Sovereign of The Seas (1637)
The Sovereign of The Seas has been the masterpiece of the naval engineering of the period, the most beautiful and important ship ever built, unsurpassable and unsurpassed as regards the preciosity of the final touches.
In 1630 the cost of a 40 cannons ship was of about 6,000 pounds; when the Sovereign was launched, her cost reached the enormous amount of 65,586 pounds. The realization weighed on the whole English people by a supplementary tax that was called "ship money." This fact shows both the importance of the event and the disagreement and the bad mood that the construction of the Sovereign of the Seas, not only as regards its name, caused.
Whose mind conceived this advanced, but also risky and conceited undertaking? Who wanted this ship, in spite of the energetic protests against her high cost and the contrary opinions concerning her technical characteristics? The ship, in fact, when finished, was, going to have the following dimensions: length 127 feet on the keel line; width 40 feet; draft 23 feet and a half; width of the broadside 46 feet. A ship of this size was hardly maneuverable in the shallows that encircle English coasts.
To want the Sovereign of the Seas was Charles I, King of England, who ascended the throne when Henry dies. Modern psychology teaches that often such imposing and grandiose designs originate from the need of emphasizing one's personality and of asserting one's authority. As a matter of fact Charles was quite short and almost of misshapen countenance. This is what mainly can explain his desire of asserting by unusual works a\his authority over his antagonists.
On June 26, 1634 (unfortunately the chronicler was not, afterwards, equally exact) Charles I went to the shipyard of Woolwich, near London, to inspect the ship Leopard, under construction with the supervision of the famous ship designer Phineas Pett.
This visit to the shipyard, Sir Pett's cleverness and, may be, some vanguard technical details that the skilful designer illustrated to him, originated in Charles an enthusiastic will of a ship that could not be compared with any other one.
Some days later, in fact, the King called Sir Pett and ordered the carrying out of the plan: the construction of the most important ship ever built.
Sir Pett, happy to be able to give free play to his imagination (money was no object to him), started immediately to achieve one of his dreams. The Royal Commission protested very strongly when the design of the King was brought to its attention, but everything was useless. Sir Pett made a model of the ship, and gave it the name of Sovereign of the Seas; the model was approved and the construction started. Unfortunately the model, a masterpiece of technical construction was lost. It was not perfectly alike to the real ship but was certainly the most perfect and extraordinary model ever built by a man.
The cleverness and fantasy shown in the model were used also in the construction of the real ship, and to her carrying out collaborated many great artists.
When the ship was launched, in 1637, besides her size, the abundance and the value of her ornaments were the most striking features. The designs of the ornaments and of the rich bas-reliefs of the transom were by the famous Sir Anthony Van Dryck; the ornaments were carried out by the master sculptor of the King, Gerard Christmas helped by his sons and assistants.
The gilding was so splendid that the Dutch seamen that often fought against the ship, called her "Golden Devil." In the figure-head was shown the Saxon King Edgard riding a rampant horse over seven corpses of enemies (this shows again the need of asserting his authority that Charles I had). The broadsides and the galleries were made precious by sparkling gods, goddesses and Satyrs, high-reliefs representing the signs of the zodiac, imaginary portraits of roman Emperors and many heraldic coats-of-arms.
On the stern, finally, over the rudder, the following inscription in Latin was engraved "Wui mare, qui fluctus, ventos navesque gubernat, sospitet hanc arcem, Carole Magne," (Might who governs the waves, the winds and the ships protect this vessel, oh Charles the Great!)
This invocation was propitious, in fact the Sovereign was never won in anyone of the battles that fought. Her insuperability was of great use to the popularity of the ship and English people loved the vessel whose construction had been so questioned.
When the power of Charles I vanished, and his successors wanted all the royal ships to be deprived of their rich ornaments, the English people did not allow that anyone could touch the Sovereign of the Seas whose carrying out had been so expensive.
The end of the Sovereign of the Seas was not due to a war action, but to a misfortune caused by a depreciable inattention. The ship was, in 1696, on the Medway River to be rebuilt in accordance with the decisions of a public Committee and of the Naval Architecture Board. Due to the overturning of a candle and to the inattention of the watchmen, Pett's masterpiece caught fire and was destroyed.
The Sovereign was many times built again, later, but the original design was always changed and the ornaments and over-structures were reduced in order to make lighter the ship.
This vessel, whose story we have here summarized, in spite of the exaggerations due to Charles' personality as the size or the excessive weight of the ornaments (it was almost impossible, in fact, to use the water-line batteries unless leeward and with a certain angle shot of listing), was built with conceptions quite bold, compared with the techniques of the seventeenth century. She as, by example, the first ship that used the royal a sail hoisted on the topgallant masts. The Sovereign of the Seas can be considered at least 150 years ahead the ships of the time, being similar to the modern ships of Nelson's period. - From "A Short History," by Mantua Sergal
Box Contents Overview | Gilded Metal Ornament Parts (1) | Gilded Metal Ornament Parts (2) | | Various Per-finished Fittings | Partial Box Contents Close Up View | Photos of the Finished Model (1) | Photos of the Finished Model (2)