Another volume in the excellent series of maritime books steadily being built up by Seaforth Publishing under the longestablished editorial team of Robert Gardiner and Julian Mannering, this impressive recent publication is one of three consecutive works by the wellknown Rif Winfield (perhaps known to readers as the author of such classic studies as The 50-gun Ship , based on HMS Leopard — a lovely ship, even if one somewhat unpalatable both to US readers and to Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey!)
The study reviewed here takes us from the end of the reign of Elizabeth I and the accession of James I in 1603, to the death of Queen Anne and the start of the Georgian era in 1714. The second volume in the series will take us from 1714 through to 1792, just before the outbreak of war, and the third right through the Great French Wars from 1793 until 1817, just after the end of the Napoléonic Wars with France and the War of 1812 against the USA, both of which conflicts drew to a close in 1815. Both of these consecutive volumes by Rif Winfield are to be reviewed here later.
This work, covering the first period, details the concise history of every identified ship which served in the English or British navies of the era, whether Royal or under the Commonwealth Navy during Cromwell's time in power as Protector, after the close of the Civil War. Organised in a way not entirely dissimilar to David Lyon's great work 'The
Sailing Navy List' which many of us have for years been using as a valued and standard reference work on the ships of the 18th Century and the early 19th, this is the first time that anything comparable has been available for the ships of the 17th Century. Indeed, Rif Winfield worked closely with Lyon on that and several other studies and in fact competed one of those works after Lyon's death.
The list in this volume is list is categorized by ship's rate, classification, class, and date, including prizes taken into service and purchased ships, with as much information as is known been built as early as the 1570s during the height of Elizabeth's reign and had fought in the battles against the Spanish Armada in 1588, an era when England was fighting for her very survival as an independent state or nation against the most powerful nation of the day. The 17th Century witnessed both a major transformation of ship design and technology, and the growth of England and Britain herself into a major military, naval, commercial and colonial power, forged by both a bitter civil war and three major naval wars – those against the redoubtable Dutch during the Commonwealth period and in the era of Samuel Pepys' highly influential period with the Navy Board of Charles II and James I, as well as those against the powerful French navy of King Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil. From the race-built galleon of the later Elizabethan age to the classic First Rate of Queen Anne's, the earlier ships included here bore little design resemblance to new vessels launched in 1714, just before the first formal Establishment of 1719 under George I.
What is not, of course, available from the 17th Century as it is for the 18th and later, is the comprehensive range of Admiralty drafts of naval vessels being an era when the art of the shipwright was still based on closely-guarded secrets passed on from father to son. A profuse series of pen and grisaille sketch drawings and full paintings, particularly from the meticulous Willem van der Veldes, father and son, is reproduced here to fill that gap as well as may be done. Many of them are from the incomparable collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, and depict types as varied as First Rates and other very ornate ships of the line, to the lighter two-decker frigates and galley frigates of the 17th Century, to fireships, smaller yachts and other fleet support vessels.
Beautifully-produced, to a very high quality level, this is researcher, maritime historian or serious student of the naval ships of the emerging major seapower which was the Britain of the 17th Century.
Roger Marsh - March 2012
Author: Rif Winfield