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The Revenge
by John Barratt

His flagship, Revenge, was seen by Spanish contemporaries as "one of the finest galleons in the world." Built in 1577 by the leading English shipwright Matthew Baker of Deptford, Revenge had a long record of service in Ireland, the West Indies, and as Drake’s flagship during the Armada campaign, when she had been in the thick of the action. She had been one of the first of the new "race-built" galleons to be added to the English fleet. These were long, lean vessels, averaging around 500 tons, the high poop decks which had been a feature of older galleons replaced by a lower series of decks stepped down into the waist of the ship and with a much lower forecastle than had hitherto been usual.

The race-built galleons were faster, handier, and able to sail closer to the wind than their predecessors, though they were not popular with all English naval experts. Limited accommodation space meant that they were often overcrowded with men and stores, and their lack of height left them vulnerable to boarders. So far, however, thanks largely to their manuverability and superior gunnery, no Queen’s ship had ever been boarded.

Race-built galleons were designed as fast-moving gun platforms. Larger ships carried more than twice the weight of ordnance of their Spanish counterparts, and their guns were both better cast and easier to handle. It remained to be seen, however what the outcome would be if a Spanish vessel, usually carrying more soldiers than its English counterpart, ever succeeded in getting alongside one of the Queen’s ships.

Revenge was in most respects similar to the other vessels of her type, though with a higher stern superstructure than some, rising in two steps to a half , then to a quarter or poop deck. She was between 130-140 feet in overall length, and of about 440 tons. Three-masted, each with a large round "fighting" top, Revenge was a fine-looking ship, with an ornately carved stern and forecastle, and upper works painted in green and white squares and diagonals.

Her "great guns" were housed on the lower deck, where the crew also berthed. On her last voyage Revenge seems to have been particularly heavily armed, with a total of 42 bronze guns. Twenty of these, heavy 20-30lb demi-cannon and slightly lighter culverins and demi-culverins, were housed on the lower deck. On the upper decks were more demi-culverins, 8-10lb sakers, and a variety of anti-personnel weapons, swivel-mounted breech-loaders, called fowlers or falcons.

Before sailing, Revenge loaded 90 barrels of gunpowder, both for her cannon and also for the 110 muskets and about 70 calivers which she carried. Although the longbow was generally falling into disuse, Revenge apparently carried 40or 50 together with pikes, bills, swords, and a small quantity of grenades. Some of the crew, at least those classified as "soldiers", (though they also assisted in running the ship) were equipped with defensive armour of morion and corselet.

Most of Revenge’s 260-man crew were probably between 20 and 30 years of age. Contrary to popular belief, apart from a few recruited to make up numbers in Plymouth en route to the Azores, most of them were from London and South-East England, not the West Country. Very few are likely to have been volunteers, most were pressed from the ships and docksides of the Thames. The quality of such conscripts was generally regarded as low, dismissed by commanders like Raleigh and Hawkins as "tag and rag".

Apart from Grenville as captain, there was evidently no clear officer hierarchy aboard Revenge. The only other commissioned officer seems to have been Captain William Langhorn "as honest man who ever lyveth", who commanded the soldiers. Responsibility for the handling and navigation of the ship rested with the senior mariners, of whom the most important was the Master. Ranking further down the scale were the pilot, boatswain, master carpenter, master gunner and their mates. It was quite common for warships to carry a number of gentlemen volunteers, though only one aboard Revenge is known by name. Phillip Gawdy had joined Grenville , "without any office in the ship", but hoping "to winne much honor".
Copyright 2001 by John Barratt.
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