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Sovereign of the Seas 1638

Royal Sovereign
Royal Sovereign

Sovereign of the Seas, later Royal Sovereign 102 gun, three deck ship 1638

Known by the Dutch as the 'golden devil', on account of her all black and gold appearance, Sovereign of the Seas was the most magnificent ship of her era. Designed in 1634 by Phineas Pett she was the first ship to have three full gun decks, carrying 102 guns on the orders of King Charles I instead of the 90 originally planned. No expense was spared in her construction. All her guns were made from bronze instead of cast iron which meant they were much lighter but four times more expensive. Most impressive was her gilded and carved decoration costing over £6,600, equivalent to the cost of the hull for a two decked ship. Sovereign of the Seas was so large that two smaller ships were built from her waste timbers.

The construction of Sovereign of the Seas was part of Charles I's plan to overawe possible enemies, including the Dutch and Spanish, with England's naval power. Entering service in 1638 she did not go into battle before the English Civil War intervened in 1642. Laid up by Parliament during the Civil War, her first engagement was the Battle of Kentish Knock during the First Dutch War on 28 September 1652 when it is alleged she destroyed a Dutch ship with a single broadside.

Renamed the Royal Sovereign when Charles II came to the throne in 1660 she fought in several battles during the Second and Third Dutch Wars between 1666-1673. The Nine Years War against France broke out in 1689 and Royal Sovereign was present at the Battles of Beachy Head in 1690 and Barfleur in 1692 when the Royal Navy fought alongside the Dutch. Her career came to an abrupt end when she accidentally caught fire at Chatham on 27 January 1696.

Further reading:

N.A.M. Rodger, The Safeguard of the Sea, A Naval History of Britain 660-1649 (London 1997).

Sovereign of the Seas Statistics (1638)
Period in service: 1638 - 1696
Displacement: 1,520 tonnes
Length: 38.7m / 127ft
Beam: 14.2m / 46.6ft
Complement: 800
Armament: Lower gun deck

20 cannon drakes 4 demi-cannon drakes 4 demi-cannon

Middle gun deck
24 culverin drakes 6 culverins 4 demi-cannon

Upper gun deck
38 demi-culverin drakes 4 demi-culverins 2 culverin drakes

Notes: The culverin was a long barrelled cannon widely used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Navies favoured this weapon because it was relatively light and manoeuvrable compared with full size cannon. There were a number of smaller variants including the demi-culverin.