In 1609 King James travelled to Woolwich accompanied by Prince Henry and the Lord Admiral, the Earl of Nottingham. There on the Thames, James inspected the first new ship built during his reign, a ship which he named the Prince Royal.1 Ten years later, in November 1619, the king, accompanied by Prince Charles and the Lord Admiral, the Duke of Buckingham, travelled to Deptford to see two new ships, “the first that were undertaken by the Commissioners of the Navy.” He christened the greater the Constant Reformation.2
Ritual and symbol existed side by side with efficiency in constructing and using the royal navy in the early Stuart period. These ceremonial launchings made notably different statements about early Stuart administration. Both were completed while royal commissions investigated corrupt practices in naval administration. The first signified the factional triumph of the leading naval officers over the 1608 commission of inquiry; the second, the triumph of the reform commission of 1618 over the naval officers. In the first case Prince Henry had been an important ally of the naval officers and, along with Lord Admiral Nottingham, helped to undermine the year-long investigation of the naval commission. 3 In the second case, Buckingham was a stalwart supporter of the reform commission led by Lionel Cranfield and Sir John Coke. 4 The first ship, while beautifully decorated by Robert Peake and other artists, proved unseaworthy and had to be rebuilt; the latter served in the fleets of the 1620s against Spain and continued in service into the 1650s.