13 MARCH 1847, Page 15



A History of the Royal Navy. from the Earliest Times to the Wars of the French Revolution. By Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, G.C.M.G. The lint volume-Bentley. Ficrion,

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Poems of Wit and Humour. By Thomas Hood Moztai.


So far as common knowledge and literary skill go, England is not quite destitute of naval histories. Besides other and perhaps more technical works, Southey, in his "Lives of the Admirals," has extracted and worked up the interesting matter of the old chroniclers and voyagers, in a manner which few writers could attempt to equal. But Southey was deficient in knowledge of practical seamanship, and not only servilely de- pendent upon his authorities, but uncertain whether he rightly under- stood them. Both he and his predecessors overlooked the stores of authen- tic information to be found scattered through our records ; and they sub- jected the printed chroniclers to a slender critical estimate, implicitly re- ceiving the statements of reporters living at a long distance of time from the events narrated. The History of the Royal Navy by Sir Harris Nicolas will supply these nautical and critical deficiencies, and treat the subject upon a more regular and extensive plan. It will be a history in the completest sense. The author will begin with the earliest period, and ex- hibit, so far as the materials allow, the state and progress of navigation, the character and build of vessels, with the interior economy of the service at various periods of time ; he will also describe naval events, and give biographical notices of nautical men. To accomplish these objects, recourse will be had to published works, whether English or foreign; but the extent of the research and the professional acumen which directs it will be the distinguishing feature in this part. The essential characteristic of the history will be the use made of the public records for the first time, in exhibiting the economy and statistics of the Navy from the earliest ages, narrating facts with more fulness and parti- cularity, and tracing events with greater accuracy than have hitherto been done. A just critical rule will guide Sir Harris throughout—he will only receive contemporary narrative as implicit authority.

The plan of the work divides the narrative into two continually recur- ring sections ; one descriptive of the civil and economical, the other of the military history. The volume before us opens with a brief review of the state of navigation among the ancient Britons, followed by a fuller notice of the same subject among the Anglo-Saxons, with an account of their sea-fights; for which the historian is indebted to books. With the Nor- man conquest the tera of records begins ; though they are few in number, and somewhat jejune in character, till the reign of John. Strange as it may seem, it appears that this pusillanimous Monarch "may be considered as the actual founder of the Royal Navy of England. A close approach was then made to a regular naval establishment ; and the right of Eng- land to the sovereignty of the narrow seas is said, though not on satis- factory authority, to have been solemnly asserted, if not enforced." At the same time, the materials for English history become abundant and authentic : "as every grant and nearly all the ordinances of the Sove- reign were thenceforward recorded, the statements of contemporary an. flatlets can be verified, and in many instances enlarged and illustrated by official documents." This growing fulness is visible from the times of John, not only in the records but in the ampler and more important cha- racter of the matter with which they deal. Contracts begin to be made for the supplying or building and furnishing of ships ; commissions with specific directions come into use ; regular naval engagements take place with some reference to a principle of tactics, and an approach is made to the modern naval "expedition." The records of these last, however, are often bald and dry, and limited to the things that are to be done or at- tempted. As yet, (and the same observation will perhaps obtain to the end,) the "records" are most valuable in what relates to the economy, sta- tistics, finance, and discipline of the service : legal disputes best illustrate the business practices and moral sense of the times, but we must still re- sort to the chroniclers for the graphic description of events and the traits of character and manners. The present volume comes down to the close of Edward the Second's reign.

In the first object of the work—a complete and accurate exhibition of what may be called facts—this history will be unrivalled; and though Sir Harris Nicolas is entitled to all praise for his researches among our records, yet perhaps it is in the conception of the plan that his highest merit consists, for it is original and distinctive. In point of literary exe- cution the history is entitled to great praise. The characteristic indica- tions of the age and of the nautical subjects are perceived and compre- hensively exhibited; the chroniclers have been carefully studied and skil- fully used; the nautical laws, the treaties or petitions in reference to dis- puted legal questions, when merchants were so apt to be plundered piratically or under cover of some plea, and the records connected with the marine, have been examined with the conjoint acumen of the lawyer and the mariner. Whenever the importance of the subject and the nature of its materials allow, the narrative or exposition is full, clear, and informing, with a comprehensive interest. It cannot, however, be denied that the dryness of antiquarianism is sometimes visible ; and that an enumeration of minute particulars, or mere names, dates, and lesser acts, sometimes impedes the progress of the reader. Of this the author is himself appre- hensive: and to some extent it is a necessary consequence of addressing nautical men, arclueologis' ts, and students of history, as much as the general public ; information, and that of a particular kind, being one end of the work. As recorded matter increases, and particulars cease to be curious from their antiquity and rarity, it would be well to act upon some principle of selection, or to relegate to a species of appenckx the lesser facts that contain no action and illustrate no practice or opinion. It cannot be too constantly present to an antiquarian undertaking history, that facts or dates are not of themselves historical.

The trifles we allude to are, however, but slight blemishes, and only blemishes at all in a popular point of view. The merit of the book con- sists in its plan, its range, its variety, its information, and the spirit of soundness and accuracy which pervades it. On these grounds it will take rank not only as our first naval history, but as a repertory of curi- ous antiquarian knowledge, on a subject which has been generally neglected, both here and on the Continent, except by one or two French authors.

For the form, size, findings, rig, and ship's complement of the ves- sels in the early ages, we are compelled to rely upon coins, or illumina- tions not always contemporary, or descriptions, either technical and not now understood, or vague, as they must always be unless made by minds trained to some extent in mathematical and natural science. The completest idea of the size of ships in those ancient days is to be gained from a contract entered into between the King of France and the Re- public of Venice, in 1268, for the furnishing certain vessels to the King. Sir Harris Nicolas presents a minute tabular analysis in addition to the descriptive text ; but the latter will be sufficient for extract.

"One of these ships was called the 'Saint Mary,' another the 'Rocc.afortis ' or 'Rochefort,' and a third the 'Saint Nicolas.' The Saint Mary' and the 'Roche- fort were to be one hundred and eight feet in length over all, having seventy feet of keel and about thirty-eight of beam. Their bows and sterns were alike, and contained several cabins; the two principal, one of which was at each end of the vessel, were called the Paradise.' Besides the orlop, they had a second deck, six feet and a half high; above which were the corridor and the pavisade, the former being five, and the latter only three feet and a half high; but it is very difficult to understand of what use, except to hold stores or provisions, such low compart- ments could have been. A short fighting-deck, called the bellatoriwn, or fore and stern castle, surmounted the extremities of the ship. The crew of each vessel consisted of one hundred and ten mariners; and the ships were estimated at 1,400 marks, or 9331. 68. 8d. each. The 'Saint Nicolas' was only one hundred feet long over all, having seventy-five feet keel and twenty-five beam: she cost 1,000 marks, or 7331. 6s. 8c1.; and had only eighty-six men. The twelve other ships were much smaller, cost only 700 marks, or 4661. 13s. 4d. each, and carried fifty men; but they were all built on the same plan. "These facts show that some ships of the thirteenth century were mach larger than they appear to have been from any other description, or from any drawing or seal of the period yet discovered; and it is greatly to be regretted that nothing occurs in the contract respecting the size or number of their masts, yards, sails, rigging, stores, or armament. It is certain, however, that the largest vessels had two masts and two square-sails, probably like those represented in some drawings made about half's, century later, which show that they had a fore and mainmast, but no bowsprit, and that the foremast raked considerably over the bows:' More particular information is furnished about half a century later, as to the proportion of men to tonnage in English ships.

"Accurate information of the size, officers, and crews of ships, is obtained from the instructions that were issued to Sir John Deverye, a priest, who was sent to survey the fleet at Plymouth and Southampton, and in the other Western ports, destined for Guienne, in 1324. He was to see that the vessels were well found in rigging, anchors, ropes, cables, and other necessary articles; and that they were manned with good crews, in the following proportions—

Mariners. Mariners. 'Ions. Tons.

A Ship of 240 60 A ship of 140 35

200 50 ISO 28 160 100 26 to1 40 80 24 180 60 21

"Every ship of one hundred and eighty tons and upwards was to have one master and two constables, and those of one hundred and sixty tons and less, one master and one constable, who were to be included in the number of the crew."

Our naval articles of war appear to have originated with Richard the First, when the Lion-hearted was on his way to the Holy Land.

"About the year 1190, when King Richard was at Chinon on his way to Mar- seilles, he issued the following ordinance, which is remarkable for being the ear- liest articles of war' for the government of an English fleet. If any man slew another on board a ship, he was to be fastened to the dead body and thrown with It into the sea: if the murder were committed on shore, he was to be bound to the corpse and buried with it. If any one were convicted by legal testimony of draw- ing his knife upon another, or of drawing blood in any manner, he was to lose Ins hand. For giving a blow with the hand, without producing blood, the offender was to be plunged three times into the sea. If any one reviled or insulted another, he was on every occasion to pay to the offended party an ounce of silver. A thief was to have his head shaven, boiling pitch poured upon it, and feathers shaken over him, as a mark by which he might be known; and he was to be turned imbue at the first laud at which the ship might touch. By another ordinance, every person was strictly required to be obedient to the commanders or justices of the fleet; and as they regarded themselves, and their return to their own countries, they were enjoined faithfully to observe these regulations. " It is singular that no penalty should have been provided for disobedience of orders, nor for any offence against discipline: but the principal object seems to have been to prevent quarrels, and to render property secure. The punishments of ducking, perhaps keel-hauling, and of tarring and feathering, are thus proved to have been very ancient; and, however severe may be the present military law, it is satisfactory to know that it has lost some part at least of its original bar- barity. The immense fine imposed for irritating speeches shows both the import- ance which was attached to so inevitable a cause of discord, and the wealth of the Crusaders."

The earliest naval action after the Conquest, in which an English King with English followers was engaged, also occurred during the Crusades and under Richard. The first really naval battle between France and England, when manceuvres took place on a general scale, was in 1217: though it occurred during the first year of Henry the Third, it may be said to belong to that of his father, John, since it was his quarrel which gave rise to the battle. Prince Louis, son of the French King, had invaded England in order to mount the throne ; but he had been de- feated at Lincoln, and large reinforcements were sent to him from Calais. The French fleet consisted of eighty ships, besides gallies and smaller vessels, under the command of a celebrated piratical seaman, Eustace the Monk.

"Hubert de Burgh, the King's Justiciary and Governor of Dover Castle, im- pressed with the necessity of preventing this formidable force from landing, im- mediately took measures for the purpose. • • • Sixteen large and well- armed ships, manned with skilful seamen belonging to the Cinque Ports, and about twenty smaller vessels, formed the English squadron. Assembling some of the bravest of his knights—among whom were Sir Philip D'Albini, Sir Henry de Turberville, Sir Richard Saard, and Sir Richard, a natural son of King John—De Burgh led them to the ships, and immediately pat to sea.

The enemy were at some distance from Calais when the English sailed; but all the accounts of the engagement are defective in nautical details, while the few that do occur are very obscurely expressed. It appears that the wind was Southerly, blowing fresh; and that tbe French were going large, steering to round the North Foreland, little expecting any opposition. The English squadron, in- stead of directly approaching the enemy, kept their wind as if going to Calais ; which made Eustace, the French commander' exclaim, I know that those wretches think to invade Calais like thieves; but that is useless, for it is well defended.' As soon as the English had gained the wind of the French fleet, they bore down in the most gallant manner upon the enemy's rear, and, the moment they came close to the sterns of the French ships, they threw grapnels into them; and, thus fastening the vessels together, prevented the enemy from escaping; an early instance of that love of close fighting for which English sailors have ever since been distinguished. "The action commenced by the cross-bow men and archers under Sir Philip d'Albini pouring vollies of arrows into the enemy's ships with deadly effect; and, to increase their dismay, the English threw nnslaked lime, reduced to a fine pow- der, on board their opponents, which being blown by the wind into their eyes com- pletely blinded them. The English then rushed on board, and, cutting away the rigging and haulyards with axes, the sails fell over the French, to use the ex- pression of the chronicler, 'like a net upon ensnared small birds.' Thus ham- pered, the enemy could make but a feeble resistance; and, after an immense slaughter, were completely defeated. Other narratives supply a few additional details. The English ships, it is said, kept their wind, instead of advancing at once towards the French fleet, from a natural hesitation to attack so greatly su- perior a force; but, animated by recollecting the recent affair of Lincoln, 'in which a few had vanquished large numbers,' they determined to give them battle. Though the French fought with great bravery, very few among them were ac- customed to naval tactics; and they fell rapidly under the lances, axes, and swords of their assailants. In the mean time, many of their vessels had been sunk by the gallies, which, running their iron prows into them, stove their sides. Disdaining to be taken alive, or, as the chroniclers more probably state, dreading to fall into the hands of the English, (for it was the custom to treat prisoners with great se- verity, that they might be induced to pay exorbitant sums for their ransom,) several of the Yrench knights leapt into the sea. Of their whole fleet, fifteen vessels only escaped; and, as soon as the principal persons had been secured, the English took the captured ships in tow. They thus proceeded in triumph to Do- ver; and, while victoriously ploughing the waves,' they returned thanks to God for their success; an example of religions gratitude after a battle which has been so properly followed on many occasions in modern times. It was the first object of the victors to find Eustace the Monk; and a strict search being made, he was discovered hidden in the hold of one of the prizes. His offer of a large sum of money for his life and his promise to serve the King of England faithfully in fu- ture, were alike disregarded. To his other crimes he added that of treason to King John; and Sir Richard, the bastard son of that Monarch, seizing him, ex- claimed, Base traitor, never shall you again seduce any one by your fair promises!' and, drawing his sword, struck off his head, which was afterward ex- hibited on a pole throughout England."

Various incidental questions are discussed relative to the origin of the claim of England to the empire of the narrow seas, the old custom of' striking sail to a King's ship, the office of Admiral, and the first use ot the mariner's compass : but for all these matters we must refer the reader to the volume.