Models of many of the Royal Navy’s ships were constructed by order of the Royal Navy Board, many of which still survive today.
The Royal Navy was at war for 71 of the 163 years between the start of the First Dutch War in 1652 and the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815. During that time, its ships grew steadily in size, armament and in number. It emerged as the world's leading naval force.
Why were models made?
The Royal Navy Board was the professional administration of the Royal Navy and it is likely that it formally asked for models so that its masters – the Lords of the Admiralty – could see the appearance of a proposed ship. The shape and decoration would be much clearer on a model than on a plan of that time.
However, detailed scale ship models were made long before the Navy Board's order – probably from the beginning of the 17th century. It seems that they were a normal part of the design and commissioning process.
Models to show design changes
Although most models were made to show a general design, some were made for discussion of particular changes or developments. A model made of the 18th century third-rate ship Bellona, for example, was probably commissioned to gain King George III's support for the costly programme of sheathing the bottoms of the Navy's ships with copper. A model of the 70-gun ship of 1717 was almost certainly made for the discussion of changes to be made to this type two years later.
Models were also commissioned for presentation to naval officers and other dignitaries.