Reply To: Medieval Ships ‘Chain of Command’

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Susan Rose

Ships – whether the king’s own or those of private individuals if they were over around 80 tuns capacity or thereabouts -normally had a master and a constable paid 6d per day, which was twice the rate of mariners (3d pd) and boys (penny halfpenny). It has been suggested that the constable was in charge of the fighting men on board but this seems unlikely as ships with no fighting men on board also had constables. Small ships just had a master and mariners. By the time of Henry VII gunners were carried on royal ships. How a squadron of ships was controlled is not made clear although there are, in the Black Book of the Admiralty, details of the Admiral’s powers, how a fleet should be organised and signals by lanterns at night and by raising flags. There is no evidence that these rules were followed routinely or not. Military commanders were present on vessels on warlike voyages and some commanders in the reign of Henry V ( Hugh Courtenay, Thomas Carrew the earl of Huntingdon) clearly had a degree of expertise but exactly how this was exercised is not clear. Susan Rose