Book Review-‘ Sovereign of the Seas 1637: A reconstruction of the most powerful warship of its day’ by J. McKay

By Andrew Lambert, published March 2021


This elegant book anatomizes a famous ship, combining original scholarship and expert draughting to provide unprecedented access to the structure, art and power of a Stuart icon that established a new standard type. King Charles I ordered the Sovereign of the Seas in 1634 to transcend existing prestige warships, including those of his uncle, King Christian IV of Denmark, as part of an attempt to assert dominion at sea, tax the fisheries, and demonstrate the power of the English state in European politics. The combination of unprecedented size, 100 bronze cannon and complex allegorical decoration conceived by playwright and impresario Thomas Heywood, and designed by court artist Anthony van Dyck, supported that agenda. Baroque and English Mannerist art provided a rich decorative palette, executed by craftsmen who worked on court masques and royal palaces. At the same time van Dyck represented the diminutive king as a heroic warrior in three massive equestrian portraits. Charles represented his claim to maritime dominion through an equestrian figurehead of the Saxon King Edgar, who was believed to have commanded the seas with a mighty fleet. Cromwell brilliantly subverted the message, using his own image on the Commonwealth prestige flagship Naseby. Cromwell, not Charles, was the new Edgar.

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Filed under: Other (Early Modern)
Subjects include: Historic Vessels, Museums & Restoration | Shipbuilding & Design

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