Henry Grace a Dieu 1515

All of the ships in the three classes of line-of-battle ships derive their heritage from the so-called "Great Ships" which, in turn, were direct descendants of the galleon. In 1511, King James of Scotland launched the Great Michael. She was 240 feet long, 35 feet in width, and carried 27 guns. In 1514, King Henry VII, not to be outdone, built the Henry Grace a Dieu. Afterwards called the Great Harry, she carried over 150 guns and was 165 feet long [presumably at the gun deck]. From these beginnings, the idea of the great ship began to develop until 1608, when Phineas Pett began the first of the classic great ships, the Prince Royal for James I. This ship was the basic model for all the later warships to sail in the line of battle. Gone were the elaborate fore and stern castles that made the carrack and early galleons so top-heavy.

Three ships that are often confounded are the Great Harry, the Regent, and the Henry Grace de Dieu. The GREAT HARRY was built in the third year of Henry VII (1488). It was a two-decker with three masts. There is reason to suppose that the "Great Harry" was renamed the "Regent" on the accession of Henry VIII. The HENRY GRACE DE DIEU, also called the GREAT HARRY, appears to have been begun at Erith, in August or September 1512, to replace the "Regent". Completed in 1515, it had three decks and four masts. It was later named Edward, after the death of Henry VIII in 1547, and was accidentally burnt at Woolwich in 1553.

Henry Grace a Dieu was really like a floating castle, of which the ' stern-castle' is the keep. Her fore and stern castles have battlements along them, and each ends with a little 'saddle-turret' of pepper-box shape. She carries four masts, each made in one piece,1 and a yard and square sail on her bowsprit; on all her masts she has heavy tops which can be filled with archers. The things that strike one as weak about her are her very small rudder and her want of beam; and if the ' Mary Rose ' (capsized at Portsmouth with loss of all hands, 1545) was like her in this respect, one may guess that the fate of that vessel was a lesson to our constructors to build ships of greater beam. The 'Great Harry' carried some fifty large and some two hundred small guns, and a crew of seven hundred men all told. The Henri-Grace-a-Dieu appears to have mounted, in the whole, 80 pieces, composed of almost every caliber in use. Of these 80 guns, not more than 54, according to the clumsy drawing which has been handed down to us,5 were pointed through broadside ports. The remainder were mounted, either as bow or stern chasers, or as "murdering pieces," upon the afterpart of the forecastle ; as, from its height and appearance, it then might truly be called. The use of these murdering pieces (the muzzles of which all point in the direction of the maintopmast head) is not easily discernible. The ship had four masts; and, as the Great-Harry was the first two-decked, so the Henri-Grace- a-Dieu was the first three-decked ship built in England. In a list of 1552, the latter appears as the Edward. Here all traces of her cease. In the ancient picture preserved at Windsor Castle of the embarkation of Henry VIII. at Dover, May 31, 1520, the ship he is in - supposed to be the Harry Grace de Dieu, or the Great Harry - is represented as sailing out of the harbor of Dover having her sails set. She has four masts, with two round tops to each mast, except the shortest mizzen; her sails and pennants are of cloth of gold damasked. The royal standard of England is flying on each of the quarters of the forecastle, and the staff of each standard is surrounded by a fleur-de-lis, or; pennants are flying from the mastheads, and at each quarter of the deck is a standard of St. George's cross. Her quarters and sides, as also her tops, are fortified and decorated with heater-shaped shields charged differently with the cross of St. George azure, a fleur-de-lis or, party per pale argent, and vert a union rose, and party per pale argent and vert a portcullis or, alternately and repeatedly. On the main deck the king is standing, richly dressed in a garment of cloth of gold edged with ermine, the sleeves crimson, and the jacket and breeches the same. His round bonnet is covered with a white feather laid on the upper side of the brim. The Harry Grace a Dieu had four masts and a bowsprit, all square-rigged. The sails were a course and topsail on the "foer" and "mayne," and a lateen on the "mayne mizzen" and "bonaventure" masts. The guns were arranged-the heavier pieces - cannon (6o-pounders), demi-cannon (32-pounders), cannon-petronel (24-pounders), and culverins (18-pounders) - on the lower deck, with demi-culverins (9-pounders) on the main. Sakers (5-pounders) and minions (4-pounders) were mounted on skids, or grooved blocks, on the quarterdeck, fore-castle and poop, with falcons (2-pounders), and falconets on swivels, " murdering pieces," "fowlers," "top-pieces," and " hailshot pieces." Some of the guns were of brass, but most of iron, and the smaller pieces were breech-loaders.

The size of the Harry is put in one list at 1,000 tons, in another at 1,500 - owing to the loose methods of measurement in vogue. The unit of ship measurement, both in England and on the continent, at the time, was, as heretofore, the tun cask of wine, and the stated tons or tuns burthen of a ship meant the number of tuns or butts of wine she could carry. War-ships' tonnage was estimated by roughly comparing their bulk with merchant-ships of known carrying capacity.

The masts were five in number [four of them upright, forming a right angle, or nearly so, with the heel; and one fixed obliquely, which has, in later times, received the name of the boltsprit] - a usage which continued in the first-rates, without alteration, till nearly the end of the reign of Charles I. : they were without division, in conformity with those which had been in unimproved use from the earliest ages. This inconvenience it was very soon found indispensibly necessary to remedy, by the introduction of several joints, or top masts, which could be lowered in case of need, - an improvement that tended to the safety of the vessel, which might very frequently, but for that prudent precaution have been much endangered by the violence of the wind. The rigging was simple, and, at first, somewhat inadequate even to those humble wants of our ancestors, which a comparison with the present state of naval tactics fairly permits us to call them; but the defects were gradually remedied, as experience progressively pointed them out. The ornaments consisted of a multitude of small flags, disposed almost at random on different parts of the deck or gunwale of the vessel, and of one at the head of each mast. The standard of England was hoisted on that which occupied the centre of the vessel; enormous pendants, or streamers, were added, though an ornament which must have been very often extremely inconvenient. This mode of decoration was evidently borrowed and transferred from the galley, in which class of vessels it was continued, with little or no striking variation.

The general appearance of the vessels, as given in the original drawing, have a wonderful resemblance to what we may, without any great stretch of imagination, suppose the master ship-builder to the emperor of China would construct, if ordered to prepare, as well from his own best experience, as according to his own ideas, a vessel of that given magnitude and force.

It must have been extremely narrow, and so high built, especially abafi, in proportion to the length, as to be in danger of oversetting with even a slight shock of the sea, or being compelled to steer otherwise than directly from the wind ; but it must not be forgotten, that the navigators of that time were not prepared for any other course. Their vessels were totally unfurnished with such sails as might have enabled them to haul close upon it, even had the formation of the hulls permitted it; they had, therefore, nothing to fear from the consequence of the measure, which they were unable to carry into execution. The principles of ship-building, and the grand proportions to be observed in all the chief dimensions, had been, as it were, traditionally handed down through a series of years, so that it would have been deemed the height of scepticism to have doubted the propriety of them in any one particular. Like the galleys of ancient Rome, they were extremely long, narrow, and lofty ; very unstable, and of course perpetually exposed to a frequency of accidents, which, without our knowledge of the cause, would be now almost incredible, as we know them never to have ventured out of their ports, except in the summer months, and when the wind blew perfectly favourable to their intended course.

The rest of the ships which composed the English royal navy at this time, were of far inferior force, the largest not being of more than 300 tons burthen, and their number extremely limited, so that they amounted to no more than seven or eight vessels, some of which were mere pinnaces.

Join the mailing list