Category: 16th century

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In contrast to the later well-documented warships of the Royal Navy, life and operations on the ships of the Tudor Navy are rather dark and can only be understood in fragments. But a little bit is possible and gives a rough insight.

Henry Grace à Dieu as depicted in the Anthony Roll, launched 1514 

A Tudor warship, unless she was very small, was commanded by a captain who had disciplinary control over the whole company, with full powers of summary jurisdiction up to and including the death penalty. Under the captain who was only aboard for one task and has to leave after it, the chief officer was the master, who sailed the ship and managed the sailors. Warships usually had a master gunner who recruited the gunners and commanded them in action. There was also a lieutenant, to command the soldiers. As the 16th century progressed and naval gunnery developed, the number of soldiers decreased and the gunners increased. The junior officers included the boatswain, purser, carpenter, surgeon, steward, coxswain, cook and quatermaster, all in different rates of pay. This group was also part of the crew before but not on every ship. From this point on they were an integral part. The lieutenant did not become the second in command under the captain until 1580, although he was initially appointed by a captain. This changed in 1677 when the examen was introduced.

Personal belongs of sailors and officers, of the Mary Rose

Mariners were well paid compared with farm workers and artisans ashore. An ordinary seaman’s pay was five shillings a month in 1513, with coat and conduct money and free victuals. But it was an inflationary century and there were frequent desertations, requiring pay to be raised to 6 shillings a month in 1545 and to ten shillings a month 1588. 

On board, the seamen lived in very cramped quaters, normally infested with vermin, although hammocks began to introduced in the 1590s. Most voyages were short, so there was fresh meat and fish, and fruit in season. The weekly scale of victualling for a seaman in 1565 was 7 pounds of biscuits, 7 gallons of beer, 8 pounds of salt beef, ¾ pound of stock fish, ¾ pound of butter and ¾ pound of cheese.


The fireplace- of the Mary Rose

Most of the food was cooked in large cauldrons supported on iron bars over a fire box placed on the deck of a massive brick built galley situated down in the hold. There were pewter plates, tankards and spoons for the officers, whilke the sailors and soldiers generally used wooden plates, bowls and stave-built drinking vessels. A few sailors were literate, and books were not uncommon on board, but arrangements were made for those who could not read: hatches and hatch covers had incised marks to show which cover fitted which hatch. Similarly, the chambers of breech- loading guns were clearly marked with the same mark as the gun they fitted.

A backgammon board- of the Mary Rose

Gaming was very popular in the Tudor navy. Off watch the sailors played with dice, the officers with backgammon boards. The general impression of the officers and ship’s company of a ship such as the Mary Rose was of a body of young, generally healthy men, although some showed signs of dietary deficieny in childhood, who were adequately clothed and fed by the standards of the time.


Etched burgonet, Germany, 16th century.

from Karabela Auctions


A lovely armor in a transitional Peascod style, attributed to Wolfgang Grosschedel and Anton Peffenhauser,

  • Weight: 54.5 lbs/24.72 kg

Augsburg and Landshut, Germany, 1560-1580, housed at the Wallace Collection.



A look at some 16th century daggers and who would have worn them.


Bone mounted matchlock arquebus, Germany, dated 1589.

from Hermann Historica