Henry Grace à Dieu

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AnthonyRoll-1 Great Harry.jpg
Henry Grace à Dieu as depicted in the Anthony Roll.
NameHenry Grace à Dieu (from 1547 Edward)
BuilderWoolwich Dockyard
Launched13 June 1514[1]
RefitRebuilt circa 1536
Honours and
Battle of the Solent
FateAccidentally destroyed by fire at Woolwich in August 1553[2]
General characteristics
Tons burthen1000[2]
Length165 ft (50.29 m)
Armament43 cannons, 141 swivel guns

Henry Grace à Dieu ("Henry, Thanks be to God"), also known as Great Harry,[2] was an English carrack or "great ship" of the King's Fleet in the 16th century, and in her day the largest warship in the world.[2] Contemporary with Mary Rose, Henry Grace à Dieu was even larger, and served as Henry VIII's flagship. Built by William Bond (master shipwright) under the direction of Robert Brygandine (clerk of the ships),[2] she had a large forecastle four decks high, and a stern castle two decks high. She was 165 feet (50.29 m) long, measuring 1,000 tons burthen[a] and having a complement of 700 men.[2] She was ordered by Henry VIII, probably to replace Grace Dieu (later renamed Regent), which had been destroyed at the Battle of Saint-Mathieu in August 1512,[3] and at a time of naval rivalry with the Kingdom of Scotland, her size was in response to the Scottish ship Great Michael, which had herself been the largest warship when launched in 1511.[4]


English warship Great Harry around 1550. Painting by Lüder Arenhold (1891)

The ship was built from 1512 to 1514 at the purpose-built Gun Wharf in Old Woolwich. This wharf became the origin of Woolwich Dockyard, although in the 1540s the dockyard moved further west to an area known as "The King's Yard", where it would remain for more than 300 years. Henry Grace à Dieu was one of the first vessels to feature gunports and had twenty of the new heavy bronze cannon, allowing for a broadside. She was fitted out later in the Naval Dockyard in Erith.[5] In all she mounted 43 heavy guns and 141 light guns. She was the first English two-decker and when launched she was, at 1500 tons burthen, the largest and most powerful warship in Europe.[citation needed]

Very early on it became apparent that the ship was top heavy. She was plagued with heavy rolling in rough seas and her poor stability adversely affected gun accuracy and general performance as a fighting platform. To correct this, she underwent a substantial remodeling in Erith in 1536 (the same year as Mary Rose), during which the height of the hull was reduced. In this new form she was 1000 tons burthen and carried 151 guns of varying size, including 21 of bronze (comprising 4 cannon, 3 demi-cannon, 4 culverins, 2 demi-culverins, 4 sakers, 2 cannon perriers and 2 falcons),[6] her full crew was reduced to between 700 and 800.[7] She was given an improved and innovative sailing arrangement with four masts, each divided into three sections; the forward two square rigged with mainsail, topsail and topgallants; and the aft two carrying five lateen sails between them. This allowed for easier handling of the sails and spread wind forces more evenly on the ship, resulting in better speed and maneuverability, and allowing better use of the heavy broadside. The only surviving contemporary depiction of the craft is from the Anthony Roll.[8]

19th century depiction by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio.

Henry Grace à Dieu saw little action. She was present at the Battle of the Solent against French forces in 1545, in which Mary Rose sank. Overall, she was used more as a diplomatic vessel, including taking Henry VIII to the summit with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 (although smaller ships had to be used to take the King out of the harbours at Dover and Calais, as neither was deep enough to permit vessels of this draught to operate).[9]

After the accession of Edward VI in 1547, she was renamed for him. She was accidentally destroyed at Woolwich by fire in August 1553.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "... and was probably of 1,000 tons, although some contemporary accounts give the figure of 1,500."[2]


  1. ^ The Nautical Magazine: A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected with Maritime Affairs. Brown, Son and Ferguson. 1875. p. 662.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dear & Kemp 2007.
  3. ^ Clowes 1897, p. 405
  4. ^ Goodwin 2013, pp. 118-120
  5. ^ "A History of South London Suburbs". Ideal Homes. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018. Retrieved 1 February 2015.
  6. ^ The Anthony Roll of Henry VIII's Navy, edited by C.S.Knighton and D.M.Loades, Navy Records Society, 2000, p.41.
  7. ^ The Anthony Roll gives this as 349 soldiers, 301 mariners and 7 gunners.
  8. ^ Lausanne, Edita. The Great Age of Sail, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1967, p. 51.
  9. ^ Arthur Nelson, The Tudor Navy, Conway Maritime, 2001. (p.42)