England in the Mediterranean: A Study of the Rise and Influence of British Power within the Straits 1603-1713 - Vol. 2

By Julian S. Corbett | Go to book overview

APPENDIX
ORIGIN OF THE LINE OF BATTLE

THE fighting instructions issued by Sir Edward Cecil in 1625 have a special interest as throwing a faint light on the origin of the line of battle, which still remains one of the unsolved problems of naval history.

The earliest instructions at present known which indicate a close-hauled line ahead as a tactical formation are those issued by Sir Walter Ralegh in 1617 for the fleet he took to Guiana.1 It would be rash, however, to assume that they were designed by him, or that they contain the first enunciation of the principle. Fleet orders were almost invariably founded closely on previous examples. Ralegh was certainly not seaman enough to have invented an entirely new scheme; he had never even been present at a fleet action in the open; and there are many indications that the principle he adopted was used in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth. The orders, in all probability, were the common form current at the time.

The first orders which Sir E. Cecil issued followed almost word for word those of Ralegh, which were also probably those employed by Mansell in 1620, since there is no indication that he drew up any new ones. As issued by Cecil they clearly contemplate the fleet's acting in squadrons, in so many distinct close-hauled lines ahead. The ships of each squadron were intended to follow the squadronal flag into action within musket-shot, 'giving so much liberty unto the leading ship, as, after her broadside delivered, she may stay and trim her sails; then is the second to give her broadside, and the third and fourth with the rest of the division, which done, they shall

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1
S.P. Dom. cciii.79.

-317-

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