Sovereign of the Seas 1637, John McKay

Sovereign of the Seas 1637, John McKay

Sovereign of the Seas was perhaps the most impressive British warship built during the reign of Charles I, and the purpose of this book is to produce detailed plans showing her internal and externa layout and the details of her impressive decoration.

This book is very firmly aimed at the expert reader. A quite bewildering array of nautical terms are thrown in right from the start, with no real attempt to explain any of them, and no glossary. The purpose of the text is to explain how the author made the many decisions required before he could create the plans, and many of these discussions are necessarily rather technical. This becomes clear rather quickly when one reached chapter four, on hull design, are are presented with a detailed explaination of how the curves of the hull were created. I must admit most of this part of the book rather went over my head! There are some interesting sections within this technical material – especially on the hugely impressive decoration that was such a major feature of this ship. I’m sure this section answers a lot of the questions I had about how these ships were built and laid out, but by the time I’ve looked up all of the technical terms I’ll have found that out anyway. If you do know your strakes from your spirketting, this this section will no doubt be of greater interest.

The second half of the books is filled with the plans and illustrations being described in part one, and this is where the book will have its appeal to less expert readers. The Sovereign of the Seas was beautifully decorated, and luckily we have a number of good sources for those decorations, and Mckay has thus been able to reconstruct her appearance. We begin with a series of technical drawings showing the shape of the hull, then move onto plans showing her deck and internal layouts including a series of excellent cutaway diagrams. There is a section of cross-sections which help show how the hull changed shape along its length, and give a clearer image of how the internal spaces were organised. One rather nice idea is the inclusion of a series of isometric plans, which give a feeling of the 3D shape of the ship, while also keeping the deck plans on a consistant scale. Those decorations are covered in great detail, often with two different versions presented, as the two main sources don’t always agree on the fine details.

The reason for this approach is clear. No plans exist of the Sovereign of the Seas, and McKay has thus had to reconstruct the ship using the evidence from an engraving by John Payne, a sketch by Willem van de Velde the Elder, and a painting of her stern attributed to Sir Peter Lely. These don’t entirely agree with each other, and don’t show all of the technical details needed to produce plans, so McKay has had to combine the evidence from the pictures with that from contempory guides to shipbuilding to produce a ‘best guess’. I just wish more effort had been made to explain things to a less expert reader!

For the expert reader this book will be invaluable. For those of us with less specialist knowledge but a general interest in these historic warships the first half will be hard work, but the second half, with the finely detailed plans, is well worth it.

1 – Introduction
2 – History
3 – Biographies and Sources
4 – Hull Design
5 – Hull Construction
6 – Pumps
7 – Steering
8 – Ground Tackle
9 – Deck Arrangements and Accomodation
10 – Decoration
11 – Masts and Yards
12 – Sails
13 – Rigging
14 – Ordnance
15 – Boats

Author: John McKay
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 296
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2020

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