The rise of the full-rigged ships, A.D. 1400-1600
At the beginning of the fifteenth century the big seagoing sailing-ship had one mast and one sail. Fifty years later she had three masts and five or six sails. Unfortunately this great change comes just at a time when we are very badly off for pictures or descriptions of ships. English inventories of 1410-12 have been published, and these give a little light on the first stage of the change, but after that comes darkness. Other inventories of about 1425 are known to exist, but they have not yet been copied and printed.
The documents of 1410-12 show that one ship in the English Royal Navy—and only one—had more than one mast; she had " 1 mast magn." and " 1 mast parv."—in other words, one big mast and one small mast. The latter may have been on the forecastle as a foremast, on the aftercastle as a ' mizzen,' or even in the top as a topmast. We are not told which, but the reference is very important as being the first evidence of a second mast in Northern waters.
It must be noted that this small mast was found in a ship called the ' carake,' and a carrack was by origin a Mediterranean type. Probably she had been bought from Southern owners, and if so there can be little doubt that the small mast was what we should call nowadays a mizzen, carried between the mainmast and the stern, for Southern ships at the end of the fourteenth century were certainly more likely to have their smaller mast aft than the other way about.
Plate V, from a miniature in a manuscript written for King Henry VI about 1430, gives a picture of a ship very like what the carake must have been. The hull is clearly Southern in origin, and the two masts, big and small, are well shown. There is no need to suppose that this is an actual portrait of the original carake of the 1410-12 lists, for several Genoese carracks had been captured in 1416 and 1417, and the type must have been becoming quite well known in the North by the ordinary process of trade.
Another interesting point about these lists is that some ships carried guns, though never more than three. This is, however, not quite the first evidence of the use of guns afloat. A French fleet in 1356 had a few guns, a big gun was used in action on board a Spanish ship in 1359, and both Genoese and Venetians seem to have used guns in the course of their war of 1379-80.
The name 'carrack' was not new. It occurs in Spanish documents before the end of the thirteenth century, and there is an account of the capture by Spanish galleys in 1359 of a large Venetian carrack; but it is in the fifteenth century that the carrack was in her prime, and we see her then as a three-masted ship developed by the Southern nations from the Northern one-master and then taken up all over Europe. Genoa was the chief port from which carracks came to England, and Southampton was their harbour at this end. Every year " carrakes of Janne," or Genoa, came to Southampton laden with Mediterranean produce— wine, oil, fruit, spices, and the like—and went home with English wool. There were Venetian carracks as well, but usually the vessels from Venice were galleys of a special type such as that shown in Fig. 71, designed and equipped for long voyages and cargo-carrying.
It was the people of Bayonne who are said to have introduced the Northern type of ship to the Mediterranean , and they seem to have had a share in the opposite process in the case of the carrack. Henry V ordered a big ship there for his Navy, and she was probably a specimen of the new carrack type. This ship was never added to the Royal Navy, for the King's ships were all sold on his death in 1422, and this ship was no doubt sold as well, if she was ever finished. Very likely she never was finished, for a report of 1419 describes her keel as being rotten when she was only about half built. This report gives her dimensions as 112 feet on the keel, 186 feet over all, and 46 feet wide. She was thus nothing like as long as Canute's great ship, though she was probably very much wider and deeper, but she was as big as anything that was built in England after her time until the end of the seventeenth century.
We know nothing of her rig. The letter speaks of "the mast beam," but that proves nothing. Neither a foremast nor a mizzen would have been more than a very small spar stepped in one of the castles at the ends. The mainmast was the mast, and indeed we still say 'before the mast,' as if there were only one. This helps to explain why two-masters never became common in the North. The position of the mainmast was fixed by centuries of experience, and a small mast either forward or aft would upset the balance of the sail-plan and
would at once demand a third mast to put things right. English seals of the beginning of the fifteenth century, such as that of 1417 shown in Fig. 74, show three flagstaffs , in the bow, in the stern, and in the top. Nothing could be more natural than to try 'setting sails on them, and thus turn them into foremast, mizzen, and top
mast. That probably is how every mast except the mainmast originated.
The first actual dated three-masted ship known at present is on a seal of Louis de Bourbon, belonging to 1466 (Fig. 75). It is certain, though, that there were such ships a good deal earlier, and there are good examples of them in a manuscript which belongs to Lord Hastings and is believed to be not later than •1450. These ships, as can be seen in Plate VII, have a spritsail for setting under the bowsprit (quite a distinct sail from the fore-and-aft spritsail), a square foresail and mainsail, and a lateen mizzen; most of them show or suggest a main topsail, and one—the ; ship in the top left-hand corner—has a fore topsail as well. The hulls show long overhanging forecastles, with aftercastles reduced in height but lengthened as far as the mainmast. The great interest of these ships is the wonderful development they show. It is not exaggeration to say that a man who could handle them would not have had much to learn before being able to take charge of a ship of Nelson's day, or even of a little later.
In other words, the full-rigged ship had arrived, and was to remain the same in essentials for about four hundred years.
The hulls of two Italian carracks of about the same date as these English ships are drawn in the same manuscript as the galley in Fig. 72. The ship of 1000 'botte ' (about five hundred tons) is shown in Fig. 76. She was 85 feet long on the keel, or about 125 feet from stem to sternpost, and 34 feet wide. The ends of the deck-beams are shown in Southern style, and we can see that the upper deck dropped suddenly amidships. The awning across instead of along the poop is a typical carrack touch, and so is the sloping bulkhead with an arched opening in it beneath the forecastle.
One of the finest ship-drawings of this or of any previous century is the 'kraeck,' or carrack, drawn about 1470 by the artist who signed his pictures "W.A." It has been shown by Mr Morton Nance in his book on Sailing-ship Models that some points about this drawing suggest that it was made from a model.
If so the model-maker deserves our gratitude as much as the artist, for the result of their joint efforts is splendid. The print, copied in Fig. 77, shows a ship of distinctly Southern origin; the rope ladder up the mast proves that, but the shrouds, although they have no ratlines across them, are set up in Northern fashion, with deadeyes, or 'deadmen's eyes,' as they were called in those days. The gallery in the stern is a new feature, and so are the guns which can be seen peeping out under the half-deck just at the foot of the mizzen, while a ' hand-gun ' in the mizzentop is very conspicuous . Other points of interest are the grapnel under the bowsprit, the ammunition-hoists from the deck to the foretop and maintop, and the 'parrels,' or gigantic bead necklaces, by which the yards were held close to the masts and at the same time allowed to run up and down easily. Plate VI shows a bow view of a similar ship from a German manuscript of about the same date.
This ship is more Southern still; she has all her yards made of two pieces lashed together in true lateen-yard fashion. This is not surprising, because she appears to be a Turk.
There are other good pictures of ships of the latter half of the fifteenth century in the well-known life of the Earl of Warwick. This is not Richard Neville, "the King-maker," but his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, who died in 1439. However, the life does not seem to have been written till about 1490, so the ships are probably not of much earlier date than that.
Some of them show four masts, the fourth being an after-mizzen. Heavy guns appear amidships, firing over the bulwarks.
To confirm these pictures we can turn to actual inventories of the reign of Henry VII. The Grdce Dieu in 1485, then an old ship, had four masts. She had a mainsail with three bonnets and a main topsail, a foresail with two bonnets, two mizzen-sails (main mizzen and after-mizzen), and a spritsail with a bonnet. Three of her rnasts had tops, she carried twenty-one guns, a great boat, and a bell, and her shrouds were set up with deadeyes. This ship was broken up in 1486 and her materials used for the Sovereign, which in 1495 had a mainmast with top and topmast, a foremast with top and topmast, a mizzenmast with a top, and a 'bona venture-mast,' or after-mizzen. She had 31 guns and 11o ' serpentines,' these being very light guns mounted in the castles. The Regent at the same date was even more elaborately rigged. She had a top to her main topmast, with a mast and sail above that—what was called a ' topgallant sail' later on. She had also a fore topmast and tops to both her mizzenmasts. The Santa Maria, in which Columbus discovered America in 1492, was an ordinary three-masted ship with spritsail , foresail, mainsail, main topsail, and mizzen.
The Santa Maria is often called a ' caravel.' She was nothing of the sort; she was a perfectly normal squarerigged ship. Of Columbus' other two vessels the Pinta seems to have been built as a caravel, but to have been re-rigged as a ship before he had anything to do i with her, while the Nirta started as a caravel and was altered on the way. The origin of the word 'caravel' is very uncertain, but the type of vessel seems to have been a Portuguese form of the lateener. It was a fairly small vessel with three lateen sails, the biggest forward , and the smallest aft. Apparently its stern above the waterline was finished off square, instead of having the side-planking brought round in the ordinary way. A ship of this sort appears on a Spanish map of 1500 (Fig. 78) which is said to be the work of one of the companions of Columbus.
In the second half of the fifteenth century we meet 'carvels' in the North. Sometimes, particularly at first, this may have meant a Southern caravel, or a ship of similar rig, but more usually it indicated a ship with flush planking, or carvel-built. Up to then Northern ships had been almost always clinker-built, with overlapping planks. The new fashion started in
Brittany, and it is quite possible that it may have survived there since the days of the Veneti, at any rate in small craft. It was introduced to Holland in 1459, and it soon became general. It is said that ' carvel' and ' caravel' are really quite distinct words, but the confusion between them goes back almost as far as the words themselves, and it seems that the square stern of the caravel appeared as another new feature of the carvel build. Certainly square sterns did become general just about this date.
Two famous ships that were definitely called carvels were the Peter of La Rochelle, which came to Danzig in 1462, and the Swedish man-of-war Elefant, built in 1532. Each of these was known in her day as "the great carvel." The first was 150 feet long from stem to sternpost and 42 feet wide, the second was 174 feet long and 40 feet wide.
The early part of the sixteenth century was a time when it was thought necessary in every country to have one enormous ship. The Scottish Great Michael of 1511 was followed by the English Henry Grace a Dieu in 1514. The French, after buying the Great Michael, tried to go one better and produced the Grand Francois in 1527, while the Swedes built the Elefant in 1532, as has been mentioned already. In the South the two outstanding ships were the great carrack Santa Anna, built for the Knights of Malta in 1523, and the Portuguese Sao Joao of 1534. The Great Michael is said to have been 240 feet long over all, the Elefant was 239 feet. For the others we have no precise dimensions— only such information as that a man in the uppermost of the four tops on the mainmast of the Grand Francois looked no bigger than a chicken. This particular ship had a thoroughly exaggerated rig with five masts. She never got to sea, but was wrecked in harbour before she was finished; the others all took part in actual warlike operations.
The Henry Grace a Dieu had topsails and topgallant sails on her first three masts and a topsail to the bonaventure mizzen. The mizzen topsails were lateens like the sails below them. She was built up to a great height at each end, having eight decks one above the other in her stern, and she carried 184 guns, mostly small. There is no good picture of this ship, though there are two which show her as she looked after a complete 'rebuild ' in 1536-39.
The big Portuguese ship was called a 'galleon.' It is not easy to define this new type, and it is made harder by the fact that the same ship might be called a galley, a galleon, a galeass, and a bark. The usual idea is that a galleon must be Spanish and very high out of the water. This is certainly wrong, for even if Spain or Portugal was its home it was very soon found in Northern waters as well. The word ought to mean a large galley, but this it never did. The galley was meant purely and simply for fighting under oars, while the galleon probably never carried oars at all. As far as one can judge, the galleon was a sailing-ship—usually four-masted—with the ordinary ship-rig of the time, but with a hull built to some extent on galley lines,
long for its beam, rather straight and flat, and with a beak-head low down like a galley's, instead of the overhanging forecastle of the ship. This difference is shown very well in the drawing in Fig. 79 from the lid of a chest belonging to Lord Berkeley. The older ship type may also be seen in Fig. 80, which is taken from a Spanish map of 1529.
There are several pictures of the Sao Joao, all showing her at the attack on Tunis in 1535. Of those copied here the first (Fig. 81) is from one of the tapestries woven to celebrate the expedition, the other from a set of paintings on the walls of a small room in the Alhambra in Spain (Fig. 82). Another drawing from this last source (Fig. 83) gives two caravels and shows how this type had developed into a four-master, square-rigged on the foremast only. Unfortunately these paintings have suffered so much from neglect and misuse that they show hardly any detail.
The Sao Jodo is said to have carried no fewer than 366 guns. This is not impossible if the hand-guns are included, for the actual inventory of the Henry Grace cL
Dieu shows that she had 384 guns on the same method of counting.
Somewhere about the end of the fifteenth century there had come an important change in the arrangement of ships' guns. Up to now they had been carried on the upper deck, firing over or through the bulwarks, while the lighter pieces had been carried in the castles at each end. The change was that the heavier guns were now put between decks and that ports were cut for them in the actual side of the ship. This invention is usually ascribed to the year 1501 and to a Frenchman.
Certainly one of the first drawings showing guns between decks is French and belongs to the first ten years of the sixteenth century. It is a drawing of the Louise, which was flagship of the French Mediterranean
fleet. As a drawing, it has been shown to be mainly a copy from an earlier design, but the most definite original touch about it is the presence of two guns pointing through holes in the side amidships. After this guns between decks become common; they are found in the well-known picture of the embarkation of Henry VIII at Dover in 1520, and the Sao Jodo in 1535 shows them very clearly (Fig. 81).
Up to now a sea-fight had been really a matter of land-fighting at sea. One ship could damage another only by ramming, and the best way of settling things was to get alongside, lash the ships together, and fight it out hand to hand with the aid of lime-pots, stones,
and spears from the tops, and of the small guns in the castles. With the arrival of heavy guns it became possible to disable an enemy from a distance. A ship was actually sunk by gun-fire in 1513, but heavy guns were slow and uncertain, and right up to the end of the century we still find the old-fashioned weapons in the lists. After all, hand-to-hand fighting was always a possibility that had to be allowed for. Even in the late War, when gun ranges could be reckoned in miles, there was a case of boarding in the old style.
Very soon after the carrying of guns between decks became general the guns themselves began to change. The slow, clumsy breech-loader that had to be taken to pieces each time for reloading was replaced by a far simpler and more convenient muzzle-loader of a type that altered very little for another three hundred years. Plate VIII shows the Henry Grdce a Dieu in her rebuilt form, in which she was really a new ship carrying 21 heavy brass guns, 130 iron guns, and 100 hand-guns. In her case it will be seen that there
was already a second row of ports in the hull proper. This drawing is one of the series in A Declaration of the Royal Navy presented to the King in 1546 by Anthony Anthony, an officer of the Ordnance. He was not a great draughtsman, but his duties would have given him a chance to know how ships carried their guns, and his pictures differ enough for us to believe that they were meant for real portraits.
A much better drawn picture of a smaller ship is given in Fig. 84 from a plan of Calais drawn in 1541. Both this and the Henry Grdce a Dieu show vessels of the ship type, with the projecting forecastle rather than the low-lying beak of the galleon. Such a beak is shown as a contrast in another drawing from Anthony Anthony, the ' galeass' Hart (Fig. 85).
This introduces another new type, an attempt to
combine the good points of the sailing-ship and the galley. In the South it was more galley than ship, lateen-rigged, except for a small square sail on the foremast and carrying its big guns forward like a galley. In
the North it carried its guns along the broadside, with small ports for oars below them, and had the ordinary square rig. A Scottish description of 1549 speaks of a galeass as setting the usual sails of a ship together with 'studding-sails,' which were extras stuck out at the sides of the other sails. She had also "a hundred oars on every side "—plainly meaning only a very large number.
Two Scottish galeasses were captured by the English in 1544, and one of them had been given to James V by the King of France in 1537, so it may be that it was the French, with their two coasts, who first introduced this type to the North.
Henry VIII took it up keenly. He had already made one striking attempt to combine the sailing-ship and the galley in a big vessel launched in 1515 and called the
Great Galley. This galeass, as the Venetian ambassadors called her, was a four-master with a foresail and fore topsail, a mainsail, topsail, and topgallant sail, and two mizzens, one with a topsail. She rowed sixty oars on each side and had 70 brass and 147 iron guns.
Probably she was about 180 feet long without her beakhead . One remarkable feature about her is that she was clinker-built; at least we are told that in 1523 they had "to break her up and make her caryel . . . for she was the dangeroust ship under water that ever man sailed in." In the end she was rebuilt as an ordinary sailing-ship and usually called the Great Barke.
In the war of 1545 the French galleys from the Mediterranean were opposed by the new English galeasses and by ' rowbarges'—small, square-rigged vessels pulling sixteen oars a side. None of these craft, galeasses, galleys, or rowbarges, lasted long in the North; by the
end of the century they had vanished, and the sailingship was left supreme.
Conditions were different in the Mediterranean. There the galley remained the standard fighting vessel. Sailingships were looked on more as transports than as menof -war, and it was the galeass that supported the galleys if required. This was the case at the great battle of Lepanto in 1571, where the Turks, for the first time in history, were thoroughly beaten by the combined fleets of Spain, Venice, and the Pope. In this battle there were more than two hundred galleys engaged on either side.
Fig- 86 is an attempt to combine in a diagram several rather unsatisfactory portraits of the Venetian galeasses which were one of the strong points of the Christian fleet. Soon after this there came a change in the method of rowing. Attempts to improve the trireme by adding a
fourth, and even a fifth, oar to each bank had proved a failure, and in the end every country adopted the simpler method of having longer, heavier oars and putting several men, usually five, to each oar. With this change, and with the shifting of the mainmast far enough aft to allow of a foremast nearly as big, the Mediterranean galley reached her final form.
As a result of all this experimenting in the early part of the sixteenth century ships began to be really seaworthy. They could go to sea and stay there for either peaceful or warlike purposes. Naval warfare in the past had been little more than the transport of soldiers across the sea; now it began to be a business in itself. Trade and discovery gained by the improvement in ships, and at the same time provided a reason for the improvement to be maintained. Twenty years of English trading and fighting in the Indies in spite of the claims of Spain and Portugal had their climax, in 1577-80, in Drake's famous voyage round the world.
During this voyage he went from Java to Sierra Leone, at least 8500 miles, without touching at any port on the way. Seaworthiness and seamanship had indeed been attained.
For an idea of ships such as Drake and his contemporaries used we can turn to the work of Brueghel, a Flemish artist who drew a series of ships about 1565. Fig. 87 shows a man-of-war, and Fig. 88 a round
sterned merchantman of a type that became famous in the next century, the 'fluyt,' in which the Dutch carried on half the trade of Europe.
The next drawing (Fig. 89), from the title-page of a book printed in 1574, shows one of the larger ships with which the English defeated the Spanish Armada, while another title-page (Fig. 90), from a book printed at Barcelona in 1592, shows a big Spanish ship. This is interesting for the way in which the main-yard is shown lowered on to the bulwarks. Finally, a Dutch print of 1594 by Barentsoen, copied in Fig. 91, gives
us a really large Northern man-of-war of the end of the century. In this and the English ship we see balconies built across the stern and on the ship's side near the stern. These are the stern and 'quarter' galleries, which started as mere conveniences, but developed during the seventeenth century into one of the chief beauties of a ship.
Turn back to the seal of Danzig (Fig. 54), and the change is enormous, but turn to the ships of Lord * Hastings' manuscript (Plate VII) and there are more resemblances than differences. The hull is longer and
more built up at the ends, though the forecastle has already begun to drop again; its greatest height came early in the sixteenth century. The beak-head, one of the marks of a galleon, is a new feature, and so are the gun-ports, now shown in two complete rows.
Rigging has not changed at all in essentials. There is sometimes a fourth mast, and there are extra topsails and topgallant sails, but the principle of two square-rigged masts forward and of lateens aft is still untouched.
Decoration had perhaps increased, for ships of Elizabeth 's reign had all their upper works painted in bright colours and striking patterns, but it had by no means reached its height. That came in the next century, when the art of the woodcarver was employed to such an extent that ships became more beautiful than at any time before or since.