Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Charles I ascended the English throne in 1625 to discover a navy in desperate need of revitalization. For an island nation, dependent on the protection afforded by armed ships capable of navigating the surrounding oceans, he needed to build England into a maritime power. This meant building new, more powerful ships that demonstrated not only his nation’s dominance of the sea, but also its prestige to other countries. One outcome of this goal was the construction of the Sovereign of the Seas, the largest warship of her time and the first to be armed with 100 guns.
She was a “ship of many superlatives,” and John McKay set out to show why she deserved this description. (9) An architectural draftsman and an expert on the design and building of historical ships, McKay consulted contemporary resources to craft the many different facets that make up a warship. Where primary materials didn’t exist, he consulted others and relied on knowledge of what is known about wooden ships of the period and somewhat later. There are aspects of the vessel that remain unknown, so his drawings include conjecture, but his plans are based on his expertise and experience to recreate the Sovereign in as much detail and as closely as possible to the actual seventeenth-century ship.
The historical summary covers how she came to be built, how people – especially the ship masters of Trinity House, who safeguarded sailors and shipping – reacted to the idea of such a large vessel, the effect her building had on subsequent events in English history, and what happened to her during and after the Civil War and Restoration. Costs are also shared, from the initial estimate of £13,860 to her actual price tag of £65,586 16s 9½d (or in more digestible terms, the aggregate cost of ten average newly-built ships of war).
The coffee-table-sized book is divided into fifteen chapters, the first three serving as an introduction to and a historical summary of the ship and those who had a hand in her design and construction, as well as a recap of the sources McKay consulted. The remaining twelve chapters pertain to specific aspects of the ship: hull design and construction, pumps, steering, ground tackle, deck arrangements and accommodation, decoration, masts and yards, sails, rigging, ordnance, and boats. There are a host of illustrations, including a color section detailing the ship’s decoration, period portraits and paintings, and an extensive array of plates rendering all aspects of the vessel detailed above. Two appendices discuss Trinity House’s Protest and Sovereign’s Sail Carrying Capacity. Tables highlight specific details throughout the text. Unfamiliar nautical terms are discussed. A bibliography and index are included, while the endpapers portray overhead and side views of Sovereign without her masts and her outboard profile. The author also provides information on how to obtain large scale copies of the renderings.
From her launch in 1637 to her demise sixty years later, Sovereign of the Seas was a ship worthy of this unique study. The book’s beautiful design and McKay’s artful renderings provide a fitting tribute to this amazing vessel and those who participated in her planning and construction.
Review Copyrighted ©2020 Cindy Vallar
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