Relationships with the other kingdoms was definitely the royal preserve. But policy options might vary, from favouring the desires of his protestant subjects, to the Spanish faction on the privy Council. But his clout was always hampered by the poor state of the Royal Navy
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Right I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a bit of a change of pace into Charles and HM’s court – the workings of royal courts are continually and compellingly fascinating in some weird way, not quite sure why; just such a false world, can you imagine living that way? Not surprising so many monarchs in every corner of the world seemed to be barking mad. Anyway, having established that Charles in many ways lived in an odd closed world, but which had many admirable qualities, let us get back to the serious business of governing and politics, or specifically to the sort of game monarchs love to play – the great game of international relations. Notebooks out, glasses on, wipe that smile off your face and let’s get down to it.
Now obviously, Charles lacked money – and we’ll come to all the money making schemes next episode, and all the trouble and grief it cause. Money’s like that. And as we heard a couple of episodes ago, everyone in the international scene were very, very aware – and slightly smug about England’s lack of the sinews of war and clout. To get back some credibility, the very first thing required, which Charles was not slow to realise, was that costs needed to be cut. Far more effective than doing anything genuinely painful like cutting Charles’ art collecting or HM’s jewellery budget, was peace. To abandon Elizabeth and Frederick of the Rhone Palatinate, and throw Europe’s Protestants to the wolves. That’s now me adopting the style of John Eliot and John Pym and speaking in the outraged Puritan idiom. How’d I do?
Seriously though, war was a no-no without a serious re-alignment of the crown’s prerogative rights around taxation and that sort of thing, foreign wars are all about money, money, money. It’s a rich man’s world, and must be banished from the royal mind – from now on any foreign policy objectives must be obtained by other means, by the power of the word and the twisting of arms, than by force. The absence of a big stick would however remain something of a problem, but no matter, the velvet glove must be enough. Peace with France was relatively straightforward. The whole point, the Huguenots of La Rochelle had been beaten anyway and subjected to the new rules of the French state, along the road to conversion or expulsion; if the war had been the war of Favourites as some believed, well, that problem had been dispatched by Felton’s cheese knife meeting Buckingham’s heart. And afterall the English and French were tied together by bonds of eternal love in the form of HM. So peace was arrived at with almost indecent speed, almost before the ink was dry on the proclamation of dissolution by April 1629. The rather exotically named Treaty of Susa was not in fact signed at the ancient capital of Elam and Achaemenid Empire in Persia, but in Piedmont because it went hand in hand with a treaty between France and Savoy. By the treaty we both agreed to be nice and not hit each other, and reconfirmed the details of the marriage agreement, and swore not to interfere in each other’s religious affairs. Interestingly it was agreed that any territory captured up to the treaty could be kept, but not those bits captured after the treaty was signed; by which the English had to return Quebec to New France and the Scots to return land in Nova Scotia. Interesting. By the way I have not forgotten that we should really be covering new colonies in North America – we will do it before the civil wars kick off, promise.
Anyway, so peace broke out between England and France at pretty much the same time as peace broke out between Charles and Henrietta Maria. Spain was a rather tougher nut to crack for Charles, because it meant abandoning Elizabeth of the Palatinate. Obviously, he had the best wishes of many of the Privy Council who were pro Spain and Catholic or heading that way; and conversely absolutely zero support from the vast majority of his country. They were horrified at the very thought, and produced a steady stream of pamphlets when they realised discussions were going on. However, things for Charles were eased in May 1630 with the birth of Charles his son and heir, born in an oak tree. Or maybe the oak tree thing comes later. Anyway, although Charles still felt strongly for his sister Elizabeth and family pride, but the edge had been taken off things now that his sister was not also his heir to the English throne.
Foreign policy was very much Charles’ gig – political leaders do like strutting on the international stage do they not, so much more respect – and he made that clear to the Privy Council, this was his province. It was he that met Rubens during the diplomatic discussions, though he invited Richard Weston along; Foreign policy was most definitely part of the arcane mysteries of being a king, ordinary folk could hardly be expected to be able to cope with it. He and Weston decided that Francis Cottington would be the right bloke to go to Spain to negotiate a treaty – the decision was presented to the PC as a fait accompli, with no opportunity for debate.
Charles fully intended there to be no treaty without satisfaction on the palatinate, but it became clear that simply wasn’t going to happen, and he had no leverage; in addition, Cottington himself felt that persuading or forcing their cousins the Emperors to put Elizabeth and Frederick back in the Palatinate do so was probably beyond even Philip IV’s leverage anyway. So although Dorchester, a friend and former diplomat to the Dutch republic, tried to throw a spanner in the works, the treaty was completed by November 1630, and England and Spain were at peace.
The Treaty of Madrid is actually a good deal more wild than it appears at first glance. Essentially it re-confirmed the treaty of 1604, committing England to withdraw support from the Dutch Republic, which was a double whammy for good protestants – not only peace with the Pope’s sword – but abandonment of their brothers and sisters of the reformed religion in the low countries. And the Palatinate was not even mentioned. But Charles’ subjects would have been even more upset if they’d known of the secret clauses, known as the Cottington treaty. This did mention the Palatinate, albeit in very vague terms – of course we’ll do our very best – best endeavours, that sort of thing. If it did happen though – get this – England was then committed to invading the Dutch Republic in concert with Spain! Now that is a turn around of monumental proportions. England had been supporting the Republic for decades now, and religious links and sympathies were close. But anyway – the prospect was pretty remote in Cottington’s view; but it was a clause embarrassing enough to keep from the knowledge away from most Privy Counsellors.
For most of the 1630s, Charles then followed a broadly pro Catholic strategy. This is interestingly stubborn of him; since it put his foreign policy 180 degrees from the desires of the vast majority of his people as I have mentioned, but Charles had now definitely so over the glories of surfing the wave of public enthusiasm against the wishes of his father and government were banished to the follies of his youth. Now, the public wants what the public gets, Charles relationship with his people was going underground. What continued to weigh most highly with him remained the vague hope of restoring his sister and brother in law to the Palatinate, even if the succession was now secure.
Talking of follies, Charles did have a couple of prejudices I think you ought to know about. Which is cool – I mean we all have our prejudices, life wouldn’t be any fun without a few quirks as long as they don’t control us, and Charles was fully able to keep them under control. But they do have an influence, and I am going to mention two of them first. He was not a fan of the Dutch, which is unfortunate but is probably reflected in Cottington’s Clause. And it maybe speaks to the same reason that made him sympathise with the Spanish fear of being surrounded by Radical Protestant powers – Charles was a good deal more agin radical Calvinists than he was Catholics – and the Dutch were of course hot for the Reformed religion. Also of course they were increasing commercial rivals, and pretty far ahead of England to boot, and the growing strength of their navy was challenging England’s rather forlorn claim to sovereignty of the Narrow Seas, which the superior Dutch navy flaunted with ease. Of which more later.
So there’s that. He’s not keen on the French either; which is odd given HM, the new peace and so on. But it probably has something to do with the rivalry between Charles’ best bud Buckingham and his hatred of Richelieu, the humiliation of the failure to rescue La Rochelle, and that traditional English-French thing. And of course in 1631, at the Treaty of Fontainebleu the French signed a treaty of support for Maximillian of Bavaria, the man who was in the process of removing the Palatinate from Frederick and Elizabeth. So what’s to like? Charles still claimed the French throne in theory of course, though I doubt that kept him awake at night.
So, what did HM think of Charles’ downer on the French? You’d imagine that she would be
- Mad keen for a French alliance and
- Mad keen to support the Catholic cause
And to be fair most of the English thought both things to be true to their dying day – not helped by HM’s deeply insensitive and flamboyant support for English Catholics in London and the court. But in fact, HM was a good deal more subtle than that, and anyway we are not all about logic are we? Emotion forms an unfeasibly large role in our decision making, as in my case, I should not buy that chocolate bar because I’m an out of control porker but oh look I just bought one for now and another for later because I want to. Well, here’s a thing. HM was very close to her mother Mari de Medici, very influential in her life, and very powerful politically. But in 1630, Marie’s son the king and his favourite minster Richelieu engineered her removal from power, and in 1631 forced her flight to the Spanish Netherlands and exile. HM felt for her mother’s humiliation, and became cool to her brother and his government.
The other thing was that HM absolutely detested the leading Spanish alliance cheerleader on the Privy Council, Richard Weston, the Treasurer, I think largely because she felt Weston kept her budget on a shoestring. Which could have legs given that Weston had the job of clearing a £2m royal debt with the king refusing to call parliament to give him a subsidy. So she might have a point to be fair. So slightly counter intuitively, HM was for a while drawn into alliance with the Earl of Arundel who’d been on a failed mission to the Emperor, and with the Protestant Patriot faction on the Council, as represented by Henry Rich, Warwick’s brother earl of Holland, and the Marquess of Hamilton. Hamilton is an important character; he will become one of Charles most important advisors on Scottish affairs, and in 1633 will be made also an English earl, and sit on the English Privy Council. Most unusual for the Scottish and English PCs to overlap in any way. Whether HM exercised much influence on political and diplomatic decisions on Charles at this point in time is quite unlikely. But somewhere it must have been in Charles’ mind.
But everything was very fluid, despite orientation towards Spain as a way of achieving the desired result in the Palatinate, as the general central policy. In 1630, for example a protestant saviour finally appeared in the Thirty Years, and lord did they need one. This of course was Gustav II Adolph, posthumously to be formally renamed Gustavus Adolphus the Great as I aspire one day posthumously to be renamed David the Reasonably Acceptable. Sweden in those days constituted a major regional Baltic power incorporating what is now Finland. Gustavus Adolphus was a reformer at home, but is mostly known to use I suppose as something of a military genius who swept onto the scene and reversed the tide of Imperial victories with the annihilation of the Imperial army under Tilly at Breitenfeld in 1631.
Now as you can imagine, English protestants just loved Gustavus Adolphus, saviour of the protestant cause and a real poster boy for them, and the Swedish ‘Lion of the North’ contrasted rather unfavourably with Charles’ art collecting and penury and lack of army-ness. In 1632 Gustavus attacked Bavaria, and he offered Charles a deal; for the knock down price of £200,000, he’d recover the Palatinate. For a while, it looked as though a deal might be done, and the protestant faction at court looked forward to a revival of their fortunes. Meanwhile this is a period when very large numbers, many thousands of English and Scottish were travelling to the continent to fight for the protestant cause as private citizens and volunteers – while many Irish youth by the way were travelling the other way to Europe to fight for the Catholic cause. Many English leaders will start the civil wars with direct experience of modern warfare from the continent; but it was particularly true of the Scots. Scottish soldiers gained a powerful reputation amongst the Swedes in particular. When the civil wars start, the Scots would have a distinct advantage, led as they were by talented and experienced military commanders such as Alexander Leslie who had risen high in the Swedish army, to Field Marshal I think, could be wrong.
But events conspired against, and all that; Gustav cannily doubted Frederick’s ability to keep hold of the Palatinate afterwards and indeed Charles’ ability to pay; so he proposed to retain the Palatinate until all the bills were paid, and Frederick objected to that, and then Frederick settled matters by dying. In addition, Gustav himself then died during a pyrrhic at Lutzen in November 1632 and although Sweden remained a powerful player the deal was off. It had never looked very likely; to raise the money Charles would have been forced to call Parliament; and that he was not going to do.
Then in 1635 a defeat for Sweden at Donauworth encouraged France to enter the war to prevent a Spanish and imperial whitewash. It coincided with the arrival in England of Frederick and Elizabeth’s son Charles Louis, new protestant claimant to the Palatinate of the Rhine, and his younger brother Rupert, Charles’ nephew. We’ll be hearing quite a bit more about Rupert and Boy his devil dog, you can be sure.
Well, everyone got very excited again, as Charles Louis was another embodiment of the Protestant cause of course. As his ship sailed into Dover harbour, everyone was waving flags and hanging out the bunting. There was an English navy ship to welcome him, which gave a saluting cannonade as per normal. Sadly, they were so excited by the occasion they forgot that they weren’t supposed to be putting the canon ball in, just a big bang and a puff of smoke was all that was needed – rather than the canon ball that smashed into Charles Louis’ ship, killed four men, 1 of them just 2 paces from the Prince. I am proud – that’s the very best of English welcomes for you, and welcome you won’t forget.
Once again for a while it seemed as though a change and protestant campaign might happen – Charles appeared to be threatening war, and the Spanish ambassadors by February 1637 seemed to think it was a genuine possibility of it. Weston had died in 1635 and so the pro Spanish faction was weakened. Arundel came back from a visit to the Imperial court spitting feathers, since he’d done nothing but hang around and be ignored, and it had become absolutely clear diplomacy would achieve nothing, he was just being jerked around. In truth the Spanish also had no intention of helping the English – their policy was simply designed to keep the English fleet from helping the Dutch.
But it is hard to believe Charles was doing anything but dreaming the dreams of children if he ever really pretended to himself he would enter the war. He would not recall parliament, the fleet as we will discuss in a moment was a shadow of its former glory, his finances had improved but he had no cash. Charles had a desperate desire to believe diplomacy could have an impact; he even re-opened negotiations with the Vatican, which had zero chance of yielding anything of use and put the wind right up his subjects and added to the narrative that Charles was a closet papist. There’s a lovely engraving referred to in Clare Jackson’s book, ‘Devil Land’ of Charles asleep in a chair while on one side Charles Louis, the French and the English fleet are ready for war, but the king cannot be woken from his slumber because the Spanish ambassador was lulling him to sleep by playing pan pipes. It has some truth. If Charles thought he could get anywhere, he was kidding himself, though a revival of the Navy could begin to yield dividends.
In addition, although Charles’ sister Elizabeth was furious at Charles’ inability to have any impact on European affairs, there was something of a movement at court that celebrated the benefits of peace. On a diplomatic mission to the imperial court, one of England’s ambassadors came back and recorded with horror what war had done to Germany
Germany the greatest and formerly the fairest country of Europe is now the most miserable and looks hideous to the eye…diverse mortal wounds…and gasps for life like a body whose veins are quite exhausted of blood
Arundel had seen the same, travelling with a Bohemian called Wenceslaus Hollar, an engraver whose skilful pictures exposed the horrors of war throughout Europe and Britain. He is also the man, incidentally, with a major responsibility for the later excess of violence in Ireland, since it was his engravings that did much to persuade English and Scottish protestants that 100,000 protestants had been killed by the Catholic rebels in Ireland. But that is a future story.
The Venetian envoy in London at this time, Anzolo Correr identified a faction at court neither that was neither pro Spain nor Pro France. Rather he summed up their sentiment as
How useful and opportune it is to stand and look on at tragedy of others as spectators and enjoy peacefully that blessedness which God has chosen to grant to these realms, amid such universal calamities.
Now then, I think that effectively brings us up to date on the frankly rather inconsequential and ineffectual nature of Charles’ diplomacy. Now, England’s weight in European affairs were pretty much dependant on money and navy; I don’t think I’m being too unfair on England’s military reputation by land, you probably have to go back to Henry V before we did anything earth shattering on that front. TRhough I may be guilty of underplaying England’s contribution to the independence of the Dutch; there are many years of reasonably low level but continuous support there that probably I should have talked about more. But even then – without money, if England was to have any impact on European diplomacy, it was the fleet to which Europe would look.
So that means we should spend a little time on the English Navy, because I do like naval gazing. I think there are many, probably bad reasons why I am enthusiastic about talking matters naval – but the biggest is my almost complete ignorance of any aspects of sailing. I have often thought that ignorance is the mother of enthusiasm – have I inflicted this half-baked theory on you before? As a man totally ignorant of anything Engineering, for example, I was fired with enthusiasm when I was a book rep by J E Gordon’s book Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down. I have remembered zip, but it was a great book. Anyway, for good or ill – here we go, gazing and navies.
Now look there are I suppose a couple of views about Charles and his Navy; one is that he wasted his money on fine decorations and out of date ships that made him look grand, but didn’t address England’s strategic needs – reinforcing the image of a king drunk on his own grandeur and absolute power under God. The other narrative points to improvements under the king, a navy in better shape than he found it, after the indignities of James I’s reign. N A M Rodgers, who tends to win my brain in such things, arrives at a position where both might be the case. A classic cautious historian’s approach, as opposed to the journalist.
We should start with the state of the navy at the end of James I’s reign. It is worth noting that for many the English navy had already acquired something of a special part in the national psyche; obviously it’s a feeling without the strength and power it would acquire through the 18th and 19th centuries, but amongst many it’s an object of national pride after the glories of Elizabeth’s reign. As we’ll describe, things have moved on since those days, but still people seem to constantly search for the glories of Hawkins and Drake. Just to manage your expectations- – they don’t get that it has to be said.
What they do get are the disasters of Buckingham’s campaigns. Although Buckingham had been an energetic and reforming admiral, yet still he crashed and burned, and to a large degree he was reaping the harvest sewn by James I. The problems were legion, and to a degree internal. Naval administration had become more and more corrupt; the officers of the Navy and Ordnance boards were notorious for their light fingeredness in their attempt to make their positions of authority pay. Here are some of the ways in which the corrupt worked the system. It might be relatively subtle – buying a load of cables of Ninety fathoms, of which say only 60 actually made it into the stores. Or, taking worn cable and selling it privately – rather than turning it into oakum to caulk the ships, which is what you were supposed to do. There was the Dead Souls problem; so the muster recorded om a particular ship for the purposes of wages might be 100 souls – though there were in fact only 70, and guess who was pocketing the difference. Or it might be more straightforward that that; fake bills and receipts sort of thing; in all it could be costing the navy £53,000 a year, along with the impact of poor quality supplies and workmanship. In 1610, the Master Shipwright, Phineas Pett built a lovely new ship called the Prince Royal. Everyone was jolly pleased with her, but within 11 years the ship, which cost £20,000 to make, was so weak as to be in need of £6000 of repairs to be saved. Because Pett had used cheap, unseasoned wood to build her. Alongside this kind of corruption went a deal of incompetence and confusion; the roles of the Navy Board had got confused with overlapping responsibilities.
Also, the recruitment of seaman was horribly incompetent; rather than experienced seaman, any old tom dick and harry were recruited; the standing officers then neglected the training they were supposed to give them anyway; the victuallers were utterly corrupt and up to the same game as everyone else of trying to make a few quid, and it was of course the ordinary seamen who suffered from the rotten cheap meat and sour beer, which hardly made the best men come forward to join the navy to see the world – they were more likely to end up seeing the sea, or more specifically the sea bed, permanently. We had a taste of the quality of seamen with Buckingham’s campaign – and how few of them came home.
That is a very quick flyby of the state of the navy by 1620, after 15 years of neglect. I can almost feel the slumping of your shoulders, the tears in your eyes, the sobs creeping from between the fingers covering your face – how had the senior service, so recently described as England’s garland, been allowed to come to this?
Well, it’s interesting you should ask that, and I shall try answer as succinctly as I can. Firstly, there was just the system, the way things worked. It was utterly standard for naval administrators and ships officers to have to buy their positions; the days of open and monitored recruitment procedures lies some way in the future. So not only were you unlikely to get someone far from ideally suited for the work, or indeed particularly committed to it, you were likely to get someone looking to make a profit from the role. Because venal recruitment for offices was combined with a deadly partner – appalling payment of salaries. It was quite common for people to have to use their own funds to buy supplies or pay their men, and wait forever for the Crown to repay them.
So to give you an example, despite all of this there were hard working and conscientious officers. Alan Apsely became a victualler when his predecessor, Thomas Bludder, was actually caught for corruption – accused of defrauding the state of £10,000 in 4 years, or 15t% of the total victualling budget. Apsely had the misfortune to be in post during Buckingham’s campaigns; constantly left without salary and payment, he bought supplies from his own pocket. When he died, the Crown still owed him £100,000, a massive amount of money. Which Charles I then refused to pay to his heirs. No wonder everyone tried to make hay while they could. Sometimes it was difficult to tell the difference; the Vice Admiral of Devon, James Bagg was accused of corruption by his enemies, and painted with the name ‘Bottomless Bagg’. In fact, by 1630 he was out of pocket by £51,000.
Another problem was that when laxity, dishonesty or corruption was discovered, James in particular was very reluctant to take action. Some were aware of how bad things had become and wanted to put it right; the Earl of Northampton for example managed to persuade the king to set up royal commissions in 1608 and 1613, both of which identified corruption and actions to improve things. One of the men identified for corrupt practices was indeed Phineas Pett and his purchasing of sub standard supplies for the Prince Royal. By way of an answer to the accusations of the Commission, James ostentatiously travelled down to name the ship in Pett’s company; James was signalling to the Royal Commission that he viewed an attack on his royal servants as an attack on his royal authority. Hands off my man. The Lord Admiral the earl of Nottingham was slated by both commissions not only for his own corruption, but for allowing bad practice to flourish. But, Nottingham was allowed to retire at the end of a long career with full honour – no punishment was inflicted on the poor old royal servant, and this was common practice – there was little by way of carrot or stick to be a good and honest public servant.
Meanwhile, the seas around England were a jungle, frontier land. I mean we are used to this story – especially Cornish and West country communities supplementing their income with a bit of light privateering or simply out and out piracy. By and large English pirates picked off small merchant men, but on occasion they aimed embarrassingly high; in 1603 the Venetian Ambassador was robbed by English pirates on his way to England – that’s got to count as awkward at very least. Even worse, King Christian IV of Denmark suffered the same fate in 1614 on an official very grand royal visit, which was excruciating. It has to be said that the authorities frankly connived at this as an extra source of income for them; Richard Hawkins, the Vice Admiral of Devon sold blank pardons for pirates for example; the Lord Admiral Nottingham was discovered taking bribes from pirates. If they were caught, as often as not captains were pardoned.
However there was an interesting growing trend which was to change attitudes towards piracy. You may well be aware of the slave trading of the so called Barbary pirates. Are you so aware? Well its an interesting story. Slavery was of course endemic in Africa as previously discussed some time ago…can’t remember which episode and the north African coastal towns like Tunis, Algiers and Salee were part of a network that reached to sub Saharan Africa and throughout the Ottoman Empire. From the 16th century to somewhere around the 19th century, they also ran a roaring trade in European slaves, from Italy, the Eastern Mediterranean – and up north too, to the Netherlands, and as far as Iceland. And including Ireland and western England – particularly Cornwall – and the vulnerable fishing fleets on the Newfoundland banks. In the early 17th century, many ships operating from the Barbary coast were actually captained by English and Dutch; in 1609 Captain John Ward arrived in Irish waters with a fleet armed with 1,000 men. To try to get him to mend his thieving ways, he was offered a pardon from the king in 1612. He refused, reflecting that
I am, in a way, a king myself
In 1607 Ward’s capture of a Venetian ship valued at £100,000 caused a sensation. Before long, Algerians and Tunisians learned how to handle the heavy European rigs and dispensed with European sailors. By the 1620s, Algeria had the largest fleet in Europe; between 1613 and 1621, the Algerians took an enormous tally of 446 Dutch, 193 French 120 Spanish 60 English and 56 German ships; between 1609 and 1616 they took over 400 English merchantmen. In 1625 they took prizes from Plymouth harbour; in 1626 the single Cornish village of East Looe lost 80 people to slaving raids, and a further 69 ten years later. It’s calculated that between 1616 and 1642, up to 7,000 prisoners were taken for slavery, half of them from the West country. In 1640, an Algerian ship took the English ship Rebecca, which was carrying £260,000 worth of Spanish silver. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when Charles informed the Spanish Ambassador of that little faux pas.
The Barbary pirates were not alone; Dunkirk in the Spanish Netherlands was also a bed of pirates, who took 300 ships in 5 years, about 1/5th of the entire English Merchant fleet.
Where was the jolly old English Navy I hear you cry? Well, it was completely unable to deal with this piracy, to its continual shame and embarrassment. Not only were its ships in a poor state, badly manned and captained; but most of them were mothballed. Unless there was a war on anyway The strategy was that, in peacetime, ships were stored in dry docks, and the sailors laid off – another reason for the poor quality of sailors, since experienced sailors were continually thrown out in peacetime. So there simply weren’t enough ships to go pirate hunting. Not only that, but they weren’t the right ships anyway. To fight piracy, England needed small nimble, lightly armed craft; pirates were completely unafraid of the English navy, because they knew they could outrun and out sail them, and frequently took prizes in sight of naval ships. It was humiliating.
Ok, so by 1630, attitudes in England had thoroughly changed towards piracy, which, now that it wasn’t paying into the bank accounts of the English, was seen for the scourge of trade that it was and always had been. And towards the navy, there was now a feeling of failure and despair. It wasn’t helped by the fact that English pretensions were as high their reputation and naval capacity had sunk low; the theory in Charles’ court was a new theory of sovereignty of the Narrow seas. Under this very dodgy theory, the English claimed sovereignty of the narrow Seas as opposed to any other nation that bordered onto it, and expected all ships to recognise this by dipping their flags in recognition to the English Navy – actually many French, Spanish and Dutch ships did so for an easy life; funnily enough, the worst offenders at not doing it were English merchantmen. One of the changes that had taken place in Charles’ navy was that gentlemen captains, who knew precious little about sailing, had replaced professional Masters – ‘tarpaulins’ as they were called; merchantmen, captained still by tarpaulins, showed their contempt for the gentlemen of the navy by refusing to dip their sails to them.
Anyway – failure and despair; England appeared to have forgotten all she’d learned:
As it is now there is neither order nor command and it seemeth never hath been before …more ignorant captains and officers can hardly be found, and men more careless of his majesty’s honour and profit.
Well, from this low point some improvements began to be made under Charles’ personal rule. Administration began to be improved, especially under the eye of Secretary and experienced naval administrator John Coke. Some improvement in gunnery and ship design improved the quality of the ships, but the big gain was in the improvement of purchasing and corruption – supplies began to improve and the quality of seamen’s training too. The big idea that drove the Privy Council and Charles’ thinking was the need to restore the reputation of the English Navy. They had become a laughing-stock, their reputation was shot, none of their enemies or indeed pirates feared them. For England, this was particularly dangerous; for a country without the taxation and financial resources of France or Spain, or the flourishing commerce and income of the Dutch, and without a standing army, the reputation of the English navy was all that maintained any kind of weight to English diplomacy, and freedom from invasion. In 1634, Charles commissioned a massive new ship to be the new flagship; but for that, and to restore naval strength more generally, there was something crucial missing. Money. And lots of it. And it is to that critical subject we will turn in the next episode, before we can finish the story of the King’s Navy.