A View of Naval affairs in Charles the Second's Reign.
A.D. 1660 to A.D. 1689.
When great guns or cannon came into use, the old style of fighting at sea was completely changed. We hear of them as early as the thirteenth century, employed in a naval engagement between the King of Tunis and the Moorish King of Seville. They were first used on shore by the English at the battle of Crescy, fought in 1346, and at sea by the Venetians about the year 1380. In the reigns of Richard the Third and Henry the Seventh they were first employed by the English at sea. They were not then, however, as now, pointed through port-holes, but were mounted so as to fire over the bulwarks of the vessel. In those days, therefore, ships of war could have had but one armed deck, and were probably urged by oars as well as by sails. Port-holes were invented by Descharves, a French builder at Brest, and the first English ship in which they were formed was the Henry Grâce de Dieu, built at Erith in 1515. She was said to have been of no less than 1000 tons burden, but as we are ignorant of the mode in which ships were measured for tonnage in those days, we cannot tell her actual burden. She must, however, have been a large vessel, for she had two whole decks, besides what we now call a forecastle and poop. She mounted altogether eighty pieces, composed of every calibre in use; but of these not more than fifty-four, according to the print before us, were pointed through broadside ports. The rest were either mounted as bow or stern chasers, or as “murdering pieces,” as they were called, which pointed down on the deck; their object apparently being, should a ship be boarded, to fire on the enemy. The calibre of great guns was not in those days designated by the weight of the shot they discharged. This was probably from the reason that the balls were not all made of the same materials. At first they were of stone; then those of iron were introduced; and sometimes they were formed of lead; and, at an early period, hollow iron shot, filled with combustible matter, were brought into use. Thus the weight of shot fluctuated too much to serve for the classification of the gun from which it was fired. Ships’ guns in those days were known as cannon, cannon royal, cannon serpentine, bastard cannon, demi-cannon, and cannon petro.
The Sovereign of the Seas was built at Woolwich Dockyard, in 1637, by Mr Phineas Pett, and Mr Thomas Haywood was the designer of her decorations. She measured, probably, about 1500 tons. He describes her as having three flush-decks and a forecastle, one half-deck, a quarter-deck, and a round house. Her lower tier had 30 ports which were furnished with demi-cannon and whole cannon throughout; her middle tier had also 30 ports of demi-culverins and whole culverins; her third tier had 36 ports for other ordnance; her forecastle had 12 ports; and her half-deck 13 ports. She had 13 or 14 ports more within-board for murdering pieces, besides a great many loop-holes out of the cabins for musket-shot. She carried, moreover, 10 pieces of chase ordnance forward and 10 right aft. This first-rate of the seventeenth century would thus have had 126 guns; in reality, however, these ports right forward and right aft, as well as those on the forecastle, had no guns, and thus she actually carried only 100.
About the middle of the seventeenth century the ships of the British Navy ceased to carry guns of a similar calibre on the same deck. At the same time the cumbrous forecastles and aftercastles, which must have been equally inconvenient both in action and in a sea way, were removed. The murdering pieces were likewise got rid of, and at the same time, an English ship of war could fire from her broadside half the number of guns she carried.
In 1546 Henry the Eighth possessed fifty-eight ships, which were classed according to their quality; thus there were shyppes, galliasses, pinnaces, and row-barges. The galliasse was somewhat like the lugger or felucca of modern days. She probably was a long, low, and sharp-built vessel, propelled by oars as well as sails—the latter not fixed to a standing yard, but hoisted like a boat’s sail when required. The pinnace was a small kind of galliasse.
In 1612 we find a list in which the vessels of the Royal Navy were classed as ships-royal, which measured from 800 to 1200 tons, middling ships from 600 to 800 tons, small ships from 350 tons, and pinnaces from 80 to 250 tons, divided into rates. They were six in number, and each rate consisted of two classes, to which different complements of men were assigned. We are not told what were the armaments of the classes. The division into rates was adopted to regulate the pay of the officers and seamen, as is the case at the present day.