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The Navy increasingly was used to protect trade interest. England was jealous of the capabilities of the Dutch on the Seven Seas and was moving to counter them. Their focus was less on the continental warfare. So, the navy was important.
The standing Navy Royal, with its own secretariat, dockyards and a permanent core of purpose-built warships, was created in the 16th century during the reign of Henry VIII. Under Elizabeth I, England became involved in a war with Spain, which saw privately-owned ships combining with the Navy Royal in highly profitable raids against Spanish commerce and colonies. In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent the Spanish Armada against England in order to end English support for Dutch rebels, to stop English corsair activity, and to depose the Protestant Elizabeth I. The Spaniards sailed from Lisbon, planning to escort an invasion force from the Spanish Netherlands but the plan failed due to poor planning, English harrying, blocking action by the Dutch and bad weather.
During the early 17th century, England's relative naval power deteriorated and a new threat emerged from the slaving raids of the Barbary corsairs, which the Navy had little success in countering. Charles I undertook a major programme of warship building, creating a small force of powerful ships, but his methods of fund-raising to finance the fleet contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil War. In the wake of this conflict and the abolition of the monarchy, the new Commonwealth of England, isolated and threatened from all sides, dramatically expanded the Navy, which became the most powerful in the world.
The new regime's introduction of Navigation Acts, providing that all merchant shipping to and from England or her colonies should be carried out by English ships, led to war with the Dutch Republic. In the early stages of this First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654), the superiority of the large, heavily armed English ships was offset by superior Dutch tactical organisation and the fighting was inconclusive. English tactical improvements resulted in a series of crushing victories in 1653 at Portland, the Gabbard, and Scheveningen, bringing peace on favourable terms. This was the first war fought largely, on the English side, by purpose-built, state-owned warships.
As a result of their defeat in this war, the Dutch transformed their navy on the English model, and the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) was a closely fought struggle between evenly-matched opponents, with a crushing English victory at the Battle of Lowestoft (1665) countered by Dutch triumph in the epic Four Days Battle (1666). In 1667 the restored royal government of Charles II of England was forced to lay up the fleet in port for lack of money to keep it at sea, while negotiating for peace. Disaster followed, as the Dutch fleet mounted the Raid on the Medway, breaking into Chatham Dockyard and capturing or burning many of the Navy's largest ships at their moorings. In the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), Charles II allied with Louis XIV of France against the Dutch, but the combined Anglo-French fleet was fought to a standstill in a series of inconclusive battles, while the French invasion by land was warded off.
The administration and professionalisation of the navy were greatly improved by Sir William Coventry and Samuel Pepys (the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty), both of whom began their service in 1660 with the Restoration.
At the start of the Restoration, Parliament listed forty ships of the Royal Navy, with a complement of 3,695 sailors. Although many new ships were built, and some of the older hulls were rebuilt, a number of ships were lost in combat, while others capsized, were scuttled, or were used as fireships. Thus, the number of ships of the line available in 1676 rated fifth-rate and above stands at 70, plus the 2 newly-build fourth-rate galley-frigates, for a total of 72 ships-of-the-line and frigates.
First rates were three deck ships, and generally carried between 90 and 100 guns. The heaviest calibre available were mounted on their lower decks, with smaller guns on the decks above. They tended to be slow and unhandy. For stability, the lowest gundeck had to be very close to the water, and in anything but calm water the gunports had to be kept closed, rendering the entire deck useless.
Ships of this size were also extremely expensive to operate. As a result, the few first rates were typically reserved as commanding admirals' flagships. First rates were typically kept out of commission ("in Ordinary") during peacetime and only activated ("commissioned") during times of conflict. This had the added advantage of preserving them from the wear and tear that smaller ships experienced in spending long periods at sea. Spending time in ordinary could considerably extend a first rate's lifespan.
These being the most powerful ships of the navy, it was common to compare them with the navies of other nations, and frequently one sees the largest ships of those navies being referred to as first rates. Other nations had their own rating systems, notably the French Navy with its system of five formal rates or rangs.
- HMS Charles the Second, 96 guns, commissioned 1668.
- HMS St Andrew, 96 guns, commissioned 1670.
- HMS London, 96 guns, commissioned 1670.
- HMS Royal Prince, 100 guns, commissioned 1670.
- HMS Royal Charles, 100 Rupertinoe guns*, commissioned 1673.
- HMS Royal James, 100 Rupertinoe guns*, commissioned 1675.
Second rates were two-deckers or had only partially-armed third gun decks. They fought in the line of battle, and often served also in major overseas stations as flagships. They had a reputation for poor handling and slow sailing.
The three-decker second rate was mainly a British type, and was not built by other European navies to any great degree. Apart from its unhandiness, in terms of sheer firepower it was matched or even over matched by many of the large two-deckers used by the French and Spanish navies instead. The additional deck did, however, give the second rate an advantage in close combat, and it had the further tactical advantage of sometimes being mistaken by the enemy for a first rate, which could possibly make enemy commanders reluctant to press an attack.
- HMS Royal Katherine, 84 guns, commissioned 1664.
- HMS Victory, 82 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS French Ruby, 66 guns, commissioned 1666–a prize, Le Rubis, captured from the French.
- HMS St Michael, 90guns, commissioned 1669.
Third rates were typically built with two gun decks (thus the related term two-decker). Years of experience proved that the third rate ships embodied the best compromise between sailing ability (speed, handling), firepower, and cost. So, while first rates and second rates were both larger and more powerful, the third-rate ships were in a real sense the optimal configuration. Third rates at that time usually mounted over 60 guns.
- HMS Cambridge, 70 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS Warspite, 70 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS Rupert, 64 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS Resolution, 70 guns, commissioned 1667.
- HMS Monmouth, 64 guns, commissioned 1667.
- HMS Edgar, 72 guns, commissioned 1668.
- HMS Swiftsure, 70 guns, commissioned 1673.
- HMS Harwich, 70 guns, commissioned 1674.
- HMS Royal Oak, 74 Rupertinoe guns*, commissioned 1674.
- HMS Defiance, 64 guns, commissioned 1675.
- HMS Orion, 70 guns, commissioned 1665. (fictional). Recently Captained by Benedict Bennett
Fourth-rates had no more than 60 guns on two decks. Besides appearing in the line of battle, they were used as convoy escort, or as flagships on far-flung stations. Some ships of commerce such as the East Indiamen were heavily armed in order to protect themselves from pirates and privateers, effectively making them equivalent to fourth-rate ships of the line. The Royal Navy also converted some East Indiamen into fourth rates for convoy duty.
- HMS Greenwich, 54 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS St David, 54 guns, commissioned 1667.
- HMS Stathouse van Harlem, 46 guns, commissioned 1667 – a prize, Raadhuis van Haarlem, captured from the Dutch.
- HMS Stavoreen, 48 guns, commissioned 1672 – a prize captured from the Dutch.
- HMS Arms of Terver, 48 guns, commissioned 1673 – a prize captured from the Dutch.
- HMS Oxford, 54 guns, commissioned 1674.
- HMS Woolwich, 54 guns, commissioned 1675.
- HMS Kingfisher, 46 guns, commissioned 1675.
- HMS Mary, 50 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Dunkirk, 48 guns, commissioned 1651.
- HMS Swallow, 48 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Plymouth, 52 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Fairfax, 52 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Yarmouth, 52 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Dreadnaught, 52 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Revenge, 52 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS York, 52 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Gloucester, 50 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Henrietta, 50 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Leopard, 56 guns, commissioned 1659.
- HMS Monck, 52 guns, commissioned 1659.
- HMS Princess, 52 guns, commissioned 1660.
- HMS Bonaventure, 48 guns, commissioned as HMS President 1650. Renamed HMS Bonaventure in 1660, rebuilt in 1666.
- HMS Montague, 52 guns, commissioned as Lyme 1654, rebuilt in 1675.
Fifth and Sixth rates:
The rating system in the English Royal Navy as originally devised had just four rates but, early in the reign of Charles I, the original fourth rate (derived from the "Small Ships" category under his father, James I) was divided into new classifications of fourth, fifth and sixth rates. While a fourth rate was defined as a ship of the line, fifth and the smaller sixth rates were never included among ships-of-the-line. Nevertheless, during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, fifth rates often found themselves involved among the battle fleet in major actions. Structurally, these were two-deckers with a complete battery on the lower deck, and a fewer number of guns on the upper deck, below the forecastle and quarter decks, usually with no guns in the waist on this deck.
Fifth-rate ships served as fast scouts or independent cruisers and included a variety of gun arrangements. To be posted aboard a fifth-rate ship was considered an attractive assignment, as fifth rates were often assigned to interdict enemy shipping-meaning the prospect of prize money for the crew. Fifth-rate frigates were considered useful for their combination of maneuverability and fire-power which, in theory, would allow them to outmaneuver an enemy of greater force and run down one of lesser force. It was for this reason that frigates of this sort were commonly used in patrol and to disrupt enemy shipping lanes.
- HMS Assurance, 40 guns, commissioned 1646.
- HMS Adventure, 34 guns, commissioned 1646.
- HMS Dragon, 38 guns, commissioned 1647.
- HMS Tyger, 38 guns, commissioned 1647.
- HMS Foresight, 40 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Assistance, 40 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Reserve, 40 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Advice, 40 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Centurion, 40 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Portsmouth, 38 guns, commissioned 1650.
- HMS Ruby, 40 guns, commissioned 1652.
- HMS Diamond, 40 guns, commissioned 1652.
- HMS Bristol, 44 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Newcastle, 44 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Portland, 40 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Antelope, 40 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Hampshire, 38 guns, commissioned 1653.
- HMS Happy Return, 44 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Jersey, 40 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Mary Rose, 40 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Crown, 40 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Dover, 40 guns, commissioned 1654.
- HMS Constant Warwick, 42 guns, comissioned 1645, rebuilt 1666.
- HMS Falcon, 42 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS Sweepstakes, 42 guns, commissioned 1666.
- HMS Nonsuch, 42 guns, commissioned 1668.
- HMS Phoenix, 42 guns, commissioned 1671.
Sixth-rate was the designation used by the Royal Navy for small warships mounting between 20 and 24 nine-pounder guns on a single deck, sometimes with guns on the upper works and sometimes without. The larger sixth rates were those of 28 guns (including four smaller guns mounted on the quarterdeck) and were classed as frigates. The smaller sixth rates with between 20 and 24 guns, still all ship-rigged and sometimes flush-decked vessels, were known as "post ships" because, being rated, they were still large enough to have a post-captain in command, instead of a lieutenant or commander.
These were 32-gun galley-frigates not for use in the high seas.
- HMS Charles Galley, commissioned 1676.
- HMS James Galley, commissioned 1676.
- The Rupertinoe was a high specification, annealed and lathe produced gun made at Prince Rupert's foundry at Windsor Castle reflecting Rupert's scientific interests in metallurgy. Unfortunately the high cost of the gun—three times the price of a regular weapon—meant that by the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-4) only three ships had been equipped with it: the Royal Charles, the Royal James and the Royal Oak. The cost of the gun led to a fraud investigation by the Naval Commissioner Samuel Pepys, although no evidence to support the claim was discovered.