Establishment of the Royal Navy of England - from A.D. 1509 to A.D. 1558.
No sovereign of England was ever proclaimed with more universal joy than was Henry the Eighth, when, at the age of eighteen, he succeeded to the throne of his father, A.D. 1509. Tyrant and despot as he became at home, he did not neglect the interests of commerce, while he maintained the honour of England abroad. He made very great improvements in the work his father had commenced. By his prerogative, and at his own expense, he settled the constitution of the present Royal Navy. An Admiralty and Navy Office were established, and commissioners to superintend naval affairs were appointed by him.
Regular salaries were settled for admirals, vice-admirals, captains, and seamen, and the sea-service at this time became a distinct and regular profession.
In 1512, Henry, having entered into a league with Spain against France, fitted out a fleet under the command of Sir Edward Howard, Lord High Admiral, and by an indenture, dated 8th of April of that year, granted him the following allowance:—For his own maintenance, diet, wages, and rewards, ten shillings a-day. For each of the captains, for their diet, wages, and rewards, eighteenpence a-day. For every soldier, mariner, and gunner, five shillings a-month for his wages, and five shillings for his victuals, reckoning twenty-eight days in the month. But the admiral, captains, officers, and men had also further allowances, under the denomination of dead shares. I doubt whether the naval officers and men of the present day would be satisfied with a similar amount of pay. Certainly the mariners of those days had more dangers and hardships to encounter than have those of the present time under ordinary circumstances. That year Henry’s fleet consisted of forty-five ships, of which the largest was the Regent, of 1000 tons; the two next in size being the Sovereign and the Mary Rose, of about 500 tons each.
The Regent and Cordelier.
War was now declared against France, and the English fleet put to sea under the command of Sir Edward Howard. It carried a considerable body of land forces, under the command of the Earl of Dorset, which were landed at the Port of Passages, in Spain. Afterwards, being reinforced by a number of stout ships, the admiral sailed for Brest, in the hopes of encountering the French. Sir William Knevet had command of the Regent, and Sir Charles Brandon, who had sixty of the tallest yeomen of the Guard under him, commanded the Sovereign. The fleet arrived off Brest just as the French fleet, consisting of thirty-nine sail, was coming out of the harbour. On seeing the enemy, Sir Edward made the signal for an immediate engagement. Scarcely was the signal seen, than the Regent and the Cordelier, the latter being the largest ship in the French navy, attacked each other as if by mutual consent. The Cordelier, it is said, carried 1200 soldiers. Undoubtedly her commander hoped to carry the English ship by boarding. In the course of the action, when locked in a deadly embrace with their grappling-irons, another English ship threw into the Cordelier a quantity of combustibles, or fire-works, as they were called, and set her on fire. In vain the crew of the Regent endeavoured to free their ship from her perilous position. The magazine of the Cordelier was reached, and she and the Regent went up into the air together. In the Regent, Sir William Knevet and 700 men were lost, and in the Cordelier, Sir Pierce Morgan, her captain, and 900 of her crew are supposed to have perished. After this dreadful catastrophe the action ceased; the French, horror-stricken, hurriedly making their way into Brest. The ships, also, of both parties, had received considerable damage.