Historical Sketch of Naval Architecture
Still, as some authentic details respecting the Great Harry are known, this ship may serve to give an idea of the navy of the sixteenth century; and we have accordingly presented our readers with an engraving of this formidable vessel. Up to the seventeenth century, one model seems to have prevailed in all naval constructions. The Spaniards and the Portuguese followed the example of the Venetians; the Dutch and the northern nations derived their nautical knowledge from the same sources; the English themselves, so jealous of their naval supremacy, received their lessons in improving and strengthening their embarkations from Italian masters. They were accustomed to place at the extremity of the prow a sculptured figure, which served to distinguish the vessels of one nation from another. The Venetians adopted a bust from preference; the Spaniards, a lion; the English, especially after the accession of the Stuarts, the figures of the reigning monarch, either on horseback, or riding on a lion. The stern, above the cabin windows, presented a plane surface or tablet, with apertures for light and air, starboard and larboard. On Venetian, Spanish and Portuguese stern some saint or hero was placed. Other nations had only the arms of their respective states. Before the end of the sixteenth century, some Portuguese and Spanish vessels carried as many as eighty guns mounted on carriages. At this period, the strongest vessel of the English navy carried but fifty guns or pieces deserving that name. The Sovereign of the Seas,' built in 1637, at Woolwich, Kent, 'to the great glory of His Britannic Majesty,' as a contemporary description we have before us declares, was decorated in a style of regal magnificence. On her bow was king Edgar, on horseback, trampling on seven kings; on the stern, a cupid on a lion; and grouped together, at the bow, six statues, representing Counsel, Prudence, Perseverance, Strength, Courage and Victory. On the quarter-deck, four figures, with their attributes, Jupiter, with his eagle, Mars, with sword and shield, Neptune, with his sea-horse, and Eolus on a cameleon. On the stern, a Victory displayed her wings, and bore a scroll with this device Validis incumbite remis. This vessel had two galleries on each side.
These galleries, as well as the whole vessel, were covered with trophies, emblems and scutcheons, of all kinds. Her length from stem to stern was 232 feet. She carried five lanterns, one of which, the largest, could contain ten persons, standing, with ease. She had three decks running from stem to stern, a forecastle-deck, a half-deck, a quarterdeck, and a poop-deck. Her armament was as follows thirty ports, with large and small guns, in the lower battery; thirty ports, with culverins, in the second battery; twelve ports in the forecastle, and fourteen on the half-deck; finally, thirteen or fourteen swivels, a multitude of port-holes for musketry, ten bow-chasers, and as many stern-chasers. There were twelve anchors. 'The Sovereign of the Seas,' says Charnock, was the first large vessel constructed in England. Splendor and magnificence were particularly kept in view in building her. She was in some sort the occasion of the serious complaints made of the expenses of the navy in the reign of Charles I. Cut down one deck, she became one of the best ships of war in the whole world.' It is certain that the suppression of this deck, and the lowering of her deck-cabin, gave her more stability than she had at first. Now, for speed, what she gained in strength by these changes was compensated by the length added to her masts. Topsails at this period were an important addition to ships. Old engravings show us the vessels of the sixteenth century sailing generally under their courses. After the building of the Sovereign of the Seas, this only occurred in particular eases and certain conditions of the elements. Captain Phineas Pett directed the work of building and afterwards improving the Sovereign of the Seas. A learned engineer, he deserves the credit of having done more , than any one else to give an impulse to the English navy. The artillery was strengthened, and the crews larger, and better lodged. The entire navy felt this progress. The Sovereign of the Seas gauged 1637 tons, a thing which, according to a historian of the time, deserved the attention of the whole world, since it represented exactly the date of her launch. Notwithstanding the thrice-fortunate augury which the historian saw in this coincidence, the Sovereign of the Seas met with the fate of the. Great Harry. She was destroyed, like the latter, by fire, in a ship-yard, where she was being repaired, in 1696, after sixty years' service. Observe here that Fuller, in his history of the 6 Wonders of England,' acknowledges that at the commencement of the seventeenth century, the Dunkirkers furnished the models of the best vessels built at this period in the British ports.