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"Late medieval ships" Topic

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Warspite127 Jan 2020 4:13 a.m. PST

When most wargamers think of medieval ships they automatically think of the one-masted 'cog' which is much older – dating back to the 13th and 14th century.

In truth ships like the carrack had seen increasing use since the start of the 15th century and these eventually evolved into the galleon of the 16th century.

The Matthew is one good example:


The vessel pictured above would require little re-fitting to turn from trade to war – perhaps mantlets or pavises along the bulwarks for crew cover from incoming missiles and some fishing nets hung up as anti-boarding nets. Round gunports already exist along the sides at two levels.

I photographed this similar model at the Bosworth museum:


In this model you will note the the crow's nest is more robust, as a fighting top, and there appear to be two javelins or 'gads' stored in the crow's nest 'just in case'. Researching about trade and naval warfare in the 15th century I read an account of an English ship which wanted to go to North Africa in the late 15th century but was warned about the local 'Barbary pirates'. The owner was advised to put in to a Spanish port en-route and collect inflammable 'fire pots' which could be thrown from the higher English vessel into the lower pirate vessel in the event of an attack. Now, given that ships sailing past Somalia in the last 10 to 15 years have been arming themselves with Molotov cocktail petrol bombs on the same basis, it is interesting to note that the 15th century approach to the problem was the same.

Another vessel which remains a mystery is a balinger or ballinger.

No confirmed illustration of one has ever been found but written descriptions of these sail and oar vessels suggest that they were probably bigger than a Viking ship and perhaps resembled a modern Thames Sailing Barge but with a square rig.


We know that balingers were low (no high forecastle or aftercastle)as the Earl of Warwick, during his bare-faced piracy period in the Wars of the Roses, pursued some Spanish carracks for two days attempting to board them. He was unable to make the capture due to the problem of 'boarding uphill'. The only noted casualty was an Englishman who was killed when they were hoisting rocks into the masthead of one balinger and one dropped accidentally, hitting him on the head and killing him.

In addition to hand-hurled javelins, longbows and crossbows, small and medium calibre guns were carried. Some English ships in the 15th century called the guns on the main deck 'waist guns' or 'stone guns' which implies they may have fired stone roundshot while the lighter pieces were heavy handguns or swivels – perhaps spraying buck shot:


Such lighter pieces were breech-loaders and may have had a high (initial) rate-of-fire as the records of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk suggest his breech-loaders had two or three breech chambers per gun. That would mean two more shots could be quickly fired while the first breech chamber was being re-loaded for a fourth shot.

The final naval weapons to mention are fat and quick lime. Fat – especially pots of blazing fat – were hurled from the mastheads and it is known that quick lime saw the same use. The blazing fat posed an obvious fire risk and made the decks slippery.
The quick lime was a chemical weapon known since the Romans and widely used in the Middle Ages in castle sieges. Dropped from a masthead (or a castle wall) the quick lime could be inhaled or would penetrate armour, visors, etc. In contact with moist or sweaty skin it would immediately react in much the same way as Mustard Gas. Either way, very nasty stuff! Severe contact burns, blinding and long-term bronchial injuries.


HMS Exeter27 Jan 2020 7:18 a.m. PST

"You came in that? You're braver than I thought."

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2020 9:13 a.m. PST

And voilᗠthe Matthew as a paper model in PDF (designed by yours truly): PDF link
Should work with 10mm or possibly even 15mm scale.

Warspite127 Jan 2020 10:51 a.m. PST

Nice one Parzival!
Actually if you made a colour copy in the current size and then took that to a company with a colour photocopier which can be scaled – in percentages – then it could be adapted to almost any scale.
Good work and a nice model!

@HMS Exeter: :) :) :)


Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP27 Jan 2020 11:50 a.m. PST

Thanks! I created it when my son had a school project on Cabot and the Matthew. I also did a pirate version (not that the Jolly Roger was likely ever flown on a carrack!). grin

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa27 Jan 2020 11:55 a.m. PST

Tudor – but possibly still of interest as it does go into the mechanics of the merchant marine being pressed into Crown service for war or privateering. And gives some details of ship armament.

PDF link

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP27 Jan 2020 1:56 p.m. PST

A very educational thread. Thanks to all those involved.

Warspite127 Jan 2020 3:20 p.m. PST

Pure coincidence, I assure you, but the BBC has just put this up:


The Newport ship was built about 1449 and was found during building work in the Welsh town.

YouTube link


Warspite117 Feb 2020 3:21 p.m. PST

I have just come across this Ian Friel link speculating on what a balinger may have looked like…



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