445 the charges for the passage of Margaret of Anjou when she came to share the crown do not show the same tendency to lower wages; masters were still paid sixpence a day, but the men received one and ninepence a week and their sixpence ‘reward,’ and pages (boys) one and three halfpence a week.[67] During the winter of 1444-5 a Cinque Ports squadron was in commission from September to the following April, and this must be almost the last instance of the performance of the ancient service of the ports in a complete manner. Twenty-six vessels were provided—four from Hastings, seven from Winchelsea, four from Rye, Lydd, and Romney, two from Hythe, three from Dover, five from Sandwich, and one from Faversham, numbers which perhaps indicate the relative importance of the towns at this time. The whole cost of the fleet was only £672, 9s 1½d, while Margaret’s journey was considered worth £1810, 9s 7½d.[68] The tonnage of the Cinque Ports vessels is not given, but that they were of no great size may be inferred from the small number of men in each.

In 1449 Alexander Eden and Gervays Clifton, afterwards Treasurer of Calais, were entrusted with the care of the Channel and, although their deeds have left no mark in history, they were considered so satisfactory at the time that, in the following year, Clifton was granted a special reward of four hundred marks for his good service. In 1450 Clifton and Eden were again performing the same duty and, in 1452, Clifton and Sir Edward Hull. Certainly there was now every[27] reason for redoubled vigilance. Between 1449 and 1451 the English Conquests in France had gone like a dream; only Calais was left, and that was considered to be imminently threatened. Notwithstanding loans, mortgages of revenues, and money obtained by pawning the crown jewels, the government owed £372,000, while the receipts from the crown estates were not more than £5000 a year, and the yearly charge of the household alone was £23,000. If we add to these facts a saintly king, and an inefficient government, the first mutterings of the storm of civil war, and a foe, exhausted it is true, but eager for vengeance, we are able to partly picture the extent of the losses in honour and prosperity which made one of the first acts of the Duke of York, when created Protector on 27th March 1454, the appointment of a fresh commission to guard the seas. On the following 3rd April, the tunnage and poundage for three years was assigned to the Earls of Salisbury, Shrewsbury, Wiltshire, Worcester, and Oxford, the Lords Stourton and Fitzwalter, and Sir Robert Vere, for that purpose.[69] That immediate action might be taken a loan of £1000 was raised in the proportions of London £300, Bristol £150, Southampton £100, Norwich and Yarmouth £100, Ipswich, Colchester and Malden £100, York and Hull £100, New Sarum, Poole and Weymouth £50, Lynn £50, Boston £30, and Newcastle £20, to be repaid out of the tunnage and poundage.[70]

Henry VI:—The Civil War.

In 1455, the first battle of St Albans was fought and there was no further question of naval matters until Edward IV was on the throne. Naval power appears to have had but little influence on the result of the wars of the Roses, nor, except at one moment, is the command of the sea shown to be a factor of any great importance in the struggle. Such as it was the Yorkists possessed it, as owners and seamen both affected the white Rose, but the Lancastrians seem never to have experienced any difficulty in obtaining necessary shipping, when in power on land, during the years of war. In 1459, however, when York fled to Ireland, and Warwick to Calais, the attachment the seamen generally felt for the latter enabled him to hold his own there and in the Channel, which perhaps had no inconsiderable influence on the final issue. The naval weakness of the Lancastrians compelled them, instead of protecting the English coasts off the French ports, to issue commissions to array the posse comitatus in the maritime counties to repel invasion, and the sack of Sandwich in 1457, by the Seneschal de Brézé was an outcome of the changed conditions. But Warwick’s fight on 29th May 1458, with a fleet of Spanish[28] ships of more than double his strength, and his capture of six of them, though little better than open piracy, was a sharp reminder that English seamen had not lost the spirit which animated their fathers, and, under the right conditions could still emulate their deeds.[71]

Unless the merchant marine had degenerated very rapidly there must have still been plenty of seagoing ships available in English ports, but the subjoined Treasury warrant perhaps indicates the difficulty the Lancastrians experienced in chartering ships and obtaining men. On 5th April 1460, Henry was once more king and his adversaries in exile, and an order of that date directs the officials of the Exchequer that ‘of suche money as is lent unto us by oure trewe subgittes for keping of the see and othire causes ye do paye to Julyan Cope capitaigne of a carake of Venise nowe beinge in the Tamyse £100 for a moneth, and to Julyan Ffeso capitayne of a nother carrake of Jeane[72] being at Sandwich £105 for a moneth the which two carrakes be entretid to doo us service.’ This is of course not conclusive because foreign vessels were at times hired by all our kings although English ships were available. But in June 1460 the Lancastrian Duke of Exeter, with a superior force, met Warwick at sea, but did not venture to attack him, being unable to trust his men. If, therefore, the men were not reliable there was good reason for the employment of foreigners.

Henry VI:—Results of the Contract System.

Administering the navy by contract had been tried and found wanting; it had never been resorted to before and was never used again. It had proved expensive and ineffective. There can be little doubt that had one half the money wasted in spasmodic efforts been devoted to the maintenance of a small but efficient royal force, always ready for action, the results, if less profitable to the intermediaries, would have been better for the nation. But before all and above all, whatever plan was adopted, there was necessary the hand to control and the brain to govern. The military organisation had been systematised for centuries and would go on working more or less easily whatever the personal qualities of the ruler. The Navy was not yet to the same extent an organised and permanent force, and its strength in any reign was still dependent on the initiative of the sovereign. Henry obtained canonisation at the expense of the lives and prosperity of his subjects, of his followers, and of his son. It had been better for them if he had possessed more of the sinful strength of a man and less of the flaccid virtue of a saint.

Henry VI:—Docks, etc.

There is nothing known positively of any improvements[29] in the form or equipments of ships during this reign. There are no inventories in detail between the time of Henry V and the first years of Henry VII. But while in the first quarter of the fifteenth century we find that men-of-war possess, at the most, two masts and two sails, carry three or four guns, and one or two rudimentary bowsprits, at the close of the same century they are three or four masters with topmasts and topsails, bowsprit and spritsail, and conforming to the characteristics and type which remained generally constant for more than two centuries. It is quite certain that no sudden transition occurred; the changes came slowly with the passing years, but they have left no traces in the records. Whether docks were used in England before the fifteenth century may be doubtful, but the word is in common use in the reign of Henry V, although it did not denote what we now understand by such a structure. Its derivation from the Low Latin Diga a ditch, more exactly indicates its character, but the word was employed in more than one sense, and even after the construction of the first dry dock at Portsmouth in 1496, we find in the sixteenth century an arrangement of timber round a ship in the Thames, to protect her from the ice, called a dock. The Nomenclator Navalis of 1625 describes a wet dock as ‘any creek or place where we may cast in a ship out of the tideway in the ooze, and then when a ship hath made herself (as it were) a place to lie in we say the ship hath docked herself,’ a description which much more nearly portrays the dock of the fifteenth century than the dry dock of to-day. The following details of a dock for the Grace Dieu in July 1434 are perhaps the fullest to be found, and are taken from Soper’s accounts for that year:—[73]

‘And in money paid Thomas at Hythe, and 29 men labourers, for working about, making and constructing anew[74] of a fence called a hedge,[75] by the advice and ordinance of discreet and wise mariners, that is to say on the Wose,[76] near Brisselden aforesaid for the safe keeping and government of the King’s ship, and to the putting out and drying up of the sea water strongly running from the said King’s ship because the same is weak: and also that the said King’s ship may be kept more safely and easily in its said bed[77] called dok within the said enclosure; taking for this work made and built by the said ——[78] by agreement with him made in gross for the King’s advantage the said month of July 12th year xxviiiˢ viᵈ. And in money paid John Osmond, mariner, working about towing and bringing timber and branches with his two boats for the service of the same fence called an hegge[79] and there about the same employed iiˢ. And in money paid to the said Thomas at Hythe and to 29 other men his fellows for labouring and watching in the said ship of the King’s about towing and conducting the same from the same Brisselden where first she was in mooring and in rode to the said enclosure called Dok, and there to the placing, directing and guarding of[30] the said ship of the King’s within its bed called Dok, and to the attending on the safe custody and superintendence of the same for three days, working day and night, besides expenses of victualling, taking for this work and occupation for the time aforesaid by agreement with him in that cause made in the King’s service in gross the month and year aforesaid xˢ.’

It may be inferred from this that the ship was brought to a suitable spot at a spring tide, possibly hauled still further aground by mechanical means, and when she had bedded herself, surrounded by timber and brushwood, perhaps puddled with clay. It will be seen[80] that in 1496 a drydock, the first known to have been made in England was constructed at Portsmouth, but we are without knowledge of the intermediate steps, or whether there were no intervening improvements, and the dock at Portsmouth copied in its completeness from one already existing abroad.

Measurement of Tonnage.

It has been pointed out that the value of the comparison between fifteenth and sixteenth century ships depends greatly on the method of measuring tonnage, and on that subject we have unfortunately but little information. The Bordeaux wine trade was the earliest, and for two centuries one of the most important branches of English maritime traffic; ships were therefore measured by their carrying capacity in Bordeaux cask. The first arithmetical rule for calculating a ship’s tonnage was devised in 1582, and that rule made the net or cask tonnage nearly the same as the average cargo. The unit of measurement was therefore the tun of wine in two butts of 252 gallons which in 1626 were estimated to occupy 60 cubic feet of space. The ancient wine gallon occupies 231 cubic inches and a tun measures strictly therefore only 33¹¹⁄₁₆ cubic feet, but the reckoning is by butts, and much waste of space must be allowed for in view of the usual shape of a cask. In 1626 certain experiments described on a later page were carried out on the Adventure of Ipswich, and it was found that while her burden in Bordeaux cask was 207 tons net, and 276 gross,[81] her tonnage by the Elizabethan rule was again almost exactly the same. If, in the fifteenth century, the shipper allowed 60 cubic feet for two butts of wine, and the allowance of 1626 was doubtless the outcome of long experience, there could have been but little difference between the ship of Henry VI, and indeed of earlier reigns, and that of the period of Elizabeth.

Edward IV:—General Policy.

There is even less material for the naval history of the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III than for that of Henry VI; if, as is probable, a naval administration existed, no records have come down to us. Edward seized the crown on[31] 4th March 1461, but it was not until after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 that he could consider himself really and indubitably king. The uncertainty of his position during the intervening ten years must have prevented the systematic organisation of a naval department, but he was not remiss in, so far as was possible, holding the command of the Channel. Doubtless his experience with Warwick at Calais in 1459 had taught him its importance. Not long after Towton, an English fleet under the command of the Earls of Essex and Kent ravaged the coast of Brittany in revenge for the sympathy shown to Margaret by the reigning Duke. In 1462 another fleet was at sea, but we have no details of its action, although it was no doubt fitted for service to anticipate or deal with Margaret’s landing at Bamborough in October. An agreement dated 1st February 1462, placed naval affairs under the control of the Earl of Warwick for three years, the Earl’s salary being £1000 a year.[82] If Edward’s experience in 1459 had instructed him in the significance of the command of Calais and the fleet, he may not have willingly appointed his powerful subject to a position which made the latter practically independent of the crown; it may be, however, that he had little choice, and that Warwick’s power in the country, and his popularity with the seamen made his nomination almost a matter of necessity.

Notwithstanding this indenture made with Warwick we find that in July 1463 the Earl of Worcester was in charge of naval matters, and, in August, that nobleman is described as ‘captain and keeper of the sea.’[83] Warwick may have resigned or may have constituted Worcester his deputy. A later paper[84] tells us that Worcester acted by Letters Patent of 30th June 1463. This would not clear Warwick’s term of office but in any case these appointments of Warwick, or of Worcester, or of both, appear to have been the last survivals of the custom of putting the safeguard of the seas out to contract. And the survival was more due to political conditions than to any intention or desire of renewing the old system. The name of Richard Clyvedon, who succeeded Soper as clerk of the ships in 1442, disappears after a few years; as no payments were made even for his salary, it may be assumed that he either died, resigned, or was dismissed, and the post was not filled up. Under the circumstances there was no use for a clerk of the ships as the contractors who engaged to provide ships and men would prefer to employ their own servants to manage the details. In 1465 Piers Bowman is referred to as ‘clerk of our shippes,’ but his patent is not to be found nor any payments by way of salary, and the document in question[85] is the[32] only one in which his occupancy of the office is mentioned. Three years later, in 1468, Sir John Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, was entrusted with the payments due for the passage of Edward’s sister Margaret on her marriage with Charles of Burgundy. Howard possessed ships of his own, and on 27th August 1470, received twenty marks on account of the victualling of two ships which he had equipped ‘to take certaine rovers that lie in the Tamyse mouth or there aboute, and robbe bothe the kinges subgittes and frendes.’ This was little more than a fortnight before Warwick landed at Dartmouth and shows how little Edward feared the Earl, for he made no preparation to intercept his passage, and his care, even in his uncertain position, of the commercial interests of his subjects.[86] All through the second civil war, Warwick retained the command of the Channel, nor does Edward, whether from indifference or inability, appear to have made any attempt to wrest it from him. He relied for assistance chiefly on the Burgundian navy, of which Philip de Comines says that it was so powerful that ‘no man durst stir in the narrow seas for fear of it.’ By a navy, however, De Comines must be understood as meaning the general shipping strength of the state. Even after Tewkesbury Edward was once more reminded that supremacy on land was only possible to the ruler who controlled the sea. The bastard of Fauconberg,[87] Warwick’s subordinate and in command of his fleet, seized the Thames and raised Kent and Essex; had there been any Lancastrian power able to support him Edward’s newly regained crown would have been once more in jeopardy.

Edward IV:—The Keeper of the Ships.

By Letters Patent of 12th December 1480, the office of clerk of the ships was once more reconstituted in the person of Thomas Rogers, with a salary of one shilling and sixpence a day for himself and a clerk, and two shillings a day for travelling expenses, when employed on the king’s service. In later patents Rogers is described as a citizen and fishmonger, and as a merchant of London, and as having been purser of a king’s ship. He so successfully trimmed his opinions to the varying political currents, as to retain his office during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, until his death in 1488.

The Royal Ships.

The re-appointment of a keeper of the ships was the natural corollary of the new formation of a crown navy which was going on slowly throughout the reign. As early as July 1461 the Margaret of Orwell, or of Ipswich, is spoken of as ‘our great ship,’ and was doubtless a merchantman bought by the crown. Without collateral evidence, however, the expression ‘our ship’ does not always prove crown ownership; the phrase[33] seems to have been often used in writing of ships pressed for special service. The Margaret’s equipment included 200 bows at eighteenpence apiece, 600 sheaves of arrows at eighteenpence the sheaf, bow strings at five shillings a gross, 200 spears at sixteenpence each and 1000 darts £5. As it also comprised 600 ‘gunstones’[88] at ten shillings the hundred and 1000 lbs. of powder at fivepence a lb., she must have carried cannon as well as the more primitive weapons.[89] In 1463, a caravel of Salcombe was bought for £80, and the shares of the John Evangelist of Dartmouth purchased from the joint owners in that and the following year.[90] In 1468 the Mary of Grace was bought from Sir Henry Waver[91] and in July 1470 250 marks were given for a Portuguese ship, the Garse, obtained from John de Poinct of Portingale.[92] An order on the Exchequer did not however necessarily mean prompt payment unless money was plentiful, and just a year later another warrant was made out for John de Poinct as he was still unpaid; not long after there is mention made of the St Peter, a Spanish ship bought for £50 which sum had also long been owing.

In 1473 the Grace Dieu once more occurs among the names of men-of-war. Marcus Symonson of Causere was paid £62, 8s 2d for pitch, tar, masts, and other necessaries supplied by him for the ‘new making of our shippe called the Grace Dieu.’[93] Unless she was one of the vessels previously bought rebuilt and renamed, she must have been a new ship but there are no other particulars concerning her. In 1472 there is a grant of an annuity of £20 a year to this Mark Symonson, owner of the Antony of Causere,[94] for the good services he had done and would do; this large reward, equal to at least £200 a year now, points to the possibility of his having been captain and owner of the vessel which brought Edward over to Ravenspurn in 1471. Another Spanish ship, the Carycon was purchased in 1478 for £100 and in the same year William Combresale, who afterwards succeeded Rogers as clerk of the ships, is referred to as master of the king’s ship Trinity, another new name. Carycon or Carraquon was simply old French for a large carrack, and the ship, shortly afterwards, became the Mary of the Tower.[95] With the Carycon and the Trinity there is found, ‘the king’s ship called the Fawcon,’ and in 1483 Rogers was ordered ‘to repaire and make of the newe our shippe the Mary Ashe,’ possibly the older Mary of Grace. The last purchase is at the close of the reign in January 1483,[34] when 100 marks was paid to Roger Kelsale, collector of customs at Southampton for his share in a bark of Southampton lately bought.

Edward IV:—Naval and Commercial Policy.

It is obvious from this list that Edward had set himself to reverse the practice of the preceding forty years, and had determined to restore the Navy. He must have taken a certain pride in it and in the appearance of the men, since, for the first time, we find a payment on one occasion for ‘jackettes’ for the sailors.[96] His interest in the men did not extend, however, to arresting the tendency to lower wages which were now one shilling and threepence a week, while the victualling was reckoned at one shilling and a halfpenny.[97] He had been granted in 1465, tunnage and poundage for life and therefore always had at command money to be devoted to naval purposes. Nor was he indifferent to the commercial interests of the kingdom. In 1464 a navigation act, the first consented to by the Crown since the reign of Richard II came into force, and although it was allowed to lapse at the end of three years was an earnest of future and more effective legislation. He is said to have himself engaged in trade, and the commercial treaties with Burgundy, Brittany and Castile, show that he understood the sources of national wealth. Some of Edward’s business transactions were with the Italian cities, and that the field of trade was generally enlarging is shown by the appointment in 1484 of a consul at Florence, because ‘certain merchants and others from England intend to frequent foreign parts, and chiefly Italy with their ships and merchandise.’ The old custom of hiring out men-of-war for trading voyages was soon revived and, shortly before Bosworth field, the Grace Dieu was lent to two London merchants for a Mediterranean journey but was finally kept back for the protection of the coasts.

The short and troubled reign of Richard III did not allow that monarch much time for naval development, but the crown service was not allowed to retrogress and some fresh ships were purchased. In January 1485 the Nicholas of London was bought from Thos. Grafton, a London merchant, for 100 marks, and the Governor from Thos. Grafton and two others for £600.[98] There seems to have been no attempt during the reigns of Richard and his brother, to form any centre for naval equipment and for stores, such as had existed at Southampton and Bursledon under Henry V, and at other places in the preceding centuries. Ships were fitted at Erith, or in the Orwell, or wherever they happened to be lying when required for service.


Henry VII:—The Royal Ships.

In popular belief Henry VII shares with his son and grand-daughter, the credit of founding the modern navy. This view is so far unfounded, that, although its strength did not recede during his reign, and he prepared the way for further progress, he did not increase the force and reorganise the administration as did Henry VIII, nor use it with effect as did Elizabeth. Henry VII still relied on hired merchantmen to form the bulk of his fleets, an assistance his son almost succeeded in renouncing for squadrons of the same strength. In 1590 out of eighteen vessels at sea only two were men-of-war. There are no accounts extant for the whole reign of the expenditure on the navy, but the amount for the first three years was £1077,[99] and for 1495-8 £2060[100] exclusive of the cost of the two large ships, the Regent and Sovereign, built by his orders. At any rate these sums represent a much more acute appreciation of the necessity for sea power than that shown by his immediate predecessors.

The following is an attempt, perhaps imperfect, at the navy list of this reign:

Of these the Grace Dieu, Mary of the Tower, Governor, Martin Garsya, Fawcon, and Trinity were obtained with the crown, the Margaret was captured in 1490. Only the Regent, Sovereign, Carvel of Ewe, Sweepstake and Mary Fortune were new, the two latter being small vessels built at a charge of £231.[101] The Carvel of Ewe,[102] after having been in the royal service by hire, was bought at some period of the reign. The name of the Bonaventure only occurs once as ‘our ship called the Bonaventure ... William Nashe, yeoman of our crown hath in his rule and governance,’[103] a reference which appears to point unmistakeably to a royal ship; she may have been the bark of Southampton bought by Edward IV, or one of Richard’s purchases. The Martin Garsya was given to Sir Richard Guldeford in December 1485, the Governor disappears after 1488, and the Mary of the Tower after 1496; the Fawcon, Trinity, and Margaret, after 1503. In 1486 Henry commissioned a trusted officer, Sir Richard Guldeford, Master of the Ordnance, to superintend the construction of a large ship, afterwards called the Regent, at Reding on the river Rother, in Kent.[104][36] An Exchequer warrant of 15th April 1487 directs the Treasurer to pay the money necessary ‘for the building of a ship of which he[105] has the oversight in the county of Kent of 600 tons, like unto a ship called the Columbe of France.’ Nothing is now known of the Columbe, which Henry had perhaps seen when at Rouen, and which had evidently impressed him. Payments on account of the Regent to the amount of £951, 7s 10d can still be traced, but this sum doubtless does not represent the whole cost. While the Regent was on the stocks the Grace Dieu was delivered to Sir Reginald Bray to be broken up and the material employed in building a new vessel, the Sovereign.[106] In neither instance had Rogers, the official head of the administration, anything to do with the construction of these ships. Both Guldeford and Bray were men of rank and credit near the king’s person, and the work may have been assigned to them as a mark of confidence and as a cheap way of conferring some pecuniary advantages on them.

The chronicler Stow says, under the year 1503, ‘the same King Henry made a ship named the Great Harry, which ship with the furniture cost him much.’ Naval historians have successively accepted this statement, but all that can be said is that there is no trace of such a ship in the State Papers. Stow’s naval details are frequently more than doubtful. Under 1512 he writes of ‘the Regent or Sovereign’ of England; the Regent was never called the Sovereign which has an individual existence down to 1525, but he may have meant the sovereign, or greatest ship.

Henry VII:—The Clerk of the Ships.

When Rogers died in 1488, he was a man of substance and a landed proprietor in Hertfordshire. He was succeeded by William Comersall or Cumbresale, of whom we know nothing except that he had held executive rank at sea during the reign of Edward IV, as master of the Trinity. He appears to have been content with a position of minor importance, and during his term of office payments in connection with the Regent and the Sovereign were frequently made through other persons. From 19th May 1495, Robert Brygandine was appointed, and while held by this man, practically, although not nominally the last of the mediæval clerks or keepers, the post regained some of its former dignity. Brygandine was a ‘yeoman of the crown,’ that is to say in the personal service of the sovereign, and, on one occasion, mentions that he had received certain orders from the king vivâ voce. In 1490 he had been granted an annuity of £10 a year, besides other favours, and altogether seems to have belonged to a higher class socially than his predecessors, and was therefore better able to maintain the independence of his office.


General Policy—The Bounty.

Although Henry VII, during a reign of twenty-four years, added only five or six vessels to the navy, it cannot be said that he was indifferent to the maritime strength of the country, or to that of the navy proper. The political conditions did not require fleets at sea as they had done in the fourteenth, and again did in the succeeding century. The objects sought by Louis XI, Charles VIII, and Louis XII did not necessitate strength at sea, at anyrate in the Channel, and when Henry VII did act abroad English ships were only engaged in the unopposed transport of troops. The existence, however, of a Royal Navy did not prevent Perkin Warbeck’s attempted landing in Kent, nor impede his sailing about the narrow seas, subsequently, unmolested and apparently at his own pleasure. Nevertheless Henry recognised that, as fleets were then constituted, the naval strength of the crown was, in the end, dependent on that of the country generally, and acted upon that view in a way that was new in English history. He commenced giving the bounty on the construction of large ships which remained customary for a century and a half, and which did much to encourage the production of vessels fit for war service. Perhaps some similar reward may have been given by earlier kings although the instance of Taverner’s Grace Dieu, previously noticed, is the only one which supports that view. If such rewards had been given they could have been only occasional but Henry made the encouragement much more frequent and a part of his policy. On the other hand the plan may have been copied from the usage of a foreign power, and if so that power was Spain. We know the reverential admiration Henry felt for the Spanish monarchs and their methods; in 1494, 1495, and 1498 Ferdinand and Isabella issued ordinances which promised large rewards of 60,000 to 100,000 maravedis, to the builders of ships of from 600 to 1000 tons.[107] These were probably not the first of such regulations, and the service they did may well have been forced on Henry’s notice when an exile. Certainly the Spanish marine at this time was in a flourishing condition. The fleet of 1496, which carried Dona Juana to Middleburgh consisted of 120 seagoing vessels, and in the same year a royal order directed the preparation of two ships each of 1000 tons, two of 500, two of 400, six of 300, four of 200, and four caravels.[108]


The first warrant for the payment of a bounty is dated in 1488,[109] and orders £26, 13s 4d to be allowed to Nicholas Browne of Bristol on the customs of the first voyage, made by a new ship of 140 tons built by him. This is nearly three shillings and tenpence a ton. The next of 16th May 1491,[110] is again in favour of three Bristol men who have built a 400 ton ship, and, ‘we calling to our remembrance the great cost and charge they have sustained about the same ... to encourage them and such others,’ allow five shillings a ton on the customs. Although 400 tons was not an unknown tonnage in the merchant marine, it was as yet exceptional, and when the bounty, a century later, was most vigorously worked, its tendency was to induce the construction of medium ships, somewhat over or under 200 tons, rather than especially large ones. Sir William Fenkyll, an alderman of London, had 100 marks conceded him in the same way as the others, ‘for the encoragyng of othr our true subgetts the rather to apply themself to the makyng of shippes.’[111] By a warrant of 7th January 1502, Robert and William Thorne and Hugh Elyot of Bristol, having bought a French ship of 120 tons and as ‘with the same ship the said merchants offre to doo unto us service at all tymes at our commaundement,’ had £20 allowed them. The sovereign by whose directions these expressions were used was neither ignorant of the importance, nor indifferent to the growth, of the merchant marine although he may have seen no reason for departing from his native prudence in matters of action.

Henry VII:—Hire of English and Foreign Ships.

Henry’s caution seems to have calculated on the possibility of his future dependence on a foreign fleet, and he was anxious to make a good impression among shipowners abroad. There is a curiously worded order in 1486[112] for the payment of three hired Spanish vessels ‘withoute any part deteyning or abbrigging as that they may have cause to make goode reporte of our deling with them in these parties and as they may be encouraged and welewilled to serve us semblably hereafter.’ As a matter of fact the king frequently hired Spaniards while the royal ships were unemployed, and when the services demanded certainly threw no strain on native resources; he may have seen in such a course a minor way of knitting more closely the mercantile and other ties which were connecting Spain and England. These Spanish ships were hired at two shillings a ton per month, a rate which was double that obtained by English owners. Sometimes Henry tried to buy a Spanish vessel, but with little success, for Ferdinand and[39] Isabella were making stringent regulations against the sale abroad of vessels owned by their subjects.

One reason explaining Henry’s propensity for foreign ships may perhaps be found in a hint we have of difficulties about the rate of hire of English ones. In 1487 special sums were granted to some English owners, ‘to the entent that noe president shall be taken by us for the waging of the same aftre the portage of every tonne.’[113] According to this they desired to be paid a fixed sum and not hired by the ton, perhaps because the crown estimate of a ship’s tonnage may have differed considerably from the owner’s. If this were so it is the only suggestion we have of dissatisfaction with the normal way of payment, and it was a contention in which the crown soon and finally gained the victory.

Henry VII:—Portsmouth Dock.

If Henry VII built few ships he laid the foundation of a permanent establishment for building and repairs in a way hitherto unknown. We have seen that Henry V had storehouses at London and Southampton, and a workshop in the last named town, and that a dock in the fifteenth century meant only a temporary arrangement by which a ship was laid ashore at a suitable place. Such primitive appliances were the completest yet attained. Henry proceeded much further, and in June 1495, Brygandine was ordered to superintend the construction of a dry dock at Portsmouth, the first known to have been built in England. If one existed previously no reference to it has survived, and we may suppose that the new departure was the result of foreign superiority in such matters rather than of native enterprise. No foreigner however was employed in the work, and Brygandine, so far as we know, had had no training as an engineer. The undertaking was completed without accident and without any delay caused by unforeseen difficulties. The total cost was £193, 0s 6¾d; it was built of wood except the dockhead, which was ‘fortifyed’ with stone and gravel, of which 664 tons were used, and although it is not so stated, it may be assumed that the timber walls were backed with stone. During 1495-7 forty-six weeks were spent in the work, operations being suspended between November 1495 and February 1496, and between April of the latter year and July 1497. When the Sovereign came out of this dock twenty men were at work for twenty-nine days ‘at every tide both day and night weying up of the piles and shorys and digging of ye clay and other rubbish between the gates.’ From this it may be conjectured that the gates did not meet in closing, but that the structure was of this form an arrangement doubtless due to fear of the pressure of the[40] water outside when the one ‘ingyn’ employed for the purpose had succeeded in emptying the dock. The expression ‘as well for ye inner as ye uttermost gate,’ also bears out this view. The dock itself occupied twenty-four weeks, the gates and dockhead twenty-two weeks, the number of men paid each week varying between twenty-eight and sixty. Carpenters received from fourpence to sixpence a day, sawyers fourpence and labourers threepence. Four tons of iron at £3 14s and £4 a ton were used, besides large quantities of nails, spikes and other iron work.[114]

From 1485 a storehouse was hired at Greenwich for the use of the ships lying in the river, at a yearly rental of £5, but down to 1550-60 Portsmouth, in virtue of its dock and the subsidiary establishments which grew up round it, remained the predominant naval port. Few of the townspeople, however, seem to have been able to supply any necessaries, stores having to be sent from London or bought at Southampton; wood was the only thing obtained plentifully in the neighbourhood. When Deptford, Woolwich, and Chatham were founded its one advantage of lying in the Channel did not serve it against the greater facilities they offered in other respects.

Henry VII:—Character of Shipping.

The ships of Henry VII are found to resemble in equipment and fittings those of his successors rather than the mediæval type, but that may be because we have no inventories of the time of Edward IV and the later years of Henry VI. Improvement must have been continuous although there is no trace of the successive steps. The Regent and the Sovereign were respectively four- and three-masters, with fore and main topmasts; although the topmasts were separate spars it is probable that they were fixed and that a method of striking them had not yet been introduced. These two ships must have differed much less in appearance from a sailing ship of 1785 than from one of 1385 or even of 1425. They were fitted with a forecastle, poop, and poop royal, with a bowsprit and spritsail, and the fixed and running gear were, generally, much the same as now. As a detailed inventory of the Henry Grace à Dieu of not many years later, and varying but little in type, is given in this volume it is not necessary to describe them in detail.[115]

The introduction of portholes is usually attributed to Decharges, a French inventor of Brest and the date given is 1501. They were certainly known long before[116] but their adaptation to the purpose of broadside fire was doubtless one of the improvements of the sixteenth century. Still the date of their general acceptation must be before 1501 and earlier than is generally supposed, since the Regent and Sovereign have[41] their poops and forecastles pierced for broadsides, and there is no suggestion that there was anything novel in such a plan. It need hardly be pointed out that the presence of a large number of guns along the sides brought about a complete alteration in shipbuilding. Not only had vessels to be more strongly built to meet the greater weight and strain, but the ‘tumble home’ tendency of the topsides was increased to bring the ordnance nearer the keel line.

The Mary Fortune and the Sweepstake were much smaller vessels but were also three-masters, with a main topmast and sixty and eighty oars respectively for use on board. Vessels of this type, which were frequently called galleys by those who used them, have been erroneously supposed by later writers to denote the real galley, to which they bore not the least resemblance, or to represent a modified type peculiar to the English service. They were ordinary ships differing in no respect but size from their larger sisters, but small enough to permit the use of sweeps when necessary. The serpentine weighing, without any carriage, about 250 lbs. was the usual ship gun, and the Regent carried 151 of these in iron and 29 in brass in 1501.[117] Of course bows and arrows and all the older armament were still carried. The ships’ sides were lined with pavesses or wooden shields painted in various colours and glittering with coats of arms and devices. For painting the Regent and Mary Fortune, and doubtless other ships, vermillion, fine gold, russet, bice,[118] red lead, white lead, brown, Spanish white, verdigris, and aneral[119] were employed.[120] The favourite Tudor colours, white and green, with the cross of St George, flew out in the standards and streamers which were of ‘linen cloth’ or of say.[121]

Henry VII:—Officers and Men.

The pay of the men was one shilling a week as shipkeeper in harbour, and one shilling and threepence when on active service. Victualling at first cost one shilling and a halfpenny a week, but subsequently rose to one shilling and twopence, and shipwrights, sawyers, labourers, and all others employed about the ships received food as well as pay. The jackets noticed under Edward IV, which perhaps signified some sort of uniform, were still provided. One hundred, at one shilling and fourpence apiece, were bought for the same number of men sent from Cornwall to Berwick to join the fleet acting in conjunction with Surrey’s army against Scotland in 1497.[122] The sea captain was still non-existent, that rank being confined to the leadership of the soldiers on board; the master, the highest executive naval officer, received three shillings and fourpence a week, the purser and boatswain one shilling[42] and eightpence, quartermasters one shilling and sixpence, the steward and cook one shilling and threepence.[123] These were harbour rates; at sea the pay appears to have been much higher. When the Sovereign was brought from the Thames to Portsmouth, a voyage which occupied thirty-one days, the master obtained £2 10s, the purser 14s 8d, the quartermasters 10s each, the boatswain 16s 8d, the steward 8s, and the cook 10s.[124]

Of the condition, habits, and manner of thought among the men we know nothing. Ferdinand’s ambassador, De Puebla wrote to him that, ‘the English sailors are generally savages,’ but he was not the last envoy whose delicate diplomatic sense they have outraged by plain speaking. This sensitive gentleman lodged, however, in a house of ill-fame in London from motives of economy.

Henry VII:—Commercial Policy.

In commercial matters Henry followed those methods dictated by the political economy of his age, which seemed likely to increase the trade and shipping of the country. A navigation act of the first year of his reign, and this time meant seriously, forbade the importation of foreign wines in any but English, Irish, or Welsh owned ships. Three years later it was enacted[125]

‘That where great minishing and decay hath been of late time of the navy of this realme of England and idleness of the mariners within the same, by the which this noble realm within short space of time, without reformation be had therein shall not be of ability, nor of strength and power to defend itself.’

No wines or Toulouse woad were to be imported except in ships owned by English subjects and, ‘most part’ manned by native crews. The punishment for disobedience was the forfeiture of one half the cargo to the king, and one half to the informer; under the same penalty exportation of goods in foreign vessels was forbidden if English ships could be obtained. Yet notwithstanding the desponding tone of this preamble, trade was now travelling far afield. The consul at Florence of 1484 had now an associate at Pisa, and a treaty of commerce in 1490 with Denmark shows that we possessed establishments there and in Norway and Sweden, and that the trade was carried on in English bottoms. The king frequently let out his men-of-war on hire for distant voyages, and if merchants found it profitable to take a ship of the size of the Sovereign for a voyage to the Levant the Mediterranean trade must have been already of some importance.

Edward IV, by a commercial treaty of 1467 with Burgundy, granted free fishing round the English coasts to the subjects of that power. This was confirmed by the treaties of[43] 1496 and 1499 but withdrawn by that of 1506, called therefore by the Flemish the Intercursus Malus. It is possible that Henry recognised the value of the fishing industry as a nursery of seamen, but more probable that he was impelled by purely political motives.

The New Discoveries.

The discovery of America and the passage round the Cape of Good Hope must have impressed the king intellectually even though his imagination was untouched by the wonders daily opened to the old world, but there is little evidence that he wished England to join directly in the search for new sources of wealth. The half-hearted assistance given to the Cabots, and the licences without assistance granted to Elliot, Ashurst, and others of Bristol, were not aids of a nature to win success in new and doubtful undertakings. This course of action is usually ascribed to Henry’s parsimony, but it may well be that he feared to be brought into political antagonism with Spain and Portugal, and that he was dubious of the ability of his subjects to keep up profitable communication between countries separated by vast distances of sea. England possessed comparatively little floating capital, and capital is as essential to colonisation as to smaller businesses. We know that intercourse with the West completely changed the character of the Spanish marine in causing it to be replaced by ships of a larger and more commodious type, a change which alone postulates the waste and subsequent investment of a relatively enormous sum. But Spain, even before the voyage of Columbus, was a much wealthier country than England, and it seems that if any profitable discoveries had been due at this time to English explorers they would soon have been found to have been made for the benefit of stronger and wealthier powers. Moreover the political risk was not an imaginary one and might have induced the condition of things existing under Elizabeth when the country was much less able to hold its own. There is an illustration of this in the orders given by the Spanish monarchs in 1501 to Alonso de Hojeda to impede the progress of English discoveries on the transatlantic coast.[126]

That Henry had not forgotten the traditions of the past and realised the value of a national marine is shown by his maintenance of the navy, by the formation of a royal dockyard, by his navigation acts, and, above all, by the inauguration of the bounty system on ocean-going ships. In this, as in other things, he moved slowly, but the progress in the end was none the less complete because in the beginning it had not been unduly stimulated by encouragements not warranted by either the needs or capabilities of the country. The crown,[44] instead of being controlled by nobles indifferent to, or despising commerce, was now influenced by the commercial classes and found its profit in aiding their development. These classes were now replacing the capital destroyed in the wars of the fifteenth century, eager for fresh markets, and with no maritime adversary to fear. For the moment English mercantile effort took a direction that did not bring it into conflict with larger interests, but when the natural expansion of trade and shipping brought the country into collision with other powers the struggles of centuries, which had shaped and hardened a skilful and dauntless maritime population, bore their natural fruit in a school of seamen able to use and direct the instruments which the increasing wealth and ambition of the nation placed in their hands.



The New Policy and its Causes.

Henry VII had been chiefly occupied in securing the permanence of his dynasty, and although sometimes drawn into action abroad, had avoided any serious entanglement in continental politics. His son’s policy was the reverse of this, and his reign presents a series of unsuccessful attempts to make England the centre round which European politics were to revolve. These views necessitated the maintenance and employment of an armed force, and although the army was still considered the effective weapon of offence the growing opinion that the navy was essentially the national arm ensured a proper solicitude being bestowed upon it, although its real predominance was not yet recognised; ‘when we would enlarge ourselves let it be that way we can and to which it seems the eternal Providence hath destined us,’ was, we are told, the argument of those who were opposed to an invasion of France by land.[127] The use of such reasoning as this shows that the epoch of maritime expansion was not far distant.

But besides deduction from past experience there were other causes working to induce a natural and, it may be said, almost automatic increase in the navy of the crown. In the past centuries ‘our ancient adversary’ of France had been the only enemy really within touch, and no systematic attack by sea from France had been practicable for more than a hundred years. But the consolidation of that kingdom, and the accession of Francis I, a monarch by no means indifferent to the supremacy of the sea, one of whose first acts was to order the construction and fortification of the Port of Havre in 1516-17, and who built ships and brought round fleets from the Mediterranean to contest the command of the channel, necessarily compelled a corresponding activity on the English side. Another circumstance enforcing increased naval strength was[46] the union of Brittany with the French crown. This event was regarded by contemporary Englishmen somewhat in the light that we should now look upon the domination of the coastlines of Holland and Belgium by Germany and France. The marriage of Anne of Brittany to Charles VIII, in December 1491, gave France its most valuable arsenals and ports, and the command of a race of fine seamen. Henry VII, perhaps recognising that the subjection of the province could only at most be deferred and not prevented, made but perfunctory efforts, either by war or diplomacy, to hinder it. Hitherto, except for the customary practice of piracy, the Breton ports had been neutral or friendly, and the Breton seamen indifferent to the dynastic or national quarrels of the two great powers. In the future the ports were to be the chief source of danger to English maritime supremacy, and the men the mainstay of the navy which carried on a prolonged and doubtful contest with England for more than a century.

With Spain, notwithstanding isolated ship and fleet actions occasionally occurring, warfare had never been serious or continuous, nor had the political interests of the two countries been of such a nature as to bring them into conflict. The union, however, under the sway of Charles V, of the Empire, of Spain, and of the Netherlands, altered, in view of the new attitude assumed by Henry VIII, the pre-existing situation, and here again, besides the Imperial troops, Spanish fleets had to be reckoned with. Although those fleets were never in reality so powerful as they appeared to contemporary observers, the necessities of Trans-Atlantic voyages and the practice of ocean navigation had given experience to officers and men and improved the build of the ships, so far at anyrate as size and apparent power were concerned.[128] Accommodation had to be supplied for larger crews and for numerous passengers, but the science of shipbuilding was not sufficiently advanced to meet these requirements except by methods which gave bigness at the expense of seaworthiness. But whatever the actual combatant value of the Spanish navy, or its power of mobilisation at any required moment and place, it was a factor to be considered in the counsels of the Emperor’s possible enemies and was another reason for the strengthening of the English navy. That that navy occupied a strategically advantageous position on the line of communication between the peninsular and northern possessions of the Empire was a fact not likely to be forgotten by the advisers of either Henry or Charles.


In the north a comparatively long peace with Scotland, and the distractions caused by the Wars of the Roses, had enabled that power to extend its commerce and obtain a prosperity reflected in the existence of a navy, for the first and only time strong enough to attract the attention of foreign observers. In 1512 James IV had three agents in France especially retained to arrange a supply of naval stores and ships,[129] and Lord Darcy informed Henry that the king of Scotland, who spent much of his time on board the ships, possessed some sixteen or twenty men-of-war. The Great Michael recently built, and perhaps the actual instigation of the Henry Grace à Dieu, was one of the wonders of the country and reputed to be the largest and strongest vessel yet launched in northern latitudes. That ‘Jack Tarrett, a Frenchman,’ was her shipwright pointed to the ever present danger of the old alliance between France and Scotland, a danger much intensified if Scotland was to take a place as a naval power.

Without, therefore, attributing to Henry VIII an exceptional foresight, the conditions were such as to compel an increase in the navy commensurate with the larger aims of the royal policy and the wider duties the execution of such a policy involved. The navy was not relatively larger than it had been under some of the preceding kings, notably Henry V, the main distinction being that under Henry VIII it was slowly tending towards its future position as a principal instrument of offence instead of acting as a mere auxiliary. This, again, was as much, or more, due to the changed circumstances of land warfare as to any definite intention. The English army was still a militia; the troops of France and the Empire were now standing armies, highly trained and veterans in war. For most of the western countries the age of feudal levies was over, but England had not yet clearly acknowledged the new era. The troops sent under the Marquis of Dorset in 1512 to invade Guienne, in conjunction with Ferdinand’s Spaniards, returned home en masse in defiance of their commander’s and of Henry’s orders and threats. ‘The world was breathless with astonishment at such a flagrant act of insubordination.’[130] An English army was not yet composed of ragged losels pressed from the gutter, but the ancient feudal tie which knit together knight and retainer was almost destroyed. Armies of this type could not possibly match themselves against the professional continental soldiers. But the country could not have afforded nor would it have permitted a permanent military force, therefore either its claims to exercise a powerful mediatory position were to[48] be forsaken or that peculiar genius for the sea, which had hitherto been of secondary use but which had always been implicitly recognised as the especial heritage of the race, was to replace the mere ability to fight it shared with many other nations. But for the singular skill of the English archer the change would have come long before; improvements in artillery and musketry at last compelled it. The effects were not plainly seen till the reign of Elizabeth, but the militant history of Henry VIII is a series of steps—whether due to a sagacious recognition of the altered situation or to a mechanical compliance with it—towards an increase in the power and use of the Navy, and improvements in its administration, although, as the traditions of centuries are not lightly set aside, armies were still levied to fulfil their ancient rôle in France.

There was also another and personal element which doubtless had its influence. Henry was, if not a born sailor, at least something more than a yachtsman. He was continually inquiring about the merits of new ships, and requiring reports on their sailing qualities in a way that implied some technical knowledge, and showed a real interest beyond the political one in sea affairs. He is said to have been himself the designer of a new model. Sometimes he acted as an amateur master or pilot and dressed the character, of course in cloth of gold. On one occasion when present at the launch of a vessel he wore vest and breeches of cloth of gold, and scarlet hose, with a gold chain and whistle.[131] This was a factor which helped the progress of events, but which could have had little influence had the royal inclination been contrary to the tendency of the time.

Royal Navy List.

The following list of the men-of-war of the reign, has for convenience been thrown into a tabular form, which, however, gives it a fuller and more final appearance than it is intended to claim. The records are not sufficiently complete or detailed to enable the inquirer to be certain in all cases of the exact year of building, rebuilding or purchase, and a further element of uncertainty is introduced by the changes of name which occurred, and continuity of name in what may be supposed to be new ships, but of whose building there is no distinct evidence. The dates printed in heavier type may be taken as exact; the others can only be regarded as likely to be correct, and the tonnage varies at different times in nearly every ship. From the preceding reign came the Regent, Sovereign, Mary and John, (or Carvel of Ewe), Sweepstake and Mary Fortune.


Built Bought Rebuilt Prize Tonnage
Sovereign[132] 1509 600
Peter Pomegranate[133] 1509 1536 450
Mary Rose[134] 1509 1536 500
Gabriel Royal[135] 1509 700
Mary James[136] 1509 1524 300
Mary George[137] 1510 300
Lion[138] 1511 120
Jennet Pyrwin[139] 1511 70
John Baptist[140] 1512 400
Great Nicholas[141] 1512 400
Anne Gallant[142] 1512 140
Dragon[143] 1512 100
Christ[144] 1512 300
Lizard[145] 1512 120
Swallow 1512 1524 80
Kateryn Fortileza[146] 1512 700
Great Bark[147] 1512 400
Less Bark[148] 1512 160
Kateryn Galley[149] 1512 80
Rose Galley[150] 1512
Henry Galley[151] 1512
Lesser Barbara[152] 1512 160
Great Barbara[153] 1513 400
Black Bark[154] 1513
Henry of Hampton[155] 1513 120
Great Elizabeth[156] 1514 900
Henry Grace à Dieu[157] 1514 1540 1000[50]
Mary Imperial[158] 1515 1523 120
Mary Gloria[159] 1517 300
Kateryn Plesaunce[160] 1518 100
Trinity Henry[161] 1519 80
Mary and John[162] 1521
Mawdelyn of Deptford[163] 1522 120
Great Zabra[164] 1522 50
Lesser Zabra[165] 1522 40
Fortune or Hulk[166] 1522 160
Bark of Morlaix[167] 1522 60
Mary Grace[168] 1522
Bark of Boulogne[169] 1522 80
Primrose[170] 1523 1536 160
Minion[171] 1523 180
New Bark[172] 1523 200
Sweepstake[173] 1523 65
John of Greenwich[174] 1523 50
Mary Guildford[175] 1524 160
Lion[176] 1536 160
Mary Willoby[177] 1536 160
Jennet[178] 1539 200
Mathew[179] 1539 600
Sweepstake[180] 1539 300
Less Galley 1539 400
Great Galley[181] 1539 500
Salamander 1544 300
Unicorn[182] 1544 240
Pauncye[183] 1544 450[51]
Mary Hambro[184] 1544 400
Jesus of Lubeck[185] 1544 600
Struse of Dawske[186] 1544 400
L’Artique[187] 1544 100
Swallow[188] 1544 240
Dragon[189] 1544 140
Fawcon[190] 1544 100
Galley Subtylle[191] 1544 300
Marlion[192] 1545 70
Mary Thomas[193] 1545 100
Mary James[194] 1545 120
Mary Odierne[195] 1545 70
Hind[196] 1545 80
Grand Mistress[197] 1545 450
Anne Gallant[198] 1545 400
Greyhound[199] 1545 200
Saker[200] 1545 60
Brigandine[201] 1545 40
Less Pinnace[202] 1545 60
Hare[203] 1545 30
Roo[204] 1545 80
Morian[205] 1545 400
Galley Blancherd[206] 1546
Christopher[207] 1546 400
George[208] 1546 60
Phœnix 1546 40
Antelope[209] 1546 300
Tiger 1546 200
Bull 1546 200
Hart 1546 300
13 Rowbarges[210] 1546 20


We are accustomed to the general statement that Henry VIII enlarged the navy, but the foregoing list shows a much more extensive increase than is implied by a general expression and, if so far as number is concerned it errs at all, it errs on the side of omission. A little indulgence in admitting names could have extended it considerably. No foreign purchased merchantman has been inserted without the authority of a definite statement, or unless it appears in lists later than the reign under consideration; but there are foreign ships omitted as only temporarily hired which may really have belonged to the crown. Other vessels which occur in almost indistinguishable fashion among men-of-war have been left out in view of the custom which frequently obtained of describing hired ships as king’s ships while they were in the royal service, and in some cases it has been found impossible to satisfactorily trace particular vessels. For instance, during the first half of the reign a ‘great galley’ of 600 or 800 tons, flits in a most puzzling way through some, but not the most reliable, of the papers. I take it to have been an indefinite designation applied at various times to various ships,[211] but that opinion may be altogether wrong and it may be the actual name of a large vessel which has left no other indication of its existence. Again, the Earl of Southampton, for four years Admiral of England, bequeathed Henry his ‘great ship’ by his will dated September 1542. The Earl died in 1543, but which is the ship in question, or whether it appears at all in the foregoing list, cannot be determined.

Activity in Construction and Purchase of Ships.

Exclusive of the thirteen rowbarges, there are eighty-five vessels, and of these forty-six were built, twenty-six purchased, and thirteen were prizes. The periods of greatest activity synchronise with war with France 1512-14, war with France and Scotland 1522-5, with the possibility in 1539 of a general alliance on religious grounds against England, and with war against France and Scotland in 1544-6. But allowing for uncertainty of dates, possibility of omissions, and our almost entire ignorance of the repairs and rebuildings which must have been progressing uninterruptedly, there is no cessation of vigorous action throughout the reign. The existing dockyards could have hardly been equal to the demands on them for repairs alone, and this is doubtless one reason for the large number of ships purchased, a course which was also probably cheaper for the moment. All Henry’s foreign purchases seem to have been Italian or Hanseatic. During 1511-14 he hired several Spaniards and tried to buy some, but his desires were vain in face of the strict Spanish navigation laws. In 1513 the Spanish envoy, de Quiros, was instructed to inform the[53] king that the sale of Spanish ships abroad was forbidden under heavy penalties, and that his government could not permit them to be sold even to Henry.[212] In fact we find from another source that the sale of ships was forbidden to foreigners even though they were naturalised Spanish subjects, and as, from October 1502, a bounty of 100 maravedis a ton was given up to 1500 tons it is hardly surprising that their sale to aliens was sternly interdicted.[213] In 1513 Knight wrote to Henry that the whole of a Spaniard’s goods had been confiscated for selling a carrack to him. Under these circumstances the king had to buy in the North German ports, and, judging from the small number of years most of them remained in the effective, many must have been built for the purpose of sale to him.

Royal Ships:—Build and Rigging.

The vessel which has the chief place in popular memory is the Henry Grace à Dieu, but she probably differed little in size, form, or equipment, from others nearly as large. Her total cost, with the three small barques built with her, was £8708 5s 3d, but out of the 3739 tons of timber used 1987 cost nothing being presented by several peers, private persons, and religious bodies. According to the accounts she was constructed under the supervision of William Bond, but if a nearly contemporary letter may be trusted Brygandine, the clerk of the ships designed and built her.[214] Bond’s connection with her may have been merely financial and confined to payments of money. Fifty-six tons of iron, 565 stones of oakum and 1711 lbs of flax were other items. She was a four-master and possibly a two-decker with fore, main and mizen top-gallant sails, but with only two sails on the other masts, and with two tops on each of the three principal masts.[215] All ships but the very smallest had four masts, the two after ones being called, respectively, the main and bonaventure mizens. There was nothing exceptional in the Henry’s fittings, top-gallant sails being known to have been used in the previous reign, and, as at that time, the topmasts were not arranged for lowering. An equivalent to the ease given a labouring ship by striking the topmasts was obtained by lowering the fore and main yards to the level of the bulwarks. As most of the guns were carried in the poop and forecastle ships must have been ‘built loftie’[54] on the Spanish model and presented a squat and ungainly appearance. Vessels were now mostly carvel built, and those clench, or clinker, built, were regarded as too weak to stand the shock of collision when boarding was intended. Speaking of some foreign ships brought into Portsmouth, Suffolk wrote that some of them were ‘clenchers, both feeble, olde, and out of fashion,’ and therefore not to be taken up for service with the fleet.[216]

Spritsails were now coming into more common use and, with the spanker on the bonaventure mizen or fourth mast and sometimes with another on the main mizen, served the purpose of the later fore-and-aft sails. Vessels were now, although still slowly and clumsily, able to work more closely to windward. There is one entry which runs ‘eight small masts at 6s 8d the pece ymploied in the Great Bark and other the Kynges shipps for steddying saills.’[217] It can only be said that there is no mention in the inventories, or any sign in the drawings of ships of this century, of what are now called studding sails.

Royal Ships:—Armament.

An ordinary vessel appears to have been armed along the waist, in her forecastle of two or three tiers, and in her summer castle or poop, also divided into decks. For some of these ships we still have the armament:—[218]

Great Elizabeth[224] Single Serpentines Double[219] Serpentines Slings[220] Half Slings Stone[221] Guns Murderers[222]
Fo’c’stle { Upper Deck[223] 2
{ Middle Deck 16
{ Nether Deck 12 8
   Stern 2 1
Poop { Upper Deck 12 2
{ Middle Deck 41
{ Nether Deck 3 2 16 6


Great Barbara Falcons Single Serpentines Double Serpentines Slings Half Slings Stone Guns Murderers
Fo’c’stle { Upper Deck 7 2
{ Middle Deck
{ Nether Deck 7 2
   Waist 6 2
Poop { Upper Deck 6
Middle Deck { 2 2
{ Nether Deck 4

Ships like the Henry, Sovereign, and Mary Rose carried also heavier pieces than these, the commencement of the change to fewer but more powerful guns, which progressed rapidly during the middle of the century. The Mary Rose had 79 guns (besides six in her tops), of which 33 were serpentines, 26 stone guns, and 10 murderers, but she also had five brass curtalls and five brass falcons.[225] The Sovereign, when rebuilt in 1509, was given four whole and three half curtalls of brass, three culverins, two falcons, and eleven heavy iron guns among her 71 guns.[226] The curtall, or curtow, was a heavy gun of some 3000 lbs., hitherto only used as a siege piece on land, and its transference to maritime use marks a revolution in ship armament which deserves attention. The Mary Rose and Sovereign were in 1509, the two most powerfully armed ships which had yet existed in the English navy, perhaps the most powerfully armed ships afloat anywhere that year, and it is curious to notice that the Peter Pomegranate built with them was fitted in the old style, with innumerable serpentines which could have been of little more effect than toy guns, appearing almost as though the contrast was an intentional experiment. At any rate with the heavier armaments of the Sovereign and Mary Rose, commences the long struggle between the attack and defence still going on, for hitherto there had been practically no attack so far as a ship’s sides were concerned.

The system was extended as the reign progressed, and in 1546, we find comparatively small ships like the Grand Mistress carrying two demi cannons and five culverins, the Swallow one demi cannon and two demi culverins, out of a total of eight heavy guns; the Anne Gallant four culverins, one curtall, and two demi culverins; the Greyhound one[56] culverin, one demi culverin, and two cannons petro,[227] besides their other smaller pieces.[228] Even the Roo of 80 tons has two demi culverins and three cannons petro. To measure the full extent of the change we must compare these vessels with the Henry, of three or four times their tonnage, which in 1514, carried only one bombard, two culverins, six falcons and one curtow, in addition to 126 serpentines and 47 other guns of various but probably light weights, seeing that most of them were used with chambers.

To whom was this innovation due? It commenced with Henry’s accession, and if not owing to his direct initiative, he has the merit of recognising its value and persistently putting it into execution. But we know from other non-naval documents that he had some knowledge of artillery and took an active personal interest in such matters, and it may very well be that the improvement was his own. In any case it was one in which England took and kept the lead, and which gave the country an incalculable advantage in the contest with Spain during the close of the century.

Royal Ships:—Ordnance Stores.

From other papers we can ascertain with sufficient completeness the character of the weapons and stores for offensive purposes carried on board. There is a state paper of July 1513, coincident with the invasion of France which gives the following details[229]:—

Soldiers Sailors Gunners Bows Bowstrings Sheaves of Arrows Bills Morrispikes Stakes[230] Gunpowder Harness [231]
Henry Grace à Dieu[232] 400 260 40 2000 5000 4000 1500 1500 2000 5 lasts 500
Gabriel Royal 350 230 20 500 1500 1200 500 500 400 2 300
Mary Rose 200 180 20 350 700 700 300 300 200 3 220
Sovereign 400 260 40 500 1500 1200 500 500 500 2 300
Kateryn Fortileza 300 210 40 350 700 700 300 300 200 3½ ” 220
Peter Pomegranate 150 130 20 300 600 600 250 250 200 8 brls 180
Great Nicholas 135 15 250 500 500 200 200 160 6 160
Mary James 150 85 15 200 500 400 160 160 160 6 130
Mary and John 100 100 200 500 400 160 160 160 6 90
Great Bark 150 88 12 200 500 500 200 200 160 6 130
John Baptist 150 135 15 250 500 500 200 200 160 6 160
Lizard 60 32 8 80 200 160 60 60 50 3 50
Jennet 10 44 6 60 150 120 50 50 50 3 35
Swallow 20 46 4 60 150 120 50 50 40 3 35
Sweepstake 66 4 60 150 120 50 50 40 3 35


The reader will remark the small number of gunners allowed. The Sovereign had 70 or 80 pieces and the proportion here does not allow even one gunner to a piece on a broadside. Perhaps the soldiers manned the guns, but it is more likely that the seamen were beginning to take a combatant part instead of confining themselves to working the ship. Bows and arrows still formed an important part of the equipment, but although we have no similar list for shot the amount of powder shows the reliance now placed on artillery and musket fire. Incidentally, among remains of stores, we find ‘200 harquebus shot,’ 900 serpentine shot, 1350 iron ‘dyse,’ 8 darts for wildfire, to set the sails of an enemy’s ship on fire, and two chests of wildfire with quarrels.[233] Also ‘300 small and grete dyse of iern,’ 420 stone and 1000 leaden shot, 120 shot of iron ‘with cross bars,’ 22 ‘pecks for to hew gonstones’[234] and 74 arrows of wildfire.[235]

Ships, Galleys and Galleasses.

The well known picture of the embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover, on his way to the interview with Francis I in 1520, represents the Henry Grace à Dieu as the chief ship in the fleet. This was inherently improbable as the Henry drew too much water to enter either Dover or Calais harbours, but it can be proved to be incorrect from documentary evidence. The squadron consisted of the Great Bark, Less Bark, Kateryn Plesaunce, Mary and John, and two rowbarges.[236] The interview was originally proposed for 1519 and a year previously on 22nd May 1518, the Kateryn Plesaunce was commenced for the express purpose of carrying the King and Queen across the Channel.[237] She cost £323, 13s 9d, including the victualling and lodging expenses of the men working upon her, and required 80 tons of ballast.[238] In none of the accounts relating to men-of-war are there any details of extrinsic decoration, if it existed, and even in the Kateryn, intended for a royal pleasure trip there is only one charge of ten shillings for painting and gilding the ‘collere.’ House carpenters were employed for ‘the makynge of cabons and embowynge of wyndows,’ and although the chief cabin was wainscoted and[58] lighted by 112 feet of glass, the Queen’s own cabin was cheaply furnished with a dozen ‘joined stools’ at tenpence apiece.

The Kateryn was sometimes called a bark and sometimes a galley and this leads us to the question of the classification of the royal vessels. If we accept without inquiry that of the list of 5th January 1548,[239] we find ships like the Anne Gallant, Unicorn, Salamander, Tiger, Hart, Antelope, Lion, Dragon, Jennet, Bull and Greyhound, described as galleys. But in Anthony’s list of 1546 the same vessels are called galleasses; obviously therefore the two words did not define particular types as rigidly as they do among naval archæologists to-day, or even as they did towards the end of the sixteenth century. The Kateryn galley of 1512 was a three masted vessel with bowsprit and fore and main topmasts, as was also the Rose another ‘galley’ of the early years of the reign.[240] Both were supplied with oars—thirty—as was usual with small vessels long after this date when the name galley had fallen into disuse. Another, the Sweepstake (of Henry VII), had a mizen mast,[241] and a sprit mast on the bowsprit,[242] so that it may be assumed that she also was a three-master although elsewhere she is described as ‘the king’s rowbarge called the Sweepstake.’[243]

In 1546 the Hart, Antelope, Tiger, and Bull are four-masted flush-decked ships, apparently pierced on a lower gun deck for nine pieces a side; the Anne Gallant and Grand Mistress four-masters, of 450 tons, with forecastle and poop, carrying guns on the upper and on a lower deck; the Greyhound, Lion, Jennett, and Dragon, are similar well-decked vessels with the addition of great stern and quarter galleries extending nearly the whole length of the poop and nearly one-third of the length of the vessel. The contradictions we have to face can be best exemplified by one example, the Greyhound, which in the 1548 list is called a galley, in a 1546 list said to be a copy of Anthony’s,[244] a galleass, and in that portion of Anthony’s manuscript remaining in the Museum, a ship.[245] This last authority, a series of original drawings, calls only the Greyhound, Lion, Jennett, and Dragon, ‘ships’ and the only point in which they seem to differ from the ordinary type is in the possession of the stern and quarter galleries. If these drawings are accurate, and they so far differ from each other as to lead us to suppose that they were intended to portray individual ships, it is impossible that any one of them can have been impelled by oars, although sweeps may have[59] been occasionally and temporarily used for a particular purpose. They may have been worked from the gun-ports, in which case the Grand Mistress could only have used eight a side. The conclusion therefore is that the term galley did not imply an oared vessel of the Mediterranean type, such as we now associate with the word, but was applied first to light ships small enough to use sweeps when necessary, and later to an improved model, possibly built on finer lines than the heavy, slow moving hulks of the beginning of the reign, and expected to bear, to the ponderous 600 or 1000 ton battle ship, the same relation in speed that the real galley bore to a mediæval sailing vessel. A fleet formation of 1545 was of course based on that customary in an army and we have Van, Battle or main body, and Wing, arranged for. In that year some of the vessels just mentioned were not yet afloat, but the Salamander, Swallow, Unicorn, Jennett, Dragon, and Lion were included in the Battle. The Wing, composed of ‘galliasses and ships with ores,’ comprised among others, the Grand Mistress, Anne Gallant, and Greyhound. That they should have been classed with ‘the ships with ores,’ does not show that they were of the same order, but only that they were supposed to be sufficiently handy under sail to act with them.

There was therefore a certain number of ships, large and small, vaguely and uncertainly called galleys, possessing certain modifications on the normal type, and there is some reason to believe that the innovation, whatever may have been the particular change in form or structure, was due to Henry himself. He sometimes appears to have had his own designs carried out; a prize was to be altered ‘so as she now shall be made in every point as your Grace devised.’[246] In 1541 Chapuys wrote to the emperor:

‘The King has likewise sent to Italy for three shipwrights experienced in the art of constructing galleys, but I fancy that he will not make much use of their science as for some time back he has been building ships with oars according to a model of which he himself was the inventor.’[247]

Chapuys must have been referring to the earlier Rose, Kateryn, and Swallow type, and possibly to others not now to be traced; but to the presence of the Italian shipwrights was undoubtedly owing the launch of the Galley Subtylle in 1544. ‘Subtylle’ was not an especial name, but was applied to a class more lightly built and quicker in movement than the ordinary galley. This was the only real galley built by him since it differed in no respect from the standard Mediterranean pattern, but in 1546 thirteen ‘rowbarges’ of twenty tons apiece were added to the Navy. These were rowing[60] vessels, and unless intended for scouting or for towing and to give general assistance, it is difficult to see their utility as they were too small to engage with any chance of success. In the result they were sold within a year or two of Henry’s death. The sixteenth century galley service, such as it was, was forced on the English government by the action of Francis I in bringing his own and hired galleys round from the Mediterranean. It was always repugnant to the national temperament and soon languished when the exciting cause was removed. Although three or four galleys were carried on the navy list until 1629 the last years in which any served at sea were 1563 and 1586.

These various attempts at evolving a new type, which should combine the best points of the galley and the sailing vessel, show that Henry recognised at least some of the faults of the man-of-war of his day. He failed because the solution was not within the scientific knowledge of his time, and perhaps also because the work of the galley benches must have been abhorrent to the hereditary instincts and traditions of the English sailor. But he was the first English king who gave the Navy some of that forethought and effort at improvement that had hitherto been devoted wholly to the army. His experiments left so little visible trace in the one direction that in 1551 Barbaro could write to the Seigniory, ‘They do not use galleys by reason of the very great strength of the tides,’[248] but, in another, the drawings of the last ships launched, the four of 1546, one of which, the Tiger, is reproduced in the frontispiece—comparatively low in the water, little top-hamper, neat and workmanlike in appearance—show a very great advance on anything before afloat, and indicate a steady progression towards the modern type.

Royal Ships:—Decoration and sailing qualities.

If we are to judge of the decoration of ships by the references to ornament in the naval accounts, we should have to conclude that it was entirely absent. Unquestionably it was to a certain extent present, since its absence would have been contrary to the instincts of humanity and the customs of every nation that has had a navy. But it could not have been as extensive as it afterwards became, nor have taken any very expensive form. The hulls were doubtless painted as in the previous reign, but the bows and stern seem to have been quite devoid of carving or gilding. The tops, which were large enough to hold heavy guns, were ornamented with ‘top-armours’ of red, yellow, green, or white kersies lined with canvas. The Sovereign had copper and gilt ornaments on the end of the bowsprit, and gilt crowns for the mast heads[61] had been an embellishment used for centuries. The Unicorn and Salamander have representative figures on their beakheads,[249] but as they were prizes no deduction can be drawn as to English custom. The English built ships have no figurehead, but the beakhead sometimes ends in a spur, implying the idea of ramming. This spur, however, points upward and is much too high to have been of any use for that purpose. The ships’ sides were still surrounded with pavesses, now only light wooden shields and decorations, but which were survivals of the real shields of knights and men-at-arms in ancient vessels, ranged round the sides of the ship until needed for fighting. A hundred years later the cloth weather protection round the oarsmen of a Mediterranean galley was still called the pavesade. These pavesses seem to have sometimes taken the place of bulwarks, not always present. In 1513 Sir Edward Echyngham, captain of a ship then at sea wrote that he had fallen in with three Frenchmen,

‘Then I comforted my folk and made them to harness, and because I had no rails upon my deck I coiled a cable round about the deck breast high, and likewise in the waist, and so hanged upon the cable mattresses, dagswayns,[250] and such bedding as I had within board.’[251]

The form of expression suggests that the absence of rails was unusual.

Of the rate of sailing attained by these ships and their weatherly qualities we know hardly anything. On 22nd March 1513 Sir Edward Howard wrote to Henry, evidently in answer to a royal command to make a report on the subject, describing the merits of the squadron he had been trying, apparently between the Girdler and the North Foreland.[252] The Kateryn Fortileza sails very well; the Mary Rose is ‘your good ship, the flower I trow of all ships that ever sailed;’ the Sovereign, ‘the noblest ship of sail is this great ship at this hour that I trow be in Christendom.’ Some time, but not long, before 1525 the Sovereign was in very bad condition, and her repair was urged because ‘the form of which ship is so marvellously goodly that great pity it were she should die.’[253] Her name however does not subsequently occur and she was probably broken up. In 1522 Sir William Fitzwilliam related in a letter to the king that the Henry sailed as well or better than any ship in the fleet, that she could weather them all except the Mary Rose, and that she did not strain at her anchors when it was blowing hard.[254] It seems rather late in the day for a trial of a vessel afloat in 1514, but some alterations may have been previously made rendering it advisable.[62] Even when ill and near his end Henry evinced the same interest in the seagoing qualities of his ships, since we learn from a letter of 1546 that he had required to be informed whether ‘the new shalupe was hable to broke the sees.’

Flags and Signals.

If carving, gilding, and painting were scant on these ships they shone bravely with flags and streamers. Those of the Peter Pomegranate were banners of St Katherine, St Edward, and St Peter, six of the arms of England in metal;[255] of a Red Lion; four of the Rose and Pomegranate; two of ‘the castle,’ and eight streamers of St George.[256] The Henry Grace à Dieu was furnished with two streamers for the main mast respectively 40 and 51 yards long, one for the foremast of 36 yards, and one for the mizen of 28 yards; there were also ten banners 3½ yards long, eighteen more 3 yards long, wrought with gold and silver and fringed with silk, ten flags of St George’s Cross, and seven banners of buckram, at a total cost of £67, 2s 8d.[257] Banners mentioned in other papers were, of England, of Cornwall, of a rose of white and green, of a Dragon, of a Greyhound, of the Portcullis, of St George and the Dragon, of St Anne, of ‘white and green with the rose of gold crowned,’ of ‘murrey and blue with half rose and half pomegranate, with a crown of gold,’ and of ‘blue tewke with three crowns of gold.’[258] White and green were now the recognised Tudor colours, and there is some indication of their use in that sense in the reign of Henry VII; the Greyhound was the badge of that king, the Dragon of his son. The Portcullis referred to the control of the straits of Dover, the Pomegranate to Catherine of Aragon and Spain; the constant recurrence of the Rose as a badge and as a ship’s name needs no explanation. The banner with the representation of a saint upon it was a survival of the custom existing in earlier times, by which every ship was dedicated to a saint, under whose protection it was placed and whose name it usually bore.

Besides ornament flags had long served the more prosaic purpose of signalling. Even among merchantmen there seem to have been some recognised signals, as in 1517 the Mary of Penmark, driven into Calais by bad weather, hoisted ‘a flag in the top,’ for a pilot.[259] This signal must therefore have long been common to at least two seafaring peoples. So far as the Royal Navy was concerned, we can only say that a flag ‘on the starboard buttock’ of the admiral’s ship called his captains[63] to a council.[260] But a system of day and night signalling had long been in existence in the Spanish service, and in view of the close connection between the two countries commercially, and the employment of Spanish ships and seamen by the crown, it would have been extraordinary had it not been known and used here. According to Fernandez de Navarrete[261] a scheme of signals for day and night use was practised in 1430. In 1517 a flag half way up the main mast called the captains to the flagship; sight of land was announced by a flag in the maintop; a strange ship by one half way up the shrouds, and more than one strange sail by two flags placed vertically. A ship requiring assistance fired three guns, and sent a man to wave a flag in her top, while if the admiral’s ship showed a flag on her poop, every captain was to send a boat for orders. A code with guns and lights made the corresponding signals during darkness and fog.[262]

Fleet Regulations.

The earliest set of regulations for the government of a fleet in this reign is contained in an undated paper entitled ‘A Book of Orders for the War by Se and Land,’ prepared by Thomas Audley by command of Henry.[263] The articles relating to sea matters, and dealing with the management of a fleet may be thus summarised:—

1. No Captain shall go to windward of his Admiral. 2. Disobedient captains shall be put ashore. 3. No ship to ride in the wake of another. 4. If the enemy be met the weather-gage is to be obtained; only the Admiral shall engage the enemy’s Admiral, and every ship is, as nearly as possible to attack an opponent of equal strength. 5. Boarding not to be undertaken in the smoke, nor until the enemy’s deck had been cleared with small shot. 6. If a captured ship could not be held the principal officers were to be taken out of her, the vessel ‘boulged,’ and ‘the rest committed to the bottome of the sea for els they will turne upon you to your confusion.’ 7. When going into action the Admiral is to wear a flag at his fore and main, and the other ships at the mizen. 8. The Admiral shall not enter an enemy’s harbour, nor land men without calling a council.

From the last regulation it would appear that only limited authority was left to the admiral, and it was perhaps due to Sir Edward Howard’s actions of 1512 and 1513, the last of which, an attempt to cut out galleys, was a defeat, and cost Howard his life. From the second it seems that little disciplinary power was left in the admiral’s hands, and from the seventh that it was not customary to fly the colours at sea. It will be observed, from the methodical way in which the captains were directed to go into action, that the tendency[64] was still strong to handle a fleet as troops and companies were handled ashore.[264]

The next fleet orders show little alteration.[265]

1. Every ship shall retain its place in the Van, Battle, and Wing, and every captain take his orders from the commander of his own division. 2. In action the Van shall attack the French Van, Admiral engage Admiral, and every captain a Frenchman of equal size. 3. The Wing shall always be to windward so that it may ‘the better beate off the gallies from the great ships.’ 4. The watchword at night to be ‘God save King Henry,’ when the other shall answer ‘Long to raigne over us.’

This fleet is the first recorded to have been opened into divisions, each section being distinguished by the position of a flag. The Lord Admiral flew the royal arms in the main top and the St George’s cross at the fore, while the other ships of the ‘battaill’ carried the St George at the main. The admiral commanding the Van wore the St George’s cross at the fore and main, and the rest of his command the same flag at the fore. The officer commanding the Wing flew the St George in both mizen tops and those under him in one.

The Lords Admirals.

The hour of the professional seamen had not yet come for either admirals or captains. Like most of Henry’s executive or administrative officers they were taken from among the men he saw daily round him at court. It would be unfair to suppose this the cause that the Navy did little during his reign, for the very existence of a powerful fleet is often reason enough why its services should not be needed. It was not until 1545 that the French made any real attempt to contest the command of the sea. In that year John Dudley, Lord Lisle, afterwards Duke of Northumberland, commanded the English forces, and, in a position where some of Sir Edward Howard’s bull like tactics might have been judicious, he failed to come aux prises with his adversary.[266] If we may believe his own confessions he distrusted his powers and recognised his incapacity, but in after years, when the aggrandisement of his family was concerned, he showed no such hesitating modesty. On one occasion he wrote to Henry admitting his want of experience but expressing a hope that ‘the goodness of God’ would serve instead.[267] On another, he said, ‘I do thynck I shuld have doon his Maiestie better service in some meaner office wherein to be directed and not to be a director.’[268] If[65] honestly felt this frame of mind was hardly calculated to inspirit his subordinates.

Although the office of admiral as a commander of a fleet dates from the thirteenth century it was for long only a temporary appointment, obtaining its chief importance from the character of the person holding it. When several fleets were at sea and the principal command was vested in one person he became for the time, Admiral of England, laying down his title with his command. From the beginning of the fifteenth century this office of ‘Great Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine’ became a permanent one, carrying with it the control of all the maritime strength of the crown, and being usually bestowed on a relative of the sovereign. The first of such patents is of 23rd Dec. 1406, and bears a resemblance, in the powers and privileges it confers, to the similar ones of the Admiralship of Castile, that can hardly be accidental.[269] But as far as the navy was concerned his duties were purely militant, and there is no trace of his interference in administration.

The ‘Great Admiral’ also possessed jurisdictive functions, trying, by his deputy, all maritime causes, civil and criminal. The fees and perquisites attached to the exercise of these duties made the post valuable in the fifteenth century, but it does not appear to have ensured any especial political power to its holder during that troubled time.

Frequently it became a mere court title of honour; the Earl of Oxford was Great Admiral during the whole reign of Henry VII, but his name never occurs in naval affairs. In many instances, during the fifteenth century, the Admiral of England did not command at sea at all, but during the reign of Henry VIII the post became one of actual executive control, and, later, of administrative responsibility. The Lords Admirals of this reign were mostly men who, before or afterwards, held other important State or Household appointments and who had no expert knowledge of their duties. The Earl of Oxford was succeeded by Sir Edward Howard by Letters Patent of 15th August 1512; his brother, Lord Thomas Howard, son of the victor of Flodden, was appointed 4th May 1513;[66] Henry, Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of the King, 16th July 1525; William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, 16th August 1536; John, Lord Russell, 18th July 1540; and John Dudley, Lord Lisle, 27th January 1543. That most of these men had no experience whatever of the sea was not considered detrimental to their efficiency.

Royal Ships lost.

There were not many men-of-war lost during Henry’s reign, but both absolutely and relatively, seeing the little active service undergone by the Navy, the number is much larger than under Elizabeth. The Regent was burnt in action in 1512. In 1513 a ship commanded by Arthur Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Edward IV, sank after striking on a rock in Bertheaume Bay, near Brest, but we are ignorant whether she was a man-of-war or a hired merchantman, probably, however, the latter. Sometime in or before 1514, a small vessel, name unknown, was wrecked at Rye,[270] but a more important loss was that of the Great Elizabeth, in September 1514, at Sandgate, west of Calais, during the passage of the Princess Mary to France when 400 men were drowned.[271] The Christ, freighted to the Mediterranean for trade, was, in 1515, captured by Barbary corsairs and all but thirty of those on board killed. Letters patent were issued, authorising a national subscription for their ransom. The next was that of the Anne Gallant, in August 1518, on the coast of Galicia while chartered by some London merchants on a trading voyage.

In 1545 several foreign hired fighting ships were wrecked by stress of weather, but the most remarkable loss of the reign was that of the Mary Rose which capsized off Brading on 20th July 1545, when getting under way. Ralegh says that her ports were only sixteen inches above the water line, and attributes the disaster to this circumstance. Beyond the fact that most of Ralegh’s observations on maritime matters, where not doubtful or unintelligible, can be shown to be incorrect,[272] there is the great improbability that after at least fifty years’ experience of gun-ports they should have been cut so low since she had been rebuilt in or before 1536. Moreover Anthony’s drawings show them to have been pierced very much higher in other vessels. A contemporary writer, who obtained his account from an eye-witness, ascribed it to a different cause and makes no mention of the ports.[273]

By the 1st August measures had been taken towards raising her and the persons who had undertaken the work desired,

‘Ffyrst ii of the gretest hulkes that may be gotten, more the hulk that rydeth withyn the havyn, Item iiii of the gretest hoys withyn the havyn,[67] Item v of the gretest cables that may be had, Item x grete hawsers, Item x new capsteynes with xxᵗⁱ pulleyes, Item l pulleyes[274] bownde with irone Item v doseyn balast basketts, Item xl lb of talowe, Item xxx Venyzian maryners and one Venyziane carpenter, Item lx Inglysshe maryners to attend upon them, Item a greate quantitie of cordage of all sortes, Item Symonds patrone and maister in the ffoyst doth aggree that all thynges must be had for the purpose aforeseid.’[275]

It appears from this that cables were to be passed through her ports, or made fast to her, and that by means of the hulks she was to be bodily hauled up, a course from which rapid success was anticipated. On the 5th August, her yards and sails had been removed and ‘to her mastes there is tyed three cables with other ingens to wey her upp and on every side of her a hulk to sett her uppright.’[276] Two days later the officers at Portsmouth fully expected that she would be weighed within twenty-four hours,[277] but on the 9th

‘Thitalians which had the doying for the wayeing of the Mary Roos have been with my Lord Chamberlayn and me to signifie unto us that after this sourt which they have followed, hithierto, they can by no meanes recover her for they have alredye broken her foremast ... and nowe they desyer to prove another waye which is to dragg her as she lyeth untill she come into shallowe ground and so to set her upright, and to this they axe vi days’ proof.’[278]

The second way proved as fruitless as the first, but we read that 22 tuns of beer were consumed during the work, which must have made it appear an enjoyable summer outing to the men.[279] Up to 30th June 1547, the whole amount expended in the various attempts was £402, 6s 8d[280] and this may have included £57, 11s 5d to Peter Paul, an Italian, for the recovery of some of her guns, which was paid within the time for which the total was made up but appears in other papers.[281] The last reference to the unfortunate ship is another payment of £50 to Peter Paul for recovering ordnance and then, after four years of effort, any further hope was foregone.[282]

Royal Ships hired by Merchants.

During the greater part of his reign, Henry like his predecessors, allowed merchants to charter men-of-war for trading voyages. In 1511, £200 was paid for the Mary and John by two merchants who hired her to go to the Baltic, a five months’ voyage, but out of this sum the king paid the wages of the crew and supplied flags and doubtless other stores.[283] One reason for putting royal officers and men on board may have been to prevent the ship being used for piratical purposes. In[68] the same year the Anne Gallant also went to the Baltic,[284] and from there to Bordeaux before returning to London, and the Peter Pomegranate to Zealand; in 1515 Richard Gresham freighted the Mary George, and Richard Fermor the Christ, to the Mediterranean. For the Anne Gallant the crown received £300, and for the crew of the Peter 100 ‘jorgnets’ were provided.[285] When the Anne Gallant was wrecked in 1518 the loss seems to have been submitted to arbitration, ‘for the copyinge of the byll of the grosse averies of the same Anne Gallant and the warde of the arbetrers theruppon made iiˢ,’ but there is no trace of the result.[286] In 1524, the Minion and Mary Guildford were at Bordeaux, and in 1533, two other vessels. After that year there is no further instance known of Henry permitting his ships to be hired by private persons.


Convoys were provided by the government during war time. In 1513, the Royal Navy being fully occupied on service, £55 was paid to the owner of the Mawdelin of Hull for escorting a wool fleet to Calais, and there are other similar agreements.[287] In the preceding year there was a guard of the herring fleet afloat, although we have no knowledge of its strength.[288] In 1522 we have the first sign of an attempt to patrol the four seas, four vessels were stationed between the Thames and Rye, four others between Rye and the Channel Islands, and three are assigned to the somewhat unintelligible location of between the Channel Islands and the Tweed.[289] Doubtless it was only a temporary measure, but it is important as showing that it was now understood that the Navy had a more continuous purpose than mere attack or defence in fleets.


Portsmouth dockyard, with the storehouses and workshops attached to it, and said to have been situated at that portion of the present yard known as the King’s Stairs, was the only one existing in 1509. The enlargement of the Navy necessitated a corresponding increase in the accommodation for building and repairs, and naturally the first references are to Portsmouth. In the first year of the reign there are payments for ‘the breaking up of the dockhead where the Regent lay—having put the said ship afloat out of the same dock into the haven of Portsmouth—making a scaffold with great masts for the sure setting on end of her main mast,’[290] and £1175, 14s 2d was expended there on the Sovereign.[291] During[69] the first war with France, additions were made to the establishment,[292] and from a later paper we learn that five of these were brewhouses, the Lion, Rose, Dragon, White Hart and Anchor,[293] while some ‘reparrynge and tylinge of the houses att the dokke,’ was also executed. In other respects the town was cared for, since in 1526, 675 pieces of ordnance were on the walls and in store, and in the same year £20 was spent on repairing the dock.

In 1523, however, the existing dock must have been much enlarged in view of the charges ‘for making a dock at Portsmouth for the king’s ship royal,’ the Henry Grace à Dieu.[294] She was brought into the dock with much ceremony,

‘the same day that the King’s Ship Royal the Henry Grace à Dieu was had and brought into the dock at Portsmouth of and with gentlemen and yeomen dwelling about the country there which did their diligence and labour there in the helping of the said ship, and also with mariners and other labourers in all to the number by estimation of 1000 persons.’[295]

These assistants consumed during their arduous labours through the day eight quarters of beef, forty-two dozen loaves of bread and four tuns of beer. The method of construction was still the same as under Henry VII, as there are payments for ‘digging of clay for the stopping up of the same dock head,’ and for breaking up these solid fabrics. The next event connected with the Portsmouth yard was the purchase of nine acres of land, in 1527, at twenty shillings an acre; this ground was surrounded by a ditch and hedge with gates at intervals.[296] The dockyard however gradually sank in consideration during this reign. Woolwich and Deptford soon disputed supremacy with it, and the gradual formation of Chatham yard between 1560 and 1570 completed its decay. Its last year of importance was 1545, when the fleet collected there, and when its approaching neglect was so little anticipated that the chain across the mouth of the harbour was renewed and fresh improvements were contemplated. But from that year until the era of the Commonwealth it almost disappears from naval history.


Woolwich, commonly but erroneously called the Mother Dock, grew up round the Henry Grace à Dieu. The accounts[297] show various amounts expended in the hire of houses and grounds there for purposes associated with the ship, and some of these were converted into permanent purchases. One such occurred in 1518 when the king bought a wharf and houses[70] from Nicholas Partriche, an alderman of London, for £100,[298] but the Longhouse, and perhaps others had been built in 1512. In 1546 the yard was again enlarged by the addition of docks and land belonging to Sir Edward Boughton, which were obtained by means of an exchange of property; these docks had been leased by the crown for at least seven years previously at £6, 13s 4d a year.[299]

In connection with Woolwich we find a description of the office formalities necessary when a ship was moved from one place to another. In 1518 the Henry Grace à Dieu and the Gabriel Royal were brought from Barking creek, the first to Erith, and the second to Woolwich, and among the expenses incurred were payments

‘To John Dende scryvenor in Lombarde Strette for certen wrytyngs and bylls made by hym for the Kyngs lysences to my office, belongynge, that is to seye, for one warraunte made to Master Comely, the Kinges attorney, xiiᵈ, and for a letter to rygge the schippes viiiᵈ, and for a warraunte to have the schippes owt of Barkyn Creke, viiiᵈ, and for ii comyssions made to provide all things concernynge the same schippes, iiˢ, and for divers copyes of the same xviᵈ.’[300]

It is doubtful however whether a dry dock existed at Woolwich at this time. In this particular instance there is a payment to John Barton, ‘marshman,’ for the making ‘of the Gabriel Rialls docke the sixteenth daye of Marche anno dicto in grett when the seid shipp most be browght apon blokks xxxˡⁱ’.[301] Seventeen men were at work and this cannot refer to a dry dock which would have required more men and much more money; it seems to have been a graving place in which the vessel was shored upon blocks. But when the Henry was being built the charges include the travelling expenses of men from Southampton and Portsmouth ‘for the makynge of the dokkehede,’ and ‘to break up the dokhede.’


The formation of Deptford is usually assigned to 1517, when John Hopton, comptroller of the ships, undertook, for 600 marks, to ‘make and cast a pond’ in a meadow adjoining the storehouse, and to build

‘A good hable and suffycient hed for the same pond and also certyn hable sleysis through the which the water may have entre and course into the foresaid ponde as well at spryng tydes as at nepetydes.’[302]

It was to be of sufficient size to take the Great Galley, Mary Rose, Great Bark, Less Bark, and Peter Pomegranate.[71] There is some evidence that a pond with an inlet communicating with the river, was in existence in the thirteenth century, in which case Hopton only adapted and improved it. The storehouse can be traced back to 1513,[303] but it is possible that the building hired at ‘Greenwich’ in 1485, by Henry VII was really at Deptford, seeing that Deptford Strand was sometimes called West Greenwich; if so its beginnings are older than Portsmouth. Even in 1513 there is a reference to ‘the howse at the dockhede,’ but in 1518, when the Great Nicholas was brought to Deptford for repair, there are charges for putting her into the dock, for ‘making the same dockhed,’ ‘for pylinge of the dockhede,’ and for ‘scouring out the dokk at the este ende of the Kyngis storehouse.’ There was also made ‘a myghty hegge of grete tesarde and tenets[304] along the seid dockside and the retorne of the same;’ in the same year a wharf and two sheds were built.[305] The use made of Deptford grew steadily until by the end of the reign it had become the most important yard. In 1546-7 more storehouses had to be hired at a cost of £17, 18s 8d for the year, while £1, 6s 8d covered the extra payments for the same purpose at Woolwich, and no such temporary augmentation was required at Portsmouth.[306]


There seems at one time to have been intention to make Erith a permanent naval station. By Letters Patent of 12th January 1513-4, John Hopton was appointed ‘keeper of the new storehouses at Deptford and Erith for supplying the king’s ships.’ On 18th February £32 was paid to Robert Page of Erith for

‘The purches of a tenement with an orchard and gardeyn and othir appurtenaunces thereunto belonging, conteigning foure acres of ground, being and sett in the parish of Erith by us of hym bought upon the which ground we have newe edified and bilded a house called a storehouse for the saffe kepyng of our ordynaunce and habillamentes of warre belonging to our shippes.’[307]

In 1521 the fittings, guns, and ground tackle of some of the ships were kept here, and shortly before that the sills of the doors had been raised ‘for the keepinge owt of the hye tydis for att every tyde affore ther was ii ffoote depe of water in the seide storrhowsse.’ At this date there were 88 bolts of canvas, 219 cables and hawsers, 27 masts, and 25 guns besides powder, pikes, bows and blocks in the house, which must have been of good size. We do not know the circumstances[72] that led to its disuse, but long before the end of the reign Erith ceases to be mentioned in connection with naval affairs.

If we were to assume that the docks, so frequently spoken of in official papers, were all dry docks, we should have to conclude that there were nearly as many in existence then as now. There can, however, be no doubt that the term was applied indifferently to a complete dock with gates, to a graving place, and even to a temporary protection of timber, fitted round a ship afloat to protect it from the ice. At Erith, in 1512-13 there was ‘a new docke’ made, in which the Sovereign was placed and repaired, the dock and repairs together occupying only eight weeks.[308] But in 1526 the construction of a dock at an estimated cost of £600 was suggested, so that it is certain that one did not exist there previously.[309] In another instance John Barton and twenty-three marshmen were paid for two days’ work while they ‘cast and made a dock for the Grett Galey affore the towne of Depfforde Stronde for the suer keepinge of her ther owt of the ysse.’[310] Subsequently certain ships are said to have been brought ‘into their dock’ after they had been aground for breaming and floated again;[311] in such a case it seems to have meant only a mooring place. At Portsmouth in 1528 a number of labourers were ‘working by tide for the making of a dock for the grounding of the Mary Rose, Peter Pomegranate, and John Baptist,’ which vessels were ‘wound aground by certain devices.’[312] These examples show clearly that the word when found in a sixteenth century paper, must be understood in a far wider sense than is customary to-day. Nevertheless there are references which seem to imply that there were other docks than those in the government yards. In 1513 men were engaged in ‘casting and closing the dockhede with tymber bord and balyste at Ratcliffe,’ and another one at Limehouse is also mentioned.[313]

Shipwrights and Workmen.

There was as yet no large resident population of shipwrights and others at the naval centres chosen by the government. For the Henry Grace à Dieu workers were brought from districts far afield. Plymouth, Dartmouth, Bere Regis, Exeter, Saltash, Bradford, Bristol, Southampton, Bodmin, Exmouth, Poole, Ipswich, Brightlingsea, Yarmouth, Hull, Beverley, York, and other places furnished contingents. Most of the men came from the south and west, but of single towns Dartmouth and Ipswich supplied the largest numbers. While travelling to and returning from the scene of their employment they received a halfpenny a mile, known as conduct money, for food[73] and lodging, and the agents sent to press them were paid one shilling a day.[314] Probably the call to the royal service was not unpopular as all classes of workmen were boarded and lodged in addition to their wages; under Henry VII they were victualled, but there is no mention of free lodging.

Shipwrights received from twopence to sixpence a day, sawyers, caulkers, and pumpmakers, twopence to fourpence, smiths twopence to sixpence, and labourers from twopence to fivepence. The staff at Portsmouth included a chip-bearer and a chip-gatherer at sevenpence a day, so that at this time ‘chips’ did not constitute the scandalous perquisite it afterwards became. Of the carpenters working on the Henry Grace à Dieu, 141 were supplied with ‘coats’ costing from two to five shillings each, but that was a nearly exceptional expenditure, although 164 were provided for the men building the Mary Rose and Peter Pomegranate. The cost of victualling averaged twopence halfpenny a day, and they were given bread, beef, beer, ling, cod, hake, herring, pease, and oatmeal. There were cooks to prepare their food and a ‘chamberlyn’ to make the beds which were bought or hired for their use; flockbeds and mattresses cost from 3s 4d to 5s, bolsters 1s and 1s 6d, sheets 2s to 3s, blankets 1s 4d, and coverlets 1s to 2s.[315] Sometimes flock beds and mattresses were temporarily procured for twopence, and feather beds for threepence a week. The beds were made to hold two or three men, and in at least one instance ten men were packed into three beds. By 1545 wages seem to have risen somewhat, since at Deptford and Portsmouth that year the pay and victualling of all classes—carpenters, smiths, labourers, caulkers, and sawyers—came to ninepence a day.

The principal designers and master shipwrights were John Smyth, Robert Holborn, and Richard Bull, who were in 1548 granted pensions on the Exchequer of fourpence a day ‘in consideration of their long and good service, and that they should instruct others in their feats.’[316] James Baker, the only master shipwright whose reputation outlived his generation, is not mentioned among these men, but he is elsewhere spoken of as ‘skilful in ships,’[317] and he possessed a pension, also from the Exchequer, of eightpence a day. In the reign of James I he was still remembered and said to have been the first who adapted English ships to carry heavy guns, a survival which, whether exactly correct or not, testifies to an exceptional skill in his art. In 1546 Baker got into trouble by being in possession of some forbidden religious books, and it is likely that only his professional ability saved him. Henry ordered that he should be examined, but ‘His Maiestie[74] thynketh you shall find him a very simple man, and therefore wold that without putting him in any great fear you should search of him as much as you may.’ Evidently the king knew him well, and had doubtless often discussed shipbuilding with him.

The famous Pett family who furnished a succession of celebrated shipbuilders between the reigns of Mary I and Mary II, were not yet prominent. In 1523 a Peter Pett is among the shipwrights, pressed from Essex and Suffolk, who were working at Portsmouth, and there is a yet earlier mention of a payment of £38, 1s 4d to a John Pett for caulking the Regent in 1499.[318] A recent writer,[319] in a Pett pedigree, gives Thomas Pett of Harwich as the father of the first well known Peter Pett who died in 1589. It is therefore possible, but scarcely probable, that this was the Peter Pett who was working in 1523 as a boy.

Officers and Men:—Pay and Clothing.

By the treaty of 1511, between Henry and Ferdinand, the former undertook to hold the Channel between the Thames and Ushant with 3000 men, of whom some 1600 were sailors and gunners.[320] For the fleet of 1513, exclusive of the crews of 28 victualling ships, 2880 seamen were required;[321] in 1514, during the month ending with 22nd May, there were 23 king’s ships, 21 hired merchantmen, and 15 victuallers in commission manned by 3982 seamen and 447 gunners, exclusive of the soldiers carried as well.[322] When maritime action in force recommenced in 1545, it was estimated that 5000 men would be wanted which ‘wilbe some dyffycultie.’ Beyond this one expression there is no hint of any trouble having been experienced in procuring these men although the numbers were larger than those which Charles I, a century later, found it almost impossible to obtain. As the proportion allowed theoretically was two men to a ton[323] the ships were much more heavily manned than in the seventeenth century, but in practice the crews do not usually work out at one man to a ton, even including soldiers.

Henry’s success was due in a great measure to the fact that the men were punctually paid and fairly well fed, two elementary incentives to loyal service neglected during the two succeeding centuries. In his first war of 1512 he entered into an agreement with the admiral, Sir Edward Howard, by which the latter, being supplied with ships, men, and money, had the whole administration placed in his hands, having to pay wages and find provisions and clothes.[324] In every subsequent expedition the admiral’s duties were only executive.[75] The rate of pay was five shillings a month, and at this it remained during nearly the whole reign, but in addition, a certain number of dead shares, or extra pays, the division of which is somewhat obscure, were allotted to each ship. They are first met with during the war with France in 1492, and, at that time, in connection with the pay of the soldiers serving on board the fleet. Subsequently the favour was extended to the maritime branch, and was perhaps intended to replace the ‘reward’ of sixpence a week in addition to their pay, which had been enjoyed by the seamen in preceding centuries. But if the dead shares were at any time divided among the sailors they speedily lost the privilege, and early in the reign we find the shares, reckoned at five shillings apiece, reserved for the officers. There are a few apparent exceptions, perhaps due to our ignorance of the exact sixteenth century meaning of the words used. The wages bill of the Katherine of London[325] distinctly says that the dead shares are divided between ‘master and mariners,’ and there are some other similar cases, e.g. ‘168 dead shares to be divided among the mariners.’[326] But in the vast majority of references they are seen to be meant for the officers.

The number of course depended on the size of the ship, and for the Henry Grace à Dieu they were thus distributed[327]:—Master —; master’s mate, 4; four pilots, 16; four quartermasters, 12; quartermaster’s mates, 4; boatswain, 3; boatswain’s mate, 1½; cockswain, 1½; cockswain’s mate, 1; master carpenter, 3; carpenter’s mate, 1½; under-carpenter, 1; two caulkers, 3; purser, 2; three stewards, 3; three cooks, 3; cook’s mates, 1½; two yeomen of the stryks, 2; their mates, 1; two yeomen of the ports, 2; their mates, 1. The officers’ pay was the same as that of the men, but they received in addition either these dead shares, reckoned at five shillings each, in the proportion shown here, or ‘rewards’ of so much a month. The Peter Pomegranate may be taken as a representative ship, as the Henry carried some officers unknown in the smaller vessels. In the Peter the master obtained one pound ten shillings a month of twenty-eight days; the master’s mate and quartermasters ten shillings; the boatswain twelve shillings and sixpence; master gunner, carpenter, purser, steward and cook, ten shillings, and gunners six shillings and eightpence. Surgeons were paid ten shillings and thirteen shillings and fourpence, and pilots twenty and thirty shillings a month, but neither were always carried.[328] Within certain limits, however, officers’ wages vary considerably, depending[76] on the number of dead shares allotted among them, which, again, was subject to the size of the ship, an indication of the commencing division into rates. But before Henry’s death the formula of pay ran ‘dead shares and rewards included’ for an average, exclusive of captains, of eight shillings a month[329] all round, so that the old system was beginning to be discarded.

For many years of the reign some sort of uniform in the shape of ‘coats’ or ‘jackets’ was supplied to the men, but its exact character is nowhere described. When the Mary Rose and Peter Pomegranate were brought round from Portsmouth to the Thames thirty-five coats in green and white were provided, but as the cost was 6s 8d apiece these could only have been for the officers.[330] Sir Edward Howard, by his agreement in 1512, had to furnish the sailors with them at 1s 8d each, and he appears to have charged for 1616 besides 1812 for the soldiers.[331] Masters and pilots had sometimes coats of damask, every coat containing eight yards.[332] In 1513, we find references to 1244 mariners’, gunners’, and servitors’, jackets,[333] and to 638 coats of white and green cloth, 13 of white and green camlet, 4 of satin, and one of damask.[334] Although indications of uniform for the men have been noticed under Edward IV and Henry VII, the provision was much more liberal when Henry ascended the throne. He had at first an overflowing treasury wherewith to minister to his love of display and carry out more completely a custom he may also have thought useful from the point of view of health and of making the men proud of the royal service. But the allusions to seamen’s clothes are few after the first years. The system appears to have lasted, although perhaps not continuously, until his death, since in 1545 the writer of an estimate of naval charges asks if 1800 seamen are to have coats at two shillings each.[335]

Sick and Wounded Men.

Sick men appear to have been kept in pay if landed for that reason, because when Sir Thomas Wyndham proposed to send such members of his crew ashore, the council preferred that he should keep them on board as they would only be receiving pay uselessly on land and might not come back.[336] Those discharged disabled from wounds sometimes received a gratuity; in 1513, sixty men of the Mary James sent home in that condition were given twopence a mile conduct money, the[77] usual rate being a halfpenny a mile, and a gift of £20 among them.[337]

Until 1545, there is no record of exceptional disease in fleets, but in September of that year the plague broke out in the English ships, although as the French were suffering even more and were eventually compelled by it to disband their fleet, it did not adversely affect the result of the operations. In August there were many men sick which was ascribed ‘to the great hete and the corrupcion of the victuall by reason of the disorder in the provision and the strayte and warm lying in the shippes.’[338] On the 28th August Lisle wrote to Paget that there was much illness, ‘those that be hole be veray unsightlie havyng not a ragg to hang uppon ther backes.’ On 3rd September, Lisle landed at Treport in Normandy, and sacked and burnt the town, and it is not until after that date that the word ‘plague’ is used and the terrible disease raged virulently. On 4th September there were 12,000 effective men, soldiers and sailors; on the 13th, 8488, so that in little more than a week 3512 ‘were sick, dead, or dismissed,’[339] By 11th September, Lisle was back at Portsmouth and wrote to the king that the ships were generally infected. Although the fleet was then broken up, it seems to have lingered on in the vessels kept in commission through the winter as there are references to it in the following April.


The captains of men-of-war were still usually military officers or courtiers who made no attempt to work the ship. They were for the most part, persons holding appointments in the household, but towards the end of the reign, the new feeling that the sea was as important as the land as a field of national effort had trained officers who were almost professional seamen. These men belonged to the class who would earlier have been content to command soldiers during a voyage, but who were now continuously occupied in commanding ships at sea or in attending to administrative details ashore. Nominally a captain’s pay was one shilling and sixpence a day, but there were frequently extra allowances. In 1513, Walter, Lord Ferrers, captain of the Sovereign received five shillings and two pence a day ‘by way of reward’ over and above his one shilling and sixpence,[340] and Sir William Trevilian of the Gabriel Royal, three shillings and fourpence a day. On the other hand captains who happened to belong to the troop of ‘King’s Spears’ were paid ‘out of the King’s cofers’ and took[78] nothing from the navy expenses.[341] The King’s Spears were a troop of Horseguards, fifty in number, formed by Henry shortly after his accession. Each of them was attended by an archer, man-at-arms, and servant, ‘they and all their horses being trapped in cloth of gold, silver, or goldsmith’s work.’ Eventually want of money led to the disbandment of this force.

In 1545 the demand for captains exceeded the supply for the smaller ships, the circumstances perhaps promising neither fame nor prize money. The official total of men-of-war and armed merchantmen under Lisle’s command was 104 ships, the strongest fighting fleet as yet sent to sea. About some of these he wrote,

‘As concernynge the meane[342] shippes I know noon other waye (I meane those that come out of the west parties and such of London, as were victuallers that want capitaignes) but to place them with meane men to be their capitaignes as serving men and yomen that be most mete for the purpose.’[343]

‘Meane men’[344] here signifies those of moderate social status, and serving men the confidants or attendants of noblemen, and who were frequently gentlemen themselves.

In 1546 a Spaniard was retained as captain of the Galley Subtylle and a Venetian as its patron, or master, but as they were provided with an interpreter the crew must have been English.[345] This is a further proof of the little experience native officers had of galley work; apparently the English captain of the preceding year had not been found efficient. Whether the crew were seamen or criminals is not quite certain; the term ‘forsathos’[346] is used but only in connection with the French prize, the Galley Blancherd, which was undoubtedly manned by prisoners, its original crew. In more ways than one this prize seems to have been a source of trouble to its captors. To keep the men in condition constant practice was essential, ‘Richard Brooke ... keptt me company as far as Gravesend to kepe the forsados in ure and breth as they must contynewally be otherwyse they wilbe shortly nothing worth.’ Most of the captives were Neapolitans, with the habits of their class, and Brooke desired new clothes ‘for all the said forsados who he saith are most insufferable without any manner of things to hang upon theym. So that I perceyve the same galley will be some chardge to His Maiestie contynewally, yf His Highnes do keep her styll with her suit of forsadoes as she ys now.’[347] Lisle urged that if the Blancherd was restored[79] at the conclusion of the war the prisoners should be granted their liberty. Perhaps he may have thought it advisable to get rid of them on any terms, but the argument he pressed was that such a course would make the French chary, at any future time, of bringing their galleys near English ports or ships if the slaves on board knew that surrender meant freedom.

Ship Discipline.

Yet another diplomatist, Dr William Knight, found ‘the ungodly manners of the seamen’ not to his liking, and so far as the scanty material permits us to judge, they appear to have been an unruly and disorderly race. Discipline in the modern sense was of course unknown, and such restraints as existed sat but lightly on both royal and merchant seamen. An undated paper, but which is probably earlier than 1530, discussing the causes of the decay of shipping, describes the men as ‘so unruly nowadays that ther ys no merchantman dare enterpryse to take apon hym the orderyng and governing of the said shippes.’[348] Even the government dealt with them gently, and when in 1513, the crew of a man-of-war were discontented with their captain, Sir Weston Browne, the Vice-Admiral was directed, if he could not pacify them, to replace Browne.[349] Sometimes whole crews went ashore, and when the French attacked Dover in 1514, the king’s ships in harbour there lay uselessly at their anchors for want of men. One sailor, Edward Foster, was examined at Portsmouth in 1539, before the Mayor and two admiralty officials for saying that ‘if his blood and the King’s were both in a dish, there would be no difference between them, and that if the Great Turk would give a penny a day more he would serve him.’[350] One would like to know what happened to this matter-of-fact physiologist.

Regulations existed for the maintenance of order on board ship, and were ‘set in the mayne mast in parchement to be rid as occasion shall serve.’[351] A murderer was to be tied to the corpse and thrown overboard with it; to draw a weapon on the captain involved the loss of the right hand; the delinquent sleeping on watch[352] for the fourth time was to be tied to the bowsprit with a biscuit, a can of beer, and a knife, and left to starve or cut himself down into the sea; a thief was to be ducked two fathoms under water, towed ashore at the stern of a boat, and dismissed. Only a boat from the flagship was to board a stranger to make inquiries, as the men ‘would pilfer[80] thinges from oure nation as well of the kinges dere frends,’ but in a captured ship all plunder, except treasure, between the upper and lower decks was allotted to them. It is interesting, as showing Henry’s desire to avoid giving needless offence, to compare this order, about the manner in which strange ships were to be visited, with another issued at the end of the reign. It was still more impressively worded. Neutrals were to be ‘gently’ examined, and if no enemies’ goods found in them not to be harmed. And ‘the violation of our pleasure in this behaulf is of such importance as whosoever shalbe found culpable therein, we shall not faile so to look upon him as shall be to his demerits.’[353]

In addition to regulations which, if not new as maritime customs, were new as a code of discipline we find that crews were now assigned stations on board ship, an essential towards smartness in work, but one which so far as we know had no previous existence. The station list—or one of them—of the Henry Grace à Dieu has come down to us, and although no similar paper exists for any other ship it cannot be supposed that an improvement in method and working, of which the advantages must at once have made themselves felt, could have failed to have been generally adopted.[354] This list gives:—

Notwithstanding these signs of orderly training the loss of the Mary Rose was attributed solely to the insubordination and disorder of those on board. Her captain, Sir George Carew, being hailed when matters looked serious answered that ‘he had a sort of knaves whom he could not rule.’ But these men had been chosen for the Vice-Admiral’s ship as especially good sailors and therefore ‘so maligned and disdained one the other that refusing to do that which they should do were careless to do that which was most needful and necessary and so contending in envy perished in frowardness.’[359]



Until very recent times the victualling on board ship was a source of continual anxiety to the authorities, and of grumbling and vexation to the men; and even in the time of Henry VIII it appears to have given more trouble than any of the other details of administration. There was no victualling department until 1550, and either local men were employed at the ports where supplies were to be collected or others were sent from London to make the purchases. Commissions to provide provisions were given to persons attached to the household, or to highly placed officials with sufficient influence to obtain them. In 1496 John Redynge, clerk of the Spicery, was victualling both the land and sea forces on service.[360] In July 1512, Sir Thomas Knyvet, Master of the Horse, was supplying the fleet and undertaking the responsibility of transport; in October, John Shurly, Cofferer of the Household, and John Heron, Supervisor of the London Customhouse.[361] Between 1544-7 numerous agents were employed and were subject to no central control, unless a reference to the Lord Chamberlain, Lord St John, afterwards Marquis of Winchester, as ‘a chief victualler of the army at the seas’ may be held to imply his general superintendence.

In 1512 the cost of provisioning each man stood at one shilling and threepence a week. There were some complaints that year, but in 1513 Sir Edward Howard, like many a later admiral, was begging earnestly for stores, ‘let provision be made, for it is a well spent penny that saveth the pound.’ A captain, William Gonson, finding that he was running short, wrote to the Council that unless he received fresh supplies for his men, ‘I cannot keep them in order, for if we lack victuals and wages at anytime as well Spaniards as Englishmen shall murmur.’ That also was an experience many later captains were to find commonplace. Most of the victualling difficulties in subsequent reigns were due to want of money or to absolute knavery, but the embarrassments at this date seem to have been as much caused by lack of organisation due to want of experience in the supply of large fleets longer at sea than formerly. There is, however, a letter of Howard’s, belonging to 1512 or 1513, which shows that roguery was already at work: ‘they that receved ther proportion for ii monthes flesche cannot bryng about for v weekes for the barelles be full of salt, and when the peecis kepith the noumbre wher they shulde be peny peces they be scante halfpeny peces, and wher ii peces shulde make a messe iii will do but serve.’[362] Short measure was therefore a frequent experience. In April 1513 a convoy reached the fleet off Brest just in time, ‘for of[82] ten days before there was no man in all the army that had but one meal a day and one drink.’ After Howard’s death, when the captains of the fleet returned to Dartmouth, and they were asked why they had come back, ‘they all replied for default of victuals not having three days allowance.’[363] The pursers, a class who move through naval history loaded with the maledictions of many generations of seamen, were already condemned. It is doubtless in connection with the return of the fleet that two officials wrote on the same day, ‘I fear that the pursers will deserve hanging for this matter,’ and ‘an outrageous lack on the part of the pursers.’[364] It may have been the experiences of 1512 and 1513 that led to an order in September of the latter year, of which there is no previous example that the vessels named for winter service should be provisioned for two months at the time.[365] They were directed ‘to victual at Sandwich from two months to two months during four months.’ Although the regulation remained in force, Surrey complained in 1522 that some of his ships had only supplies for eight days instead of two months.[366] In 1545 the French were said to carry two months’ stores.[367]

Victualling stores and requisites were obtained by purveyance, and there was not consequently much eagerness displayed to sell to the crown. There is a proclamation of 1522 ordering, under penalty of £5, every one possessing casks to put them out of doors that the King’s purveyor might take them at ‘a reasonable price,’ one, that is to say, to be fixed by him. The prices paid for provisions, are, therefore, no absolute indication of the market rates, but the following are some for this period.[368]

Biscuit (1512) 3s 6d and 5s a cwt.
Do. (1554) 7s 6d a cwt.
Salt beef (1512) £1, 11s a pipe
Do. (1544) £3, 12s a pipe
Beer (1512) 13s 4d a tun
Do. (1547) 16s and 21s a tun
Red Herring (1513) 5s the cade
Do. (1547) 9s 6d and 11s the cade
White Herring (1513) 10s a barrel
Do. (1547) 21s a barrel

By 1545 the rate had run up to eighteenpence a week per man, or perhaps more,[369] and two months’ provisions were estimated to occupy 83 tons of space in 100 ton ship with a complement of 200 soldiers and sailors. A pound of biscuit and a gallon of beer a day were allowed to each man, and ‘200 pieces of flesh’ to every hundred men on four days of the[83] week. Beer was the recognised right of the sailor, and the exigencies of warfare had to yield to his prerogative. After Surrey captured Morlaix in 1522, he announced his intention of going on a cruise and of not returning ‘as long as we have any beer, though in return we should drink water.’[370] Evidently it was considered out of the question to remain at sea without beer, and again when Lisle was off the French coast in 1545 he gave pointed expression to the fear that if the victuallers did not arrive ‘a good meynye of this fleet may happen to drynck water.’ The payments for provisions from September 1542 until the death of Henry in January 1547, amounted to £65,610 10s 4½d,[371] and we can still trace the proceedings of the various agents at Sandwich, Lowestoft, Portsmouth, Yarmouth, and Southampton. ‘Necessary money,’ an allowance to the pursers for candles, wood, etc., was in operation according to the ‘old ordinance’ at the rate of twopence a man per month.[372]

The new Administration.

The increase in the navy and the additional work caused by the mobilisation of fleets necessitated an augmentation from the first on the administrative side of the department though no systematic and permanent change was made until the close of the reign. Brygandine remained clerk of the ships till about 1523; in that year he was granted a release—a customary proceeding—for all embezzlements or misdemeanours committed while in office, and this probably means that he resigned then or shortly afterwards.[373] But although he had been the chief administrative officer, he was now by no means the only one even during his term of service, though it is not easy to define the exact duties and responsibilities of his associates. The fleets of 1513-14 carried a ‘Treasurer of the Army by Sea,’ in the person of Sir Thomas Wyndham,[374] who was also allowed one shilling and fourpence a day for two clerks, and Brygandine had nothing to do with payments made for stores or wages in these ships.

In 1513 John Hopton, a gentleman usher of the chamber was given charge of the fleet conveying troops to Calais,[375] and from that time until his death Hopton was closely connected with naval affairs. In 1514 he was made keeper of the storehouses at Erith and Deptford, with a fee of one shilling a day, and as such received under his charge the fittings of the ships[84] dismantled and laid up that year; it has been noticed that he contracted for the work required for the formation or enlargement of the pond at Deptford in 1517. He was an owner of ships and sold at least one to the king, and, in the same year, he is called ‘clerk comptroller of the ships.’ His duties must have been mainly clerical and financial, for we have many separate series of payments made by him to Brygandine who seems to have retained the active direction of executive work, and certain passages in the records known as the Chapter House Books, seem to imply that they were written under his supervision. Hopton held a definite appointment, but there are others mentioned as employed in purchasing stores, travelling for certain purposes, or in charge of ordnance taken out of the ships, who can only have held temporary and subordinate situations. There were sometimes local clerks of the ships, as at Portsmouth when Thomas Spert was given ‘the rule of all the forsaid ships, maisters, and maryners with the advise of Brygandine.’[376] Here, however, the whole control was really in the hands of the customers of Southampton who were ordered to provide the money requisite, muster the men once a week, and exercise a general oversight. Again, in 1529, Edmund More, of whom nothing is known beyond this single reference, was acting as clerk of the ships at Portsmouth. When there was only one naval centre the clerk of the ships resided there, but after the foundation of Woolwich and Deptford his place was in London, and the local clerk represented the later Commissioner in charge of a dockyard.

Hopton died in or before July 1526,[377] and had been succeeded from 1524 by William Gonson, also a gentleman usher of the king’s chamber, as keeper of the storehouses at Erith and Deptford.[378] Although in 1523 Thomas Jermyn was the recognised Clerk of the Ships,[379] and in 1533 Leonard Thoreton,[380] Gonson, who also commanded ships at sea, soon became the dominant official. He is found equipping men-of-war, directing their movements and making payments for wages, victualling, and the purchase of necessaries, but notwithstanding the extent of his authority he does not seem to have held any titular rank. In 1538 Sir Thomas Spert was Clerk of the Ships,[381] but appears to have had very little[85] to do unless Gonson happened to be suffering from gout. Spert was followed by Edmund Water, another gentleman usher of the chamber, who held his office by patent, neither Jermyn, Thoreton nor Spert acted under Letters Patent, and in the absence of an enrolled appointment, they were doubtless considered merely acting officials.

Large payments to Gonson can be traced down to 1545. Then for the first time we have the titles of ‘Treasurer of the See,’ ‘Paymaster of the See,’ and ‘Treasurer of the See Maryne Causes’[382] as describing John Winter, who, however, died in less than a year. It was possibly the loss of William Gonson’s practised experience, and dissatisfaction with his successors, which helped to move Henry to make in 1546, the most important change in naval administration that had yet occurred. In one day the naval organisation was revolutionised. By Letters Patent of the 24th April 1546, Sir Thomas Clere was constituted Lieutenant of the Admiralty, with a fee of £100 a year, ten shillings a day for travelling expenses when engaged on the business of his office, £10 a year for boat hire and twentypence a day for two clerks; Robert Legge, ‘Treasourer of our maryne causes’ with 100 marks a year, six shillings and eightpence a day for travelling expenses, eight pounds a year for boat hire, and sixteenpence a day for two clerks; William Broke, ‘Comptroller of all our shippes,’ with £50 a year, four shillings a day for travelling expenses, eight pounds for boat hire, and sixteenpence a day for two clerks; Benjamin Gonson,[383] ‘Surveyor of all our shippes,’ with £40 a year, the same travelling allowance and boat hire as the comptroller, but only eightpence a day for one clerk; Richard Howlett, Clerk of the Ships, with £33, 6s 8d a year, three shillings and fourpence a day travelling expenses, and six pounds for boat hire. William Holstock and Thomas Morley were granted annuities of one shilling a day without specific duties, but they were both employed in assisting the other officers. All these fees were paid from the Exchequer. By another patent of the same day, the supply of guns, powder, and other ordnance necessaries for the Navy was placed under the direction of Sir William Woodhouse, called ‘Master of the Ordnance of the ships,’ at a fee of 100 marks a year, six shillings and eightpence a day travelling expenses, eight pounds a year for boat hire, and two shillings and fourpence a day for three clerks. The stores were still kept at the central office in the Tower, and became separate from, if subordinate to, the old Ordnance Office, remaining so until 1589.


It would be of great interest to know exactly the motives moving Henry to the formation of—to use a later name—the Navy Board. Beyond discontent with the administration in 1545, the accessions of 1546 suggest that it was his intention to still further strengthen the Navy, and experience had doubtless shown that the old organisation was too inelastic for more than a limited number of ships acting within a restricted sphere. Hitherto fleets had carried troops, landed them, and returned home; or gone to sea, fought the enemy, and returned home; but now the era of long cruises was commencing, and the transition necessarily involved additional administrative work with which the clerk of the ships or the comptroller could not alone cope. Another subject of inquiry is the model on which the board was formed. It was not derived from any foreign power, for the organisation was then, and long afterwards, superior to and unlike, anything existing abroad. The similarity of many of the titles and of their corresponding duties suggests that it was copied from the constitution of the Ordnance Office, which Henry had also remoulded to suit the altered conditions of warfare. The Lieutenant of the Admiralty, acting under the Admiral of England, as the Lieutenant of the Ordnance acted under the Master General, was intended to be the most important member of the board. But after the death of Clere’s successor, Sir William Woodhouse, the post was not filled up and the Treasurership exercised by an expert official like Benjamin Gonson, or a great seaman like Hawkyns, speedily became the chief administrative office. Another cause of the Treasurer’s ascendancy is to be found in the fact that he had to be a man of some capital, able and willing to advance money to the crown. He was to have allowance for all moneys laid out if his books were signed ‘by two or three’ of the other officers.[384] Originally this may only have been intended to apply to all moneys received from the Exchequer and expended by him, but the yearly accounts show that it soon became a normal condition for the crown to be indebted to him for advances.

Two other officers found their positions altered by the new development. The Lord Admiral had been till now only a combatant officer; from this date he interfered more or less frequently and directly in matters of administration for which he was nominally responsible. But while the members of the Navy Board were men of weight and reputation his action mainly took the course of agreeing with the advice given him. Under the new arrangement the Clerk of the Ships became a very subordinate officer. More than a century later Pepys claimed that the clerk possessed from[87] former times a consultative and equal voice with the other officers. It would be difficult to disprove it, and it is true that the signature of the clerk appears sometimes—but only sometimes—attached to documents with those of his colleagues. In 1600, however, his duties are distinctly said to be confined to registering the resolutions of the board generally.[385] At especially busy periods he shared the active work of superintendence but ordinarily only the Treasurer, Comptroller, and Surveyor, are found to be exercising authority, and the gradual alteration of his title from Clerk of the Ships to Clerk of the Acts is itself a sign that his functions had become purely secretarial.

Hired Ships.

Besides English vessels, Henry hired Spanish during the earlier years of his reign and Hanseatic during the later ones, England being on much more friendly terms with Spain in 1509 than in 1547. One or two ‘Arragoseys,’ i.e. Ragusans were in pay, that republic being a maritime power of some importance in the fifteenth century. The English ships taken up for the crown were mostly employed as victuallers and tenders, and were therefore not required to be large and do not afford any measure of the magnitude of the merchant navy. In April 1513 there were thirty-nine impressed of 2039 tons, and of these the largest was 140 tons; twenty-eight of them were serving as victuallers, one being usually attached to each of the largest men-of-war.[386] The rate of hire was one shilling a ton per month, for both victuallers and fighting ships, and the wages, victualling, and dead shares were the same as on king’s ships; jackets were frequently provided for the crews as for men-of-war’s men. Another account gives a list of twenty-two English vessels of 3040 tons, and six Spanish of 1650 tons as having served.[387] The Spaniards were manned by 289 Spanish and 181 English seamen, with 869 English soldiers and a majority of English officers. Henry had to pay a hiring rate of fifteenpence a ton for them, and 7s 1d a month to Spanish seamen, 4s 9d to gromets, and 2s 5d to pages, while the dead shares allotted to the foreigners were at six shillings each instead of the five shillings of the Englishmen. The difference of pay must have caused a great deal of jealousy but the king’s attempts to obtain Spaniards at the standard rate had failed.[388] The Mary of Bilboa was taken up at fifteenpence-farthing and a half-farthing a month, terms which imply a good deal of higgling.[389] In 1514 there were twenty-one hired fighting[88] ships and fifteen victuallers engaged. The former measured 2770 tons, and included one of 300, one of 240, one of 200, and three of 160 tons.[390]

In 1544 twenty-two foreign ships, now mostly Hanseatic, of 1465 tons were still obtaining fifteenpence a ton, and 379 men in them seven shillings and sixpence a month, while the English pay remained at five shillings, and thirty-five hired English vessels received their one shilling a ton.[391] In the same year the expedition against Scotland required 117 transports of which London furnished 6, Calais 2, Amsterdam 1, Dordrecht 1, Antwerp 4, Hamburg 5, Lubeck 2, Ipswich 31, Yarmouth 31, Newcastle 6, Hull 6, and Lynn 4.[392] English owners did not show themselves eager to send their ships to join the royal fleet and it was necessary to issue a circular letter in August 1545, to the mayors of the various ports which ran:—

‘Fforasmuch as I understand that dyvers and many of the adventurers that are appointed for Portsmouth ... do slacke and drawe back from the same being rather gyven to spoyle and robberye than otherwise to serve His Maiestie and making ther excuses for lack of necessaries do showe themselves not wyllynge to serve the kyng’s Maiestie according to their diewties’

they were ordered to go to Portsmouth immediately on pain of death.[393] Their disinclination to be shackled by the discipline of a fleet can be understood when we find Lisle writing to Paget that ‘nother Spanyard, Portugell, nor Flemynge that cometh from by south but they be spoylid and robbid by our venturers.’ The successful privateering of 1544, when 300 French prizes were taken,[394] was assuredly joyously remembered and similar good fortune hoped for. If there is no exaggeration in Stow’s account the event is remarkable as the first instance of our sweeping the Channel on an outbreak of war, and signifies the steady growth of a marine able to perform the work.

The Merchant Navy.

The materials for an estimate of the strength of the merchant navy are scanty, but we find in this reign a commencement of the plan largely extended under Elizabeth, of obtaining returns of the vessels belonging to various ports. Henry, moreover, followed the example of his father in granting a bounty on large ships. In 1520 an allowance of four shillings a ton was ordered on the customs due for the first voyage of the Bonaventure of London of 220 tons; in 1522 five shillings a ton on the Antony of Bristol, of 400 tons, because she was good for trading purposes and ‘also to doo unto us service in[89] warre.’[395] The wording of the warrant rather implies, however, that the Antony was a purchase from a foreign owner. In 1521 four shillings a ton was paid on the John Baptist of Lynn of 200 tons, and in 1530 five shillings a ton on the John Evangelist of Topsham of 110 tons. If there was any rule regulating the apportionment of the bounty it is impossible to define it now. In 1544 there is a payment of five shillings a ton on the Mary James of Bristol of 160 tons ‘to corage othre our subgetts to like makyng of shippes.’[396] There were doubtless many more similar grants but which were not issued in a form which ensured their survival in the records.

In 1513 Bristol had nine vessels of 100 tons and upwards ready to join the royal fleet. Of these one was of 186 tons, one of 120, one of 130, three of 110 and three of 100 tons.[397] It is significant of the little reliance that can be placed on statements of tonnage that, in another paper, the one of 186 tons is given as of 160, one of 110 as 140 and the one of 120 as of 100. In the case of merchantmen the discrepancies may perhaps be attributed to the fact that it was to the interest of the owner of a hired merchantman to measure his ship at as high a tonnage as possible, as he was paid by the ton, while the navy authorities acting in the interest of the crown desired to rate it as low as they could. In the case of men-of-war the tonnage, unless they had actually performed a trading voyage and stowed goods, could only have been by estimate, which would explain a difference of 100 or 150 tons in the supposed measurement of a large ship.

In 1528, there were 149 vessels engaged in the Iceland fishery all which, with the exception of 8 from London, belonged to the east coast ports. Yarmouth sent 30, Cley, Blakeney, and Cromer 30, and Dunwich, Walderswick, Southwold, and Covehithe 32. To the herring fishery in the North Sea went 222, of which the Cinque Ports sent 110 and the east coast the remainder. Trading to Scotland were 69 ships of which only 6 sailed from London.[398] This return was used years afterwards to show the prosperous condition of these trades as compared with a later period when the number of vessels employed had greatly fallen off; except that it is endorsed in Cecil’s handwriting the date of the comparison is unknown. For 1533, there is a certificate of the ships returned from Iceland that year, 85 in number, of which 6, of from 50 to 100 tons, belonged to London; 10, of from 35 to 95 tons to Lynn; 14, of from 40 to 95 tons to Yarmouth; 7, of from 60 to 150 tons to Orwell haven; and 17, of from 30 to 90 tons to Wells and Blakeney.[399] Unless they were trading vessels, used on occasion[90] for the Iceland fishery, the average tonnage seems very high for North Sea fishing boats of that century. Nearly 700 sail were reputed to enter Calais harbour every year and ‘at the least’ 340 foreign herring boats also traded there.[400] These figures point to a flourishing local trade round the coasts and in the fisheries, but there are only three returns relating to ships of larger size and they do not give particulars for more than a few ports;—[401]

Minehead 1
Burton[402] 1
Lynn 1
Cley 1 1
Yarmouth 6 1
Lowestoft 1 3
Aldborough 1
Hull 1 1 2 1 1
Newcastle 7 1 1

There were 99 other vessels of from 40 to 100 tons also sailing from these ports; but if the table were complete and included London, Bristol, Southampton, and Dartmouth—to name no others—we should infer a surprisingly large total from the 32 belonging to these towns. Foreign observers, men representing a maritime state like Venice, considered the sea strength of England much greater than would be assumed from the few sources of information we possess. In 1531, the Venetian representative reported that Henry could arm 150 sail;[403] in 1551, Barbaro thought that the crown could fit out 1500 sail of which ‘100 decked’[404] and in 1554, Soranzo remarked that there were ‘great plenty of English sailors who are considered excellent for the navigation of the Atlantic.’[405] These Venetians paid especial attention to the English marine and in no instance do they write of it depreciatingly.

Trade and Voyages.

Commerce does not appear to have progressed in a ratio corresponding to its growth during the close of the fifteenth century. Trade had been then recovering the position lost through the unsettled political state previously existing, and had benefited under a king who made its expansion the keynote of his policy. Half a century had brought it relatively into line with that of other countries, and thenceforward its increase was no longer a question of regaining a standard already once attained, but of competition with other powers whose trade was marked out on definite lines. This accounts[91] for the comparatively stationary condition of commerce under Henry, and until new factors came into play under different circumstances. According to Hakluyt voyages to the Levant were frequent until 1534 but then fell off.[406] In that year Richard Gonson, son of William Gonson the naval official, undertook a Mediterranean trading voyage, which occupied a year, the usual time allowed for the passage out and home. In the same way English merchants traded with the Canaries and northern ports, but we have no details bearing on the extent of the traffic. William Hawkyns of Plymouth, father of Sir John Hawkyns, made three voyages, of which the last was in 1532, to Brazil and Guinea. From a remark, however, made by Chapuys, in a despatch to the emperor, voyages to Brazil could not have been uncommon.[407]

In 1517 there is said to have been an exploring expedition sent out under the command of Thomas Spert, who had been master of the Henry Grace à Dieu and other ships, and who possessed Henry’s confidence then and afterwards.[408] He was a yeoman of the crown, and by Letters Patent of 10th November 1514, enjoyed an annuity of £20 a year. In 1527 John Rut, another man-of-war officer, left England in June with two vessels for Newfoundland, one, the Mary Guildford, being a king’s ship. Rut returned in her without having effected anything; the other was lost at sea. Two other attempts at discovery are also assigned to this year.[409] In 1536 Hore, with the Trinity and the Minion, reached Cape Breton Island, and a further voyage was intended in 1541. These enterprises show Henry’s desire to extend English commerce, and a further illustration of the fact is to be found in his endeavour in 1541 to obtain permission for some Englishmen to sail in the next Portuguese fleet for India, ‘to adventure there for providing this realm with spices.’[410]

Doubtless the religious revolt had for the time an injurious influence on our trade, seeing that Englishmen were regarded as heretics by some of their best customers, and that the whole influence of the Roman Church was employed in Spain, and elsewhere, to the detriment of the country. The reaction born of intellectual freedom, and of the moral and material strength which was its natural product, did not make itself felt till later. Moreover as long as England acknowledged the Roman rule she was bound by the division of the new discoveries made by the Popes, a division which fatally hampered her attempts to share the riches of the golden[92] West. When that dividing line was no longer recognised, and individual enterprise or greed had free play, the conditions which brought her into antagonism with other maritime powers were also those which stimulated the growth of national vigour and self reliance. In that sense the Reformation considered as a liberation from restraining ties, was an important factor in the development of English sea power.

There were two statutes, in 1532 and 1539, confirming the navigation act of 1490. In 1540 it was enacted that whoever should buy fish at sea from foreign fishermen to sell on shore, should be subjected to a fine of £10, a statute which seems to point to the commencing decay of the native fishing industry. The cable and hawser manufacture, long associated with Bridport, was protected by the parliament of 1529, and Henry is said to have expended immense sums in the endeavour to make Dover a safe harbour.[411] Another act for the preservation of Plymouth, Dartmouth, Teignmouth, Falmouth, and Fowey havens, from the injury caused by the gravel brought down from the tin works, was passed in 1532. In 1513 a license for the formation of a guild, afterwards the Trinity Corporation, was granted for the ‘reformation of the navy lately much decayed by the admission of young men without experience, and of Scots, Flemings, and Frenchmen as lodesmen;‘[412] in 1536 the Trinity guild of Newcastle was founded.[413] ‘Navy’ is here used in its original sense, meaning the shipping and seamen of the kingdom generally, and not the ‘King’s Navy Royal.’ During the sixteenth century the Trinity House had no connection with the Royal Navy; during the greater part of the seventeenth century, it had an occasional consultative, but no direct connection. It has never had any actual share in the administration of the Navy, nor that close association with it that, trading on the loss and destruction of its early documents, it has claimed.

Coast Defences.

Allied to the defence of the kingdom by sea was the protection of the seaboard by the forts or castles, on the south and east coasts, some of which still exist. The initial motive was the threatening political outlook of 1539 when a European coalition against England appeared probable. During the next few years upwards of £74,000, from the spoil of the suppression, was spent for this purpose,[414] and this perhaps does not include £17,498 devoted to the fortifications of Hull. ‘A book of payments,’ made to the garrisons in 1540, enumerates seventeen of these defences, but more were afterwards built.

Naval Expenditure.

There is, of course, no chronological series of papers relating[93] to the naval expenditure of the reign. Only isolated accounts for those years when active service was undertaken are to be found. The general disbursements for 1513 came to £699,000,[415] and the naval expenses, from 4th March to 31st October, were £23,000, but this seems to have been almost entirely for wages and hire of ships, only £291, 17s 9½d having been spent on repairs, and neither victualling, ordnance stores, nor the cost of preparation being included.[416] Detailed accounts were strictly kept although so few have survived. In one book it is stated that two copies of the accounts were to be made; one to be retained by the person charged with making payments, the other to be kept ‘in oure owne custodie for oure more perfytte rememberaunce in that behalf.’[417] The first kept as his acquittance by Sir John Daunce, is now in the Record Office, and bears Henry’s signature in numerous places, showing the close personal attention he gave to naval affairs. When William Gonson was acting as paymaster, he received between 21st August 1532 and 25th August 1533, £4169, 10s, from 16th December 1534 to 11th December 1535 £7093, 17s 9½d, and from 4th April 1536 to 29th June 1537, £3497, 3s 2d.[418] As a whole, on these years, the crown was indebted, beyond the money paid out to Gonson, £1487, 12s 9d, and the expenditure was almost entirely for dockyard work and stores, although there must also have been the cost of ships in commission, not here entered.

During the years of warfare between 1544-7 the amounts expended became very large. Richard Knight, who describes himself as ‘servant’ of Lord St John, received between 12th February 1544-5 and 30th June 1547, £101,127, and of this £84,000 was devoted to seamen’s wages and victualling.[419] Of the total sum £40,000 came from the Exchequer, £20,500 from the Court of Augmentation, £1600 benevolence money in Norfolk, and £8000 from the court of Wards and Liveries. Coincidently many thousands of pounds were paid through William Gonson, John Wynter, and his successor, Robert Legge, and doubtless through other persons. The new system of administration did not at first work altogether successfully as far as bookkeeping was concerned. From the following letter of Lisle’s we find that Sir William Paget, a Secretary of State, had written to him making inquiries, and he answers

‘You write unto me that the Tresawrer of thadmyralltie being called to accompt his reckoning is so illfavoridly mad that there semith a want of £2000 wich you cannot well se what is become of hit.’


and goes on to explain a series of transactions, but both Legge and Wynter appear to have been performing the duties of Treasurer which may be a reason for the entanglement of figures.[420] It was stated that during 1544-5, the crown had expended £1,300,000,[421] and the naval expenses from September 1542 to the end of the reign are fully detailed in a later paper.[422]

Cordage, timber, and other stores, £45,230 18 8
Coat and conduct money, 2,415 13 2
Wages of seamen, soldiers, shipwrights, dockyards, etc., 127,846 10 7
Victualling, 65,610 10
Ordnance and ammunition, 19,276 13 10½
Furniture[423] of ships, 1582 14 7
Hire of docks, storehouses, riding and posting charges, 502 4 6
Piracy and Privateering.

Great stress has been laid on the prevalence of piracy in the sixteenth century as the chief school of English seamanship. Of course it was practised during this reign to an extent that would now be thought monstrous, but it did not attain the proportions of a few years later, nor were English seamen dependent on its development for a knowledge of their art. When religious and political motives impelled them to a guerilla warfare, they became pirates because they were already good seamen, with the training of centuries behind them, and the sea was their natural field of action. The succession of conflicts between France and the Empire induced an internecine maritime war between those powers, in the shape of privateering, which sometimes smouldered but never died out. Convoys for the Spanish American fleets were instituted in 1522 on account of the depredations of French privateers. The despatches of the Imperial ministers show that France, during the reign of Henry and his immediate successors, was, much more than England, a source of injury to Spanish trade. The success of French privateering, together with the voyages for purposes of discovery and settlement, of Verazzani in 1523, of the brothers Parmentier in 1529, of Jacques Cartier and Roberval in 1534 and 1549, of Villegagnon 1555, of Bois-le-Compte in 1556, of Jean de Ribaut in 1562, and of René de Laudonnière in 1564, a succession of efforts which only closed with the outbreak of the wars of religion, seemed to point to France rather than to England as destined to challenge Spanish maritime supremacy. In 1551 France sent a fleet of 160 sail to Scotland, and it is doubtful whether England could have collected one of equal strength to act at a similar distance.

Englishmen, however, joined in the game to a sufficient[95] extent even now. In 1540 the Emperor was informed that a Spaniard, with gold and amber on board, had been seized by two English ships, and a few such successful and profitable incidents must have acted as a strong incentive to ventures which promised large profits on a moderate outlay. There was very little police of the seas, nor could the guardians themselves be trusted in face of temptation. In 1532 some captains sent out on this service plundered Flemish merchantmen they met.[424] As early as 1515 a commission of Oyer and Terminer was issued to the Earl of Surrey and two others to hear and decide piratical offences[425]; in one case eighteen soldiers serving on a man-of-war stole a boat with the intention of seizing a ship at sea. The French had, during the first quarter of the century, a reputation for fair play, and Wolsey in 1526, wrote to Henry that ‘though many English have been taken at sea by the French, they have always made full restitution,’[426] but when the Scotch began to interfere in the trade, proceedings became embittered by competition. By 1532 the narrow seas were said to be full of Scotch privateers and the customary ransom of prisoners was twenty shillings for a sailor and forty for a master.[427] Both Spaniards and Frenchmen attacked each other in English ports, which, until 1539, were mostly unarmed and plunder was openly sold in the coast towns. That from a Portuguese ship was purchased by the mayor and others of Cork, and in 1537 the owners had been for three years vainly endeavouring to obtain redress.[428]

Ordinary merchantmen, sailing with cargo, took advantage of any favourable chance without necessarily acting on a premeditated plan. One vessel, crossing the Channel, met three Bretons and it then occurred to the owner and master that they had lost £60 by Breton pirates and could obtain no redress. Not to lose the opportunity they captured one and sold the cargo at Penryn.[429] Piracy had not yet taken the savage character with which a few more years were to see it imbued; the theological bitterness was as yet wanting. Cases of bloodshed were very rare, and so far at any rate as Englishmen were concerned, the pirate was also sometimes a respectable tradesman on shore.[430] In 1543 the prisons were said to be full of pirates and the Council adopted the plan of requiring sureties before issuing letters of marque. The port towns flourished, at least some of them, then and long afterwards far more on the traffic with pirates, who visited them and sold the proceeds of robbery to the inhabitants, than by legitimate trade. Consequently[96] no victim could rely on obtaining assistance even from the civic authorities. A French ship was ransacked in Plymouth Roads in August 1546—peace with France had been signed on 7th June—notwithstanding her captain’s appeal for help in the town, which seems to imply that the work was very leisurely and thoroughly done. The Council ordered that unless the goods were recovered and the pirates captured the inhabitants of Plymouth were to be made pecuniarily liable for the damage.[431] The wording of the Council order suggests that the Frenchman was boarded from the town, in which case the refusal of the mayor to interfere is still more significant.

Only one statute relating to piracy was passed by Henry. Before 1535 offenders frequently escaped because, if they did not confess, it was necessary to prove the crime by the evidence of disinterested witnesses and this was usually an impossibility. A fresh act therefore rendered them liable to be tried before a jury under the same conditions as ordinary criminals.[432]

Ordnance, Powder and Shot.

Soon after Henry’s accession he gave large orders for ordnance to foreign makers, chiefly at Mechlin, but the guns so obtained seem to have been for land service. There is only one paper which gives us the weight of the ship serpentine as used in 1513, and here it works out at 261¼ lbs. exclusive of the chamber or loading piece which weighed 41 lbs.;[433] the chamber contained the powder only, not the shot.[434] These were made by Cornelius Johnson ‘the king’s iron gunmaker,’ and who was one of the twelve gunners attached to the Tower with a fee of sixpence a day; as king’s gunmaker he also received eightpence a day. The sling, one of the heavier ship guns, weighed with its two chambers 8½ cwt. and 27 lbs., and there were also half and quarter slings; but there does not appear to have been any standard weight for these or other guns.[435] The serpentines bought in Flanders, for field use, weighed from 1060 lbs. to 1160 lbs. each. Guns were mounted on two or four-wheeled carriages, or, sometimes, on ‘scaffolds’ of timber; leaden shot and ‘dyse’ of iron were used with serpentines and iron shot with curtalls. In one instance 200 iron dice weighed 36 lbs., and they seem to have usually been one and a half inch square. The Artillery Garden at Houndsditch was granted for practice with ‘great and small ordinance,’ and persons with such English names as Herbert, Walker, and Tyler are noticed as gunfounders early in the reign, although, according to Stow, cast iron guns were not made in England till 1543. Some writers assert that they were used in Spain in the fourteenth century; if so it is probable that they were made here before the date given by Stow.


Serpentine powder cost from £4, 13s 4d to £6, 13s 4d and ‘bombdyne’ £5 a last; corn powder tenpence a pound.[436] Serpentine was a fine weak powder and probably midway in strength between bombdyne and corn. During 1512-13, 51 lasts, 12 barrels, 12 lbs. were used at sea, and 37 lasts during the succeeding year. For saltpetre we were dependent on importation, and between 1509-12 there are two contracts for quantities costing £3622, at sixpence a pound, with John Cavalcanti and other Italian merchants who were the usual purveyors, but gunpowder was made at home. Shot, whether of stone or iron, were called gunstones, round shot of iron costing £4, 10s to £5, 10s a ton, and of stone 13s 4d a hundred. Cross bar shot were in common use, e.g. ‘gun stones of iron with cross bars of iron in them.’[437] There are ‘ballez of wyldfyre with hoks of yron,’ and ‘bolts of wyldfyre’ both, like the arrows of wildfire, to set the enemy on fire. ‘Tampons’ were wads, sometimes of wood, and not the tompions now known: 16,000 were bought for the Henry Grace à Dieu at ten and twenty shillings the thousand.[438] From an entry ‘for two sheepskins to stop the mouths of the guns,’ we may infer that they were stuffed into the muzzles, or tied over them. Sheepskins were also used for gun sponges, and ‘cartouche’ or cartridge cases were made of canvas.[439]

In 1536 there were only 39 lasts, 11 barrels of powder in the Tower, 33,000 livery arrows,[440] ‘decayed,’ all the bows in the same condition, and the morrispikes wormeaten.[441] But the construction of the forts round the coastline in 1539-40, and the events that followed, gave an impetus to the demand for war material.


In 1546 the Council querulously complained that ‘the general rule is whenever the King’s Maiestie shuld bye al is dere and skase, and whenever he shuld sel al is plentye and good chepe,’ an experience not confined to sovereigns. Stores such as timber, pitch, tar, oakum, ironwork, etc., necessary for building or repairs were mostly obtained from tradesmen at or near the dockyard towns. One reason for the adoption of Portsmouth is perhaps to be found in its nearness to Bere Forest and the New Forest, but nearly everything but timber, if not to be obtained at Southampton, had to be sent from London. Naval officials, like Gonson, sold necessaries to the crown, while acting as its representatives, and such transactions appear in the accounts as quite legitimate and customary. About 1522 oak timber from[98] Bere was costing one shilling a ton rough and unhewed, one and eightpence seasoned, and three and fourpence ready squared. Ash was one shilling and beech sixpence.[442] Carriage cost twopence a ton per mile, and the work of felling and preparing the wood was performed by the king’s shipwrights who were sent into the forests for that purpose. Iron was £4 to £5, 10s a ton, the Spanish being of a better quality than the English and costing the higher price. Cables were used up to seventeen inches in circumference, ordinarily described as Dantzic, but sometimes from Lynn and Bridport, and bought of both English and foreign merchants. The price averaged about £12 a ton. The establishments did not, in 1515, possess any means of weighing cordage delivered, and there is a charge of 3s 4d for scales ‘hyrede of a belle ffundere dwellynge at Hondise Diche,’ and sent down to Deptford to weigh purchased cables. The following are the prices of miscellaneous requisites:—

Canvas { Olron[443] (1515), 14s 4d and 15s a bolt[444]
{ do. (1518), 10s a bolt
{ Vitery[445] (1515), £4, 13s 4d the balet[446]
{ Poldavys[447] (1515), 18s a bolt
Hemp (1523), 9s per cwt.
Lead (1513), 6s per cwt.
Rosin (1523), 10s per cwt.
Do. (1544), 8s per cwt.
Raw Tallow (1523), 6s per cwt.
Purified Tallow (1523), 9s per cwt.
Tallow (1544), 7s and 10s per cwt.
Flax (1513), 8s per cwt.
Do. (1523), 10s and 12s per cwt.
Oakum (1523), 8s to 14s per cwt.
Pitch (1514), 4s a barrel
Do. (1523), 6s a barrel
Do. (1544), 8s a barrel
Henry VIII and the Navy.

It is of course beyond the scope of this work to enter into the vexed question of Henry’s merits or demerits as a ruler, in its widest sense. But the arming of his kingdom was an important part of the office of a sixteenth century king, and the views on which it was planned, and the way in which it was carried out, must form a weighty element in the final judgment of his fitness for his post. So far as the Navy is concerned there is little but unqualified praise to be awarded to Henry. That his action was due to a settled policy and not the product of a momentary vanity or desire for display is shown by the fact that it commenced with his accession and was still progressing at his decease. For almost thirty-eight years nearly every year marked some advance in construction or administration, some plan calculated to make the Navy a more effective fighting instrument. So far as numbers went he made it the[99] most powerful navy in the world, remembering the limited radius within which it was called upon to act. He revolutionised its armament and improved its fighting and sailing qualities, he himself inventing or adapting a type thought fit for the narrow seas. He enlarged the one dockyard he found existing and formed two others in positions so suitable for their purpose that they remained in use as long as the system of wooden ships they were built in connection with. Regulations for the manœuvring of fleets and the discipline of their crews were due to him. He discarded the one mediæval officer of the crown and organised an administration so broadly planned that, in an extended form, it remains in existence to-day. He built forts for the defence of the coasts, a measure that might now be criticised as showing ignorance of the strategical use of a fleet, but a criticism which is inapplicable to the middle of the sixteenth century when the Navy had yet to fight its way not only to supremacy but to equality. It may be said that events pointed to, and almost enforced, the new direction given to national endeavour and the new value attached to the naval arm. Allowing due weight to the altered conditions the fact remains that Henry accepted them and carried out the innovations they involved with an energy and thoroughness akin to genius. The maritime systems of France and Spain, whether in details of shipbuilding or the larger methods of administration, remained unchanging and inelastic, ignoring the mutations of a century remarkable for activity and progress. Spain tried to hold the command of the sea in the sixteenth century with an organisation little altered from that found sufficient in the previous one. Circumstances brought England into conflict with her and not with France, and she had to pay for her blunder of pride or sluggishness with the ruin of her empire.

In these changes history gives no sign of there being any extraneous influence acting through the king. Ministers might come and go but the work of naval extension, done under his personal supervision and direction, went on methodically and unceasingly. He trod a path that some of his predecessors had indicated but none had entered. The errors he committed were those inevitable to a new scheme, a plan which was not an enlargement but a reconstruction, and in which he was a pioneer. His mistakes were those of the scientific ignorance and feudal spirit of his age; his successes were of a much higher order and informed with the statesmanship of a later time.



Changes in the Navy List.

It is usually said that during the reigns of Edward VI and Mary the Navy was neglected. As a generalisation this is incorrect, although it is true that the number of ships fell off and that the results of naval undertakings were not commensurate with the efforts made, or the money expended upon them. But the administration of both reigns will compare favourably with that of long periods of the seventeenth century. Considering the tardy acceptance of new ideas it would have been marvellous had Henry’s policy been at once consistently and continuously carried on. The factious struggles which occupied the reign of Edward and the religious difficulties of that of Mary were not conducive to perseverance in any settled design, but at least the Regency did not make it their business to at once sell off the Navy. Moreover many of the disappearances from the Edwardian navy lists are of the purchased vessels of the later years of Henry’s reign, and of the small rowbarges he had built from his own design and for a special purpose. The former, we may be certain, had not been constructed with the strength and solidity characterising English ships, and some were perhaps old when bought into the service for which they were momentarily desirable.

The earliest navy list subsequent to Henry’s death is of 5th Jan. 1548.[448] This contains 32 large vessels, having an aggregate of 10,600 tons, besides the Galley Subtylle, 13 rowbarges of 20 tons each, and 4 barks of 40 tons. Of other ships belonging to the last reign the French Galley or Mermaid is omitted, but was in the service then and long afterwards, the Artigo had been sold by an order of 14th April[101] 1547, and the Minion had been given to Sir Thomas Seymour. Comparing this with the next list of 22nd May 1549[449] we find that not only are all the large vessels of 1548 still carried in it but that it is increased by the presence of the Mary Willoby, recaptured in 1547, two French prizes of 200 tons each, and ‘the three new pinnaces unnamed,’ and evidently just built.[450] Eleven ships were cruising in the North Sea and eighteen in the Channel, which does not give the impression of a cessation of activity notwithstanding the intrigues of Somerset, Seymour, and Northumberland, Kett’s rising, and similar distractions. During 1548 and 1549 ten of the rowbarges, being doubtless found useless, were sold for £165, 4s.[451] The next list is of 26th August 1552[452]; of the before-named 32 vessels the Murryan had been sold in December 1551 for £400, the Struse for £200, the Christopher and Unicorn are ordered to be sold, the Grand Mistress is considered worthless, and the Less Bark, Lion, and Dragon are to be rebuilt. The remainder are still serviceable, or require only slight repair, while the names of the Primrose and Bark of Bullen reappear attached to new ships and the Mary Willoby has been rebuilt.[453] A French prize, the Black Galley, captured in 1549, is not found in this list, and the Lion, a Scotch man-of-war taken by the Pauncye, was lost off Harwich. In January 1551 a fleet of twelve vessels was at sea, and in 1552 at least eight vessels were in commission, so that altogether up to 1552 there was no great reduction in the effective strength or want of energy in its use. There were now three galleys belonging to the crown and they were not favourably regarded. In 1551 a note of the debts incurred in relation to them was required and the crews were to be discharged as the vessels were very expensive and ‘serve indede to lytle purpose.’[454] This was followed by a warrant on 30th March for £231, 12s to pay them off, and £55 ‘to be divided equallie amonge the Forsares nowe disarmed.’


Edward died on 6th July 1553, therefore it is not strange that there is no later navy list of his reign than that of August 1552. Not only was there no deterioration during his short rule, but two important steps were taken in furtherance of the work of organisation that was Henry’s legacy. The commencement of the great Chatham yard, and the formation of the Victualling into a separate and responsible department, were due to the action of the Council. The Medway anchorage[102] was then, and for some years afterwards, called Gillingham, or Jillingham, Water, and the first order for its use is of 8th June 1550, when the Council directed that all the ships laid up were to be, after the discharge of their officers and crews, ‘herbarowed’ there.[455] On 14th August they further ordered that the men-of-war at Portsmouth were to be brought round to Gillingham, and on 22nd August William Wynter, then ‘Surveyor of the Ships,’ was sent down to superintend their removal.[456] This of course could have been no sudden determination, but there is no hint of the discussions that must have preceded it. Considerations that may have favoured the measure were the limited anchorage space afforded by Woolwich and Deptford, and the distance of Portsmouth from the centre of government and the merchants supplying stores, of which nearly all had to be sent from London. Another reason was the ease with which the work of grounding and graving could be carried on in the Medway with its banks of mud and large tidal rise and fall; this, in fact, is the only one given in the Council order of 14th August 1550. Years were yet to elapse before the beginning of the dockyard appears, and the victualling storehouses for the men employed were at Rochester. That there were a large number of men there is shown by the victualling accounts between 28th June 1550 and 29th September 1552. Rochester stands for £6137 of the total, while Woolwich and Deptford cost £8382, Portsmouth £2407, and Dover £646.[457] The Admiralty branch, represented by the Treasurer, spent, up to 24th October 1551 £6600, at Gillingham in wages and necessaries. Portsmouth, however, only slowly lost its comparative pre-eminence although it was now far less important than Deptford; in 1556 there were still more vessels laid up there than at Gillingham, and its victualling charges, the only test remaining, were £2472, against £1526 at Gillingham. The choice of the Medway was followed by an order, on 16th January 1551, to build a bulwark at Sheerness for its defence.[458]

Naval Expenditure.

The only accounts of the Navy Treasurer which have survived for this reign are from 25th December 1546 to 25th December 1547, and from 29th September 1548 to 24th October 1551.[459] During the first period his expenses were nearly £41,000, of which sea-charges (wages) were £6926, Deptford £18,824, Woolwich £3439, Gillingham £4167, Harwich £1631, Colne £484, and Portsmouth £1211. It will be noticed that there are heavy payments in relation to Gillingham nearly three years before the action of the Council,[103] in 1550. There is no obvious explanation of this; the body of the account does not show what particular work was carried on there but it may have been done by way of experiment. In the second period the Treasurer received £65,809 and spent £66,250. Of this sum sea-charges were £14,400, press and conduct money £2900, Deptford £30,300, Woolwich £2054, Gillingham £6600, and Portsmouth £1157. Edward VI inherited his father’s interest in maritime affairs and appears to have been continually at Deptford. There is a charge of £88, 6s 2d for paving ‘the street,’ presumably the High Street, which was ‘so noysome and full of fylth that the Kynges Maiestie myght not pass to and fro to se the buylding of his Highnes shippes.’[460] Deptford, it is seen, was now the leading dockyard, a position it retained for the remainder of the century.

All such improvements as seemed beneficial were adopted that the service might be rendered more efficient. A warrant for £70, 11s was issued to pay for ‘bringing over certain Bretons to teach men here the art of making polldavies.’ From another document we find that two of these Bretons were attached to Deptford. Lead sheathing was newly applied to English ships in 1553, but had been since 1514 in use in the Spanish marine.[461]

There can be little doubt that Henry VIII had intended the formation of a Victualling Department, and that the Council only executed a set purpose already fully discussed and resolved upon. To a man with Henry’s clear perception of the needs of the growing Navy, and his liking for systematic and responsible management, the haphazard method of a dozen agents acting independently and uncontrolled by any central authority, must have been peculiarly hateful. Edward Baeshe who, until 1547, had been merely one of the many agents employed, was chosen in that year to act with Richard Wattes, the two being appointed ‘surveyors of victuals within the city of London,’ with power to press workmen, seamen, and ships, and with a general superintendence over their local subordinates. They supplied not only the fleet but the troops acting against Scotland. This was a tentative movement onwards, but by Letters Patent of 28th June 1550, Baeshe alone was appointed ‘General Surveyor of the Victuals for the Seas,’ with a fee of £50 a year, three shillings and fourpence a day for travelling expenses, and two shillings a day for clerks. Provisions were obtained by exercising the crown prerogative of purveyance, and the money required was received from the Treasurer of the Navy and included in his estimates, although Baeshe also kept separate accounts which[104] were examined and signed by not less than two of the Admiralty officers. Between 1st July 1547, and 29th September 1552, £51,500 passed through his hands and his inferior officers were acting under his directions wheresoever ships were stationed.

Admiralty Officers.

Death and other accidents soon altered the arrangement of the Navy Board as appointed by Henry VIII. Robert Legge, the first Treasurer by patent, died some time in 1548, and his accounts determined on 29th September. He was succeeded by Benjamin Gonson, although Gonson’s Letters Patent bear the date of 8th July 1549. William Wynter, son of John Wynter the first Treasurer, and who was making a name as a seaman, succeeded Gonson as Surveyor by Letters Patent of the same date. William Holstock, formerly an unclassified assistant, became keeper of the storehouses at Deptford by patent of 25th June 1549, at a salary of £26, 13s 4d a year and £6 for boat hire. Sir William Woodhouse, originally Master of the Ordnance of the Navy, succeeded Sir Thomas Clere as Lieutenant of the Admiralty by a patent of 16th December 1552, and on the same day Thomas Windham replaced Woodhouse as Master of the Ordnance of the Navy. From the date of the institution of the Admiralty the post of Lord Admiral, hitherto one of dignity and occasional high command, became an office necessitating work of a more everyday character. Although there is no precise order bearing on the subject it is evident that its holder was at the head of the Board and decided questions referred to him by the inferior officers. Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley, was appointed on 17th February 1547, and was beheaded on 20th March 1549. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who, under his earlier title of Lord Lisle had held the post under Henry VIII was again nominated for a short time from 28th October 1549, but from 4th May 1550 Edward, Lord Clynton, became High Admiral.

Piracy and Privateering.

Strangely as it may read, there was for the moment a direct connection between this great office of the crown and piracy, for Lord Seymour was implicated in several nefarious transactions of the kind. But the government itself, while publicly denouncing pirates and equipping ships to apprehend them, was secretly encouraging acts which were only to be faintly distinguished from open robbery. In August 1548 certain vessels were sent out against the Scots and pirates, but private instructions were given to the captains that, because we were on very doubtful terms with France, they were to seize French ships, ‘saying to them that they have been spoyled before by frenchemenne and could have no justice, or pretending that the victualles or thinges of munition found in any such frenche shippes weare sent to ayde the Scottes or[105] such lyk.’[462] It is true that if peace continued all such cargoes were to be restored and the captors’ expenses discharged by the government, but in face of such teaching it cannot be a matter for surprise that the generality of owners and captains bettered their instructions and failed to draw the line at the exact point marked for them. One of the articles against Seymour at his trial included accusations that goods taken by pirates were seen in his house and distributed among his friends; that when plunder had been recaptured from the freebooters the captors were sent to prison, and that pirates taken and committed to prison were set free. As a rule the charges made in an indictment of a fallen minister require to be very closely scanned, but for these there is a good deal of corroborative evidence. As early as 20th September 1546, the Council were hearing the complaint of ‘oon that sueth against a servant of Sir Thomas Semars for a pyracie.’ After his death the Council awarded £40 to a Frenchman in compensation for losses sustained through ‘the ministres of Lord Seymour.’[463] There is a distinct statement that when pressed for money after the death of his wife, the Dowager Queen, he was, among other things, in partnership with many pirates and received half the booty.[464] Although some of the details of the complaints made against him may be inexact there can be no doubt that the charges as a whole were well founded, and it is significant that the Council dealt with the trouble more successfully after his execution.

In view of the proceedings of the government and the Lord Admiral, it is not surprising that piracy advanced in popularity. Ships, either of the Navy or hired, were being continually sent to sea to keep order; sometimes the latter joined in the business themselves[465] and the former often gave but half-hearted service. As many of the company of a man-of-war might, a month before, have been members of a pirate’s crew, and perhaps expected at their discharge to again tread a rover’s deck, no great ardour was to be expected from them. At times they seem to have been unable even to wait for their discharge. When Tyrrel and Holstock were serving in the Channel, their men, when they boarded foreigners for inquiry, robbed them of property and provisions.[466] The superior officers had to be spurred on to their duty. On one occasion it was necessary to order the Admiral commanding in the Channel to attend to his business, ‘and not lye in the haven at Dover idlye as the Navye doth.’[467] When a leader of the[106] fraternity was caught, the haul usually proved expensive and useless, as he was speedily free again; £300 was granted to the captors of Cole, a well-known name about this time, but Cole is soon found to be at work once more. Strangeways who later died in Elizabeth’s service at Havre, Thomson, and Thomas and Peter Killigrew were others whose names were too familiar to the Council. English, Irish, and Scotch pirates swarmed in the narrow seas, a fleet of twenty sail were on the Irish coast, and the Scotch seem to have been particularly active.

These adventurers, whether licensed or unlicensed, were usually gallant enough and thought little about odds. A privateer of 95 tons and 28 officers and men fell in with a fleet of 27 Normans and Bretons returning from Scotland where they had served for six months. Nothing daunted, ‘althugh our powr were litle yet as pore men desyrus to do our dewtye,’ they closed with one and drove it ashore where they left it ‘rolling uppon the terrabile waves,’ then drove two others ashore and captured a fourth. The French fleet carried 120 guns and 1100 men.[468] The incident is remarkable as showing the careless indifference, born of centuries of struggle with the sea and the enemies it carried, with which our seamen regarded superior strength, long before the outburst of successful piracy on a large scale, which is supposed to have taught them their peculiar faculty.

The Salute to the Flag.

In other ways the members of the Regency showed themselves desirous of upholding the honour of their country. There is no especial reference during the previous reign to the claim to the salute, but it was now stringently enforced when possible. It was not yielded however without protest, ‘the Fleming’s men-of-war would have passed our ships without vailing bonnet, which they seeing, shot at them and drove them at length to vail the bonet.’[469] A year later they were more tractable, since the Flemings riding at Dieppe lowered the sail to an English man-of-war which came into the port.[470] With France the question was less easily settled. When Henry Dudley and the Baron de la Garde were both at sea, the former, having the weaker fleet, desired instructions about the salute. The Council wrote that ‘in respect of thamitie and that the sayd Baron is stronger upon the sees sume tymes yelde and sume tymes receyve thonnour.’[471]

Rewards and Peculations.

There was no change in the pay or position of the seamen, but they appear to have been liberally treated. The crew of the Minion, 300 in number, were given £100 among them[107] for capturing a Frenchman, probably the Black Galley,[472] William Wynter, Surveyor of the Navy, commanded the Minion on this occasion, and neither now nor afterwards did the duties of their posts prevent the four principal Officers commanding at sea, sometimes for long periods.

We do not find any mention of embezzlements and thefts during the reign of Henry VIII, not, probably, because they did not occur, but because the Navy papers are comparatively scanty and mostly financial accounts made up in their final form. With Edward VI they begin to appear, and grow rapidly in number subsequently. It was found necessary to pass an act forbidding the Lord Admiral, or any of his officers, to exact payments of money or fish from the Newfoundland or Iceland fishermen under pain of a fine of treble the amount levied.[473] It was said to be a practice of ‘within these few years now last past,’ but abuses usually have to be of long existence before they attain the honour of an Act of Parliament for their suppression. A victualling agent, Henry Folk, was committed to the Fleet prison for embezzling money received for navy victualling, ‘which he hath not answered againe to the poore men but converted the money otherways and suffered them to remayne unpayed and in exclamacion,’ The ‘poore men’ here referred to are more likely to have been persons from whom provisions had been purchased than seamen. The decline of the fishing industry was attributed, among other causes, to the action of the crown purveyors in seizing quantities of fish at nominal prices.

Merchant Shipping and Trade.

There is no return of merchant shipping for this period, but the bounty of five shillings a ton on new vessels was paid in several cases. Lord Russell, the Lord Privy Seal, received it on the Anne Russell of 110 tons and there are other similar warrants. There is, however, a paper calendared under the next reign which gives a list of merchantmen of 100 tons and upwards, ‘decayed’ between 1544-5 and 1553. It names seventeen belonging to London of 2530 tons, thirteen of Bristol of 2380 tons, and five owned in other ports.[474] This does not necessarily mean that the merchant navy had decreased to the extent of thirty-five such ships but may refer to those worn out by age and service and possibly replaced. Royal ships were still chartered by merchants for trading purposes; £1000 was paid for the Jesus of Lubeck and another, for a voyage to the Levant in 1552.[475] Later in the reign two of the[108] navy officers, Gonson and Wynter, were indulging in similar speculation, and obtained the Mathew valued at £1208, for which they were required to give sureties.

A commercial treaty with Sweden was on foot in 1550, but as the King of Denmark was urgently complaining of the English pirates who infested the Sound it was not likely to be of much advantage. The formation of the Russia company in 1553, although it was not incorporated until 1555, marked the inception of the great trading companies which did much, directly and indirectly, to increase both the number of ships and their size. Attention was given to the fishing trade and its growth stimulated by an enactment[476] which made Fridays, Saturdays, and Ember days, fish days, under penalty of ten shillings fine, and ten days’ imprisonment for the first, and double for the second and every following offence.

The circumstances under which the Navy was maintained.

All through the reign regard was paid to naval requirements under financial conditions which, during many other periods, would have ensured their relegation to a future time. On the 4th November 1550, the Officers of the Navy appeared before the Council and brought books with them, one relating to the docking and repair of certain ships, a second ‘concerning things necessary to be done,’ and a third containing an estimate of stores required. The money wanted for these purposes was £2436, and the department was already in debt to the amount of £4800. Two years later the crown owed £132,372 abroad and £108,826 at home, of which only £5000 was due by the Admiralty.[477] The naval expenses from January 1547 to September 1552 are tabulated as:—[478]

Cordage, timber, etc., £51,152 11 5
Coat and conduct money, 5070 1 5
Wages of soldiers, sailors, dockyards, shipwrights, etc., 78,263 3
Furniture of ships and carriage, 2451 14 10
Riding and posting charges, hire of docks and storehouses, 1609 4 6
Victualling, 64,844 17
Ordnance and ammunition, 10,445 16

These were very large amounts, taken with those of the last years of Henry VIII,[479] for the England of 1552, and we know that the public debt of £241,000 was the result of heavy borrowings at home and abroad. Some progress however was made towards the liquidation of the debt, since it had sunk to £180,000 at the accession of Mary. But as, in this financial situation, the Navy was not allowed to materially retrogress the imputation usually made against the Regency of indifference to its strength is one certainly not justified by facts.



The Royal Ships.

There is no complete navy list for the reign of Mary therefore the changes that took place in the royal ships can only, in most cases, be ascertained by comparison with earlier and later lists. There is, however, a record of the sale of certain ships in 1555; the Primrose for £1000, the Mary Hambro £20, the Grand Mistress £35, the Hind £8, the Christopher £15, the Unicorn £10, and four of the smallest pinnaces or rowbarges.[480] The prices obtained show that, with the exception of the Primrose, they must have been in very bad condition. The Bark of Bullen was delivered in 1553 to Jeffrey Coke, on condition of his carrying the Lord Deputy and the royal despatches to and from Ireland when necessary.[481] The Henry Grace à Dieu was burnt by accident at Woolwich on 25th August 1553.[482] Comparing the first complete navy list of Elizabeth with the Edwardian of 26th August 1552, we find that, besides the above mentioned vessels, only the Pauncye, Mathew, and Less Bark, are wanting of the larger ships. On the other hand the Sacrett, a French prize of 160 tons, a new Mary Rose of 500 tons in 1555, the Philip and Mary in 1556 of 450 tons, the Lion rebuilt in 1557, a new Bark of Boulogne, and the Brigantine replace these deficiencies. When we read that Henry VIII left a fleet of 53 vessels, and that it rapidly diminished after his death, it must be remembered that thirteen of them were twenty-ton rowbarges immediately cast off as useless, and that only twenty-eight, excluding the galleys, were of 100 tons and upwards. A navy list of February 1559 names twenty-five of this class, serviceable and unserviceable, and the next, of 24th March 1559, twenty.[110] Accepting the last, as affording the most unfavourable comparison, it does not warrant the severe condemnation of the naval administration of Mary’s reign to which we are accustomed. Moreover many of the men-of-war dated from the years 1544-6, and were now approaching the time when they required rebuilding. The long ‘life’ of wooden as compared with iron ships has become proverbial but did not apply to sixteenth, and hardly to seventeenth century vessels. Doubtless the absence of proper sheathing, and the bad adjustment of weights, which caused excessive straining in a seaway, had much to do with it, but whatever the cause men-of-war are found to need rebuilding within, at the most, every twenty-five years during the Tudor and Stewart reigns.

There is an Elizabethan paper of 1562[483] which, if it can be even partially trusted, shows that the closing months of Mary’s reign were characterised by great dockyard activity. The Hart, Antelope, Swallow, New Bark, Jennett, Greyhound, Phœnix, and Sacar are assigned to 1558 as new ships, that is to say as rebuilt, for in these early documents distinction is seldom drawn between one really new and one merely rebuilt. Mary died on 17th November 1558, and if the year were reckoned by the New Style there would be no question but that they must have been begun during her lifetime and finished at least shortly after her death. But at this time the year ended on 24th March, and the unknown writer of the paper in the Cecil MSS. when he assigns these vessels to 1558 means a period ceasing on 24th March 1559, when Elizabeth had been nearly four-and-a-half months on the throne. It is known that the dockyards were working busily shortly after Elizabeth’s accession, but assuming the 1562 writer to be correct in his dates, and as a whole there is some corroborative evidence of his general accuracy, it seems quite impossible that these eight ships could have been rebuilt between 17th November 1558, and 24th March 1559. That being so Mary’s government must be allowed the credit of recognising the decline in the effective force and of the measures taken for its renewal.

There is another test that can be applied to the question of the activity or inactivity of the government, and that is the number of ships sent to sea during these years. In 1554 twenty-nine men-of-war, manned by 4034 men, were in commission;[484] during 1555-6 thirty-eight, several of them of course twice or thrice over;[485] in 1557 twenty-four, and in December eight others were in preparation.[486] Yet, again, if we take the[111] squadrons especially sent out pirate catching, we find that during 1555-6 eight vessels were equipped to search for Cole and Stevenson, two well known adventurers, and there are many other references to men-of-war commissioned with the same object. In another way the naval history of this reign is noteworthy. Although it was not unknown for ships to be at sea in winter it was as yet exceptional, but we now find it occurring more frequently during these few years than through the whole reign of Henry VIII. No fewer than eight were cruising during the first four months of 1556;[487] in October 1557, ten;[488] and ten in February and March of the same year.[489]

Admiralty Officers and Administration.

Lord Clynton was still Lord Admiral at the death of Edward VI. He was then unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side, and his influence with the men seems to have been small, as the crews of six vessels, sent to the Norfolk coast to prevent the flight of Mary, went over to her side. Clynton was replaced by William, Lord Howard of Effingham, from 26th March 1554. The first named, however, regained the Queen’s favour by the efficient aid he gave in Wyatt’s rising and was reappointed on 10th February 1557; thenceforward he retained the office till his death on 16th January 1585. The only other change among the chief officers was the nomination of William Wynter to be Master of the Ordnance of the Navy from 2nd November 1557;[490] he was already Surveyor and now held both offices for the rest of his life. The salary of the conjoined appointments was £100 a year, with the usual 6s 8d a day travelling expenses, 2s 4d a day for clerks, and £8 a year for boat hire. The management of the Admiralty was, if not exactly reformed, subjected to close scrutiny. In 1556 Lord Howard was ordered ‘to repayre himself forthwith on receipte hereof,’ without the knowledge of the other officers, and take ‘a secret muster’ of the men on board the ships, to search the ships for concealed men and victuals, and to arrange for a monthly muster on the cruisers in the narrow seas.[491] Regulations were also established for the supply of stores and provisions and their economical use, and a first attempt was made to check the waste of ammunition in saluting by an order that it was not to be consumed in ‘vayne shot.’[492]

A year later a further alteration followed, which took the form of allowing a fixed yearly sum for ordinary naval expenses, a rule which remained long in force. There may also have been other reasons for some additional changes made. Clynton may not have been entirely trusted, or some suspicion,[112] perhaps, was taking shape concerning the provident or honest conduct of the Officers. The order ran:—

‘Wheare heretofore the Quenes Maiestie hath ben sundrie tymes troubled with thoften signing of warrantes for money to be defraied about the necessarie chardges of her Highnesses navie and being desierouse to have some other order taken for the easyer conducting of this matter heareaftyr: Dyd this daie upon consultacion had with certayn of my lords of the Counsell for this purpose desyere the Lord Treasurer[493] with thadvise of the Lord Admyrall to take this matter upon hym who agreinge thareunto was content to take the chardge thereof with theis conditions ffollowinge; ffirst, he requyred to have the some of £14,000 by yere to be advaunced half yerely to Benjamyn Gonson Threasarer of Thadmyraltie to be by hym defrayed in such sort as shalbe prescribed by hym the sayed Lord Threasowrer with thadvise of the Lorde Admyrall.’

For which sum the Lord Treasurer will

‘cause such of her Maiesties shippes as may be made servicable with calkeinge and newe trymmynge to be sufficiently renewed and repaired Item to cause such of her Highnes saied shippes as must of necessitie be made of newe to be gone in hand withall and newe made with convenyent speede Item he to see also all her Highnes saied shippes furnysshed with sailles, anchors, cables, and other tackell and apparell sufficientlye Item he to cause the wagis and victuallinge of the shipp keepers and woorkmen in harborough to be paied and dischardged Item he to cause a masse of victual to be alwayes in redynes to serve for 1000 men for a moneth to be sette to the sea upon eny sodeyne Item he to cause the saied shippes from tyme to tyme to be repaired and renewed as occasion shall requiere Item whenn the saied shippes that ar to be renewed shalbe newe made and sufficientlie repaired and the hole navie furnyshed of saylles, anckers, cables, and other tackell then is the saied Lord Treasowrer content to contynue this servis in fourme aforesaied for the some of £10,000 yerely to be advaunced as is aforesaied Item the saied Benjamyn Gonson and Edward Bashe Surveyor of the Victuells of the shippes shall make theare severall accomptes of the defrayment of the saied money and of theare hole doinges herein once in the yere at the least and as often besydes as shall be thowght convenyent by my Lordes of the Counsell.’

Any surplusage was to be carried forward towards the next year’s expenses; the division of the money was, by estimation, £2000 for stores, £1000 for rigging, £6000 for harbour wages and victualling, and £5000 for the building and repair of ships.[494] By 1558 the allowance was reduced to £12,000 a year, but even the proposed minimum of £10,000 was much above anything allowed by Elizabeth during the greater part of her reign. Moreover, the large scheme of rebuilding outlined in this paper indirectly confirms the statement of the writer in the Cecil MSS.[495] in assigning numerous new, i.e. rebuilt, ships to 1558. Obviously the circumstance of the Queen being overworked was not by itself any reason why the real control should be taken from the Lord Admiral and other Officers and given to the Lord[113] Treasurer. The fact that payment was now to be made in gross to Gonson of so many thousands a year instead of, as formerly, by warrant for each separate matter, will explain the necessity for some new check on the Navy Treasurer, but will not explain the practical supersession of the Lord Admiral. As long as Burleigh was Lord Treasurer he also remained the final authority on naval matters, practically exercising the authority of a First Lord of the Admiralty of the present day. The system of accounts now adopted endured, with some modifications, for nearly a century, and to the order which prescribed the rendering of a full statement once a year we owe the series of Audit, or Pipe Office Accounts, an invaluable source of information for naval history.

Expenditure and Establishments.

The average of wages all round had risen to 9s 4d a month ‘dead shares and rewards included;’ this, judging from the early years of the next reign, meant 6s 8d a month for the seamen. The custom of providing the men with coats and jackets was dying out. There are no references to these articles in the naval papers of the reign, but in a semi-official expedition, that of Willoughby and Chancellor in 1553, the instructions direct that the ‘liveries in apparel’ were only to be worn by the sailors on state occasions. At other times they were to be kept in the care of the supercargoes and ordinary clothes were to be sold to the crews at cost price.[496]

The one return of expenses remaining shows an extremely heavy naval expenditure.[497] Between 1st January 1557 and 31st December 1558 £157,638 was spent, of which victualling took £73,503, Deptford £22,120, Woolwich £4048, Gillingham £408, Portsmouth £7521, and wages of men at sea £43,492. Stores, such as timber, pitch, tar, cordage, etc., absorbed nearly £20,000, included under the dockyard headings. From this account it also appears that Legge when Treasurer, probably therefore in the reign of Henry VIII, had advanced £100 to two Lincolnshire men for seven years in order to assist the creation of another centre of the cordage industry. The experiment was not successful and the item is carried over formally in each successive account until dropped as a bad debt. Victualling storehouses for the government had been built or bought at Ratcliff, Rochester, Gillingham and Portsmouth; ordnance wharves at Woolwich, Portsmouth and Porchester. Portsmouth was momentarily regaining favour, and the Council recommended that ships should be laid up there because the harbour afforded better opportunity for rapid action in the Channel than did the Thames. The chief shipwright was now Peter Pett who was receiving a fee of one shilling a day from the[114] Exchequer in addition to the ordinary payments made to him by the Admiralty.

Disease on Shipboard.

War was declared with France on 7th June 1557, but the operations of 1558 were nullified by an outbreak of disease in the fleet as severe as that of 1545. In 1557 Howard informed the Council that he could not obtain at Dover ‘in a weke so moche victulls as wold victull ii pynnesses,’ and although the complaint is a year earlier the character of the supplies and the hardships it connotes, are very likely the key to the visitation of the following summer. From the 5th to 17th August Clynton lay at St Helens with the fleet, having returned from the capture and destruction of Conquet. On the 18th he put to sea, and on the 20th was near the Channel Islands, when so sudden an outburst occurred ‘that I thinke the lieke was never syne ffor ther wer many ships that halfe the men wer throwen downe sick at once.’[498] After holding a council with his captains, which the masters of his ships also attended, he returned to Portsmouth.

Privateering and Piracy.

Privateering was encouraged by a proclamation of 8th July 1557, permitting any one to fit out vessels against the royal enemies, and allowing possession to be retained of all ships and goods captured ‘withoute making accompte in any courte or place of this realme,’ and without payment of any dues to the Lord Admiral or any other officer. This entire abrogation of control increased the tendency to illegal acts even among the more honest adventurers; while Carews, Killigrews, Tremaines, and the ubiquitous Strangways, and Thomson, industriously working for themselves, the government had always with them. Thomson was off Scilly in 1556, with three ships, and was taken. When tried only he and four others were condemned and the Council loudly complained of the partiality of the jury, a partiality which better explains the prevalence of piracy during these years than the accepted explanation of the inefficiency of the Navy. The two Killigrews, Thomas and Peter, were, if not the worst, the most successful offenders and in 1556 were sufficiently enriched by their plunder to think of retiring to ‘some island’ for the winter. They were frequently chased into French ports, but to keep them there was beyond the power of the men-of-war, and the French authorities treated them with a neutrality more than benevolent.

When we find a privateer belonging to the Lord Privy Seal attacking neutral vessels, and man-of-war officers boarding and robbing a Flemish merchantman at Tilbury, it seems wonderful, in view of the excesses such incidents suggest among the majority with no sense of legal responsibility, that commerce could have been carried on at all.



The Naval Policy of Elizabeth.

Her subjects were occupied, during the greater portion of Elizabeth’s reign, in teaching their Queen the use of a navy, instruction that she was the first English sovereign to put into practice on strategic principles. Yet study of the forty-five years of glorious naval history on which her renown is mainly based, leaves the impression that more might and should have been done with the Navy. That she preferred diplomacy to force would have been a merit had the choice been founded on an ethical detestation of the cruelty of war, instead of an ingenuous belief in her own skill and the obtuseness of her antagonists. Under conditions more favourable to ascendancy at sea than have ever existed for England, before or since, the successes of the Navy itself, as distinguished from the expansion of the commercial marine, were, although relatively great, limited by the hesitation with which the naval arm was employed, the way in which the service was pecuniarily starved, and the settled doctrine underlying her maritime essays that an expedition should be of a character to return a profit on the outlay. And perhaps the severest comment on her government lies in the fact that she was more liberal in her treatment of the Navy, than of any other department of the State. In February 1559 she possessed twenty-two effective ships of 100 tons and upwards, in March 1603, twenty-nine; practically, therefore, she did little more than replace those worn out by efflux of time, for only two were lost in warfare. If Henry VIII created a navy under the stimulus of a possible necessity it requires little imagination to conceive his course when the time had come, as it never came for him, to put forth every effort in using it for the preservation of England.


When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, the possession of a fleet and an organised administration, the French royal navy, only a few years before an apparently serious competitor, had ceased to exist; the rivalry of Holland had not yet begun, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that a Spanish royal navy had never existed, in the sense of an ocean going service organised on a basis enabling it to act vigorously and effectively in any direction.[499] The opportunity had come therefore to a power with maritime ambition, the only one possessing an efficient fleet and naval control, and incited by religious differences and commercial emulation. The altered situation brought to the front a band of men who, in the preceding century, would have been military adventurers in France, but who now, half traders, half pirates, handled their ships with the same strategic and tactical skill their ancestors exercised on land, and who, if they had been allowed a free hand, would have brought Spain down in ruin instead of merely reducing her to a condition of baffled impotence. They were not allowed a free hand. When acting for themselves they had the knowledge that if it suited the royal policy of the moment repudiation of their deeds might mean, if not loss of life, at least loss of property and reputation. When in command of royal fleets they were kept in touch with the government, hampered by voluminous and contradictory instructions, and, above all, their efforts and successes rendered nugatory by the parsimony which kept the depots always on the brink of exhaustion.

In naval, as in other matters, Elizabeth tried to make her subjects do the work of the crown and therefore she frequently confined her action to taking a share with several ships in a[117] privateering expedition, prepared by private individuals for their own profit. Such expeditions swell the list of ships employed at sea, and privateering as a source of injury to an enemy has its value, but such enterprises when forming the whole effort of the State for a particular year show an insufficient acquaintance with the character of the operations required. Privateers were equipped not with large objects but to secure profits for owners and crews. It sometimes happened that this purpose was at issue with the wider views of the admiral in command, and the voyage became ineffective where a similar number of men-of-war subject to discipline might have done important service. The enormous increase in the merchant marine which, it will be shown, characterised the reign, was in one way disadvantageous since it induced the government to rely more on a guerre de course than on the sustained and systematised action of the Royal Navy. Even when a great fleet was sent out the light in which Elizabeth regarded it is instructively shown in a letter to Nottingham, after the Cadiz voyage of 1596, when he had asked for money to pay the men’s wages:

‘though we have already written you divers letters to prevent the inconvenience which we suspected would follow this journey that it would be rather an action of honour and virtue against the enemy and particular profit by spoil to the army than any way profitable to ourself yet now we do plainly see by the return of our whole fleet that the actions of hope are fully finished without as much as surety of defraying the charge past or that which is to come.[500]

The blow to Spanish power and prestige, or an ‘action of honour and virtue,’ counted for nothing if a fleet did not pay its expenses and make some profit over and above.

It may be asked then in what respect was Elizabeth personally deserving of praise? The answer is that it fell to her to use for the first time an untried weapon—untried in the sense that never before had England relied on it as the right arm of attack or defence. For centuries the defence of the country had depended on the mail-clad horseman and the yeoman archer; from the first days of her accession she recognised that the enemies of England were to be fought at sea, a doctrine which is a commonplace now, but was then being only slowly evolved in minds even yet dazzled by memories of invasions of France. She accepted and proved the truth of the theory on which the policy of Henry VIII was grounded, and, if she failed to carry it out fully, it was perhaps more from ignorance of the might of the weapon in her hand than from want of statesmanship. Notwithstanding her niggardliness, which nearly ruined England in 1588, she expended money—for her lavishly—on the Navy, while the[118] military and other services were remorselessly starved. Sooner or later the naval authorities obtained at least part of their requirements, in striking contrast to the fortune of other officials who thought, and whose contemporaries probably thought, their needs of equal or more importance. If she did not use the fleet as some of the great seamen who served her would have had her use it, she at anyrate extended its field of action in a manner hitherto unknown, and sealed the direction of future English policy.

The following abstract, compiled from the pay and victualling lists and the State Papers, will show the number of vessels of the Royal Navy in commission each year, that it was used continuously as never before, but also that it was seldom used up to its possible capacity. In every case there were hired merchantmen as well if a fleet was engaged in an over-sea expedition, but unless there was a prospect of plunder the brunt of the work always fell on the men-of-war. As an arbitrary division, for the purpose of the table, first-rates are taken as those above 600 tons; second-rates from 400 to 600 tons; third-rates from 200 to 400 tons; fourth-rates from 100 to 200 tons; fifth-rates from 50 to 100 tons; and sixth-rates under 50 tons. Owing to technical difficulties connected with the lists used it is probably not exactly correct but is sufficiently so to give a just impression:—

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th Galleys.
1559 2 4
1561 1 1 2 1
1562 2 4 1 5
1563 2 1 9 1 7 4 3
1564 1 2 3
1565 2
1566 1 2
1567 1 1 1
1568 2 1 1
1569 3 4 2 2
1570 3 3 3 2
1571 2 1
1572 2 2
1573 1 1 3 1
1574 2 1
1575 2 1
1576 1 3 2 2
1577 1 2 2
1578 2 3 1
1579 1 3 3 1
1580 1 6 2 1
1581 2 5 1
1582 1 2 1
1583 2 1 1
1584 2 1 1
1585 1 2 4
1586 3 1 4 1 7 1
1587 3 3 5 3 6
1588[502] 5 10 5 3 7 3 1
1589 4 2 4 2 4
1590 8 4 6 2 5
1591 8 4 2 2 4
1592 2 4 2 2 3
1593 1 3 2 2 2
1594 1 3 1 1 4
1595 4 4 1 2 3
1596 4 9 5 3 2 1
1597 6 11 6 1 2 2
1598 5 5 2 2 4
1599 6 10 6 2 2 7 1
1600 2 2 5 1 1 5
1601 2 11 3 1 2 3
1602 3 9 5 1 1


From this it is evident that vessels of from 400 to 600 tons were the favourites; they were handier, better seaboats, and represented the latest improvements in shipbuilding. Of the eleven first-rates on the navy list in 1603, two were Spanish prizes of 1596, four dated from the beginning of the reign, while the remaining five were of 1587 and later years; it was these latter that were used from 1596 onwards. The four earlier ones, built before Hawkyns came into office, were of an old type and seem never to have been commissioned unless the services of the whole Navy were required. The Victory, for instance was only at sea in 1563, 1588, and 1589, although she is not entered in the foregoing table under 1589, because lent to the Earl of Cumberland for a private venture. The stress of the work fell therefore on the smaller vessels. The Bonaventure, for instance, was at sea every year from 1585 to 1590 inclusive. During the greater part of 1591 she was in dock at Woolwich for repairs, but at Portsmouth in October, and then sent to sea. Again in 1592, 5, 6, 7, and 1599. The Dreadnought, launched in 1573, was commissioned during each of the six years 1575-80, and in 1585, 7, 8, and 1590. She was then, for nearly a year, in dry dock, recommencing service in 1594, continuing it in 1595, 6, 7, 9, 1601, 2, and 1603. It must also be noted that many of these years included more than one commission. Excluding the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-rates, which were serviceable for privateering purpose, but could not take a place in any form of attack requiring ships of force, it will be seen by how very few vessels the naval warfare was really carried on, and that a succession of serious descents on the Spanish coasts and transatlantic settlements, such as were urged on Elizabeth, would have necessitated very large additions to the Royal Navy.

Shortly after the Queen’s accession she possessed, according to one account thirty-five,[503] and according to another thirty-two[504] vessels of all classes and in good and bad condition. Some ships had been under repair before Mary’s death,[505] but the dockyards were working with redoubled vigour since Elizabeth’s succession. At Deptford, in March, 228 men were at work on five ships; at Woolwich 175 men on eight others, and at Portsmouth 154 men on nine more.[506] Some of these were rebuildings, others could have been but trifling repairs, but the list shows with what energy Elizabeth and her Council applied themselves to the maintenance of the fleet. From that time the yards, with the exception of a few years, were kept fully occupied, and the following is a list of the new ships built at them or otherwise added to the Navy. The dates are New Style:—


Built At By Rebuilt Bought Prize
Elizabeth Jonas[507] 1559 Woolwich 1597-8
Hope[508] 1559 1602-3
Victory[509] 1560
Primrose[510] 1560
Minion[511] 1560
Galley Speedwell[512] 1559
Galley Tryright[513] 1559
Triumph[514] 1561 1595-6
Aid[515] 1562
Galley Ellynor[516] 1563
Post[517] 1563
Guide[517] 1563
Makeshift[517] 1563
Search[517] 1563
White Bear[518] 1564 1598-9
Elizabeth Bonaventure[519] 1581 1567
Foresight[520] 1570
Bull[521] 1570
Tiger[522] 1570
Swiftsure[523] 1573 Deptford Peter Pett 1592
Dreadnought[524] 1573 do. Math. Baker 1592
Achates[525] 1573 do. Peter Pett
Handmaid[526] 1573 do. Math. Baker
Revenge[527] 1577 do.
Scout[528] 1577 do.
Merlin[529] 1579
Antelope[530] 1581
Golden Lion[531] 1582
Brigantine[532] 1583
Nonpareil[533] Deptford 1584
Galley Bonavolia[534] 1584
Greyhound[535] 1585 Wm. Pett
Talbot[536] 1585 R. Chapman
Cygnet[537] 1585 Tho. Bowman
Makeshift[538] 1586 Limehouse Wm. Pett
Spy[539] 1586 do. do.
Advice[540] 1586 Woolwich M. Baker
Trust[541] 1586
Sun[542] 1586 Chatham M. Baker
Seven Stars[543] 1586 [121]
Tremontana[544] 1586 Deptford R. Chapman
Moon[545] 1586 do. Peter Pett
Charles[546] 1586 Woolwich M. Baker
Vanguard[547] 1586 do. do. 1599
Rainbow[548] 1586 Deptford Peter Pett 1602
Ark Royal[549] 1587 do. R. Chapman
Popinjay[550] 1587
Nuestra Señora del Rosario[551] 1588
Mary Rose[552] 1589
Merhonour[553] 1590 M. Baker
Garland[554] 1590 R. Chapman
Defiance[555] 1590 P. & Jos. Pett
Answer[556] 1590 M. Baker
Quittance[557] 1590 do.
Crane[558] 1590 R. Chapman
Advantage[559] 1590 P. & Jos. Pett
Lion’s Whelp[560] 1590
Primrose Hoy[561] 1590
Black Dog[562] 1590
French Frigott[563] 1591
Flighte[564] 1592
Mercury[565] 1592 Deptford M. Baker
Eagle[566] 1592
Adventure[567] 1594 Deptford M. Baker
Mynikin[568] 1595
Warspite[569] 1596 Deptford E. Stevens
Due Repulse[570] 1596
St Mathew[571] 1596
St Andrew[571] 1596
Lion’s Whelp[572] 1601
Superlativa[573] 1601 Deptford
Advantagia[573] 1601 Woolwich
George Hoy[574] 1601 Adye
Gallarita[575] 1602 Limehouse
Volatillia[575] 1602 Deptford

In number this is an imposing array but exclusive of galleys, prizes, six pre-existing vessels rebuilt, and the numerous small vessels, only twenty-nine men-of-war of 100 tons and upwards were added to the establishment between 1558 and 1603, notwithstanding the amount of work thrown upon the Navy. It has been noticed that the term rebuilding, as used in the official papers, is extremely vague and it is only when the cost per ton can be ascertained that it can be known with certainty whether a ship was renewed or repaired;[122] it is quite possible that, with the exception of the Philip and Mary, the rebuilt vessels were in reality only subjected to more or less complete repair. Again, of these twenty-nine only twenty-one were of 300 tons and upwards and suited for distant expeditions; of the twenty-one the Elizabeth, Hope, Victory, Triumph, and White Bear, were not liked—too big, too expensive, or too unhandy—and were never used unless a fleet of great strength was required. The names of a few ships recur, therefore, year after year as forming the main strength of the squadrons, made up with armed merchantmen, sent out for various purposes. Had Spain been able to offer any real resistance at sea the destructive results of even victorious action would have soon compelled the replacement of these ships and a large increase in the navy list.

Various Ships.

The Elizabeth Jonas varies as to tonnage between 855 and 1000 tons in different papers. The Victory oscillates between 694 and 800 tons, the Triumph between 955 and 1200, and a smaller vessel, the Foresight, is given in three lists, within six years, as of 300, 350, then of 260 tons, and in a fourth list of 1592 as of 450 tons. Before 1582 measurement must have been usually a matter of opinion and comparison; after that year when Baker’s rule had come into use there is more uniformity. But such variations entirely vitiate dogmatic comparisons of the strength of opposing ships or squadrons. The Elizabeth was, ‘in new making’ at Woolwich in December 1558,[576] and was therefore commenced before Mary’s death. There is a singular story told of the origin of the name.

‘The shipp called the Elizabeth Jonas was so named by her Grace in remembrance of her owne deliverance from the furye of her enemyes from which in one respect she was no lesse myraculously preserved than was the prophet Jonas from the belly of the whale.’[577]

This occurs in a commonplace book kept by Robert Commaundre, Rector of Tarporley, Chester, who died in 1613, and among some other naval information wholly incorrect. It is a fact that Elizabeth christened the ship herself but Commaundre’s version is probably country gossip made to explain the name. If, however, it should be true it throws a more vivid light on Elizabeth’s real feeling towards her unhappy sister than is shed by many volumes of State Papers.

The first occurrence of the famous name of the Victory in an English navy list is of great interest but unfortunately cannot be dated with certainty. The earliest mention known is of the victualling accounts of the quarter ending with September 1562.[578] On 14th March 1560, the Great Christopher, of 800 tons, was bought of Ant. Hickman and Ed. Castlyn,[123] two London merchants. The tonnage corresponds with that assigned to the Victory in early papers, and the year corresponds with that assigned to the Victory in the State Paper quoted in the table. The name Great Christopher is only found down to 1562, when it is immediately succeeded by that of Victory; in fact the Christopher is named in October and then ceases, to be replaced by the Victory in November.[579] Unless we suppose that a new 800-ton ship, one of the two largest in the Navy, disappeared without leaving a trace of the cause it must be assumed that the name was changed, a not unusual occurrence, and if so, the Victory is its only possible representative. The name was quite new among English men-of-war; it may have been taken from that of Magellan’s celebrated ship.

The Primrose and the Minion had for some years previously been employed among the hired London merchantmen; from 1560 they appear on the navy lists, which points to their purchase. The Minion, in which Hawkyns escaped from San Juan de Ulloa in 1568, was condemned in 1570; the Primrose was sold in 1575, again rejoining the merchant service, to which she still belonged in 1583.[580] The galleys Tryright and Speedwell disappear after 1579; and the Bonavolia from 1599; of the four later galleys the Gallarita and Volatillia were presented by the city of London. The Mercury, another vessel of the galley type was however furnished with masts and sails, and afterwards converted into a pinnace.

Returning to the large ships, the Aid was condemned in 1599, the Elizabeth Bonaventure, purchased from Walter Jobson for £2230, the Bull was broken up in 1594, and the Revenge captured by a Spanish fleet in 1591. The Tiger, Scout, and Achates, were cut down into lighters and, in 1603, were supporting Upnor chain. The Ark Royal, or Ark Ralegh, seems to have been built originally for Sir Walter Ralegh,[581] although constructed in a royal yard and by a government shipwright, who, later, received a pension for this among other services. Some £1200 was spent in 1598 on the repairs of the St Mathew and St Andrew; they only served under the English flag, however, in the Islands voyage of 1597. Some of the small pinnaces disappear from the lists during these years without assigned cause, but the only two vessels known to have been lost by stress of weather during the reign were the earlier Greyhound of Henry VIII, wrecked off Rye in 1562, and the Lion’s Whelp in 1591.

Table of General Details.

The following table of 1602 furnishes many curious details:—[582]


Length of keel Beam Depth of hold Rate forward Rate aft Burden Ton and Tonnage Weight of masts and yards Weight of rigging tackle Canvas for sails in bolts, ¾ths of a yd. broad and 28 yds. long Anchors Cables Weight of Ordnance Men in harbour Men at sea Mariners Gunners Soldiers Cost per month at sea: wages and victualling
feet feet feet feet feet tons tons ton. cwt. lbs. No. lbs. No. lbs. tons £ s d
Elizabeth 100 38 18 36 6 684 855 22.8 17000 85 7 15000 7 31000 61 30 500 340 40 120 758 6 8
Triumph 100 40 19 37 6 760 955 24.17 18000 95 7 15000 7 32500 68 30 500 340 40 120 758 6 8
White Bear 110 37 18 36 6.6 732 915 24 17000 88 7 15300 7 30000 63 30 500 340 40 120 758 6 8
Merhonour 110 37 17 37 6.6 691 865 22.13 17000 87 7 15000 7 30000 63 30 400 268 32 100 606 13 4
Ark Royal 100 37 15 33.6 6 555 692 18.4 15300 84 7 13500 7 24000 50 17 400 268 32 100 606 13 4
Victory 95 35 17 32 5.10 555 694 18.4 16200 78 7 13000 7 24000 50 17 400 268 32 100 606 13 4
Repulse 105 37 16 622 777 20.7 17000 78 7 14400 7 26300 54 16 350 230 30 90 530 16 8
Garland 95 33 17 32 5.8 532 666 17.7 14600 66 7 12700 7 22800 47 16 300 190 30 80 455 0 0
Warspite 90 36 16 518 648 17 14400 62 7 13000 7 22800 40 12 300 190 30 80 455 0 0
Mary Rose 85 33 17 30.6 5 476 596 15.12 13000 62 7 13000 7 20000 43 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Hope 94 33 13 31.6 5.7 416 520 13.14 11500 66 6 9200 6 17800 37 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Bonaventure 80 35 16 28 4.10 448 560 14.14 12300 70 6 9600 6 19000 40 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Lion 100 32 14 31.6 5.10½ 448 560 14.14 12300 70 6 9600 6 19000 40 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Nonpareil 85 28 15 29 5 357 446 11.7 9800 56 6 9600 6 15000 32 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Defiance 92 32 15 31 5.6 441 552 14.9 12300 60 7 12200 7 19000 41 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Vanguard 108 32 13 32 5.8 449 561 14.14 12300 70 6 9600 6 19100 40 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Rainbow 100 32 12 33.6 6 384 480 12.11 10500 67 6 9000 6 16600 35 12 250 150 30 70 379 3 4
Dreadnought 80 30 15 31 5.4 360 450 11.16 9800 52 6 8200 6 15400 32 10 200 130 20 50 303 6 8
Swiftsure 74 30 15 26 4.6 333 416 9.18 9600 47 5 7100 5 14100 29 10 200 130 20 50 303 6 8
Antelope 87 28 14 29.6 5.3 341 426 11.3 9500 50 5 7300 5 14000 30 10 160 114 16 30 242 13 4
Foresight 78 27 14 27 4.8 294 306 9.12 8300 47 5 7300 5 12600 26 10 160 114 16 30 242 13 4
Adventure 88 26 12 274 343 8.7 7300 44 4 6000 4 11000 24 10 120 88 12 20 182 0 0
Crane 60 26 13 23 3.10 202 253 6.12 5400 40 4 4500 4 8500 18 7 100 76 12 12 151 13 4
Quittance 64 26 13 24 4 219 274 7.5 5800 42 4 4500 4 9400 19 7 100 76 12 12 151 13 4
Answer 65 26 13 24 4 219 274 7.5 5800 42 4 4500 4 9400 19 7 100 76 12 12 151 13 4
Advantage 60 24 12 22 3.10 172 216 5.13 4600 36 4 3700 4 7400 15 7 100 76 12 12 151 13 4
Tremontana 60 22 10 132 165 4.6 3500 31 4 3200 4 5600 11 6 70 52 8 10 106 3 4
Charles 63 16 7 15 3 70 80 2.4 2000 20 4 1800 4 3000 7 5 45 32 6 7 68 5 0
Moon 50 17 7 15 2.8 59 74 1.17 1600 19 3 1800 3 2600 5 5 40 30 5 5 60 13 4
Advice 50 14 6 12 2.6 42 52 1.4 1100 15 3 1600 3 2000 5 40 30 5 5 60 13 4
Spy 50 14 6 12 2.6 42 52 1.4 1100 15 3 1600 3 2000 5 40 30 5 5 60 13 4
Sonne 50 13 6 11 2.2 39 48 1.2 1100 13 3 1500 3 1700 5 30 24 4 2 45 10 0


In consequence of the existence of a formula, to be presently noticed, for calculating tonnage, we have in the preceding table for the first time an attempt at exactness instead of the former round numbers. The keel and other measurements given can only be taken as approximate seeing that they differ in nearly every paper. And some of the other particulars, such as the number of anchors and cables, represent only a theoretical equipment; the inventories show that vessels frequently carried more than the seven anchors and seven cables assigned to the large ones here. On the other hand the strength of the crews rarely reached the proportions in the list, it may safely be said never, if a large fleet was prepared.

The great Portuguese carrack, the Madre de Dios, captured in 1592 and regarded as the largest ship afloat, had a keel length of 100 feet, an extreme breath of 46 feet 10 inches, and an extreme length of 165 feet.[583] The keel length of the Rainbow being 100 feet, her extreme length was 139 feet 6 inches and she had only 32 feet of beam. Moreover the carrack would be hampered by tiers of cabins built up on her poop and forecastle; a comparison of these proportions will help to explain the better weatherly and sailing qualities of the English ships. If for further illustration we compare the Elizabeth Jonas carrying 55 heavy guns,[584] with a 52 gun ship of 1832 we find that the ordnance of the latter weighed 125 tons 4 cwt.; cables (iron and hempen), 56 tons 1 cwt.; anchors 12 tons 10 cwt. 2 qrs.; masts and yards 74 tons 5 cwt.; and fixed and running rigging 51 tons 9 cwt.[585]

This table also explains why galleys, never much in favour, were rapidly falling out of use. In 1588 the Bonavolia served for two months as a guardship in the river at a total cost of £1028,[586] that is to say £514 a month. In 1589 there is an estimate, in the handwriting of Hawkyns, for the same galley but 150 ‘slaves’ are now allowed for, and ‘there may be for every bank[587] a soldier with his piece if the service require it.’ He adds ‘there is no dyett spoken of for the slaves for that we are not yett in the experyence.’[588] We cannot now tell whether Hawkyns had his early merchandise of negroes in his mind or whether ‘slaves’ was the pleasant Elizabethan way of describing criminals and vagrants.[589] The reference however, to ignorance in the matter of diet seems rather to imply that negroes were in question. Doubtless the cost of free[126] oarsmen had been found to be too great. It will be observed that a large cruiser like the Dreadnought could be kept at sea throughout the year at a charge of £303 a month while the almost useless galley, only doubtfully available in summer, cost very much more. The galley service was only possible among the Mediterranean states, and then only when, like Venice, they bought surplus human stock by the thousand from the Emperor. The four galleys of 1601-2 were never once engaged in active service, and were probably only used for purposes for which steam tugs are now employed; perhaps also in pageants, men from the royal ships or ordinary watermen being put in them for the particular service.

Types of Ships.

The lines of ships had begun to vary according to the purpose for which they were designed. There had formerly been no difference between merchantmen and men-of-war except that the latter were perhaps more strongly built. But a paper by William Borough, Comptroller of the Navy, now describes three orders:—[590]

1. The shortest, broadest, and deepest order. To have the length by the keel double the breadth amidships and the depth in hold half that breadth.
This order is used in some merchant ships for most profit.
2. The mean and best proportion for shipping for merchandise, likewise very serviceable for all purposes. Length of keel two or two and a quarter that of beam. Depth of hold eleven-twentyfourths that of beam.
3. The largest order for galleons or ships for the wars made for the most advantage of sailing. Length of keel three times the beam. Depth of hold two-fifths of beam.

If the figures in the preceding table are trustworthy it will be seen that the keel length is very seldom three times the breadth although the later ships show a drift towards that proportion. The short keel, not sufficiently supported in a head sea must have made the vessel pitch tremendously, and one object of the beakhead and great forward rake was to shatter the seas and prevent them breaking on board. Probably these ships were but little worse sailers than the ordinary merchantmen of the beginning of this century, at least before the wind. They could not sail on the wind within at least eight points; fore and aft sails were not yet known, and the top-hamper of lofty sides and built up poop and forecastle levered the vessel off to leeward.

Improvements and Inventions.

Many improvements however were introduced. A method of striking topmasts, ‘a wonderful ease to great ships,’ and a system of sheathing by double planks, having a layer of tar and hair between them, were two of the most important. Both[127] were due to Hawkyns, and the sheathing process remained in use for more than a century after his death. The finest Elizabethan men-of-war, the fastest sailers and best seaboats then afloat were built from his plans; and from the time of his appointment as Treasurer of the Navy dates the change to the relatively low and long type that made the English ships so much more handy than their Spanish antagonists. On Ralegh’s testimony the chain pump, the use of the capstan for weighing the anchor, bonnets and drablers, sprit, studding, top, and top-gallant sails were all new.[591] Ralegh is usually accepted as an authority, but some of these statements are surprisingly inaccurate, considering that he was a shipowner, and had himself been to sea. The bonnet, which laced on to the foot of the ordinary sail, was in use at least as early as the fourteenth century: the drabler laced on to the bonnet, and if the name was new the thing itself was doubtless old. Top, top-gallant, and sprit sails, can be traced back to the close of the preceding century, and there is no reference to studding sails in the inventories. In view also of the ‘main,’ ‘forecastle,’ and ‘lift’ capstans found on a ship like the Sovereign in 1496 it seems incredible that they should not have been earlier applied to weighing the anchor.

The chain pump was brought into use by Hawkyns; a patent log was invented by Humphrey Cole but it does not appear to have superseded the ordinary log line. The lower ports were now some four feet above the water line, and there was a tendency to decrease the deck superstructures. Ralegh is emphatic in his disapproval of deck cabins: ‘they are but sluttish dens that breed sickness in peace, serving to cover stealths, and in fight are dangerous to tear men with their splinters.’ Nevertheless others thought differently, and in view of the large crew of a man-of-war and crowded narrow quarters some deck accommodation was perhaps absolutely essential. Both poop and forecastle were barricaded and the bulkheads pierced for arrow and musketry fire. In ships ‘built loftie’ there was a second, and perhaps even a third tier over the poop and forecastle of similarly defended cabins. The waist was partly open on the upper deck, while on the lower deck were again loop-holed bulkheads running transversely, so that if a ship were boarded her assailants found themselves exposed to a galling cross-fire from the defenders.

Gravel ballast only was used and for such crank vessels a large quantity was necessary. It was seldom changed and becoming soaked with bilgewater, drainings from beer casks, and the general waste of a ship, was a source of injury to the vessel and of danger to the health of the men. The ‘cook-room,’[128] a solid structure of bricks and mortar, was built in the hold on this ballast, and in that position, besides making the ship hot and spoiling the stores, was a frequent cause of fire. Moreover ballast and cook-room being practically immovable nothing could be known of the condition of the timber and ironwork below. Sir William Wynter advocated, in 1578, the use of stone ballast and the removal of the cooking galley to the forecastle, but neither proposal was generally adopted.[592] In the squadron commanded by Hawkyns and Frobisher in 1590 the Mary Rose, however, Hawkyns’ flagship, had her cook-room especially removed from the hold to the forecastle, ‘as well for the better stowinge of her victualles as also for better preserving her whole companie in health during that voyadge beinge bounde to the southwardes.’ We may therefore take it that the opinion of Hawkyns coincided with that of Wynter on this point. But the alteration in the Mary Rose was an isolated occurrence, and even as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century the galley was still sometimes in the hold. The large amount of space occupied by the ballast, cables, ammunition, and other necessaries left but little room for other things, and a ship had only provisions on board for three or four weeks, although theoretically she was expected to carry more. The presence of a fleet of transports was therefore necessary with all naval expeditions.

The attention given to maritime matters bore fruit in other inventions, many of them far in advance of their time. Centre board boats, paddlewheels, a diving dress, and fireships, were all recommended and perhaps used.[593] Gawen Smith proposed to erect a beacon and refuge, capable of holding twenty or thirty persons, on the Goodwin sands such as was actually tried, unsuccessfully, in the first half of this century.[594]

Cost and Construction of Ships.

There is no detailed statement of the whole cost of a ship complete. Most were built by contract, and payment to the master shipwright responsible appears to be only for the hull, masts and spars. For an early vessel, probably the Triumph, there is a fuller account[595] and here the total is £3788, of which the timber cost £1200, spars and ironwork £700, and wages £1888; this does not include sails, fittings, etc. Building by contract seems to have commenced with the accession to office of Hawkyns in 1578. The Lion was rebuilt in this manner in 1582 for £1440, the Nonpareil for £1600, the Hope ‘brought into the fourme of a galease’ £250,[596] and the[129] Cygnet, and Greyhound built for £93, 18s 1d and £66, 13s 4d each.[597] The Victory was ‘altered into the forme of a galleon’ for £500, and the Vanguard and Rainbow built for £2600, apiece.[598] The Merhonour, Garland, and Defiance, cost £5, 2s, £5, 19s 5d, and £6, 7s 4d a ton,[599] and the price was based on the net tonnage. These rates do not however correspond with the amounts in the naval accounts which are £3600 for the Merhonour, £3200 for the Garland, and £3000 for the Defiance.

The earliest details we have of construction are in connection with these three vessels. A committee consisting of Howard, Drake, Hawkyns, Wynter, Borough, Ed. Fenton, Rich. Chapman, and Mathew and Christopher Baker, settled the plans.[600] The three were very similar, and it was decided that the one to be built by Peter Pett (the Defiance) should have a keel length of 92 feet, a beam of 32 feet, and be 15 feet deep ‘under the beame of the maine overloppe.’ Eight feet above the keel ten beams were to be placed on which ‘to lay a false overloppe so far as neede shall require,’ and under the ten beams ten riders were to be set; the riders at the footwales were to have two ‘sleepers on every side fore and afte,’ and pillars to be sufficiently bolted to them. The pillars supporting the lower deck had been newly adopted,[601] and as riders were put into the White Bear twenty years after she was built they also were possibly a recent improvement. The main, or lower deck, of the Defiance was to have twelve beams, with side knees and standards, every knee having four bolts and the deck itself was of three-inch plank. The upper deck was of two-and-a-half inch plank, but three inches in the waist; on this deck were the poop and forecastle. From the keel to the second wale four-inch plank was to be used, thence to the ‘quickside or waist,’ three-inch, and above that two-inch ‘rabbated to the railles to be inbowed to goe to the shippes side,’ On the orlop deck there were to be cabins for the boatswain, surgeon, gunner, and carpenter; the ship’s company were berthed on the main deck.

The Merhonour, and Garland, differed only in details, therefore these vessels, one of which was the third largest in the Royal Navy, were not even two-deckers in the modern sense. Three-deckers were unknown in the English service and, beyond the existence of a print, diagrammatic in character, in the British Museum, which is said, on insufficient authority, to represent the Ark Royal, there is no ground for supposing that two-deckers were in use. The Warspite, of 648 tons, had possibly only one ordnance deck but certainly[130] not more than one-and-a-half; ‘having an overloppe and deck before and after, and a half deck abaft the main mast.’[602] She was ‘planked between the two lower walles and from the lower walle down to the keele with four-inch plank, and from the second walle upwards to the cheyne walle with three-inch plank, and from the cheyne walles to the railes upwards on the waste with two-inch plank.’ The Warspite was one of the few shipbuilding failures of the reign. In 1598, although a nearly new ship, she cost £712 for repairs and further sums were spent on her in the succeeding years.

The illustration of an Elizabethan man-of-war, reproduced from a drawing in a Bodleian MS., shows some marked differences from the Tiger of Henry VIII. She is probably a vessel of the earlier portion of the reign; perhaps the Bull or Tiger of 1570. So far as the hull is concerned, there is distinct retrogression in that the keel is relatively shorter to the extreme length, and that the poop is built up to a disproportionate and unseaworthy extent. This last may be explained by the fact that the earlier Tiger was not expected to be called upon to serve outside the four seas, while the later ship had a wider cruising scope. The extended field of service called for larger crews, and as the orlop deck was not introduced till late in the reign, the increased accommodation necessary was obtained by the provision of more deck structures. In the matter of heavier masts and spars, possibly finer under water lines, larger sail area, and the multiplication of appliances for more rapid handling, there was an undoubted advance on the earlier ship.

Decoration of Ships.

Philip’s ambassador told him in 1569 that ‘they expect to be able to repel any attack by means of their fleet,’ and this confidence found natural expression in an inclination to decorate and adorn the weapons on which they relied. At any rate we now find specific payments for these purposes made with a frequency new in naval history. The ‘carving of personages in timber,’ and painting and colouring of ships in 1563 cost £121, 13s 8d and ‘painting and colouring red the great new ship called the White Bear[603] £20. Three ‘great personages in wood for the garnishing and setting forth’ of the same vessel were £1, 15s each. The upper works of the Bonaventure were painted black and white,[604] and the Lion in ‘timber colour;’ as the White Bear was red, and the Revenge and Scout, green and white there was evidently no[131] regulation colour. The Bonaventure had a dragon on her beakhead, the royal arms on her stern, and two lions and two dragons in gilt and paint on her galleries. The Foresight carried the Queen’s arms, a rose and a fleur de lis, on her stern, and in 1579 £2, 13s 4d was paid for carving a Saturn and a Salamander for the Swallow. Figure heads were usual. The Nonpareil, Adventure, Dreadnought and Hope, had a dragon; the Charles, Defiance, Rainbow, Repulse and Garland a lion; the Mary Rose, a unicorn, and the Swiftsure a tiger. When the White Bear was rebuilt the carvings included,

‘an image of Jupiter sitting uppon an eagle with the cloudes, before the heade of the shippe xiˡⁱ; twoe sidebordes for the heade with compartments and badges and fruitages xˡⁱ; the traynebord[605] with compartments and badges of both sides viiˡⁱ; xvi brackets going round about the heade at xiiˢ the pece; xxxviii peces of spoyle or artillarie round about the shippe at xivˢ the pece; the greate pece of Neptune and the Nymphes about him for the uprighte of the Sterne viˡⁱ xˢ.’[606]

The whole cost of carving was here £172, and of painting and gilding £205, 10s, but these appear to have been exceptional amounts. Painting the Bonaventure cost £23, 6s 8d, the Dreadnought £20, the Vanguard £30, and the Merhonour £40, and these sums more nearly represented the ordinary expenditure. On the Elizabeth however £180 was spent in 1598 for

‘newe payntinge and guildinge with fine gold her beake heade on both sides with Her Maiesties whole armes and supporters, for payntinge the forecastle, the cubbridge heades[607] on the wast, the outsides from stemme to sterne, for like payntinge and newe guildinge of both the galleries with Her Maiesties armes and supporters on both sides, the sterne newe paynted with divers devices and beastes guilte with fine gold; for newe payntinge the captens cabbon, the somer decke[608] as well overhead as on the sides, the barbycan, the dyninge roome and the studdie.’[609]

The Rainbow’s lion figure head was gilt and on her sides were ‘planets, rainbows, and clouds’ with the royal arms on the upper, middle, and lower counter, but the whole charge was only £58, 6s. Cabins were painted and upholstered in the favourite Tudor colour of green and ‘Her Maiesties badge’ was painted in green and red. The White Bear and the Elizabeth are the only two instances in which comparatively large sums are found to be spent in ornament, and it does not appear that there was as yet more than a bent towards general embellishment. The smaller vessels are never mentioned in this connexion. The opinion of a contemporary was that, both for work and appearance,


‘our navy is such as wanteth neither goodly, great, nor beautiful ships who of mould are so clean made beneath, of proportion so fine above, of sail so swift, the ports, fights, coines, in them so well devised, with the ordnance so well placed, that none of any other region may seem comparable unto them.’[610]

Tonnage Measurement.

The new method of building by contract, and the large number of merchantmen upon which the bounty was now paid, necessitated a more exact measurement of tonnage than had hitherto obtained. In 1582 a rule was devised which remained in use for nearly half a century and was said to have been due to Mathew Baker, son of the James Baker shipwright to Henry VIII, and himself one of the principal government shipwrights. The writer says:[611]

‘By the proportion of breadth, depth, and length of any ship to judge what burden she may be of in merchant’s goods and how much of dead weight of ton and tonnage. The Ascension of London being in breadth 24 feet, depth 12 feet from that breadth to the hold, and by the keel 54 feet in length doth carry in burden of merchant’s goods (in pipes of oil or Bordeaux wine) 160 tons, but to accompt her in dead weight, or her ton and tonnage may be added one third part of the same burden which maketh her tonnage 213⅓. After the same rate these proportions follow:

Breadth at midship beam Depth from her breadth Keel Burden in cask of oil or wine Dead weight tonnage
A Ship of 20 ft. 10 ft. 42 ft. 86½ 115
A Ship of 21 ” 10½ ” 45 102⅒ 136⅛
Prudence of London 24 ” 12 51½ ” 150½ 202⅔
Golden Lion 32 ” 12 or 14 ” 102 403 or 461 537 or 614⅔
Elizabeth Jonas[612] 40 ” 18 100 740 986⅔

To find the burden of any ship proportionately to the Ascension before specified multiply the breadth of her by her depth, and the product by her length at the keel, the amounting sum you shall use as your divisor. If 15,552, the solid cubical number for the Ascension do give 160 tons, her just burthen, what shall 8400, the solid number of a ship 20 feet broad, 10 feet deep, and 42 feet keel. Work and you shall find 86³⁴⁄₈₁ tons of burden while if you add one-third you shall find your tonnage 114 almost.’

This formula made theory square with fact since the result corresponded with the tuns of Bordeaux wine experience had shown a ship to be able to carry. But strictly, ‘burden’ and ‘ton and tonnage,’ as used here do not correspond with our net and gross tonnage, since burden is used in connexion with lighter material occupying more space than a heavy cargo, such as coal, that would be represented by ton and tonnage. The Spanish system of measurement in 1590 was to multiply half the breadth by depth of hold and the result by the length[133] over all.[613] From this 5% was deducted for the entry and run, and the remainder divided by eight, gave the net tonnage; 20% was added to obtain the gross tonnage.[614]

The Seamen.

As early as 1561 the Venetian Resident considered England superior to its neighbours in naval strength,[615] but he may not have included Spain among the neighbours. The Spaniards officially in England kept Philip fully acquainted with the character and equipment of the fleet. He was always apprised of any preparations, and in such detail that we find him told on one occasion that twelve or fourteen ships were of from 400 to 700 tons ‘with little top-hamper and very light, which is a great advantage for close quarters, and with much artillery, the heavy pieces being close to the water.’[616] Eight years earlier his ambassador, De Silva, recommended him to have ships built in England instead of continuing the chartering system in vogue in Spain as ‘certainly the ships built here are very sound and good.’[617] These intimations probably did not stand alone, but neither then nor later did they lead to any change in the type affected in the Peninsula. English seamen did not favourably impress the Spaniards. One of Philip’s correspondents, in writing to him that four men-of-war had been prepared for sea, added, ‘the men in them are poor creatures.’[618] Six months later he was informed that although Elizabeth possessed twenty-two large ships she had only been able to fit eleven for sea, and would find it impossible to equip more, and that ‘the men on the fleet although they appear bellicose are really pampered and effeminate different from what they used to be.’[619] The estimate appears the more extraordinary because English seamen were at this time giving daily proof, at the expense of Spanish and other commerce, of the wild energy animating them. As late as 1586, Mendoza wrote that four ships were in commission and others in preparation, but of these latter, only four were seaworthy, ‘all the rest being old and rotten.’[620] If Philip was continuously misinformed as to the number of ships available, the difficulties in furnishing them, and the fighting value of the men, it may help to explain the confidence he showed later.

As a matter of fact, there are very few complaints throughout the reign about embarrassments due to want[134] of crews. The semi-piratical expeditions preferred by the government were better liked than would have been a more regular warfare that would have meant harder fighting and fewer chances of plunder. Hatred of Spain and Popery, conjoined with the hoped for pillage of Spanish galleons, formed an inducement that never failed to bring a sufficient number of men together, notwithstanding that, as privateering speculations, most of the voyages were, pecuniarily, failures, although they served their purpose in destroying Spanish commerce and credit. The proportion of men on board a man-of-war was three to every five tons, of gross tonnage; one-third being soldiers, one-seventh of the remainder, gunners; and the rest seamen. In merchantmen the ratio was one man to every five tons of net tonnage, one-twelfth being gunners and the rest seamen.[621] But in practice the strength of a crew depended on the number of men required and the success of the impress authorities.

The Seamen:—Pay and Rewards.

Until 1585 the wages remained at 6s 8d a month, to which it had been raised in 1546 or very shortly afterwards. In 1585, the sailor’s pay was raised to ten shillings a month, through the action of Hawkyns. There must have been some dissatisfaction with the quality of the men hitherto serving, and the breach with Spain doubtless made an improvement necessary. Hawkyns coated the pill for Elizabeth by assuring her that fewer men would be required, of the standard to be attracted by the higher rate, and, ‘by this meane her Maiesties shippes wolde be ffurnyshed with able men suche as can make shyfte for themselves, kepe themselves clene withoute vermyne and noysomeness which bredeth sycknes and mortalletye.’[622] Moreover, ships could then carry more stores and continue longer at sea. Hawkyns was one of the few commanders of his age who recognised a claim to consideration in his inferiors, and made some attempt to secure their health and comfort. In 1589 he took care to have his stores ‘of an extraordinary price and goodnes to keep men in health’; in 1595 he took out clothes for his men and a new kind of ‘lading victuells, a kind of victuells for sea service devised by Mr Hughe Platte.’[623] Hammocks were introduced in 1597, when a warrant authorises payment for 300 bolts of canvas ‘to make hanging cabones or beddes ... for the better preservation of their health.’[624] In 1590, a suggestion, which did not, however, take practical shape till long afterwards, was made for the benefit of the merchant sailor. John Allington, a draper of London, proposed the creation of a special office[135] for the registration of contracts between merchants, owners, and masters of ships. This would have led to something equivalent to the present ‘signing on’ enforced by the Board of Trade, and would have regulated the position of the seamen and simplified the enforcements of his rights, too often sacrificed to an unscrupulous use of legal forms.[625] Allington, like most of the projectors and schemers of his day, was no philanthropist. He offered to pay £40 a year for permission to establish such an office, and apparently expected to obtain five shillings apiece from 500 or 600 ships a year.

No especial provision was made on board men-of-war for the sick or wounded sailor; if the ship went into action he was placed in the cable tier or laid upon the ballast as being the safest places. If he survived the medical science of his time, and was landed disabled, he was supposed to be passed to his own parish. Sometimes he was permitted to beg. A printed licence from Howard, as Lord Admiral, under date 1590, still exists empowering William Browne, maimed in 1588, to beg for a year in all churches.[626] By 35 c. 4 and 39 c. 21 of Elizabeth relief was afforded to hurt men; these were both repealed by 43 c. 3 which enacted that parishes were to be charged with a weekly sum of not less than twopence or more than tenpence to provide help, the pension however in no case to exceed ten pounds for a sailor or twenty pounds for an officer. Gratuities were sometimes given. In 1593 Hawkyns was ordered to pay two shillings a week, for twenty weeks, to 29 injured men, and William Storey, having lost a leg, received £1, 13s 4d, apparently in settlement of all claims.[627]

Such gifts, in view of the number we can still trace, were probably more frequent than would be expected from the character of Elizabeth. In 1587 a month’s extra pay was awarded to the crews of three pinnaces for their good service in capturing Spanish prizes. For 1588 £5, was divided among 100 men who manned the fireships sent into Calais Roads, £80, among the wounded of the fleet generally, and £7 to sick men in the Elizabeth.[628] In 1591 six months’ pay was given to the widows of the men killed in the Revenge, and in 1594 there is a gift of £61, 19s 6d to Helen Armourer, widow of John Armourer of Newcastle, ‘in consideration of his good and faithful services,’ although the name is quite strange in naval affairs.[629] Merchant seamen were also remembered in these benefactions. On one occasion forty marks were paid to five men ‘having been lately lamentably afflicted in Naples by pryson and other punyshments by thinquisition of Spayne as we are informed and by secret escape savid their lyves.’[630][136] On another ‘in consideration of the valiantnes done in Turkey by our welbeloved subiecte John Ffoxe of Woodbridge in our county of Suffolk, gunner by whose meanes 266 Christians were released out of miserable captivity,’ an assuredly nobly earned pension of one shilling a day was conferred upon him.[631] When it cost the Queen nothing directly she was sometimes still more liberal. To Robert Miller, a master mariner, £200, was allowed out of forfeited goods in consideration of his services and losses at sea; George Harrison received £800, in the same way and for the same reasons. Sometimes seamen’s wives, whose husbands were prisoners in Spain, petitioned the Council for help. In one instance the merchants owning the ships were ordered to assist the women; in another their landlords were directed not to press them for rent.

We can know little of the internal economy of a merchantman in those days. The vessels were relatively as crowded, and probably as unhealthy, as men-of-war; the victualling was of the same, and at times even worse quality, seeing that the owners of merchant vessels were expected to buy government provisions if the victualling department found itself overstocked. In 1596 there is a letter directing the Lord Mayor to forbid the city butchers to sell meat to ships until the government stores of salt beef were sold out. This is followed by an order from the Council to the Serjeant of the Admiralty not to allow any outward bound trader to pass down the river unless a certificate of such purchase was produced.[632]

Mortality on Shipboard.

We have no means of estimating the mortality from disease on board merchant ships, but we know that in men-of-war it was very great. ‘In the late Queen’s time many thousands did miscarry by the corruption as well of drink as of meat,’ says a seventeenth century writer;[633] and Sir Richard Hawkyns thought that, in twenty years, 10,000 men died from scorbutic affections. The length of the voyages now undertaken rendered larger crews necessary; the accommodation was narrow and ill-ventilated, the requirements of sanitation unknown, and the food was usually scanty and bad, so that the sailor was placed under conditions that made him fall an easy victim to disease. In Drake’s voyage of 1585-6 out of 2300 men nearly 600 died from disease. In the expedition of 1589, out of 12,000 men employed, nearly one-half perished, mainly from sickness and want of food, and every enterprise, small or great, suffered more or less largely in the same way. Usually the hope of plunder sustained the men through all[137] such trials, and there is only one serious case of the mutiny of a crew because of ‘the weakness and feebleness they were fallen into through the spare and bad diet.’ But in this instance sympathy with their captain may have had much to do with their action.[634]

The pages of Hakluyt relate much of the suffering endured by our seamen abroad from disease and privation, but there is one historic illustration at home of the miseries borne by the men and the callousness or scanty resources of the authorities. On 10th August 1588 Howard wrote to Burghley:

‘Sicknes and mortallitie begin wonderfullie to growe amongste us ... the Elizabeth, which hath don as well as eaver anie ship did in anie service, hath had a great infectione in her from the beginning soe as of the 500 men which she carried out, by the time she had bin in Plymouth three weeks or a month there were ded of them 200 and above, soe as I was driven to set all the rest of her men ashore, to take out the ballast and to make fires in her of wet broom 3 or 4 daies together, and so hoped therebie to have cleansed her of her infectione, and thereuppon got newe men, verie tall and hable as eaver I saw and put them into her; nowe the infectione is broken out in greater extremitie than eaver it did before, and they die and sicken faster than ever they did, soe as I am driven of force to send her to Chatham ... Sir Roger Townsend of all the men he brought out with him hath but one left alive ... it is like enough that the like infectione will growe throughout the most part of the fleet, for they have bin soe long at sea and have so little shift of apparell ... and no money wherewith to buy it.’

On the 22nd August he writes to the Queen that the infection is bad, that men sicken one day and die the next but, in courtly phrase, that ‘I doubt not that with good care and God’s goodnes which doth ever bles your Maiestie it wyll quenche againe.’ But on the same day he tells the Council more plainly, ‘the most part of the fleet is grievouslie infected and die dailie ... and the ships themselves be so infectious and so corrupted as it is thought to be a verie plague ... manie of the ships have hardly men enough to waie their anchors.’[635] And as illustrating the infection and its probable cause comes a complaint from him to Walsingham that, although the beer in the fleet has been condemned as unfit for use, it is still served out to the men, and ‘nothing doth displease the seamen more than sour beer.’

This sickness is usually said to have been the plague or typhus. But Howard and his captains, who had lived to middle age in a country where the plague was endemic and who must have known its symptoms well, obviously thought ‘the infectione’ something different. In the passage quoted above he compares it to the plague and in another letter he writes, ‘The mariners who have a conceit (and I think it true and so do all the captains here) that sour drink hath been a[138] great cause of this infection amongst us.’[636] The plague was familiar to them all but this was something they could not easily name. The same arguments apply, although perhaps not so closely, against typhus which in its general form and symptoms was familiar under various names to sixteenth century observers. But 1588 was not a particularly unhealthy year on land and there is no record of any sudden outbreak of epidemic disease either before or after that occurring on the fleet. Moreover though typhus occasionally kills within a few hours it has never been known to kill numbers in the rapid fashion suggested by Howard. It is probable that the complaint was an acute enteritis, caused by the beer, acting on frames enfeebled by bad and insufficient food, and still further weakened by the scorbutic taint to which all classes, but especially seamen, were subject in the middle ages.

On the whole the position of the sailor was now steadily deteriorating. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries his pay had been relatively very high, and as he was only called upon to serve round the coasts, or, at furthest, to Bordeaux or the Baltic, his health was not affected by conditions to which he was only exposed for a short time. But towards the end of the sixteenth century the wages, in consequence of the general rise in prices, were relatively less than they had been, and less than those of the artisan classes on shore. In an epoch when the increase in the number of distant voyages set his services in commercial demand he was required to serve in the royal fleets for longer periods than had been before known. He was exposed to a merciless system of impressment, cheap for the State because he had to indirectly bear the cost. And the length of the cruises, their extension into tropical climates, and the character of the provisions, unsuited to the new conditions, made themselves felt in outbreaks of disease to which his ancestors, assembled chiefly for Channel work, had been strangers. Morally the general tone among the men cannot have been high if we may judge them from a phrase used by the officials sent down to examine into the plunder of the Madre de Dios in 1592, ‘we hold it loste labor and offence to God to minister oathes unto the generallitie of them.’[637]

Seamen’s Clothing.

It will have been noticed that in his letter of 10th August Howard says that the men have no money wherewith to buy clothes; in another he suggests that a thousand marks’ worth of apparel should be sent down. But the custom of providing crews with coats or jackets at the expense of the crown had quite ceased, and even if necessaries were supplied to the men they had to pay for them. The supply was usually a private[139] speculation on the part of some Admiralty official. In 1586 Roger Langford, afterwards paymaster of the Navy furnished men with canvas caps, shirts, shoes, etc., a piece of business by which he lost £140. In 1580 the government sent over clothes for the men on the Irish station, the cost of which was to be deducted from their wages. The articles included, ‘canvas for breches and dublettes’—‘coutten for lyninges, and petticoates,’ stockings, caps, shoes, and shirts.[638] Hawkyns with the forethought always characterising his action as an admiral, took out with him in 1595 ‘calico for 200 suits of apparel,’ 400 shirts, woollen and worsted hose, linen breeches and Monmouth caps.[639] There is a sketch in a contemporary treatise on navigation of a seaman, apparently an officer. He wears a Monmouth, or small Tam o’ Shanter, cap, a small ruff round the neck, a close-fitting vest, and long bell-mouthed trousers.[640] In 1602 there is a payment in the Navy accounts of £54, 19s 8d for clothing for Spanish prisoners. Canvas shirts, cotton waistcoats, caps, hose, and ‘rugge’ for gowns were provided and the articles were doubtless of the same kind and quality as those worn by the men.

Royal Ships Lent.

During the earlier years of her reign the Queen, like her predecessors, frequently allowed her ships to be hired for trading voyages. In 1561 the Minion, Primrose, Brigandine and Fleur de Lys, were delivered to Sir William Chester and others for a voyage to Africa. In this case Elizabeth shared the risk. For her ships, and for provisions to the value of £500, she was to receive one-third of the profits. The hirers undertook to ship at least £5000 of goods, pay wages and all other expenses, and each enter into a bond of 1000 marks to carry out the conditions.[641] In 1563 the Jesus of Lubeck was lent to Dudley and others, to trade to Guinea and the West Indies, for which they paid £500.[642] She was then, after having been in the Royal Navy nearly twenty years, valued at £2000 for which amounts the hirers had to give their bonds. She returned in 1565, was at Padstow in October, and ‘cannot be brought to Gillingham till spring of next year.’ The adventurers could not have procured a 600 ton vessel, for two years, for £500 from any owner but the State. And as she had to remain at Padstow during the whole winter it may be inferred that she returned in a very unseaworthy condition, for Elizabethan seamanship was certainly equal to taking a ship up Channel during the winter months. She was hired by Hawkyns in 1568 and was then the first of the only two men-of-war lost to Spain during the entire reign. When a convoy was furnished a full charge was levied for the[140] protection; £558 was received in 1569 from the Merchant Adventurers’ Company for men-of-war serving on this duty, and again £586 in 1570.[643] As private owners built more and bigger ships the demand for men-of-war for trading voyages grew less, but the Queen often lent them for privateering ventures in which she was pecuniarily interested, assessing their estimated value as a portion of the money advanced by her and on which she would receive a dividend. Under these circumstances her representatives did not err on the side of moderation when valuing the ships thus temporarily lent. When Drake took the Bonaventure and the Aid in 1585 they were appraised at £10,000, an obviously extravagant estimate. Nominally Elizabeth advanced £20,000, of which these two ships stood for half; she got her ships back, £2000 for the use of them, and the same dividend on £20,000 as the other persons who had taken shares. Those others lost five shillings in the pound; she must have made a profit.

The Victualling Department.

In consequence of the greater activity of the Royal Navy the victualling department experienced a corresponding enlargement. In 1560 the buildings at Tower Hill, formerly the Abbey of Grace, and granted in 1542 to Sir Arthur Darcy, were purchased from him for £1200, and £700 expended in repairing them.[644] Other storehouses were hired at Ratcliff and St Katherines, the latter from Anthony Anthony, Surveyor of the Ordnance, who seems to have taken great interest in naval matters, and to whom we are indebted for the coloured drawings of ships previously referred to. For his storehouse he was paid £16 a year; another at Rochester cost £5, 6s 8d a year. By a patent of 24th December 1560, William Holstock was joined with Baeshe as Surveyor of the Victuals; this was surrendered and replaced by another of 30th October, 1563 in which John Elliott took Holstock’s place. Neither Holstock nor Elliott had any actual position, the new patents only giving them the chance of succeeding Baeshe. An agreement with him of 13th April 1565, but which did not cancel the title and fees granted to him by his Letters Patent, instituted a considerable reform inasmuch as it did away with purveyance, or forced purchase, at rates fixed by the officers of the crown. Henceforth Baeshe was to be paid fourpence halfpenny a day for each man in harbour and fivepence a day at sea. For this he was to provide, per head, on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 lb of biscuit and 1 gallon of beer, and 2 lbs of salt beef, and on the other three days, besides the biscuit and beer, a quarter of a stockfish,[645] one-eighth of a pound of butter, and one quarter of a pound of cheese. Fourpence[141] a man per month at sea, and eightpence in harbour he was to allow for purser’s necessaries, such as wood, candles, etc., and he was to pay the rent of all hired storehouses and the wages of his clerks. He undertook not to use the right of purveyance unless ordered to victual more than 2000 men suddenly, and agreed to always keep in hand one months provisions for 1000 men. The agreement could be terminated by six months’ notice on either side, and until it ceased the crown advanced him £500 without interest to be repaid within six months of the cessation of his contract. He was given the use of all the crown buildings belonging to his department, subject to his keeping them in repair, and was permitted to export 1000 hides in peace time and as many as he should slaughter oxen during war.[646] The weight of purveyance was felt chiefly in the home counties, and Elizabeth may have felt it good policy to do away with a ceaseless source of popular irritation which was really of very little advantage to the crown. From this date payments were made to Baeshe direct from the Exchequer and no longer through the Navy Treasurer. Isolated payments relating to storehouses, of no general interest, recur in the accounts, but the growing importance of Chatham is shown by the removal, in 1570, of buildings at Dover, and their re-erection at Rochester, at a cost of £300.

In 1569 an additional £1000 was advanced to Baeshe without interest, and in 1573, the harbour rate was raised to fivepence halfpenny per man, and the sea rate to sixpence. All this assistance, for probably further sums were lent to him without interest, does not seem to have enabled him to carry on his work without loss. In 1576 he petitioned the Queen to be forgiven the first £500 advanced to him and to be permitted to pay off the balance at £1000 a year. He based his claim to consideration on the fact that he had saved her 1000 marks a year by his contract and had acted without recourse to purveyance, ‘no small benefit to the hole realme.’ He had lost £500 a year, for four years, by the embargo on trade with the Low Countries, which prevented his exportation of hides, and £ 240 by the fire at Portsmouth. And:—

‘finally what my service hath bin from tyme to tyme as well to her most noble ffather, brother, and sister, as to her Maiestie I do referre the same to the report of my Lord Tresorer and my Lord Admirall and yet hitherto I never receyved from her Maiestie any reward for service but only her Maiesties gracious good countenance to my comfort.’[647]

The petition does not appear to have obtained anything beyond a continuance of these unsubstantial favours, but Baeshe struggled on till 6th May 1586 when he gave six months’ notice to determine his contract. He then anticipated[142] a loss of £534 on victualling eight or ten ships, ‘which I am not able to beare.’[648] He must have been a very old man and anxiety perhaps hastened his death, which occurred in April 1587. In the interval, however, the rate had been raised, from 1st November 1586 to 31st March 1587 to sixpence a day per man in harbour, and sixpence halfpenny at sea, and from 1st April 1587 to 31st October to sixpence halfpenny in harbour and sevenpence at sea, ‘on account of the great dearth.’ The Armada was already expected, but on 30th June 1587, when the stores were handed over to Baeshe’s successor there were only 6020 pieces[649] of beef, and 2300 stockfish in hand.

By Letters Patent of 27th November 1582 James Quarles ‘one of the officers of our household’[650] had been granted survivorship to Baeshe, and he now took his place from 1st July 1587, at the same fees and allowances as had been originally given by the patent of 18th June 1550. The rate was maintained at sixpence halfpenny and sevenpence ‘untill it shall please Almightie God to send such plentie as the heigh prises and rates of victuall shalbe diminished’. The quantity and quality of the food provided for the men in 1588 has long been a source of disgrace to Elizabeth and her ministers. An apology for them has been attempted on the ground that the mechanism at work was new and not capable of dealing with large numbers of men, and that the failure was mainly due to the suddenness of the demand. So far as the first statement is concerned it is sufficient to answer that the victualling branch had been organised for nearly forty years, and found no difficulty in arranging for 13,000 men in 1596, and 9200 men in 1597 after timely notice. The last reason may excuse the victualling department but will not relieve the statesman in responsible direction. The government had had long notice of the coming of the Armada, but even as late as March Burghley was occupied with niggling attempts at making 26 days’ victuals last for 28 days.[651] In 1565 Baeshe had undertaken to keep always one month’s victuals for 1000 men in store, but in June 1587 there was not even so much. The point therefore is that if the ministry had thus early recognised the necessity for a reserve, and that two or three months were requisite for the collection and preparation of provisions for a large force, and if with the knowledge that such provisions were certain to be required, and in spite of the warnings of those best able to judge, they neglected the preparations and continued a supply which was merely from hand to mouth, they must be held guilty of the[143] sufferings inflicted on the men by their miserable policy. When the moment of trial came Quarles and his superiors did their best, but the accusation against the latter is that had they exercised the foresight supposed to be one of the qualifications for their dignified posts no such sudden and almost ineffective efforts would have been necessary. The spirit in which they or the Queen dealt with the matter is shown by the necessity Howard was under of paying out of his own pocket for the extra comforts obtained for the dying seamen at Plymouth.[652]

How far Elizabeth was herself answerable is a moot point. There is no direct evidence that the delay in obtaining provisions was due to her orders. On the other hand we know that the postponements in equipping the ships, and the hesitating action and inconsistent directions and suggestions that characterised the early months of 1588, were due to her, and there is a strong probability that much of the shame should rest with her rather than with ministers who perhaps had to carry out commands to which they had objected in Council. Moreover very few things, especially those involving expense, were done without the knowledge and approval of Elizabeth. It was a personal government and there is no reason to suppose that this particular branch was beyond her cognisance. With the fatality that has usually dogged English militant endeavour the fleet did not even obtain the benefit, at the right time, of the stores provided. Frequently victuallers were blundering about for weeks looking for it, while the admirals were sending up despairing entreaties for supplies. In April, Drake wrote to the Queen ‘I have not in my lifetime known better men and possessed with gallanter minds than your Majesty’s people are for the most part.’ Whether the cause was incompetence or a criminal parsimony their fate, after having saved their country, was to perish in misery, unheeded and unhelped except by the officers who had fought with them. In the conceit of Elizabeth and her like they were only ‘the common sort.’

During the forty years that Baeshe had served the crown he had never been charged with dishonesty and he died poor. Quarles however had at once serious malpractices imputed to him as having occurred within his first year of office.[653] His accuser, a subordinate, as usual offered to do his work for 1000 marks a year less, and on examination of the charges it seems likely that some were untrue and that other defaults occurred in consequence of the orders given to him.

From 1589 the rate again fell to fivepence-halfpenny and sixpence, in harbour and at sea; but for 1590 and 1591 Quarles was allowed £2355, on account of the dearth still existing. He had[144] petitioned that he had suffered a loss of £3172, between April 1590 and April 1591, being the difference between the rates paid to him and the cost per head of the victuals.[654] He died in 1595 and was succeeded by Marmaduke Darell, his coadjutor, ‘clerk of our averie.’[655] Till 1600 the rate remained the same although heavy extra allowances were made each year to Darell; then it was raised to sixpence halfpenny and sevenpence. In this year £738 was spent on repairs to Tower Hill where there were separate houses for beef, bacon, ling, etc., ‘the great mansion being the officers lodgings.’ The storehouses and brewhouses at Portsmouth, built by Henry VIII, still existed under the names originally given them and were repaired at a cost of £234.

One ton and a half of gross tonnage, or one of stowage, was allowed on board ship, for one month’s provisions for four men, of which the beer occupied half, wood and water a quarter, and solid food the remainder of a ton.[656] There is no reason to suppose that either Baeshe, Quarles, or Darell were either dishonest or incompetent. The terrible outbreaks of disease that occurred during nearly every long voyage were not confined to the English service and were the natural result of salt meat and fish, and beer that could not be prevented from turning sour. They could only do their best with the materials at command but which were not suitable to the larger field in which the services of English sailors were now required.

The Administration.

Benjamin Gonson was Treasurer of the Navy when Elizabeth came to the throne and held the post until his death in 1577. The number of vessels added to the Navy during his term of office shows that he was not inactive, and he was certainly a competent public servant. John Hawkyns[657] was his son-in-law, and the relationship doubtless inspired Hawkyns with the hope of succeeding him, and perhaps enabled him to infuse some of his own spirit into the management of the Navy, while Gonson was still its official head. But mere relationship, although it had its influence would not alone have sufficed, had not Hawkyns already made his name as a seaman and as an able commander. In 1567 he received a grant of the reversion to the office of Clerk of the Ships, a post he could only have looked upon as a stepping-stone, and which he never took up. In 1577, when Gonson was ill, Hawkyns petitioned the Queen, probably, although it is not specifically mentioned, for the reversion to his post, and[145] drew up a long catalogue of unrecompensed services.[658] Gonson died in the course of a year, a landed proprietor in Essex, and a successful man, but he had told his son-in-law, when the latter was trying to obtain the reversion, that, ‘I shall pluck a thorn out of my foot and put it into yours.’ Hawkyns lived to realise the truth of the kindly warning. He commenced his duties from 1st January 1577-8, acting under Letters Patent of 18th November 1577, by which he was granted the survivorship to Gonson. For seventeen years, during the most critical period of English history, he was, in real fact, solely responsible for the efficiency of the Navy, and he, more than any other man may be said to have ‘organised victory’ for the English fleets. His duties included not only the superintendence of the work at the dockyards, but that of building, equipping, and repairing the ships, of keeping them safely moored and in good order, of the supply of good and sufficient stores, and apparently of every administrative detail except those connected with the ordnance, and of victualling and pressing the men. The technical improvements he himself invented or introduced have already been noticed. In the administration he made others, which may or may not have been advantageous, but which touched the interests of subordinates, and which resulted in his having to stand alone and carry on his work impeded by the sullen enmity of his colleagues and his inferiors.

Hawkyns owed his knighthood to Howard rather than the Queen; his reward after 1588 was to be allowed a year wherein to unravel his intricate accounts. In fact few of Elizabeth’s officials escaped her left-handed graces. Baeshe died in poverty after forty years of honest service, and Hawkyns was continually struggling to clear himself from suspicions that were kept hanging over him, but from which he was given no proper opportunity to free himself. Elizabeth’s favours and bounties were reserved for court gallants of smoother fibre than were these men. In 1594, shortly before his last unhappy voyage, Hawkyns founded a hospital at Chatham for ten poor mariners and shipwrights. He, with Drake, established the ‘Chatham Chest,’ for disabled seamen, and it should be remembered to his honour that, in an age when little care was bestowed on inferiors if they had ceased to be of any utility, he never relaxed his efforts until his craft had rescued from Spanish prisons the survivors of those under his command in 1568 whom he had been compelled to leave ashore after escaping from San Juan de Ulloa.

Charges of peculation against persons connected with maritime affairs were rife on all sides. The shipwrights[146] quarrelled among themselves and with Hawkyns, and two of the former, Chapman and Pett, were moreover accused by outsiders of gross overcharges.[659] Captains were said to dismiss pressed men for bribes, to retain wages, and keep back arms;[660] pursers to steal provisions, to make false entries by which they obtained payments for money never advanced to the men, and to remain ashore while their ships were at sea.[661] Pursers, cooks, and boatswains, bought their places: the cooks had the victuals in their care and recouped themselves at the expense of the seamen; boatswains stripped a ship of movable fittings, on her return home, and stole rigging and cordage.[662] According to the evidence of a witness, in the inquiry of 1608, these abuses, if they did not commence, took fresh and vigorous life after the death of Hawkyns. In 1587 he recognised the theft going on and his inability to completely suppress it; ‘I thincke it wolde be mete their weare a provost marshyall attendante upon ye Lord Admirall and Offycers of the Navye to doe suche present execucyon aboorde the shippes uppon the offenders as shulde be apoynted.’[663] Accusations were not wanting during Gonson’s lifetime but the increased activity of the Navy after his death gave a wider scope both to suspicion and to actual peculation. Hawkyns was not the only one of the Principal Officers whose conduct was impeached, but in virtue of his position the brunt of attack fell upon him. There was hardly one of his duties which at some time or another did not give occasion for a charge of dishonesty.[664]

Hawkyns, if we may judge by the letters remaining in the Record Office, was more frequently in communication with Burghley, explaining his intentions and desires, than with his official chief the Lord Admiral. Either therefore Burghley was satisfied with his conduct—and there is one letter that directly supports this view—or the Lord Treasurer allowed a man whose honesty he doubted to remain in a responsible office without removing him, or adopting any new measure of supervision. The quality of the cordage had been a common cause of complaint and, in 1579, Hawkyns wrote that he had taken measures, of which he doubted not the success, to remedy this and other evils, and that he had a memorandum ready proposing a course to be followed, ‘wherebye the offyce wolld not onelye flourysshe but within a few yers be bountyfullye provyded of all maner of provycion without extra charge to her Maiestie.’[665] Subsequent events show that the suggestions he was here about to make were accepted and, as a consequence[147] of his new methods, the clamour raised against him grew so loud that in January 1583-4 a commission sat to inquire into the condition of the ships and the conduct of the office. Nothing is known of their report but it was evidently not of a character fatal to his reputation. In another letter to Burghley shortly afterwards he attributes his success in carrying out reforms to the aid he had received from the minister’s skill,

‘in the passinge of theis greate thinges thadversaries of the worke have contynewallye opposyd themselves against me ... and their slawnders hathe gone verye farr ... onlye to be avenged of me and this servis which doth discover the corruption and ignoraunce of the tyme past.’[666]

By 1587 he had begun to share Gonson’s weary disgust of his surroundings, and intimated that the work was too much for any one man and should be done by a commission. Howard’s high opinion of him was expressed freely in his letters during 1588, and shown practically by the knighthood he conferred. Notwithstanding his services, so fully tested in that year, he does not appear to have won the shy confidence of Elizabeth, but that he had succeeded in convincing Burghley is I think clearly proved by the following letter:—[667]

‘My bownden dewtie in humble manner rememberyd unto your good lordshipe; I do perseve hir Maiestie ys not well sattysfied concernyng the imploymentes of the great somes of mony that have byne reseaved into thoffice of the navye although your Honour dyd very honourably bothe take payne and care to se the strycte and orderly course that ys used in thoffice and thereupon delyver your mynd playnely to her Maiestie as your lordship found yt for which I shall ever acknowlege myself dewtyfully bownd to honour and serve your lordshipp to the uttermost of my abillytie: and whereas her Highnes pleasure ys to be farther sattysfied in myne accomptes ther hathe nothyng byne more desyred nor cold be more wellcome or acceptible to me and when yt shalbe hir Maiesties pleasure to nomynate the persons that I shall attend upon I wyll brieffly shew the state of every yeres accompt suffycyently avouched by boockes to the last day of Desember 1588 which is XI yeres.... If any worlldly thynge that I possesse cold free me of this mystrust and importyble care and toyle I wold most wyllyngley depart with yt for as the case stondeth I thynke ther ys no man lyvinge that hathe so carefull so myserable so unfortunate and so dangerous a lyfe; onlye I se your lordship with care and trewthe dothe serche into the trew order the sufficiency and valyditye of the course that ys caryed in the office whiche otherwyse I wold even playnely gyve over my place and submyt myselfe to her Maiesties mercye thogh I lyvid in pryson all the dayes of my lyffe; the matters in thoffice growe infenyte and chargeable beyond all measure and soche as hardly any man can gyve a reason of the innumerable busynesses that dayly grow; yet the mystrust ys more trobelsome and grievous then all the rest for with the answerynge of thone and towle of thother there ys hardly any tyme left to serve God or to sattysfie man. The greater sort that serve in this office be growen so proud obstinate and insolent nothynge can sattysfie them[668] and the[148] commen sort very dysobedyent so as a man that must answere the immoderate desyre of all these were better to chuse to dye than so lyve. The paynfull place that your lordship dothe holde and the imoderate demaunds that comes before you havyng with the favour of her Maiestie the hellp of an absolute power to bynd and lose may eselye demonstrate the borden that so meane a man as I am dothe here (which must passe every thynge by petycon and mystrust), to sattysfie the multytude of demaundes that are in this office and although they be many and as well satysfied as in any office in all Ingland yet few are contentyd but go away with grudging and mormoure. It were a great vanytie for me to comend myne owne service neyther do I go abowt to acumyllatte to myself any comendacon for that I thought I performyd my dewtie suffycyentlie but yf the estate of thoffice be consyderyd what yt was when I came into yt and what yt ys now ther wilbe found greate oddes wherein I have traveyled as carefully as I cold and as my creddytt cold obtayne meane to reduce the state of thoffice shipes and there furnyture into good and perfitt ordre; in recompense whereof my onely desyre ys that yt may please hir Maiestie some course may be taken wherein hir Maiestie may be sattysfied that a playne and honest course hathe byne taken and caryed in thoffice and then to dyspose of my place to whome yt shall please hir Highnes and I shalbe reddy to serve hir Maiestie any other way that I shalbe appoynted wherein my skyll or abyllytie will extend and so I humbly take my leve from Deptford the 16th April 1590.’

The writer of this letter was either a master hypocrite so skilful in roguery that he feared neither the investigations of his superiors nor the denunciations of envious and hostile subordinates, or an honest man who had nothing to dread from inquiry. He had convinced Howard and Burghley, of whom the first was a seaman who had proved his work by the tests of war and storm, and the second no guileless innocent, but a politician grown grey among surroundings of fraud and intrigue. Only the penetrating Elizabeth refused to be deceived.

In 1592 and 1594 he again expressed his wish to resign, but the government had apparently no desire to lose his services.[669] On Clynton’s decease Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham became Lord Admiral,[670] and held the office till 1618. His name is indissolubly connected with the maritime glories his support of Hawkyns and his clear judgment as a commander helped to bring about. Howard was the first Lord Admiral who transferred some of the privileges of his office. In 1594 he gave over to the Trinity House the management of buoys and beacons along the coasts and the rights of ballasting in the Thames.[671] This marks the first practical connection the Corporation had with maritime affairs. Hawkyns died at sea on 12th November 1595, and the Treasurership was not immediately filled up. Roger Langford, long an office assistant, and his deputy during his absence, was made[149] ‘General Paymaster of the Marine Causes,’ but simply worked at the accounts without authority in administrative business.[672] In 1598 Fulke Grevill, afterwards Lord Brooke, was appointed Treasurer with full powers.[673] Grevill is said, by a modern writer, to have possessed ‘a dignified indolence of temper,’ and ‘a refinement in morality which rendered him unfit for the common pursuits of mankind.’ These were not qualifications peculiarly fitting him for the rough surroundings of naval affairs in 1598 and the real control passed into the hands of his colleagues.

Till his death in 1589 Sir Wm. Wynter, from 1557 Surveyor of the Ships and Master of the Ordnance of the Navy, was, after Hawkyns, the most influential officer. He was succeeded by Sir H. Palmer,[674] who held the post until he became Comptroller in 1598,[675] when he was replaced as Surveyor by John Trevor.[676] After Wynter’s death there was no longer a separate ordnance department for the Navy. Richard Howlet, the former Clerk of the Ships, died in 1560, and George Wynter, a brother of Sir William Wynter was appointed.[677] In 1580 George Wynter was succeeded by William Borough,[678] who, in 1588 was followed by Benjamin Gonson, son of the former Treasurer,[679] who, in turn, was succeeded by Peter Buck in 1600. William Holstock became Comptroller from 12th December 1561, in succession to Brooke, and in 1589 William Borough succeeded him until 1598. Nearly all these men commanded ships or squadrons at sea at various times, in addition to their duties as members of the naval board. There is a draft document existing[680] which shows that in January 1564 it was intended to add another officer as ‘Chief Pilot of England,’ on the model of the ‘Pilot Major’ of Spain. Stephen Borough was the person chosen, and in consequence of the losses of shipping through the ignorance of pilots and masters no one was to act in such a capacity in vessels of forty tons and upwards, without a certificate of competence from him, under a penalty of two pounds. Masters’ mates, boatswains, and quartermasters were to be similarly examined and certified. This plan, however, was not carried into execution.


Concerning the dockyards the most noteworthy feature is: the rise into importance of the Chatham yard. For 1563 the expenses of Deptford were £19,700, while those of Gillingham, chiefly for the wages and victuals of shipkeepers, were £3700. In 1567 it is first called Chatham, a house rented for the use of the Board, and the cost of Chatham and Gillingham £6300. Next year the ground on which Upnor Castle was to be built[150] was bought for £25,[681] and in 1574 a fort was ordered for Sheerness which replaced the bulwark built in the reign of Edward VI. In 1571 more ground was rented at Chatham, and in 1574 the fairway through St Mary’s Creek, by which the anchorage could be taken in flank, was blocked by piles.[682] Deptford, however, was still in considerable use, especially for building and repairs of ships, and in the same year the dock was reconstructed. In 1578 a new pair of gates for the Deptford dock cost £150, and in the following year most, if not all, of the dockyards were fenced round with hedges.[683] Small additions in the shape of wharves and storehouses, were being continually made to Chatham; one of the former, built in 1580, was 378 feet Long, 40 feet broad, and cost five shillings a foot. Various other improvements of the same kind were carried out in connection with Woolwich and Deptford, and as no drydock was constructed at Chatham during this reign, all the building and repairs of the big ships was done at the former places. Portsmouth was hardly used at all. In 1586 a new wharf was made, and sundry small expenses were at various times incurred for keeping the dock in order, but sometimes for years in succession the only expenses relating to it are the salaries of the officers in charge. The yard was nearly destroyed by a fire on 4th August 1576, and was probably not fully restored. It was, moreover, contemned by the chief officers, who considered it expensive and defenceless.[684] For a few years, from 1601, the Hansa steelyard was handed over to the Admiralty and used for storage purposes.

In early times the Bridport district had supplied most of the cordage used in the English service; in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it had mostly come from abroad. In 1573 there was an attempt to secure independence in this respect, and £800 which he was to repay by £100 a year, was advanced to Thomas Allen to build ropehouses at Woolwich.[685] Allen was ‘Queen’s merchant,’ i.e., crown purchaser, for Dantzic cordage. The experiment was probably a failure, since there is no other reference to it, and was not renewed until the next reign.

In addition to the forts at Upnor and Sheerness the ships lying in the Medway required some further protection, as relations with Spain became more critical and rumours of plots to fire the vessels frequent. This was given by means of a chain, an old and well known form of defence. In a letter to Burghley, of March 1585, Hawkyns suggested the chain with two or four pinnaces stationed by it, and the Scout and Achates at Sheerness to search everything passing.[686] In[151] October the work was nearly completed; it had been ‘tedyous and cumbersome but now stretched over the river in good order yt dothe requyre many lyghters for the bearynge of it which are in hand.’[687] One end was fixed to piles, the other worked round ‘two great wheels to draw it up;’ it was supported by five lighters, and pinnaces were stationed at each shore end. The Council ordered, as well, that whereas Her Majesty was ‘advertysed that some practyce and devyce ys taken in hande to bourne and destroye the navye,’ the principal officers were to sleep on board at the anchorage in turn, for a month at the time, and see that the shipkeepers did their duty.

The Elizabethan drawing of the Medway and surrounding district, partly reproduced in this volume, does not show the chain at Upnor and is probably therefore of a date between 1568-85. It is seen that the ships are moored athwart stream in three groups, from Upnor towards Rochester, the larger ones being at Upnor. They must have been moored across stream from considerations of space; and the accuracy of the placing is corroborated by a much later drawing of 1702 which shows vessels in the same position, and by the fact that we know from other sources that the first-rates were nearest Upnor. These latter carried lights at night[688] and the whole were in the especial charge of the principal masters of the Navy of whom, after 1588, there were six and who were allowed three shillings a week for their victualling. The first sign of the dockyard is possibly shown between Chatham Church and St Mary’s creek. The vessels are shown dismantled as would have been actually the case.


In 1559 shipwrights’ wages were from eightpence to a shilling, and in 1588 from a shilling to seventeenpence a day; they were also provided with free lodging, or lodging money at the rate of a shilling a week, with three meals a day and as much beer ‘as shall suffice them,’ and, between 25th March and 8th September, an afternoon snack of bread, cheese, and beer.[689] From 1st November to 2nd February, they worked from daylight till dark; for the rest of the year from five o’clock, in the morning till 7 at night, and, on Saturdays till 6 o’clock. They were allowed one hour at noon, and work was started and stopped by bell; anyone ringing it except by order of the master shipwright was fined a day’s pay and put into the stocks.[690] The three principal constructors, or master shipwrights were Peter Pett, Mathew Baker, and Richard[152] Chapman. Pett died in 1589 and was succeeded by his son Joseph, and then, in 1600, by his better known younger son Phineas, who had been sent to Cambridge but who did not think it unbecoming his university standing to start in life as a carpenter’s mate on a Levant trader. Although Pett has the greater reputation, at least one officer of the Admiralty well qualified to judge—William Borough—considered Baker his superior. John Davis, the explorer, also specially speaks of him as, ‘Mr Baker for his skill and surpassing grounded knowledge in the building of ships advantageable to all purpose hath not in any nation his equal.’[691] Baker became master shipwright by Letters Patent of 29th August 1572, and by virtue of the patent, received a fee of one shilling a day for life from the Exchequer. Peter Pett already held a similar patent, Richard Chapman obtained one in 1587 and Joseph Pett in 1590. Little is known of Chapman beyond the fact that from the ships he built his reputation must have been equal to that of the others, and practically all the important building of the reign was done by these three men.

Ships’ Officers and Pay.

There are but few notices of the ships’ officers of this period. In all ranks the majority seem to have been disposed to add to their pay by irregular methods. Some of the accusations made against them have been noticed, and on service, whether the prize was a captured town or a small merchantman, discipline was at an end until all, from captains downwards had taken their fill of pillage. At sea captains obeyed or disobeyed, deserted or remained with their admiral, without usually being afterwards called to account for their conduct. In only one case was a captain, William Borough, tried for insubordination in 1587, and as this is the first instance of a court martial the proceedings are here printed in full.[692] If Drake intended to disgrace Borough he failed, for no result followed, and the delinquent, two years later, became Comptroller of the Navy. Until 1582 the old system of paying the officers the wages of a ‘common man’ per month, and adding to this by a graduated proportion representing the dead shares and rewards, still continued. However when wages were raised in that year the dead shares and rewards were abolished, except as a form of expression, and each officer had a fixed sum per month, according to the rate of his ship.[693] But sometimes the scale of pay depended not upon the rate, but was ‘according to the greatness of his charge,’ i.e., on the nature of the work for which the vessel was commissioned.[694] Wages were again raised about 1602,[695] and the two scales of payment are thrown together in the following table:—


First-rates Second-rates Third-rates Fourth-rates Fifth-rates Sixth-rates Seventh-rates
1582 1602 1582 1602 1582 1602 1582 1602 1582 1602 1582 1602 1602
£ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d. £ s. d.
Master 2 1 8 3 2 6 2 0 0 3 0 0 1 16 8 2 10 0 1 11 8 2 5 0 1 6 8 2 0 0 1 1 8 1 7 0 1 0 0
Master’s Mate 1 1 8 1 10 0 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 11 8 1 0 0 0 11 8 1 0 0 0 11 8
Boatswain 1 1 8 1 10 0 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 13 9
Boatswain’s Mate 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9
Quartermaster 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6
Do. Mate 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9
Purser 0 16 8 1 0 0 0 11 8 0 16 8 0 11 8 0 13 4 0 11 8 0 13 4 0 11 8 0 13 4 0 9 2 0 13 4
Master Carpenter 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6
Carpenter’s Mate 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9 0 9 2 0 13 9
Master Gunner 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 10 0 0 15 0 0 13 4
Gunner’s Mates 0 7 6 0 11 3 0 7 6 0 11 3 0 7 6 0 11 3 0 7 6 0 11 3 0 7 6 0 11 3 0 7 6 0 11 3
Surgeon 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 1 0 0
Pilot 1 0 0 1 10 0 1 0 0 1 5 0 0 16 8 1 5 0 0 16 8 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0
Cook 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 17 6 0 13 9
Yeomen of the Tacks and Jeers 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 14 0 0 14 0
Cockswain 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 17 6
Trumpeter 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0 0 15 0 1 0 0
Steward 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 11 8 0 17 6 0 9 2 0 17 6 0 13 9


Harbour pay was from 40% to 50% below these rates. There is nothing known of the reasons moving the government to the relatively enormous increase of the end of the reign, marked by a liberality contrary to the traditions of nearly half a century. The relative pays would now, in some cases, be considered extraordinary; surgeons and trumpeters are put on the same footing, and sixth-rates of 1602 are given the option between them but are not allowed both. A captain’s pay varied between 2s 6d and 6s 8d a day, and he was allowed two servants for every fifty men of his crew, and if he were a knight four men. This really meant that he was licensed to draw pay and rations, or the value in money of rations, for the permitted number of servants whether or no they were actually on board. In 1588 lieutenants at £3, and corporals at 17s 6d a month were carried in some of the ships.

Although in 1564 it had been intended to nominate a pilot major to insure a knowledge of seamanship and navigation in those responsible for the safety of ships, further experience may have brought more efficient men to the front and rendered it unnecessary. There are very few signs that such a step could have been requisite, judging from the accounts of the voyages of these years. Men seem to have handled their ships skilfully in all conditions and under all difficulties, and in navigation landfalls were made with accuracy, landmarks known and recorded, and the Channel soundings as minutely mapped out and acted upon as now. The case was very different with Spanish seamen. From 1508 there had been a great school of cosmography and navigation at Seville, under the superintendence of the Pilot Major of Spain, but it does not appear to have succeeded in turning out competent officers. The records of the Spanish voyages show how frequently gross errors in navigation occurred, and travellers communicated their impressions to the same effect. One of these, writing in 1573, says,

‘How can a wise and omnipotent God have placed such a difficult and important art as navigation into such coarse and lubberly hands as those of these pilots. You should see them ask one another, “How many degrees have you got?” One says, “Sixteen,” another “About twenty,” and another “Thirteen and a half.” Then they will say, “What distance do you make it to the land?” One answers, “I make it 40 leagues from land,” another “I a hundred and fifty,” a third, “I reckoned it this morning to be ninety-two leagues;” and whether it be three or three hundred no one of them agrees with the other or with the actual fact.’[696]

Ordnance and Ship Armament.

In 1558 there were ordnance wharves and storehouses, connected[155] with the Navy at Woolwich, Portsmouth, and Porchester; Gillingham was shortly after added to these. In her youth Elizabeth appears to have been fond of fireworks as the ordnance accounts bear £130, 4s 2d expended, between 1558-64, to amuse her in that way. The report drawn up in 1559[697] tells us that there were 264 brass and 48 iron guns, of all calibres down to falconets, on board the ships, and 48 brass and 8 iron in store. To these could be added upwards of 1000 small pieces, whole, demi, and quarter slings, fowlers, bases, portpieces, and harquebuses.[698] Eleven thousand rounds of cannon shot, 10,600 of lead, 1500 of stone and 692 cross bar shot, supplied the guns; other weapons were 3000 bows, 6300 sheaves of arrows, 3100 morrispikes, and 3700 bills. The heaviest piece used on shipboard was the culverin of 4500 lbs., throwing a 17⅓ lbs. ball with an extreme range of 2500 paces;[699] the next the demi cannon weighing 4000 lbs., with a 30⅓ lbs. ball and range of 1700 paces; then the demi culverin of 3400 lbs., a 9⅓ lb. ball and 2500 paces, and the cannon petroe, or perier, of 3000 lbs. 24¼ lb. ball and 1600 paces.[700] There were also sakers, minions, and falconets, but culverins and demi culverins were the most useful and became the favourite ship guns. The weights given differ in nearly every list found and were purely academic. A contemporary wrote, ‘the founders never cast them so exactly but that they differ two or three cwt. in a piece,’ and in a paper of 1564 the average weights of culverins, demi culverins, and cannon periers are respectively 3300 lbs., 2500 lbs., and 2000 lbs.

The equipment of a first-rate like the Triumph (450 seamen, 50 gunners, and 200 soldiers) in small arms, was 250 harquebuses, 50 bows, 100 sheaves of arrows, 200 pikes, 200 bills, 100 corselets, and 200 morions.[701] There were 750 lbs. of corn, and 4470 of serpentine, powder on board. The Victory had 200 harquebuses, 40 bows, 80 sheaves of arrows, 100 pikes, 180 bills, 80 corselets, and 160 minions; she carried 600 lbs. of corn powder, and 4347 of serpentine. Twenty-four was the number of ships usually taken as the standard to be prepared in the numerous estimates of the equipment necessary for fleets; in 1574 there were 45 demi cannon, 37 cannon periers, 89 culverins, 142 demi culverins, 183 sakers, 56 minions, and 66 falcons on board 24 vessels in June of that year.[702] The first list giving the armament of the ships individually is of 1585 and is as follows:[703]


Demi Cannon Cannon Periers Culverins Demi Culverins Sakers Minions Fawcons Fawconets Portpieces Fowlers Bases
Elizabeth 9 4 14 7 6 2 8 4 10 12
Triumph 9 4 14 7 6 2 4 10 12
White Bear 11 6 17 10 10 4 4 4 10 12
Victory 6 4 14 8 2 4 6 10 12
Hope 4 2 6 10 4 2 1 4 6 12
Mary Rose 4 2 8 6 8 2 6 4
Nonpareil 4 2 4 6 12 1 1 4 6 12
Lion 4 4 6 8 6 2 4 6 12
Revenge 2 4 10 6 10 2 2 4 6
Bonaventure 4 2 6 8 6 2 2 4 6 12
Dreadnought 2 4 10 6 2 2 8 8
Swiftsure 2 4 8 8 4 2 6 8
Antelope 2 2 6 6 2 2 4 4 10
Swallow 2 4 8 2 6 4 4 10
Foresight 4 8 8 4 2 2 8
Aid 2 8 2 6 1 4 8 8
Bull 6 8 2 1 4 4
Tiger 6 10 2 2 4 4
Scout 8 2 6 2 2 6
Achates 2 4 10 2 4
Merlin 6 2 2 2

This appears to have been the existing or intended provision, ‘according to Sir William Wynters proporcion of 1569,’ The system of heavily arming ships, introduced by Henry VIII, had grown in favour with the lapse of time. From a chance allusion we know that the Victory’s waist was ordinarily 20 feet above the water line; she only had a lower gun-deck, therefore, the lower tier must have been more than the four feet above the water allowed by Ralegh.

In only one paper have we any information as to the distribution of the guns; from a schedule of October 1595, of iron ordnance to be provided for the ‘lesser ship now building’ (probably the Warspite) we are able to note their arrangement and the tendency to limit the varieties in use.[704] But it differs considerably from the armament of the Warspite as given in the next table.

For the sides on the lower overloppe, 12 Culverins
For the stern and prow on the lower overloppe, 4 do.
For the capstan deck on the sides, 8 Demi Culverins
For the stem and prow on the sides, 4 do.
For the waist fore and aft, 6 Sakers
For the half deck 2 do.

The next list drawn up two months after Elizabeth’s death, gives the armament of the whole Navy.[705] Upnor Castle possessed, in brass, 1 demi cannon, 3 culverins, 1 minion, 3 fawcons and 4 fowlers; in iron, 4 culverins, 5 demi culverins and 1 saker. The ships:


Demi Cannon Cannon Periers Culverins Demi Culverins Sakers Minions Fawcons Fowlers[706] Portpieces[707]
Brass Brass Brs Irn Brs Irn Brs Irn Brs Irn Brs Irn Brs Brs
Elizabeth 2 3 18 13 19 1 2
Triumph 3 4 19 16 13 4
White Bear 6 2 21 16 12
Merhonour 4 15 16 4 2
Ark Royal 4 4 12 12 6 2 4
Garland 16 12 2 2 2 2 2
Due Repulse 3 2 13 14 6 2 2
Warspite 2 2 14 10 4 4 2
Defiance 14 14 2 2
Mary Rose 4 10 1 7 3 4 4
Bonaventure 2 2 11 14 4 2 2 2
Nonpareil 3 2 7 8 12 4 4
Lion 4 8 12 2 9 1 8
Victory[708] 7
Rainbow 6 10 7 1 4
Hope 4 2 9 12 4 2 4
Vanguard 4 14 16 4 2 2
St Mathew 4 4 16 10 6 2 2 3 1 2
St Andrew[709] 2 4 2 7 14 4 4 1 1 4
Antelope 4 5 8 4 4 1 2 2
Adventure 4 11 7 2
Advantage 6 8 2 4
Crane 2 4 2 5 6 2
Tremontana 12 7 2
Quittance 2 4 2 4 3 4 2 2
Answer 2 3 2 4 2 4 2 2
Moon 5 6 2
Charles 4 2 2
Advice 4 2 3
Superlativa[710] 1 2 2 2
Mercury 1 2 2
Merlin 2 6
Lion’s Whelp 2 7 2

Comparing this with the preceding list of 1585 it is noticed that there is a large decrease in cannon and a corresponding increase in culverins, demi culverins and sakers, which strained a ship less, were served more quickly and by fewer men, and permitted a heavier broadside in the same deck space. They were mounted on four-wheeled carriages and may have been fitted with elevating screws, the latter probably recently introduced as they are mentioned among Bourne’s Inventions. The length of a cannon carriage was 5½ ft., and of a demi cannon carriage 5 ft., costing respectively £1, 3s 4d and 19s 9d.[711] A ship’s anchors and guns had her name painted on them.[712]


William Thomas, master gunner of the Victory, drew attention in 1584 to the lack of trained gunners he thought he perceived, nor was he the only person who detected the same deficiency. The Spaniards who were, under the circumstances, perhaps better judges thought differently, and one of their Armada captains relates that the English fired their heavy guns as quickly as the Spaniards did their muskets.[713] The grant of the artillery ground by Henry VIII as a place of practice has already been mentioned, and, in 1575, it is again brought into notice by an order that sufficient powder and shot should be allowed to train ‘scollers’ there.[714] Until Wynter’s death in 1589 the supply of ordnance stores for the Navy remained under his control, and the absence of remark shows that the business progressed smoothly. It then became a part of the ordinary work of the Ordnance Office, and that department did not belie the unsavoury reputation it has always held. By 1591 outcry against it ran high, and in 1598 and 1600 its corrupt and lax administration called forth various projects of reform. The superior departmental officers gave themselves allowances and, through brokers, sold to themselves as representing the crown; the inferior clerks were in league with the gunners in embezzlement.[715] With such encouragement it is not surprising to find that

‘the master gunners who do usually indent for the provision of ships and fortified places do commonly return unreasonable waste of all things committed to their charge, which waste grows not by any of Her Majesty’s service but by the gunners themselves in selling Her Majesty’s powder and shot and other provisions, sometimes before they go to sea and most usually upon their return from the sea.’

Usually the captain shared the proceeds with the gunner and the clerks of the Ordnance department, and the transaction leaves no mark. Occasionally a captain refused and then we have the incident put on record as in the case of the master gunner of the Defiance, who, when she returned from sea in 1596 offered his commander £100 for permission to steal half the powder remaining on board.[716] The patentee for iron shot was a prisoner for debt and forced to sublet his contract; sometimes he bought shot sold by the gunners, ‘so that Her Majesty buyeth her own goods and payeth double for the same.’ When the pursuit of the flying Armada ceased want of ammunition was as much a reason as want of provisions. But if the deposition of John Charlton, who lived in a house adjoining to that of Hamon, a master gunner of the Ark Royal, is to be credited, that ship, at any rate, did not lack powder. Charlton informed Howard that he had daily seen much powder taken into Hamon’s dwelling. Hamon[159] confessed, but according to Charlton, very incompletely, for, ‘where it was set downe but iiii barrels I will aprove that after the fight there came to his house fortie barrels which was to her Maiestie in that fighte greate hinderance.’ It is significant that a labourer in the employ of the Ordnance Office acknowledged that he had been hired to pick a quarrel with Charlton and maim or kill him.[717]

The cost of cast iron ordnance was, between 1565 and 1570, from £10 to £12 a ton; in 1600 it had fallen to £8 and £9 a ton. Brass ordnance was from £40 to £60 a ton. The reputation of our founders stood so high that the Spaniards were prepared to pay £22 a ton for iron guns and to give a pension to the man who could smuggle them over.[718] The exportation of ordnance was strictly prohibited, but an extensive underhand trade went on notwithstanding the efforts of the government. In February 1574 all gunfounders were called upon to give bonds to £2000 apiece not to cast ordnance without licence and not to sell it to foreigners. The seat of the industry was Kent and Sussex and the requirements of the kingdom exclusive of the Royal Navy and of the royal forts, were then estimated at 600 tons a year.[719] There seem to have been only some six or seven founders in the business, and in the following June, the Council ordered that no one should enter into it without permission; that all guns should be sent to the Tower wharf, there to be sold to English subjects who were to give sureties not to sell abroad out of their ships; and that all founders were to send in a yearly return to the Master of the Ordnance of the number of guns sold, and to whom.[720] These orders were repeated in 1588 and 1601, but a founder estimated that 2500 tons of ordnance were cast a year, being three times as much as could be used in England, and it was supposed that, previous to 1592, out of 2000 tons yearly made 1600 were secretly sent abroad.

Although the saltpetre had been obtained from the continent powder had long been made in England as well as bought abroad. In 1562 three persons who had erected powder mills, tendered to supply it on a large scale—200 lasts a year—at £3, 5s a cwt. (of 100 lbs.) for corn powder, and £2, 16s 8d for serpentine powder.[721] This offer does not seem to have been accepted although in 1560 the crown was paying £3, 5s 2d, the cwt. (of 112 lbs.) for serpentine powder, and in 1570, still higher prices. In November 1588 there was ‘a reasonable store’ of round shot in hand and 55 lasts of powder; 100 tons of shot and 100 lasts of powder were required to[160] make good deficiencies, but in view of the amount remaining in stock only the fatal blundering which has always characterised the departments can explain the constant prayer for supplies that came, vainly, from the fleet.[722] Wynter, whose province it was to attend to naval requirements in these matters, was himself on service from 22nd December 1587 until 15th September 1588, in command of the Vanguard and the Ark Royal. How the business of his office was carried on in his absence we do not know with certainty, but from some entries in the Privy Council Register for 1588, it would appear to have been handed over to the Ordnance Office. The cost of the powder was here estimated at £100 a last, but in 1589 a tender from George Evelyn, John Evelyn, and Richard Hills, to deliver 80 lasts a year for eleven years at £80 was accepted. In 1603 they, with some other partners, were still acting and furnishing 100 lasts a year. Round shot, from cannon down to fawcon, was obtained at an average of £8 a ton; ‘jointed shot,’ and cross-bar shot were dear, from 2s 6d to 8s apiece, according to the size of the gun. Stone shot were still used and cost from sixpence to two shillings each conformable to size.[723]

Naval Expenditure.

The naval expenses, especially during the last fifteen years of her reign, must have seemed appalling to Elizabeth and would have excused her parsimony had she not been so lavish to herself. From the Audit Office Accounts we are enabled to give on the next page the amounts for which the Treasurer of the Navy was answerable, but these by no means included all the expenditure of the crown in various expeditions. The total cost of the Cadiz and Islands voyages, for instance, of 1596 and 1597 is given as £172,260 and this is only partly represented below.[724] If the Queen took a share in an adventure the money she advanced was paid from the Exchequer and is not borne on the Navy accounts.

The £12,000 a year allotted to Gonson, under Mary, for the working of the naval establishments during peace was reduced from 1st January 1564 to £6000 a year, of which he was to pay Baeshe £165, 2s a month for harbour victualling.[725] Of course war, or preparation for war, upset all calculations of economy, but the attempt was steadily made to keep the normal, everyday, expenses of the department separate from the exceptional ones, and to reduce the former to as low a sum as practicable. Gonson must have found the £6000 a year impossible, for in 1567 it was raised to £7695, 6s 2d. The economy could have been only nominal, for on the same date as this new order[726] there is a warrant to Gonson for £10,200 extra for stores and ship repairs which would have formerly been included in the £12,000 a year. By a statement of 1585 the average for these years was £10,946 yearly, when building, repairs, and stores purchased were included.[740] From 1571 commences the division into ordinary and extraordinary, which doubtless had a further saving for its object, although how the process was to work, except as tending towards clearer bookkeeping, is not now manifest.


Total received Victualling[727] Dockyards Sea Charges[728] Total Spent Stores[729] Ordinary[730] Extraordinary
Chatham Deptford Woolwich Portsmouth
£ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £ £
1559 } 106000 43300 5157 26800 1400 2726 23380
1560 }
1561 19757 3200 2164 19528 866 265 27485
1563[732] 53790 19208 3701 19707 944 2529 16021 63290
1564 18000 4492 2038 2912 14 268 1497 21471
1565 5318 2149 4350 445 32 294 7844[733]
1566 5178 1843 3612 247 10 77 6244
1567 13129 1999 6257 484 12 66 19000
1568 12062 2718 5843 1854 21 100 743 15115
1569 17015 7484 2653 343 12 50 2820 17800 6354
1570 15138 7162 3133 985 12 266 2332 17527 3834
1571 8580 2403 8598 5752 2846[734]
1572 12300 2765 8559 5646 2913
1573 8934 2686 10686 5940 4746
1574 14157 2964 12877 6143 3776
1575 6802 2969 6893
1576 9957 4449 10660 5631 5029
1577 12977 3871 12899
1578 14276 5032 14956 5712 8727
1579 8400 4918 1351 8100 3849 1481
1580 5829 11932 4110 14602 3833 6172
1581 9532 3356 11902
1582 8388 3230 8663 4015 4624
1583 6694 2274 7486
1584 8020 2615 3680 8515 3934 4581
1585 12934 5786 11602
1586 25691 8636 8905 29391
1587 46300 29563 7355 44000
1588 80666 59221 5387 90813 2283 88530
1589 52317 15949 3864 12650 47836 4756 43057
1590 61168 20379 2257 16109 60370 3248
1591 35626 13198 7046 4141 31000 6172 24868
1592 29937 11657 7442 6789 28585 5554 23031
1593 26000 9872 5400 22269 4974 17224
1594 49000 16241 49300
1595[735] 59700 14665 12328 5631 15293 59000 10425 48588
1596[736] 37421 16387[737] 21204[738] 38379 10363 27935
1597 64705 28630 40680[739] 76513 14906 60702
1598 69000 22100 9229 53300 18000 14203 39000
1599 67116 32426 15749 66665 7137 59504
1600 37780 21355 14039 35200 8600 8170 19028
1601 56500 28866 14166 22910 7047 45326
1602 62457 40945 26270 60832 20104 6976 53840


In October 1579 ‘bargains’ were made between the Queen and Hawkyns, and with Pett and Baker.[741] Twenty-five vessels of all classes were named in the agreement and Hawkyns undertook to provide their moorings, to keep spare cables and hawsers on board, and to furnish other cordage necessary for ordinary harbour and sea use, for £1200 a year, the contract being terminable at six months’ notice. He was not to be called upon to account for the £1200 and therefore evidently expected, and was at liberty, to make a profit. The agreement with Pett and Baker was to the effect that they should ground and grave the ships at least every first, second, or third year, according to size; that they should repair or replace all faulty masts and yards that became defective in harbour, except the lower masts and yards of the sixteen largest vessels; that they were to pay wages, victualling and lodging of the men they employed and provide all materials and tools; they were to supply carpenters’ stores to vessels in commission, and pay all carriage and hire of storehouses. For this they were to have £1000 a year. It was these two contracts that brought such a storm of obloquy on Hawkyns. On the one hand, the other officers found the greater part of their occupation gone, and their interference in some of the most important transactions an unwarrantable intermeddling with agreements approved by the government. On the other Hawkyns and the shipwrights expected to make a profit, and circumstances seem to suggest that the way in which Hawkyns insisted on the work being done did not leave Pett and Baker that margin they anticipated. These two men subsequently became his bitter enemies, and in 1588 sent in a report on his management, to which events at that time were daily giving the lie. The effect of the new arrangement was to make Hawkyns supreme in all the branches of administration, and therefore every contractor or middleman, with whose arrangements he interfered, swelled the outcry. The result of the commission of inquiry of January 1584 was not to displace him, but apparently it did abrogate these contracts, and in 1585 a new one was entered into with Hawkyns alone. For £4000 a year he defrayed the repair of ships in harbour, found[163] moorings, paid shipkeepers and the garrison of Upnor, repaired wharves and storehouses, finding in all cases materials, victuals, and lodgings for the workmen.[742] The object of this and the preceding agreement was to get the ordinary done for £4000 a year, devoting the money saved to the purchase of cordage, masts, etc., which had formerly been extra. Hawkyns maintained that he had performed it successfully; his opponents denied it. It was the last contract, from which they were excluded, that Pett and Baker reported upon. He gave notice to terminate it at Christmas 1587 in consequence of the great increase in naval operations, and no third bargain was engaged in. From 1st January 1589 the amount allowed for the ordinary was raised to £7268[743] which then only restored it to the standard of 1567; in January 1599 it was increased to £11,000 a year.[744]

The year to which the reader will turn with most interest is 1588, and the figures here given, representing the payments of Hawkyns only, deal with the expenditure through him and probably do not represent the whole, even of the naval expenses. A document printed by Murdin[745] makes the naval disbursements, between the beginning of November 1587 and the end of September 1588, exclusive of victualling and the charges borne by London and other ports, reach the much larger sum of £112,000. Powder and shot were used to the value of £10,000, while £20,000 was required to replace stores and put the fleet in seaworthy condition again. Another estimate puts the expenses of the year at £92,370.[746] It gives the cost by fleets: the Lord Admiral’s £31,980; Seymour’s £12,180; coasters and volunteers £15,970; Frobisher’s £840; Drake’s £21,890, etc. Finally we have the items stated in a different way[747]: wages £52,557; conduct and discharge money £2272; tonnage (hire of) £6225; other expenses £15,003; extraordinary allowances and rewards £854. The compensation paid for the eight vessels converted into fireships and sent among the Spaniards during the anxious night of 28-29th July was £5111, 10s, perhaps the cheapest national investment that this country has ever made.[748] Two of them were of 200 tons apiece, in all they measured 1230 tons.

Preparation and Cost of Fleets.

There were in pay during the struggle in the Channel 34 Queen’s ships and 163 merchantmen, but all through the year merchantmen had been taken up or discharged, and men-of-war put in and out of commission as the need seemed more or less urgent. There were 8 admirals, 3 vice-admirals, 126 captains, 136 masters, 26 lieutenants, 24 corporals, 2[164] ensign bearers, 2 secretaries, 13 preachers, and 11,618 soldiers, sailors, and gunners.[749] Other authorities give a larger number of men, in one instance 15,925; and only 95 merchantmen appear in the Audit Office Accounts as paid by the Treasurer. In this case the in and out working must have puzzled the authorities considerably, but ordinarily experience had enabled them to calculate with fair accuracy the probable cost of sending a fleet to sea. In October 1580—Drake had returned in September and Mendoza was vapouring—such an estimate was prepared for twenty men-of-war, to be manned by 4030 seamen and gunners, and 1690 soldiers. The press and conduct money of the seamen amounts to £1410, 10s, that of the soldiers and their coat money to £676; sea stores of ships £800, and wages of officers and crews for one month £2669, 6s 8d. The discharge money for both soldiers and sailors is £1462, and one month’s provisions £4004. In all the charges make a total of £11,449 for the first month. As there would be no cost of preparation, nor press, conduct, coat, or discharge money to be reckoned in the following months, the cost for the second and succeeding months would be £6773 each. For another £12,000 twenty-two armed merchantmen, of 5200 tons and 2790 men, could be joined with the men-of-war for three months. The last years in which foreign ships appear to have been ‘stayed’ by the authority of the crown for service with its fleets were 1560, 1561, and 1569. There is a payment of £300 in 1560 for ‘putting the Venetian’s hulk and ship that be staied for our service in warre in like order and sorte.’[750] In 1569 another £300 was paid by Gonson to two Ragusan masters whose ships were stayed but do not appear to have been used.[751] Some other foreign vessels are also referred to but their names do not occur in any naval paper.

The expenses of the semi-private, semi-royal, expeditions of various years are not borne on the navy accounts and the references to them in the State Papers are frequently incomplete and contradictory. That of Frobisher, in 1589, cost upwards of £11,000, of Frobisher and Hawkyns in 1590, £17,000,[752] and of Lord Thomas Howard in 1591, £24,000.[753] The outlay attendant on Essex’s fleet in 1596 was £78,000,[754] and that of the Drake-Hawkyns venture in 1595, £42,000.[755] Here the Queen provided six men-of-war and, according to one statement,[756] was to have had one-third of the booty, but it is difficult to disentangle the actual facts from the several[165] discrepant versions. The voyage was a disastrous failure financially, treasure to £4907 only being brought home; worse still it cost the lives of Drake and Hawkyns. The lower ranks, however, did not fare so badly; it was said that £1000 was embezzled from the sale of powder alone, and some of the men, being drunk, ‘showed a great store of gold’ on their return.

Division of Prize Money.

In the seventeenth century Monson noticed that, notwithstanding the destruction they brought on Spanish commerce nationally, the majority of the Elizabethan adventurers not only made no fortunes but ruined themselves by their enterprises. So far as pecuniary receipts were concerned there were only two really great captures during the Queen’s reign. Her share of the St Philip, taken by Drake in 1587, was £46,672; Drake’s own, £18,235; the Lord Admiral’s, £4338; and private adventurers, £44,787.[757] A still richer haul was made in the Madre de Dios, taken in 1592, which, by the account of her purser, carried 8500 quintals of pepper, 900 of cloves, 700 of cinnamon, 500 of cochineal, and 450 of other merchandise, besides amber, musk, and precious stones to the value of 400,000 crusados, and some especially fine diamonds.[758] In this case there was only one Queen’s ship among the ten entitled to share, and the services rendered by that one were questioned, but Her Majesty demanded the lion’s share of the proceeds. If the men were not paid wages the usual arrangement for the division of prize money was that if ships were cruising, and ‘thirds’ were agreed upon, the spoil was to be divided into three parts, viz., tonnage (i.e., owners), one part, the victuallers the second part, and the men the remaining third. But if ships joined in ‘consortship,’ their takings were to be first divided ton for ton, and man for man, then each vessel’s proportion was to be joined and divided into shares as before.[759] By the second mode ships belonging to the squadron, but absent from a particular capture, would still[166] share the pillage. The captain took ten shares, the master seven or eight, and most of the remaining officers three to five each; if the cruiser was a privateer the Lord Admiral received a tenth from each of the thirds. For the twelve years 1587-98 Nottingham’s tenths amounted to upwards of £18,000.[760] The following computation shows the proportions due on this system of division assuming the value of the carrack’s cargo to have been £140,000.[761]

(Queen’s Ship)
Tonnage 450, £8092 9 8½ } £23103 10
Men 170, 7505 10 4 }
Victualling as for men, 7505 10 4 }
(Sir W. Ralegh)
Tonnage 350, 6294 3 1½ } 20422 3 10½
Men 160, 7064 0 4½ }
Victualling as for men, 7064 0 4½ }
(Sir J. Hawkyns)
Tonnage 300, 5394 19 9½ } 14225 0
Men 100, 4415 0 2½ }
Victualling as for men, 4415 0 2½ }
Five Ships
(Earl of Cumberland)
Tonnage 1235, 22209 7 6½ } 66359 9
Men 500, 22075 1 1½ }
Victualling as for men, 22075 1 1½ }
Two Ships
of London
Tonnage 260, 4675 13 2 } 15889 15 9
Men 127, 5607 1 3½ }
Victualling as for men, 5607 1 3½ }

There was thus a total of 2595 tons. One third of £140,000 is £46,666, 13s 4d and this, divided by 2595, gives a unit of £17, 19s 6d a ton. For the Foresight 450 times £17, 19s 6d yields roughly the £8092, 9s 8½d to which her tonnage entitles her; the same formula gives the shares of the other ships, and of the men, substituting in the latter case 1057 for 2595. The Earl of Cumberland, one of the most persistent and one of the most unlucky of the private adventurers of his day got only £36,000, and in the end, after much bickering, Elizabeth took nearly £80,000 of the plunder. There is no doubt that the fleet was in ‘consortship,’[762] but it did not suit her interests to allow that form of division. The official belief, and one apparently well founded, was that enormous theft went on, both among officers and men, before the prize was brought into port. Robert Cecil, who had been sent into Devonshire to make inquiries, wrote to his father that, approaching Exeter, he ‘cold well smell them almost such has been the spoils of amber and musk among them ... there never was such spoil.’ Officers and men pillaged first, the captains took what they could from them, and when the[167] admiral, Sir John Burroughs, came up, he plundered the captains. Among other items the Commissioners found that an emerald cross three inches long, 62 diamonds, and 1400 ‘very great’ pearls had been stolen. It is not known what became of the Madre de Dios, but possibly an offer from the mayor and burgesses of Dartmouth to pay £200 and build a hospital for the poor in return ‘for yᵉ carrick’ may refer to it.[763]

Merchant Shipping and Trade.

In 1584 Hawkyns wrote to Burghley ‘I ame perswydyd that the substance of this reallme ys treblyd in vallew syns her Maiesties raygne.’ So far as the carrying trade, as exemplified in the increase of merchant ships, was concerned, the statement was more than justified. The legislation that had long been directed in a more or less perfunctory manner to the encouragement of English merchant shipping by protective enactments was enforced more stringently. Such enactments were varied or renewed by the 1st, 5th, 13th, 23rd, 27th and 39th of Elizabeth. The coast fisheries were assisted by permission being granted to export fish in English bottoms, free of custom, subsidy, or poundage,[764] while the internal consumption was increased by the more rigid exaction of the observance of fish days. The coasting trade was confined to English owned ships, and the earlier statutes bearing on exportation or importation in foreign vessels were put into active operation. These measures were not fruitless. For 1576 is a list of fifty-one ships built in the preceding five years and attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the statute ordering abstinence from flesh on Wednesdays.[765] In 1581 the authorities of the Trinity Corporation sent in a certificate showing a large increase in the number of fishing boats, there being in a short time, an addition of 114 on the east and south-east coasts alone between Newcastle and Portsmouth.[766]

The bounty of five shillings a ton, for vessels of 100 tons and upwards, only paid occasionally during preceding reigns is now of common occurrence. The Exchequer warrants name 162 ships on which it was given during the reign, and the series is probably far from complete. Certain names frequently recur in these entries; the Hawkyns family of Plymouth; Olyff Burre, a coppersmith of Southwark, who obtained the bounty on 790 tons of shipping in two years; the Fenners of Chichester; Philip and Francis Drake; and William Borough. Sometimes seamen were both owners and masters but more frequently the owners are described as merchants. Towards the later years of the century, when the volume of ocean trade had greatly increased, the bounty payments become almost continuous, and then owners had to give surety not to sell their ships to foreigners. Between 1581[168] and 1594 there had been built—or rather had received the premium—46 such vessels of which 25 belonged to London, 7 to Bristol, 2 to Southampton, 3 to Dartmouth, and 1 each to Hull and Liverpool.[767] The Galleon Ughtred of Southampton, built by John Ughtred of Netley, was of 500 tons, and when she was sent to sea under Fenton was valued at £6035, fitted, victualled, and munitioned.[768]

It is perhaps indicative of the results of the years 1587-8-9 that while only 46 such vessels had been built in thirteen years, there were, between 1592 and 1595, 48 large ships of 10,622 tons receiving a sum of £2683, 5s. In one year—1593—London owners were paid on 16 ships of 3248 tons; Dartmouth, as in the preceding century, is ahead of the other southern ports with seven vessels of 1460 tons.[769] From September 1596 to September 1597 the bounty was paid on 57 ships of 11,160 tons; two were of 400 tons, four of 320, two of 310, thirty-two of between 200 and 300 tons, and the general increase in the tonnage of individual ships is another noticeable fact in the growth of the shipping industry.[770]

But probably the bounty was not always paid. At the foot of a list of merchantmen for the years 1572-9, the owners of which had given bond that they should not be sold to the subjects of a foreign power, the clerk writes: ‘whether all these or how many of them have had any allowance of Her Majesty I cannot tell for that there is no record of the allowance in this court.’[771] The total is 70 ships of 12,630 tons; the largest are, one of Bristol of 600 tons, one of London of 450, and one of Dartmouth of 400 tons. One entry, on 9th July, 1577, is that Francis Drake of Plymouth gives bond for the Pelican of 150 tons.[772] Very often the five shillings a ton was not paid but allowed on the customs, as in 1595, when 636 crowns were granted to three London merchants ‘to be allowed on the customs of merchandise brought by the said ships.’ It was of course to the interest of the owner to have his vessel rated at the highest possible tonnage, both for the bounty and for service with the royal fleets. For the latter[169] the hire remained at one shilling a ton till about 1580 when it was raised to two shillings and even then the measuring officers, we are told, usually allowed the Queen to be charged for a third more than the real tonnage.[773]

Besides the stimulus of general trade and the requirements of the crown for ships to serve with the fleets, there was a further encouragement to building in the action of the great chartered associations then in possession of so much of the over sea trade. The Russia Company, chartered in 1555, traded to Russia, Persia, and the Caspian, and, late in the century, commenced the whale fishery; the Turkey, or Levant Company, founded in 1581, to the dominions of the Sultan, the Greek Archipelago, and, indirectly, to the East Indies; the Eastland Company trading through the Sound to Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark; the Guinea Company to the west coast of Africa, and the Merchant Adventurers along the northern coast of continental Europe. Many of the largest ocean-going ships either belonged to, or were hired by, these corporations, and owners who had entered into the prevalent spirit of shipbuilding felt that they had a right to have their vessels hired by the companies. Olyff Burre, the speculative owner before mentioned, petitioned the Council in 1579 to the effect that he had obtained a living for forty years ‘cheefely by the maynteyninge of shippinge and the navygacon,’ that he now had a number of vessels unemployed, and that he trusted they would order the Spanish Company to hire his ships.[774] In 1581 the Levant Company possessed fourteen ships varying in size from 200 to 350 tons; they complain, in a petition, that the new import duties levied by the Venetians are destroying their trade, and that their ships are too big to be employed in any other work.[775] In the five years 1583-7 this company employed nineteen vessels and 787 men in twenty-seven voyages, and paid £11,359 in customs. In 1600 they owned thirteen of 2610 tons and hired seventeen of 2650 tons. Their agent at Constantinople cost £1000 a year, besides presents to the Turks, and in 1591 they calculated that, first and last, they had been compelled to spend £40,000 in maintaining agents, consuls, etc.[776] The profits made by these companies were sometimes enormous and their risks were fewer than those of individual owners, for their large, well-armed and manned ships were less exposed to the dangers of navigation and piracy, the latter a factor to be always reckoned with.

Notwithstanding piracy, warfare, and the risks of navigation in little known seas, the returns show a steady increase in the size and number of English vessels. The necessities of[170] distant trading explain the increase in size both in view of a relatively smaller cost of working and a larger number of partners interested in the cargo, and the results of successful maritime war were shown in a carrying trade which it may almost be held to have founded. But an extension of commerce was sometimes thrust unwillingly on the English merchants. Some of them petitioned in 1571 that the trade with Portugal was of more value than that with the East Indies, and that an agreement should be come to with the King of Portugal by which Englishmen would undertake not to trade with the East if a free opening were given by that monarch in his European dominions. They said that the traffic to the East Indies ‘often attempted hath taken small effect,’ that in fifteen years no merchants had made any profit, ‘except such as being spoiled there have made great gain by the recompense here.’[777] They did not foresee the future subjects of spoliation, but although trade was progressing it moved onwards tentatively and with hesitation; and but for the cessation of trade with Portugal the formation of the East India Company might have been long deferred.

If a merchantman escaped the ordinary risks of the sea as they were understood in the sixteenth century, risks that included much more than is comprised in the expression to-day, the owner’s troubles were by no means over. Commerce with the East could only be carried on by constant bribery; if he traded to Spain he had to reckon with the suspicious bigotry of Church and State, and when returned to England he had to deal with the more selfish dishonesty of custom-house officials, and sometimes of persons of higher rank. Three victims of Spanish procedure petition Burghley:—

‘In this moste wofull manner sheweth unto your Honour your suppliantes John Tyndall and Robert Frampton of Bristowe and William Ellize of Alperton ... late marchants and the Quenes Maiesties naturall subjectes late in case right good to live and nowe in state most miserable. That where your said suppliantes did trade into Spayne in the way of marchandise—soe it is Right Honourable that besydes longe and miserable imprisonment besydes the intollerable torment of the Strappadoe there susteyned by the authoritie of the Inquisition of Spayne your said suppliantes are there spoyled of all their goodes to the vallew of ˡⁱ2228 10ˢ 6ᵈ, to their utter undoing.’[778]

Their ship was seized and they were tortured because a Cato in English was found on board—Spain and England being at peace. They go on to ask that they may have restitution out of Spanish goods in England. In 1588, of the crew of a Scotch ship just arrived at St Lucar, ‘accused to be protestantes and fleshe eaters on dayes prohibite,’ three were burnt and the rest sent to the galleys, upon accusation, without any[171] trial.[779] As the knowledge of these and other stories spread, one does not wonder at the massacres of Smerwick and Connaught; it is only a matter for surprise that any Spanish prisoner received quarter.

It was a usual clause in a charter-party that a merchantman should carry ordnance and small arms. In the peaceful Bordeaux fleet of 1593, the three largest vessels carried from 17 to 21 guns, and all the others have from 3 to 16 pieces of various sizes. Owners whose vessels had escaped the perils of the voyage had to be prepared for trickery at home. Accusations of dishonesty were general against the officers of the customs; ‘they alter their books leaving out and putting in what pleases them’; the wages of the waiters were £12, 16s a year, but some of them kept large establishments, the officers were said to attend about two-and-a-half hours daily, and the chief ones seldom came at all. These latter, says the writer, appointed clerks who grew rich the same way, and these again took under clerks who made a living out of the merchants; the chief posts were sold at high prices, while, in the country, the Queen was defrauded of half the customs.’[780] Another person, writing to Robert Cecil in 1594, says ‘there has been transported out of Rye within twelve months not less than £10,000 of prohibited wares. The customs officers not only connive but help.’[781] Other examples might be cited to show that there had not been much improvement in these years, although the service had been reorganised in 1586 when the Customer, Sir Thos. Smith, who farmed some of the imposts, had been compelled to disgorge a portion of his profits. The revenue from the customs was £24,000 in 1586, in 1590 £50,000, and £127,000 in 1603. If the merchant escaped the extortions of the custom house he might find that persons of the highest rank did not disdain to avail themselves of the organised chicane of the law. In 1586 Leicester sent a cargo to Barbary, and in the return lading, the factor thought it safer, on account of pirates and other enemies, to mark all his employers’ goods with Leicester’s mark. On the arrival of the ship Elizabeth’s favourite claimed the whole cargo and, the law being on his side, the owners were compelled to compound with him for their own property.[782]

Returns of Merchant Ships and Seamen.

There are more detailed lists of merchant ships for the period under review than for any other reign. By these lists, equivalent to a return of vessels now built to Admiralty requirements, the government knew, from time to time, how many ships could be relied on as fighting auxiliaries and how many could be used as tenders and transports. They also enabled the Council to judge whether the measures taken for[172] the protection and encouragement of native shipping were successful. The first of these returns is for March 1560 and is incomplete since there is no entry for such a port as Bristol, and Somerset and the Welsh counties are also omitted:—[783]

London 1 2 6 4 3 2 1 2
Saltash 1
Fowey 1
Northam 1 1 1
Plymouth 2 1 1
Salcombe 1
Dartmouth 1 3 1
Cockington 1
Kingswear 2 1 1
Southampton 1
Christchurch 1
Sandwich 1
Brightlingsea 1 1
Walderswick 2
Southwold 1 1
Cley 1 1
Wells 2
Grimsby 1
Scarborough 1
Hull 4 1 1
Newcastle 12 1
Chester 1 1

Here there are seventy-six ships and although some towns, such as Southampton, may not have their full complement given, there was probably no other port, with the exception of Bristol, possessing vessels of 100 tons or upwards. During the early years of the reign the country was impoverished and the people little inclined to effort. Mary left the crown deeply indebted and, concurrently with an increase of national expenditure, there was, for the moment, a general decline of commerce, and a shifting of the centres of commercial distribution, especially felt by some of the older seaports. Yarmouth petitioned in 1559 for relief from payment of the tenths and fifteenths on account of loss of trade; their harbour had cost them £1000 a year and was not yet finished, the town walls £100 a year, and the relief of their poor yet another hundred.[784] In 1565 Yarmouth had 553 householders; 7 seagoing ships, of which the largest was 140 tons; 25 smaller ones, and 81 fishing boats together with 400 seamen.[785] Doubtless the burgesses did not minimise their calamities but similar complaints came in from all quarters. Hythe had, from 80 vessels and fishing boats sunk to 8; Winchilsea, ‘there is at this present none, and the town greatly decayed.’[786][173] Between 1558 and 1565 Dartmouth owners had lost four and sold eleven ships, and seemingly had no intention of replacing fifteen others worn out by service. The complaints of Chester are chronic in the same sense; its merchants had lost £22,000 in seven years from piracies and shipwrecks; and Hull in a shorter period had lost £23,000 from the same causes.

The next list, of 1568,[787] gives seventy-three vessels of 100 tons or more but from this many important places, such as London, Bristol, Hull, and others are wanting so that it may be assumed that a marked improvement had already commenced. There are many isolated certificates of ships belonging to various ports scattered through the State Papers, and from one of them we find that ‘Hawkyns of Plymouth’ possessed, in 1570, thirteen of 2040 tons; one of them was of 500 and another of 350 tons. There is a certificate of vessels trading between September 1571 and September 1572,[788] which gives eighty-six of 100 tons and upwards, including forty-nine of 6870 tons belonging to London, but this is not a complete list of ships owned in the various ports, but only of those that had been engaged in trade. For February 1577 there is a full return which yields the following results:—[789]

London 10 6 7 4 4 1 3 4 2 1 1 1
Bristol 1 1 2 1 1 1 1
Chester 1
Newport 2
Chepstow 1
Barnstaple 1
Fowey 1 1 1
Looe 1
Plymouth 2 1 1 1 1
Dartmouth 1 1 1 1
Exmouth 3 1
Weymouth 1
Poole 2
Southampton & Portsmouth 1 1 1
Dover 1
Harwich and Ipswich 7 2 1 1
Woodbridge 1
Orford and Aldborough 3 1 5
Walderswick 1
Yarmouth 4 1
Lynn 2
Hull 3 1 3 2 1
Newcastle 6 1 3 2 1 1


The total is 135 and the report says that there are 656 more between 40 and 100 tons besides ‘an infinite number’ of small barks. Yet this return can hardly be complete as it does not correspond, in many instances, with the tonnage measurements of a list of March 1576 which is a schedule of such vessels built since 1571.[790] This list is of value as showing the rapid progress now being made in the construction of comparatively large vessels, a progress which could only be the result of a demand caused by increasing trade:—

London 3 3 3 1 1 1 2
Lee 2 1
Exmouth 1 1
Kingsbridge 1
Bristol 1 1 1
Plymouth 1 1 1
Hull 1 1 2
Newcastle 2 1
Southwold 1
Cley 2
Yarmouth 2 1
Orwell 1
Chester 1
Ipswich 2 1
Looe 1
Fowey 1
Aldborough 2
Harwich 1
Wells 1 1

In the year ending with Easter 1581 there were 413 English ships, of 20 tons and upwards ‘coming from ports beyond seas’ and discharging in London, but no doubt many of the smaller of these, making short voyages, were reckoned more than once.[791]

The authorities encouraged merchants and shipowners not only by legislation but with that personal interest to which the human heart responds more promptly than to legal enactments however profitable the latter may promise to be. When the Levant Company was founded its promoters were called before the Council, thanked and praised for building ships of suitable tonnage for the trade, and urged to go forward ‘for the kingdom’s sake.’ The Levant Company returned at first 300% profit to its shareholders but in the sixteenth century ‘the kingdom’s sake’ was a factor, always more or less present, in the action of the merchant class, nor was the commendation of the lords of the Council considered a matter of small importance. In a national as well as in a private sense it was fortunate that most of these chartered Companies were originally successful. The next certificate is of 1582 and gives:—


80 and 100
London 10 5 11 7 14 1 6 3 2 3 23
Harwich 6 1 1
Lee 2 2
Cley 2 1
Wiveton 4 2
Blakeney 1 2
Lynn 1 1 1
Yarmouth 3 1 2
Wells 2 1 3
Aldborough 4 3 1 1 3 1 2 4
Ipswich 8 6
Southampton 3 1 1 1 1 1 2
Bristol 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 2
Hull 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 7
Newcastle 1 2 6 3 1 2 1 1 8
Poole 2 2 1 1 1
Topsham 1
Southwold 1 1 2
Orford 1
Fowey 3
Exmouth 1
Kenton 1 1
Cockington 2 1
Northam 1
Weymouth 1 1 1

The number of vessels of 100 tons and upwards is therefore 177, a very respectable increase from 1577, allowing for wrecks and other sources of loss. Besides the 70 vessels between 80 and 100 tons there are 1383 measuring from 20 to 80 tons. Another return, a year later, is made out on the same system as regards division of tonnage, but by counties; it will be observed that the results do not altogether coincide:—[792]

100 tons and upwards Between 80 and 100 tons Between 60 and 80 tons 100 tons and upwards Between 80 and 100 tons Between 20 and 80 tons
London 62 25 44 Dorsetshire  9 12 51
Essex 9 40 145 Bristol 9 12 327
Norfolk 16 80 145 Isle of Wight 29
Suffolk 27 14 60 Southampton 8 7 47
Cornwall 3 2 65 Kent 95
Yorkshire 11 8 36 Cinque Ports 220
North Parts 17 1 121 Cumberland 12
Lincolnshire 5 20 Gloucestershire 29
Sussex 65 Lancaster and Chester 72
Devonshire 7 3 109

There is a certificate, said to be of 1588,[793] but it bears too close a resemblance to the Harleian MS. to be considered trustworthy. The 1582 list and the Harleian MS. differ[176] somewhat but they are sufficiently alike in classification and totals to show that they belong to nearly the same period; the Cottonian MS. is the same in form and almost exactly the same in results, and must be wrongly dated. There is no other list of ships belonging to this reign, but there are occasional references which show that the subject was not neglected. For February 1589 there is a note of large merchantmen at sea during that month; thirteen of 2940 tons are ‘in the Straights,’ five in ‘Barbaria’ and three bound there, five for Bordeaux, eleven for Middleburgh, and six at sea ‘adventuring.’[794] The total tonnage is 7220. Evidently the government was kept well informed of the position of the trading vessels it might possibly require for transport or warfare. Notwithstanding the various encouragements to native owners the foreign carrying trade was by no means destroyed for, in the year ending September 1596, no fewer than 646 ‘strangers’ ships’ came to London.[795] In Jan. 1597 there were 197 vessels entered inwards at London; two were from Stade, two from Tripoli, one from Venice, six from Spain, twenty-six from Bordeaux, ten from Dantzic, three from Hamburg, one from Scotland, and most of the others from the Low Countries.[796]

With the certificates of ships there was sometimes a return of the men available to man them. It has been noticed that there was seldom much difficulty in obtaining crews, and the table below points to a growth of the maritime population commensurate with the increase of shipping:—

1560[797] 1565-6[798] 1570[799] 1582[800]
Cornwall 1703 1064 1918
Devon 1268 1264[801] 2165
Dorset 255 347 318 645
Hampshire 296 167 342 470
Sussex 400 321 513
Cinque Ports 396 1024 952
Essex 565 1549 385 693
Suffolk 415 1161 1156 1282
Norfolk 178 975 1112 1670
Lincolnshire 229 234 449
Kent 243
Yorkshire 542 505 878
Cheshire[802] 135 324
Gloucestershire 203 220
Pembrokeshire 392
Northumberland 37 851
Somerset 63 512
London and River of Thames 2286[803]
Cumberland 212


The certificate from which the last column is taken shows that in 1582 there were 1488 masters, 11,515 seamen, 2299 fishermen, and 957 London watermen available for service. A fleet of 24 Queen’s ships required about 3700 seamen; an auxiliary fleet of 24 armed merchantmen about 3000, so that except when exposed to the strain of a year like 1588 the resources of the country in men were fully equal to any demand likely to be made upon them.

Piracy and Privateering.

During the reign of Elizabeth piracy appears to have almost attained the dignity of a recognised profession, and some notice of its extent is necessary to enable us to recognise the difficulties amid which commerce was extending. In 1563 there were some 400 known pirates in the four seas; and men of good family, who subsequently acquired official rank in the royal service—Champernounes, Killigrews, Careys, Horseys, and Oglanders—had made their earliest bids for fortune as Channel rovers. Occasionally, when an important personage was inconvenienced, a spasmodic effort was made and dire punishment followed. In 1573, the Earl of Worcester, while travelling to France as the bearer of a christening present from Elizabeth to the infant daughter of Charles IX, was attacked between Dover and Boulogne and, although he saved the gold salver he was entrusted with, eleven or twelve of his attendants were killed and wounded and property stolen to the value of £500. This led to steps that resulted in the capture of some hundreds of pirates, but only three were hanged. On the whole, Elizabeth made fewer efforts to deal with the evil than either her sister or brother did; sometimes ships were sent to sea for the purpose but there were no continuous endeavours such as they made. And although pirates were frequently taken few were executed, and their aiders and abettors on shore, a class that included merchants, country squires, and government officials, were always let off with a fine. In truth the English rover was more than half patriot; if he injured English commerce he did infinitely more hurt to that of France and Spain, and he only differed in degree from the semi-trading, semi-marauding expeditions on a large scale, in which the Queen herself took a share, and for which she lent her ships.

At first Elizabeth sent out even fewer ships than her predecessors had commissioned to clear the Channel; she tried, as usual, to make those principally interested do the[178] work of the crown. Commissions were granted to merchants to equip vessels to catch pirates, their reward taking the form of a permission to recoup themselves out of captured cargo. But even if pirate plunder was recaptured the owners were little better off as the men were commonly serving ‘for the spoyle onely without any wagies allowed them by hir Hignes,’ and the spoil seldom covered their wages. In 1574 both Hull and Bristol were authorised to equip ships at their own expense to deal with the scourge, and as late as 1600 petitioners were cynically informed that Royal ships could not be spared for convoy duty and that the merchants interested should get together ten or twelve vessels ‘by voluntary contributions from subjects.’[804] Proclamation followed proclamation without effect and it was not until 1577 that a really serious attempt was made to crush the freebooters; Palmer and Holstock were sent to sea with a squadron, and searching inquiries were instituted to ascertain the persons who dealt with them ashore and helped them. Southampton was a flourishing centre; not only did the mayor release captured men, but there were brokers in the town who made a business of negotiation between owners and pirates for the return of ships and merchandise taken by the latter.[805] Among the persons fined for dealing with pirates we find the mayor of Dartmouth, the lieutenant of Portsmouth, the deputy searcher of the customs there; the deputy of the Vice-Admiral of Bristol trading with them and taking bills from them,[806] the sheriff of Glamorganshire, and Wm. Wynter, a relative of the Surveyor of the Navy. Wm. Hawkyns, brother of the Navy Treasurer, and Rich. Grenville, the famous captain of the Revenge, were both up before the Council for piracy.[807] A well-known pirate, Atkinson, escaped from Exeter gaol, it was supposed with the connivance of the mayor; the mayor accused the sergeant of the Admiralty, and the evidence seems to show that they were both involved. Sometimes a pirate cargo must have been very valuable; one was made up of 434 ‘elephants’ teeth,’ cochineal, wine, and ‘Spanish aquavitæ.’ If in need of supplies the pirate captain could always reckon on sympathy and assistance ashore, and Cardiff was a recognised headquarters where necessaries could be obtained. If caught by weather and in distress he could usually rely on local help. One vessel, being driven ashore, was deserted by her crew, a proceeding which, if due to fear, was unnecessarily hasty. A local magnate, Sir Rich. Rogers, got assistance, refloated the vessel, and restored her to the[179] captain, accepting a tun of wine and a chest of sugar in acknowledgment.[808] Yet the government dealt tenderly with these men. Of the many names of pirate captains continually recurring in the Elizabethan papers there is not one known to have been executed although some were captured.

In 1584 it was said that ‘wee and the French are most infamous for our outrageous, common, and daily piracies,’ and naturally the State Papers are full of petitions for redress and compensation, and with commissions of inquiry issued to the various local authorities. Claim and counterclaim from Englishman, Scotchman, Frenchman, Dane, and Hamburger, follow in endless confusion. In 1586 a correspondent wrote to Burghley ...

‘being at St Malo last month he heard that sixteen of their ships had been rifled or taken by Englishmen ... and that their hatred of the English was such that our merchants dared not walk about in public ... men in authority to recover their unthriftiness sell their lands, buy ships, and command the captain and company not to return without assurance of a very great sum.’[809]

On the other hand, Bristol, in 1574, had formally complained of St Malo in that ‘by common consent’ they had set forth seven vessels to prey upon Bristol commerce. The court of Admiralty had granted Bristol merchants permission to seize St Malo ships and goods, which perhaps explains the letter to Burghley just quoted.[810] In 1584 the French ambassador stated that in the preceding two years English pirates had plundered Frenchmen of merchandise to the value of 200,000 crowns; the only answer given was the general statement that Englishmen had lost more by French pirates. There is a list, 47 pages long, of piracies committed by the English on Portuguese subjects alone.

Between 1564 and 1586 Englishmen had spoiled the Scotch—who were said to ‘take it unkindly’—of goods valued at £20,717, and restitution had been made to the amount of £3483. But between 1581-5, the Scotch had plundered the English to the sum of £9268, and had restored only £140; from this proportion it may be concluded that the Scot was more successful than the Frenchman in adapting himself to the fashionable pursuit of the time.[811] Nor were the injured persons exposed only to the loss of their property. A Bayonne ship was captured by a Bristol privateer in 1591 and the owners came to England to obtain redress, but after vainly expending 500 crowns they were, ‘fain to leave off their suit and return to France and save their lives.’ But the Englishman did not fare better in France. In 1572 the[180] Pelican of London, belonging to alderman Wm. Bond and others, was seized by French pirates, the master and crew, twenty-three in number, murdered, and goods valued at £4000 taken with her. The thieves and the receivers were both well known and the owners commenced a suit in the parliament of Brittany; but after fruitlessly expending £1000 prefer to ‘leave all in the hands of God rather than prosecute any more suits in France.’[812] Frequently there was little disguise about ownership. In 1580 three Hamburg merchants petition that their ships were despoiled by ‘one called the Henry Seckforde whereof is owner, Henry Seckforde, Esq., one of the gentlemen of your Majesty’s privy chamber.’[813] If business at sea was languishing, the pirate did not disdain to vary his methods; some Dunkirkers planned, and nearly succeeded in carrying out, the abduction of Sir John Spencer, known as ‘rich Spencer’ on his way to his country house at Islington.

Occasionally, but very rarely, the pirate changed his allegiance. Nicholas Franklin deposes:—[814]

‘A year ago was with Captain Elliott when they took a flyboat of which captain Elliot made a man-of-war: they went to Helford in Cornwall and brought in a Dieppe prize.... John Killigrew, captain of the castle there, warned them to be off as he was expecting the Crane one of the Queen’s ships; thereupon Elliott gave him nine bolts of Holland cloth and a chest and they sailed to Cork ... thence back to the Channel and took four Scotch and Irish ships, thence to the Isles of Bayonne.’[815]

Here they met some Spaniards, and his crew wanted to fight, but Elliot and his officers drew their swords and forced the men to surrender. Elliot was given the command of a Spanish galleon and, from another paper, it appears that he was afterwards the cause of some Englishmen being racked.

If letters of marque were given they only faintly veiled the real character of the proceedings. In 1586 letters of reprisal were granted to Diggory Piper in the Sweepstakes of London, an appropriate name for a privateer. He was authorised to attack Spanish and Portuguese ships; he commenced with some Flemings, continued with two French traders, and finished with a Dane having goods worth £3000 on board.[816] In view of the fact that at various times letters of reprisal to the amount of £140,000 were issued to only a few places,[817] the amount of unlicensed robbery done under cover of such letters can be imperfectly imagined. Sometimes the proceedings were straightforward enough and, as an illustration of their[181] manner of dealing with Spanish ships and the privateersman’s contempt for odds, a relation of one of these encounters is given subsequently.[818]


In 1579 the stores, such as canvas, cordage, masts, anchors, etc., at Deptford and on board the ships were valued at £8000, and it was only considered necessary to replenish the stock up to £14,000.[819] For some time whatever was used in any given year was replaced the following year; thus stores to £1662, 11s 8d and £831, 11s 1d were used in 1580 and 1581, and were ordered to be made good in 1581 and 1582. The heavy expenses caused by the war upset this arrangement, and in 1589 we find a payment of £8921, 8s 8d for the balance, still owing, of stores bought in 1587. In 1602 there were at Deptford, 551 cables and hawsers, 26 bolts of canvas, 45 masts and 660 spars, 31,220 ft. of timber, 36 barrels of pitch and tar, besides compasses, flags, etc. Chatham had only 10 cables but 54 bolts of canvas, 124 masts and 1076 spars; Woolwich had timber only.[820] Masts were obtained from the Baltic and varied in length from twelve to thirty-four yards, the latter size being twenty-eight hands in circumference at the partners, and eighteen and two-thirds at the top end. Anything under six hands at the partners was accounted a spar.[821] In 1588 masts of twenty-nine and thirty yards were £26, and £31. In the year of Elizabeth’s accession Dantzic cordage cost £13, 6s 8d a ton. Subsequently cables were chiefly purchased from the Russia Company and went up in price until in 1597 Russian cordage ‘of perfect good stuff’ was costing £23, 10s a ton.[822] For the heaviest anchors the rule was to give a half inch in the circumference of the cable for every foot of beam; a ship with thirty-eight feet of beam would therefore have some cables nineteen inches in circumference. The length was 100 fathoms, and the weight of one fourteen inches round was 34 cwt. 3 qrs. 14 lbs. in white, and 43 cwt. 35 lbs. tarred. A large number of cables, cablettes and hawsers were carried. Although in the preceding table on p. 124 the Merhonour, like the other big ships, is allowed seven cables, there were ordered for her in 1589, two of 18 inches circumference weighing five tons; four of 17 inches weighing nine tons; two of 16 inches weighing four tons; and one of 12 inches weighing one ton and a quarter.[823]

Until about 1585 the custom of the principal Officers themselves to sell the Queen minor stores, such as canvas, tar, etc., if it excited comment or suspicion, does not seem to have been stopped; from Burghley’s notes on the subject it[182] appears from that time to have been no longer allowed.[824] Nevertheless in 1589 Hawkyns and Borough were accused of still selling to the crown through third persons, but the force of the charge is vitiated by the usual proposal of the informer, that he should act as an inspector of canvas, of course with a salary.[825] The heaviest anchor made was of 30 cwt., but they were usually much smaller; the Merhonour had one of 25 cwt., four of 22 cwt., three of 20 cwt., and one of 12 cwt.[826] The price of these was £1 10s per cwt. as against £1 2s in the beginning of the reign. The following is an abstract of the prices of other stores but there were many different qualities in each article which explains large variations in the price:—

Canvas { Polldavy (1558) 40s a bolt
{ English Midrenex (1569) 28s a bolt
{ British[827] do. (1569) 33s 4d a bolt
{ British do. (1581) 28s a bolt
{ English do. (1581) 30s a bolt
{ Ipswich canvas (1590) 29s a bolt
Timber { Compass and straight } (1567) 8s and 9s a ton
{ Oak and elm}
{ Oak (1587) 18s a load
{ Elm (1594) 18s a load
{ Oak knee (1594) 20s a load
{ do. (1598) 22s to 27s a load
  Spanish Iron (1567) £13 a ton
  English do. do. £10 a ton
  Spanish do. (1572) £14 a ton
  Rosin (1567) £8 a ton
  do. (1590) £8 a ton
  Tar (1567) £4 and £5 a last[828]
  do. (1592) £6 a last
  do. (1598) £8 a last
  Train oil (1567) £11, 10s & £14 a ton
  do. (1587) £20 a ton
  do. (1590) £17 a ton
Tree-nails { 12 inch (1571) 1s per 100
{ 36 inch (1571) 3s per 100
{ 36 inch (1590) 4s 6d per 100
Flags, etc.

Men on deck were sheltered by waistcloths of canvas above the bulwarks which were painted in oil colours; the Merhonour required 542 yards. Sometimes the waistcloths were used for the forecastle and poop while the waist itself was protected by nettings.[829] Men-of-war alone seem to have been entitled to wear a flag at the main, ‘the earl’s ship after the taking of the carrack very undutifully bore his flag in the main top which no subject’s ship ought to presume to do.’ The St George’s cross was generally used; the flag shown on the ensign staff of the Elizabethan man-of-war is of green and white, the Tudor colours, and is one that was in common use during the sixteenth century. In 1592 the Levant Company was permitted to use ‘the armes of Englande with the redd crosse in white over the same as heretofore they used.’[830] Representations of saints on flags had ceased but other[183] emblems were still in use; falcons, lions, the royal arms, and ‘her Maiesties badges in silver and gold,’ are mentioned. We have ‘sarcenets of divers colours’ for ensigns, red and blue say for banners, red say for streamers, and red and white cloth for flags.[831] The Cadiz fleet of 1596 had four large flags, one white, one orange tawney, one blue, and one crimson, ‘which were appointed to be so made for the distinguishing of the four squadrons of the flete.’[832] This appears to have been the earliest distinction of squadrons by flags, afterwards shown by the red, white, and blue. The salute to the flag was upheld under circumstances where it might have been more diplomatic to escape the necessity of claiming it. When Anne of Austria was expected to travel by sea to Spain to marry Philip, De Guaras wrote, ‘although it is quite incredible it is generally affirmed that when our fleet passes, the English fleet will force it to salute. This absurdity sounds like a joke but it is asserted by persons of weight who assure us that the admiral bears orders to do all manner of wonderful things if our fleet does not salute.’ It is said, however, that they had to salute.

It speaks sufficiently for the courage of the Elizabethan sailor that during the whole of the reign only two English men-of-war were captured by Spain, and then only after desperate fighting against overwhelming superiority of force.[833] It speaks equally well for his seamanship afloat and the skill and good workmanship of shipwrights ashore that, with the exception of the small Lion’s Whelp, no dockyard built ship was lost by stress of weather, by fire, or by running aground. During the same years, and sometimes during the same gales, that the English ships weathered successfully, whole Spanish fleets foundered at sea.



The Condition of the Navy.

On 24th March 1603 the weapon forged by Henry VIII, and wielded by Elizabeth, fell into the feeble hand of James Stewart. Elizabeth left England supreme at sea; the Royal Navy bequeathed by the Queen to her successor was by far the finest fleet of men-of-war then afloat, for it was not until the close of the sixteenth century that Spain and Holland commenced to build ships for purely fighting purposes.[834] The men who manned it were renowned for hardihood, daring, and smart seamanship; and its organisation as controlled by the great seamen of her reign was more efficient and smoother in its working than any other of the departments of state.[835] Even in 1558 the days were in reality long past when Spanish fleets were to be feared, and when the Bay of Biscay could be proudly called ‘the Spanish Sea’; but it was due to Elizabeth’s sagacity that the weapon which was to slay the Goliath threatening European civilisation was at once recognised and unhesitatingly used. Until 1558 the supremacy even of the Channel, often hardly contested, had been only occasionally gained. Elizabeth was the first of English sovereigns throughout the whole of whose reign the national flag flew supreme and triumphant in the English Channel. That she was aided by the legacy of a fleet, by the helplessness of France, by changing economic conditions at home, by the revolt of the United Provinces abroad, and possibly by the wisdom of far-seeing advisers, may have made her task easier, but these things do not detract from the praise due to her discernment. The student, perhaps too often reasoning with a knowledge of results, may sometimes feel anger with Elizabeth[185] but hardly contempt. James arouses no qualification of emotion. He commenced his reign with a fleet ‘fit to go anywhere and do anything;’ he allowed it to crumble away while spending on it more money during peace than Elizabeth did during war; he chose the most unfit men to manage it at home and command it abroad, and the results of his weak and purposeless rule were seen in the shameful fiasco of 1625 and the degradation of English prestige. Had not Buckingham reorganised the Admiralty in 1618 there would shortly have been no Navy to rouse the jealousy of foreign powers. The Regency of 1423 deliberately destroyed the Navy either from ignorance or from motives now unknown; James followed the same course with the best intentions and could doubtless have justified all his actions in choice Latinity. It will be seen that he took an even keener personal interest in the Navy than did Elizabeth, but the lack of controlling capacity so disastrously shown in other affairs was equally fatal to naval administration. The naval records of his reign are but a sorry collection of relations of frauds, embezzlements, commissions of inquiry, and feeble palliatives.

The first wish of the new monarch was to obtain peace with Spain, a desire for which modern historians have unanimously praised him, although it may be at least a matter for debate whether the continuance of war until Spain was bled to death would not have been ethically justifiable, politically expedient, and commercially profitable. On 23rd June 1603, a proclamation was issued recalling all vessels which had been sent out with hostile intent, and thus ending the lucrative privateering speculations which, when undertaken on a small scale, had so long provided occupation and profit for English sailors and merchants. The last important prize taken by the Queen’s ships was the St Valentine, a Portuguese carrack captured by Sir R. Leveson in 1602, and its cargo was sold in 1604 for upwards of £26,000.[836]


The improvements in construction that marked the close of the sixteenth century have already been noticed and first, among these may be placed the increase in length and decrease in height above water attributed to Sir John Hawkyns. But the greater demand for faster and more seaworthy ships had not produced models satisfactory to the more critical experts of this generation. Shipbuilding was not yet a science and seemed in some respects to have even retrograded from the standard of the last years of Henry VIII. The subsequent tendency to overload ships, however small, with towering poop and forecastle structures, although[186] it can be explained by the necessity for providing increased accommodation, can scarcely be considered an improvement on the earlier type. Captain George Waymouth, who appears to have been considered an authority on the theory and practice of shipbuilding and navigation, and who was several times called to report independently on the workmanship displayed on the royal ships, was very severe on his professional contemporaries, and writes that he

‘Yet could never see two ships builded of the like proportion by the best and most skilful shipwrights though they have many times undertaken the same ... because they trust rather to their judgment than their art, and to their eye than their scale and compass.’[837]

He says that they are too high out of the water, crank, and cannot carry their canvas or work their guns in a seaway; that they will not steer, and sometimes ‘their sides are not of equal proportion the one to the other,’ Waymouth, among other improvements, suggested a turret on the upper deck, moving on swivel and armed with ‘murtherers.’ In another paper he says that ‘the shipwrights of England and Christendom build ships only by uncertain and traditional precepts and by deceiving aim of their eye,’ and the resulting vessels, ‘cannot bear sail nor steer readily ... for want of art in proportioning of the mould and fitting of the masts and tackling.’[838]

It must, however, be borne in mind that for at least a quarter of a century English men-of-war had outsailed their antagonists, had weathered gales and fought actions, just as successfully as though they had been built on the most scientific modern principles. Waymouth himself was not successful as a commander at sea; perhaps he knew too much. But he was not alone in his criticisms. Ralegh, in his ‘Observations on the Navy,’ addressed to Prince Henry, says that there are six principal things required in a man-of-war, viz.: that she should be strongly built, swift, stout-sided, carry out her guns in all weathers, lie-to in a gale easily, and stay well. None of these things did the King’s ships do satisfactorily and ‘it were also behoofeful that his Majesty’s ships were not so overpestered and clogged with great ordnance ... so that much of it serves to no better use but only to labour and overcharge the ship’s sides.’ As a practical illustration of the shipwrights’ loose methods of calculation it may be mentioned that when the Prince Royal, the largest vessel of the reign, was built, Phineas Pett and Bright estimated that 775 loads of timber would be required, whereas 1627 loads were actually used, and the general increase in her cost by this error of[187] judgment was £5908.[839] These laments did not lead to any great improvements in construction. Only a few of the vessels were in any way sheathed; in 1624 Dutch men-of-war could, literally, sail round English ones,[840] and their crankness was only imperfectly remedied by furring or girdling,[841] a method says the writer of the Nomenclator Navalis,[842] which is ‘a loss to owners and disgrace to builders and deserves punishment.... In all the world there is not so many furred as in England.’ That the advance was slow may be judged from the fact that in 1635 the Merhonour of 1589, and rebuilt in 1613, was still regarded as one of the fastest sailers in the Navy. The desire for more scientific construction and the growing importance of the shipbuilding industry may however be inferred from the incorporation of the Shipwrights’ Company in 1605. The association had existed as a fraternity from, at least, the fifteenth century, and was now of sufficient consequence to obtain a charter.

The Seamen.

An onlooker[843] said that the English were ‘good sailors and better pirates.’ Whatever their quality as seamen, or however doubtful their maritime morality, no greater care was taken now to preserve their health or improve their morals than had formerly been the case. It is true that the first article in every commission laid stress on the performance of divine service at least twice a day, while the singing of psalms at a change of watch was an old custom, but such humanising details as the punctual payment of wages,[844] a supply of eatable provisions, hospitals for the sick, and suitable clothes, had not yet recommended themselves to the authorities as modes either of obtaining men or of keeping them in the service. Ralegh writes, ‘They go with as great a grudging to serve in his Majesty’s ships as if it were to be slaves in the galleys.’ James I made no use of the Navy beyond fitting out the Algiers expedition of 1620, and commissioning a few ships, year by year, to serve in the narrow seas; but for these few vessels it was found equally difficult to obtain men and to retain them when caught, now that the incitements of Spanish prizes were wanting, while the mortality afloat was equal to that of the worst days of Elizabeth. The only occasion when a large number of men were required was for the fleet preparing in 1625, before the death of James, and then the Navy Commissioners wrote to Buckingham that ‘the pressed men run away as fast as we send them down.’[845] Captain Christian of the Bonaventure, almost a new ship, serving[188] on the east coast, in 1623, wrote of ‘the weak, and I may truly say miserable state of this ship ... of 160 men there are but 70 persons of all sorts that at present is either fit or able to do the least labour in the ship.’[846] There was also a great infection and mortality on board the Garland. Captain Christian complains too of the quality of the men pressed; ‘of all the whole company when they are at the best there are not twenty helmsmen and but three that can heave a lead.’

These instances belong to the end of the reign but matters had not changed: they had only continued. In 1608 it was said that ‘the navy is for the greatest part manned with aged, impotent, vagrant, lewd, and disorderly companions; it is become a ragged regiment of common rogues.’[847] In the Algiers fleet one ship put ashore ninety-two sick men at Malaga at one time. A hospital ship, the Goodwill, accompanied this fleet but she was afterwards ‘commanded for other purposes’ and the invalids thrust ashore on the cold charity to be found in a Spanish port. But of course statistics of sickness and death are everywhere rarely referred to in comparison with salutes, state visits, and other affairs of personal dignity.

Although the sailor was not properly fed and paid even if he behaved well, he suffered sufficiently severe penalties for bad conduct. Flogging was so common that ‘some sailors do believe in good earnest that they shall never have a fair wind until the poor boys be duly ... whipped every Monday morning.’ Ducking, keelhauling, tongue-scraping, and tying up with weights hung round the neck ’till heart and back be ready to break’ were common punishments. ‘These will tame the most rude and savage people in the world,’ says Monson. If these punishments were older than Elizabeth they were semi-illegal customs and if connived at were not publicly recognised. They were now part of ordinary discipline and mark the downward progress of the sailor in self-respect and social estimation. They were easier and cheaper to apply than good government but they bore their Nemesis in the next reign. The old custom of lashing to the bowsprit a sailor who had four times slept on watch, and letting him drown or starve still existed.[848] Small wonder that the men ‘abhorred’[849] the employment of the crown, and that in 1625 the shipkeepers at Chatham included weavers, barbers, tailors, bakers, shoemakers, etc., ‘most of whom had never been to sea.’[850]


The Administration:—The Navy Officers.

The disorganisation of a service commonly presses most hardly on its weakest members; those of higher rank have usually sufficient influence to preserve their rights or, if unscrupulous, to help themselves to unlicensed gains in the general scramble. Nottingham was still at the head of the Navy as Lord Admiral, a post he retained till 1618. Englishmen will always remember him with respect as the commander of 1588, but a perusal of the various papers relating to the naval administration of this period compels one to conclude that while always ready to do his duty en grand seigneur, to command fleets, and to accept responsibility and decide when referred to, he took but a fingertip interest in those details of which successful organisation consists, while his implicit confidence in his subordinates was a disastrous weakness. Moreover he was now growing very old and had doubtless lost much of his former clearness of mental vision. During the lifetime of Hawkyns and under the keen supervision of the Queen and her ministers this neglect mattered little, but from 1596 onwards the conduct of the Navy Office degenerated rapidly. Langford had possessed no authority and Grevill, if weak, had not been Navy Treasurer long enough to do much good or harm, although signs were not wanting during the closing years of Elizabeth’s life that the able control that had made the Navy so terrible to England’s foes was relaxing. But the appointment in 1604[851] of Sir Robert Mansell was most unfortunate. Mansell, who was an indifferent seaman and an incapable and dishonest administrator, and whose only claim to the place was his relationship to, and favour with, Nottingham, remained in office until 1618, and the greater portion of this section is practically a record of his unfitness for his important charge.

Under a different Treasurer the other officers might have performed their duty sufficiently well. As it was they fell in with the prevailing spirit. Trevor remained Surveyor until 1611 when he was replaced by Sir Richard Bingley and in the same year Sir Guildford Slingsby succeeded Palmer. In the victualling branch Marmaduke Darell, now a knight, surrendered his former patent and received a fresh one, on 16th August 1603, directed to him and Sir Thomas Bludder. As the fee still remained at its original £50 a year the profit came out of the provisions and was unwillingly provided by the men. In 1612 this patent was in turn surrendered and replaced by one of 31st January appointing Sir Allen Apsley in conjunction with Darell. By this new patent all the storehouses and other buildings at Tower Hill, the dockyards, and elsewhere were henceforth attached to the department; hitherto[190] they had been held by the crown and only lent at pleasure. Marmaduke Darell died in 1622, and a new patent of 8th January 1623 nominated his son Sampson Darell to act with Apsley. There was no change in the victualling rate until 1623, when it reached sevenpence halfpenny and eightpence, for harbour and sea rates respectively.

In 1617, shortly before they were superseded, the functions of the officers were thus defined. The Comptroller’s duties were to check the accounts of the Treasurer, and Surveyor of victualling, to inspect stores and storekeepers’ books. The Surveyor to inspect ship, wharves, houses, chain, and ships on return from sea, and draw out indents for ships’ stores. The Clerk to keep minutes of resolutions and attend the yearly general survey. The Treasurer’s duties were financial and involved a general superintendence.[852]

Mansell’s delinquencies can be best treated separately, but both he and Nottingham dealt liberally with officers employed at sea or ashore. Nottingham himself obtained in 1609 and 1611 two pensions from James I, during the supremacy of the Howard faction with the king, amounting together to £2700 a year; and it is characteristic of James that the larger of these pensions, of £1700 a year, was granted when the commission of 1608 was sitting and when its disclosures must have been well known. As though all ranks knew what was coming the festivities commenced with the death of Elizabeth. High festival was held on the ships and the pursers petitioned for an allowance of £200, being the cost of general entertainment given by the captains for a month to all who came on board.[853] When Mansell went to sea, he gave himself, as rear-admiral, thirty shillings a day, although Sir Fulke Grevill, when discharging the same office in 1599, received only sixteen and eightpence a day. Admirals were appointed for the north, south, east, and west coasts, for the narrow seas, and for Ireland, all at liberal rates of pay. In one year, when only seven ships were in commission, there were three admirals and four vice-admirals serving, ‘so that the navy was like an army of generals and colonels.’[854] In 1602, with twenty-six vessels at sea the pay of the superior officers was less than during any one of the four or five years before the storm burst on Mansell and Nottingham in 1618. Again, ‘we find ... that these admirals and vice-admirals with their twenty shillings and ten shillings per diem, together with the allowance of their retinue and other advantages, are ... so contented on land that they cannot brook the seas and get captains under them as substitutes in their absence.’[855]


Lavish travelling expenses were allowed, and even some of the inferior officers were generously permitted to benefit by the stream of wealth circulating among the higher officials. Worn out ships were put in commission both to use up stores and to provide appointments for the dependants of those in place; the only result being that they lay in harbour as a ‘safe sanctuary for loose persons.’ The cost of piloting the thirteen ships which took the Princess Elizabeth over to Flushing was £208, and thereon it is remarked that the whole piloting charges for 286 ships during the last five years of Elizabeth did not amount to more. The Comptroller of the Navy, when he went from London to Chatham, charged £9, 9s 11d for travelling expenses, and the Surveyor required £19, 16s for the same journey, ‘it being the duty of his place,’ the Commissioners indignantly annotate, while even a deputy took £8 or £10 when he went. Mansell himself was almost sublime; he afterwards claimed £10,000 for travelling expenses during his term of office.[856] New posts were freely created and equally freely paid. Besides the various admirals who did nothing, there were a captain-general and two vice-admirals of the narrow seas, a storekeeper at Woolwich at £54, ‘while the store not worth forty shillings,’ and a surveyor of tonnage whose duty it was to survey merchant ships of 100 tons and upwards claiming the bounty, and who was accused on all sides of embezzling half the sums paid by the crown to the merchants.

The Administration:—Sir Robert Mansell.

When Mansell resigned, he sent in to the Commissioners of 1618, only an uncertified abstract of his payments for the preceding five years. The Commissioners remarked that ‘they being noways vouched or subscribed by the officers we can give no satisfaction of the state of his accounts, being only his own assertions,’[857] and the criticism fairly generalises Mansell’s system of financial control even where not tainted with absolute fraud. Notwithstanding his defiance of the abortive order for inquiry issued in 1613, and his consequent temporary imprisonment, he was sufficiently in favour three years later to receive a present of £10,000 from the king on the occasion of his marriage.[858] Proved dishonesty or incapacity barred no one from the favour of James I, provided the culprit was sufficiently good-looking or had influential friends; and although the evidence laid before the Commission of 1608 and the Commissioners’ report thereon should have amply sufficed to send Mansell to the Tower, his ascendancy with Nottingham enabled him to continue in office for a further ten years. Shortly after his appointment he and Sir John Trevor, the Surveyor of the Navy took steps to provide all the requisite stores themselves, thus making large gains on the articles sold[192] by them to the king, and in direct contempt of the rules made by Burleigh twenty years before. Not only was timber ordered three or four times over for the same purpose,[859] but on that item alone Mansell was accused of making a fraudulent profit of £5000 in some four years, and, in conjunction with Sir John Trevor, of obtaining upwards of £7000 in the same time by the differences between the prices paid for pitch, tar, masts, etc., and those charged to the crown.[860] He, Pett, and Trevor, were joint owners of a ship built of government materials and furnished with government stores, which was hired to the king as a transport to go to Spain when Nottingham went there as ambassador in 1605, and for which the State paid, but ‘the same ship was at that time employed in a merchant’s voyage and so entered in the custom-house books.’[861]

Hawkyns had introduced the practice of paying over money at once to merchants supplying the various requisites for the Navy on deduction of threepence in the pound, an allowance they were well pleased to make in view of the prompt payment, while he had to wait long for his accounts to be settled. Mansell still deducted the threepence but did not pay. He stopped sixpence a month from the seamen’s wages for the Chatham Chest, but ‘falls presently into raging passions and pangs when they call for it.’[862] But Mansell was by no means the only one of the superior officers who helped himself out of this fund. Charges of embezzlement, in its crudest form, were made against him in that he certified for more wages than were actually paid—£1000 in one year alone—and that he retained the proceeds of such government stores as were sold.[863] It must be remembered that these accusations were not anonymous attacks, such as were made against Hawkyns, but charges deliberately formulated by a court of inquiry which he never dared to face. It may be truer to say that he was indifferent; it is possible that a portion of his ill-earned fortune went in purchasing immunity. And it is an argument in favour of this view that his dismissal from office did not destroy his influence at court. He was chosen to command the expensive and resultless Algiers expedition of 1620-21, and his subsequent disgrace was due to causes independent of his failure as a seaman or his dishonesty as an administrator.

The Administration:—Abuses and Remedies.

Norreys, writing to Sir John Coke about the Navy in 1603, says ‘To say truth the whole body is so corrupted as there is no sound part almost from the head to the foot; the great ones feed on the less and enforce them to steal both for themselves and[193] their commanders.’[864] Abuses unknown during the lifetime of Hawkyns had sprung into existence shortly after his death, although they might have been then easily checked had Grevill been succeeded by one determined to destroy them. Delay in paying off ships, to the discontent of the men and extra expense of the government, combinations between captains, pursers, and victuallers to return false musters, and the practice of selling appointments to minor posts were all, according to reliable evidence begun about 1597 or 1598.[865] We know that theft was prevalent enough under Elizabeth, but it occurred in the shape of peddling offences, committed by the delinquents at their peril, that the authorities did their best to crush, instead of an organised system in which the latter took the lion’s share. Under James ‘the chief Officers bear themselves insolently, depending on powerful friends at court;’ and ‘the shipwrights and others are ordered, commanded, and countermanded in their work by chief Officers who know nothing about it, so that the meanest merchantman is better rigged and canvassed than the royal ships.’ The insolence and ignorance here described speak of conditions very different from those that had obtained under the iron hand of Elizabeth. In 1608 the scandal caused by these and other circumstances was so great as to compel inquiry, whether the determining cause was the contrivance of Sir Robert Cotton or of others. A commission was issued to the Earls of Nottingham and Northampton, Lord Zouch, Sir Ed. Wotton, Sir Julius Cæsar, Cotton, and others, of whom only Nottingham was an experienced seaman, and he never attended their meetings.[866] The sittings of the commission extended from May 1608 until June 1609; they commenced with an ‘elegant’ speech from the Earl of Northampton, a voluminous report was compiled, and the only punishment the culprits experienced was that of suffering ‘an oration’ from James, in which he trusted that the guilty persons would behave better in future, and with that patient and saintly hope the proceedings ended. How some of his hearers must have longed for one hour of the dead Queen.

Among the malpractices examined into at some length by the commissioners was the sale and purchase of places, already referred to. Hugh Lidyard was made clerk of the checque at Woolwich by Sir John Trevor, for which he was to pay Trevor[194] £20 yearly and a hogshead of wine; another witness deposed that ‘of late years the general way of preferment is by money and few that he knoweth ... come freely to their places.’ Pursers paid from £70 to £120 for their posts, boatswains £20, and cooks £30. Robert Hooker gave Edward Masters, of Nottingham’s household, £130 for the pursership of the Repulse, this he sold for the same amount and bought that of the Quittance for £100. His profit he made by victualling the men for sixpence a day, and he admitted that at least ten more men were carried on the books than were on board. Naturally, as promotion went by length of purse,

‘the officers put in and keep in whom they list though they be never so unfit, and put out whom they list though never so fit, and woe be to him that taketh exception to any man though he be never so unruly ... it breaketh the hearts of them that are worthy.’

It was equally natural that men who had paid heavily for their employments were unscrupulous in recouping themselves. ‘The captains being for the most part poor gentlemen did mend their fortunes by combining with the pursers,’ who were in league with the victuallers to send in returns of more men than were on board the ships. Boatswains and gunners sold their stores, shipwrights stole timber, and captains sheltered and took bribes from pirates, or turned their vessels into merchantmen to enable owners of goods to evade payment of customs. The Surveyors of victualling were accused of overcharging and of frauds to at least £4000, in four years.

The Reorganisation of 1618.

James had every reason to sharply check the waste going on, for the crown debt, which was only £400,000 at his accession, had mounted to £1,000,000 in 1608, while the deficit in revenue was £70,000 a year.[867] But ‘an oration’ in broad Scotch from the lips of the conceited pedant staggering under the weight of the Tudor crown did not prove an effective method of reform. The old knaveries continued even as though James had not made a speech. In 1613 Cotton attempted, through the intervention of Northampton and Rochester, to obtain another inquiry; but his efforts failed through the influence of Nottingham and the intrigues of Mansell. In 1618 the naval administration was worse than ever, and other departments were equally corrupt; ‘the household was one mass of peculation, and extravagance.’[868] Even now Sir Lionel Cranfield, who was the moving spirit in the endeavour to purify the public service, might have failed had not Buckingham himself desired to occupy the post of Lord Admiral. Nottingham at last retired with a gratuity of £3000 and another pension of £1000 a year. Mansell was succeeded,[195] from the 10th May 1618, by Sir William Russell, a merchant, who paid him for his place and who was wealthy enough to advance subsequently £30,000 towards fitting out the Cadiz expedition of 1625.[869] It is probable that, from his lack of technical knowledge, Russell’s direction, if more honest than Mansell’s, would have been as unsuccessful had he been entrusted with control, but his duties were financial only and confined to the keeping of accounts. The other officers were ‘sequestered from their posts’ and their business entrusted to a board of Navy Commissioners, appointed for five years and responsible to the Lord Admiral. Of the Commissioners, Sir John Coke was the leading spirit and received £300 a year; one was in charge of Chatham, with a salary of £200 a year; another, William Burrell, a shipbuilder, was placed at Deptford to supervise all building and repairs, for which he received £300 a year; and Thomas Norreys acted as Surveyor with £200 a year.[870] Immediate benefit was obtained from the reform; the fleet and dockyards were kept in repair, theft was checked, and two new ships a year were built in five consecutive years, all for less money than Mansell had squandered in doing nothing efficiently. Buckingham appears, also, to have not only given his subordinates a loyal support but to have been honestly anxious to obtain the best men for the service, and to render officers and sailors contented. The chronic emptiness, however, of the treasury, for which he was largely answerable, made his endeavours in this last direction of less avail.

The Navy Commissioners.

The new Commissioners,[871] on entering office, sent in a report of the state of affairs they found existing in the various naval departments;[872] all the frauds of 1608 were still flourishing, with some new ones due to the lapse of time. Places were still sold, and at such high prices that the buyers ‘profess openly that they cannot live unless they may steal’; the cost of the Navy had of late been some £53,000 a year, ‘that could not keep it from decay.’ For building a new ship in place of the Bonaventure £5700 had been allowed but, although £1700 had been paid on account of it, no new vessel had been commenced, and though this same ship ‘was broken up above seven years past yet the King hath paid £63 yearly for keeping her.’ Further, ‘the Advantage was burnt about five years since and yet keepeth at the charge of £104, 9s 5d; the Charles was disposed of in Scotland two years since and costeth £60, 16s 10d for keeping.’ For repairing the Merhonour, Defiance, Vanguard, and Dreadnought, £23,500 had been paid


‘for which eight new ships might have been built as the accounts of the East India Company do prove; yet all this while the King’s ships decayed and if the Merhonour were repaired she was left so imperfect that before her finishing she begins again to decay.’

In nine years £108,000 had been charged for cordage, and the Commissioners express their intention of reducing the expenditure on this item by two-thirds.

At a later date some of the Commissioners themselves did not escape suspicion. In 1623 Sir John Coke, still the leading member, wrote to Conway that all went well until the Algiers voyage, but that he then suspected that some of his colleagues were selling their own wares to the government. They, of course, denied the allegation when Coke was frank enough to openly tax them with it, but ‘ever since I carried a watchful eye over them and employed fit persons to discover their dealings.’[873] A man like Coke was probably not popular even among those with whom he was associated, still less with the gang whose deceits and illicit gains he had greatly helped to terminate. We may read something of the temper and feelings of the discarded Navy Officers in his appeal for protection against Sir Guilford Slingsby, a year later, who had threatened that, unless he was restored to office by Lady day, Coke should not outlive that date.[874] Slingsby was reappointed Comptroller by Charles I and then again gave evidence of his peculiar qualifications for the exercise of authority over others. But there is no doubt that the administration of the Commissioners was pure enough compared with that of Mansell. Their failures were due to causes they were unable to deal with, such as want of money and the bad treatment of the men. So far as the latter were concerned the Commissioners did not—and probably had no power to—reverse the disposition to employ landsmen of influence as captains who were out of sympathy with their men and had no care for their feelings or interests. It was in this and the succeeding reign that there grew up that bitter hatred and contempt for gentlemen captains, to which seamen so often gave expression for a century afterwards, and of which traces are to be found in the present century.

At the close of their first five years of office the Commissioners sent in a report of the work done by them.[875] They said that whereas they found in 1618 twenty-three serviceable and ten unserviceable ships, of altogether 15,670 tons, four decayed galleys and four hoys, costing £53,000 a year, they[197] have now thirty-five serviceable vessels of 19,339 tons, besides the hoys and galleys, and the expense has been little more than £30,000 a year, including the charges for building ten new ships.

Naval Expenditure.

This last amount does not coincide with those given in the table below, from the Pipe Office Accounts, but that may be from the inclusion in the latter of extraneous expenses, such as the Algiers expedition, considered by the Commissioners to be outside the range of their comparison:—[876]

Amount received Victualling Sea Charges Total spent Stores Ordinary Extra-ordinary
1603 £42619 £32920 £13247 £42271
1604 24000 12469 6248 24002 £9616 £6789
1605 29000 16042 9760 28672 7312 £22493
1606 22100 10156 18984
1607 21000 9452 2896 25200 11000 5242 19900
1608 38424 12103 6859 36554
1609 42400 10200 43396
1610 36607 10432 36358
1611 42300 8670 3428 40153 25520 8143 31921
1612 34200 8672 3934 33930 8867
1613 50355 19625 8814 55987[877] 25000 10100 45786
1614 48463 15275 7996 56848
1615 45643 15387 7764 57968 16295 8313
1616 40515 12886 7800 41269 15268 4625
1617 31213 13716 25548
1618 10465 5165 27489 8000
1619 31606 6324 32610 2355 5789
1620 38300 14680 2960[878] 35872 5936
1621 54264 23369 2945[879] 51000 10723
1622 52385 11143 7765 45450 13011[880]
1623 59200 23414 24000 62000[881]
1624 26529 6430 3079 31125

Seamen’s wages remained unchanged till the end of the reign when the rate reached fourteen shillings a month, and the pay of the officers was raised in 1618. Not only was it difficult to keep the men on board the ships, but the expensive and wasteful system of impressment made the eventual outlay even heavier. In 1624 an estimate was drawn up of the expenses for fitting out a fleet of twelve men-of-war: 3000 men were required, of which number the river was to supply 800 at press and conduct money of 2s 6d a man, the remaining 2200 being obtained from ‘remote places’ at a cost of eight shillings a man. At their discharge one shilling and seven shillings a man conduct money respectively, for the[198] river and country districts would again have to be paid. The total estimate for twelve men-of-war for five months, and fifty merchantmen for six months, was, £94,874, a sum which shows the great increase in prices since the days of Elizabeth, and partly explains the rise in the yearly expenditure.[882]


Piracy, though still a school for seamanship, was no longer the flourishing business it had been under Elizabeth; the trade, to use a modern phrase, was ‘cut up.’ Spanish commerce was almost destroyed in northern latitudes, and the Dutch was well able to protect itself, while new competitors were found in the Mediterranean rovers who hovered round the English coasts and even stretched out into the North Atlantic, and in the fast sailing Dunkirk privateers who swarmed in the Channel. In 1605 Hannibal Vivian wrote from the west country, ‘let it not offend you that I inform you from time to time of the piracies and depredations daily committed on this coast.’ However repugnant piracy may have been to some of the officials it commended itself still to many natives of the western counties. Out of one pirate crew, thirty-five in number, seventeen belonged to Dartmouth and Kingswear, and the mayor and others of Plymouth were accused of buying the stolen goods and favouring the escape of the men. The government appeared helpless; if they sent ships to sea the captains ‘pretend to pursue, and when well away in some distant port write up that a leak had been sprung, obtain warrants to repair in port, and so remain for the captain’s benefit.’ Sometimes they even took the pirates’ goods on board and sheltered the criminals themselves. If any of the corsairs were caught the general opinion among them that they were only liable ‘to a little lazy imprisonment,’ was usually justified by results. Ireland was said to be ‘the nursery and storehouse of pirates,’[883] for, besides providing its own quota of sea-rovers it offered the hospitality of its ports to those vessels belonging to the Barbary corsairs that required repair.[884]

In 1616 the weakness of the Crown was shown by a warrant being granted to two London merchants to prepare a ship to go pirate hunting with permission to retain for themselves three-fourths of the goods seized.[885] About this time there was a fleet of thirty Turkish ships in the Atlantic, and another Salleeman had recently been captured in the Thames;[886] between 1609 and 1616 the Algerines had captured 466 British ships and reduced their crews to slavery,[887] and in the latter[199] year Sir Francis Cottington wrote to Buckingham that their strength and boldness exceeded all previous experience. Mansell’s voyage of 1620-21 cost at least £34,000, and probably much more, but ‘such was the misgovernment of those ships,’[888] that within a few weeks of his return an Algerine fleet was at work again in the narrow seas. The inhabitants of Swanage seem to have been especially nervous since they petition for a block-house, ‘the Turks being grown exceedingly audacious.’ Matters grew even worse towards the close of the reign. Some Weymouth merchants desired to fit out ships of their own to deal with the incubus terrorising commerce, but permission was refused, mainly because it was injurious to the Lord Admiral’s profits and ‘dishonourable to the King.’ Others, however, of the Weymouth tradesmen dealt with the robbers, and the local Admiralty officers were supposed to connive at the traffic.[889]

The Lizard light was objected to because ‘it will conduct pirates,’ and to most people it will read strangely now that it was forbidden at the instance of the Trinity Corporation. The Newfoundland Company, in asking for assistance, said that since 1612 damage to the amount of £40,000 had been committed by the marauders, and that over 1000 men had been forced or persuaded to join them.[890] One of the freebooters was admiral of a large pirate fleet. In 1624 the Navy Commissioners were desired to certify how many men-of-war would be required to clear the southern and western coasts, just as they had often enough before been required to certify; the process seldom proceeded further.

The Merchant Marine.

That ‘merchantmen dare hardly sail’ was scarcely a condition of things conducive to commercial enterprise. Piracy was becoming a more serious drawback than formerly because ships were bigger and more costly, the network of commerce more sensitive and complex, and losses could no longer be recouped by successful privateering on a small scale. Little can be said of the merchant shipping of these years, as the returns of available ships, so frequently occurring among the Elizabethan papers, are entirely absent for this period. But all the notices of trade met with, are invariably characterised by lamentation. The Dutch were said to be obtaining the carrying trade owing to the greater cheapness with which their vessels were built and worked, the difference in their favour being as much as one-third of the English owner’s demand for freight. In 1620 it was stated that the number of London-owned ships had fallen to one-half of that of former years, and, as accounting for part of the decrease, we have a certificate for 1618 of vessels belonging to the river[200] but lately sold for want of employment.[891] The list in question shows an enormous depreciation in value, since none of them could have been very old:—

Tons Guns Cost Sold for
£ £
Neptune 500 30 5000 1500
Paragon 280 24 3200 1000
Martha 250 20 2400 500
Industry 350 26 4500 2000
Clement and Job 300 24 3600 1000

The building price here almost certainly does not include the cost of ordnance, while it is probable that the sale price does, and it will be noticed that these merchantmen are nearly as strongly armed as men-of-war. Complaints came from all quarters: the Muscovy Company had employment for only two instead of seventeen ships, as in former days, and the Norway trade was ‘in pawn to the Dutch’; the Levant Company found its trade destroyed by piracy, and still more by the competition of the Dutch, who now sent one hundred ships a year to the Mediterranean. The greater portion of the Newcastle coal traffic was carried on in foreign bottoms; there were some twenty vessels trading to Spain and Portugal, and fifty or sixty to the North German ports, but in both cases the Dutch trade was now far greater than ours; and the fisheries in English waters were entirely in the hands of the Hollanders who were reputed to make a profit of £1,000,000 a year from that which under a stronger sovereign would have been held for England. The Newfoundland and Iceland fisheries, which employed 150 and 120 sail respectively, were still chiefly in English hands, but the Greenland, to which fifteen sail were sent, had to face the ubiquitous Dutch competitor.[892]

During this reign the most flourishing association was the East India Company, although its profits were not so large as were those of its Dutch rival.[893] In twenty years it had despatched eighty-six ships, of which eleven had been seized by the Dutch, and fourteen had been wrecked or worn out, and the estimation in which it was held is shown by its being more heavily assessed towards the expenses of the Algiers expedition than was any other company. This association attempted, in 1613, to start iron and shipbuilding works near Cork, but was forced, by the hostility of the natives, to discontinue the enterprise. The largest merchantman built[201] during the reign of James, the Trade’s Increase of 1100 tons, was constructed for the East India Company. With a smaller ship, the Peppercorn of 250 tons, it was launched in January 1610, and there are some curious notes by the captain of the Peppercorn describing the event.[894] On Saturday, 30th December the king came down to name the two ships, but every attempt to launch them failed, and continued efforts on the Sunday, ‘God made fruitless that day.’ On 1st Jan. the Peppercorn was launched, and it was only then found that the dockhead was too narrow to let the Trade’s Increase pass. On the Wednesday, however, she was got clear and the captain of the Peppercorn complains that ‘on this ship was all the Company’s pride set; she was altogether regarded, tended and followed while the other, the Peppercorn was left in manner desolate.’ The Trades Increase was wrecked in 1613 on her first voyage. The hire of merchantmen taken up for government service was still two shillings a month per ton; and the bounty of five shillings a ton on new and suitable vessels ceased in 1624, only to be renewed early in the next reign for similar ships.

Merchants, generally, were liable to the exactions and dishonesty of the officials of the Customs department as much as in the previous reign. But by this time the two formerly antagonistic interests seem to have come to a working arrangement. We are told that merchants and the farmers of the customs were now in partnership, and that goods were cleared on payment of little or no duty. The importation or exportation of prohibited wares was only a matter of terms; and, altogether, the king was frequently defrauded of 75% of the customs.[895] The collection of light dues was placed in the hands of the customs’ farmers, and, when a licence to build a lighthouse at Dungeness was granted to Sir Edward Howard in 1615, they had to receive the one penny a ton payable from all ships passing it. At Winterton there was also another light, and the receipts were £1000, of which, £350 went in expenses.[896] As the Trinity House claimed the control of the coast lights as a part of its privileges, there was a good deal of litigation on the subject during the reign.

The Navy List.

In the following list[897] certain vessels, the Defiance, Dreadnought, Merhonour, and Repulse have been admitted as rebuilt and new, although it is quite possible that, notwithstanding the large sums spent upon them, they were only more or less badly repaired.


Built Rebuilt Burden Ton and Tonnage Guns Keel Beam Depth
ft. ft. ft.
Nonsuch[898] 1603 636 38 88 34 15
Assurance[899] 1603 600 38 95 33 14.6
Speedwell[900] 1607 400
Anne Royal[901] 1608 800 44 103 37 16
Lion’s Whelp 1608 90
Red Lion[902] 1609 650 38 91 35.2 16
Due Repulse 1610 700 40 97 37 15
Prince Royal 1610 1200 55 115 43.6 18
Phœnix 1612 250 20 70 24 11
Primrose 1612
Merhonour[903] 1612 800 44 104 38 17
Dreadnought 1612 450 32 84 31 13
Defiance 1612 700 40 97 37 15
Vanguard 1615 650 40 102 35 14
Seven Stars 1615 140 14 60 20 9
Convertine[904] 1616 500 34
Desire 1616 80 6 66 16 6
Rainbow[905] 1618 650 40 102 35 14
Antelope 1618 450 34 92 32 12.6
Happy Entrance 1619 437 582 32 96 32.6 14
Constant Reformation 1619 564 752 42 106 35.6 15
Victory 1620 656 875 42 108 35.9 17
Garland 1620 512 683 34 93 33 16
Swiftsure 1621 650 887 42 106 36.10 16.8
Bonaventure 1621 506 675 34 98 33 15.8
St George 1622 671 895 42 110 37 16.6
St Andrew 1622 671 895 42 110 37 16.6
Triumph 1623 692 922 42 110 37 17
Mary Rose 1623 288 394 26 83 27

Two other third-rates, the Mercury and Spy, were built in 1620 by Phineas Pett—who went as captain of one of them—for some London merchants to go with the Algiers fleet. By a warrant of August 1622 they were ordered to be taken into the Navy, but their names do not appear in any list of James or Charles.

Of the nineteen vessels added to the Navy during Mansell’s term of office two were commenced before his appointment, one was bought, two of the five new ones were mere pinnaces, and of the remainder most were very expensive repairs rather than rebuildings.

The New Ships.

In 1603 James had resolved to have three ships built, but the Nonsuch and Assurance, both ordered before his accession, were the only quasi new ones. Although no real accessions[203] were made for some years James took sufficient pride in his fleet to be eager to show it to visitors; in 1606 he ordered all the available vessels ‘to be rigged and put in warlike order’ preparatory to a visit from himself and the King of Denmark, which took place in August. In 1610 the Prince of Brunswick came to see the Navy. In 1608 the Ark Royal, Nottingham’s flagship in 1588, was rebuilt, and her name which should have lived in popular memory with that of the Golden Hind, changed to the Anne Royal, in honour of the commonplace Queen. She was rechristened by Sir Oliver Cromwell. The Swiftsure, rebuilt and renamed the Speedwell, is noteworthy as being the first important English man-of-war lost by misadventure at sea since the Mary Rose foundered in 1545. She went ashore near Flushing in November 1624, a mischance that her captain—Chudleigh—attributed to a drunken pilot.[906] He, at any rate, lost all control over his crew, whose discipline seems to have been quite unequal to the sudden strain of an unexpected accident. Of Mansell’s rebuildings the most striking points are the amounts spent—nearly £60,000 can be traced in the Pipe Office Accounts—and the time taken, ships being usually two, three, or four years in hand.

It was probably due to the express desire of James that on 20th October, 1608 the keel was laid of the Prince Royal of 1200 tons, the largest ship yet designed for the Navy. Under the new rules of measurement in force in 1632, she was certified as of 1035 net, and 1330 gross tonnage. Her construction was assigned to Phineas Pett, and many intrigues, reaching even the Court, centred round her. The other shipwrights were both jealous and critical, and openly expressed their disapprobation both of the material used and the manner in which it was employed. In 1609, Baker, now an old man of seventy-nine years, but still in active employment, William Bright, Edward Stevens, and some other shipwrights, with Waymouth as an unofficial expert, were ordered to report on the execution of the work. Pett did not like Waymouth, whom he describes in his autobiography as ‘great kilcow Waymouth,’ and ‘a great braggadocio, a vain and idle fellow.’ Baker, and perhaps some of the others must have been chosen on the governmental principle of setting personal enemies to inspect each other’s performances, seeing that he had not long before stated on oath that he thought both the Petts ‘simple’ and quite unfit to be entrusted with the production of a large ship.[907] Pett naturally had little love for Baker, although he had years before attempted to be friendly with the veteran, begging him not to so easily credit[204] malicious reports, and ascribing all his knowledge of his art, ‘if I have any,’ to the elder man.[908] But the system that made it to each man’s pecuniary interest to obtain as many ships as possible to build and repair, and to exert all his personal influence to that end, converted the dockyards into nests of intrigue.

Pett was protected by Nottingham and Mansell, and ‘he is reported to be their right hand and they cannot do without him,’ said Bright, another of Pett’s competitors, and who was therefore chosen to sit in judgment upon him. Nottingham, Suffolk and Worcester were then appointed to make further inquiry, and their report being satisfactory, and therefore displeasing to Northampton, the latter desired another investigation, which the King acceded to by naming a day when he would examine the vessel and hear the conflicting evidence himself. He and Prince Henry came to Woolwich on 8th May 1609, and after a long day of scrutiny and discussion, Pett emerged triumphant from the ordeal. Time, however, was on the side of the objectors. The Prince Royal was never subjected to any serious work, but in 1621 the Commissioners wrote to Buckingham that she was then only fit for show, that she cost in the first instance, £20,000, and would require another £6000 to make her fit for service, and that she was built of decaying timber and green unseasoned stuff.[909] These were the very points on which Baker and his fellows had insisted, and on which they had been defeated in 1609. She attracted universal attention when building. The King, the Prince of Wales, Princess Elizabeth, and the French ambassador came several times to visit her when approaching completion, and ‘nobles, gentry, and citizens from all parts of the country round,’ resorted to Woolwich. An attempt to launch her was made on the 24th September 1610, the whole of the Royal family being present, but, as in the case of the Trades Increase, the dockhead was too narrow to permit her to pass. A second essay was more successful.

The Prince Royal was the first three-decker built for the English Navy.[910] She was gorgeously decorated, according to the taste of the time, with carvings and ‘curious paintings, the like of which was never in any ship before.’ She was double-planked, ‘a charge which was not formerly thought upon, and all the butt-heads were double bolted with iron[205] bolts.’[911] There is one payment of £868 for her painting and gilding, work done by Robert Peake and Paul Isackson, the latter of whom belonged to a family for several generations employed in decorating men-of-war. The four upper strakes were ornamented with gilt and painted badges, arms and ‘mask heads,’ and the Prince’s cabin was ‘very curiously wrought with divers histories.’ Carving cost £441, and included fourteen ‘great lions’ heads for the round ports.’[912]

The Commissioners’ Improvements.

It was possibly the result of Cotton’s abortive effort in 1613 to procure a further inquiry into the administration, that several of the old ships were rebuilt about that time, but, as the Commissioners subsequently remarked, at prices that would have more than provided new ones in their stead. It was not until the Navy Commission took control in 1618 that the systematic production of new ships was commenced. It will be seen from the preceding list that from that date they carried out for five years their expressed intention of adding two ships a year to the Navy. They also made certain recommendations, to be kept in view by themselves and their successors, that embodied improvements, perhaps the result of the trenchant criticisms of the beginning of the reign.[913]

The fleet was to average thirty seagoing ships, and building was to be confined to Deptford, where two vessels could be worked upon simultaneously. The length of keel was to be treble the breadth, ‘but not to draw above sixteen feet because deeper ships are seldom good sailors,’ besides, ‘they must be somewhat snug-built, without double galleries and too lofty upperworks, which overcharge many ships and make them loom fair but not work well at sea.’ It is no reproach to the Commissioners, who could but act on the best professional advice obtainable, to have to remark that their ships were nearly as crank as their predecessors, and all required to be furred or girdled to make them at all trustworthy in a seaway; and at a later date, even the smaller stern galleries given them excited much adverse criticism.

They continue,

‘For strengthening the ship we subscribe to the new manner of building—1st, making three orlops, whereof the lowest being placed two feet under water, strengtheneth the ship though her sides be shot through; 2nd, to carry this orlop end to end; 3rd, the second or main deck to be sufficiently high to work guns in all weathers.’

From this it is evident that the orlop deck as built in the Merhonour, Garland, and Defiance of 1589 did not run the whole length of the ship, and that if the ‘new manner’ is to[206] be accepted literally, even the Prince Royal was not a two-decker. Cooking galleys were to be placed in the forecastle, as the weights carried at each end with a comparatively empty midship section caused ‘hogging,’ besides wasting valuable stowage space and producing other inconveniences. Wynter had recommended this forty years before, but the new regulation remained inoperative for some time longer. The lower ports were now to be at least four and a half feet above the water line. Most of the Commissioners’ ships were built with three decks, but with smaller and lower superstructures on the upper deck than had been previously customary. Bad as they were they seem to have been steadier than their predecessors.

An undated State Paper, calendared under 1627, but which from its arguments in favour of a third deck—a question finally closed long before 1627—more probably belongs to this period, gives us some particulars of the internal arrangements of a man-of-war. The lowest deck was to carry the bread and other store-rooms, the cables and officers’ cabins, besides a certain number of the crew who were also to be berthed upon it. The second deck was to be laid five and a half or six feet above this, and in a ship like the Lion was to be pierced for nine ports a side, and four chase-ports fore and aft. The ports were to be at least two feet three inches square, ‘and that there be built between every two ports hanging cabins to fold up to the decks for the lodging of men.’ Otherwise this deck was to be kept clear instead of being hampered by the cables stowed upon it in two-decked ships. Readers desirous of technical details relating to the position and dimensions of floor, timbers, riders, butts, carlings, clamps, foot and chain waling, standing and running rigging, etc., will find much exact information in the State Papers of the next reign dealing with the surveys taken of most of the new and old ships in 1626 and 1627.

The Commissioners ordered that the Elizabeth and Triumph should be sold; £600 is entered in the accounts as received for their hulls in 1618, although as late as 1615, £537 had been spent in repairing them. The Mercury had been sold in Ireland in 1611, the Foresight condemned in 1604, the Quittance and Tremontana were to be broken up, and the hulls of the Garland and Mary Rose were to be used for a wharf in conjunction with a proposed new dock at Chatham. The Bonaventure, Charles, and Advantage had long ceased to exist, and the St Andrew and St Matthew had been given to Sir John Leigh in 1604 as being then no longer servicable. The Victory is said to have been rebuilt into the Prince Royal, but the connection is not altogether clear. In one[207] paper[914] of 1610, there is a distinct, and apparently conclusive statement, occurring twice over, ‘The Victory now named the Prince Royal.’ On the other hand Cotton, in his report of 1608,[915] writes, in discussing the waste and embezzlement of material,

‘Thus did the Victory for the transportation, dockinge, and breaking uppe stand the King in fower or five hundred poundes and yet noe one parte of her serviceable to any use about the buildinge of a new as was pretended for a coulour. To conclude, though we set her at the rate of 200ˡⁱ yet it had been better absolutely for the King to have given her away to the poor than to have bin put to the charge of bringing her from Chattam to Wollich noe other use having bin made of her than to furnish Phinees Pette (that was the only author of her preservation) with fewell for the dyette of those carpenters which he victualled.’

This also appears conclusive. A possible explanation lies in the fact that, the Victory having ceased to exist, the Prince Royal may have been laid down in that name, and afterwards changed to the later appellation.

The four galleys were a source of constant expense, one or the other being in continual need of repair, rebuilding, or shed protection from the weather. They were never used, and in 1629, having ‘been long laid aside as useless vessels’ were ordered to be sold. The new Antelope and Rainbow of 1618 were not claimed by the Commissioners as among the vessels of which they should have the credit although they were both completed after their entry into office. The Happy Entrance and Constant Reformation were launched in the presence of the King at Deptford, and were named by him with intent to commemorate Buckingham’s accession to his post and the good effects to be expected from it. In 1624 no new vessels were built and the last Navy list of James I is as follows:—[916]

First rank Second rank Third rank Fourth rank
Prince Repulse Dreadnought Phœnix
Bear Warspite Antelope Seven Stars
Merhonour Victory Speedwell Charles
Anne Royal Assurance Adventure Desire
Nonsuch Convertine
Defiance Happy Entrance
Lion Bonaventure
Vanguard Garland
Rainbow Mary Rose
Constant Reformation
St George
St Andrew


There were also the four galleys and some hoys; eleven of the vessels were noted as needing more or less substantial repairs and most of the old ones were broken-backed. The ten new ships cost £6 a ton for the larger and £5, 6s 8d for the smaller ones, against £16 a ton under Mansell’s improvident management, but these prices were for the hulls and spars alone.[917] According to the Pipe Office Accounts the cost of the Happy Entrance and Constant Reformation was £8850; of the Victory and Garland £7640, which included masts and spars, carving and painting; of the Swiftsure and Bonaventure £9969, and here an additional £1169 was paid for sails, anchors, and fittings; of the St George and St Andrew £9632, and £1306 more for fittings down to boats and flags; and £8106 for the Triumph and Mary Rose. Taking them from Deptford to Chatham varied between £73 and £418, doubtless depending on the number of men employed and the time occupied. Burrell’s contracts for 1619 were at £7, 10s and £8 a ton, and the £5, 6s 8d and £6 quoted above were only due to the fact that the ten ships measured 1899 tons more than was expected which reduced the average.[918] He apparently had to bear the loss; no alteration was made in the way of calculating tonnage during the reign.

There is little to be said about any improvements in rigging or canvas during this period. Fore and aft sails are still absent; studding sails and booms are spoken of in the Nomenclator Navalis,[919] but are not alluded to in any naval document. It may be of interest to quote from the same manuscript the rules governing the proportions of masts and yards.

Mainmast three times four-fifths of the beam.
Foremast four-fifths of mainmast.
Bowsprit do. do.
Mizenmast one-half of mainmast.
Topmasts half the length of lower masts.
Main yard five-sixths of length of keel.
Fore yard four-fifths of mainyard.
Top yard three-sevenths of mainyard.
Cross-jack yard four-fifths of mainyard.
Spritsail yard do. do.

Baker, Pett, and Burrell were the three chief shipwrights of the reign; Ed. Stevens, John Adye, Wm. Bright, Clay, Hen. Goddard, and Maryott were less known men. Baker died on 31st August 1613 at the age of eighty-three. As a boy and man he had seen the rise of the modern Navy, and had himself[209] largely helped by his skill to produce the type of ship that was found sufficient for that age. That during the whole of his long life he appears, so far as existing records show, to have quarrelled with, or spoken ill of, equals, inferiors, and superiors may be charitably attributed rather to the unfortunate conditions governing a shipwright’s position than to any natural bent of character. The writings or utterances of other shipwrights, that have come down to us, show them to have been in no way superior to Baker in these respects. The ships built by him represented sound and honest work. He died in harness while in charge of the repairs of the Merhonour which had been built under his superintendence twenty-four years previously, and he was long remembered as ‘the famous artist of his time.’

Pett had been favoured by Nottingham and Mansell but does not appear to have experienced the same partiality from the Commissioners. They chiefly employed Burrell, who had previously been master shipwright to the East India Company, but during the next reign Pett came again into favour, and was made a principal Officer and Commissioner for the Navy shortly after Burrell’s death in 1630. The master shipwrights received two shillings a day and lodging money, but all these men had extra allowances, partly dating from the last reign. Baker had a pension of £40 a year, besides his Exchequer fee and payments from the Navy Treasurer. Bright had one shilling and eightpence a day which had been originally given to Richard Chapman for building the Ark Royal, and had been continued in whole or part to him. Pett’s Exchequer fee had been retained in the family since it was first granted in the second year of Mary’s reign.[920] Probably the orthodox scale of wages would not alone have retained these men in the royal service and the pensions were used to make their posts more valuable.


Deptford was still the principal yard, but Chatham was rapidly coming into greater importance; Portsmouth is hardly mentioned. In 1610 the dry dock at Deptford was enlarged and a paling made round the yard,[921] and in the same year there is a charge of £34, 19s for tools to make cordage at Woolwich. By 1612 cordage was being made there at £28 a ton, and in 1614 the ropehouse was extended at a cost of £368, and 305 tons of cordage made there in the year.[922] It was, however, still far from supplying the needs of the Navy since in 1617 cordage to £10,400 was bought. A Dutchman, Harman Branson, superintended the rope factory, at a salary of £50 a year. In 1619 the wooden fence at Deptford was replaced by a brick wall; the only reference[210] to Portsmouth is for the cost, in 1623, of ‘filling up the great dock there, and ramming the mouth of the said dock with rock stones for the better preserving of the yard against the violence of the sea.’[923] This was the end of the earliest dry dock in England. A dock had been frequently urged for Chatham, but it was not until the Commissioners came into power that the matter was seriously taken up. They at once devoted their attention to the Medway, for which one reason may have been the great cost attendant on the removal, backwards and forwards, of ships between Chatham and Deptford. It has been mentioned that the hulls of the Garland and Mary Rose were used to support a dock wharf at Chatham; they were joined there by an old antagonist, the Nuestra Señora del Rosario. A sum of £61, 1s 3d was paid to

‘Thomas Wood, shipwright, and sundry other ... employed in digging out the old Spanish ship at Chatham, near the galley dock, clearing her of all the stubb ballast and other trash within board, making her swim, and removing near unto the mast dock where she was laid, and sunk for the defence and preservation of the wharf.’[924]

The old Spaniard, however, was not even yet at rest. In 1622 occurs the concise entry, ‘The hull of the ship called Don Pedroe broken up and taken away.’ The men of the seventeenth century were not emotional and saw no reason in a useless trophy. They did, in 1624, have a new wharf ‘made at Sir Francis Drake’s ship,’ but there were fees attached to the preservation of that.

In 1619 and 1620, two mast docks were made at Chatham, each 120 feet long, 60 feet broad, and five ‘flowers’ deep, and six acres of ground were enclosed with them.[925] A further great extension followed in the shape of a lease from Sir Robert Jackson of 70 or 80 acres of land, called ‘Lordslands,’ on a term of 100 years at £14 a year. Part of this was used for a new dock, part for a ropehouse now put up, and part for brick and lime kilns, etc.[926] The dock cost £2342, and a path, 137 rods long, was made to it from Chatham church.[927] From a new road having been necessary it would seem to have been quite apart from any previously existing buildings. In 1623 another dock was building under the direction of the shipwrights, and the lease of a house on Chatham Hill, for the use of the Officers, bought from the Dean and Chapter of Rochester.[928] In 1614 the principal Officers were lodged at Winchester House as there is a charge of £138, 8s 6d for its repair for their use, and a rent of £70 a year was paid; stores were also kept there.


The chain, placed by Hawkyns across the Medway at Upnor, is not again referred to until 1606, when it was partly repaired and partly renewed. But some time before 1623 it must have become worn out, as in that year it was replaced by a boom made of sixteen masts and forty-three cwt. of iron with cordage proportionate, at a cost of £238, 10s 5d; the hulls of two ships and two pinnaces were also devoted to the strengthening of the barricade. At the same time the water-way through St Mary’s creek was again blocked at a cost of upwards of £400.[929] This boom must have been very light, and its history was short and unfortunate, for in 1624 it was broken by ice and carried out to sea. It must have been quickly replaced since, from an incidental reference it existed in 1625, and in 1635 two small vessels, the Seven Stars and the Moon, were moored at each shore end for its protection. In the latter year it was said to be causing deposits of gravel and closing the fairway, and opinions oscillated between a new boom and an iron chain.

The dockyards shared the disorganisation of the other departments; notwithstanding the exposures of 1608 ten years later the storehouses at Deptford were said to be ‘full of rotten wood and bad cordage,’ the scales were light by one pound in the cwt., and while bad materials were knowingly received, the good were sold to boatswains and other ships’ officers at low prices. In 1624 Chatham yard remained uninclosed so that strangers came and took away timber, nails, or any portable article. In 1604 the stores at Deptford included 210 masts, 322 loads of timber, 41,000 feet of plank, 171 cables, 499 hawsers, 15 serviceable and 28 unserviceable anchors, 24 compasses, 40 bolts of canvas, 24,000 tree-nails, and many other articles down to ‘a decayed pitch pot,’ and it is likely that they were larger in number and better in quality at this date than at any time during the succeeding fifteen or sixteen years.[930] The value of Deptford yard was estimated at £5000, and it was at one time proposed to remove the whole plant to Chatham.[931]

So far as the staff were concerned the ‘ordinary’ of a dockyard included shipkeepers and inferior officers attached to ships lying up, Upnor Castle (for Chatham), clerical work, rents, watchmen, clerks, storekeepers, and the superior officers; the ‘extraordinary,’ shipwrights, carpenters, joiners, pumpmakers, sawyers, sailmakers, and bricklayers. In 1622 wages, per day, were: shipwrights 1s 2d to 2s; caulkers 7d to 2s; carpenters 1s 3d to 1s 10d; pumpmakers 1s 6d to 2s; joiners 1s 4d to 1s 8d; sailmakers 1s 8d; sawyers 1s 2d to 1s 4d; bricklayers 10d to 1s 6d; and labourers 8d or 9d.[932] All these[212] men, except the labourers, had lodging money, varying from 5s 4d in the case of the master shipwrights to so small a sum as twopence, and probably as an allowance by the week.

Ordnance and Ship Armament.

The armament of ships was still very heavy for their tonnage and accounted in some measure for their rolling proclivities and the impossibility of obtaining a comparatively steady gun platform. Sometimes it was necessary to dismount some of the guns,

‘The Dreadnought carries 36, yet four of them for seven years have been buried in her ballast, as some are also in the Answer and other ships.’[933]

This stowage of the guns strained the vessel dangerously and caused leaks, and, as gravel ballast was still employed, an injury was a very serious matter from the difficulty in reaching the damaged part. The following gives the number of guns carried by some of the ships, and their weights:—[934]

Cannon Periers Demi Cannon Culverins Demi Culverins Sakers Fawcons Portpieces Fowlers Weight
Tons cwts. qrs. lbs.
Prince Royal 2 6 12 18 13 4 83 8 0 21
White Bear 2 6 12 18 9 4 77 9 3 23
Merhonour 2 6 12 12 8 4 66 16 1 0
Anne Royal 2 5 12 13 8 4 64 15 2 4
Victory 2 2 16 12 4 2 4 42 0 0 25
Swiftsure 2 2 16 12 4 2 4 46 8 0 19
Constant Reformation 2 2 16 12 4 2 4 53 2 0 23
St George 2 2 16 12 4 2 2 2 47 15 2 24
St Andrew 2 2 16 12 4 2 4 52 2 3 20
Triumph 2 2 16 12 4 2 4 50 10 1 21
Defiance 2 2 14 12 4 2 4 55 17 0 25
Repulse 2 2 14 12 4 2 4 52 7 0 1

Comparison of the rebuilt ships with the armament they carried under Elizabeth is vitiated by the fact that we do not know whether they were again of the same size. If, as is possible, they were bigger there seems to have been a tendency to reduce the weight of ordnance—there is also an inclination towards greater uniformity.

The price of ordnance was from £12 to £15 a ton, and the manufacture was still retained in a few hands, its exportation without licence being strictly forbidden. In 1619 orders were issued that casting was to be confined to Sussex and Kent, that guns were to be landed at or shipped from the Tower wharf only, and that East Smithfield was to be the one market place for their sale or purchase. These were practically the Elizabethan regulations, now perhaps fallen into neglect, renewed. Guns could be proved only in Ratcliff[213] fields, and all pieces were to have on them at least two letters of the founder’s name, with the year and the weight of the gun. The founders had still to give bond for £1000 as a surety against illegal exportation, and once a year to send in a report of the number and description of the guns cast and to whom they had been sold.[935] These precautions were not unneeded, but did not prevent the secret sale to foreign buyers any more than similar restrictions had availed during the reign of Elizabeth. The royal forts themselves were turned into marts for these and other unlawful transactions. Upnor Castle is described as ‘a staple of stolen goods, a den of thieves, a vent for the transport of ordnance.’ The person holding the post of ‘King’s Gun-founder,’ and therefore licensed purveyor of government ordnance, was accused of transgressing largely.[936] The method was to require payment beforehand, the purchaser taking the risk of seizure; the guns were then shipped under cover of a warrant authorising them to be sent to London, but once at sea they went to the Continent instead of the river.

Salutes and Flags.

A few stone shot were still carried and the price of iron shot varied between £10 and £13 a ton,[937] and its expenditure in saluting was liberal. It was only about this time that gunners were directed to fire blank charges in these marks of respect, an order that was long disregarded. Attempts were made to check the too lavish use of munition for salutes, the amount of which depended mainly on the goodwill of the officers and the stores of the ship. Gunners were ordered not to shoot without the captain’s permission, and they were forbidden to fire at ‘drinkings and feastings.’ They were further directed to ‘salute no passengers with more than one piece, or three at the most, except the person be of quality and the occasion very great, and that for volleys of honour no bullets be spent,’ and the captain was not to fail to lock up the powder room if he went ashore. These regulations were not very effective. In 1628 the fleet lying at Plymouth ‘shot away £100 of powder in one day in drinking healths.’[938] Another writer says that salutes should be ‘always of an odd number but of no particular number.’ An even number signified the death of the captain, master, or master gunner at sea during the voyage. Of a kindred nature to the love of display by noise was that of display by flags. The Prince Royal was supplied with eight flags, five ancients, and fifty-seven pennants; these however were of some use in the primitive attempts at[214] signalling, which, however, do not appear to have advanced in complexity beyond the point reached a century before. Night signalling had progressed to a greater extent. Two lights from the flagship, answered by one from the others, was the order to shorten sail; three lights astern, placed vertically, to make sail; a ‘waving’ light on the poop, to lie to; and a ship in distress was expected to hang out ‘many’ lights in the shrouds.[939] An order of 13th April 1606 authorised all ships to wear a flag containing the St George’s and St Andrew’s crosses in the main top; at the fore top the flags of their respective countries were worn.

Men-of-war Crews and Discipline.

One great alteration was made in this reign in the manning of men-of-war. It had always been customary to place soldiers, in the proportion of one-third of the total complement, on board vessels equipped for service. This practice no longer obtained; in 1619 the Commissioners wrote:—

‘Indeed till the year ‘88 soldiers and mariners were then usually divided but that and later experience hath taught us instead of freshwater soldiers (as they call them) to employ only seamen.’[940]

This marks the completion of the change from the days when the sailors were not called upon to be more than spectators of the actual fighting. The crew as a whole was not reduced, ships being heavily armed and the spars of a man-of-war being equal to those of a merchantman of much greater tonnage.

We have now the ‘station list’ of the Speedwell of thirty guns which gives the following division of duties in action: eighteen gunners and forty-eight men for the battery, fifty small arms men, fifty to work the ship and man the tops, four in the powder room, four carpenters below, three trumpeters, three surgeons and mate, four stewards, three cooks, and three boys. Complaint, however, was more than once made that nearly one-third of a crew were officers or non-combatants. It will be noticed from this list that the vessel was only prepared to man one broadside at the time—in this resembling much later practice—and that the arrangements implied plenty of sea room and a stand-off fight. At this time English seamen shrank from boarding; memories of the enormous Spanish galleons with their overpoweringly strong crews, and the tactics that had defeated them, were too fresh in the mind of the English sailor to permit him to have that confidence in his ship and himself that he subsequently obtained. It has already been noticed that when this ship, the Speedwell, was lost there was an utter absence of subordination among the crew, but this lack of discipline appears to have been more or less present at all times. In 1625,[215] when we were at war with Spain, the Happy Entrance, Garland, and Nonsuch were left lying in the Downs, with no officers and only a few men on board, because it was Christmas time and everyone was on shore merrymaking.[941] At an earlier date Coke said that ships rode in the Downs or put into port while the captains went to London, or hardly ever came on board, and the men ran away.[942]

The Results of the Reign.

Fortunately the services of the Royal Navy were never needed in earnest during the reign of James. How it would have broken down under the direction of Mansell may be inferred from the steady decrease in the number of seaworthy ships, and the increasing disorganisation of every department, during each year of his retention of office. The administration of the Commissioners was both competent and honest, but the grievous results of Mansell’s treasurership were too plainly shown during the earlier years of the next reign, when fleets were once more sent to sea. Ships might be replaced and open peculation checked, but the deeper wounds of spirit and discipline caused by fourteen years of license among the higher officials, and fourteen years of heartless chicanery suffered by those more lowly placed were not so readily healed, and bore their fruits for long afterwards in the habitual dishonesty of officials and workmen, in the disloyalty and half-heartedness of the seamen, and later, in the shameless knaveries that disgraced the Navy office at the close of the century, many of which had their origin under Mansell’s rule. The Commissioners were hampered in their efforts by want of money, an embarrassment from which Mansell suffered little.

Nor can the King be absolved from the responsibility of permitting Mansell’s misdeeds. He knew at least as early as 1608 of the iniquities daily occurring in every branch of the service, but he contented himself with making ‘an oration.’ He was ready enough to act as an amateur arbiter on technical details, to superintend launches, to visit the ships, and to give them euphuistic names, but that portion of his kingly office which involved protecting the helpless and punishing the guilty was sufficiently satisfied by ‘an oration.’ And had not Buckingham desired to be Lord Admiral, we have no reason to suppose that James I would have seen any cause for interference merely on behalf of seamen who were starved and robbed, or of the English people whose chief defence was being destroyed, and whose money went to enrich a ring of thieves. So far had the traditions of Plantagenet and Tudor kingliness degenerated into Stewart ‘kingcraft.’



The life of Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham and Earl of Nottingham, commander of the English fleet in 1588, and for thirty-three years Lord Admiral of England, may be regarded as the link between the mediæval and the modern navy. Born in 1536, and dying in 1624, his era connects the cogs and crayers, carracks and balingers of the Plantagenets, then hardly out of use, with the established Royal Navy of James I, a fleet divided into rates; controlled on present principles, and differing but little in essentials from that existing up to the introduction of armour and machine guns. His period of authority included the struggle which shaped isolated maritime essays into an organised navy, and fashioned a school of seamanship of which the traditions have never since been lost. Although we cannot point to any important measure known to be directly due to his initiative, his influence, during at any rate the earlier half of his time of office, must, judging by results, have been always exercised towards the selection of capable men for command, towards the adoption of any promising invention or improvement, and towards the encouragement and welfare of the seamen on whom the stress of work and danger must fall, and for whom he always showed a humane sympathy. At the time of trial he proved himself equal to his responsibilities; and that he was so well served by his subordinates of all grades implies a confidence and respect on their part not given merely to a peer and an officer of the crown, but to one in whose skill, care, and kindliness, experience had already taught men of all ranks to confide. Then, as now, only an[217] able leader had good officers and willing men. He clung too long to office, and his old age was sullied by an eagerness for money amounting almost to avarice, and by the unwavering support given to one as unworthy of it as Mansell; no allegation, however, was ever made against his own honesty, either of act or purpose, and for the rest his years are his best excuse. He has a right to be judged by his season of vigorous manhood, when acting with the other sea heroes of the age of Elizabeth, among whom he holds an honourable place.

The new Political Conditions.

The reign of James I may be looked upon as a maritime truce, during which old antagonisms remained latent while new ones were springing into life. The contest with Spain was practically terminated, that power having been vanquished not so much by English superiority of seamanship as by the national decay due to causes patent to all students of history. But now other and more dangerous rivals were to be faced in France and the United Provinces, both wealthier than England, the former temporarily strong in a centralised monarchy of which the resources were to be wielded by Richelieu, and in an army reorganised and a navy created by him, the latter spiritually strong from the same sources as had stirred English thought, with traditions of mercantile supremacy reaching back to the dawn of European commerce, and proud of a successful contest with the greatest of European states. Moreover the fresh strife was to be waged under less favourable conditions than heretofore. Against Spain England occupied a position of strategical advantage; her fleets concentrated at any western port could strike at either the mother country or at the straggling, disconnected colonies of the new world. Against France and the Low Countries she was between hammer and anvil, her own harbours continually threatened, her commerce exposed to constant attack, and her fleets quite insufficient in strength for their new duties. Nor had the interval of peace been utilised in view of the approaching conflict, although it cannot be said that warnings were wanting. The royal ships were fewer in number and of little greater strength than at the death of Elizabeth; few improvements had been effected in their construction, while seamanship had greatly deteriorated, owing to the decay of the fishing industry, the lack of enterprise and long voyages, and the bad treatment of the men. England was still greatly dependent on Russia for cordage and other naval necessaries, an administrative weakness of which Spain had endeavoured to take advantage in 1597 by negotiating with the rulers of Russia and Poland for a cessation of such exports to England and Holland,[943] but a weakness which might have formidable[218] results with enemies planted on the line of communication. The Dutch had taken the lesson to heart, for, since that year, they had made their own cordage.[944]

England, France, and Holland.

An examination of the comparative wealth and state revenues of the three countries would show the relative position of England to be still less favourable. Although the commerce of this country had increased during the reign of James, the royal revenue, except that drawn from the customs, had remained nearly stationary, while the administration was more extravagant than that of Elizabeth, and the salaries of officials and the prices of materials and labour were higher, owing to the influx of the precious metals. The wars of France and the Netherlands had indirectly given room for expansion to English commercial and speculative activity; but, in the one case, the reign of Henry IV, and, in the other, the truce with Spain had enabled both countries to meet their rival on more equal terms. The same causes operated throughout the reign of Charles, for it may be held that the place of England as a naval power in 1642 was even relatively lower than in 1625; and this without reference to the question of good or bad government, for any attempt to maintain a maritime supremacy comparative to the last years of the sixteenth century would have entailed national bankruptcy. That strength was a temporary and, in a sense, artificial condition, attributable not to the actual power or resources of the country, but to the momentary cessation of the compression of mercantile rivalry and competition, to the stimulus due to the increase of circulating coin, and in a lesser degree, to the wave of moral exaltation then moving the Teutonic races.[945] Indeed, it may be said in favour of the ship-money writs that but for the fleets they enabled Charles to send to sea, and so present a semblance of power, the strife with France and Holland might have been precipitated by nearly half a century. That they had some such intimidating influence was shown by the care taken by the French fleets, also cruising, to avoid meeting them, and the efforts of the French court to evade the question of the dominion of the narrow seas.

It was fortunate for England that the troubles of the Fronde coincided with the first Dutch war, for had the strength of France been then thrown into the balance against fleets and dockyards still organised on a Tudor scale, which had undergone little expansion during two reigns, the maritime glory of this country might have had an early end.[219] Even if Charles had not quarrelled with his parliaments, no grants of theirs could have kept pace with the rapid growth of French prosperity; in 1609, after paying off an enormous amount of crown debts, the yearly revenue was 20,000,000 livres,[946] and in 1645 it was £3,560,000.[947] The ordinary revenue of the English crown in 1610 was £461,000, in 1623 £539,000, in 1635 £618,000,[948] and for the five years from 1637 to 1641 it averaged £895,000 a year, exclusive of ship money.[949] It has been difficult to obtain any statistics for the United Provinces, but, as the trade and commercial marine on which they relied were greater than those of England, it is obvious that a contest with France alone would have overwhelmingly strained our resources during the reign of Charles I, and that an alliance of the two states would, in all probability, have been most disastrous to us. M. Lefèvre Pontalis indeed, in the first chapter of his ‘Vie de Jean de Witt,’ states exactly that the Dutch merchant marine comprised 10,000 sail and 168,000 men; but, as he gives no authority and may be referring to any one of the first seventy-five years of the seventeenth century, the information in that form is valueless for purposes of comparison.[950]

The Cadiz Fleet of 1625

The accession of Charles led to a more active prosecution of the war with Spain, signalised by the Cadiz expedition of 1625, and the administrative incidents of this voyage enable us to measure the decadence of seamanship and the utter collapse of the official executive during the twenty years of peace. Efforts had been made to get the fleet away during the summer, but owing to want of money, stores, and men, it did not sail till 8th October, too late in the season to do effective service. Disease raged among the soldiers and sailors assembled at Plymouth, and not a boat went ashore but some of its men deserted. Of 2000 recruits sent first to Holland and then to Plymouth only 1500 arrived at the sea-port, of whom 500 were ill;[951] and the few professional sea captains there, who saw the unpromising material in men and supplies being collected, continually warned the Council and Buckingham of the results to be expected from the quality of the men and provisions and the want of clothing.[952] When[220] the expedition finally sailed, its equipment appears to have been rather that of a defeated and disheartened fleet returning home after long service than of a long planned and prepared enterprise. The ships were leaky and their gear defective; the St George was fitted with sails which were used by the Triumph in 1588, while her shrouds were ‘the old Garland’s and all starke rattan.’ The Lion was in such bad condition that she had to be left behind. The cordage supplied was rotten but ‘fairly tard ovar.’ An officer writes: ‘There was great wrong done ... by pretending the ships were fit to go to sea.’[953] Even before they left port the casks were so faulty that beer came up in the ships’ pumps, so that by November they were reduced to beverage of cider ‘that stinks worse than carrion, and have no other drink.’ A few days after leaving Plymouth it was already thought necessary to put five men on four men’s allowance, and by December they were on half rations which ‘stinks so as no dog of Paris Garden would eat it.’ Men ill fed and ill clothed, sent across the Bay in early winter, easily broke down, and when they arrived off Cadiz, after a twenty-one days’ voyage, and before even seeing the enemy, one-fourth of the men on six of the men-of-war were on the sick list.[954] The Convertine had only fifteen men in a watch. In November ‘the sickness is so great that there are not seamen enough to keep the watches,’[955] and a month later there were not ten men fit for duty on board the St George.[956]

Sir Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon, the commander-in-chief, was a soldier of only average capacity accustomed to the methodical Dutch military discipline, and he was aghast at the ways of his officers, who, besides being ignorant of their work, shared with their men what plunder there was. Many of the captains were landsmen who depended on their subordinates to handle their vessels, and these men, unaccustomed to large ships and to sailing in comparatively close order, were constantly in difficulties. If the subordinates were good seamen, they were mostly contemptuous of their commanders. Sir Thos. Love, captain of the Anne Royal, issued orders to the whole fleet without Cecil’s knowledge; the master of the Reformation flatly refused to obey his captain’s commands. It does not seem to have occurred to Cecil or his advisers that any sailing orders were necessary during the voyage out, and the result of independent management was that collisions were frequently occurring; beakheads, galleries, and bowsprits were carried away, and ‘the confusion was such that some had their starboard when other had their larboard[221] tacks on board.’[957] Sometimes the ships chased each other, under the impression that they were enemies, although the differences between the English and Spanish schools of shipbuilding were almost as great as those to be observed in a cruiser of the middle of this century and a merchantman of the same time. Two transports with 300 soldiers on board, perhaps thinking that they had better prospects of success by themselves than with Cecil, deserted and turned pirates.[958]

The flagship was the Anne Royal, Nottingham’s Ark Royal of 1588, of which he lovingly said that she was ‘the odd ship of the world for all conditions.’ She was handy enough for the Elizabethan seamen who built her and knew how to work a ship at sea, but she did not win favour in the eyes of Cecil and his officers, who complained that they could not make her lie to and that she rolled too much for their dainty stomachs. Nottingham’s opinion of them might have been even more scathing than theirs of the Anne Royal. More justly Cecil expressed his astonishment at the amount of theft which prevailed. He could not prevent his captains pillaging the cargoes of prizes, ‘a thing of such custom at sea that I cannot see how it will be remedied.’ The men he considers the worst ever seen; ‘they are so out of order and command and so stupefied that punish them or beat them they will scarce stir.’[959] Sick and starving it was not their fault if they were dull and inefficient, but neither Cecil nor those next him in rank were the men to rouse English sailors to those efforts which, when well led, they can be moved to make under circumstances of surpassing distress.

Perhaps this Cadiz expedition indicates the low water mark of English seamanship. There have been many previous and subsequent occasions when fleets were sent to sea equally ill found and ill provided, but never, before or since, have we such accounts of utter incapacity in the mere everyday work of a sailor’s duties. The shameful picture of that confused mass of ships crowded together helplessly, without order or plan, colliding with each other, chasing or deserting at their own will, the officers losing spars and sails from ignorance of the elementary principles of their art, is the indictment against the government of James I which had allowed the seamanship of Elizabeth to die out in this generation. It was the first time that the new system of the commissionership had been tried by conditions of active service, and on the side of stores and provisions, for which they were mainly responsible, the breakdown was as complete as on the side of navigation. Assuming their honesty, which was[222] probable, but of which some of their contemporaries hint doubts, they were mostly merchants or court officials, unacquainted with naval matters, and evidently unable to adapt the routine peace control to which they were accustomed to the wider requirements of war time. As even the normal method of inspection was almost nominal, depending mainly on subordinate officials of little character, capacity, or responsibility, such stores as were now bought, under the pressure of immediate necessity, usually proved expensive and bad. Among the higher officials the impression given by the State Papers, now and afterwards, is that their chief desire was to get money sent to them on some pretext—purchase of clothes or arms, payment of wages, etc.—and that they could then trust to their own ingenuity to account for its expenditure, possibly for the benefit of the service, certainly for their own. Not even a nominal system of inspection existed in the victualling department. The two contractors, Apsley and Darrell, appear, when the Commissioners had once given their orders, to have sent what provisions they pleased on board the ships, quite independently of any supervision or of any way of calling them to account, for supplies infinitely more deadly to our men than the steel and lead of the enemy.[960]

The Disorganisation:—The Return of the Fleet.

Naval historians have usually considered the condition of the seaman, a mere pawn in the game, as of little account compared with graphic descriptions of sea fights and the tactics of opposing fleets. He had, however, not only existence but memories, and an examination of his treatment under the government of Charles I, will systematise scattered references, and may go far to explain why the Royal Navy ‘went solid’ for the Parliament in 1642. We have seen that there was little demand for his services during the reign of James I, though the few men employed had reason to be mutinous and discontented under their scanty fare and uncertain wages. With Charles on the throne the seagoing population was called away from the fisheries and trading voyages to man the royal fleets, although the attitude of Parliament caused smaller resources to be available to support their cost. The sailor, being a despised and inarticulate quantity, soon felt the result. When the ships of the Cadiz fleet straggled ignominiously home in midwinter, some to Kinsale, some to Milford, Falmouth, Plymouth, and other western ports, a cry for help went up from the captains and officials concerned. The Anne Royal with 130 dead and 160 sick, had scarcely fifteen men in a watch; a vessel at Milford had[223] not sufficient to man her long boat, and the dried fish remaining was ‘so corrupt and bad that the very savour thereof is contagious.’[961] Pennington, who was usually more intelligible than grammatical, wrote from Plymouth that ‘the greatest part of the seamen being sick or dead, so that few of them have sufficient sound men to bring their ships about,’[962] and ‘a miserable infection among them, and they die very fast.’ St Leger told Conway that it would not be possible to move the men till they had recovered some strength, ‘they stink as they go, and the poor rags they have are rotten, and ready to fall off,’ and that many of the officers were in nearly as bad case as their men.[963] But the government had expended all its available means in the preparation, such as it was, of the expedition, and could neither pay the men off nor provide them with clothes, victuals, or medical aid. Moreover, the attention of Buckingham was fixed rather on the equipment of another fleet than on the plight of the men, a condition which he doubtless regarded as one they should accept naturally, and a detail unworthy of la haute politique in which he and his master intrepidly considered themselves such proficients. Pennington had orders to collect forty sail at Plymouth, but as yet had only four ships.[964] There were no stores, no surgeons, and no drugs, he reported; and everything on board the returned vessels would have to be replaced, even the hammocks being ‘infected and loathsome;’ the mayor of the town would not permit the sick men to be put ashore, so that contagion spread among the few healthy remaining. He hints that there is little hope of getting fresh men to go when they had their probable fate before their eyes. All the remedy the Council seemed to find was to order the Commissioners to prepare estimates for fleets of various strengths, while the Anne Royal and four other ships were lying in the Downs with ‘their companies almost grown desperate,’ the men dying daily and the survivors mutinous. In March, Pennington, who was an honest, straightforward man and a good seaman, and who wrote to Buckingham in an independent and even reproving way, which reflects some credit on both of them in that servile age, says that he has twenty-nine ships, but neither victuals, clothes, nor men; that those sent down run away as fast as they are pressed. ‘I wish you were a spectator a little, to hear their cries and exclamations; here die eight or ten daily,’ and, if something is not done ‘you will break my heart.’[965] Under James the men considered that the galleys were better than the royal service; thus early in[224] the reign of his son they had come to the conclusion that hanging was preferable.[966]

But Buckingham was quite superior to all such particulars. Complaints had been made to him that merchantmen were chased into the Downs by Dunkirkers, while the men-of-war lying there did not even weigh anchor. He sharply censured Palmer, who was in command, but Palmer’s reply was a variation of the old legal defence; they had not been chased, and if they had been he was without victuals or necessaries enabling him to move.[967] As the captain of one of his ships wrote to Nicholas that he had no sails, and that he could not obtain their delivery without cash payment, the second portion of his statement was probably true. The greatest stress, however, fell upon Pennington at Plymouth. It need hardly be said that there was not yet a dockyard there; but there was not even a government storehouse, the lack of which mattered less as there were no stores, such provisions as were procured being urgently needed for the daily requirements of the crews. In April Pennington heard that there was £2000 coming down, but he was already indebted £2500 for which he had pledged his own credit, and his estate ran risk of foreclosure unless the mortgage was cleared.[968] He adds: ‘I pray you to consider what these poor souls have endured for the space of these thirteen or fourteen months by sickness, badness of victuals, and nakedness.’

Official routine worked, in some respects, smoothly enough. If some of the officers and men—like those of the St Peter, a prize in the royal service—petitioned Buckingham direct, begging for their discharge, saying that they could get neither pay nor food, and would have perished from want if they had not been supplied by their friends, they were referred to the Commissioners, who suavely remarked: ‘there are many other ships in the same predicament.’[969] If others applied direct to the Commissioners, they were told to go to those who hired them, as the Navy Board would ‘neither meddle nor make’ with them, ‘which answer of theirs I find strange,’ says Pennington.[970] One day the crew of the Swiftsure mutinied and went ashore, intending to desert in a body. He went after them and persuaded them to return, but ‘their cases are so lamentable that they are not much to be blamed for when men have endured misery at sea and cannot be relieved at home in their own country, what a misery of miseries is it!‘[971] Not all the officers of rank were as kindly as Pennington; Sir John Watts could only see in the clamour of ragged and starving men ‘insolent misdemeanours.’ At[225] Harwich the mutineers vowed that they would no longer shiver on board, but would lie in the best beds in the town, all the elysium the poor fellows aspired to. It almost seemed as though the naval service was disintegrating and that such organisation as it had attained, was to be broken up, since the shipwrights and labourers at the dockyards were also unpaid, although they did not find it so difficult to obtain credit. Pennington was now almost despairing, and said that having kept the men together by promises as long as he could, only immediate payment would prevent them deserting en masse, and ‘it would grieve any man’s heart to hear their lamentations, to see their wants and nakedness, and not to be able to help them.’[972] There is a curious resemblance between these words and those used nearly forty years before by Nottingham in describing the condition of the men who had saved England from the Armada, and who were likewise left to starve and die, their work being done. But any comparison is, within certain limits, in favour of Charles and Buckingham. Elizabeth had money, but all through her life held that men were cheaper than gold. In 1626 the sailors were the first victims of the quarrel between King and Parliament, a struggle in which, and in its legacy of foreign wars, they bore a heavy share of the burden, and from which even to-day they have reaped less benefit than any other class of the community.

The original estimate for the Cadiz fleet was under £300,000, but in 1631 it was calculated that altogether, for the land and sea forces, it had amounted to half a million,[973] and as the government found it impossible to procure this or any serviceable sum they resorted to the expedient of nominally raising wages all round.[974] The seaman’s monthly pay, ten shillings during the reign of James, had been temporarily raised to fourteen for the attack on Cadiz; in future it was to be permanently fifteen shillings, subject to a deduction of sixpence for the Chatham chest, fourpence for a preacher, and twopence for a surgeon, and as the scale remained in force till the civil war, and was eventually paid with comparative punctuality, the full list for all ranks, per month may be appended here:[975]


£ s d £ s d
Captain[976] 4 14 4 to 14 0 0
Lieutenant[977] 3 0 0 3 10 0
Master 2 6 8 3 13 9
Pilot 1 10 0 2 5 0
Master’s mate 1 10 0 2 5 0
Boatswain 1 3 4 2 5 0
Boatswain’s mate 1 0 8 1 6 3
Purser 1 3 4 2 0 0
Surgeon 1 10 0
Surgeon’s mate 1 0 0
Quartermaster 1 0 0 1 10 0
Quartermaster’s mate 0 17 6 1 5 0
Yeomen of { jeers      } 1 1 0 1 5 0
{ sheets    }
{ tacks      }
{ halliards }
Carpenter 1 1 0 1 17 6
Carpenter’s mate 0 18 8 1 5 0
Corporal[978] 0 18 8 1 10 4
Gunner 1 3 4 2 0 0
Gunner’s mate 0 18 8 1 2 6
Cook 1 0 0 1 5 0
Master Trumpeter 1 5 0 1 8 0
Other trumpeters 1 3 4
Drummer 1 0 0
Fifer 1 0 0
Armourer 1 1 0
Gunmaker 1 1 0
Seaman 0 15 0
Gromet 0 11 3
Boy 0 7 6

The purpose in appointing lieutenants was

‘to breed young gentlemen for the sea service.... The reason why there are not now so many able sea-captains as there is use of is because there hath not been formerly allowance for lieutenants, whereby gentlemen of worth and quality might be encouraged to go to sea. And if peace had held a little longer the old sea captains would have been worn out, as that the state must have relied wholly on mechanick men that have been bred up from swabbers, and ... to make many of them would cause sea service in time to be despised by gentlemen of worth, who will refuse to serve at sea under such captains.’[979]

According to this view the original naval lieutenant was equivalent to the modern midshipman, in which case his pay seems very high, unless it is to be explained by the tendency to favour social position. The midshipman, introduced somewhat later, was at first only an able seaman with special duties. The foregoing extract is in itself a vivid illustration of the reasons for the loathing, yearly growing in intensity, the seamen, or ‘mechanick men,’ had for their courtier captains.

The Disorganisation:—Poverty of the Crown.

As at the time the crown was making these liberal promises it had not sufficient money to fit out two ships required for special service on the Barbary coast, and as vessels were being kept in nominal employment because even a few hundred pounds could not be raised wherewith to pay off their crews, it is not surprising that the men showed no renewed eagerness to die lingeringly for their country, and that the proclamation of April needed a corollary in the shape of another threatening deserters with the penalty of death. This was issued on 18th June, and a week later the crew of the Lion at Portsmouth, 400 or 500 strong, left the ship with the intention of marching[227] up to London. The officers read the last proclamation to them and promised to write about their grievances; but the men, quite unappalled, replied that ‘their wives and children were starving and they perishing on board.’[980] Wives and children were neglected factors in the dynastic combinations of Charles and Buckingham, and husbands and fathers might consider themselves amply rewarded if their efforts enabled the King to restore the Palatinate to his nephew. The Commissioners complained despondingly that they were unable to progress with the new fleet while the back wages were unpaid, and ‘the continual clamour ... doth much distract and discourage us.’[981] The Swiftsure at Portsmouth had only 150 instead of 250 men, of whom 50 were raw boys, and all the other ships there were but half manned. Palmer, commanding in the Downs, had never suffered such extremity even in war time, he said, and his men flatly refused to work unless they were fed, a really justifiable form of strike. At this date there were six men-of-war and ten armed merchantmen at Portsmouth, but, says Gyffard, the men ‘run away as fast as they are sent ... all things so out of order as that I cannot see almost any possibility for the whole fleet to go to sea in a long time.’[982] The intensity of Captain Gyffard’s feelings somewhat obscured his clearness of expression.

The lessons of the previous year appear to have taught nothing; the victuallers were still sending in provisions of the old bad quality, and the beef sent to Portsmouth weighed only 2 lbs. the piece, instead of the 4 lbs. for which the crown was charged. The Chatham shipwrights threatened to cease work unless they were paid, and Pennington, now at Portsmouth, wrote that after all the preparations, extending over some months, there were no hammocks and not even cans or platters to eat and drink from. All these requests and complaints poured in nearly daily on Buckingham who should have been an organising genius to deal with the complex disorder, instead of merely a man of some talent and much optimism, also troubled by a refractory Parliament, perverse continental powers scornful of his ingenuous diplomacy, and the varied responsibilities of all the other departments of the government. In September the Commissioners pointed out to him that a debt of £4000 a month was being incurred for want of £14,000 to pay off the men, who were now reduced to stealing their daily food; those in the river were so disorderly that the Board could not meet without danger, as the sailors threatened to break the doors down on them, and the shipwrights from Chatham had besieged them for twenty days.[983]


By this time, however, as the result of requiring the coast towns to provide ships, forced loans, and other measures, Willoughby was at sea with a fleet, but one which was a third weaker in strength than had been intended. Before reaching Falmouth he found twenty tuns of ‘stinking beer’ on his own ship, and the rest of the squadron was as ill off. The men were ‘poor and mean’ physically, and deficient in number, the stores generally bad and insufficient, there being only enough provisions to go to the Straits of Gibraltar and back again, and the excursion being useless, because too late in the year, when all the enemies’ fleets had returned home.[984] The complaint of want of men was met by an order that he should take on board 500 soldiers to help in working the ships; in two vessels intended for him two-thirds of the men had run away, being too glad to escape at the cost of forfeiting five months’ wages due to them, and the Commissioners proposed to fill their places ‘by forcing men to work with threatenings, having no money to pay them.’[985] The artless belief of their kind in the efficacy of threats once more placed them in a foolish position. The crew of the Happy Entrance refused to sail, saying that they would rather be hanged ashore than starve at sea,[986] but even the relentless egotism of Charles was not equal to hanging them.

It may be said for the Commissioners that their situation was not a happy one, seeing that they were continually ordered to perform impossibilities. When they were told to provide fresh ships and men, they retorted that they were already keeping twelve vessels in pay for want of money to discharge the crews, the wages bill alone running at the rate of £1782 a month.[987] Other men sent away with tickets, which could not be paid when presented, congregated round their house whenever they met for business, shouting and threatening and causing them actual personal fear. There was £20,000 owing to the victuallers, and they, in December, refused any further supplies until they had some money, the result being that, at Portsmouth, ‘the common seamen grew insolent for want of victuals,’ wrote Sir John Watts, who, in his own person, only suffered from the insolence of a well-lined belly. Sir Allen Apsley, the chief victualling contractor, justified himself to the council and pointed out the serious consequences to be feared:[988]

‘By the late mutinous carriage of those few sailors of but one of H.M. ships the Reformation, the humours of the rest of the fleet may be conjectured.... What disorder, then, may be feared if twenty times that number, having no promise of speedy payment, no victuals, fresh or salt,[229] nor ground for the officers to persuade or control—for alas! say they, when men have no money nor clothes to wear (much less to pawn), nor victuals to eat, what would you have them do? Starve? This is likely to be the condition of the ships now in the Downs and those at Portsmouth, having not two days’ victuals if equally divided ... not having any victuals at all but from hand to mouth upon the credit of my deputies who are able to trust no longer, so as this great disorder may be seen bearing very near even to the point of extremity.’

About 2200 men were in this plight, and matters must indeed have been bad when it was no longer to the Victualler’s profit to supply the carrion beef and fetid beer useless for any other purpose than to feed seamen. Punishment and promises were becoming equally useless. An officer at Portsmouth had to confess that punishing his men only made them more rebellious, and they revenged themselves by cutting his ship’s cable, in hopes that she might drift ashore; like Apsley, he remarked that they were only victualled from hand to mouth, but adds, ‘with refuse and old stuff.’[989] Charles was going to recover the Palatinate by means of his fleet, but Pennington’s opinion of the armed merchantmen which made up the bulk of the royal force was not high. He considered that two men-of-war could beat the fifteen he had with him, as their ordnance was mostly useless and they had not ammunition for more than a two hours’ fight.[990] Nor, from incidental references, can the discipline on these auxiliary ships have been such as to promise success. In 1625 they had to be forced under fire at Cadiz by threats; in 1628, at Rochelle, they fired vigorously, but well out of any useful or hazardous range. In this year the captain of one of them killed, injured, and maltreated his men, while he and five gentlemen volunteers consumed sixteen men’s allowance of food every day; and in January 1627, when some of them lying in Stokes Bay were ordered westward, they mutinied and would only sail for the Downs.

The Disorganisation:—The Remedies.

In despair the Council resorted to the expedient of a special commission[991] to inquire into the state of the Navy, nineteen in number and including eight seamen, perhaps in the hope of gaining time, but probably from sheer prescription of routine. While the naval organisation was crumbling, they took careful measurements of the dimensions of each ship, and anxiously examined whether Burrell had used his own or government barges for the conveyance of stores. When they inquired at what cost ships were built, the answer came in a petition from the Chatham shipwrights that they had been twelve months,


‘without one penny pay, neither having any allowance for meat or drink, by which many of them having pawned all they can, others turned out of doors for non-payment of rent, which with the cries of their wives and children for food and necessaries doth utterly dishearten them.’[992]

John Wells, storekeeper to the Navy, had 7½ years’ pay owing to him, and it may be inferred that, unless he was more honest than his fellows, the crown, if it did not pay him directly, had to do so indirectly. The Treasurer of the Navy, like the Victualler, had refused to make any more advances on his own credit, but when the Chatham men marched up to London in a body, he promised to settle their claims, a promise which was not fulfilled. Then the special commissioners had to deal with the crews of the Lion, Vanguard, and Reformation. The men of the Vanguard told them that they were in want of food, clothing, firing, and lodging, ‘being forced to lie on the cold decks.’[993] The sailors, like the shipwrights, came to London in the hope of obtaining some relief, but with even less success. Their ragged misery was an outrage on the curled and scented decorum of the court, and Charles perhaps feared that they might not confine themselves to mere vociferation, and, heroic as he looks on canvas, had no liking for the part of a Richard Plantagenet in face of a threatening mob. He confined himself to ordering the Lord Mayor to guard the gates and prevent them coming near the court, and Apsley, in his other capacity as lieutenant of the Tower, was directed to ‘repress the insolencies of mariners’ by ‘shot or other offensive ways.’[994] Probably death from Apsley’s ‘shot’ was, even if as certain, a less painful fate than that from his victuals. As for Charles, we may suppose that the lesson in kingly honour, justice, and responsibility was not thrown away on those of his seamen who lived till 1642.

Notwithstanding the financial straits of the government large schemes relating to the increase of the number of ships and the construction of new docks were being continually planned. In naval as in other affairs Buckingham’s vision was fixed on the future, careless of the present. Such money and supplies as were obtained did not go far towards relieving the necessities of the sailors. In May, Mervyn found that his own crew came unpleasantly ‘’twixt the wind and his nobility,’ for, ‘by reason of want of clothing, they are become so loathsome and so nastily sick as to be not only unfit to labour but to live.’[995] Among the State Papers, undated but assigned to this year, occurs the first instance of a round robin yet noticed; the men signing it refuse to weigh anchor until provisioned.[996]


The Disorganisation:—Its Continuance.

Despite all these drawbacks Buckingham had contrived to get together the Rhé fleet of 1627, by various means, although the pecuniary receipts were not nearly adequate to the requirements. Some 3800 seamen were employed, and when they came home were worse off than ever, and the monotonous sequence of complaints was continued with greater intensity. The crew of the Assurance deserted in a body; the sailors at Plymouth were stealing the soldiers’ arms and selling them to obtain bread,[997] and wages were running on at the rate of £5000 a month, because there was no money wherewith to pay off the men.[998] By December 500 sailors of the returned fleet had died at Plymouth, and both there and at Portsmouth the townspeople refused to have the sick men billeted ashore, for at Plymouth they professed to have never shaken off the infectious fever spread by the men of the Cadiz fleet. If we had any statistics at all of the death and disease on board the fleets of 1625-8, the figures would probably be ghastly in the terrible mental and physical suffering they would represent. In this century the ‘wailing-place’ on the quays of Amsterdam, where the friends and relatives of Dutch sailors bid them farewell, was well known, but in another sense, and too often for a longer farewell, every royal ship was a wailing-place for English wives and mothers. Nicholas, as Buckingham’s secretary, sometimes had franker communications than were sent to his master. Mervyn wrote to him that the king would shortly have more ships than men, there being commonly twenty or thirty fresh cases of sickness every day, and

‘the more than miserable condition of the men, who have neither shoes, stockings, nor rags to cover their nakedness ... all the ships are so infectious that I fear if we hold the sea one month we shall not bring men enough home to moor the ships. You may think I make it worse, but I vow to God that I cannot deliver it in words.... The poor men bear all as patiently as they can.... I much wonder that so little care be taken to preserve men that are so hardly bred. I have used my best cunning to make the Vanguard wholesome. I have caused her to be washed all over, fore and aft, every second day; to be perfumed with tar burnt and frankincense; to be aired ’twixt decks with pans of charcoal; to be twice a week washed with vinegar.... Yet if to-day we get together 200 men within four days afterwards we have not one hundred.’[999]

Watts, at Portsmouth, who, in the intervals of solicitation of money for himself and preferment for his son, wrote abusively of men who asked at least food and clothing in midwinter, was a man after Charles’s own heart, for he also had arranged with the governor of the town to use ‘shot,’ if necessary, when the seamen came showing their tattered clothes and making ‘scandalous speeches.’[1000] Mervyn, in the letter to Nicholas quoted above, admits that he has overdrawn his pay, but asks[232] for another advance, and doubtless officers who had friends at court, or who could afford to bribe, had little difficulty in obtaining their salaries. Nicholas, for instance, who subsequently developed into a knight and secretary of state, had an itching palm on occasion. On the other hand, even in later years, when the pressure was not so great, if the paymaster or pursers advanced any portion of the wages already due to the mere sailor, a discount of 20 per cent. was deducted for the favour. The merchant was also competing with the royal service, owners paying 30s a month; therefore the need for men caused boys and weakly adults to be pressed, and during the winter the mortality among them was great.[1001] In January 1628 Mervyn reported from Plymouth that there were no hammocks, and

‘the men lodge on the bare decks ... their condition miserable beyond relation; many are so naked and exposed to the weather in doing their duties that their toes and feet miserably rot and fall away piecemeal, being mortified with extreme cold.’[1002]

A few days later he said that things were worse than ever, that the vessels were full of sick men, they being refused ashore.[1003] Notwithstanding the refusal to have them ashore their diseases spread so rapidly on land that both Plymouth and Portsmouth were ‘like to perish.’

A striking feature in this wretched story is the want of sympathy shown by nearly all the officials, high or low. These extracts are taken principally from the letters of those officers who felt for their men and endeavoured to obtain some alleviation of their distress, but many of the despatches contain only dry formal details or, as in the instances of Watts and Sir James Bagg—Eliot’s defamer and, from his absorptive capacity in relation to government money, known as the Bottomless Bagg—are filled with cowardly gibes and threats directed at men who could not obtain even their daily bread from the crown. It has long been held a point of honour with officers to share the dangers and hardships of those under their command, but in those years the superiors to whom the men looked for guidance and support left them to suffer alone, ‘the infection so strong that few of the captains or officers durst lie on board.’[1004] The sailors in the river were somewhat better off. Perhaps their proximity to the court, and potentialities of active protest, stirred the most sensitive portion of Charles’s conscience, and arrangements were made to billet them on the riverside parishes, at the rate of 3s 6d a man per week, till money could be provided to pay them. This was a plan which relieved the crown at the expense of the householder; nor does it appear to have been very successful,[233] since a proclamation was issued on 17th February to repress the disorderliness of such billeted mariners and warning them not to presume to address the Commissioners. In March the pressed men at Plymouth armed themselves, seized the Guildhall, and there prepared to stand a siege.[1005] The issue is not stated, but although mutinies were continually happening they usually had little result, for if the men got away from the ship or town the endeavour to reach their homes would have been almost hopeless. They were only frantic outbursts of desperation by isolated bodies of a class which has always lacked the gift of facile expression, and has never learnt to combine. An official describes plainly the causes of these mutinies, and his paper is worth quoting in full:[1006]

‘1st. They say they are used like dogs, forced to keep aboard without being suffered to come ashore to refresh themselves. 2nd. That they have not means to put clothes on their backs to defend themselves from cold or to keep them in health, much less to relieve their poor wives and children. 3rd. That when they happen to fall sick they have not any allowance of fresh victuals to comfort them, or medicines to help recover them. 4th. That some of their sick fellows being put ashore in houses erected for them are suffered to perish for want of being looked unto, their toes and feet rotting from their bodies, and so smelling that none are able to come into the room where they are. 5th. That some provisions put aboard them is neither fit nor wholesome for men to live on. 6th. That therefore they had as lief be hanged as dealt with as they are.’

Gorges suggests that some of these complaints are frivolous and some untrue, and recommends the remedy, dear to the official soul, of a commission. The commission of 1626 had hardly ceased sitting, and how far the complaints were frivolous and untrue, can be judged by the evidence brought forward here.

Murder of Buckingham.

In April, 1628, Denbigh sailed to relieve Rochelle, and returned without having effected his purpose. Preparations then went on apace for the great fleet Buckingham proposed to command himself in August. The difficulty in obtaining provisions, and their quality, may be inferred from a petition of Sir Allen Apsley’s addressed directly to the king. He says that he has sold and mortgaged all his property, and that he and his friends had pledged their credit to the extent of £100,000.[1007] These were unpromising conditions under which to engage to supply a fleet which was intended to be as large as that of 1625, and as the crown could not suddenly replace the mechanism organised by the Victualler and his deputies, it was practically dependent on his efforts. It was probably due to the poverty of Sir Allen Apsley that in this fleet water was, for the first time, taken from a home port as[234] what may be called a primary store.[1008] Hitherto, although water had been taken for cooking purposes, beer, as has been shown, had always been the recognised drink on ship board. In June the ships were being collected at Portsmouth, but with the usual troubles. There were two mutinies. ‘God be thanked, they are quieted,’ writes Coke, but the men ‘have no shift of clothes. Some have no shirts, and others but one for the whole year.’ There were few surgeons, and those few ‘haunt the taverns every day.’[1009] In one party of 150 pressed men sent down in July there were to be found saddlers, ploughmen, and other mechanics; some were old and weak and the majority useless. Pettifogging tricks were employed to trap the men. In one instance Buckingham ordered that certain vessels were not to be paid off till the Swiftsure and other ships were ready, and that then Peter White was to be present to at once press the crews for further service.[1010] Fire ships were required, but Coke found that they could not be had without £350 in cash, as no one would trust the Crown.[1011]

Buckingham himself did not intend to share the hardships of the beings of coarser clay under his command. A transport was fitted to serve as a kitchen and store ship for him, and the bill for his supplies came to £1056, 4s. It included such items as cards and dice, £2; wine, etc., £164; eight bullocks and a cow, £59; eighty sheep, £60; fifteen goats, £10; ten young porklings, £5; two sows with pig, £3; 980 head of poultry, £63, 1s.; 2000 eggs, £2, 10s; and pickled oysters, lemons, damask tapestry, and turkey carpets.[1012] Then came Felton’s knife, and we may hope that some of the sailors made an unwonted feast on the more perishable articles of this liberal collection. In any case, Buckingham’s murder was an unmixed good for them, although had he spared to the men some of that energy and care he gave, at least with good intention, to the improvement of the matériel of the navy, the verdict might have been different. But in his neglect of their rights or welfare he was not below the standard of his age, in which the feudal feeling remained without its sense of reciprocal obligation, and in which only a very few were impelled by conscience to more than the defence of their own rights.

Its Results.

One result of the shuffling of the political pack which followed Buckingham’s death was the appointment of Weston as Lord Treasurer. Weston, Mr Gardiner tells us, was neither honest, nor amiable, nor popular, but he was at any rate determined to re-introduce some order into the finances, and the sailors were among the first to reap the benefit. When[235] the Rochelle fleet, which had sailed under Lindsey, returned, the men were as surprised as they were delighted to find that they were to be paid. ‘The seamen are much joyed with the Lord Treasurer’s care to pay them so suddenly.’[1013] All the same the civic authorities of Plymouth desired that the ships should be paid off somewhere else. They wrote to the Council that when the Cadiz expedition came back, 1600 of the townspeople died of diseases contracted from the soldiers and sailors, that many also perished after the return of the Rhé fleet, and that they heard that this Rochelle one was also very sickly, and if so, ‘it will utterly disable this place.’[1014] Either there was a relaxation of Weston’s alacrity in paying, or mutinous habits had become too natural to be suddenly discarded, as in November the crews of three of the largest of the men-of-war were robbing openly, for want of victuals, they said. Nevertheless we do not hear of many difficulties in connexion with the Rochelle fleet, and the work of payment may be assumed to have progressed with unexpected smoothness.

After Buckingham.

With the cessation of ambitious enterprises the demand for the services of the maritime population became less, although the smaller number of men employed were treated no better than when the government had the excuse, such as it was, of large expenditure. In 1629, Mervyn, commanding in the narrow seas, wrote to the Lords of Admiralty: ‘Foul winter weather, naked bodies, and empty bellies make the men voice the King’s service worse than a galley slavery.’[1015] It should be remarked that although hammocks were provided for over-sea service in the proportion of one for every two men, they were not yet furnished to ships stationed in home waters, a want which must have affected the health and contentment of the seamen even when they were properly fed. Again, Mervyn protests:—

‘I have written the state of six ships here in the Downs, two of which, the Dreadnought and 3rd whelp, have neither meat nor drink. The 10th whelp hath drunk water these three days. The shore affords soldiers relief or hope, the sea neither. Now with what confidence can punishment be inflicted on men who mutiny in these wants?... These neglects be the cause that mariners fly to the service of foreign nations to avoid his majesty’s.... His majesty will lose the honour of his seas, the love and loyalty of his sailors, and his royal navy will droop.’[1016]

They were prophetic words, and as another illustration of the methods which were to secure the sailors’ love and loyalty we find in October, among the notes of business to be considered by the Lords of the Admiralty, ‘poor men’s petitions presented above six months, and never read.’ Mutiny had[236] become merely a form of protest, and captains looked forward to it as only a sign of dissatisfaction. One of them writes to Nicholas that his crew are in ‘an uproar’ about their offensive beer, and that if he finds no fresh supply at Plymouth he is sure of a mutiny;[1017] another commander was forced to pawn his spare sails and anchors to buy food for his men.[1018] Apsley died in 1630, leaving his affairs deeply involved, the crown still owing him large sums. His coadjutor, and then sole successor, Sir Sampson Darell, did not fare better at the hands of the government, although his requirements were so much less. In June 1632 he informed Nicholas that he would be unable to continue victualling unless he was paid, having raised all the money he could on his own estate.[1019] If he received anything on account it was evidently not enough to insure permanent improvement, since a year later we hear that the cruisers are ‘tied by the teeth’ in the Downs for want of provisions.[1020] During these years the debts incurred from the early expeditions of the reign were being slowly discharged, and the scantiness of the available resources for fresh efforts is shown by the way Pennington complains that six or seven weeks of preparation were needed to collect three months’ victuals for four ships.[1021]

From the absence of references in the State Papers to the non-payment of wages it would seem as though they were now paid with comparative regularity, but the expressions of disgust at the quality of the provisions are as continuous and vigorous as before. Besides methods of cheating in the quantities served out, for which the victuallers and pursers were answerable, ‘the brewers’—of course with the connivance of the victuallers—‘have gotten the art to sophisticate beer with broom instead of hops, and ashes instead of malt, and (to make it look the more lively) to pickle it with salt water, so that while it is new it shall seem to be worthy of praise, but in one month wax worse than stinking water.’[1022] The same writer says that the English were the unhealthiest of all ships, in consequence of the practical application of the proverb that ‘nothing will poison a sailor.’ Then he laments that English mariners, formerly renowned for patience and endurance, were now physically weak, impatient, and mutinous—and blames the sailor for the change.

The Ship-money Fleets.

The first systematic issue of ship-money writs was in October 1634, and in the summer of 1635, the resulting fleet was at sea. As usual the provisions were an unfailing source of indignation, and Lindsey, who was in command, told the[237] Lords Commissioners that much of the beef was so tainted that when it was moved ‘the scent all over the ship is enough to breed contagion.’ The crews were made up with watermen and landsmen ignorant of their work, and many were weak and sickly; three men-of-war and several of the hired merchantmen were quite disabled by the sickness on board them.[1023] A special matter of complaint was the large number of volunteers and their servants who went for a harmless summer cruise on Lindsey’s ships. That they were useless and in the way was of less importance than that officers were aggrieved by finding their cabins taken from them to house these people in comfort, and that the seamen were irritated by seeing the idlers given the first choice of food, having to wait for their own till the visitors were served.[1024] If the greater part of the beef was fetid, and the officers and volunteers had right of selection, what could have been left for the men?

Apparently the sailors had as little liking as ever for the royal service, since, in 1636, the old difficulties were renewed in obtaining seamen for the second ship-money fleet under Northumberland. In April the men were said to be continually running away; in June out of 250 men turned over from the Anne Royal to the St Andrew 220 deserted.[1025] When Northumberland returned in the autumn, typhus was rife in his squadron, and Mervyn reported that the men ‘in this weather fall sick for want of clothing, most of them barefoot and scarcely rags to hide their skins.’[1026] Northumberland, not content with merely commanding in state, attacked the shortcomings of the naval administration furiously when he came ashore. Many of his strictures relate to subjects to be noticed, subsequently, but concerning the men he said that they were incapable both bodily and in their knowledge of seamanship; that out of 260 men in the James not more than twenty could steer, that in the Unicorn there was hardly a seaman besides the officers, that nearly one-third of the Entrance’s crew had never been to sea, and that of 150 men in the last-named ship only twelve could take the helm.[1027] The provisions, he said, were bad and meagre, and the men defrauded of a fourth or fifth of their allowance. Moreover sick men must either be kept on board ‘or turned ashore in danger of starving, not to be received into any house, so as some have been seen to die upon the strand for lack of relief.’

Such was the tender care monarchy by divine right, with its paraphernalia of Commissioners and Lords of the Admiralty, vouchsafed to that class of its subjects which happened to be voiceless and helpless. But if the coming[238] struggle between divine right and capitalist right was to render the sailor’s assistance valuable, and temporarily improve his position, the experience of succeeding generations was to show that to him it made little difference whether life and health were sacrificed under the stately forms of monarchical procedure, or by the more obviously sordid processes of mercantile traffic. There was no ‘glorious revolution’ for men whose welfare depended on a legislature influenced by merchants and shipowners, and ignoble with the soulless ethics of the eighteenth century.


According to official documents the victualler, Sir Sampson Darell, must have died not long after Apsley, as his accounts for five years are passed by his executrix.[1028] The absence of professional control did not probably cause any extra mismanagement; at any rate no murmurs are heard on that score. It is impossible to say now whether Apsley was a victim, or only received his deserts, in having claims for £69,436 in 1626 and £94,985 in 1627 rejected because his books were signed by only three instead of four Commissioners and on account of insufficient particulars. As they were not finally refused until 1637 his representatives were allowed plenty of time to prove their case. In February 1637 John Crane, ‘chief clerk of our kitchen,’ was made Surveyor of marine victuals, his appointment dating from 20th Nov. 1635. The allowance of drink and solid food was the same as in the last century, and sugar, rice, and oatmeal were medical luxuries theoretically provided for sick men in the 1636 fleet, on the equipment of which Northumberland expressed such trenchant criticisms. Crane undertook the victualling at the rate of eightpence halfpenny a man per day at sea, and sevenpence halfpenny in harbour, but in March 1638 he gave the necessary year’s notice to terminate his contract.[1029] He found that during 1636 and 1637 he had lost a penny three farthings a month on each man, and owing to the general rise in prices, anticipated a further loss of as much as 3s 4¾d a head, per month, in 1638. He entreated an immediate release from his bargain, or he would be ruined, and he had thirteen children. In all these memorials one invariably finds that the petitioner possesses an enormous family.

In 1637 the Earl of Northumberland was again at sea in what Sir Thomas Roe expected would be ‘one turn to the west in an honourable procession,’ and the Earl himself wrote, ‘No man was ever more desirous of a charge than I am to be quit of mine.’[1030] He was, however, the first competent admiral among the nobility that Charles had been able to find. From the absence of any accounts of mutiny and disorder we may[239] take it that either the men were better treated this year or that the superior officers were tired of complaining. In 1638 Northumberland was ill, and all the work the ship-money fleet did was to convoy two powder-laden vessels through the ships blockading Dunkirk.[1031]


We have seen that men like Pennington and Mervyn had not the heart to punish for insubordination under the circumstances of privation which made their crews seditious and disobedient, and the normal discipline on a man-of-war was, in all likelihood, sufficiently lax. Some of the regulations, however, if they were carried out, were strict enough, although they will compare favourably with the bloodthirsty articles of war of the succeeding century, and they show some difference from previous customs. Prayer was said twice daily, before dinner and after the psalm sung at setting the evening watch, and any one absent was liable to twenty-four hours in irons. Swearing was punished by three knocks on the forehead with a boatswain’s whistle, and smoking anywhere but on the upper deck, ‘and that sparingly,’ by the bilboes. The thief was tied up to the capstan, ‘and every man in the ship shall give him five lashes with a three-stringed whip on his bare back.’ This is, I think, the first mention of any form of cat. The habitual thief was, after flogging, dragged ashore astern of a boat and ignominiously dismissed with the loss of his wages. For brawling and fighting the offender was ducked three times from the yardarm, and similarly towed ashore and discharged; while for striking an officer he was to be tried for his life by twelve men, but whether shipmates or civilians is not said.[1032] If a man slept on watch three buckets of water were to be poured upon his head and into his sleeves, and any one except ‘gentlemen or officers’ playing cards or dice incurred four hours of manacles. It is suggestive to read that ‘no man persume to strike in the ship but such officers as are authorised.’[1033]

There was no specially prepared fleet in 1639, but in October Pennington was in command of a few ships in the Downs, watching the opposed Dutch and Spanish fleets also lying there. Both he and Northumberland had pressed the King, but in vain, for instructions as to his course of action in certain contingencies. At last directions were given him that[240] in the event of fighting between them he was to assist the side which appeared to be gaining the day, a manner of procedure which Charles doubtless thought was dexterous diplomacy, but which most students of the international history of his time will consider as ignominious as it was futile. The Dutch attacked the Spaniards as they were taking in 500 barrels of gunpowder, supplied with the connivance of the English government[1034]—again Charles’s trading instincts were too strong—drove a score of their vessels ashore, and scattered the remainder. Unfortunately Pennington, instead of also attacking the Spaniards, fired into the Dutch, who did not reply.[1035]

The Seamen and the Civil War.

During 1640 and 1641 Charles was fully occupied with his Scotch and parliamentary difficulties, and naval business was again falling into disorder. In July 1641 Northumberland tells Pennington that he does not see how the insubordination the latter reports is to be remedied, as there is no money with which to pay wages.[1036] In October Sir William Russell, one of the Treasurers of the Navy, had been a long time out of town, and the other, Sir Henry Vane (the younger), ‘seeing there is no money in the office, never comes near us.’ Perhaps it was not altogether displeasing to the parliamentary leaders that, in view of the arbitrament towards which King and Parliament were tending, the seamen should be rendered discontented and rebellious. In January 1642, 2000 sailors offered their services and protection to Parliament, and when, in July, the King appointed Pennington, and Parliament Warwick, to the command of the fleet, the men in the Downs, apparently without any hesitation, followed Warwick, although the former must have had with them the influence of a trusted and favourite officer. In several instances the crews of ships on outlying stations forced their captains to submit, or put their royalist officers ashore and themselves took charge. It is difficult to speak with absolute certainty, but an examination of the data available leads to the conclusion that only one small vessel, the Providence, adhered to the royal cause.

We need not conclude that this unanimity implied any deep feeling about the general misgovernment of Charles or the important constitutional questions at issue. The sailor, contrary to the impression apparently prevailing among feminine novelists, is usually an extremely matter-of-fact individual,[241] with the greater portion of his attention fixed on the subjects of his pay and food. All he could associate with the crown were memories of starvation and beggary, of putrid victuals fraught with disease, and wages delayed, in payment of which, when he at last received them, he found a large proportion stick to the hands of minor officials. The Parliament paid him liberally and punctually, and he, on his side, served it honestly and well. For him was not necessary—perhaps he was not capable of feeling—the curious psychical exaltation of the ‘New Model,’ but in a steady, unimaginative way, without much enthusiasm but without a sign of hesitation, he kept his faith and did more to destroy royalist hopes than historians, with few exceptions, have supposed. Under the administration of the Navy Committee there were no recurrences of the confusion and unruliness which had before existed, and until the Rainsborow mutiny of 1648, speedily repented, the seamen showed no symptom, for six years, of discontent or of regret for the part they had chosen.

Parliament and the Seamen.

Without feeling an indignation which would have been in advance of their age at the hardships and dishonesty of which the sailor had been the victim, the position of the parliamentary chiefs compelled them to treat him with a discreet consideration. He was fed decently; wages were raised to nineteen shillings a month, and were given in full from the date of his joining his ship, instead of from that of its sailing; and an attempt was made to raise a sufficient number of men without impressment, the officers responsible being only directed ‘to use their best persuasion.’[1037] Seamen, however, had been too long accustomed to compulsion to enter into the principles of voluntaryism, and an act allowing pressing and punishing contumacy with three months’ imprisonment, must have been received by them as something they could understand.[1038] The utter absence of difficulties or remonstrances during the years of the civil war shows how smoothly the naval administration worked, and Parliament appeared to place even more reliance on the sailors than on their officers, since on 18th Oct. 1644, Warwick issued a proclamation ordering that ‘none shall obey the commands of their superior officers ... if the same commands be tending towards disloyalty towards the Parliament.’ This was a dangerous power to place in the hands of the men, unless it was felt that their discipline and fidelity could be depended upon.

The late Mrs Everett Green speaks of ‘the inherent loyalty of the sailors to their King,’[1039] making this remark in connection[242] with, and as explanatory of, the difficulty experienced by the Council of State in obtaining men in 1653. I must confess that, notwithstanding the weight justly attaching to her opinions, I am quite unable to see during these years any sign of this loyalty. Under the government of Charles they had been compelled to serve by force, and had lost no opportunity of venting their anger and discontent; when the occasion came they eagerly and unanimously fought against the sovereign to whom they were supposed to be inherently loyal, without one instance of desertion or dissatisfaction of sufficient mark to be noticed in the State Papers. When a mutiny did at last occur it was due to circumstances connected not with the rights of the King, but with the narrower personal jealousies of naval command; it happened when the fighting was done, and, in all probability, would not have happened at all under the stress of conflict. During the Commonwealth they continued to serve the state under conditions of great strain and trial, which might well have tried men of greater foresight and self-control than seamen, without, with perhaps one exception, more than slight and unimportant outbursts of insubordination of a character which, allowing for the looser discipline of that time, occur to-day in all large standing forces. Whatever, at any time, their momentary irritation against the Parliament, it never took the form of loyalty to Charles II. It may be suggested that a more likely explanation of the difficulties of 1653 lies in the fact that the estimates required 16,000 men against the 3000 or 4000 sufficient for the fleets of Charles I.[1040] At the most liberal computation the returns of 1628,[1041] do not give, allowing for omissions, more than 18,000 men available for the royal and merchant marine; at least double that number would have been necessary to supply easily the demands of the two services in 1653. In no case under the Commonwealth did the men show that despairing recklessness of consequences which characterised their outbreaks between 1625 and 1642. More significant still is the fact that the savage fighting of the first Dutch war, against the most formidable maritime antagonist we have ever faced, was performed in a fashion very different from the perfunctory and half-hearted service rendered to Charles I. And it is a further curious illustration of their hereditary loyalty that while they endured much hardship and privation rather than serve either under Rupert or Tromp against the Commonwealth, we are told by Pepys that they manned the Dutch ships by hundreds—perhaps thousands—during the wars of Charles II.


If, on the other hand, we are to really believe that ‘inherent loyalty’ was continuously latent in the English sailor, what words are fitting for the selfish and reckless indifference to the simplest human rights which tortured him into twenty years of consistent rebellion? On sea as on land Charles’s misdeeds followed him home. In his days of power he had been deaf to the appeals of men who perished that he might attempt to be great, and to the cries of their suffering wives and children. In 1642 the sailors were deaf to his commands. What might—in all human probability would—have been the result after Edgehill if, during the winter of 1642-3, he had been able to blockade the Thames?

Merchant Seamen.

Private shipowners have always paid higher wages than the crown, and for several centuries the latter offered no compensatory advantages. From various chance allusions the rates of merchant seamen’s wages during this period are found to vary between 22s and 30s a month. The stores provided for them could not have been worse than those of a man-of-war; but they had special difficulties, peculiar to the merchant service, to expect when in private employment. In 1628 among their grievances they complained that they were liable to make good any damage done to cargo, even after it had left the ship, until it was safely stored in the merchant’s warehouse.[1042] In 1634 they petitioned, in view of the dulness of trade, that exportation of merchandise in foreign bottoms should be prohibited,[1043] but a year later a more important matter occupied their attention. All engagements were made by verbal contract, and it often happened at the end of the voyage that the owner disputed the terms, when the sailor was left helpless, having no proof to bring forward.[1044] Moreover, if, as frequently occurred, he was pressed out of a homeward bound vessel, his position was still more hopeless, while if he died at sea there was small chance of his family obtaining anything. In 1638 it was intended to form a Trinity House fund, on the plan of the Chatham Chest, for the benefit of merchant seamen and officers; one shilling a month was to be deducted for this purpose, from the wages of officers, and fourpence from the pay of the men, except those belonging to coasters, who were to give sixpence.[1045] The matter progressed so far that there was a proclamation issued in accordance with these views,[1046] but the scheme did not come into operation till 1694. In that year it was enforced in connection with Greenwich Hospital at the rate of[244] sixpence a man; in 1747 this was raised to one shilling and so continued until 1834. The whole story belongs to a later volume, but the merchant sailor never received the least benefit from the levy extorted from his scanty earnings, and at a moderate computation was robbed of at least £2,500,000 during that period. But he helped to endow many fat sinecures and to thus support the Constitution.

If from one case referred to a court of law we may infer others, the form and amount of punishment on a trader was left to the discretion of the captain. On a Virginia ship an insubordinate boy was hung up by his wrists with 2 cwt. tied to his feet, with what results we are not told. The boy’s complaint came before Sir H. Martin, judge of the Admiralty court, who refused any redress, because of the necessary ‘maintenance of sea discipline.’[1047] But notwithstanding hard fare, hard usage, and sometimes doubtful wages, the position of the sailor on a merchantman was infinitely preferable to his fate when compelled to exchange it for a man-of-war. We meet with no instances of mutiny on merchant ships until they are hired by the crown, and the traditional hardihood and courage of the English seaman were always evinced when he was free of the crushing burden of the royal service. Sir Kenelm Digby, when commanding a squadron in the Mediterranean in 1628, noticed that while foreigners invariably ran from him, the English, without knowing his nationality, always stopped and prepared to fight ‘were they never so little or contemptible vessels.’[1048]

The number available.

With proper organisation there were sufficient men available at the beginning of the reign to have manned both the royal and merchant marine, as will be seen from the following returns made in 1628, but it is probable that the numbers did not increase much during subsequent years:—[1049]

Seamen Fishermen
London 3422 302
Kent 181 231
Cinque Ports 699 193
Essex 309 357
Suffolk 804 326
Norfolk 600 436
Lincoln 66 126
Devon 453 86
Northumberland 33 260
Cumberland 72
South Cornwall 731 393
North 154 88
South Wales 753
Southampton and Isle of Wight 321 209
Dorset 958 86
Bristol 823

There were 2426 watermen in London, also liable to impressment. Of the seamen two-thirds were at sea, one-third at home, their favourite abiding place being Ratcliff. Yorkshire,[245] North Wales, Chester, and some parts of Sussex are omitted, and the figures for Northumberland cannot include the Newcastle coal traffic, which in 1626 employed 300 colliers;[1050] it may be, however, that their crews are reckoned in the London total.

In various ways, during the war time, Parliament showed its satisfaction with the work done by officers and men, and occasionally rewarded them by extra gratuities of a month’s pay, or presents of wine. Doubtless these donations were also in the nature of bribes on the part of a power without much historic prestige compared with its opponent, and depending for existence on the goodwill of men who served with a closer regard to pay than to sentiment; but that the parliamentary authorities considered their relations with the Navy fairly secure is shown by the fact that in 1645 they ventured to place the service under martial law.[1051] In 1647 wages, per month, were raised for officers, according to rates, as follows—[1052]

£ s d £ s d
Captain 7 0 0 to 21 0 0
Lieutenant 3 10 0 4 4 0
Master 3 18 8 7 0 0
Master’s mate 2 2 0 3 5 4
Pilot 2 2 0 3 5 4
Carpenter 1 15 0 3 3 0
Boatswain 1 17 4 3 10 0
Gunner 1 15 0 3 3 0
The Chatham Chest.

The Chatham Chest, founded by Hawkyns and others in 1590, for the relief and support of injured or disabled sailors, was not of so much use to them during these years as it should have been. The original contribution was sixpence a month from able, and fourpence from ordinary, seamen, with threepence from boys. In 1619 the gunners joined the fund, and from 1626 all, whether able and ordinary, seamen or gunners, were to pay sixpence.[1053] The sixpences were unfailingly deducted from their wages, but the distribution was more irregular. Every formality was employed for the safe custody of the money, and in 1625 an iron chest with five locks was ordered for this purpose, the keys to be kept by five representative officers of different grades, who could only open it when together, and who were to be changed every twelve months. As an illustration of the value of these precautions the Treasurer of the Navy, Russell, the very next year took £2600, out of the Chest with which to pay wages, subsequently excusing himself by the ‘great clamours’ then being made and the poverty of the state. He did not commence to return this money till 1631, and in 1636 £500 of it was still owing. Sir Sackville Crowe, when Treasurer between July 1627 and December 1629, took out £3000, and this sum, with the accruing interest, is regularly carried forward as a good asset till 1644, when there is a gap of ten years in the accounts, and in 1654 it no[246] longer appears. From the character of the man it is very unlikely that he ever paid. In 1632 a commission of inquiry issued, but if any report was ever made it has not come down to us. In January 1636 the Chest had £542 in hand and possessed Chislett farm producing £160 a year,[1054] but it was said that its narrow resources were further depleted by money having ‘been bestowed on men that never were at sea.’

Sir John Wolstenholme and others were directed, in December 1635, to inquire into the administration, and their report was sent in by April 1637.[1055] The yearly receipts from land were now £205; since 1617, when there was £3145 in hand, £2580 had been received in rents and £12,600 from the sixpences. Out of this £3766 had been expended in purchasing land and £10,621 in relieving seamen; £159 remained in the Chest, and £3780 was owing to it. Of the £3780 some of the items went back to Elizabethan days, and Roger Langford, Sir Peter Buck, some of the master shipwrights, and two ladies were among the debtors. Between 1621 and 1625, inclusive, there was paid £1722 in gratuities and pensions, and between 1625 and 1629, £1372;[1056] as the first series were mostly peace, and the second war years, the men were either very successful in avoiding injury between 1625 and 1629 or, as is more likely, were defrauded of the benefits they could rightly claim. The result of the commission was that fresh rules, signed by Windebank, were shortly afterwards made, directing the Treasurer of the Navy to pay over the sixpences within one month of their deduction from wages, to make up the accounts yearly and ‘publish them to all the governors,’ that no pension was to exceed £6, 8s 4d a year, although an additional gratuity might be given, and that the keepers of the keys were to be changed yearly.[1057] As the last regulation was only a repetition of the one made in 1625, it is to be presumed that it had been previously ignored.

Neither now nor afterwards, neither in official papers nor in the sheaves of ephemeral publications which enlightened this and the succeeding century, does it seem, with one exception, to have entered into the minds of those who ruled or those who tried to teach that the cost of providing for the wants or age of men disabled by service should in justice fall upon the country they had spent their youth and health in protecting, instead of on an accident fund maintained from their own meagre earnings. The one government which in this, as in other matters, had a higher perception of its duties was that of Cromwell, and even here only in a limited sense. The host of pamphleteers who in the succeeding reigns lamented the condition of the royal and merchant marine, or aired their[247] universal panaceas for its ills, only rang the changes on further methods for the exploitation of the seaman to the private profit of the shipowner and the general profit of the state. For him to carry the burden of empire was to be its own reward.

The only consecutive accounts preserved for this reign are contained in two volumes kept in the Museum at Greenwich.[1058] They extend from 14th April 1637 to 23rd April 1644, and, in round figures, give the following results:—

Owing to chest Received Expended Received from land No. of Pensioners[1059]
£ £ £ £
1637-8 3768 1545 1361 248 62
1638-9 6215 1609 1215 59
1639-40 5600 1849 1364 59
1640-1 5200 2371 2019 35
1641-2 4800 2761 2635 479 55
1642-3 4400 2108 1738 60
1643-4[1060] 4400 1238 958 61
1644[1061] 4400 845 483 321[1062]

We do not know on what principle donations were allowed, but, besides being slow and uncertain, gratuities were frequently dispensed by favour rather than by merit. In 1637 a man hurt in 1628 received £2, and Apslyn, a shipwright, had £5, 3s 4d, being compensation for the loss of his apprentice’s services during 62 days, a sort of loss certainly never intended to be indemnified by the founders of the Chest. The majority of the men on the pension list, had £5 or £6 each, but most of the payments to injured men were of a donative character not involving any further responsibility. Medical charges relating to the dockyards were also met from the Chest, a Chatham surgeon being paid £43, 1s 4d in 1638 for attending to shipwrights injured while working on the Sovereign of the Seas. The next year has a somewhat belated entry of £3 to Wm. Adam, barber-surgeon, ‘for sundry hurts and bruises received in Queen Elizabeth’s service,’ and again we find £33, 11s 4d paid to a Woolwich medical man for care of shipwrights injured in rebuilding the Prince; in 1640 surgeons were attached to the dockyards whose salaries of £40 a year were paid from the Chest money. The compensation for a bruise ranged from £1 to £2. Sometimes widows were granted burial money and a further small sum for ‘present relief,’ but never, apparently, pensions. A normally recurring item is a gift of £4, 10s a year to the almshouse founded by[248] Hawkyns at Chatham, and with equal regularity there is an annual outlay of some £5 for the governors’ dinners.

However open to criticism may have been the administration of the Chatham Chest at this time, it was undoubtedly in a condition of ideal purity compared with the depths of organised infamy to which it sank during the eighteenth century.

The Rainsborow Mutiny.

The reign of Charles I commenced with mutinies; it ended in 1648 with another which deserves examination, since upon it some writers have based an inference of general unfaithfulness to the Parliament, while in reality, whatever conclusions may be deduced, that, so far as the bulk of the men were concerned, is not one of them. From the days of Elizabeth, when they were accustomed to be led by captains who were seamen by vocation and sometimes by descent, often of their own class, and who understood them and their wants, the men had shown an intense dislike to the landsmen who by a change of system in later years had been placed over them, who obtained their posts mainly by rank or influence, were ignorant of maritime matters, and were associated with a succession of disasters and years of abject misery. Manwayring, writing in the reign of James I, says that volunteers usually returned knowing as little as when they sailed, since the professional seamen hated them, and gentlemen generally, and would give no instruction. Another seaman attributed the disasters of the early years of the reign to the appointment of landsmen as captains and officers.[1063] The experiences of more recent years were not likely to have lessened that feeling.

During the war, therefore, the fleet had been commanded chiefly by admirals and captains who were trained seamen of no exceptional social position, but, judging from subsequent events, there must have been a sufficient leaven of landsmen in places of trust to keep alive the old prejudices. When, therefore, Wm. Batten, an experienced officer of many years’ standing, who was vice-admiral and commanding in the Channel, and who had done good service to the state, was displaced in 1647, and his responsible charge given to Colonel Rainsborow, who began actual control in January 1648, there was doubtless some murmuring, although no evidence of it has survived. Nothing occurred during the winter, and in May 1648 there were forty-one ships in commission, of which only three were commanded by military officers; but the appointment of Rainsborow may have been regarded, as it actually proved to be, as the commencement of a return to the old system. Moreover the Navy, generally, was presbyterian in feeling, while Rainsborow was a fanatical Independent and, judging from one of the accusations brought against him, does not appear[249] to have exercised his authority with tact or discretion. In addition to this a certain amount of ill-feeling existed between the army and the Navy, the latter not being inclined to coerce the Parliament to the extent desired by the army, and Batten, in the ‘Declaration’ which explained his reasons for desertion, dwelt on the efforts of the army leaders ‘to flood the ships with soldiers.’ If the accusation was true, it would be a certain way, in the state of feeling between the two services, to give fresh life to the latent antagonism existing. We have no details of the workings of discontent which led up to action any more than we have of the secret cabals which preceded the Spithead mutiny of 1797, but in each case the outbreak was equally sudden. Towards the end of May the crews in the Downs put Rainsborow ashore, giving as their reasons:—

1st. The parliament of late grant commissions to the sea commanders in their own names, leaving out the King. 2nd. Several land-men made sea commanders. 3rd. The insufferable pride, ignorance, and insolency of Col. Rainsborow, the late vice-admiral, alienated the hearts of the seamen.[1064]

Rainsborow had made his mark as a soldier, but he was not a stranger to the sea, for he had commanded a man-of-war in 1643. It is noticeable that no complaints are made about their treatment by the government, about their pay or victuals, and succeeding events showed how little the great majority of the fleet were in sympathy with the grandiloquent threats of the ringleaders on the King’s behalf. Warwick was at once sent to resume the command of the fleet and adjust the differences existing. Whitelocke says that the men ‘sent for the Earl of Warwick’ and that ‘the Derby House Committee, to follow the humour of the revolters,’ directed Warwick to go, so that at this stage it is evident that having rid themselves of Rainsborow, they looked to Warwick rather than to Charles. We do not know what measures the earl took, but, in the last days of June, the crews of nine ships,[1065] perhaps terrified at finding they received such slight support from the others and fearing punishment, possibly also influenced by Batten, went over with him to the Prince of Wales in Holland. That so long an interval elapsed between the commencement of the revolt and their desertion shows how little the latter was at first contemplated.

It has been recently said: ‘While the army was so formidable the navy scarcely existed. The sailors generally were for the King. Many had revolted and carried their ships across[250] to Charles II in Holland, while in the crews that remained disaffection prevailed dangerously.’ It would be difficult to mass more inaccuracies in so many words. There were forty-one fighting-ships actually at sea, a larger number than had been collected since the days of Elizabeth, and immeasurably superior as a fighting machine to anything which had existed since 1588. The ‘many’ which had revolted were nine, and of these three were small pinnaces of an aggregate of 210 tons and 180 men; of the others, one was a second and the rest third and fourth-rates. If ‘disaffection prevailed dangerously,’ it is strange that not only did none of the remaining ships join the revolters, but they were known to be ready to fight them, and Batten on one occasion avoided an action on account of ‘the very notable resistance’ to be expected.[1066] Instead of being disaffected, Warwick found that on board his own ship they prepared for fighting ‘with the greatest alacrity that ever I saw ... which, as the captains informed me, was likewise the general temper of the rest of the fleet.’ Finally the sailors in the Downs, who ‘generally were for the King’ and were actuated by ‘inherent loyalty,’ concurred in December in the Army Remonstrance, requiring that Charles I, ‘the capital and grand author of our troubles,’ should be brought to justice for the ‘treason, blood, and mischief’ he had caused. The after story of the revolted ships is just as instructive on the point of their disaffection to the Parliament. No sooner had they reached Holland than the men commenced to desert. By November five vessels had been brought back to England, and the ill-will manifested on the others was so pronounced that it was necessary to place strong bodies of cavaliers on board to keep the seamen in subjection.[1067]

The outburst would have been serious had it been general. It was confined to a small section of the naval force, was due to dissensions relating to men rather than principles, and gives small countenance to the view that the Navy repented the part it had taken. The loyalty of the majority and the speedy penitence of the minority were the best tests of the temper in which the Parliament was judged by those who upheld it afloat; and if the disaffected minority loved Rainsborow and his employers little they showed that they liked Charles Stuart less.



The Royal Ships in 1625.

When Charles I inherited the crown, his fleet consisted of 4 first, 14 second, 8 third, and 4 fourth rates;[1068] of these 1 first, 7 second, 6 third, and the 4 fourth rates were comparatively new ships, the oldest being the Prince, launched in 1610. The others were originally Elizabethan, had been repaired, rebuilt or patched up more or less effectively at various times, and of them the Lion of 1582 was the most ancient. The recent accessions were, for reasons previously noticed, more commodious and better seaboats than their predecessors, but the King had yet to learn that the mere possession of a naval framework in the shape of hulls, spars and guns was of little use without efficient crews, and adequate knowledge and honest effort on the part of the subordinate officials on whom fell the responsibility of preparation and equipment. Whether due to a desire to save the royal ships as much as possible, to want of men to man them properly, or to their generally inefficient state, the expeditions of 1625-7-8 included a very large proportion of armed merchantmen. In 1625 there were twelve men-of-war and seventy-three merchantmen;[1069] in 1627 fourteen of the former, of which three were small pinnaces and eighty-two of the latter[1070]; and in 1628 the second Rochelle fleet, which Lindsey commanded, was made up of twenty-nine King’s ships and thirty-one merchantmen.[1071] But under Lindsey, ten of the royal ships[252] were of the class known as ‘whelps,’ just built, and measuring 180 tons each, and ten were pinnaces of 50 tons or under, so that only nine vessels of the real fighting line were with him. We shall see that the owners of merchantmen, who could neither escape the calls made on their ships nor get paid for their services, by no means valued the honour thus thrust upon them.

Charles, like his father, felt a keen interest in the Navy. In the case of James I it was prized more as an imposing appurtenance of his regal dignity than from any statesmanlike appreciation of its importance; in that of his son the evidence goes to show that, while vanity was sometimes a ruling motive,[1072] he was also fully alive to the weight a powerful fleet gave to English diplomacy. The State Papers show that he exercised a constant personal supervision in naval affairs, sometimes overruling the opinions of his officials in technical details of which he could have possessed no special knowledge. No new vessels were built during the first years of the reign. Theoretically, with the assistance of the hired merchantmen available, the Royal Navy was sufficient for the duties it was called upon to perform. Practically, it was found that even those that were seaworthy were too slow under sail, as were also the merchantmen, to deal with the plague of Dunkirk privateers and Moorish pirates, who swarmed in the narrow seas, and who almost blockaded the coasts except for large and heavily-armed ships.

A chief article of accusation brought by the Parliament against Buckingham was that he had neglected his duty in taking few or no measures against these enemies, but if all the charges made against him had as little foundation, his reputation would be higher than it now stands. The Channel squadron had been increased, two special expeditions had been sent out after them, and any prizes likely to prove fast sailers had been taken into the Royal service for the purpose of being so employed, but as the Turks and Dunkirkers, built for speed, could sail at least twice as fast as the English, it was only under exceptional circumstances that one was sometimes captured. In 1624 the Captain of one of the Commissioners’ new and improved ships indignantly reported that some Dutch men-of-war he met had deliberately and contemptuously sailed round him. This was square rig versus square rig. Remembering that the Turks undoubtedly were lateen-rigged, that the Dunkirkers probably used some modification of it, and that this is still the most effective spread of canvas known for light vessels of moderate tonnage, we need not wonder that the lumbering English third and[253] fourth rates, built for close action, could never get near them. During the Rhé voyage sixty English ships chased some Dunkirkers, but only one pinnace could overtake them, and that of course could not venture to attack.[1073] But there were also other causes. In 1634 Pennington wrote to the Admiralty that he had just met a fleet of seventeen Dutch ships,

‘all tallowed and clean from the ground, which is a course that they duly observe every two months, or three at the most ... which is the only cause which makes them go and work better than ours; whereas our ships are grounded and graved two or three months before they come out, and never tallowed, so that they are foul again before we get to sea with them, and then they are kept out for eight or ten months, whereby they are so overgrown with barnacles and weeds under water that it is impossible that they should either go well or work yarely ... all men-of-war, of what nation soever, whether Turk or Christian, keep this course of cleansing their ships once in two or three months but us.’[1074]

Therefore the first additions to the navy were small, fast-sailing vessels, built or bought with this object, and the master shipwrights were several times called upon to furnish designs of ships especially adapted for chasing the privateers. Their first suggestion, in December 1625, was for a cruiser whose length, over all, would have been nearly four-and-a-half times her breadth, and this is noticeable as a marked step in the tendency now existing to increase the proportion between length and beam.[1075] Again, in March 1627[1076] they proposed ‘a nimble and forcible ship of 339 tons to meet the Dunkirkers;’ but in this case the length was rather less than four times the beam, and eventually pecuniary necessities compelled the government to be content with vessels of a smaller model, called ‘whelps,’ contrived for sweeps as well as sails, and whose length was nearly two-and-a-half times the breadth. In merchantmen the keel was still only about two and a half times the beam.[1077] Although English ships were slow, they were strong. Nathaniel Butler, a naval captain, attributed their sluggishness as compared with the Dutch to[254] their being ‘so full of timber ... we building ours for seventy years, they theirs for seven;’ and Northumberland, in 1636, described some of them as ‘so clogged with timber’ that there was no room for stores.[1078] Modern builders would probably ascribe their want of speed to faulty lines rather than to excess of material; but if it was a defect it was one of which we reaped the full benefit in the first war with Holland, when the Dutch ships, splendidly as they were fought, were riven and sunk by the more solid and more heavily armed English men-of-war long before their crews were beaten.

The Navy List.

The following vessels were added to the Navy during the reign of Charles, including such prizes as were taken into the service and remained in it until useless:—[1079]

Prize Built Rebuilt Keel in ft. Beam in ft. Depth[1080] in ft. Draught in ft. Gross tonnage Guns
St Claude[1081] 1625 300
St Denis 1625 104 32.5 11.9 528 38
St Mary[1082] 1626
St Anne[1082] 1626 350
Espérance[1083] 1626 250
Henrietta[1084] 1626 52 15 6.6 68 6
Maria[1084] 1626 52 15 6.6 68 6
Spy[1085] 1626 20
10 Lion’s Whelps[1086] 1627 62 25 9 185 14
Fortune[1087] 1627 300
St Esprit[1088] 1627
Vanguard 1630 112 36.4 13.10 750 40
Charles 1632 105 33.7 16.3 16.8 810 44
Henrietta Maria 1632 106 35.9 15.8 793 42
James 1633 110 37.6 16.2 17.2 875 48
Unicorn 1633 107 36.4 15.1 16.3 823 46
Leopard 1634 95 33 12.4 12.9 515 34
Swallow 1634 96 32.2 11.7 12.3 478 34
Swan[1089] 1636
Nicodemus[1089] 1636 63 19 9.6 105 6
Roebuck 1636 57 18.1 6.8 90 10[255]
Greyhound 1636 60 20.3 7.8 126 12
Expedition 1637 90 26 9.8 301 30
Providence 1637 90 26 9.9 304 30
Sovereign 1637 127 46.6 19.4 1522 100
Lion 1640 108 35.4 15.6 17.6 717 52
Prince 1641 115 43 18 1187 64
Satisfaction 1646 220 26
Adventure 1646 94 27 9.11 14 385 38
Nonsuch 1646 98 28.4 14.2 389 34
Assurance 1646 89 26.1 11 13 341 32
Constant Warwick[1091] 1646 90 28 12 12.8 379 30
Phœnix 1647 96 28.6 14.3 414 38
Dragon 1647 96 30 12 15 414 38
Tiger 1647 99 29.4 12 14.8 447 38
Elizabeth 1647 101.6 29.8 14.10 471 38
Old Warwick 1646 22
Hart[1092] 10
Truelove[1092] 6
Fellowship[1092] 28
Globe[1092] 24
Hector[1092] 20

The James, Assurance, Elizabeth, Tiger, Nonsuch, Swallow, and Henrietta Maria, were built at Deptford, the first four by Peter Pett, who also built the Constant Warwick at Ratcliff. The Sovereign, Prince, Leopard, Greyhound, Unicorn, Roebuck, Adventure, Phœnix, and Charles, at Woolwich; the Henrietta Maria, Vanguard, Lion, and Dragon, at Chatham. Phineas Pett, who built the Sovereign and rebuilt the Prince, was a son, by a second marriage, of the Peter Pett, master shipwright in the reign of Elizabeth; his son, Peter Pett, junior, built the Nonsuch, Adventure and Phœnix. The Peter Pett of Deptford was a grandson of the Elizabethan Pett.

The Ten Whelps.

The first two pinnaces constructed, the Henrietta and the Maria, were, it is expressly stated,[1093] to be ‘carvel built,’ a distinction which implies that hitherto such small vessels had been clinch or ‘clinker built;’ we have seen that large ones[256] were mostly carvel, or flush planked, in the reign of Henry VIII.[1094] We do not hear that they proved satisfactory in either speed or power, and next year the contract for the ten whelps was divided among nine shipwrights, some of them private builders, at £3 5s a ton.[1095] They were to be able to use sweeps, and were square rigged, with three masts, two decks and a round house, as miniature copies of the large ships; like those also they were too heavily sparred and ordnanced. Of heavy guns each was intended to carry four culverins, four demi-culverins, and two brass sakers, but subsequently two demi-cannon were added, and the strain of this armament proved too great for both their sailing and seagoing qualities. Their demi-cannon were mostly stored in hold at sea, instead of being on deck.[1096] They were afterwards said to have been built in haste, ‘of mean, sappy timber, for particular service,’[1097] and to be weakly constructed, costing relatively large sums to maintain in serviceable condition; they were used a good deal for winter service in the four seas, and only one of them lived into the days of the Commonwealth. Two were lost returning from Rochelle; and by 1631 the sixth and seventh whelps had disappeared from the lists, the seventh by the simple process of sending the gunner into the magazine with a naked light while she was in action with a Dunkirker. The fifth was lost in July 1637, and her experience of straining till she took in water through her closed ports, and opened her seams, was probably that undergone by most of those that foundered.[1098] The fourth whelp was handed over ‘for a design to be practised on by a Dutchman’s project,’ and she passes out of the Navy list.[1099] These whelps were the first representatives, in intention, although not in form, of the regular sloop and gunboat class afterwards so largely used for minor police purposes.

During the years of foreign warfare it was found easier to turn suitable prizes into men-of-war than to arrive at the money necessary for new ships, but from 1632 until the commencement of domestic trouble it will be seen that vessels were added in regular succession. It will be observed in the preceding[257] list of ships that a keel length of three times the beam was, roughly, the ratio in favour during the middle of the reign, while on reference to the Elizabethan Navy list, the proportion in the majority is seen to be one of about two and a half times the breadth. Whether the alteration was due to theoretical calculation or to study of the lines of foreign ships we have no means of deciding, but the increase in length is still more pronounced in the vessels launched in 1646 and 1647, their keels being sometimes nearly three and a half times their beam. According to Pepys this last improvement was due to Pett’s observation of a French ship lying in the river, in which case the French designers had already obtained that superiority in the art of shipbuilding which they held until speed became a matter of engine power.

The new Ships.

The cost of the Charles and Henrietta Maria was £10,849, and of launching and taking them from Woolwich to Chatham, £1222; that of the James and Unicorn came to £12,632,[1100] the increased totals as compared with the St George and St Andrew, of the previous reign, being attributed to sounder workmanship and higher prices for labour and materials. A further sum of £4076, was paid on the James and Unicorn for ‘rigging, launching, furnishing, and transporting’ them from Woolwich and Deptford to Chatham, work which included 65 tons of cordage at £35 a ton, 214 cwt. of anchors at £2 per cwt., suits of sails at £225 a suit, waistcloths and top armours of red cloth for both £132,[1101] and trumpeters and pipes at their launch, £15.[1102] The King and Queen were present at the launch of these vessels, and £14, 5s 4d was spent in sweetmeats for them and their attendants. Pennington wrote to the Lords of the Admiralty that the Vanguard and the Henrietta Maria were both good ships, although the latter was ‘extraordinarily housed in aloft;’ privately, to Nicholas, he said that there had been ‘great abuse both in materials and workmanship.’[1103] When he had to try the Unicorn he in that instance gave his unfavourable report directly to the Admiralty. On joining at Tilbury he found her so crank that she could carry no sail. Three shipwrights on board—Ed. Boate, who built her, Pett, and Austin—persuaded him to take in another hundred tons of ballast, and the extra weight brought her so low that the gun-deck ports had to be caulked up, as ‘in a reasonable gale of wind’ she would lay them under water. Pennington was still unwilling to venture out with the ship, ‘but in regard to the poor man’s disgrace that built her,’ he gave her a trial at sea, and decides that she[258] ‘is dangerous and unserviceable,’ cannot work her guns, and will not live in a gale.[1104]

Under these circumstances the authorities naturally desired to be informed by the Trinity House experts and the masters of the Shipwrights’ Company why they had given a certificate approving the Unicorn. They answered that they thought she would be a failure, ‘but rather than disgrace any workman they put their hands, hoping the ship might prove well.’[1105] The defence sounds weakly benevolent, but that they were either too ignorant themselves to judge, or that the ganglionic plexus of fraud uniting most officials made them unwilling to venture on such a dangerous novelty as an honest opinion, is much more likely than that they were actuated by goodwill towards each other, a feeling they always successfully suppressed where hostile criticism could be safely hazarded. ‘The bruits of this disaster have spread far and wide,’ wrote Edisbury, and many opinions were obtained as to the best course to take, the discussion ending in girdling her, a method which increased her stiffness at the expense of her speed. The Unicorn’s ports were intended to be 5 feet above the water line, but they proved to be but 3 feet 7 inches from it. ‘The King’s ships are not built as they should be, nor like merchant ships,’ Pennington complained.[1106]

The Roebuck and Greyhound of 1636 were built from the waste of the Sovereign, then on the stocks, and the Providence and Expedition in 1637 were finished in time to join Rainsborow before Sallee, vessels of lighter draught than those he had with him, but of some force, being required. The other accessions of 1636, the Swan and Nicodemus were both Dunkirk prizes, and added to the Navy as being the fastest vessels afloat. Pennington recommended that the Swan should be used as a model by English builders, and the Nicodemus was said to run away from everything, ‘as a greyhound does from a little dog.’

Shipwrights’ Errors.

Noticing the general discrepancies between designs and results in shipbuilding, Charles II remarked a generation later of Christopher Pett, when he turned out a successful ship, ‘I am sure it must be God put him in the way, for no art of his own could ever have done it.’ An observer of this date, Kenrick Edisbury, who succeeded Sir Thos. Aylesbury as Surveyor of the Navy, perhaps better qualified to judge,[259] attributed part of the apparent error rather to self-interest. ‘I never yet knew,’ he writes to Nicholas, ‘any ship built by day-work but the shipwrights have made them of greater burden than their warrants mentioned, as you may discern by this new ship now in building at Deptford, which I am persuaded will prove 200 tons greater than was appointed.’[1107] Edisbury was referring to either the Leopard or the Swallow, and there is an instructive paper relating to these two vessels which shows the lack of exactness, whether due to ignorance or intention. It gives the measurements as ordered by the King—the shipwrights intrusted with the work received their instructions from him personally[1108]—and as they actually were.[1109]

Leopard Swallow ‘Dimensions
by his
Feet Feet Feet
Keel 95 96 93
Beam inside the plank 33 32.2 31
Depth from upper edge of keel to diameter of breadth 12.4 11.7½  
Depth of keel 1.7 1.8
Rake of stem 30.6 28.4 27
Rake of stern post 4.3 4.8 4
The flat of the floor 13 13 13
Midship draught 12.9 12.3 11.6
Distance of lower edge of port from greatest breadth 5 4.10½ 5.6
Distance between ports 8.6 and 9 8 8
From deck to lower edge of ports 2.1 2.1 2.2
Breadth of ports 2.4 2.4 2.4
Depth of ports 2.2 2.2 2.4
From the diameter of breadth to the top of the waist 13.6 12.7
Between decks 6.6 6.7 6.8
Gross tonnage 515 478 384
Report on the Ships.

In January 1626-7 we have a report on the qualities of the new ships added since 1618, and built under Burrell’s superintendence while he was the Commissioners’ principal subordinate. The Constant Reformation is said to be strongly built and seaworthy, but cannot work her lower tier in a moderate sea; the Victory weakly built and crank, as is also the Garland which is a slow sailer as well. The Swiftsure, Bonaventure, and Mary Rose are all condemned as badly built, crank, or slow under sail. The St George, St Andrew, and Triumph are awarded faint praise. It must, however, be remembered that this survey was made by Burrell’s professional competitors, of whose envy and jealousy there is incidental evidence yet remaining, and that at least five of these vessels, after years of sailing and fighting round half the world, are to[260] be found still fit for service in the Navy lists of Charles II. The Commissioners claimed that, with the exception of the earlier Bonaventure, theirs were the first additions to the Navy that could carry out their guns ‘in all fighting weathers.’

The Sovereign of the Seas.

It is unnecessary to describe the Sovereign of the Seas, accounts of which, based on Thos. Heywood’s well-known tract,[1110] have been several times given in various works. Some details, however, not known to Heywood, may be given here. The suggestion must have been under discussion for some time, but the first mention of her is in August 1634, when the masters of the Trinity House, apparently without being asked for it, volunteered an opinion that such a ship was an impossible dream.[1111] Their dogmatic statement that a three-decker was a thing ‘beyond the art or wit of man to construct,’ has already been quoted, but they further insisted that, if built, there was no port, ‘the Isle of Wight only’ excepted, in which she could ride, and no ground tackle which would hold her. No notice seems to have been taken of their long and poetically expressed effusion, and in January 1635 an estimate was called for of a vessel of 1500 tons, (‘the king with his own hand hath set down the burden;‘), and in March, Phineas Pett was ordered to prepare a model of ‘the ship royal,’ and was told that ‘you principally are appointed by his majesty for the building of the same.’[1112] A month later Pennington, Mansell, Phineas Pett, and John Wells[1113] met, and agreed on dimensions, which were substantially those afterwards adopted, and the gross tonnage was to be by depth 1466 tons, by draught 1661 tons, and by beam 1836 tons; but no explanation is given of the way in which these figures are arrived at.[1114] Pett’s estimate of the cost was £13,680;[1115] perhaps he really did not know, perhaps he did not wish to frighten Charles, but the amount eventually spent on her, exclusive of guns, was £40,833 8s 1½d.[1116] Comparing this sum with the £5500 to £6500 which was the average cost of a forty-gun ship, there must have been, even allowing for the much larger proportion spent in decoration of various kinds, great extravagance in some respects.

Before commencing work Pett desired that the principal officers, who, he said, had always shown themselves adverse, should neither provide materials nor make any payments without his signed order. ‘Already I find certain extraordinary unnecessary charges of new building of dwelling-houses[261] bestowed and employed in Woolwich yard, which I doubt not will be brought upon the charge of the ship.’[1117] As this was occurring while the trees which were to form her frame were yet in leaf in Chopwell and Brancepeth woods, it gives us an interesting glimpse into the habits of the chief Officers of the Navy, and the estimation in which they were held by one who was brought into daily contact with them. The keel was laid at Woolwich, in the presence of Charles, on 16th January 1636, and she was launched in October 1637. Pett had recommended that the launching should be deferred till the spring, since the vessel would grow foul lying in the river through the winter, and would then require redocking. Pett’s proposal was annotated by the king, ‘I am not of your opinion.’[1118] Charles had a dull optimism, unshaken by any number of blunders, in the value of a royal opinion, whether applied to subjects of general policy or to such a technical matter as the rate at which a ship’s hull was likely to grow foul.[1119]

The wages bill on the Sovereign amounted to £20,948, and joining, painting, and carving to £6691; but in the case of this ship the large sum spent in decoration has in popular imagination, as expressed in pictures and descriptions, implied an equivalent expenditure on other ships which did not really occur. Where details are given of the cost of men-of-war, or of their repairs, the money spent on ornamental carving and painting bears a very small proportion to the total; and it is quite likely that the conventional representations of sixteenth and earlier seventeenth century vessels are altogether wrong in this respect, and that men-of-war of these times, at any rate those of the second, third, and fourth ranks, were little more bedecked than modern merchantmen. The manner in which the adornments of the Prince and Sovereign are described and dwelt upon as out of the common points to the probability that other ships possessed few of these external attractions. The Elizabeth and Triumph, the Ark Royal and Merhonour were as relatively important in their day as the Prince and Sovereign, but, with the exceptions already noticed under the reign of Elizabeth, allusion to any special ornamentation is in their case exceptional, still less, then, would the smaller vessels be much beautified by gold, colours, and carving. Decoration, perhaps, became much more general and expensive after the Restoration; but John Holland attributed the increased expenditure on it that began about now to the absence of control over the master shipwrights,[262] who were permitted to do much as they liked and would not be outdone by each other.

The Sovereign being afloat, the next proceeding was to arm her, and for this purpose 102 brass guns were required, costing, by estimation, £24,753, 8s 8d.[1120] They were thus divided:—

Number Length each Weight each Total
Ft. Cwt. Tons Cwt.
Lower tier
Luffs, quarters, and sides 20 cannon drakes[1121] 9 45 } 64 16
Stern chasers 4 demi-cannon drakes 12½ 53 }
Fore chasers 2 11½ 48 }
Bows abaft the chase 2 10 44 }
Middle tier
Luffs, quarters, and sides 24 culverin drakes 28 } 45 4
Fore chase 2 culverins 11½ 48 }
After chase 4 11½ 48 }
Upper tier
Sides 24 demi-culverin drakes 18 } 27 12
Fore chase 2 demi-culverins 10 30 }
After chase 10 30 }
Forecastle 8 demi-culverin drakes 9 20 8 0
Half-deck 6 9 20 6 0
Quarter-deck 2 8 16
Bulkhead abaft the forecastle 2 culverin drakes 11 1 2

The first estimate was for 90 guns, and here again we read, ‘His majesty has since altered his resolution both in respect of the number and nature of pieces.’ If Pett originally designed the ship for 90 lighter guns, and Charles raised the number and weight by a stroke of the pen to 102, trying to ignore, in the plenitude of his royal power, such things as metacentres and centres of gravity, it is not surprising that she proved topheavy at sea. It was one of those cases in which ignorance is bliss, but, without reading modern scientific knowledge into the past, we know he had professional advisers at hand whose empirical skill was sufficient to enable them to warn him of the folly of such a change. The guns were engraved—at a cost of £3 each—with the rose and crown, sceptre and trident, and anchor and cable. In a compartment under the rose and crown was the inscription, Carolus Edgari sceptrum stabilivit aquarum, ‘being a scutcheon and motto appointed by his majesty.’[1122] In January 1640 occurs an estimate for a sister ship to the Sovereign; but of this, of course, nothing more was ever heard.[1123]

We have no station list for the Sovereign, as for the Henry Grace à Dieu but, as a part of ordinary discipline,[263] divisions or quarters seem to have been usual. There is a station list of this period for a vessel of 40 guns and 250 men which may be considered typical.[1124] The heavy guns required 136 men, and 50 more formed the small arms company. The boatswain and his mate had 40 under their command to work the ship under the orders of the master and his mate, who were attended by 2 men. The carpenter and his mates had 6 men, the cook, steward, and surgeon, each 2 for assistants, and 4 men were told off to steer, and 4 to remain with the trumpeters. Finally the captain and lieutenant had 2 men in attendance. The heaviest guns were allowed 5 men each; and the number varied down to 5 men between two of the smaller guns.

Of the eight vessels of 1646 and 1647 there is nothing to say beyond once more noticing the marked increase in the ratio between length and beam. There is not to be found, among the Commonwealth papers, any mention in praise or dispraise of their weatherly and fighting qualities, and from this silence we may infer that they were found to be, in essentials, all that was expected.

Probably a sixteenth or seventeenth century ship was not a particularly picturesque object. Instead of the graceful, beautifully proportioned hulls, spars, and sails of to-day, the reader must imagine a short, squat, hull, round-bowed and square-sterned, enormously high and broad in comparison with its length, and the sides falling in towards each other till the upper deck was perhaps only two-thirds of the width on the water line. The stern was the highest part of the ship, and the bows the lowest, so that she looked as though she was always premeditating a plunge forward, and the longitudinal curve of the sides was broken by huge channels opposite each mast to which were fastened the shrouds. Above, the stumpy masts and spars must have looked ridiculously out of proportion to the ponderous hull, although they were in reality usually too heavy in relation to the badly designed and placed weights below. As for the gilt and painting, a week of rough weather would have converted the original tawdry splendour into a forlorn slatternliness.

The remaining Elizabethan Ships.

Most of the remaining Elizabethan ships passed out of the service. The hull of the Bear was sold in 1629 for £315, the Answer and Crane for £101, and towards the end of the reign, the Dreadnought, Due Repulse, Adventure, and Assurance were broken up. In 1635 Charles, again exemplifying the very real interference, if not control, he exercised in naval matters, ordered, against the recommendations of the Principal Officers, that the Warspite should be cut down into a lighter for harbour service at Portsmouth. But the most[264] serious loss in this class was that of the Anne Royal, which in April 1636, when fitted as Northumberland’s flagship, was bilged on her own anchor when bringing to in the river. The disaster was attributed to the pilot and master giving contradictory orders, and when she was lying on her broadside and full of water her officers made matters worse by cutting holes in the upper side to recover their belongings.[1125] Of course nine members of the Trinity House at once certified that it was impossible to raise the Anne, just as a year before they had petitioned against the Foreland lights as ‘useless and unnecessary,’[1126] and just as on every point referred to them they showed a persistence in being stultified by events, extraordinary even in a corporation. Two townsmen of Great Yarmouth offered to float the ship for £2000; the Principal Officers thought they could do it for £1450, and eventually they did raise her, but with the customary variation in official calculations, at a charge of £5355.[1127] She was taken to the East India Company’s dock at Blackwall, and there, being found to be too severely damaged for repair, broken up.

Of the later ships, the Phœnix and Nonsuch were sold; the Reformation, Antelope, Swallow, and Convertine were carried off by the mutineers of 1648 and lost to the English Navy, and most of the prizes of the earlier years were subsequently given to private individuals or to commercial associations. The King had no fleet after 1642, and seized upon any expedient likely to give him one. In November 1643 he granted a commission to Jeronimo Cæsar de Caverle as Vice-admiral, De Caverle contracting to obtain, man, and fit out five ships for £2000 a month, to be paid out of any prizes he might take from the supporters of the Parliament.[1128] This, like Rupert’s commission, was a premium on piracy.

The French Navy.

Not the least interesting of the papers of this reign are those which show what a close watch was kept on the growth of the nascent French navy. In 1625 Louis was compelled to borrow vessels from Charles, but in 1626 Richelieu bought up or confiscated local or opposing rights and constituted himself head of the navy, assisted by a conseil de marine. That which must have been the nucleus of his fleet, the purchase of four vessels built for him in the Low Countries, is duly reported to our King.[1129] Again in 1627 there are several notices of fresh purchases from the Dutch, and in September Mervyn was ordered to intercept and destroy them on their passage to France.[1130] By this time the French had[265] thirty-three ships before Rochelle, but eighteen of them were under 200 tons each, and probably most were hired merchantmen.[1131] In 1630 ten ‘dragones’ were being built at Havre in imitation of the whelps, and a correspondent, writing from Bordeaux, says that there are ‘so many good ships of the King of France’s navy that unless I had been an eye-witness thereof I should not have believed it possible.’[1132] There were forty ships ‘of good force’ there. In 1631 Charles appears to have obtained a detailed list of the then existing French marine, thus classified:—[1133]

900 tons 700 tons 600 tons 500 tons & 40 guns 450 tons & 36 guns 400 tons & 34 guns 300 tons & 28 guns 250 tons & 23 guns 200 tons & 18 guns
Brest 1 2 3 6 2 1 1
Bordeaux 3 3 1 1
Blaye 1 1 1
Brouage 1 2 1 2
St. Malo 1 1 1
At sea 1 1 1

There were also two of 1400 and 700 tons, respectively, building. It must be confessed that this force, created within five years and manned by Breton and Norman seamen, was calculated to give pause to the rulers of the painfully maintained English Navy. Still more significant was the fact that only twelve were Dutch-built; Richelieu had soon freed France from dependence on foreign artisans. The proportion of guns on French vessels was smaller than that on English vessels of corresponding tonnage, an excess of metal having been characteristic of our equipment until the eighteenth century. In 1639 their strength had so far increased that they had forty sail and ten fireships in the Channel, and there was also a powerful Dutch fleet, so that Pennington was directed to stop any suitable merchantmen and add them to his squadron.

A navy, however, which was not the result of natural growth, but depended on the energy and will of one man, was predestined to decay. The French marine, as Professor Laughton has pointed out, really began with Colbert, and in 1661, when he took office, it was reduced to less than 20 seaworthy vessels, against some 150 carried on the English Navy list. The rivalry still existing between the two nations commenced very early. As soon as the Sovereign was built, a similar ship was considered a necessity for France, but for[266] some reason it was not until 1657 that their first three-decker was launched.[1134]

Tonnage Measurement.

Closely connected with shipping was the question of tonnage, and the discussion which raged between 1626-8 on the methods of calculating it would require a volume for its full elucidation. The existing rule was recognised as imperfect, but the science of the time was not able to formulate anything satisfactory in its place, for exact measurement has been a matter only of the present century. The following paper, printed in full, may be regarded as representing the various views existing, and will at any rate show how little dependence can be placed on any positive statement of a ship’s tonnage.[1135]

There are three ways of measuring ships now in use:—

Mr Baker’s Old Way—The old way, which was established in Queen Elizabeth’s time, and never questioned all King James his time, is this: The length of the keel, leaving out the false post, if there be any. Multiply by the greatest breadth within the plank, and that product by the depth taken from the breadth to the upper edge of the keel produceth a solid number which divided by 100 gives the contents in tons, into which add one third part for tonnage, so have you the tons and tonnage.

The Adventure of Ipswich

Length 63·6 1802 7737
Breadth 26·2 1417 8037 Within yᵉ plank.
Depth 11 1041 3927 To yᵉ upper edge of keel.
Divisor 100 70
Tons 182,80 1261 9701
One third for tonnage 60,93 [1136]
243,73 tons and tonnage.

It is credibly averred by Sir H. Mervyn and Sir H. Palmer that the old way of measuring was to take the breadth without yᵉ plank and the depth from the breadth to the lower edge of the keel. And this was Baker’s way of measuring.

Second Way—The second way is assumed by the shipwrights of the river to be the old way, but it is not, which makes the ship to be 28 in the hundred greater than the former, and is this: The length of the keel taken as before, or ought to be. The breadth from outside the plank to outside. The depth or draught of water from the breadth to the bottom of the keel all multiplied together and divided by 94 (say they) give the content in tons, into which add one third for tonnage.

Length 63.6 1802 7737
Breadth 26.8 1426 230 Without yᵉ timber and plank.
Depth 12.3 1088 1361 To yᵉ lower edge of keel.
Divisor 94 8026 8721
Tons 220,71
One third for tonnage 73,57
294,28 tons and tonnage.


If you divide this by 100 (which is said to be here done by 94) it is yᵉ true old way, called Baker’s way.

Third Way—The third way was proposed by Mr Gunter, Mr Pett, Mr Stevens, Mr Lyddiard, and myself, who were required by warrant from my lord Duke of Buckingham and the commissioners for the navy (then being) to measure the Adventure of Ipswich, the greatest bilged ship in the river, and from her dimensions to frame a rule that in our best judgments might be indifferently applicable to all kinds of frames. This we performed and yielded our reasons for it, which, to avoid the abuse of furred sides and deep keels and standing strakes, which increaseth the burden but not the hold, was thus: the length by the keel as the first; the depth in hold from the breadth to the seeling;[1137] the mean breadth within that seeling at half that depth multiplied together, and the product divided by 65, gives the tons, into which add one third part for tonnage.

Length 63.6 1802 7737
Mean breadth 22 1342 4227 Within the seeling.
Depth 9.8 985 4265 To the seeling.
Divisor 65 8187 866
Tons 207,83 2317 7095
One third for tonnage 69,27
This increaseth 12 per 100 above the old rule.

There is a fourth way, devised by the shipwrights and Trinity masters, but exploded for the great excess which makes the ship 30 in the hundred greater than the first, and it is thus: length of the keel as at first, middle breadth beneath the greatest, viz. the breadth at the wrunghead, depth to the outside of the plank, all multiplied together and divided by 70.

Length 63.6 1372 5438
Middle breadth 23.7 1051 1525 Without (i.e. outside) timber and plank.
Depth 11.3 1802 7737 Without the plank.
Divisor 70 8154 9019
Tons 240,68 1381 3719
One third for tonnage 80,22

Although this document is quoted at length as showing the opposing views, the controversy began in May 1626, when Wells, Stevens, and others sent in an interesting paper,[1139] which is the one referred to in their ‘third way’ of the preceding, too long to transcribe fully, but from which some extracts may be given. The main question was whether the depth and breadth should be taken from within or without board. In the second case the King paid for more tonnage in a hired ship, especially if she was furred or girdled, than he actually obtained, but the first was held to be a direct incentive to owners to build flimsily. The Adventure of Ipswich was all through the subject of experiment. They say:—


We consider the ship may be considered three ways—the first in cask, and so two butts or four hogsheads make a ton; the second in feet, and so forty feet of timber make a ton, the third in weight and so twenty hundred weight make a ton.... The first seems most rational to us.... We therefore first prescribe the hold of the ship to be the cavity of the vessel contained between the lines of her greatest breadth and depth withinboard ... supposing the lower edge of the (deck) beams to be pitched at the breadth.... We next consider what quantity of cask may be stowed in this hold first by drawing the bends and the form of the cask in each several bend; but this way being subject to error we sought the true contents thereof arithmetically, allowing 4½ feet to the length of a butt, and 2 ft. 8 in. to the depth of the first tier, but 2 ft. 4 in. for the rest of the tiers. This whole body we reduce into feet, and divide the product thereof by sixty, because we find by calculation that a ton of cask stowed to the best advantage will take up as much room as sixty feet solid, and by these means we produce the whole contents of the Adventure’s hold to be 207 tons.

They then proceed to frame the rule they used in the ‘third way’ of the paper of 1627, and notice that practically the Adventure takes a cargo of about 276 tons of coal, but that this brings her midship port within a foot of the water line and renders her unfit for any service. In June the masters of the Trinity House commented on the preceding statement,[1140] and began by declaring that ‘truly to find the contents of the cavity of the hold in cask is not possible.’ They strongly maintained that vessels should be measured from without board, seeing that a furred ship could carry more than if unfurred, ignoring the fact that one object of the proposed new rule was to insure more accurate designing and building by throwing the loss on the owner. ‘The old rule,’ they said, ‘is less true for lately built ships, which have great floors, but true for old ships with small floors.’[1141] Their protest evoked a derisive reply from the government shipwrights, from which it is unnecessary to quote.[1142] Finally an order was issued, 26th May 1628, that all the King’s ships and those hired by him should be measured by taking ‘the length of the keel, leaving out the false post, the greatest breadth within the plank, the depth from that breadth to the upper edge of the keel,’ multiplying these and dividing by one hundred.[1143]

The result of the change was to make vessels apparently smaller, but whether nearer to, or further from, what we should now consider their real tonnage we have no means of deciding conclusively. The comparative measurements of two ships by the old and the new rules may serve as example of the others:—[1144]


Keel Beam Depth Gross tonnage
ft. ft. ft. ft. ft. ft.
Henrietta Maria 106 106 36.5 35.9 16.6 15.8 848 793
Charles 106.4 105.2[1147] 36.3 35.7 16.6 16.3 848 810
The Merchant Marine.

The extensive use made of hired ships between 1625 and 1628 led to several lists being drawn up of the available merchant marine. Before, however, dealing with these, there is another source from which information may be gained. The Trinity House certificates, from May 1625 to March 1638, of new ships requiring ordnance, and which were necessarily sent to London to be armed, have fortunately been preserved.[1148] These certificates probably include every new vessel of any considerable size, and in most cases mention the tonnage and place of construction, and from them, therefore, we can draw fairly reliable conclusions concerning the relative importance of the shipping centres where they were built, and the strength of the merchant navy. In these thirteen years some 380 ships come under notice, inclusive of fifteen prizes and twenty-two bought, mostly from the Dutch, but whether new or old is not stated. The following table gives the number each year:—

1625, 5
1626, 124
1627, 23
1628, 5
1629, 55
1630, 37
1631, 18
1632, 11
1633, 12
1634, 12
1635, 24
1636, 25
1637, 24
1638, 5 (three months)

The sudden increase of 1626 is probably attributable to the number of vessels taken up for the royal service, and to the proclamation of 26th April of that year, by which the bounty of 5s a ton on craft of over 100 tons, and suited for warfare, was renewed. The subsequent falling off, besides being a natural reaction, may have been also due to the difficulty owners experienced in obtaining payment for their ships when hired by the King. An analysis of the places mentioned yields, when the port of origin is given, the results tabulated below. The expression ‘River of Thames’ comprises those from various ports, but mostly, perhaps Newcastle colliers sent up for their ordnance; it may also include those from such a place as Bristol, for which one new ship cannot be a complete return. Ships of under 300 tons are not classified, and in some instances the tonnage is not given in the certificate:—


Total No. Tons
500 450 400 350 300
Limehouse 20 1 2 3 6
Wapping 21 1 2
Horseleydown 14 1 2 1
Ratcliff 19 1 3 3
Deptford 2 1 1
Shadwell 1
Blackwall 1
Ipswich 48 1 7
Yarmouth 26 1 1
Aldborough 12 2
Hull 25
Woodbridge 12 1 2 3
Colchester 7
River of Thames 102
Bristol 1 1
Harwich 2 1
Dartmouth 3
Dover 2 1
Southampton 2
Shoreham 14 5
Plymouth 1
Weymouth 3 1
Blakeney 1