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ENGLISH SEAMEN UNDER THE TUDORS.
THE ANTECEDENTS OF TUDOR SEAMANSHIP.
English sailors were first great under the Tudors. The fame of their seafaring began in the reign of Henry VII. with the voyages of those Bristol merchants, under the Cabots, who discovered North America. The fame of their sea-fighting began in the reign of Henry VIII. with the employment of a national navy, under Sir Edward Howard, against the French.
But from the time when our Anglo-Saxon forefathers first visited these shores, we may trace, both in seafighting and in seafaring, an almost steady growth of skill and courage. The earliest indications of skill and courage belong, indeed, to a period lasting for centuries, perhaps thousands of years, before the Anglo-Saxon settlement.
The very first inhabitants of our island must have been sailors, expert enough to make and guide the crafts which brought them from their older continental
homes. These may have been very rude and very fragile; but, if so, there is evidence that the primitive knowledge was soon improved upon. In various parts of England and Scotland, so deep underground, and so far from the present limits of the sea that long ages must have elapsed since they were used, boats have been discovered, very similar to the canoes still built by the North American Indians and the natives of the Pacific Islands, and adapted for trading and fishing expeditions. Some are only five or six feet long, and hardly able to hold more than a single man; others are five or six times as large, and with room enough for a little company of voyagers. Most of them are shaped, as if by fire, out of solid blocks of oak; a few are made of separate pieces, fastened by wooden pins; and one, considerably larger than the others, and probably of a much later date, has copper instead of wooden nails.*
All but the smallest bear resemblance to the vessels in which the Celts of Gaul, aided, as we
are told, by the Celts of Britain, attempted to withstand the conquering force of Julius Cæsar; and Cæsar's honest praise, corroborated by the discoveries of archæologists, gives us a tolerably clear insight into the
a maritime condition of the Celtic races near the beginning of the Christian era. “In agility and a ready command of oars," he says, “we had the advantage ; but in other respects, considering the situation of the coast and the assaults of storms, all things ran very
* Archæologia, vol. xxvi. (1836), pp. 257-264; Wilson, Pre-historic Annals of Scotland (2nd ed., 1863), vol. i., rr. 43–47, 52–56, 360.
much in their favour. For neither could our ships injure them in their prows, so great was their strength and firmness ; nor could we easily throw in our darts, be
; cause of their height above us, for which reason also we found it extremely difficult to grapple with the enemy and bring them to close fight. Add to all this, that, when the sea began to rage, and they were forced to submit to the winds, they could both weather the storm better and more securely trust themselves among the shallows, because they feared nothing from the rocks and cliffs upon the ebbing of the tide."*
These oaken galleys, slow-going and not very manageable, flat-bottomed and with high prows and sterns, supplied with leather sails and iron cables, were the chief causes of trouble to Cæsar in his naval fighting with the Celtic races. The Celts were also famed for the long slender boats, akin to the modern pinnace, provided with light-blue sails and keels of the same colour, so as to be hardly distinguishable, at a little distance, from the sea and sky, in which, during war-time, they darted noiselessly upon the enemy, and glided swiftly from place to place, seeking and giving information.f And for peaceful avocations they had vessels, of size intermediate between the galleys and the boats, made partly of wood and partly of wicker covered with ox-hide, and provided with a few oars and a single sail a-piece, in which merchants conveyed their goods from one home port to another, or across the narrow seas that
* CÆSAR, De Belio Gallico, lib. iii.,
separated Gaul from Britain and Britain from Hibernia.*
The Britons appear to have made no progress in maritime affairs after the Roman conquest. They learnt nothing from their rulers, who, indeed, found it more convenient, for warfare in the northern seas, to copy the Celtic fashions than to use their own style of shipping; and under the weakening influences of a foreign civilization they lost much of their ancient skill. Yet for some centuries it does not seem that Teutonic and Scandinavian shipping was much superior to that of the Celtic nations which it was the chief means of mastering. Braver hearts and stouter hands guided them; but the Norse and Anglo-Saxon boats were as small and as ill-constructed as those of the Britons. In some respects perhaps they were even ruder. When Beowulf, hero of the fine old poem which is the earliest treasure of English literature, heard of the troubles by which Hrothgar, the king of the West Goths, was harassed, and resolved to cross the seas for his assistance,
“ He bade for him a wave-traverser
Good be prepared;" but it was only large enough to hold a very few of the brave warriors eager to join in his expedition.
“ With some fifteen
The floating wood he sought.
A warrior, pointed out
* CESAR, lib. i., cap. 51; SELDEN, Mare Clausum (1635), lib. ii., cap. 2.