Monday, March 29, 2010

Ships: Four Masts And High Castles

Embarkation of Henry VIII Aboard Great Harry by Bernard Finnegan Gribble

Henry VIII of England was a naval minded kind of guy. Following his father's advice he began handing out letters of marque in a fashion akin to the original monarch of commissions, Edward III. Henry also began to build ships fairly early on in his reign and his ship makers quite literally embraced an entirely new design for His Majesty's navy.

Henry Grace a Dieu (literally "Thank God") was built in 1514. She was a new kind of vessel, the descendant of the caravel and the mother of the galleon. She was a carrack, and she was one of the largest ever built. Like the two great ships Henry and his father built before her - Mary Rose in 1505 and Great Galley in 1513 - she was capable of carrying tons in arms and men. But Henry Grace a Dieu, or Great Harry as she was known in common parlance, trumped all her sister ships.

This monster carrack was built at Woolwich Dockyard in Kent. Her hands on builder was William Bond and the overseer of the project was Henry VIII's clerk of ships, Robert Brygandine. Great Harry weighed in at 1,500 tons (most carracks topped out at 1,200 tons) and could carry a compliment of 700 men. She could ship up to 180 guns. The heavy guns, usually around 20 of them, were mounted below decks at her waist and used to hull the enemy in a firefight. The other, lighter guns were mounted on Great Harry's two deck fore castle and her four deck after castle. These guns were trained downward on an enemy to destroy rigging, guns and men.

The ship carried four masts with seven tops between them. The fore and main masts were square rigged while the mizzen and bonaventure mizzen sails were lateen rigged making Great Harry surprisingly maneuverable for her behemoth size. On state occasions and when the King was aboard her, the ship unfurled sails made of cloth of gold damask (as in the painting at the header). Pretty fancy.

Great Harry was involved in the great naval action against French Admiral d'Annebault in 1545. This was the same battle that saw Mary Rose so famously sunk. Great Harry survived the war but was destroyed by fire while at anchor on August 23, 1553. Fortunately Henry VIII had died six years earlier, so he did not have to witness the unfortunate demise of his favorite ship, Henry Grace a Dieu.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Good to see that Blogger finally cooperated and let you post today. Great Harry was quite an impressive ship. Kind of like the aircraft carrier of its day, I guess. Too bad it met such an untimely demise and another example of the danger of fire on board ship, as we discussed last week, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy and exactly. The ship was so huge that it must have been quite a bonfire. I'm sure the locals spoke of it for years to come.

Daggar said...

Thanks for that picture. I finally understand the difference between an aftcastle and a poop deck.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Daggar! I hear ya. Pictures really are worth a thousand words, particularly in a situation like this.