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The King’s pleasure fleet

The King’s pleasure fleet

The conclusion to which we are driven is that these yacht-like craft which escorted Charles to England were English in fact as in appearance. Naval history tells us what ships formed the escorting fleet, though it does not yet tell us how the smaller craft were rigged. It is reasonable, therefore, to fit the names of some of the smallest vessels that were sent from England to these sloop-rigged vessels; and when we have done that we have, in effect, admitted that a type suspiciously like a yacht in externals existed in England before the Restoration. One of the difficulties that attends an inquiry of this nature is that inventories and detailed descriptions of the various small craft do not seem to have survived, if, indeed, they were ever made. Another drawback of a very real nature is that some of the commonest of modern technical terms did not at that time exist. Among these may be mentioned such words as ‘gaff,’ ‘lug,’ and ‘leeboard.’ The mere fact that the name is not found is no evidence whatever that the thing did not exist. We know now that the early name for a gaff was a half-sprit, a term which shows how the gaffsail was evolved, and we know now that the ‘bilanders’' and ‘plates’ of the Elizabethan era were the prototypes of the modern Thames barge. In the same way it is legitimate to conclude that the sixth-rates of the Commonwealth Navy included in their number certain small craft rigged, as the term came to be about that time, ‘smack’ fashion; and we know that the smack rig became the favourite rig for English yachts. In later years, when the term yacht was applied almost exclusively to vessels set apart for ceremonious usage, the smack rig ceased to be universal, if ever it was so, and larger yachts, rigged first as ketches and then as ships, came into use.

Of the sixth-rates which attended Charles on his journey to England, three are known to have been ketches, and are therefore out of the present story; but five others were of unknown rig, and were small enough to be sloop-rigged. It may therefore be assumed that some of these five, perhaps the smallest of them, were Van der Velde's models. They were as follows:

Table i.pdf (For the table, please access the .pdf version of this chapter.)

It might therefore be supposed that, if the difference between the smallest of the old types of men-of-war on the one hand, and the new yachts on the other, was in reality as slight as is here sug­gested, some confusion would be found to exist at times during the reign of Charles II as to what was a yacht and what was not. And it tends to confirm the suggestion when we find that this con­fusion actually did exist, especially in the case of the Fanfan, which is often spoken of by later writers as a yacht. On the official navy list of the period she figures as a sixth-rate.

It would also help to confirm the supposition that there was little that was new in the yacht type if we were to find that any craft which existed before the Restoration was rated as a yacht after it. And this, too, we find to be the case. Pepys, in his list of the Navy as it existed at the King's Restoration, includes one yacht, the Minion, which he also places in his later list of yachts. These lists are compiled entirely from official sources, and it is there­fore quite certain that the Minion existed before the Restoration, and that, whatever her rating may have been before it, after it she was seen to be, in point of fact, a yacht, and was rated accordingly. It would be interesting to be able to give full details of this little ship, but, unfortunately, up to the present no more is known of her than is to be learnt from Pepys' list of yachts, which is here given. The Minion, then, was, in fact, the first English yacht, and she was, as far as we know, an English-built vessel. Her dimensions correspond fairly well with those of the smacks, which were smaller than hoys, and it is therefore probable that, under the Commonwealth, she was officially styled a smack. The yacht grew out of the smack or hoy type, and not out of the sloop, which, as it existed at this date, was quite unfit for pleasure-sailing. It is curious, however, to notice that a sloop built in 1673 was named the Cutter. It will be seen from the list which follows that the Mary marks a very great advance in size, that the Bezan, also a present from the Dutch, reverts to the small ship idea, and that throughout the reign these two types were pretty faithfully reproduced.

The State Papers have preserved very many mentions of the use of these yachts, and are supplemented to a considerable degree by the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys. The rudimentary newspapers of the period do not seem to have thought their doings worthy of attention. Before passing on to the details of cost and of particular sailings, a few notes as to the identity of the yachts themselves may be offered.

Table ii.pdf (For the table, please access the .pdf version of this chapter.)

1. The Minion is rarely mentioned, and had no officers appointed to her during the remainder of her career. This does not mean, however, that she was not used, but that, owing to her small size, she was commanded by a warrant or subordinate officer, while larger yachts were commanded from first to last, on whatever service they were employed, by naval officers who held commissions as captains. But that the Minion was in use is shown by an entry for September 26, 1664, when she was ordered up to Deptford so that the principal officers of the Navy might send her on some message or other. Most of her time, however, seems to have been spent at Chatham, where she probably served, if we may judge by the history of the other smaller yachts, as a tender at the disposal of the Navy officials. In a list of the Navy for 1664 she is entered as ‘a pleasure-boat at Chatham,’ and is not included on the list of yachts or ‘yaughes,’ as this paper has it. The inference seems to be, and it is borne out by a great number of references, that the term `yacht' did not then imply of necessity a pleasure-vessel. But if there was any difference between the types, the ‘pleasure-boat,’ whether she was built as such or was merely a converted smack or sloop, was more in accord with the modern idea of a yacht than the royal yachts were.

2. The Mary was presumably the identical vessel which the Burgomaster of Amsterdam offered to His Majesty in 1660. There is no certain knowledge of how she was rigged, but it is quite a reasonable supposition that the picture which Mr. Clark reproduces did represent her. The matter is one of interest rather than of importance, for the yacht in question was obviously English, and belongs to this period. If the Mary was not at first sloop-rigged, as there represented, it is more than likely that she was so rigged during one of her periodic refits. She was in hand for important alterations and repairs in 1662, including a new mast and a new suit of sails, so that it is reasonably certain that after that date she was rigged with a gaff; which seems to have been universal among English yachts, though the Dutch, as we know, used the sprit very largely. The only serious objection that can be urged against the picture is that the yacht represented seems to be too small, by her freeboard and cabin accommodation, to be the Mary, and that the Mary, whose draught was 10 feet, would scarcely be likely to have had leeboards. In tracing the doings of this yacht, care has to be taken to avoid confusing her with the third-rate man-of-war Mary, or with the Little Mary, or with the Mary fireship, which was also her contemporary on the Navy List. Sometimes she was called the Maria.

3, 5. Of the Anne and Katherine not much need be said here, as papers referring to their construction appear later. They seem to have been in the main reproductions of the Mary, but with 3 feet less draught. They may have had leeboards, though this is far from certain; leeboards, as numerous illustrations show us, were never in great favour with English yachts, which were accustomed to work in waters where a reasonable draught of water was not inconvenient.

4. As to the Bezan, two or three questions arise. Her name is a Dutch word, bezaan, meaning a mizen sail, and is etymologically the same word as the English mizen, the Spanish mesana, and the Italian mezzana. The inference should therefore be that this yacht was rigged with a mizzen - that she was, in fact, approximately what we would now call a yawl or ketch. It must be remem­bered, however, that in the seventeenth century, and, indeed, till the beginning of the nineteenth century, a ketch was not a fore-and-aft rigged craft. As the Bezan's draught was very small, and she was Dutch built, it may be assumed that she had leeboards. The smaller English yachts seem to have been built to imitate at least the dimensions if not the lines of this vessel, and there was a ten­dency to use the name Bezan as a sort of surname to tack on to the official names of these small yachts. There is a consequent difficulty that it is not always possible to be sure what vessel is meant when the term ‘Bezan’ is used. For instance, the Charles, built in 1662, is frequently called the Charles Bezan, and a Bigane (sc. Bezan) was on the Navy List at the beginning of the next century, although the original Bezan had long since gone to the ship-breakers.

6. Charles was the name of the Navy List, but not of common use. Little Charles, Charles Bezan, and Charlot or Charlotte, were used almost indifferently, and serve to distinguish her from the Charles and Royal Charles or Charles Royal, first-rates.

7. On June 11, 1662, ‘Dr. Pett's brother showed (i.e., to the Royal Society) a draught of the pleasure-boat which he intended to make for the King.' Probably this refers to the Jemmy, and obviously it implies at least some variation from the lines of the Dutch Bezan. Commissioner Pett was a Fellow of the Royal Society.

11. Kitchin, as her name implies, was rather a tender than a yacht. She represented no new idea, for we have seen that kitchen boats were used in Holland before the Restoration, and were there brought under the notice of Charles; and in England the Roe, a ketch, had already been detailed for similar service, and was spoken of as the Roe Kitchen.

14. The Richmond was originally a privateer belonging to Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lenox, and cruised very successfully, chiefly in the Straits of Dover, during the Second Dutch War. The Duke of Richmond was in high favour with the King, and obtained many presents and grants from him, amongst others being the right to have the Lenox, as this yacht was then called, kept in repair for him by the Navy yards. After the war this vessel was hired into the Navy, and was stationed at Holehaven - a place better known to yachtsmen than to naval officers nowadays - to inspect vessels coming up the Thames. At this time she was officially the ‘Lenox yacht,’ though futile efforts had been made to change her name to Dover Castle when she was cruising out of Dover. Indeed, it is a peculiarity of this vessel that her original name clung to her to the end of her days. By eloping with ‘La belle Stuart,’ with whom the King's roving fancy was much taken, her owner risked forfeiting the royal favour, but did not do so, it is said, because the King found that the elopement and marriage did not prejudice his own interest with the lady. In 1672 he was at Copenhagen as Ambassador, and wrote thence to stretch a point, and to suggest that ‘keeping his yacht in repair’ should include lengthening her by 5 or 6 feet. ‘She is so short that she will not sail when it blows a fresh gale.’ The yacht was, in fact, lengthened, but the owner died in December of this year, and the Navy bought her from his executors. She was renamed Richmond, and was usually so called, though the old name of Lenox continues to crop up from time to time. It is interesting to notice that in December, 1672, the Governor of Dover had a privateer Lenox cruising in the Channel. Presumably he had named her in memory of the old Lenox, which refused to be called the Dover Castle.

It is also curious to notice that this vessel, which had been a privateer, and was nominally a yacht, was called a hoy by the dockyard officials who had charge of her. At times, too, she was called a pleasure-boat while still in private hands. As she was in hand for lengthening before the question of buying her into the Navy arose, it may be taken for granted that the dimensions in the table include the enlargement.

18. No yachts were ‘rebuilt’ during this reign, though on more than one occasion a new ship was built to bear the name of a former yacht which had perished. The only exception to this rule was the Saudadoes, but she was officially a sixth-rate, and was not on the list of yachts. The second Katherine, however, was subsequently rebuilt, and lived to an abnormal age in consequence. But it must be remembered that ‘rebuilding’ was a very thorough process, and involved pulling the old ship to pieces, and subse­quently working any of her material which was found to be sound into a new ship built under the same name, though not necessarily of anything like the same dimensions.

25. The Fubbs also was subsequently rebuilt, and remained on the Navy List for nearly a century. As everyone knows, ‘Fubbs’was a pet name for the notorious Duchess of Portsmouth, and this yacht was not the only one named after a favourite. The origins of the names borne by the yachts are for the most part so obvious as not to need comment.

27. Fanfan is often stated to have been a yacht, and to have been built for Prince Rupert. The evidence of the Navy Board papers disproves this statement; and shows that she was, in fact, a man-of-war, though a small one. Her armament, it may be noticed, consisted of four 4-pounders, whilst no yacht carried any­thing else but 3-pounders. The confusion helps to prove that there was no distinctive yacht type. The Fanfan presumably looked like a yacht, and in 1665 and the following years was employed in much the same way as the Mary and other un­doubted yachts. The mistake, therefore, is explained as easily as it arose.

28. There was more reason for calling the Saudadoes a yacht, though the Navy List never did so. She was the ‘Queen's little ship,’ and was launched on April 14, 1670, by the Queen, who ‘gave her a Portuguese name and fired a gun.’ English writers of the period made free with the Portuguese name, and it is not easy to say what its exact form was. Officially it was as here given. The man in the street preferred to call her the Sodalis, a name which would have been more appropriate to one of the King's pleasure-boats. Perhaps in reality she was named Saudade, which means ‘longing’, ‘yearning,’ ‘home-sickness,’ and would have come prettily from a Princess who was in exile from her native land. It may be added that in August, 1670, the Queen paid a visit to Lisbon in this little vessel, which, at any rate before she was enlarged, was smaller than a modern Queen would be likely to choose for a voyage across the Bay of Biscay.