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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: First Rate
First Rate: The Greatest Warship of the Age of Sail
By Rif Winfield
Seaforth, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84832-071-0, £45.00


Rif Winfield, a maritime historian who concentrates his studies on warships during the Age of Sail, gives readers a unique and up-close look into the largest and most powerful vessels, the First Rates, in the British Navy from the reign of James I through the emergence of steam warships in the nineteenth century. He begins with the first three-deck warship, the Prince Royal (1610), and ends with the steam-assisted vessels, the Victoria (1859) and the Howe (1860). The material is arranged chronologically into eleven chapters with the final three chapters devoted to various aspects of the vessels and captured first-rate prizes that joined the Royal Navy. 
  1. The Jacobean and Commonwealth First Rate
  2. The Pepysian Age
  3. The First Rate under the Later Stuarts
  4. The Era of the Establishments
  5. Anson’s New Navy
  6. The French Revolutionary War and the Expansion of the First Rate
  7. The Caledonia’s Descendants, 1812 to 1840
  8. The Transition to Steam
  9. Arrangements
  10. Structure
  11. First Rate Prizes
In his introduction, Winfield explains the importance of these vessels: “. . . they served not only as the most imposing weapons systems of their day . . . but also as potent symbols of the power and prestige of the nation, not just for the monarch and the government, but also for the wider civil populace.” (page 6) Aside from the narrative and captions for the many color and black-and-white illustrations that accompany each chapter, he includes tables listing the vessels, the builders, the dates in which they were ordered, built, and rebuilt, tonnage, and measurements for the keel, breadth, and depth. He also discusses the builders, their designs, and the battles in which the First Rates participated over the years. Throughout the book Winfield deftly shows the evolution of and the innovations incorporated into these ships.  An index of the ships found in this volume is also provided.
Several times during the narrative, he spotlights particular aspects of the First Rates over a two-page spread. These include: The First Rates in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, The Navy Board Model, The Royal William of 1719, The Changing Shape of the Bow, The Changing Shape of the Stern, and Fittings (four pages for this one). Also of note is the inclusion of what the vessel looked like below the top deck, information that is often lacking in many books on ships. This section boasts a cross-sectional from 1701, as well as the deck plan for the Royal George (1756).
Royal George
This 100-gun First-Rate was launched at Woolwich Dockyard in 1756. It was the first to be built in the 18th century without a poop-royal which was a short deck above the after end of the poop where the master or pilot had his cabin. King George III visited the 'Royal George' at Portsmouth while it was under construction, and she was Sir Edward Hawke's flagship at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759, when the French fleet under Admiral de Conflans was largely destroyed and a threatened French invasion plan averted.
The beautiful paintings, drawings, and detailed models that accompany the text enrich this book. Better than descriptive words these illustrations bring to life these magnificent ships. Contemporary art depicts the vessels at sail and during battle, giving readers a better appreciation for these warships. The illustrations also include original draughts (drafts) of some of the vessels, which provide readers with glimpses into the design work of the shipwrights. One reproduction is a “detailed draught of the Victoria” that unfolds in  length to the equivalent of four pages.
First Rate is a treasure beyond equal for anyone interested in these powerful and magnificent warships from the Age of Sail.

Review Copyright ©2010 Cindy Vallar

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