Evolution of the ship of the line
Sovereign of the Seas
Galleys and galleasses
Gallions have a rather obscure origin. They are generally associated with Spain and it is possible that they originated in that country, but
in any case, the diffussion of the new type was very quick, for in the mid 16th century it could be found in Italy and England as well
(some sources point to England and not Spain as the origin). Gallions are usually associated with the image of a proud and richly decorated
vessel, but the first gallions were simply a protest against the wide and increasingly large carracks and naus.
The word "gallion" seem to derive from "galley", and a Venetian manuscript from 1550 describes a gallion propelled by oars, but since this
seems unlikely it is to be supposed that the ship was a galleass instead. The first depictions of Portuguese gallions dating from 1535 and,
above all, the model from 1540 preserved in the Naval Museum of Madrid represent pure sailing ships, without any oars. The Venetian manuscript
also gave the dimensions of a large sailing gallion: length from stem to sternpost, 41.30 meters; length of the keel, 30.50 meters; beam, 10
meters. This roughly corresponds to the proportions 4:3:1, whereas the values used for carracks were 3:2:1.
But this was not the only distinguishing characteristic of the new type. In the carrack, the superstructure of the forecastle protruded well
beyond the stem and it was attached to the hull, whereas in the gallion the forecastle was a natural continuation of the bulwarks and from the
very hull - as a continuation of the deck and bulwarks - there was a protruding part called "beakhead". In the beginning, this protrusion was
very similar to the ram of the galleys - or to the vestige of a ram - and maybe because of this the new type was called gallion. In a Portuguese
painting from 1541 the beakhead looks nearly flat, but soon this part of the ship would be built with a considerable sheer.
The following illustration shows a Spanish gallion from circa 1540. We can see the gun ports which had been recently introduced in that time.
There is a gangway running on the centerline to communicate the quarterdeck with the forecastle and at each side antiboarding nets have been
extended, covering the waist deck. The design of the beakhead makes easier to maneuver the bowsprit sail. The main sail displays the coat of
arms of Emperor Charles V and the fore sail shows the emblem of Castilla. As all of the large ships of that time, the gallion had four masts.
Some details are reminiscent of the Middle Age: the semicircular gun ports without lids on the upper decks, the decorative shields on the bulwarks
and the triangle-shaped deadeyes.
In a map of Normandy from 1545 it can be seen a depiction of a contemporary French gallion. This one wears large top sails and above these there
are topgallant sails. The hull is very similar to that of the Spanish gallion depicted just above, having as well a gangway on the centerline and
antiboarding nets covering the waist deck, supported by inclined beams as in a tent. It is unclear if the only purpose of those beams was to
support the antiboarding nets.
The Golden Hind, 1577
The Golden Hind was a small English gallion launched in 1577. She is famous because Sir Francis Drake used this ship to circumnavigate the Earth
between 1577 and 1580. Besides, Drake looted much tresure from Spanish gallions while commanding this ship. The Golden Hind had an overal length
of 37 meters, a hull length of 27.5 meters, a beam of 5.8 meters, a draught of 2.7 meters, a tonnage of 100 tonnes, a displacement of 300 tonnes,
a complement of 80-85 and an armament of up to 22 guns, comprising cannons and swivel falconets.
In the illustration, we can see two officers in the upper chamber discussing with a map in their hands. Beneath them we can see the lower chamber,
which was the accommodation of the commander; it is fitted with a table and seats made of carved oak, where Drake enjoyed dining in a crockery made
of silver with golden ornamentation. On the quarterdeck a pilot holds a navigation instrument known
as "Jacob's staff", and next to him we can see the helmsman, who controls the rudder tiller, recently introduced on that time and which allowed the
helmsman to be close to the weather deck, being so able to see the sails while steering, which was very important when sailing against the wind. Other
sailors perform different tasks: three men join forces to rotate the capstan, other two wash and scrub the deck, another one climbs the shrouds
and the cook puts a cauldron on the stove.
English gallions, 1586-1588
In a manuscript from the Pepysian Library, titled "Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry", from the late 16th century, there are several
construction plans of warships attributed to naval architect Matthew Baker, in 1586. These plans show the dimensions, forms and appearance of the
ships in a clearer way than in former representations. The main warships of the fleet of Queen Elizabeth I, which defeated the Spanish Armada in
1588, probably had the appearance of the gallions depicted by Matthew Baker, like that shown in the following illustration.
Other contemporary depictions of important English warships show them as rather rough, but this might be due to the lesser skill of the artists.
Nonetheless, a depiction of the flagship Ark Royal, built in 1587, shows a gallion with two gun decks, two decks in the forecastle, quarterdeck,
poop deck and topgallant poop. A novelty is the balcony astern, prolonged on the sides as a quarter gallery. The rigging is still overloaded
without effectiveness, with two top sails in the mizzen mast and another one in the bonaventure mizzen mast, all of them lateen sails, in contrast
with the simple and effective rigging adopted by Matthew Baker. It is possible that those top sails, seen for the first time in the carrack Henry
Grace a Dieu, were merely decorative and exhibited only when the ships were new.
The gallions designed by Matthew Baker were elegant and unusual for their time. The long beakhead, supported by a cutwater, has a dragon as
figurehead. The forecastle has a sole deck but the stern, topped with a topgallant poop, is as tall as in other contemporary gallions. The rigging
plan shows lateen sails which are longer than their respective yards, which led to think that they had bonnets. The English warships are
considered as the most important ones of that time. The tall castles - very used when naval combat generally involved boarding the enemy ships -
had been lowered, for the sailing qualities and good maneuverability of the new warships allowed to defeat the enemy through artillery alone. The
very Spaniards admitted that the English cannons were more effective than theirs.
Besides of exploration and corsair travels, the aforementioned Sir Francis Drake, national hero of England, took part in the defeat of the Spanish
Armada (known as "Invincible Fleet" in Spain) in 1588. During life of this famous commander, naval warfare changed much. The Spanish were still
adhered to the tactics of boarding and melee combat, typical of the Mediterranean. The English, however, had begun to install heavier artillery in
their gallions, which in turn were lighter and more maneuverable than the Spanish counterparts. During the battle, the English tactic prevailed over
the more numerous but less maneuverable Spanish gallions, which became an easy target for the English artillery.
Dutch gallions, 1590
Portugal and Spain were the large colonial powers of the 16th century, and for obtaining profit from their colonies they had to defend the long traffic
lines. When Henry I of Portugal died in 1580, Philip II of Spain inherited his crown. Netherlands, then a Spanish province, had not sent until then its
merchant fleet beyond Lisbon, but when the Dutch rebelled against Philip II and the port of Lisbon was closed to them, they started to send their
merchant ships to the East Indies. Four ships departed in 1595. Three of them returned in August 1597 and with this travel started the Dutch Empire.
It seems that they were small gallions with a single-deck forecastle, quarterdeck, poop deck and perhaps a balcony astern. The sailing rigging of that time,
specially in large ships, was characteristic by the profusion of "spider lines", whose real purpose was to better distribute the effort, but which in practice
were merely decorative. Probably during the late 16th century started to be used the vertical lever for the rudder tiller, which allowed the helmsmen to
watch the sails while steering and to apply force on the tiller with less strain. The angle that the rudder could form was not ample and for important
heading changes it was necessary to use the sails as well. In fact, the introduction of the vertical lever had further reduced the angle.
Flemish gallion, 1593
The most beautiful model of a vessel of the 16th century is preserved as well in the Naval Museum of Madrid. It was offered to Philip II in 1593 by loyal
Flemish subjects, and we can suppose that it represents the main type of ship of that time. The long carved balcony starts in the aft end of the main channel
and curves around the stern. The whole hull sides along the gun decks are carved and the ornamentation is gilded or painted. The model was not built with
realistic proportions. The underwater is very reduced and the rigging is disproportionate. Besides, it seems that the model suffered damages and an ignorant restorer
distorted the rigging by adding anachronistic details on it.
The illustration shows a representation of the same ship made with realistic proportions (those used by Matthew Baker were taken as reference). The fore
mast is placed before the forecastle, as it was usual in the largest gallions of that time, but this position would be soon abandoned. The shrouds are
tensed by lanyards and triangle-shaped deadeyes, still in use on that time. There is an antiboarding net over the waist deck and railings at the waist sides.
The cannon, of breech-loading type and mounted in a curious carriage, is Danish and was represented in a manual of artillery from 1585. Cannons of this type
were particularly dangerous to operate, for their primitive construction did not provide safe obturators, so an excess of gunpowder or a defective obturation
could have fatal consequences. Although slower to fire, muzzle-loading cannons were cheaper to produce and safer to operate and consequently they would be
used during three centuries, until the modern industrial technology would allow to build safe-to-use breech-loading cannons.