Fighting Instructions, 1530-1816 - Publications Of The Navy Records Society Vol. XXIX.
by Julian S. Corbett
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse






* * * * *






SECRETARY PROFESSOR J.K. LAUGHTON, D.Litt., King's College, London, W.C.


The COUNCIL of the NAVY RECORDS SOCIETY wish it to be distinctly understood that they are not answerable for any opinions or observations that may appear in the Society's publications; For these the responsibility rests entirely with the Editors of the several works.


The inaccessibility of the official Fighting Instructions from time to time issued to the fleet has long been a recognised stumbling-block to students of naval history. Only a few copies of them were generally known to exist; fewer still could readily be consulted by the public, and of these the best known had been wrongly dated. The discovery therefore of a number of seventeenth century Instructions amongst the Earl of Dartmouth's papers, which he had generously placed at the disposal of the Society, seemed to encourage an attempt to make something like a complete collection. The result, such as it is, is now offered to the Society. It is by no means exhaustive. Some sets of Instructions seem to be lost beyond recall; but, on the other hand, a good deal of hitherto barren ground has been filled, and it is hoped that the collection may be of some assistance for a fresh study of the principles which underlie the development of naval tactics.

It is of course as documents in the history of tactics that the Fighting Instructions have the greatest practical value, and with this aspect of them in view I have done my best to illustrate their genesis, intention, and significance by extracts from contemporary authorities. Without such illustration the Instructions would be but barren food, neither nutritive nor easily digested. The embodiment of this illustrative matter has to some extent involved a departure from the ordinary form of the Society's publications. Instead of a general introduction, a series of introductory notes to each group of Instructions has been adopted, which it is feared will appear to bear an excessive proportion to the Instructions themselves. There seemed, however, no other means of dealing with the illustrative matter in a consecutive way. The extracts from admirals' despatches and contemporary treatises, and the remarks of officers and officials concerned with the preparation or the execution of the Instructions, were for the most part too fragmentary to be treated as separate documents, or too long or otherwise unsuitable for foot-notes. The only adequate way therefore was to embody them in Introductory Notes, and this it is hoped will be found to justify their bulk.

A special apology is, however, due for the Introductory Note on Nelson's memoranda. For this I can only plead their great importance, and the amount of illustrative matter that exists from the pens of Nelson's officers and opponents. For no other naval battle have we so much invaluable comment from men of the highest capacity who were present. The living interest of it all is unsurpassed, and I have therefore been tempted to include all that came to hand, encouraged by the belief that the fullest material for the study of Nelson's tactics at the battle of Trafalgar could not be out of place in a volume issued by the Society in the centenary year.

As to the general results, perhaps the most striking feature which the collection brings out is that sailing tactics was a purely English art. The idea that we borrowed originally from the Dutch is no longer tenable. The Dutch themselves do not even claim the invention of the line. Indeed in no foreign authority, either Dutch, French or Spanish, have I been able to discover a claim to the invention of any device in sailing tactics that had permanent value. Even the famous tactical school which was established in France at the close of the Seven Years' War, and by which the French service so brilliantly profited in the War of American Independence, was worked on the old lines of Hoste's treatise. Morogues' Tactique Navale was its text-book, and his own teaching was but a scientific and intelligent elaboration of a system from which the British service under the impulse of Anson, Hawke, and Boscawen was already shaking itself free.

Much of the old learning which the volume contains is of course of little more than antiquarian interest, but the bulk of it in the opinion of those best able to judge should be found of living value. All systems of tactics must rest ultimately on the dominant weapon in use, and throughout the sailing period the dominant weapon was, as now, the gun. In face of so fundamental a resemblance no tactician can afford to ignore the sailing system merely because the method of propulsion and the nature of the material have changed. It is not the principles of tactics that such changes affect, but merely the method of applying them.

Of even higher present value is the process of thought, the line of argument by which the old tacticians arrived at their conclusions good and bad. In studying the long series of Instructions we are able to detach certain attitudes of mind which led to the atrophy of principles essentially good, and others which pushed the system forward on healthy lines and flung off obsolete restraints. In an art so shifting and amorphous as naval tactics, the difference between health and disease must always lie in a certain vitality of mind with which it must be approached and practised. It is only in the history of tactics, under all conditions of weapons, movement and material, that the conditions of that vitality can be studied.

For a civilian to approach the elucidation of such points without professional assistance would be the height of temerity, and my thanks therefore are particularly due for advice and encouragement to Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge, Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Custance, Rear-Admiral H.S.H. Prince Louis of Battenberg, and to Captain Slade, Captain of the Royal Naval College. To Sir Reginald Custance and Professor Laughton I am under a special obligation, for not only have they been kind enough to read the proofs of the work, but they have been indefatigable in offering suggestions, the one from his high professional knowledge and the other from his unrivalled learning in naval history. Any value indeed the work may be found to possess must in a large measure be attributed to them. Nor can I omit to mention the valuable assistance which I have received from Mr. Ferdinand Brand and Captain Garbett, R.N., in unearthing forgotten material in the Libraries of the Admiralty and the United Service Institution.

I have also the pleasure of expressing my obligations to the Earl of Dartmouth, the Earl of St. Germans, and Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Knowles, Bart., for the use of the documents in their possession, as well as to many others whose benefits to the Society will be found duly noted in the body of the work.



1. INTRODUCTORY. ALONSO DE CHAVES ON SAILING TACTICS 3 Espejo de Navegantes, circa 1530 6

2. INTRODUCTORY. AUDLEY'S FLEET ORDERS, circa 1530 14 Orders to be used by the King's Majesty's Navy by the Sea 15





1. INTRODUCTORY. THE ATTEMPT TO APPLY LAND FORMATIONS TO THE FLEET 49 Lord Wimbledon, 1625. No. 1 52 " " No. 2 61 " " No. 3 63

2. INTRODUCTORY. THE SHIP-MONEY FLEETS, circa 1635 73 The Earl of Lindsey, 1635 77


1. INTRODUCTORY. ENGLISH AND DUTCH ORDERS ON THE EVE OF THE WAR, 1648-53 81 Parliamentary Orders, 1648 87 Supplementary Instructions, circa 1650 88 Marten Tromp, 1652 91

2. INTRODUCTORY. ORDERS ISSUED DURING THE WAR, 1653 and 1654 92 Commonwealth Orders, 1653 99


1. INTRODUCTORY. ORDERS OF THE RESTORATION 107 The Earl of Sandwich, 1665 108

2. INTRODUCTORY. MONCK, PRINCE RUPERT, AND THE DUKE OF YORK 110 The Duke of York, 1665 122 His Additional Instructions, 1665 126 His Supplementary Order 128 Prince Rupert, 1666 129


1. INTRODUCTORY. PROGRESS OF TACTICS DURING THE WAR 133 The Duke of York, 1672 146 His Supplementary Orders, 1672 148 The Duke of York, 1672-3 149 Final form of the Duke of York's Orders, 1673, with additions and observations subsequently made 152

2. INTRODUCTORY. MEDITERRANEAN ORDERS, 1678 164 Sir John Narbrough, 1678 165

3. INTRODUCTORY. THE LAST STUART ORDERS 168 Lord Dartmouth, 1688 170



2. INTRODUCTORY. THE PERMANENT INSTRUCTIONS, 1703-1783 195 Sir George Rooke, 1703 197


INTRODUCTORY, ORIGIN AND GROWTH OF THE ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS 203 Admiral Vernon, circa 1740 214 Lord Anson, circa 1747 216 Sir Edward Hawke, 1756 317 Admiral Boscawen, 1759 219 Sir George Rodney, 1782 225 Lord Hood's Additions, 1783 228



2. INTRODUCTORY. THE SIGNAL BOOKS OF THE GREAT WAR 252 Lord Howe's Explanatory Instructions, 1799 268

3. INTRODUCTORY. NELSON'S TACTICAL MEMORANDA 280 The Toulon Memorandum, 1803 313 The Trafalgar Memorandum, 1805 316

4. INTRODUCTORY. INSTRUCTIONS AFTER TRAFALGAR 321 Admiral Gambier, 1807 327 Lord Collingwood, 1808-1810 328 Sir Alexander Cochrane, 1805-14 330

5. INTRODUCTORY, THE SIGNAL BOOK OF 1816 335 The Instructions of 1816 342





I. ALONSO DE CHAVES, circa 1530





The following extract from the Espejo de Navegantes, or Seamen's Glass, of Alonso de Chaves serves to show the development which naval tactics had reached at the dawn of the sailing epoch. The treatise was apparently never published. It was discovered by Captain Fernandez Duro, the well-known historian of the Spanish navy, amongst the manuscripts in the library of the Academy of History at Madrid. The exact date of its production is not known; but Alonso de Chaves was one of a group of naval writers and experts who flourished at the court of the Emperor Charles V in the first half of the sixteenth century.[1] He was known to Hakluyt, who mentions him in connection with his own cherished idea of getting a lectureship in navigation established in London. 'And that it may appear,' he writes in dedicating the second edition of his Voyages to the lord admiral, 'that this is no vain fancy nor device of mine it may please your lordship to understand that the late Emperor Charles the Fifth ... established not only a Pilot-Major for the examination of such as sought to take charge of ships in that voyage' (i.e. to the Indies), 'but also founded a notable lecture of the Art of Navigation which is read to this day in the Contractation House at Seville. The Readers of the Lecture have not only carefully taught and instructed the Spanish mariners by word of mouth, but also have published sundry exact and worthy treatises concerning marine causes for the direction and encouragement of posterity. The learned works of three of which Readers, namely of Alonso de Chaves, of Hieronymus de Chaves, and of Roderigo Zamorano, came long ago very happily to my hands, together with the straight and severe examining of all such Masters as desire to take charge for the West Indies.' Since therefore De Chaves was an official lecturer to the Contractation House, the Admiralty of the Indies, we may take it that he speaks with full authority of the current naval thought of the time. That he represented a somewhat advanced school seems clear from the pains he takes in his treatise to defend his opinions against the old idea which still prevailed, that only galleys and oared craft could be marshalled in regular order. 'Some may say,' he writes, 'that at sea it is not possible to order ships and tactics in this way, nor to arrange beforehand so nicely for coming to the attack or bringing succour just when wanted, and that therefore there is no need to labour an order of battle since order cannot be kept. To such I answer that the same objection binds the enemy, and that with equal arms he who has taken up the best formation and order will be victor, because it is not possible so to break up an order with wind and sea as that he who is more without order shall not be worse broken up and the sooner defeated. For ships at sea are as war-horses on land, since admitting they are not very nimble at turning at any pace, nevertheless a regular formation increases their power. Moreover, at sea, so long as there be no storm, there will be nothing to hinder the using of any of the orders with which we have dealt, and if there be a storm the same terror will strike the one side as the other; for the storm is enough for all to war with, and in fighting it they will have peace with one another.'

At first sight it would seem that De Chaves in this argument takes no account of superiority of seamanship—the factor which was destined to turn the scale against Spain upon the sea. But the following passage with which he concludes shows that he regarded seamanship as the controlling factor in every case. 'And if,' he argues, 'they say that the enemy will take the same thought and care as I, I answer that when both be equal in numbers and arms, then in such case he who shall be more dexterous and have more spirit and fortitude he will conquer, the which he will not do, although he have more and better arms and as much spirit as he will, if he be wanting in good order and counsel. Just as happens in fencing, that the weaker man if he be more dexterous gives more and better hits than the other who does not understand the beats nor knows them, although he be the stronger. And the same holds good with any army whatsoever on land, and it has been seen that the smaller by their good order have defeated the stronger.'

From the work in question Captain Fernandez Duro gives four sections or chapters in Appendix 12 to the first volume of his history,[2] namely, 1. 'Of war or battle at sea,' relating to single ship actions. 2. 'The form of a battle and the method of fighting,' relating to armament, fire discipline, boarding and the like. 3. 'Of a battle of one fleet against another.' 4. 'Battle.' In the last two sections is contained the earliest known attempt to formulate a definite fighting formation and tactical system for sailing fleets, and it is from these that the following extracts have been translated.

It will be noted that in the root-idea of coming as quickly as possible to close quarters, and in relying mainly on end-on fire, the proposed system is still quite mediaeval and founded mainly upon galley tactics. But a new and advanced note is struck in the author's insistence on the captain-general's keeping out of action as long as possible, instead of leading the attack in the time-honoured way. We should also remark the differentiation of types, for all of which a duty was provided in action. This was also a survival of galley warfare, and rapidly disappeared with the advance of the sailing man-of-war, never to be revived, unless perhaps it be returning in the immediate future, and we are to see torpedo craft of the latest devising taking the place and function of the barcas, with their axes and augers, and armoured cruisers those of the naos de succurro.


[Fernandez Duro, Armada Espanola i. App. 12.]

Chapter III.—Of a Battle between One Fleet and Another.


... When the time for battle is at hand the captain-general should order the whole fleet to come together that he may set them in order, since a regular order is no less necessary in a fleet of ships for giving battle to another fleet than it is in an army of soldiers for giving battle to another army.

Thus, as in an army, the men-at-arms form by themselves in one quarter to make and meet charges, and the light horse in another quarter to support, pursue, and harass[3] so in a fleet, the captain-general ought to order the strongest and largest ships to form in one quarter to attack, grapple, board and break-up the enemy, and the lesser and weaker ships in another quarter apart, with their artillery and munitions to harass, pursue, and give chase to the enemy if he flies, and to come to the rescue wherever there is most need.

The captain-general should form a detachment of his smaller and lighter vessels, to the extent of one-fourth part of his whole fleet, and order them to take station on either side of the main body. I mean that they should always keep as a separate body on the flanks of the main body, so that they can see what happens on one side and on the other.

He should admonish and direct every one of the ships that she shall endeavour to grapple with the enemy in such a way that she shall not get between two of them so as to be boarded and engaged on both sides at once.[4]

* * * * *

Having directed and set in order all the aforesaid matters, the captain-general should then marshal the other three-quarters of the fleet that remain in the following manner.

He should consider his position and the direction of the wind, and how to get the advantage of it with his fleet.

Then he should consider the order in which the enemy is formed, whether they come in a close body or in line ahead,[5] and whether they are disposed in square bodies or in a single line,[6] and whether the great ships are in the centre or on the flanks, and in what station is the flagship; and all the other considerations which are essential to the case he should take in hand.

By all means he should do his best that his fleet shall have the weather-gage; for if there was no other advantage he will always keep free from being blinded by the smoke of the guns, so as to be able to see one to another; and for the enemy it will be the contrary, because the smoke and fire of our fleet and of their own will keep driving upon them, and blinding them in such a manner that they will not be able to see one another, and they will fight among themselves from not being able to recognise each other.

Everything being now ready, if the enemy have made squadrons of their fleet we should act in the same manner in ours, placing always the greater ships in one body as a vanguard to grapple first and receive the first shock; and the captain-general should be stationed in the centre squadron, so that he may see those which go before and those which follow.

Each of the squadrons ought to sail in line abreast,[7] so that all can see the enemy and use their guns without getting in each other's way, and they must not sail in file one behind the other, because thence would come great trouble, as only the leading ships could fight. In any case a ship is not so nimble as a man to be able to face about and do what is best.[8]

The rearguard should be the ships that I have called the supports, which are to be the fourth part of the fleet, and the lightest and best sailers; but they must not move in rear of the fleet, because they would not see well what is passing so as to give timely succour, and therefore they ought always to keep an offing on that side or flank of the fleet where the flagship is, or on both sides if they are many; and if they are in one body they should work to station themselves to windward for the reasons aforesaid.

And if the fleet of the enemy shall come on in one body in line abreast,[9] ours should do the same, placing the largest and strongest ships in the centre and the lightest on the flanks of the battle, seeing that those which are in the centre always receive greater injury because necessarily they have to fight on both sides.

And if the enemy bring their fleet into the form of a lance-head or triangle, then ours ought to form in two lines [alas], keeping the advanced extremities furthest apart and closing in the rear, so as to take the enemy between them and engage them on both fronts, placing the largest ships in the rear and the lightest at the advanced points, seeing that they can most quickly tack in upon the enemy opposed to them.

And if the enemy approach formed in two lines [alas], ours ought to do the same, placing always the greatest ships over against the greatest of the enemy, and being always on the look-out to take the enemy between them; and on no account must ours penetrate into the midst of the enemy's formation [batalla], because arms and smoke will envelope them on every side and there will be no way of relieving them.

The captain-general having now arrayed his whole fleet in one of the aforesaid orders according as it seems best to him for giving battle, and everything being ready for battle, all shall bear in mind the signals he shall have appointed with flag or shot or topsail, that all may know at what time to attack or board or come to rescue or retreat, or give chase. The which signals all must understand and remember what they are to do when such signals are made, and likewise the armed boats shall take the same care and remember what they ought to do, and perform their duty.[10]

Chapter IV.—Battle

Then the flagship shall bid a trumpet sound, and at that signal all shall move in their aforesaid order; and as they come into range they shall commence to play their most powerful artillery, taking care that the first shots do not miss, for, as I have said, when the first shots hit, inasmuch as they are the largest, they strike great dread and terror into the enemy; for seeing how great hurt they suffer, they think how much greater it will be at close range and so mayhap they will not want to fight, but strike and surrender or fly, so as not to come to close quarters.

Having so begun firing, they shall always first play the largest guns, which are on the side or board towards the enemy, and likewise they shall move over from the other side those guns which have wheeled carriages to run on the upper part of the deck and poop.[11] And then when nearer they should use the smaller ones, and by no means should they fire them at first, for afar off they will do no hurt, and besides the enemy will know there is dearth of good artillery and will take better heart to make or abide an attack. And after having come to closer quarters then they ought to play the lighter artillery. And so soon as they come to board or grapple all the other kinds of arms shall be used, of which I have spoken more particularly: first, missiles, such as harpoons [dardos] and stones, hand-guns [escopetas] and cross-bows, and then the fire-balls aforesaid, as well from the tops as from the castles, and at the same time the calthrops, linstocks, stink-balls [pildoras], grenades, and the scorpions for the sails and rigging. At this moment they should sound all the trumpets, and with a lusty cheer from every ship at once they should grapple and fight with every kind of weapon, those with staffed scythes or shear-hooks cutting the enemy's rigging, and the others with the fire instruments [trompas y bocas de fuego] raining fire down on the enemy's rigging and crew.

The captain-general should encourage all in the battle, and because he cannot be heard with his voice he should bid the signal for action to be made with his trumpet or flag or with his topsail.

And he should keep a look-out in every direction in readiness, when he sees any of his ships in danger, to order the ships of reserve to give succour, if by chance they have not seen it, or else himself to bear in with his own ship.

The flagship should take great care not to grapple another, for then he could not see what is passing in the battle nor control it. And besides his own side in coming to help and support him might find themselves out of action; or peradventure if any accident befell him, the rest of the fleet would be left without guidance and would not have care to succour one another, but so far as they were able would fly or take their own course. Accordingly the captain-general should never be of the first who are to grapple nor should he enter into the press, so that he may watch the fighting and bring succour where it is most needed.

The ships of support in like manner should have care to keep somewhat apart and not to grapple till they see where they should first bring succour. The more they keep clear the more will they have opportunity of either standing off and using their guns, or of coming to close range with their other firearms. Moreover, if any ship of the enemy takes to flight, they will be able to give chase or get athwart her hawse, and will be able to watch and give succour wherever the captain-general signals.

The boats in like manner should not close in till they see the ships grappled, and then they should come up on the opposite side in the manner stated above, and carry out their special duties as occasion arises either with their bases,[12] of which each shall carry its own, and with their harquebuses, or else by getting close in and wedging up the rudders, or cutting them and their gear away, or by leaping in upon the enemy, if they can climb in without being seen, or from outside by setting fire to them, or scuttling them with augers.[13]


[1] Fernandez Duro, De algunas obras desconocidas de Cosmografia y de Namgaaon, &c. Reprinted from the Revista de Navegacion y Comercio. Madrid, 1894-5.

[2] Armada Espanola desde la union de los Reines de Castilla y de Aragon.

[3] Entrar y salir—lit. 'to go in and come out,' a technical military expression used of light cavalry. It seems generally to signify short sudden attacks on weak points.

[4] Here follow directions for telling off a fourth of the largest boats in the fleet for certain duties which are sufficiently explained in the section on 'Battle' below.

[5] Unos en pos de otros a la hila—lit. one behind the other in file.

[6] En escuadrones o en ala. In military diction these words meant 'deep formation' and 'single line.' Here probably ala means line abreast. See next note.

[7] Cado uno de los escuadrones debe ir en ala. Here escuadrone must mean 'squadron' in the modern sense of a division, and from the context ala can mean nothing but 'line abreast,' 'line ahead' being strictly forbidden.

[8] This, of course, refers to fire tactics ashore. The meaning is that a ship, when she has delivered her fire, cannot retire by countermarch and leave her next in file to deliver its fire in turn. The whole system, it will be seen, is based on end-on fire, as a preparation for boarding and small-arm fighting.

[9] Viniere toda junta puesta in ala.

[10] This sentence in the original is incomplete, running on into the next chapter. For clearness the construction has been altered in the translation.

[11] This remarkable evolution is a little obscure. The Spanish has 'y moviendo asimismo los otros del otro bordo, aquellos que tienen sus carretones que andan per cima de cubierta y toldo.'

[12] Versos, breech-loading pieces of the secondary armament of ships, and for aiming boats. Bases were of the high penetration or 'culverin' type.

[13] Dando barrenos. This curious duty of the armed boats he has more fully explained in the section on single ship actions, as follows: 'The ships being grappled, the boat ready equipped should put off to the enemy's ship under her poop, and get fast hold of her, and first cut away her rudder, or at least jam it with half a dozen wedges in such wise that it cannot steer or move, and if there is a chance for more, without being seen, bore half a dozen auger holes below the water-line, so that the ship founders.'

The rest of the chapter is concerned with the treatment of the dead and wounded, pursuit of the enemy when victory is won, and the refitting of the fleet.



The instructions drawn up by Thomas Audley by order of Henry VIII may be taken as the last word in England of the purely mediaeval time, before the development of gunnery, and particularly of broadside fire, had sown the seeds of more modern tactics. They were almost certainly drafted from long-established precedents, for Audley was a lawyer. The document is undated, but since Audley is mentioned without any rank or title, it was probably before November 1531, when he became serjeant-at-law and king's serjeant, and certainly before May 1632 when he was knighted. It was at this time that Henry VIII was plunging into his Reformation policy, and had every reason to be prepared for complications abroad, and particularly with Spain, which was then the leading naval Power.

The last two articles, increasing the authority of the council of war, were probably insisted on, as Mr. Oppenheim has pointed out in view of Sir Edward Howard's attempts on French ports in 1512 and 1513, the last of which ended in disaster.[1]


[1] Administration of the Royal Navy, p. 63.


[Brit. Mus. Harleian MSS. 309, fol. 42, et seq.[1]]


If they meet with the enemy the admiral must apply to get the wind of the enemy by all the means he can, for that is the advantage. No private captain should board the admiral enemy but the admiral of the English, except he cannot come to the enemy's, as the matter may so fall out without they both the one seek the other. And if they chase the enemy let them that chase shoot no ordnance till he be ready to board him, for that will let[2] his ship's way.

Let every ship match equally as near as they can, and leave some pinnaces at liberty to help the overmatched. And one small ship when they shall join battle [is] to be attending on the admiral to relieve him, for the overcoming of the admiral is a great discouragement of the rest of the other side.

In case you board your enemy enter not till you see the smoke gone and then shoot off[3] all your pieces, your port-pieces, the pieces of hail-shot, [and] cross-bow shot to beat his cage deck, and if you see his deck well ridden[4] then enter with your best men, but first win his tops in any wise if it be possible. In case you see there come rescue bulge[5] the enemy ship [but] first take heed your own men be retired, [and] take the captain with certain of the best with him, the rest [to be] committed to the sea, for else they will turn upon you to your confusion.

The admiral ought to have this order before he joins battle with the enemy, that all his ships shall bear a flag in their mizen-tops, and himself one in the foremast beside the mainmast, that everyone may know his own fleet by that token. If he see a hard match with the enemy and be to leeward, then to gather his fleet together and seem to flee, and flee indeed for this purpose till the enemy draw within gunshot. And when the enemy doth shoot then [he shall] shoot again, and make all the smoke he can to the intent the enemy shall not see the ships, and [then] suddenly hale up his tackle aboard,[6] and have the wind of the enemy. And by this policy it is possible to win the weather-gage of the enemy, and then he hath a great advantage, and this may well be done if it be well foreseen beforehand, and every captain and master made privy to it beforehand at whatsoever time such disadvantage shall happen.

The admiral shall not take in hand any exploit to land or enter into any harbour enemy with the king's ships, but[7] he call a council and make the captains privy to his device and the best masters in the fleet or pilots, known to be skilful men on that coast or place where he intendeth to do his exploit, and by good advice. Otherwise the fault ought to be laid on the admiral if anything should happen but well.[8]

And if he did an exploit without assent of the captains and [it] proved well, the king ought to put him out of his room for purposing a matter of such charge of his own brain, whereby the whole fleet might fall into the hands of the enemy to the destruction of the king's people.[29]


[1] _A Book of Orders for the War both by Land and Sea, written by Thomas Audley at the command of King Henry VIII.

[2] I.e. hinder.

[3] MS. 'the shot of.' The whole MS. has evidently been very carelessly copied and is full of small blunders, which have been corrected in the text above. 'Board' till comparatively recent times meant to close with a ship. 'Enter' was our modern 'board.'

[4] 'Ridden' = 'cleared.'

[5] 'Bulge' = 'scuttle.' A ship was said to bulge herself when she ran aground and filled.

[6] The passage should probably read 'hale or haul his tacks aboard.'

[7] I.e. 'without,' 'unless.'

[8] It was under this old rule that Boroughs lodged his protest against Drake's entering Cadiz in 1587.

[9] The rest of the articles relate to discipline, internal order of ships, and securing prize cargoes.



These two sets of orders were drawn up by the lord high admiral in rapid succession in August 1545, during the second stage of Henry VIII's last war with France. In the previous month D'Annibault, the French admiral, had been compelled to abandon his attempt on Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and retire to recruit upon his own coast; and Lord Lisle was about to go out and endeavour to bring him to action.

The orders, it will be seen, are a distinct advance on those of 1530, and betray strongly the influence of Spanish ideas as formulated, by De Chaves. So striking indeed is the resemblance in many points; that we perhaps may trace it to Henry's recent alliance with Charles V. The main difference was that Henry's 'wings' were composed of oared craft, and to form them of sufficient strength he had had some of the newest and smartest 'galliasses,' or 'galleys'—that is, his vessels specially built for men-of-war—fitted with oars. The reason for this was that the French fleet was a mixed one, the sailing division having been reinforced by a squadron of galleys from the Mediterranean. The elaborate attempts to combine the two types tactically—a problem which the Italian admirals had hitherto found insoluble—points to an advanced study of the naval art that is entirely characteristic of Henry VIII.

The main idea of the first order is of a vanguard in three ranks, formed of the most powerful hired merchant ships and the king's own galleons and great ships, and supported by a strong rearguard of smaller armed merchantmen, and by two oared wings on either flank composed of royal and private vessels combined. The vanguard was to be marshalled with its three ranks so adjusted that its general form was that of a blunt wedge. In the first rank come eight of the large merchantmen, mainly Hanseatic vessels; in the second, ten of the royal navy and one private vessel; in the third, nineteen second-rate merchantmen. The tactical aim is clearly that the heavy Hanseatic ships should, as De Chaves says, receive the first shock and break up the enemy's formation for the royal ships, while the third rank are in position to support. The wings, which were specially told off to keep the galleys in check, correspond to the reserve of De Chaves, and the importance attached to them is seen in the fact that they contained all the king's galleons of the latest type.

In the second set of instructions, issued on August 10, this order was considerably modified. The fleet had been increased by the arrival of some of the west-country ships, and a new order of battle was drawn up which is printed in the State Papers, Henry VIII (Old Series), i. 810. The formation, though still retaining the blunt wedge design, was simplified. We have now a vanguard of 24 ships, a 'battaill' or main body of 40 ships, and one 'wing' of 40 oared 'galliasses, shallops and boats of war.' The 'wing' however, was still capable of acting in two divisions, for, unlike the vanguard and 'battaill,' it had a vice-admiral as well as an admiral.

LORD LISLE, No. 1, 1545.

[Le Fleming MSS. No. 2.][1]

The Order of Battle.[2]


These be the ships appointed for the first rank of the vanguard:

In primis:

The Great Argosy. The Samson Lubeck. The Johannes Lubeck. The Trinity of Dantzig. The Mary of Hamburg. The Pellican. The Morion [of Dantzig]. The 'Sepiar' of Dantzig. = 8.

The second rank of the vanguard:

The Harry Grace a Dieu. The Venetian. The Peter Pomegranate. The Mathew Gonson. The Pansy. The Great Galley. The Sweepstake. The Minion. The Swallow. The New Bark. The Saul 'Argaly.' = 12 (sic).

The third rank of the vanguard:

The 'Berste Denar.' The Falcon Lively. The Harry Bristol. The Trinity Smith. The Margaret of Bristol. The Trinity Reniger. The Mary James. The Pilgrim of Dartmouth. The Mary Gorge of Rye. The Thomas Tipkins. The Gorges Brigges. The Anne Lively. = 12.

The John Evangelist. The Thomas Modell. The Lartycke [or 'Lartigoe']. The Christopher Bennet. The Mary Fortune. The Mary Marten. The Trinity Bristol. = 7.


Galleys and ships of the right wing:

The Great Mistress of England. The Salamander. The Jennet. The Lion. The Greyhound. The Thomas Greenwich. The Lesser Pinnace. The Hind. The Harry. The Galley Subtle. Two boats of Rye. = 12.

Galleys and ships of the left wing:

The Anne Gallant. The Unicorn. The Falcon. The Dragon. The Sacre. The Merlin. The Rae. The Reniger pinnace. The Foyst. Two boats of Rye. = 11.

The Fighting Instructions.

Item. It is to be considered that the ranks must keep such order in sailing that none impeach another. Wherefore it is requisite that every of the said ranks keep right way with another, and take such regard to the observing of the same that no ship pass his fellows forward nor backward nor slack anything, but [keep] as they were in one line, and that there may be half a cable length between every of the ships.

Item. The first rank shall make sail straight to the front of the battle and shall pass through them, and so shall make a short return to the midwards as they may, and they [are] to have a special regard to the course of the second rank; which two ranks is appointed to lay aboard the principal ships of the enemy, every man choosing[3] his mate as they may, reserving the admiral for my lord admiral.

Item. That every ship of the first rank shall bear a flag of St. George's cross upon the fore topmast for the space of the fight, which upon the king's determination shall be on Monday, the 10th of August, anno 1545.[4]

And every ship appointed to the middle rank shall for the space of the fight bear a flag of St. George's cross upon her mainmast.

And every ship of the third rank shall bear a like flag upon his mizen[5] mast top, and every of the said wings shall have in their tops a flag of St. George.

Item. The victuallers shall follow the third rank and shall bear in their tops their flags. Also that neither of the said wings shall further enter into fight; but, having advantage as near anigh[6] as they can of the wind, shall give succour as they shall see occasion, and shall not give care to any of the small vessels to weaken our force. There be, besides the said ships mentioned, to be joined to the foresaid battle fifty sail of western ships, and whereof be seven great hulks of 888 ton apiece, and there is also the number of 1,200 of soldiers beside mariners in all the said ships.


[1] A similar list of ships is in a MS. in the Cambridge University Library.

[2] This paper gives the order of the wings and vanguard only. The fifty west-country ships that were presumably to form the rearguard had not yet joined.

[3] MS. 'closing.'

[4] The fleets did not get contact till August 15.

[5] MS. 'messel.'

[6] MS. 'a snare a nye.' The passage is clearly corrupt. Perhaps it should read 'neither of the said wings shall further enter into the fight but as nigh as they can keeping advantage of the wind [i.e. without losing the weather-gage of any part of the enemy's fleet] but shall give succour,' &c.


[Record Office, State Papers, Henry VIII.]

The Order for the said Fleet taken by the Lord Admiral the 10th day of August, 1545.[1]

1. First, it is to be considered that every of the captains with the said ships appointed by this order to the vanward, battle and wing shall ride at anchor according as they be appointed to sail by the said order; and no ship of any of the said wards or wing shall presume to come to an anchor before the admiral of the said ward.

2. Item, that every captain of the said wards or wing shall be in everything ordered by the admiral of the same.

3. Item, when we shall see a convenient time to fight with the enemies our vanward shall make with their vanward if they have any; and if they be in one company, our vanward, taking the advantage of the wind, shall set upon their foremost rank, bringing them out of order; and our vice-admiral shall seek to board their vice-admiral, and every captain shall choose his equal as near as he may.

4. Item, the admiral of the wing shall be always in the wind with his whole company; and when we shall join with the enemies he shall keep still the advantage of the wind, to the intent he with his company may the better beat off the galleys from the great ships.[2]


[1] The articles are preceded, like the first ones, by a list of ships or 'battle order,' showing an organisation into a vanward, main body (battle), and one wing of oared craft. See Introductory Note, p. 19.

[2] Of the remaining seven articles, five relate to distinguishing squadronal flags and lights as in the earlier instructions, and the last one to the Watchword of the night. It is to be 'God save King Henry,' and the answer, 'And long to reign over us.'






No fighting instructions known to have been issued in the reign of Elizabeth have been found, nor is there any indication that a regular order of battle was ever laid down by the seamen-admirals of her time.[1] Even Howard's great fleet of 1588 had twice been in action with the Armada before it was so much as organised into squadrons. If anything of the kind was introduced later in her reign Captain Nathaniel Boteler, who had served in the Jacobean navy and wrote on the subject early in the reign of Charles I, was ignorant of it. In his Dialogues about Sea Services, he devotes the sixth to 'Ordering of Fleets in Sailing, Chases, Boardings and Battles,' but although he suggests a battle order which we know was never put in practice, he is unable to give one that had been used by an English fleet.[2] It is not surprising. In the despatches of the Elizabethan admirals, though they have much to say on strategy, there is not a word of fleet-tactics, as we understand the thing. The domination of the seamen's idea of naval warfare, the increasing handiness of ships, the improved design of their batteries, the special progress made by Englishmen in guns and gunnery led rapidly to the preference of broadside gunfire over boarding, and to an exaggeration of the value of individual mobility; and the old semi-military formations based on small-arm fighting were abandoned.

At the same time, although the seamen-admirals did not trouble or were not sufficiently advanced to devise a battle order to suit their new weapon, there are many indications that, consciously or unconsciously, they developed a tendency inherent in the broadside idea to fall in action into a rough line ahead; that is to say, the practice was usually to break up into groups as occasion dictated, and for each group to deliver its broadsides in succession on an exposed point of the enemy's formation. That the armed merchantmen conformed regularly to this idea is very improbable. The faint pictures we have of their well-meant efforts present them to us attacking in a loose throng and masking each other's fire. But that the queen's ships did not attempt to observe any order is not so clear. When the combined fleet of Howard and Drake was first sighted by the Armada, it is said by two Spanish eye-witnesses to have been in ala, and 'in very fine order.' And the second of Adams's charts, upon which the famous House of Lords' tapestries were designed, actually represents the queen's ships standing out of Plymouth in line ahead, and coming to the attack in a similar but already disordered formation. Still there can be no doubt that, however far a rudimentary form of line ahead was carried by the Elizabethans, it was a matter of minor tactics and not of a battle order, and was rather instinctive than the perfected result of a serious attempt to work out a tactical system. The only actual account of a fleet formation which we have is still on the old lines, and it was for review purposes only. Ubaldino, in his second narrative, which he says was inspired by Drake,[3] relates that when Drake put out of Plymouth to receive Howard 'he sallied from port to meet him with his thirty ships in equal ranks, three ships deep, making honourable display of his masterly and diligent handling, with the pinnaces and small craft thrown forward as though to reconnoitre the ships that were approaching, which is their office.' Nothing, however, is more certain in the unhappily vague accounts of the 1588 campaign than that no such battle order as this was used in action against the Armada.

It is not till the close of the West Indian Expedition of 1596, when, after Hawkins and Drake were both dead, Colonel-General Sir Thomas Baskerville, the commander of the landing force, was left in charge of the retreating fleet, that we get any trace of a definite battle formation. In his action off the Isla de Pinos he seems, so far as we can read the obscure description, to have formed his fleet into two divisions abreast, each in line ahead. The queen's ships are described at least as engaging in succession according to previous directions till all had had 'their course.' Henry Savile, whose intemperate and enthusiastic defence of his commander was printed by Hakluyt, further says: 'Our general was the foremost and so held his place until, by order of fight, other ships were to have their turns according to his former direction, who wisely and politicly had so ordered his vanguard and rearward; and as the manner of it was altogether strange to the Spaniard, so might they have been without hope of victory, if their general had been a man of judgment in sea-fights.'

Here, then, if we may trust Savile, a definite battle order must have been laid down beforehand on the new lines, and it is possible that in the years which had elapsed since the Armada campaign the seamen had been giving serious attention to a tactical system, which the absence of naval actions prevented reaching any degree of development. Had the idea been Baskerville's own it is very unlikely that the veteran sea-captains on his council of war would have assented to its adoption. At any rate we may assert that the idea of ships attacking in succession so as to support one another without masking each other's broadside fire (which is the essential germ of the true line ahead) was in the air, and it is clearly on the principle that underlay Baskerville's tactics that Ralegh's fighting instructions were based twenty years later.[4]

These which are the first instructions known to have been issued to an English fleet since Henry VIII's time were signed by Sir Walter Ralegh on May 3, 1617, at Plymouth, on the eve of his sailing for his ill-fated expedition to Guiana. Most of the articles are in the nature of 'Articles of War' and 'Sailing Instructions' rather than 'Fighting Instructions,' but the whole are printed below for their general interest. A contemporary writer, quoted by Edwards in his Life of Ralegh, says of them: 'There is no precedent of so godly, severe, and martial government, fit to be written and engraven in every man's soul that covets to do honour to his king and country in this or like attempts.' But this cannot be taken quite literally. So far at least as they relate to discipline, some of Ralegh's articles may be traced back in the Black Book of the Admiralty to the fourteenth century, while the illogical arrangement of the whole points, as in the case of the Additional Fighting Instructions of the eighteenth century, to a gradual growth from precedent to precedent by the accretion of expeditional orders added from time to time by individual admirals. The process of formation may be well studied in Lord Wimbledon's first orders, where Ralegh's special expeditional additions will be found absorbed and adapted to the conditions of a larger fleet. Moreover, there is evidence that, with the exception of those articles which were designed in view of the special destination of Ralegh's voyage, the whole of them were based on an early Elizabethan precedent. For the history of English tactics the point is of considerable importance, especially in view of his twenty-ninth article, which lays down the method of attack when the weather-gage has been secured. This has hitherto been believed to be new and presumably Ralegh's own, in spite of the difficulty of believing that a man entirely without experience of fleet actions at sea could have hit upon so original and effective a tactical design. The evidence, however, that Ralegh borrowed it from an earlier set of orders is fairly clear.

Amongst the Stowe MSS. in the British Museum there is a small quarto treatise (No. 426) entitled 'Observations and overtures for a sea fight upon our own coasts, and what kind of order and discipline is fitted to be used in martialling and directing our navies against the preparations of such Spanish Armadas or others as shall at any time come to assail us.' From internal evidence and directly from another copy of it in the Lansdown MSS. (No. 213), we know it to be the work of 'William Gorges, gentleman.' He is to be identified as a son of Sir William Gorges, for he tells us he was afloat with his father in the Dreadnought as early as 1578, when Sir William was admiral on the Irish station with a squadron ordered to intercept the filibustering expedition which Sir Thomas Stucley was about to attempt under the auspices of Pope Gregory XIII. Sir William was a cousin of Ralegh's and brother to Sir Arthur Gorges, who was Ralegh's captain in the Azores expedition of 1597, and who in Ralegh's interest wrote the account of the campaign which Purchas printed. Though William, the son, freely quotes the experiences of the Armada campaign of 1588, he is not known to have ever held a naval command, and he calls himself 'unexperienced.' We may take it therefore that his treatise was mainly inspired by Ralegh, to whom indeed a large part of it is sometimes attributed. This question, however, is of small importance. The gist of the matter is a set of fleet orders which he has appended as a precedent at the end of his treatise, and it is on these orders that Ralegh's are clearly based. They commence with fourteen articles, consisting mainly of sailing instructions, similar to those which occur later in Ralegh's set. The fifteenth deals with fighting and bloodshed among the crews, and the sixteenth enjoins morning and evening prayer, with a psalm at setting the watch, and further provides that any man absenting himself from divine service without good cause shall suffer the 'bilboes,' with bread and water for twelve hours. The whole of this drastic provision for improving the seamen's morals has been struck out by a hurried and less clerkly hand, and in the margin is substituted another article practically word for word the same as that which Ralegh adopted as his first article. The same hand has also erased the whole numbering of the articles up to No. 16, and has noted that the new article on prayers is to come first.[5] The articles which follow correspond closely both in order and expression to Ralegh's, ending with No. 36, where Ralegh's special articles relating to landing in Guiana begin. Ralegh's important twenty-ninth article dealing with the method of attack is practically identical with that of Gorges. Ralegh, however, has several articles which are not in Gorges's set, and wherever the two sets are not word for word the same, Ralegh's is the fuller, having been to all appearances expanded from Gorges's precedent. This, coupled with the fact that other corrections beside those of the prayer article are embodied in Ralegh's articles, leaves practically no doubt that Gorges's set was the earlier and the precedent upon which Ralegh's was based.

An apparent difficulty in the date of Gorges's treatise need not detain us. It was dedicated on March 16, 1618-9, to Buckingham, the new lord high admiral, but it bears indication of having been written earlier, and in any case the date of the dedication is no guide to the date of the orders in the Appendix.

The important question is, how much earlier than Ralegh's are these orders of Gorges's treatise? Can we approximately fix their date? Certainly not with any degree of precision, but nevertheless we are not quite without light. To begin with there is the harsh punishment for not attending prayers, which is thoroughly characteristic of Tudor times. Then there is an article, which Ralegh omits, relating to the use of 'musket-arrows.' Gorges's article runs: 'If musket-arrows be used, to have great regard that they use not but half the ordinary charge of powder, otherwise more powder will make the arrow fly double.' Now these arrows we know to have been in high favour for their power of penetrating musket-proof defences about the time of the Armada. They were a purely English device, and were taken by Richard Hawkins upon his voyage to the South Sea in 1593. He highly commends them, but nevertheless they appear to have fallen out of fashion, and no trace of their use in Jacobean times has been found.[6]

A still more suggestive indication exists in the heading which is prefixed to Gorges's Appendix. It runs as follows:—'A form of orders and directions to be given by an admiral in conducting a fleet through the Narrow Seas for the better keeping together or relieving one another upon any occasion of distress or separation by weather or by giving chase. For the understanding whereof suppose that a fleet of his majesty's consisting of twenty or thirty sail were bound for serving on the west part of Ireland, as Kinsale haven for example.' The words 'his majesty' show the Appendix was penned under James I; but why did Gorges select this curious example for explaining his orders? We can only remember that it was exactly upon such an occasion that he had served with his father in 1578. There is therefore at least a possibility that the orders in question may be a copy or an adaptation of some which Sir William Gorges had issued ten years before the Armada. Certainly no situation had arisen since Elizabeth's death to put such an idea into the writer's head, and the points of rendezvous mentioned in Gorges's first article are exactly those which Sir William would naturally have given.

On evidence so inconclusive no certainty can be attained. All we can say is that Gorges's Appendix points to a possibility that Ralegh's remarkable twenty-ninth article may have been as old as the middle of Elizabeth's reign, and that the reason why it has not survived in the writings of any of the great Elizabethan admirals is either that the tactics it enjoins were regarded as a secret of the seamen's 'mystery' or were too trite or commonplace to need enunciation. At any rate in the face of the Gorges precedent it cannot be said, without reservation, that this rudimentary form of line ahead or attack in succession was invented by Ralegh, or that it was not known to the men who fought the Armada.

Amongst other articles of special interest, as showing how firmly the English naval tradition was already fixed, should be noticed the twenty-fifth, relating to seamen gunners, the twenty-sixth, forbidding action at more than point-blank range, and above all the fifth and sixth, aimed at obliterating all distinction between soldiers and sailors aboard ship, and at securing that unity of service between the land and sea forces which has been the peculiar distinction of the national instinct for war.

As to the tactical principle upon which the Elizabethan form of attack was based, it must be noted that was to demoralise the enemy—to drive him into 'utter confusion.' The point is important, for this conception of tactics held its place till it was ultimately supplanted by the idea of concentrating on part of his fleet.


[1] Hakluyt printed several sets of instructions issued to armed fleets intended for discovery, viz.: 1. Those drawn by Sebastian Cabota for Sir Hugh Willoughby's voyage in 1553. 2. Those for the first voyage of Anthony Jenkinson, 1557, which refers to other standing orders. 3. Those issued by the lords of the Council for Edward Fenton in 1582, the 20th article of which directs him to draw up orders 'for their better government both at sea and land.' But none of these contain any fighting instructions.

[2] Boteler's MS. was not published till 1685, when the publisher dedicated it to Samuel Pepys. The date at which it was written can only be inferred from internal evidence. At p. 47 he refers to 'his Majesty's late augmentation of seamen's pay in general.' Such an augmentation took place in 1625 and 1626. He also refers to the 'late king' and to the colony of St. Christopher's, which was settled in 1623, but not to that of New Providence, settled in 1629. He served in the Cadiz Expedition of 1625, but does not mention it or any event of the rest of the war. The battle order, however, which he recommends closely resembles that proposed by Sir E. Cecil (post, p. 65). The probability is, then, that his work was begun at the end of James I's reign, and was part of the large output of military literature to which the imminent prospect of war with Spain gave rise at that time.

[3] See Drake and the Tudor Navy, ii. Appendix B.

[4] See Article 1 of the Instructions of 1816, post, p. 342.

[5] In all previous English instructions the prayer article had come towards the end. In the Spanish service it came first, and it was thence probably that Ralegh got his idea.

[6] Laughton, Defeat of the Armada, i. 126; Account, &c. (Exchequer, Queen's Remembrancer), lxiv. 9, April 9, 1588; Hawkins's Observations (Hakl. Soc), Sec. lxvi.


[State Papers Domestic xcii. f. 9.]

Orders to be observed by the commanders of the fleet and land companies under the charge and conduct of Sir Walter Ralegh, Knight, bound for the south parts of America or elsewhere.

Given at Plymouth in Devon, the 3rd of May, 1617.

First. Because no action nor enterprise can prosper, be it by sea or by land, without the favour and assistance of Almighty God, the Lord and strength of hosts and armies, you shall not fail to cause divine service to be read in your ship morning and evening, in the morning before dinner, and in the evening before supper, or at least (if there be interruption by foul weather) once in the day, praising God every night with the singing of a psalm at the setting of the watch.

2. You shall take especial care that God be not blasphemed in your ship, but that after admonition given, if the offenders do not reform themselves, you shall cause them of the meaner sort to be ducked at yard-arm; and the better sort to be fined out of their adventure. By which course if no amendment be found, you shall acquaint me withal, delivering me the names of the offenders. For if it be threatened in the Scriptures that the curse shall not depart from the house of the swearer, much less shall it depart from the ship of the swearer.

3. Thirdly, no man shall refuse to obey his officer in all that he is commanded for the benefit of the journey. No man being in health shall refuse to watch his turn as he shall be directed, the sailors by the master and boatswain, the landsmen by their captain, lieutenant, or other officers.

4. You shall make in every ship two captains of the watch, who shall make choice of two soldiers every night to search between the decks that no fire or candlelight be carried about the ship after the watch be set, nor that any candle be burning in any cabin without a lantern; and that neither, but whilst they are to make themselves unready. For there is no danger so inevitable as the ship firing, which may also as well happen by taking of tobacco between the decks, and therefore [it is] forbidden to all men but aloft the upper deck.

5. You shall cause all your landsmen to learn the names and places of the ropes, that they may assist the sailors in their labour upon the decks, though they cannot go up to the tops and yards.

*6. You shall train and instruct your sailors, so many as shall be found fit, as you do your landsmen, and register their names in the list of your companies, making no difference of professions, but that all be esteemed sailors and all soldiers, for your troops will be very weak when you come to land without the assistance of your seafaring men.

7. You shall not give chase nor send abroad any ship but by order from the general, and if you come near any ship in your course, if she be belonging to any prince or state in league or amity with his majesty, you shall not take anything from them by force, upon pain to be punished as pirates; although in manifest extremity you may (agreeing for the price) relieve yourselves with things necessary, giving bonds for the same. Provided that it be not to the disfurnishing of any such ship, whereby the owner or merchant be endangered for the ship or goods.

*8. You shall every night fall astern the general's ship, and follow his light, receiving instructions in the morning what course to hold. And if you shall at any time be separated by foul weather, you shall receive billets sealed up, the first to be opened on this side the North Cape,[2] if there be cause, the second to be opened beyond the South Cape,[3] the third after you shall pass 23 degrees, and the fourth from the height of Cape Verd.[4]

9. If you discover any sail at sea, either to windward or to leeward of the admiral, or if any two or three of our fleet shall discover any such like sail which the admiral cannot discern, if she be a great ship and but one, you shall strike your main topsail and hoist it again so often as you judge the ship to be hundred tons of burthen; or if you judge her to be 200 tons to strike and hoist twice; if 300 tons thrice, and answerable to your opinion of her greatness.

*10. If you discover a small ship, you shall do the like with your fore topsail; but if you discover many great ships you shall not only strike your main topsail often, but put out your ensign in the maintop. And if such fleet or ship go large before the wind, you shall also after your sign given go large and stand as any of the fleet doth: I mean no longer than that you may judge that the admiral and the rest have seen your sign and you so standing. And if you went large at the time of the discovery you shall hale of your sheets for a little time, and then go large again that the rest may know that you go large to show us that the ship or fleet discovered keeps that course.

*11. So shall you do if the ship or fleet discovered have her tacks aboard, namely, if you had also your tacks aboard at the time of the discovery, you shall bear up for a little time, and after hale your sheets again to show us what course the ship or fleet holds.

*12. If you discover any ship or fleet by night, if the ship or fleet be to windward of you, and you to windward of the admiral, you shall presently bear up to give us knowledge. But if you think that (did you not bear up) you might speak with her, then you shall keep your luff,[5] and shoot off a piece of ordnance to give us knowledge thereby.

13. For a general rule: Let none presume to shoot off a piece of ordnance but in discovery of a ship or fleet by night, or by being in danger of an enemy, or in danger of fire, or in danger of sinking, that it may be unto us all a most certain intelligence of some matter of importance.

*14. And you shall make us know the difference by this: if you give chase and being near a ship you shall shoot to make her strike, we shall all see and know that you shoot to that end if it be by day; if by night, we shall then know that you have seen a ship or fleet none of our company; and if you suspect we do not hear the first piece then you may shoot a second, but not otherwise, and you must take almost a quarter of an hour between your two pieces.

*15. If you be in danger of a leak—I mean in present danger—you shall shoot off two pieces presently one after another, and if in danger of fire, three pieces presently one after another; but if there be time between we will know by your second piece that you doubt that we do not hear your first piece, and therefore you shoot a second, to wit by night, and give time between.

16. There is no man that shall strike any officer be he captain, lieutenant, ensign, sergeant, corporal of the field,[6] quartermaster, &c.

17. Nor the master of any ship, master's mate, or boatswain, or quartermaster. I say no man shall strike or offer violence to any of these but the supreme officer to the inferior, in time of service, upon pain of death.

18. No private man shall strike another, upon pain of receiving such punishment as a martial court[7] shall think him worthy of.

19. If any man steal any victuals, either by breaking into the hold or otherwise, he shall receive the punishment as of a thief or murderer of his fellows.

20. No man shall keep any feasting or drinking between meals, nor drink any healths upon your ship's provisions.

21. Every captain by his purser, stewards, or other officers shall take a weekly account how his victuals waste.

22. The steward shall not deliver any candle to any private man nor for any private use.

23. Whosoever shall steal from his fellows either apparel or anything else shall be punished as a thief.

24. In foul weather every man shall fit his sails to keep company with the fleet, and not run so far ahead by day but that he may fall astern the admiral by night.

25. In case we shall be set upon by sea, the captain shall appoint sufficient company to assist the gunners; after which, if the fight require it, in the cabins between the decks shall be taken down [and] all beds and sacks employed for bulwarks.[8]

*The musketeers of every ship shall be divided under captains or other officers, some for the forecastle, others for the waist, and others for the poop, where they shall abide if they be not otherwise directed.[9]

26. The gunners shall not shoot any great ordnance at other distance than point blank.

27. An officer or two shall be appointed to take care that no loose powder be carried between the decks, or near any linstock or match in hand. You shall saw divers hogsheads in two parts, and filling them with water set them aloft the decks. You shall divide your carpenters, some in hold if any shot come between wind and water, and the rest between the decks, with plates of leads, plugs, and all things necessary laid by them. You shall also lay by your tubs of water certain wet blankets to cast upon and choke any fire.[10]

28. The master and boatswain shall appoint a certain number of sailors to every sail, and to every such company a master's mate, a boatswain's mate or quartermaster; so as when every man knows his charge and his place things may be done without noise or confusion, and no man [is] to speak but the officers. As, for example, if the master or his mate bid heave out the main topsail, the master's mate, boatswain's mate or quartermaster which hath charge of that sail shall with his company perform it, without calling out to others and without rumour[11], and so for the foresail, fore topsail, spritsail and the rest; the boatswain himself taking no particular charge of any sail, but overlooking all and seeing every man to do his duty.

29. No man shall board his enemy's ship without order, because the loss of a ship to us is of more importance than the loss of ten ships to the enemy, as also by one man's boarding all our fleet may be engaged; it being too great a dishonour to lose the least of our fleet. But every ship, if we be under the lee of an enemy, shall labour to recover the wind if the admiral endeavours it. But if we find an enemy to be leewards of us, the whole fleet shall follow the admiral, vice-admiral, or other leading ship within musket shot of the enemy; giving so much liberty to the leading ship as after her broadside delivered she may stay and trim her sails. Then is the second ship to tack as the first ship and give the other side, keeping the enemy under a perpetual shot. This you must do upon the windermost ship or ships of an enemy, which you shall either batter in pieces, or force him or them to bear up and so entangle them, and drive them foul one of another to their utter confusion[12].

30. The musketeers, divided into quarters of the ship, shall not deliver their shot but at such distance as their commanders shall direct them.

31. If the admiral give chase and be headmost man, the next ship shall take up his boat, if other order be not given. Or if any other ship be appointed to give chase, the next ship (if the chasing ship have a boat at her stern) shall take it.

32. If any make a ship to strike, he shall not enter her until the admiral come up.

33. You shall take especial care for the keeping of your ships clean between the decks, [and] to have your ordnance ready in order, and not cloyed with chests and trunks.

34. Let those that have provision of victual deliver it to the steward, and every man put his apparel in canvas cloak bags, except some few chests which do not pester the ship.

35. Everyone that useth any weapon of fire, be it musket or other piece, shall keep it clean, and if he be not able to amend it being out of order, he shall presently acquaint his officer therewith, who shall command the armourer to mend it.

36. No man shall play at cards or dice either for his apparel or arms upon pain of being disarmed and made a swabber of the ship.

*37. Whosoever shall show himself a coward upon any landing or otherwise, he shall be disarmed and made a labourer or carrier of victuals for the rest.

*38. No man shall land any man in any foreign ports without order from the general, by the sergeant-major[13] or other officer, upon pain of death.

*39. You shall take especial care when God shall send us to land in the Indies, not to eat of any fruit unknown, which fruit you do not find eaten with worms or beasts under the tree.

*40. You shall avoid sleeping on the ground, and eating of new fish until it be salted two or three hours, which will otherwise breed a most dangerous flux; so will the eating of over-fat hogs or fat turtles.

*41. You shall take care that you swim not in any rivers but where you see the Indians swim, because most rivers are full of alligators.

*42. You shall not take anything from any Indian by force, for if you do it we shall never from thenceforth be relieved by them, but you must use them with all courtesy. But for trading and exchanging with them, it must be done by one or two of every ship for all the rest, and those to be directed by the cape merchant[14] of the ship, otherwise all our commodities will become of vile price, greatly to our hindrance.

*43. For other orders on the land we will establish them (when God shall send us thither) by general consent. In the meantime I shall value every man, honour the better sort, and reward the meaner according to their sobriety and taking care for the service of God and prosperity of our enterprise.

*44. When the admiral shall hang out a flag in the main shrouds, you shall know it to be a flag of council. Then come aboard him.

*45. And wheresoever we shall find cause to land, no man shall force any woman be she Christian or heathen, upon pain of death.


[1] The articles marked with an asterisk do not appear in the Gorges set, and were presumably those which Ralegh added to suit the conditions of his expedition or which he borrowed from other precedents.

[2] Cape Finisterre.

[3] Cape St. Vincent.

[4] MS. Cape Devert.

[5] MS. 'loofe.'

[6] Corporal of the field meant the equivalent of an A.D.C. or orderly.

[7] This appears to be the first known mention of a court-martial being provided for officially at sea.

[8] This passage is corrupt in the MS. and is restored from Wimbledon's Article 32, post, p. 58.

[9] This was the Spanish practice. There is no known mention of it earlier in the English service.

[10] Gorges's article about 'Musket-arrows' is here omitted by Ralegh.

[11] I.e. 'noisy confusion.' Shakspeare has 'I heard a bustling rumour like a fray.'

[12] The corresponding article in Gorges's set (Stowe MSS. 426) is as follows:—

'No man shall board any enemy's ship but by order from a principal commander, as the admiral, vice-admiral or rear-admiral, for that by one ship's boarding all the fleet may be engaged to their dishonour or loss. But every ship that is under the lee of an enemy shall labour to recover the wind if the admiral endeavour it. But if we find an enemy to leeward of us the whole fleet shall follow the admiral, vice-admiral or other leading ship within musket-shot of the enemy, giving so much liberty to the leading ship, as after her broadside is delivered she may stay and trim her sails. Then is the second ship to give her side and the third, fourth, and rest, which done they shall all tack as the first ship and give the other side, keeping the enemy under a perpetual volley. This you must do upon the windermost ship or ships of the enemy, which you shall either batter in pieces, or force him or them to bear up and so entangle them, and drive them foul one of another to their utter confusion.' For the evidence that this may have been drawn up and used as early as 1578, and consequently in the Armada campaign, see Introductory Note, supra, pp. 34-5.

[13] 'Sergeant-major' at this time was the equivalent to our 'chief of the staff' or 'adjutant-general.' In the fleet orders issued by the Earl of Essex for the Azores expedition in 1597 there was a similar article, which Ralegh was accused of violating by landing at Fayal without authority; it ran as follows:—'No captain of any ship nor captain of any company if he be severed from the fleet shall land without direction from the general or some other principal commander upon pain of death,' &c. Ralegh met the charge by pleading he was himself a 'principal commander.'—Purchas, iv. 1941.

[14] This expression has not been found elsewhere. It may stand for 'chap merchant,' i.e. 'barter-merchant.'







From the point of view of command perhaps the most extraordinary naval expedition that ever left our shores was that of Sir Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon, against Cadiz in 1625. Every flag officer both of the fleet and of the squadrons was a soldier. Cecil himself and the Earl of Essex, his vice-admiral, were Low Country colonels of no great experience in command even ashore, and Lord Denbigh, the rear-admiral, was a nobleman of next to none at all. Even Cecil's captain, who was in effect 'captain of the fleet,' was Sir Thomas Love, a sailor of whose service nothing is recorded, and the only seaman of tried capacity who held a staff appointment was Essex's captain, Sir Samuel Argall. It was probably due to this recrudescence of military influence in the navy that we owe the first attempt to establish a regular order of battle since the days of Henry VIII.

These remarkable orders appear to have been an after-thought, for they were not proposed until a day or two after the fleet had sailed. The first orders issued were a set of general instructions, 'for the better government of the fleet' dated October 3, when the fleet was still at Plymouth.

They were, it will be seen, on the traditional lines. Those used by Ralegh are clearly the precedent upon which they were drawn, and in particular the article relating to engaging an enemy's fleet follows closely that recommended by Gorges, with such modifications as the squadronal organisation of a large fleet demanded. On October 9, the day the fleet got to sea, a second and more condensed set of 'Fighting Instructions' was issued, which is remarkable for the modification it contains of the method of attack from windward.[1] For instead of an attack by squadrons it seems to contemplate the whole fleet going into action in succession after the leading ship, an order which has the appearance of another advance towards the perfected line.

Two days later however the fleet was becalmed, and Cecil took the opportunity of calling a council to consider a wholly new set of 'Fighting Instructions' which had been drafted by Sir Thomas Love. This step we are told was taken because Cecil considered the original articles provided no adequate order of battle such as he had been accustomed to ashore. The fleet had already been divided into three squadrons, the Dutch contingent forming a fourth, but beyond this, we are told, nothing had been done 'about the form of a sea fight.' Under the new system it will be seen each of the English squadrons was to be further divided into three sub-squadrons of nine ships, and these apparently were to sail three deep, as in Drake's parade formation of 1588, and were to 'discharge and fall off three and three as they were filed in the list,' or order of battle. That is, instead of the ships of each squadron attacking in succession as the previous orders had enjoined, they were to act in groups of three, with a reserve in support. The Dutch, it was expressly provided, were not to be bound by these orders, but were to be free 'to observe their own order and method of fighting.' What this was is not stated, but there can be no doubt that the reference is to the boarding tactics which the Dutch, in common with all continental navies, continued to prefer to the English method of first overpowering the enemy with the guns. This proviso, in view of the question as to what country it was that first perfected a single line ahead, should be borne in mind.

As appears from the minutes of the council of war, printed below, Love's revolutionary orders met with strong opposition. Still, so earnest was Cecil in pressing them, and so well conceived were many of the articles that they were not entirely rejected, but were recognised as a counsel of perfection, which, though not binding, was to be followed as near as might be. Their effect upon the officers, or some of them, was that they understood the 'order of fight' to be as follows:—'The several admirals to be in square bodies' (that is, each flag officer would command a division or sub-squadron formed in three ranks of three files), 'and to give their broadsides by threes and so fall off. The rear-admiral to stand for a general reserve, and not to engage himself without great cause.'[2] The confusion, however, must have been considerable and the difference of opinion great as to how far the new orders were binding; for the 'Journal of the Vanguard' merely notes that a council was called on the 11th 'wherein some things were debated touching the well ordering of the fleet,' and with this somewhat contemptuous entry the subject is dismissed.

Still it must be said that on the whole these orders are a great advance over anything we know of in Elizabethan times, and particularly in the careful provisions for mutual support they point to a happy reversion to the ideas which De Chaves had formulated, and which the Elizabethans had too drastically abandoned.


[1] 'Journal of the Vanguard' (Essex's flagship), and Cecil to Essex, S.P. Dom. Car. I, xi.

[2] 'Journal of the Expedition,' S. P. Dom. Car., I, x. 67.

LORD WIMBLEDON, 1625, No. 1, Oct. 3.

[State Papers Domestic, Car. I, ix.]

A copy of those instructions which were sent unto the Earl of Essex and given by Sir Edward Cecil, Knight, admiral of the fleet, lieutenant-general and marshal of his majesty's land force now at sea, to be duly performed by all commanders, and their captains and masters, and other inferior officers, both by sea and land, for the better government of his majesty's fleet. Dated in the Sound of Plymouth, aboard his majesty's good ship the Anne Royal, the third of October, 1625.

1. First above all things you shall provide that God be duly served twice every day by all the land and sea companies in your ship, according to the usual prayers and liturgy of the Church of England, and shall set and discharge every watch with the singing of a psalm and prayer usual at sea.

2. You shall keep the company from swearing, blaspheming, drunkenness, dicing, carding, cheating, picking and stealing, and the like disorders.

3. You shall take care to have all your company live orderly and peaceable, and shall charge your officers faithfully to perform their office and duty of his and their places. And if any seaman or soldier shall raise tumult, mutiny or conspiracy, or commit murder, quarrel, fight or draw weapon to that end, or be a sleeper at his watch, or make noise, or not betake himself to his place of rest after his watch is out, or shall not keep his cabin cleanly, or be discontented with the proportion of victuals assigned unto him, or shall spoil or waste them or any other necessary provisions in the ships, or shall not keep clean his arms, or shall go ashore without leave, or shall be found guilty of any other crime or offence, you shall use due severity in the punishment or reformation thereof according to the known orders of the sea.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse