The 'Royal Katherine'

A portrait of the 'Royal Katherine', an 84-gun ship built at Woolwich in 1664 by Christopher Pett and named for Catherine [Katherine] of Braganza, the Portuguese-born queen of King Charles II. The ship took part in all the principal actions of the second and third Dutch Wars, 1665-74 and later fought against the French in King William's War, including at the Battles of Bantry Bay and La Hogue, 1692. She was originally a two-deck ship but was built up in the waist as a full 100-gun three-decker in 1673, then later reduced to 84-86 in the early 1680s. She was rebuilt as a 90-gun ship in 1700-2, renamed 'Ramillies' in 1706 and, after further rebuild, was finally wrecked in 1760. There is a characteristic Vale cartouche, ornately decorated with seashells and coral, at the top centre of the picture. This contains the inscription, 'The Royall Katherine command[e]d by John Earl of Mulgrave in the Second Dutch Warr', which is is inaccurate by modern reckoning since John Sheffield, 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, only commanded the ship during the Third Dutch War, from June to October 1672, after she was captured and then recaptured under John Chicheley at the Battle of Solebay in May, and before her 1673 enlargement as shown here. However, for reasons of Stuart loyalist propriety the inscription may ignore the first war of 1652-54, fought by the Parliamentary regime of the Interregnum. (Mulgrave served only as a volunteer at Solebay, being given command of the ship atterwards for his gallantry while she was, in effect, waiting refit. He subsequently had a more active command in the 'Captain'.)

The portrait shows the 'Royal Katherine' in starboard-broadside view firing a salute, in her phase as a 100-gun first rate in the 1670s. A minor error is that only 13 middle deck guns are shown, though she had 14, with the unique feature of that furthest astern being mounted within the quarter gallery. She is flying a Union jack on her sprit top-mast as well as the red ensign and a number of pennants. A number of figures are busy on deck and a small boat is positioned at the stern with a man holding a boathook. Immediately beyond, to the left, is a gaff-rigged royal yacht in stern view (possibly intended as the 'Katherine' of 1661 from her stern carving and double quarter windows, though the two stern windows are also too small) and on the far left an additional stern view of the 'Royal Katherine'. Instead of a coat of arms she has a full-length carving of Queen Catherine on her stern, with the letters 'CR' and 'KR', (for 'Carolus Rex' and 'Katherina Regina') elsewhere in the decoration. It is possible that the painting has been slightly cut down on the left and right, but not much given that the cartouche is still central. Ships flying plain white ensigns in the background may be French, alluding to the Anglo-French alliance during the war of 1672-74.

There is very little documentary information about the artist although it is known that he worked in England in the style of van de Velde and Sailmaker between 1705 and 1730. This painting is thought to be the earliest that can be attributed to him, and is likely to have been done from drawings or other images, as the apparent inclusion of the 'Katherine' yacht also suggests, since she was wrecked in 1673. It was probably painted in the 1690s, perhaps before Mulgrave became Marquess of Normanby in 1694 (and Duke of Buckingham in 1703), though use of his earlier title is not proof of that. However, the inclusion of a bobstay under the bowsprit, only introduced in the mid-1690s in English ships, suggests that decade at earliest.

The picture was presumably painted for Mulgrave and was only sold from Normanby Hall by Sir Berkeley Sheffield in 1943, when the Museum purchased it. It may be the painting of the 'Royal Katherine' seen in Mulgrave's London house by Captain George Carleton and mentioned in his memoirs, first published in 1728. After describing how the ship was captured and then recaptured at Solebay in 1672, he adds: ‘This is the same Ship which the Earl of Mulgrave (afterwards Duke of Buckingham) commanded the next Sea Fight, and has caus'd to be painted in his House in St. James's Park’, though this is not correct: Mulgrave only had command to October 1672 and, by the time she next fought after rebuild as a 100-gun ship in 1673 (at Schooneveld and the Texel) George Legge had taken over. The canvas is signed 'H. Vale fec', bottom left.

Object Details

ID: BHC3606
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Vale, H.
Vessels: Royal Katherine 1664
Date made: Late 17th century
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund
Measurements: Painting: 1265 x 1660 mm; Frame: 14805 mm x 1850 mm x 110 mm

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