The seventeetn century
The two centuries covered in the last chapter included a short period of very rapid change, and after that a long spell of slow development. This chapter will see the development continued without any great change at all. There are three excuses for devoting a whole chapter to one comparatively uneventful century: it was a time when ships reached their greatest beauty, when the characteristics of the ships of different countries were specially noticeable, and when, for the first time, we get reliable portraits of particular ships.
The first illustration (Plate IX) is not one of these portraits, but a fancy picture of a large man-of-war 'invented and drawn ' early in the century by a Danish artist who evidently tried to give his ship everything possible in the way of splendid decoration and elaborate rigging. In many ways this ship is well in advance of the Dutch ship in Fig. 91. The hull shows a much straighter line, the piled-up forecastle has gone, and the beak-head has dropped till it lies nearly horizontal. In the rigging the most conspicuous change is that the bowsprit has a top at its end with a topmast and a furled sail. This sail, the ' spritsail topsail,' is one of the chief marks of a seventeenth-century ship. Its origin is plain enough—it grew from a flagstaff, like other masts. What is not plain is why such an awkward and
inefficient little sail should have been taken up everywhere and should have lasted as it did for more than a century. The answer must be that some extra sail right forward was wanted to make up for the effect of the wind on the high poop now that there was no high forecastle to act as a balance. The spritsail is furled in position and no longer brought into the head. There are still lateen mizzen topsails, and there may have been a main mizzen topgallant sail. The most surprising thing is the hint of a sail above the main topgallant sail. It is only a hint, for there is neither sail nor yard, but the slack ropes beneath the flagstaff-stay can only be bowlines ready for a sail that might be sent up if required.
Leaving this question for the moment, we come to a famous English ship, the Prince Royal, launched in 1610. She was designed by one of the first shipbuilders of whom we know much apart from his work, Phineas Pett, descendant of a family of shipbuilders and an educated man as well, able to combine mathematical calculation with the rules of practical experience. Every book on the history of ships gives a picture of the Prince Royal, and never by any chance is it a true one. They are all copied from one of two sources: a plate in Charnock's History of Naval Architecture of 1801 or a painting at Trinity House, and both of these are ships of a much later date. The best genuine portrait of this ship is reproduced in Plate X from a painting by Vroom, at Haarlem in Holland. Another by the same artist at Hampton Court has unfortunately lost a good deal of its value by being restored.
There are two important points about the Haarlem picture. It shows three complete rows of gun-ports; the lower-deck ports are shut, those on the middle deck are open, and the upper-deck guns point through round decorated holes. Another change has come to the rigging: the lateen topsails to the mizzens have
been replaced by square topsails like those on the other masts. The square mizzen topsail had to have a second yard to spread its foot, and in this particular picture there are furled sails beneath those yards as well. It is doubtful if this is correct; it may have been tried when the yard was first introduced, but it never became the fashion, and, in fact, this yard, which we called the 'cross-jack' or 'crojack' yard, was known by the
French as the vergue seche, or barren yard, because it set no sail of its own. Merchantmen, which were usually quite small and had few men to spare, could not go in for so much complication of rigging and were slower in taking up the new mizzen topsail and the spritsail topsail. Their usual rig would still be that of a hundred and fifty years earlier: spritsail, foresail, fore topsail, mainsail, main topsail, and lateen mizzen. Some idea of a small merchantman of the beginning of the seventeenth century is given by the sketch (Fig. 92) from a model designed by one of the writers of this book to show, as nearly
as possible, the appearance of the Mayflower, in which the Pilgrim Fathers crossed to America in 1620. Side by side with this type of merchantman there was the Dutch fluyt, with her remarkable stern of the shape shown in Fig. 93, fat and round near the water and thin and flat higher up. This was the time when the Dutch, while still fighting against Spanish rule, were rapidly getting the sea-borne trade of Europe into their hands, and it was largely in these fluyts that this trade was carried on.
It is a curious thing that England, where the roundsterned fluyt type was never really common, was the first country to break away from the flat, square stern which had been universal in big ships since about 1500. Right through the second half of the seventeenth century the great feature that more than any other marked off English ships from foreigners was the shape of the stern. All other nations stuck to the flat transom stern, the spiegel, or looking-glass, as the Dutch called it, while in England there came in a new design in which the planking of the bottom was brought up and round, and the stern did not become square till about ten feet or so above the waterline. It was a good deal squarer than the old stern of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries , but it was round in comparison with the foreign stern of its own time.
This 'round-tuck' stern was well established for big ships by the middle of the seventeenth century. Apparently the famous Sovereign of the Seas was built with it in 1637. This ship, Phineas Pett's second great design, was a big advance in shipbuilding. She was equally remarkable for her great size, her heavy armament , and her elaborate decoration. She was not as big as Henry V's unfinished ship of 1419, but she was much bigger than anything that had been built for some years. Very often she is said to have been the first three-decker. This cannot well be true, because the Prince Royal evidently had three decks; still, she was the first ship to carry anything like so many guns of any real power. She had a hundred guns, while the Prince Royal as originally built had only fifty-six. In rig she was interesting too. The fourth mast disappeared , and to make up for this she carried, or is shown as carrying, an extra sail at the top of each mast—' royals' on the fore and main, and a topgallant sail on the mizzen. These sails can be seen furled in Plate XI, which is taken from a contemporary engraving of the ship.
Many people refuse to believe in these royals, and
certainly they were not adopted generally in the Navy for very many years. Still, it seems unreasonable to deny that such sails were sometimes carried. The Danish print of 1600 (Plate IX) showed bowlines for a main royal, and a print of the Venetian fleet dated 1619 gives royals to two ships: on the main only in one, and on both main and fore in the other. Again, an Algerine ship of 1622 is said to have had " two topgallant sails, one above another," above her main topsail, while finally—to clinch the matter—a manuscript on rigging written about 1625 says that flagstaffs " serve also for top topgallant sails." In view of all this evidence it seems that the verse from a contemporary description of the Sovereign—
Whose brave Top top-top Royal nothing bars By day to brush the Sun", by night the Stars— must mean something more than that her masts were unusually high.
A year after the Sovereign of the Seas, in 1638, the French launched a ship of almost exactly the same size, called the Couronne. There is no picture of this ship, but we know that she was a two-decker of seventy-two guns. The model of her in the Louvre in Paris was based on a print which really represents a French ship built in Holland twelve years earlier. For a Danish ship of about this time, the Norske Love of 1634, there still exists a wonderful ivory model. This was not finished till 1654 and does not quite agree with what is known of the actual ship's measurements and guns, but it gives a very good idea of a moderate-sized man-of-war of the first half of the seventeenth century. A photograph of this model appears in Plate XII.
After about 1650 wooden models, properly built to - scale, begin to be found. There is one in Amsterdam of the Dutch East Indiaman Prins Willem of 1649, another in Stockholm of the Swedish fifty-gun ship Amarant, built in 1653. The earliest-known English scale-model is also in Stockholm (Fig. 94); it was made by a
Royalist shipbuilder named Sheldon who fled to Sweden in 1658, and either took the model with him or made it when he got there as a sample of his skill. In England it is doubtful if we have any model as old as this, but the Prince of 1670 at South Kensington is a particularly fine specimen for so early a date.
In the drawing of the Amarant (Fig. 95), for which we have to thank Admiral Hagg of the Swedish Navy, there is a row of reef-points in the topsails. For some reason not yet fully understood, reef-points, after appearing fairly often in pictures and seals up to the beginning of the sixteenth century, vanish altogether for more than a hundred years. They appear again, in the topsails this time, somewhere about 1660. At the
same time we begin to find ' staysails,' which were triangular sails of much the same shape as the lateen mizzen, set on the stays of the masts and topmasts. These begin to appear in pictures after 1658, though
Drawn by Admiral Hagg from the model they can be found in lists of stores a few years sooner. Staysails were not new; they had been used in small craft, together with the fore-and-aft spritsail, for at least two hundred years; it was only their use in fullrigged ships that was new. Probably it began as a 'jury rig '— that is to say, an emergency rig after damage by weather or battle. A letter of 1639 speaks of setting a mizzen on the mainstay for this purpose, and something similar is shown in Fig. 96 from a Dutch etching of about 1653 by Zeeman, where a Dutch ship badly damaged is seen towing an English prize in an even worse state. In this case the English ship has a triangular sail beneath her mizzen-stay, while the Dutchman has either set a topsail on the stump of his
mizzen-mast or has rigged up a sail like that mentioned in the case of the Prince Royal—a square sail under the crojack-yard.
Zeeman, whose real name was Nooms, was one of the Dutch seventeenth-century artists to whom we owe so much. Thanks largely to them, our knowledge of the ships of the second half of that century is greater than that of any previous period. It is not that the ships themselves changed much; it is simply that we know more about them. Models begin to be fairly common. Books on shipbuilding are found in England, France, and Holland, while a great store of other writings is preserved in manuscript. Above all, we have the drawings of the great Dutch artists, particularly the two Van de Veldes, father and son. Between them they were hard at work from about 1639 to 1701. The father was on board the Dutch fleet against the Spaniards in 1639 as official artist, and he and his son were employed in the same way through the wars of the next thirty years. Somehow Charles II got them into his service in 1672 and gave them a regular salary.
They combined great accuracy with speed, and thus their drawings have almost the value of photographs. The drawing of the English yachts Mary and Charlotte from the Fodor Museum in Amsterdam (Plate XIII) is a good example of the work of the younger Van de Velde. Yachts had long been used in Holland as a comfortable way of getting about in that country of narrow and shallow waterways. They were first used in England in 1660, when the Dutch gave a yacht to Charles II on his restoration. The King was delighted with his present, saw its possibilities in deeper water, and at once ordered his own builders to try their hands at similar boats. Very soon he and the Duke of York were sailing races on the Thames and thus starting a fine sport that is still favoured with Royal patronage.
The first English yacht, which was also called Mary, having been built in Holland had leeboards such as are seen to-day in the Thames barge, to take the place in a shallow-draught vessel of the deep keel which is necessary to let a ship beat to windward. In her English. built successors these leeboards were abandoned, and the hulls were built deeper instead.
One important feature of this period was the sudden rise of the French Navy. It had been important early in the century, but it had then collapsed and had left the Dutch, who had just crushed the last of Spain's naval power at the Battle of the Downs in 1639, to fight out with England the question of which should be the greatest naval Power in the world. In the first of these three wars the French were neutral, though part of their fleet was, as a matter of fact, attacked and captured by the English. In the second they sided with Holland, but did very little; and in the third they joined the English against the Dutch. By then they were becoming a force to be considered; a few years later they met and beat Dutch and Spaniards together in the Mediterranean, and finally in 1690 at Beachy Head they were strong enough to defeat the combined fleets of Holland and England.
Very early in this revival the French were leading the way in matters of design. In 1667 they were still buying ships from Holland and Denmark, and yet by 1672 a French-built ship, the Superbe, of seventy-four guns, was thought worthy of being taken as a pattern by Sir Anthony Deane, the chief designer of the English Navy. The great thing about these French ships was that they were very large and, more especially, very wide for the number of guns they carried. Such a ship as the Superbe would be almost as big as an English ninety-gun three-decker. This naturally made them better able to stow their provisions and to use their guns in all weathers. The same thing had been the case in 1638, when the Couronne of seventy-two guns was as big as the Sovereign of the Seas of a hundred, and it went on all through the next century; each increase in dimensions was forced on English builders by foreign models, and each time the foreigners promptly went one better again.
For a little time French ships were disfigured by an absurd mass of decoration. For instance, the Monarque, a three-decker, had on her stern twenty-seven wooden statues, all bigger than life size; and at one time Puget, their chief decorator, seriously claimed that the actual structure of the ship ought to be arranged to suit his ideas of ornament. Naturally, when ships such as that in Fig. 97 went to sea the captains sometimes took the opportunity to cut away part of this useless load.
Dutch ships were plainer. In their case the chief feature was usually a picture or carving on the upper part of the stern representing something in connexion with the ship's name. In the example given in Fig. 98 the ship is the Utrecht, and the arms on the stern are those of that town. From this practice comes the English word 'taffrail' for the top of a ship's stern; tafereel was the Dutch for a picture. In English ships the greater part of the stern-decoration consisted, about 1670, of the Royal Arms carved very large. Later on the Arms got smaller, and all sorts of figures
were added above them. In Amsterdam they still have the actual carved Royal Arms from the stern of the Royal Charles, which they captured in the Medway in 1667.
A drawing of this ship is given here as showing a
large English ship of the middle of the century (Fig. 99). She had been built in 1655 as the Naseby and had been renamed at the Restoration. By comparing this drawing with that of the Amarant (Fig. 95), which was very like a Dutch ship, one can get a good idea of the main differences between English ships and their chief rivals.
Quite apart from the shape of the stern, there were other striking differences both in hull and rigging. The quarter-galleries were entirely different, as can be seen from Figs. 100 and 101, and the upper works of Dutch ships were always clinker-bxiilt, while the English used the ordinary carvel planking everywhere. In rigging the most obvious difference was in the shape of the caps of the masts. In the early days of topmasts they had simply been lashed to the heads of the lower masts. A little later, as topmasts grew, it became desirable to be able to lower them in bad weather. This invention, by the way, is claimed by the Dutch and ascribed to the year 1570. It had certainly come into general use by the end of the sixteenth century. The top on the lower mast was supported by two ' trestle-trees ' running fore and aft and two 'cross-trees' running athwartships.
Between the two trestle-trees and between the head of the lower mast and the foremost crosstree there was a square hole into which the heel of the topmast fitted. At the extreme head of the lower mast there was a 'cap,' a block of wood with a square hole in it for the end of the lower mast and a round hole for the topmast. To keep the topmast from slipping down a metal wedge called a 'fid' was put through a hole in its heel just above the trestle-trees. In very early days the cap was shorter and had only a semicircular groove in its forward edge, so that the topmast still had to be lashed in place. Quite soon, perhaps from the very first, English caps were made roughly in the shape of a brick laid on its flat and pointing fore and aft. Dutch and other foreign caps took quite a different form; they were wider than they were long and were roughly semicircular in shape, looked at from the side, with a flat extension to go round the topmast. The reason for this was that, as Fig. 102 shows, they served also as leads for the ties which carried the lower yard, thus bringing about a return to something like the Southern calcet system shown in Fig. 70, while the English stuck to hounds beneath the top, or (later on) to blocks hung in much the same place. One of the most interesting things about sixteenth - and seventeenthcentury ships is how they were steered.
In the early days of the stern-rudder ships were small enough for a man or several men to steer with a tiller, just as a small sailing-boat is steered to-day. Later, when the decks grew up one over another in the stern, the tiller was buried out of reach, and it was necessary to have some way of working it from above. The steering-wheel, which seems to us such an obvious con
trivance, had not yet been invented, and the tiller was controlled by means of a device called in English the 'whipstaff.' On the end of the tiller was a pin, over which fitted a ring at the end of a long thin pole. This! pole passed through a pivot in the deck above the tiller, fitting loosely so that it could slide up and down as well as swing sideways. The helmsman held the upper end of the pole and by pushing or pulling he could move the tiller and thus steer the ship. Sometimes the whip-' staff passed through only one deck, sometimes there was a slot for it in the deck above. In any case the helmsman was still below-deck as a general rule and depended on what he could see or hear through a small
English Yachts, 1678 From a drawing by W. Van de Velde the younger in the Fodor Museum, Amsterdam French Three-decker, 1680
hatchway in the deck above him. Of course, he had a compass in front of him, and usually he would be steering by that. The diagram in Fig. 103 is intended to show how the whipstaff worked. It shows a section across the ship at the fore end of the tiller, looking toward the stern. P is the port (left) side of the ship, S the starboard, D is the deck, C the pivot, or ' roll,' through which the whipstaff passed. A is the upper end of the whipstaff, which is connected at its lower end to the tiller B.
In this position the wnipstarff is upright, the tiller amidships and the rudder doing nothing either way. If the whipstaff is swung over to A' and at the same time pushed downward the tiller will move over to B' on the starboard side of the sliip. This will take the rudder to port, and the ship will turn to port.
This method of steering could not put the rudder over very far, and a good deal must have been done by altering the trim of the sails. When it blew hard the whipstaff had to be disconnected altogether, and steering had to be done by means of tackles on the tiller. It was an unsatisfactory contrivance in many ways, and the wheel, when it appeared, must have been a real boon.
The wars of this century were far nearer true naval warfare than any before; in fact the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-54 was almost a perfect example. As a result of so much fighting with gradually improving ships there grew up an understanding of the best ships for particular purposes, and of the best way to use them. Up to 1650, or thereabouts, all the ships in a fleet, big and small, went into action in a lump. By 1653 the English fleet was ordered to fight in line ahead, one ship behind another. This was clearly the best way to employ ships whose guns fired almost entirely on the broadside, but very exact handling was required to keep station, and this had been made possible only by recent improvements in rig. Line-ahead formation had one drawback: unless a commander could know exactly how his opponent's ships were arranged there was a danger that a very small ship might find herself opposite a very powerful enemy. The only way out of this difficulty was to keep the smallest ships out of the line altogether, and to use only those which would have a fair chance of standing up to anything they might meet.
The result was that all ships of less than about fifty guns dropped out of the class considered ' fit to lie in a line.' Even so, a fifty-gun two-decker might find herself engaged with a three-decker of twice as many guns, and those heavier than her own. In the last of the Dutch wars the English used three-deckers of a hundred or ninety guns and two-deckers ranging from seventy to forty-eight guns. The Dutch had no three-deckers, but had very powerful two-deckers of eighty guns or more. The French built both types.
A two-decker was a ship with two rows of guns running the whole length of her lower and upper decks. Above these would come an interrupted row of guns on the quarterdeck and forecastle with a gap amidships, and above them again, in the biggest ships, would be a few guns on the poop. A three-decker would add to these a third complete tier of guns. Thus what was
called a two-decker might have no less than four guns above one another in the stern.
Toward the end of the century the English tried to build big two-deckers, and the Dutch three-deckers. In neither case was the result a success. The English eighty-gun two-deckers proved too weak in their upper works, and the last of them were made into a sort of mongrel three-deckers, with a complete upper deck without a complete row of guns. The Dutch ninety-gun ships were three-deckers with no forecastles and with very short quarterdecks. They were too small for their guns, and only the last two or three, which were larger, were at all satisfactory.
To illustrate the changes of the seventeenth century the ship of 1594 in Fig. 91 may be compared with a French ship of about a hundred years later (Plate XIV). The straightening of the hull is very marked. In rig the most obvious changes are at either end of the ship, the fixed spritsail and the spritsail topsail on the bowsprit, and the single mizzen with a square topsail in place of the two mizzens with a lateen topsail to one of them. For a good idea of English and Dutch ships of the end of the century one cannot do better than turn to models. The two illustrated in Plates XV and XVI are each remarkable in its way. The Dutch model, which represents one of the first of their three-deckers, built about 1685, is believed to be the only model of a Dutch three-decker in existence. The English model, the St George of 1701-2, is remarkable for having contemporary rigging in perfect condition. A model's rigging is delicate stuff, very liable to damage, and most models of any age, if they have been rigged at all, either have been allowed to fall into a state of utter wreck or have been 'restored' with rigging suitable to a date very much too late for the hull. This had happened to the Dutch model shown here; the rigging had been done, very roughly, after the fashion of Napoleonic times. It has now been removed altogether and replaced by rigging based on books and pictures of the right date. Such modern work is better than old rigging that does not belong to the same date as the hull, but it is naturally nothing like so valuable as real contemporary work. The 52 George model owes its perfect rigging to the fact that, until quite recently, it had been kept in the same house and the same case since it was first made. Alas! this beautiful model, like so many others, has now left its home and its country for America.
The open-work, unplanked hull below the waterline is a feature that is nearly always found in English Navy Board models—that is to say, in the models which were made for official use. Foreign models are usually planked all over. Sails are not often shown, and less often on English models than on foreigners. One must imagine a furled sail beneath each yard. This absence -of sails makes it necessary to fix to the yards certain ropes, such as the bowlines, which would naturally be attached to the sails, and to show the topsail-yards lowered right down, as they would be when the sails were furled.
One important new fitting appears in this St George model. This is the rope called the 'bobstay ' leading from the bowsprit to a point below the figurehead. The bowsprit had to take the direct strain of the forestay, fore topmast-stay and fore topgallant-mast stay, and indirectly that of the main topmast and main top
gallant-mast stays as well. These strains came well out along the bowsprit, and the only thing to hold it down was the 'gammoning,' a heavy lashing between the figurehead and the stem of the ship. It seems extraordinary that it should have taken more than two hundred years before the bobstay was thought of to
help the bowsprit in its work, but such was the case. Probably it was that early beak-heads were not suitable in shape or construction to stand the pull. Early examples of the bobstay are found in a French print of 1691, and on a Dutch model rigged in 1698.
Thanks to models and descriptions, we have a good , idea of the internal arrangements of ships of the seventeenth century. The captain and officers were accommodated in the after part of the ship under the poop, quarterdeck, and half-deck. The gunner and his mates lived in the gunroom, right in the stern below the officers' quarters. Some of the inferior officers, such as the boatswain and carpenter, had cabins against the bulkheads which shut off the forecastle and the halfdeck or quarterdeck from the open upper deck. The crew lived along the covered decks between the guns and slept there in hammocks. The cook-room was at' first placed in the hold amidships, but was afterward shifted to the forecastle. Ammunition and stores of t various kinds had their places in the hold beneath the lower deck.
Nothing has been said in this chapter about Medi-* terranean ships. There is very little to say. Apart from the French, whose ships have already been considered, the only important naval Powers in the Mediterranean were the Venetians and the Turks. Both of these relied more on galleys than on sailing-ships, and the galley,, had reached a state of such perfection in its own way that very little change was likely. The drawing in Fig. 104 shows a galley of about 1700; with a rather' smaller foremast it might stand for one of a century earlier, and with the possible addition of a small mizzen it would not have looked out of date even in 1800. For sailing-ships the Venetians and Turks were dependent to a great extent on ships hired or taken from the Dutch and English. The Mediterranean nations had done their share when they produced the carrack in the fifteenth century; after that nearly all progress in sailing-ships came from the North and West.