Charles the First to Termination of Commonwealth - A.D. 1625 to A.D. 1660.

The unhappy Charles ascended the throne under disadvantageous circumstances. His father had left him a heavy debt; the Duke of Buckingham, his chief minister, was universally hated, and England had greatly sunk in the estimation of foreign nations. James had agreed to furnish the King of France with some ships of war to assist him against the King of Spain or his allies in Italy. In pursuance of this agreement, Captain John Pennington was despatched in the Vanguard, having under him six hired merchant-vessels. The King of France, however, being hotly engaged in a war with his Protestant subjects, intended to make use of the ships for the reduction of Rochelle. Pennington, on discovering this, immediately wrote to the Duke of Buckingham declining so odious a service, and requesting leave to return to England. Buckingham, in reply, having obtained an order from Charles, commanded him to employ his ships in such service as the King of France should direct. The latter, at the same time, sent a letter to the English captain, requiring him to take on board a number of French soldiers, with his admiral, the Duke of Montmorency, and repair before Rochelle. This Captain Pennington, with true English spirit, refused to do; on which the French officer who had brought the letter returned on board the Vanguard to protest against him as a rebel to his king and country. Not content with having once done this, he returned again and enforced his request by threats and menaces, at which the seamen were so enraged, that they weighed anchor and set sail, crying out they would rather be hanged at home than be slaves to the French, and fight against their own religion. The Vanguard accordingly returned to the Downs. On his arrival, the captain sending an express to court with advice of his proceedings, immediately received a positive order, under the king’s sign-manual, to return and deliver up the ships into the hands of a French officer at Dieppe. Having complied with this order, he quitted the command, and he and all the officers and seamen, both of the Vanguard and merchant-vessels, left their ships and returned to England.

The whole nation burned with indignation when they heard that Captain Pennington’s ships had been delivered up to the French and employed against Rochelle, and demanded their immediate restitution. The French king excused himself on the pretence that his subjects, by whom they were manned, would not now quit them; on which, to appease the people, the Duke of Buckingham issued commissions of reprisal. The Saint Peter, of Havre-de-Grâce, and other French vessels were on this captured. Hearing of this proceeding, the French king not only absolutely refused to restore the seven ships, but seized on all the English merchants’ property throughout his dominions. To carry on the war with Spain a powerful fleet of eighty English and Dutch ships was fitted out under the command of Cecil, afterwards created Viscount Wimbleton. Ten regiments were embarked on board the fleet, under the Earls of Essex and Denbigh. They proceeded to Cadiz, when the troops, having broken into the wine-stores, became so excessively intoxicated, that had the enemy set on them they must have been put to the sword. The officers hastened, therefore, their re-embarkation, and the expedition returned without having effected anything.

In 1627 three expeditions were undertaken, professedly to assist the people of Rochelle, but, being badly managed, possibly through treachery, they all failed. It was while fitting out one of these fleets that the Duke of Buckingham, then Lord High Admiral, was murdered by Felton.

A severe action was fought near Ormuz, in the Gulf of Persia, between four English ships, under the command of Captain John Weddell, and four Dutch ships, with eight Portuguese galleons and thirty-two frigates. On hearing of the approach of the enemy, the English captain told his Dutch allies that he had resolved, for the glory of God, the honour of his nation, the profit of the worthy employers, and the safeguard of their lives, ships, and goods, to fight it out as long as a man was living in his ship to bear a sword. To whom the Dutchmen answered that they were of a like resolution, and would stick as close to the English as the shirts to their backs; and so in friendly manner each took leave for that night. The Dutch the next morning were the first to get into action. Friends and foes were now within musket-shot of each other, when it fell a calm, and the ships of the allies could not work but as the tide set them. When the Portuguese were aboard and aboard, they had a great advantage with their frigates, which often towed them clear one of another. Thus they lay four or five hours pelting and beating one another with their ordnance, while the Portuguese frigates plied the English and Dutch with their small shot as fast as they could, the Royal James being forced to keep the barge ahead to pull the ship’s head to and fro. Thus they fought on till night, several men being killed, the Dutch having also lost their chief commander. For several days the fight lasted. On one occasion the James singled out a Portuguese lying by her side with foresail and fore-topsail aback, so near that a man might quoit a biscuit into her, and fired not less than five hundred shots before she got clear. Thus the small squadron kept the enemy at bay, till scarcely enough powder and shot remained on board the Royal James for another day’s fight. The English lost 29 officers and men, and the Dutch about the same number. The Portuguese, whose fleet carried 232 guns and 2100 men, had 481 killed.

Another fight in the same locality, in the year 1625, between three English East India ships, the Lion, Dolphin, and Palsgrave, and eighteen or twenty Portuguese frigates, under the command of Don Rufero, ended more disastrously. The Lion, being boarded by both the admiral and vice-admiral, was dreadfully shattered, and torn in pieces in the stem, in consequence of the poop blowing up with fifty or sixty of the enemy on it. The Portuguese then left her, expecting that she would sink or burn down to the water’s edge, and pursued the Palsgrave and Dolphin, which, however, effected their escape. The brave crew of the Lion, having put out the fire, succeeded in patching her up sufficiently to reach Ormuz, where they received every assistance they required from the Sultan. They were in hopes of being relieved by other English ships, when Rufero with his frigates came rowing towards them. The Lion lay in such a position that she could only bring her chase-pieces to bear upon the enemy. So well were they served that they sank two of the Portuguese frigates before they could board her, and two more after they were by her side. So closely were the English then pressed by Rufero that, unable to open a port in the ship, they were forced to shoot away ports and all. In addition to this, the Portuguese so completely surrounded her by fire-works, that all her masts and sails caught fire, as well as her upper-deck, which in half-an-hour fell down on their heads, and drove them from their guns. On seeing death on either side, some leaped overboard, and put themselves on the mercy of the enemy, while the rest set fire to the powder-room, and blew up the ship. Those who were received on board the frigates were carried into Ormuz Island, and the next morning Rufero gave orders to cut off all their heads, with the exception of one Thomas Winterbrune, whom he sent with a letter to the merchants at Gambroon. The rest, twenty-six persons, were immediately beheaded. This will give us some idea of the mode of proceeding between belligerents in those days. The object of the Portuguese was to prevent the English and Dutch from interfering with their trade, and they hoped by such horrible cruelty to intimidate others from coming out, or else were actuated by a spirit of barbarous revenge. In 1626 the wages of seamen in the Royal Navy were increased to twenty shillings a-month, and of ordinary seamen to fourteen shillings, besides an allowance to a chaplain of fourpence, to a barber twopence, and to the Chest at Chatham of sixpence per month. A clerk and a keeper of all the king’s stores and storehouses at Chatham, Portsmouth, Deptford, etcetera, were also appointed.

An arbitrary tax having been imposed in the year 1634, by the name of ship-money, which compelled all the seaport towns to furnish a fleet to prevent the Dutch fishing on the coast of Britain; it was now extended throughout the whole kingdom. The fleet was to consist of 44 ships, carrying 8000 men, and to be armed and fitted for war; but, as will be remembered, the unhappy king raised the money, but spent it on other objects.

In 1637 was laid the keel of the Royal Sovereign, of 128 feet, the first three-decked ship built for the Royal Navy. From the fore-end of the beak-head to the after-end of the stern she measured 232 feet, and she had a beam of 48 feet, while from the bottom of the keel to the top of the stern-lantern she measured 76 feet. She carried 30 guns on her lower-deck, 30 on the middle-deck, 26 on the main-deck, 14 on the quarter-deck, 12 on the forecastle, and had 10 stern and bow-chasers. She was of 1637 tons burden; she carried eleven anchors, the largest weighing 4400 pounds; she had five stern-lanterns, the centre so large as to contain ten persons upright. She was built by Peter Pett, under the inspection of Phineas Pett.

The French, at the same time, began to establish a regular marine, having fifty ships and twenty galleys in their navy. And now, for the first time, was showed their superiority over the Spaniards, on which Cardinal Richelieu ordered the following motto to be placed on the stern of the largest: “Even on the main, our Gallic lilies triumph over Spain.”

A fund was now established by the king for the relief of maimed and shipwrecked or otherwise distressed sailors in the merchant-service, and for the widows and children of such as should be killed or lost at sea. To form it, sixpence per month was deducted from the pay of sea-officers, and fourpence from all sailors’ wages from the port of London. This fund was placed under the management of the Corporation of the Trinity House.

In 1640 the first frigate, the Constant Hardwick, was built, under the direction of Peter Pett. The king added ten more ships to the Royal Navy, which, at the commencement of the Civil War, consisted of eighty-two sail.