List of frigate classes of the Royal Navy

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This is a list of frigate classes of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom (and the individual ships composed within those classes) in chronological order from the formal creation of the Royal Navy following the Restoration in 1660. Where the word 'class' or 'group' is not shown, the vessel was a 'one-off' design with just that vessel completed to the design. The list excludes vessels captured from other navies and added to the Royal Navy.

All frigates built for the Royal Navy up to 1877 (when the Admiralty re-categorised all frigates and corvettes as "cruisers") are listed below. The term "frigate" was resuscitated in World War II and subsequent classes are listed at the end of this article, but the individual ships within those classes are not listed in this article.

The frigate before 1660[edit]

The initial meaning of frigate in English/British naval service was a fast sailing warship, usually with a relatively low superstructure and a high length:breadth ratio – as distinct from the heavily armed but slow "great ships" with high fore- and after-castles. The name originated at the end of the 16th century, the first "frigats" being generally small, fast-sailing craft, in particular those employed by Flemish privateers based on Dunkirk and Flushing. Subsequently, the term was applied to any vessel with these characteristics, even to a third-rate or fourth-rate ship of the line.

In this list, the term is restricted to fifth rates and sixth rates which did not form part of the battlefleet (i.e. were not ships of the line); many of the earliest ships described as English frigates, such as Constant Warwick of 1645, were third-rate or fourth-rate ships of the line and thus are not listed below. As the Royal Navy was not officially created until 1660, vessels from the preceding (Commonwealth) era are only included where they survived past 1660. Prizes taken from enemy naval forces and added to the Royal Navy are also excluded.

Fifth rate-frigates before 1660[edit]

Fifth rates were essentially two-decked vessels, with their main battery on the lower deck and a lesser number of guns of lesser power on the upper deck (as well as even smaller guns on the quarter deck).

  • Vessels of 1653–1656 Programmes:
    • Colchester – launched 23 February 1654
    • Islip – launched 25 March 1654 (wrecked 24 July 1655)
    • Fagons – launched 22 May 1654, renamed HMS Milford in 1660
    • Selby – launched 22 April 1654, renamed HMS Eagle in 1660
    • Basing – launched 26 April 1654, renamed HMS Guernsey in 1660
    • Grantham – launched 1654, renamed HMS Garland in 1660
    • Norwich – launched 11 September 1655
    • Pembroke – launched September 1655
    • Dartmouth – launched 22 September 1655
    • Cheriton – launched 16 April 1656, renamed HMS Speedwell in 1660
    • Wakefield – launched November 1656, renamed HMS Richmond in 1660
    • Oxford – launched November 1656
    • Forrester – launched 3 September 1657
    • Bradford – launched March 1658, renamed HMS Success in 1660

Sixth-rate frigates before 1660[edit]

Sixth rates were single-decked vessels, with a battery on the (single) gun deck, and usually some lesser guns on the quarter deck.

  • Vessels of 1651 Programme:

Frigates from 1660 to 1688[edit]

Fifth-rate frigates 1660 to 1688[edit]

Charles Galley was an early galley-frigate with a bank of sweeps above the waterline, the last of these types (Royal Anne Galley) being launched in 1709.

  • Vessels of 1665 Programme:
  • Vessels of 1668–1669 Programmes:
    • Nonsuch – launched 22 December 1668
    • Phoenix – launched 31 March 1671
  • Vessels of 1670s construction:
    • Rose – launched September 1674
    • Sapphire – launched 29 June 1675
    • Charles Galley – 32 guns, launched 1676, rebuilt 1693, renamed HMS Torrington in 1729 after two further rebuilds

Sixth-rate frigates 1660 to 1688[edit]

Frigates from 1688 to 1719[edit]

For ships before the 1745 Establishment, the term 'class' is inappropriate as individual design was left up to the master shipwright in each Royal dockyard. For other vessels, the Surveyor of the Navy produced a common design for ships which were to be built under a commercial contract rather than in a Royal Dockyard. Consequently, the term 'group' is used as more applicable for ships built to similar specifications (and to the same principal dimensions) but to varying designs.

Fifth-rate frigates 1688 to 1719[edit]

The Navy Board ordered sixteen of these vessels between 1705 and 1711 as 42-gun vessels. The remaining pair - Looe and Diamond - were not ordered but rather the Navy Board purchased them on the stocks from the shipbuilder who had commenced building them "on spec". All the vessels were armed under the 1703 Guns Establishment with a main battery of 9-pounder guns. Under the 1716 Guns Establishment, a 40-gun ship with a main battery of 12-pounder guns superseded the 42-gun ship. Hence, the last six of the ships listed below were completed as 40-gun ships.

Sixth-rate frigates 1688 to 1719[edit]

Before the "true" sail frigate came into being in the 1740s, the equivalent was the single-deck cruising vessel of the sixth rate, armed with either 20, 22 or 24 guns, which established itself in the 1690s and lasted until the arrival of the new "true" frigates. Before 1714, many small sixth rates carried fewer than 20 guns, and these have been excluded from this list. For over half a century from the 1690s, the main armament of this type was the 6-pounder gun, until it was replaced by 9-pounder guns just prior to being superseded by the 28-gun sixth-rate frigate.

Frigates from 1719 to 1750[edit]

For ships before the 1745 Establishment, the term 'class' is inappropriate as individual design was left up to the master shipwright in each Royal dockyard. For other vessels, the Surveyor of the Navy produced a common design for ships which were to be built under a commercial contract rather than in a Royal Dockyard. Consequently, the term 'group' is used as more applicable for ships built to similar specifications laid down in the Establishments but to varying designs. However, from 1739 almost all Fifth and Sixth Rates were built under contract and were thus to a common class.

Fifth-rate frigates 1719 to 1750[edit]

All thirteen were rebuilds of earlier 40-gun ships (the Torrington and Princess Louisa were renamed when rebuilt from the former Charles Galley—first launched in 1679—and Launceston respectively), although the Anglesea and Adventure were authorised as 'Great Repairs' rather than as rebuildings.

Sixth-rate frigates 1719 to 1750[edit]

Two nominally 24-gun ships - the Lyme and Unicorn - were built in 1747-1749 with twenty-four 9-pounders on the upper deck but also carried four smaller guns on the quarter deck. There were no more guns on the lower deck that was lowered to the waterline; the pair were designated as 24-gun ships (disregarding the smaller guns) until 1756, when they were re-classed as 28-gun frigates. However other 24-gun and 20-gun ships continued to be built, with either twenty-two or twenty 9-pounder guns on the upper deck.

44-gun fifth rates from 1750 – by class[edit]

Those fifth rate ships were not frigates in a stricter sense, being two-deckers, but they were mostly used in the same way, e.g. convoy protection. In addition they were too small to sail in the line of battle. Thus they are listed here. In the middle of the 18th century, those ships had a more powerful armament than the frigates at that time (these were 9 and 12 pdr equipped), that consisted of 18 pdrs on the gun deck. Later in the century, with the advent of the 18 pdr frigate (the first British 18 pdr armed frigate, HMS Flora (36), was launched in 1780), those ships became obsolete and ceased to being built in 1787, when the last one, HMS Sheerness, was launched. Many continued to serve until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, most of them as troop- or storeships.

Sail frigates from 1750 – by class[edit]

Following the success of the Lyme and Unicorn in 1748, the mid-century period saw the simultaneous introduction in 1756 both of sixth-rate frigates of 28 guns (with a main battery of twenty-four 9-pounder guns, plus four lesser guns mounted on the quarterdeck and/or forecastle) and of fifth-rate frigates of 32 or 36 guns (with a main battery of twenty-six 12-pounder guns, plus six or ten lesser guns mounted on the quarterdeck and/or forecastle).

The American Revolution saw the emergence of new fifth rates of 36 or 38 guns which carried a main battery of 18-pounder guns, and were thus known as "heavy" frigates, while the French Revolutionary War brought about the introduction of a few 24-pounder gun armed frigates. In the 1830s, new types emerged with a main battery of 32-pounder guns.

9-pounder armed post ships[edit]

After 1750, the official Admiralty criteria for defining a frigate required a minimum battery of 28 carriage-mounted guns, including such guns which were mounted on the quarterdeck and forecastle. The Admiralty categorized the smaller Sixth Rates, of frigate-type construction, but carrying between 20 and 26 guns, as "post ships", but seagoing officers often referred to then as "frigates" even though this was not officially recognised. The post ships, generally of 20 or 24 guns, were in practice the continuation of the earlier Sixth Rates. The Napoleonic War era post ships were later re-armed with (many being completed with) 32-pounder carronades instead of 9-pounder guns; after 1817 most of the survivors (except the Conway class), were re-classified as sloops.

9-pounder armed frigates[edit]

Although previously rated as 24-gun ships (when their 4 quarter-deck-mounted 3-pdrs were not included in the count, the Unicorn and Lyme were redefined as 28-gun frigates from 1756. The Lowestoffe and Coventry class frigates which followed were virtual copies of them, with slight improvements in design. Further 28-gun Sixth Rates, similarly armed with a main battery of 24 x 9-pounder guns (and with 4 smaller carriage guns on the quarterdeck) continued to be built to evolving designs until the 1780s.

12-pounder armed frigates[edit]

Almost all of the following were of the 32-gun type (armed with 26 x 12-pounder guns on the upper deck and 6 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle); one class (the Venus class of 1757-58) had 36 guns (with 26 x 12-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle).

  • Venus class 36-gun fifth rates 1757-58; designed by Thomas Slade.
  • Southampton class 32-gun fifth rates 1757-59; designed by Thomas Slade.
  • Richmond class 32-gun fifth rates 1757-58 (batch 1), 1762-63 (batch 2); designed by William Bately.
  • Alarm class 32-gun fifth rates 1758-66; designed by Thomas Slade.
    • HMS Alarm 1758 - broken up 1812.
    • HMS Eolus (or Aeolus) 1758 - hulked as receiving ship at Sheerness in 1796, renamed Guernsey in 1800, broken up in 1801.
    • HMS Stag 1758 - broken up in 1783.
    • HMS Pearl 1762 - hulked as a slop ship at Portsmouth in 1803, renamed Prothee in 1825, sold 1832.
    • HMS Glory 1763 - renamed Apollo in 1774, broken up in 1786.
    • HMS Emerald 1762 - broken up in 1793. (According to Rif Winfield - British Warships in The Age of Sail 1714 - 1792. This is a "Niger Class" ship.)
    • HMS Aurora 1766 - lost with all hands on her way to the West Indies in 1769.
  • Niger class 32-gun fifth rates 1759-64; Thomas Slade design, "very similar" to the Alarm class above.
    • HMS Niger 1759 - converted to troopship in 1799, reclassed as a 28-gun Sixth Rate in 1804, sold in 1814.
    • HMS Montreal 1761 - taken by the French off Malaga on 29 April 1779.
    • HMS Quebec 1760 - caught fire and blew up while in action with the French frigate Surveillante (1778) on 5 October 1779.
    • HMS Winchelsea 1764 - converted to troopship in 1800, mooring hulk at Sheerness in 1803, sold in 1814.
  • HMS Tweed 32-gun fifth rate 1759; one off design by Sir Thomas Slade, to the lengthened lines of the Tartar (28 guns) of Lowestoffe class (9-pounder armed) above and built to lighter scantlings according to the French practice - sold in 1776.
  • Lowestoffe class 32-gun fifth rates 1761-74; Thomas Slade design, like Mermaid class (9-pounder armed) above, adapted from the French Frigate Abénakise, captured in 1757.
  • Amazon (Thetis) class 32-gun fifth rates 1773-87; 18 ships, designed by John Williams.
  • Active class 32-gun fifth rates 1779-84; designed by Edward Hunt.
    • HMS Active 1780 - wrecked in the Saint Lawrence River on 15 July 1796.
    • HMS Daedalus 1780 - on lease to Trinity House from 1803 to 1806, broken up in 1811.
    • HMS Mermaid 1784 - converted to troopship in 1811, broken up in 1815.
    • HMS Cerberus 1779 - wrecked near Bermuda on 30 April 1783.
    • HMS Fox 1780 - converted to troopship in 1812, broken up in 1816.
    • HMS Astraea (or Astrea) 1781 - fitted as troopship between 1800 and 1805, wrecked on rocks off Anegada on 24 May 1808.
    • HMS Ceres 1781 - hulked as receiving ship at Sheerness in 1803, transferred to Chatham as harbour flagship in 1812, converted into a victualling depot in 1816 and broken up in 1830.
    • HMS Quebec 1781 - temporarily hulked at Woolwich between 1803-1805, hulked as receiving ship at Sheerness in 1813, broken up in 1816.
  • Andromeda or Hermione class 32-gun fifth rates 1782-86; designed by Edward Hunt.
    • HMS Andromeda 1784 - broken up 1811.
    • HMS Hermione 1782 - seized by mutineers on 22 September 1797, given to the Spanish garrison at La Guaira, cut out of the harbour and retaken on 25 October 1799, renamed Retaliation shortly after, renamed Retribution in 1800, presented to Trinity House in 1803.
    • HMS Druid 1783 - fitted as troopship from 1798 to 1805, broken up in 1813.
    • HMS Penelope 1783 - broken up 1797.
    • HMS Aquilon 1786 - broken up 1816.
    • HMS Blanche 1786 - wrecked in the entrance to the Texel.
  • HMS Heroine 32-gun fifth rate 1783; purchased on the stocks from Adams of Bucklers Hard in 1782 - converted to troopship in 1800, hulked in 1803.
  • Maidstone class 32-gun fifth rates 1795-96; designed by John Henslow, fir-built version of the Cerberus (or Alcmene) class of 18-pounder frigates of 1794.
  • HMS Triton 32-gun fifth rate 1796; experimental "Admirality" design by rear-admiral James Gambier, the Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty; fir-built, the ship was originally intended to carry 18-pounders but was considered too weak for the armament - hulked as receiving ship at Woolwich in 1803, transferred to Plymouth in 1810, sold in 1814.
  • Circe (or Thames) class 32-gun fifth rates 1804-06; design modified from William Bately's Richmond class of 1757.

18-pounder armed frigates[edit]

In general, the following were either 36-gun type (armed with 26 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle) or 38-gun type (with 28 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and 10 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle); however, one class of smaller ships had just 32 guns (with 26 x 18-pounder guns on the upper deck and just 6 smaller guns on the quarter-deck and forecastle).

24-pounder armed frigates[edit]

  • 1794 razees 44-gun (converted from 64-gun ships of the line in 1794)
  • HMS Endymion 40 guns 1797; later classed as 50-gun frigate; built to the lines of the French Pomone of 1785 (captured 1794) - broken up 1868.
  • Endymion class 40-gun (later classed as 50-gun) "fir-built" (actually pitch pine-built) fifth rates 1813-14
  • HMS Cambrian 40-gun fifth rate 1797; designed by John Henslow - wrecked in the Mediterranean 1828.
  • HMS Leander 50-gun (later 60-gun) fourth rate 1813; designed by William Rule - broken up 1830.
  • HMS Newcastle 50-gun (later 60-gun) fourth rate 1813; design by Jean-Louis Barrallier - hulked 1824, no records after 1827.
  • HMS Isis 58-gun fourth rate 1819; designed by William Rule - hulked 1861, sold 1867.
  • HMS Java 50-gun fourth rate 1815; designed by the "Surveyors of the Navy" - hulked 1861, broken up 1862.
  • Southampton class 58-gun fourth rates 1820-43; modified from the design of the Java above.
    • HMS Southampton 1820 - presented to the Coastguard 1857, sold 1912.
    • HMS Portland 1822 - hulked as floating depot 1846, sold 1862.
    • HMS Lancaster 1823 - hulked as hospital ship 1847, sold 1864.
    • HMS Winchester 1822 - hulked as training ship and renamed Conway 1862, renamed Mount Edgcumbe, sold 1921.
    • HMS Chichester 1843 - hulked and presented to the National Refuge Society, sold 1889.
    • HMS Worcester 1843 - hulked as training ship 1862, sold for breaking 1885.
    • HMS Liverpool - cancelled 1829
    • HMS Jamaica - cancelled 1829
  • HMS President 52-gun (later 60-gun) fourth rate 1829; built to the lines of the USS President (captured 1814) - hulked as Royal Navy Reserve training ship 1861, renamed Old President and then sold 1903.

32-pounder armed frigates[edit]

The following three classes were begun as sailing frigates, but all were completed as screw-driven steam frigates.

19th century steam frigates[edit]

During the 1840s, the introduction of steam propulsion was to radically change the nature of the frigate. Initial trials were with paddle-driven vessels, but these had numerous disadvantages, not least that the paddle wheels restricted the numbers of guns that could be mounted on the broadside. So the application of the screw propellor meant that a full broadside could still be carried, and a number of sail frigates were adapted, while during the 1850s the first frigates designed from the start to have screw propulsion were ordered. It is important to remember that all these early steam vessels still carried a full rig of masts and sails, and that steam power remained a means of assistance to these vessels.

In 1887 all frigates and corvettes in the British Navy were re-categorised as 'cruisers', and the term 'frigate' was abolished, not to re-emerge until the Second World War, at which time it was resurrected to describe a totally different type of escort vessel.

Paddle-driven frigates[edit]

Although iron hulls were used for some warships in the 1840s, almost all the paddle frigates were wooden-hulled. The exception was the ill-fated Birkenhead.

Screw-driven frigates[edit]

In the mid-1840s, the Admiralty ordered four iron-hulled, screw-driven frigates from specialist shipbuilders; however, the Admiralty then rapidly lost faith in the ability of iron hulls to stand up to combat conditions, and all four (Greenock, Vulcan, Megaera and Simoom) were converted while under construction into troop transports, although the Greenock was promptly sold for commercial use.

Following this unsuccessful experiment, though iron hulls were used for some warships in the 1840s, almost all the screw frigates below were wooden-hulled. The exceptions were the final three below - Inconstant, Shah and Raleigh - which had iron hulls.

Modern frigates – by class[edit]

The term 'frigate' was revived during World War II for a new type of escort vessel and has been employed continuously since that period. Note that, unlike the previous sections, no lists of the individual ships comprising each class are shown below the class names; the individual vessels are to be found in the articles on the separate classes.

Sail frigates - alphabetically[edit]

Note that frigate names were routinely re-used, so that there were often many vessels which re-used the same names over the course of nearly two centuries. To distinguish between vessels bearing the same name, the following list affixes the launch year (in parenthesis) of the frigate to the name; however, for vessels captured or purchased by the Royal Navy, the year of acquisition is shown instead of the launch date.

  • Actaeon - sold 1766
  • Africaine 38 - captured by France
  • Aigle (ex-French Aigle, captured 1782)
  • Amphitrite 38 (1816)
  • Andromache (1829)
  • Arethusa (1781)
  • Boadicea (1797) 38
  • Bombay 40 (c.1793) - renamed Ceylon
  • Bon-Acquis (ex-French Bon-Acquis, captured 1757)
  • Boreas - sold 1770
  • Brilliant 36
  • Caroline (ex-French Caroline, captured September 1809)
  • Constant Warwick 26 (c.1646)
  • Cornwallis 54 (1805) - renamed Akbar in 1811
  • Coventry 28 1757
  • Danae (ex-French Danae, captured 1759)
  • Diamond 32 (1774)
  • Diana (1757) - sold 1793
  • Endymion 40 (1797) - (captured USS President in 1815) - broken up 1868.
  • Flora 36 (1780) - wrecked in 1809
  • Freya (ex-Danish Freya, captured 25 July 1800)
  • Hebe 40 (ex-French Hebe, captured 1782) - broken up 1811
  • Hussar - name used by several ships in this period
  • Indefatigable 44 (build 1784 as a 64 gun ship of the line, razeed)
  • Iphigenia - captured by France in 1810
  • Java 38 (launched 1808, captured from French 1811) - captured by USS Constitution in 1813
  • Latona 38 (1779), sold in 1816
  • Laurel 38 (ex-French La Fidèle, captured 16 August 1809 at the surrender of Flushing)
  • Lively 38 (1804), wrecked off Malta in 1810
  • Lutine 38 (launched in 1779, transferred from French Navy in 1793) - wrecked in 1799 off Holland
  • Lyme 18 (1748), wrecked 1760
  • Macedonian 38 (1810), captured by USS United States in 1812, broken up 1828
  • Madagascar 46 (1822)
  • Melampe (ex-French Melampe, captured 1758)
  • Minerva 38 (1780) - broken up in 1803
  • Nereide 38, captured 1797, sold 1816.
  • Newcastle - name used by several ships in this period
  • Orpheus 32 (1773)
  • Pallas - name used by several ships in this period
  • Phaeton 38 (1782)
  • Pitt 36 (1805)
  • Pomone 44 (ex-French Pomone, captured 1794) - broken up in 1802
  • Rainbow 44 (1747) - sold in 1802
  • Resistance 44, sank 24 July 1798
  • Saldanha - shipwrecked in Lough Swilly, Donegal, 4 December 1811
  • Salsette 36 (1807)
  • Santa Leocadia 34 (ex-Spanish Santa Leocadia, captured 1781)
  • Santa Margarita 34 (ex-Spanish Santa Margarita, captured 1779)
  • Shannon 28 (1757) - broken up in 1765
  • Shannon 38 (1806) - broken up 1859
  • Sirius 36 (1797) - scuttled during the Mauritius campaign of 1810
  • Southampton 32 (1757) - wrecked off the Bahamas in 1812
  • Surprise 28 (1796) - ex-French L'Unité captured 1796, sold in 1802
  • Thetis 38 (1782)
  • Trent 28 (1757) - sold in 1764
  • Trent 36 (1796) - broken up in 1823
  • Trincomalee 38 (1817) - preserved afloat in Hartlepool, UK
  • Unicorn 28 (1748) - broken up 1771
  • Unicorn 46 (1824) - preserved in Scotland
  • Venus (ex-French Venus, captured 17 September 1809)
  • Venus 36

Reference sources[edit]

  • Robert Gardiner, The First Frigates (Conway Maritime, 1992); The Heavy Frigate (Conway Maritime, 1994); Warships of the Napoleonic Era (Chatham Publishing, 1999); Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars (Chatham Publishing, 2000)
  • Rif Winfield, The Sail and Steam Navy List, 1815-1889 (co-author David Lyon, Chatham Publishing, 2004) ISBN 1-86176-032-9;
    British Warships in the Age of Sail: 1793-1817 (2nd edition, Seaforth Publishing, 2008) ISBN 978-1-84415-717-4;
    British Warships in the Age of Sail: 1714-1792 (Seaforth Publishing, 2007) ISBN 978-1-84415-700-6;
    British Warships in the Age of Sail: 1603-1714 (Seaforth Publishing, 2009) ISBN 978-1-84832-040-6.

See also[edit]