But the much advertised Great Harry was not a mighty prototype of a world-wide-copied class of battleships like the modern Dreadnought With her lavish decorations, her towering superstructures fore and aft, and her general aping of a floating castle, she was the wonder of all the landsmen in her own age, as she has been the delight of picturesque historians ever since. But she marked no advance in naval architecture, rather the reverse. She was the last great English ship of mediaeval times. Twenty-five years after the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Henry was commanding another English fleet, the first of modern times, and therefore one in which the out-of-date Great Harry had no proper place at all. She was absurdly top-hampered and over-gunned. And, for all her thousand tons, she must have bucketed about in the chops of the Channel with the same sort of hobby-horse, see-sawing pitch that bothered Captain Concas in 1893 when sailing an exact reproduction of Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, across the North Atlantic to the great World's Fair at Chicago.
In her own day the galleon was the ' great ship,' 'capital ship,' 'ship-of-the-line-of-battle,' or 'battleship' on which the main fight turned. But just as our modern fleets require three principal kinds of vessels — battleships, cruisers, and 'mosquito' craft — so did the fleets of Henry and Elizabeth. The galleon did the same work as the old three-decker of Nelson's time or the battleship of to-day. The 'pinnace' (quite different from more modern pinnaces) was the frigate or the cruiser. And, in Henry VIII's fleet of 1545, the 'row-barge' was the principal 'mosquito' craft, like the modern torpedo-boat, destroyer, or even submarine. Of course the correspondence is far from being complete in any class.
The English galleon gradually developed more sail and gun power as well as handiness in action. Broadside fire began. When used against the Armada, it had grown very powerful indeed. At that time the best guns, some of which are still in existence, were nearly as good as those at Trafalgar or aboard the smart American frigates that did so well in '1812.' When galleon broadsides were fired from more than a single deck, the lower ones took enemy craft between wind and water very nicely. In the English navy the portholes had been cut so as to let the guns be pointed with considerable freedom, up or down, right or left. The huge top-hampering 'castles' and other soldier-engineering works on deck were modified or got rid of, while more canvas was used and to much better purpose.
The pinnace showed the same sort of improvement during the same period — from Drake's birth under Henry VIII in 1545 to the zenith of his career as a sea-dog in 1588. This progenitor of the frigate and the cruiser was itself descended from the long-boat of the Norsemen and still used oars as occasion served. But the sea-dogs made it primarily a sailing vessel of anything up to a hundred tons and generally averaging over fifty. A smart pinnace, with its long, low, clean-run hull, if well handled under its Elizabethan fighting canvas of foresail and main topsail, could play round a Spanish galleasse or absurdly castled galleon like a lancer on a well-trained charger round a musketeer astraddle on a cart horse.1 Henry's pinnaces still had lateen sails copied from Italian models. Elizabeth's had square sails prophetic of the frigate's. Henry's had one or a very few small guns. Elizabeth's had as many as sixteen, some of medium size, in a hundred-tonner.
The 'mosquito' fleet of Henry's time was represented by 'row-barges' of his own invention. Now that the pinnace was growing in size and sail power, while shedding half its oars, some new small rowing craft was wanted, during that period of groping transition, to act as a tender or to do 'mosquito' work in action. The mere fact that Henry VIII placed no dependence on oars except for this smallest type shows how far he had got on the road towards the broadside-sailing-ship fleet. On the 16th of July, 1541, the Spanish Naval Attache (as we should call him now) reported to Charles V that Henry had begun 'to have new oared vessels built after his own design.' Four years later these same 'row-barges' — long, light, and very handy — hung round the sterns of the retreating Italian galleys in the French fleet to very good purpose, plying them with bow-chasers and the two broadside guns, till Strozzi, the Italian galley-admiral, turned back on them in fury, only to see them slip away in perfect order and with complete immunity.
1 Fuller in his Worthies (1662) writes:
'Many were the wit-combats betwixt him [Shakespeare] and Ben Jonson, which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war: Maste Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning, solid but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, like the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention.'
By the time of the Armada the mosquito fleet had outgrown these little rowing craft and had become more oceanic. But names, types, and the evolution of one type from another, with the application of the same name to changed and changing types, all tend to confusion unless the subject is followed in such detail as is impossible here.
The fleets of Henry VIII and of Elizabeth did far more to improve both the theory and practice of naval gunnery than all the fleets in the world did from the death of Drake to the adoption of rifled ordnance within the memory of living men. Henry's textbook of artillery, republished in 1588, the year of the Armada, contains very practical diagrams for finding the range at sea by means of the gunner's half circle — yet we now think range-finding a very modern thing indeed. There are also full directions for making common and even something like shrapnel shells, 'star shells' to light up the enemy at night, armor-piercing arrows shot out of muskets, 'wild-fire' grenades, and many other ultra-modern devices.
Henry established Woolwich Dockyard, second to none both then and now, as well as Trinity House, which presently began to undertake the duties it still discharges by supervising all aids to navigation round the British Isles. The use of quadrants, telescopes, and maps on Mercator's projection all began in the reign of Elizabeth, as did many other inventions, adaptations, handy wrinkles, and vital changes in strategy and tactics. Taken together, these improvements may well make us of the twentieth century wonder whether we are so very much superior to the comrades of Henry, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Bacon, Raleigh, and Drake.