Q Why did Royal Navy ships carry fig­ure­heads?

BBC History Magazine - - Miscellany -

O Adamberry, Gi­bral­tar AFea­tured on the prows

of Royal Navy war­ships from the 16th to the early 20th cen­tury, fig­ure­heads were in­tended to em­body the spirit of a ship. These works of art, cre­ated by spe­cial­ist wood carvers, fo­cused crew iden­tity, and sailors would even risk their lives to re­pair them dur­ing bat­tle. As mo­bile rep­re­sen­ta­tions of na­tional power, great war­ships like King Charles I’s Sov­er­eign of the Seas, and Cromwell’s Naseby car­ried com­plex al­le­gor­i­cal struc­tures that spoke of dom­i­nance, pres­tige and power. When Charles II re­named Cromwell’s flag­ship the Royal Charles, Cromwell’s fig­ure­head was cer­e­mo­ni­ally burned and re­placed by a new royal im­age. HMS Vic­tory, the last sail­ing flag­ship, sim­i­larly car­ries the royal arms.

Smaller ships were fit­ted with rep­re­sen­ta­tions of their name, be it a per­son, a clas­si­cal de­ity, a lo­cal­ity or a river, an­i­mals, birds, fish or naval com­man­ders. In 1850, the ships Trafal­gar, Aboukir, Nile, Ho­ra­tio, Hero, and of course Nel­son, all fea­tured the great man as their fig­ure­head.

As ship de­signs de­vel­oped, those with­out a sail­ing rig no longer had a prow to carry a fig­ure­head. So while small sloops with sails were built with fig­ure­heads as late as 1903, HMS Rod­ney, com­pleted in 1888, was the last bat­tle­ship to carry one.

An­drew Lam­bert’s lat­est book is Seapower States (Yale, 2018)

HMS Vic­tory’s colour­ful fig­ure­head, bear­ing the royal arms

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.