Ships of the 1500s

VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,329
Florania
#1
Uncharted Water: the New Horizon includes the following ships:
Uncharted Waters: New Horizons/Ships

When I played, I used only Tekkousen and full-rigged ships; Tekkousen are more maneuverable with less cannons.
In the game, full-rigged ships are only built in Antwerp and Hamburg.
If full-rigged ships were this powerful, why Spain and England did not use them?
What were the largest ships of the time?
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#2
While some video games are surprisingly accurate, you can't always take their results at face value.

In the early 1500's (16th century), carracks and caravals we're the dominant ship type for the voyages to Asian, while in the later 16th century and in the 17th century the galleon dominated.

Galleon were typically around 300 to 500 tons, but some could be much larger. Drake's Golden Hind was around 300 tons displacement, but Spanish Manilla galleon were said to be as much as 2000 tons.

Ships tended to get larger with time. The premerier early 16th century English ship, the carracks the Mary Rose was around 500 to 800 tons, while the premier 17th century Swedish ship the Vasa was 1200 tons, and the English 18th century flagship HMS Victoria was 3,500 tons.

For commercial ships, the early 17th century Dutch East India ship Batavia was 650 ton, and the clipper the Cutty Sark (1969) was 2,100 ton displacement. The 20th windjammer the Preussen had a 11,000 ton displacement, but had a steel hull.

The galleon (16th and 17th) had a "ship" rigged which later evolved into the "full rigged ship" by the 18th century. While the Dutch seem to be the first to use the full rigged, it was not confined to them. A typical European 18th warship would be a full rigged ship.
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,361
Portugal
#4
Galleon were typically around 300 to 500 tons, but some could be much larger. Drake's Golden Hind was around 300 tons displacement, but Spanish Manilla galleon were said to be as much as 2000 tons.
I agree with johnincornwall, it was a comprehensive answer to a video-game question, I just want to add that the “Manila galleon” can be an misleading designation for those who don’t are aware. The route Manila-Mexico was not made by a sole Galleon, it was a fleet (well at leas it had usually two or more ships) and the ships weren’t necessarily Galleons, even if the designation Galleon could cover some different ships.
 
Jan 2015
2,877
MD, USA
#5
Yeah, those ship types are weird. Partly it's the inherent problem of making vessels available from multiple cultures and too wide a time span. "Nao", for instance, simply means "ship", and is really no different from a galleon. Brigantine but no brig? Very odd. A three-masted barge, are they kidding? (Hmm, maybe they mean "bark"...) The cannon list is strange and inaccurate, too. Carronades were *short*-range guns, for example, regardless of their caliber.

But to chip in on the question, Spain and England had perfectly up-to-date ships in the 16th century. They had to, they were major naval powers. They did follow different philosphies in construction details and armament, and the English made some breakthroughs in gun carriage design that the Spanish didn't follow until later.

Matthew
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,244
#6
The Swedish flagship, the "Mars" (god of war, also known as "Makalös" (beyond pair), or "Jutehataren" (the Dane-hater), was 1800 tons, with 173 guns, when it went down in the First Battle of Öland in 1564, against the combined fleets of Denmark the Hansa city of Lübeck.
1543603491518.png
It was one of the first naval engagements where one side, the Swedes floated a dedicated big-gun navy and clearly intended to fight it out only using stand-off cannon fire. While the other, the Danes and Lübeckers, in smaller ships, well-crewed but relatively short on artillery, were intent on trying to close and board at first opportunity.

While the Lübeckers were attempting to board the "Mars", it suffered an accident, with absurd amounts of ammunition on board, and blew up. Swedish marine archaeologists have located and dug it in the last decade. 40 m keel length, 14 m wide, five decks, two dedicated gun-decks. There was a period legend in Lübeck that the Swedish flagship was a beast longer than Lübeck cathedral. After finding the ship archaeologists could confirm that this was correct. :)

450-Year-Old Cursed Warship Yields Treasure Trove of Artifacts
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,244
#7
The west European Big Ship things seems to actually have started with the Scots.

in 1511 king James IV of Scotland launched the 1000 ton "Great Michael", at the time the largest ship afloat (in at least Europe), some 60 guns and a crew of a whopping 1400.
1543604380515.png

Henry VIII of England didn't like that, and 1512-ish launched the even larger (same weight though) "Henri Grace à Dieu" ("Great Harry").
1543604416368.png

The thing about ships that size was that they cost a fortune, not just to build but to maintain, crew and sail. I've seen estimates "Great Michael" might have gobbled in the vicinity of half the available funds for the military of the king of Scotland. In any case he sold it cheap to the king of France in 1514, who renamed it "La Grande Nef d'Écosse".
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#8
Yeah, those ship types are weird. Partly it's the inherent problem of making vessels available from multiple cultures and too wide a time span. "Nao", for instance, simply means "ship", and is really no different from a galleon. Brigantine but no brig? Very odd. A three-masted barge, are they kidding? (Hmm, maybe they mean "bark"...) The cannon list is strange and inaccurate, too. Carronades were *short*-range guns, for example, regardless of their caliber.

But to chip in on the question, Spain and England had perfectly up-to-date ships in the 16th century. They had to, they were major naval powers. They did follow different philosphies in construction details and armament, and the English made some breakthroughs in gun carriage design that the Spanish didn't follow until later.

Matthew
But I don't think the 16th century English or Spanish ships had what we would call a "full rigged" ship? In 1500, the rigging would be what is called a "ship rigging", which was mostly similar, but differed from a "full rigging ship" in a couple area from what I can tell:

1. In a full rigging ship, triangular sails (jibs) go from the foremast in the front to the bowsprit at the fore of the ship. In a ship rigging, the bowsprit sail would have rectangular spritsails attached to the bowsprit instead.

2. For a full rigged ship, on the rear mast (mizzenmast, or jiggermast on a 4 masted ship), in addition to a fore aft sail, the mast will also have a square sail above the fore-aft sail.

It is possible what we consider the "full rigged" sail plan showed up on Dutch and German (Hamburg) ships in the 16th century first, and only later were adopted by other countries such as England and Spain. The "full rig" sail plan didn't show up one day and was adopted immediately by all countries, it probably took time for it get adopted.


I did not know the thread was about computer gaming, rather than actual history. I have found that the creator of these kinds of games are often really accurate in their historical details, but not always so. The 16th and 17th century were a time of innovation in ship design, and an English ship built in the early 16th century would be a carrack like the Mary Rose, and one built in the late 16th century would be a galleon. Galleons had lower foreecastle and longer hull than a carrack, but at what point does a ship stop being a carrack and become a galleon instead is a somewhat subjective call. The sailing performance of the older carracks led English shipwrights like Mathew Baker to develop the race-built galleons, which had lower forecastles and aftcastles, and longer hulls to improve sailing performance. An English galleon of the late 16th century would be faster, more maneuverable than a carrack of the early 16th century.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,361
Portugal
#9
"Nao", for instance, simply means "ship", and is really no different from a galleon.
“Nao” in Castilian, “Nau” in Portuguese, didn’t mean exactly “ship”, but a kind of ship that in the 16th century was mostly designed for commercial purposes, and during that century their weight was between the 200 tonéis and the 800, 3 or 4 decks and 3 masts with round sails and another one with a Latin sail.

The galleon was a later ship, even if probably the terminology had already been used to describe galleys.

For instance, the Portuguese galleon was longer and lower than the “Nau” and was mostly designed as a combat ship, and usually had some 40 cannons.
 
Apr 2018
278
USA
#10
If you're interested here's a pretty good series of posts on reddit which discuss the development of the caravel, carrack, and galleon during this period.

Part of the problem with trying to create a list like this for a video game is that none of these terms actually refers to a standardized "model" like a model of car. Rather there were a bunch of different ways you could divide ships into categories whether based on size, shape, construction, number of guns, rigging, etc. where there could potentially be a lot of overlaps or odd exceptions that don't quite fit either category. For instance you could have a really big galleon much larger than anything else around or you could have a very small galleon with few guns but they would both still be called galleons due to specific elements of their construction.

For an interesting snapshot from the middle of the century you might be interested in looking through the anthony rolls on wikisource: Anthony Roll - Wikisource, the free online library

(As a note, when looking at the second roll, the ships that Anthony labels "galleasses" are instead what we would call "galleons" or perhaps "race-built galleons" as identified by the sails and the iconic "beak" in front. They were not related to the famous Venetian "galleasses" which were first introduced much later.)
 
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