Sovereign of the Seas
Sovereign of the Seas was a 17th-century warship of the English Navy. She was ordered as a 90-gun first-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, but at launch was armed with 102 bronze guns at the insistence of the king. It was later renamed HMS Sovereign, and then HMS Royal Sovereign at the Restoration of Charles II.
The elaborately gilded stern ordered by Charles I of England meant enemy ships knew it as the “Golden Devil“.She was launched on 13 October 1637, and served from 1638 until 1697, when a fire burnt the ship to the waterline at Chatham.
The most extravagantly decorated warship in the Royal Navy, she was adorned from stern to bow with gilded carvings against a black background, designed by Anthony van Dyck, and made by John Christmas and Mathias Christmas. Construction costs of £65,586 was funded by Ship Money, the gilding alone being £6,691, the price of an average warship. For comparison, the total tax generated in 1637 was £208,000.
Charles ordered 102 bronze cannon, to ensure it was the most powerfully armed ship in the world; these were made by John Browne. Sovereign of the Seas had 118 gun ports and only 102 guns.
Sovereign of the Seas was not so much built because of tactical considerations, but as a deliberate attempt to bolster the reputation of the English crown. Her name was, in itself, a political statement as Charles tried to revive the perceived ancient right of the English kings to be recognised as the ‘lords of the seas.’ English ships demanded that other ships strike their flags in salute, even in foreign ports.
Sovereign became leaky and defective with age during the reign of William III, and was laid up at Chatham Dockyards for repairs late in 1695.
She ignominiously ending her days, in mid January 1696, by being burnt to the water line as a result of having been set on fire by accident. A bosun, who was on night watch, left a candle burning unattended. Admitting to his fault he was court-martialled on 27 January 1696 and not only publicly flogged but also imprisoned at Marshalsea for the rest of his life.
In her honour, naval tradition has kept the name of this ship afloat, and several subsequent ships have been named HMS Royal Sovereign.
Class/Type 90 Gun First Rate Ship of the Line
Armament 102 Guns
Crew up to 800 men