The one masted ship in her prime, A.D. 1200-1400

If a typical ship of the twelfth century could be put beside one of the fourteenth the difference in rig would be very small indeed. In each case there would be a single mast with a square sail rather high and narrow to modern ideas. A bowsprit might be found in the one and not in the other, but otherwise there would be very little difference. The important change would be in the hull alone.

Northern ships of Viking and Norman times were, as we have seen, double-ended—that is to say, there was little or no difference in the shape of their bow and stern. As long as ships were steered by oars or by oar-shaped rudders hung over one side near the stern there was no reason to alter this double-ended design. Directly the idea of a rudder on the actual sternpost was thought of it became desirable to alter the shape of the sternpost to suit it. It was not impossible to hang a rudder on a curved sternpost—in fact this was done for many years in Mediterranean galleys—but a straight sternpost would be so much more convenient that it followed almost as a matter of course. Hanging a rudder on to the sternpost is very much like hanging a door on to its post, and it is obvious how much simpler this is if the two edges are straight. With the introduction of the straight sternpost the two ends of the ship were

bound to differ in shape, unless the stem were made straight as well. This never happened in big ships, though the stem did become rather more upright than in the old type of ship. The date and the place of the invention of the sternrudder are not yet definitely established. As far as one can judge at present, it came in toward the end of the twelfth century, and probably first became general in Germany and the Netherlands. The earliest-known example of a ship with a stern-rudder is on the font in Winchester Cathedral, and is shown in Plate III. This is believed

to be Belgian work of about 1180. It is only right to mention that some people question the date, and that others deny that it is a stern-rudder at all. In this latter dispute the point is really whether the beast's head is on the top of the sternpost or is a decoration to the rudder itself, such as is often found in later vessels (Fig. 48). If it is on the sternpost it certainly seems that the rudder must be on one side, and is, therefore, only a very highly developed kind of side-rudder. This idea seems to be contradicted by the run of the planks toward the stern. The three lines of decoration run up at the bow into the beast's head, but at the stern they miss the head altogether and suggest that it is on the rudder, and is not part of the actual ship at all.

Apart from this font and another somewhat similar in Belgium, the first dated stern-rudder is on the seal of Elbing in Germany (Fig. 49). This has been traced as far back as 1242, and Wismar, another German town, has a seal of 1256 which also shows the modern rudder. In England the first examples are the seal of Poole (1325), and the coins called 'gold nobles ' issued by Edward III in 1344 to commemorate his victory

at Sluys (Fig. 50). The seal of Ipswich (Fig. 51) is perhaps earlier and may be nearly as old as the Winchester font, but it has not yet been found on any document of earlier date than 1349.

Nowadays the position of a ship's rudder is so much a matter of course that we hardly give it a thought. In spite of this, the invention of the stern-rudder must be looked on as one of the most important steps in the history of the ship. It was one of the three things that, transformed the Viking boat into the real sailing-ship, able to take full advantage of any wind. The others were a deep-draught hull and a bowsprit. We say "were" because in more recent years different rigs and such things as ' centre-boards' have rather altered the position. A hull that goes down a long way under water is far better for sailing close to the wind than one of shallow draught. This was discovered probably by the trader, who built his ship with an eye to cargocarrying and found that though she was slower than the long ship she had more possibilities under sail.

To take full advantage of a more ' weatherly' hull the sail had to be made to set better. When the ship was ' close-hauled,' or as near the wind as she would go, the 'luff,' or forward edge of the sail, would flap and try to curl away from the wind. To cure this, ropes called 'bowlines' were fixed to the luff and led forward. In a short ship with a big sail it was necessary to take the bowlines farther forward even than the stern, and for this the bowsprit was used. Bowlines are not definitely shown on any of the seals drawn here, but it is very likely that the two slack lines under the bowsprit in the Sandwich ship are really a bowline disconnected from its sail. The seal of San Sebastian in Spain, with a ship of just the same type, shows a bowline attached to the sail and leading to the bowsprit in exactly the same way.

When once sailing to windward, or trying to, was a possibility, the side-rudder would soon prove unsatisfactory . With the wind on the starboard side and the ship heeling over to port, the rudder would be nearly out of the water. In the Mediterranean there was a rudder on each side, and the difficulty was not quite so great, but in the North the second side-rudder never became usual, and the central stern-rudder was the only other way out of it. It was really a far better way, as can be proved from the fact that the stern-rudder was not very long in displacing the two side-rudders in the Mediterranean as well.

Possibly the two kinds of rudder, and the two designs of hull that they caused, may have been the distinguishing marks of the two mediaeval types, the 'nef' and the 'cog.' Both these names are found in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries for big ships, and there was undoubtedly some clear distinction between them since a document of 1226 describes a fleet as consisting of six cogs and seven nefs. If so the cog was probably the new type with the sternrudder .

As early as 1252 we find the Port Books of Damme and Bruges in Flanders distinguishing between ships "with a rudder on the side" and those "with a rudder astern." The latter paid the bigger dues, so were probably the larger. Other Flemish, Dutch, and German documents of the thirteenth century give four different kinds of steering apparatus: 'kuelroeder,' 'hangroeder,' 'sleeproeder,' and 'hantroeder.' Ships with the first of these paid the largest dues; those with the hantroeder paid least. Usually the hangroeder paid more than the sleeproeder, but occasionally it was the other way round.

The hangroeder, or hinged rudder (pendulum gubernaculum in the Latin documents), seems to have been the ordinary stern-rudder such as we see on small boats to-day. The hantroeder, or hand rudder (manuale in Latin), must have been a steering-oar. The sleeproeder is sometimes explained as 'rudder on the side, and was thus the ordinary side-rudder of the twelfth century. What exactly the kuelroeder was is a harder question. One German document translates it as 'Lochsteuer,' and both words mean in English 'holerudder .' Probably this means that either the rudderhead or the tiller passed through a hole in the hull. This would be necessary in the case of ships with sterncastles at all solidly built, and such ships would naturally be the biggest. It is tempting to suggest that it might mean a rudder working in a slot, or ' trunk,' like those of Chinese craft, but this is perhaps too farfetched an idea.

It will be noticed that the ship on the seal of Elbing has no sail and not even a yard visible. The same is the case with Dutch seals which show the same sort of hull. A good example of this is the seal of Harderwijk (Fig. 52), which dates from 1280 or earlier. It has been suggested that these seals show not only a smaller kind of ship, a vessel for coasting or inland use, but even one with a different rig altogether, having a 'spritsail' and foresail like the modern Thames barge. These other kinds of sails will be discussed in the next chapter, but it may be mentioned here that the earliestknown undoubted spritsail comes from a miniature believed to have been painted about 1416. Certainly the size of the helmsman in the Elbing ship makes her look very small, but true scale was not the strong point of mediaeval artists, as the gold noble shows, and it would never be safe to guess at the size of their ships from the size of the men in them. As to the question of rig, there is really not enough detail in any of the seals to settle the question either way. .

Very few of the ships on seals show as much life and movement as that drawn in Fig. 53 from the seal of Stralsund (1329). Here we have a fine ship, with an aftercastle that has a far more permanent look than

those on older seals and that illustrates the possible meaning of a 'hole-rudder ' very well. She is sailing before the wind in quite a rough sea. As usual, the man is far too big for the ship, and the artist has also gone astray over the perspective of the shrouds, but otherwise the ship is wonderfully well proportioned and lifelike.



For an idea of what a sea-voyage was like in one of these ships one cannot do better than to turn to a poem which has been preserved in a manuscript at Trinity College, Cambridge. The actual manuscript belongs to the fifteenth century, but the poem seems likely to be rather earlier; certainly the ship seems to have had only one mast and thus to be more typical of the century before.



Men may leve all gamys


That saylen to Seynt Jamys


For many a man hit gramys


When they begyn to sayle.


For when that they have take the see


At Sandwyche or at Wynchelsee


At Bristow or where that hit be


Theyr herts begyn to fayle.



Anone the mastyr commandeth fast


To hys shypmen in all the hast


To dresse hem sone about the mast


Theyr takeling to make.


With howe hissa then they cry


What howe mate thou stondyst to ny


Thy fellow may nat hale the by


Thus they begyn to crake.



A boy or tweyn anone up styen


And overtwhart the sayleyerd lyen


Yhow talya the remenaunt cryen


And pull with all theyr myght.


Bestowe the bote boteswayne anone


That our pylgryms may pley thereon


For som ar lyke to cowgh and grone


Or hit be ful mydnyght.



Hale the bowelyne now vere the shete


Coke make redy anone our mete


Our pylgryms have no lust to ete


I pray God geve hem rest.


Go to the helm what howe no nere


Steward felow a pot of bere


Ye shall have ser with good chere


Anone all of the best.



Yhowe trussa hale in the brayles


Thow halyst nat be god thow fayles


O se howe well owre good shyp sayles


And thus they say among.



Hale in the wartake hit shalbe done


Steward cover the boorde anone


And set bred and salt thereone


And tary nat to long.



Then cometh one and seyth be mery


Ye shal have a storme or a pery


Holde thow thy pese thow canst no whery


Thow medlyst wonder sore.


Thys mene cohyle the pylgryms ly


And have theyr bolys fast theym by


And cry aftyr hote malvesy


Theyr helthe for to restore.



And som wold have a saltyd tost


For they myght ete neyther sode ne rost


A man myght sone pay for theyr cost


As for oo day or twayne.


Some layde theyr bookys on theyr kne


And rad so long they myght nat se


Alas myne hede woll cleve on thre


Thus seyth another certayne.



Then cometh owre owner lyke a lorde


And speketh many a royall worde


And dresseth hym to the hygh borde


To see all thyngs be well.


Anone he calleth a carpentere


And byddyth hym bryng with hym hys gere


To make the cabans here and there


With many a febyll cell.



A sak of strawe were there ryght good


For som must lyg theym mi theyr hood


I had as lef e be in the wood


Without mete or drynk.


For when that we shall go to bedde


The pumpe was nygh our bedde hede


A man were as good to be dede


As smell therof the stynk

A 'translation' may help to show up some of the interesting points about this poem:

Men that sail to St James may say farewell to all pleasures, for many people suffer when they set sail. For when they have put to sea from Sandwich or Winchelsea or Bristol, or wherever it happens to be, their hearts begin to fail. Soon the master orders his seamen to hurry up and take their places round the mast for setting sail. Then they cry "Yo ho, hoist! What ho, mate, you are standing too close, your comrade has not room to haul." Thus they begin to talk. A boy or two climb up at once and lie across the yard; the rest cry " Yo ho, tally !" and pull with all their might. "Get the boat stowed, boatswain, for our pilgrims to occupy themselves with it, for some of them will very likely be coughing and groaning before it is midnight."

"Haul the bowline. Now veer the sheet. Cook, make our food ready at once. Our pilgrims have no desire to eat. I pray God to give them rest. Go to the helm. What ho! No closer. Steward fellow, a pot of beer." "You shall have, sir, with good cheer, all of the best directly."

"Yo ho, truss! Haul in the brails. You are not hauling; by God, you are shirking. Oh, see how well our good ship sails." And that is how they talk. "Haul in the wartack." "It shall be done." "Steward, lay the table at once and put bread and salt on it, and don't take too long about it." Then some one comes and says: "Be merry, you will have a storm or a squall." "Be quiet. You never can. You are a sorry meddler." Meanwhile the pilgrims lie with their bowls close beside them and shout for hot Malvoisie wine to restore their health.

And some ask for a salted toast, because they cannot eat either boiled or roast meat. A man could just as well pay for their keep for two days as for one. Some laid their books on their knees and read till they could see no longer. "Alas, my head will split in three," so says another, " I am certain of it."

Then our owner comes like a lord and speaks many royal words and goes to the high table to see everything is well. Presently he calls a carpenter and tells him to bring his gear to make cabins here and there and many small compartments. "A sack of straw would be very good there, for some of them will have to sleep in their cloaks." "I would as soon be in the wood without meat or drink; for when we go to bed the pump will be close to the head of our bed, and a man who smells its stink is as good as dead."

There are a few points about the third, fourth, and fifth verses that want a little explanation. The boys are sent aloft to cut the lashings round the sail as it is hoisted. The word ' tally' means 'haul.' It is a little difficult at first sight to see why they should haul in the bowline and 'veer,' or slack out, the sheet at the same time. In an ordinary way both would be eased off with the wind aft, and both hauled in for sailing close to the wind. Sir Alan Moore suggests what seems a probable explanation. This is that they wanted the whole sail as far forward as possible to make the ship 'pay off,' or turn away from the wind. With several sails this can be done by setting the head-sails first, but with only the one sail it would be necessary to do something of this sort.

Having got going, they seem to have sailed with the wind on one side. The order " no nere " to the helmsman means that he is to be careful not to let the ship come up into the wind too much. Next, after asking for his pot of beer, the master notices that the wind is getting up and decides to shorten sail. He does this by 'trussing up' the sail a bit by means of the brails. The word 'truss' had several meanings. One was simply a 'down-haul' on the yard, another was a tackle which helped to hold the yard to the mast. In connexion with brails its meaning is certainly 'gather up.' Evidently the wind was increasing, for the exclamation about the speed of the ship is followed by the hint from one of the crew that there is 'dirty weather' coming. The 'wartake' was some sort of extra rope for controlling the sail. In an ordinary way the 'tack' controlled the ' clew, or lower corner of the sail nearest the wind, and the 'sheet' did the same for the other clew. The wartake seems to have helped the tack in some way.

For an idea of ships of this time, 1400 or thereabouts, in the final stage of development

of the one-masted rig, three illustrations, Figs. 54 and 55 and Plate IV, should be taken together. The first drawing from the seal of Danzig of the year 1400 gives a broadside view with no sail set. The plate is taken from a stained-glass window at Bourges in France. It is of rather later date, but the ship is still a one-master, and the artist was probably being old fashioned on purpose . The second drawing", the work of Mr R. Morton Nance, comes from an illustration in a French manuscript . It shows two slightly different types, which may perhaps represent a merchantman and a man-of-war, or rather a ship meant chiefly for trading and one intended mainly for fighting; the real hard and fast distinction between the man-of-war and the merchantman came at least two centuries later. The pictures

explain themselves, but it may be worth noting that the merchantman in Fig. 55 has what is almost certainly a capstan in the stern.

These one-masted, clinker-built ships had been the standard type in the North for two centuries, and for

From a French manuscript. Drawn by Mr R. Morton Nance the latter half of that time had been well known in the Mediterranean as well. In the North they had replaced the double-ended Viking type, and in the South they had to a great extent taken the place of the mediaeval Mediterranean two-master, such as will be described in the next chapter. The one-master had developed as far as she could, and the clinker method of building was also very near its limits. In the fifteenth century drastic changes were introduced in both rigging and hull, and the result was in all important respects the full-rigged ship, which lasted with comparatively little change for another four hundred years or more.