Forward British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Military History, South East England: Artists and Subjects 31 Who can help us resolve the subject of this painting of a three-decker flagship?

Topic: Subject or sitter

The subject of this picture is at war with its title. It's a historical exercise by a well-known Victorian painter, often of yachting subjects, but in this case showing a barge or barges leaving a three-decker flagship of apparently mid-to late 18th-century date to land VIPs at some partly fortified harbour. If there are Royal standards then it’s a royal landing, but one would need greater detail of the flags (on the ship and other craft) to confirm that. It is unlikely to be Cowes and has nothing to do with the Royal Yacht Squadron (which came much later) and it is possible that the event intended is earlier than the apparent date of the ships, which is sometimes the case when artists were shaky on their technicalities. There's a Dutch-flagged vessel to the right which might be a clue depending on what the other flags suggest, but it’s an early Georgian or possibly even late Stuart subject - not one after 1800.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Pieter van der Merwe added: ‘The only flag details that become clearer are a white cross on red (as in the Danish flag) on a boat at centre and that the Union quadrant in the red ensign on the stern of the warship appears to be the post-1801 pattern, which the ship probably isn't. With that lateen yard on the mizzen it would at least be being shown pre-1801 and probably well before given the style of the 'barges'. The only red flag an English ship might have worn at the main was the Admiralty one with the gold fouled anchor on it for the Lord High Admiral which limits things to Prince George of Denmark (1702-08) under Q. Anne and the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) in 1827-8. The Danish flag might hint at the former and it doesn't look like the latter for more general reasons, but, of course, it may not be the Admiralty flag: better details of all of those as yet unclear are needed to get further on that front. Whatever it is, it's Victorian 'historicising' with deficiencies of convincing technical accuracy.

[after seeing more details) ‘It gets curiouser and curiouser.... I have no recollection of ever seeing a flag like that gold single-masted square-rigged vessel on a red ground (photo 3) and the Union shown is definitely post-1801 despite other general appearances to the contrary. I have to confess to being entirely stumped here. The only flag elements I recognize are the post-1801-pattern Unions, the Dutch tricolour and the white cross on red that (in other circumstances) might be Danish.

Of the flags on the warship - which is certainly intended as British but probably nearer 1701 than 1801 in date - the only ones apart from the ensign that make any graphic sense are the red one at the maintop and the blue at the mizzen, both of which appear to carry an entirely gold shield of arms with animal supporters. At a stretch, the gold emblem on white at the foremast might (logically) be the same arms, though why all on differing grounds I can't think - or why the red flag at the bow of the barge is clearly not the same but bears a gold single masted ship (which my flag-specialist colleague Barbara Tomlinson also does not recognise).

The 'jack' at the warship's bow may be a poorly painted Union (which is what it ought to be).

The other correction I would add is to rule out anything to do with either Prince George of Denmark or the Duke of Clarence as Lord High Admiral: both flew the Royal Standard in that role, not the Admiralty flag, which is anyway not shown here.

The subject as a whole is clearly a 'VIP landing' from a major and apparently British warship in peaceful circumstances and a rural location but (for instance) there is nothing in it other than the Dutch flag on the foreground boat that suggests that of William of Orange (in major force) at Torbay in 1689, and it has nothing to do with the Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes, or even the early 19th century in date terms (which is when the RYS was established). It is probably intended to be something earlier rather than later between 1700 and 1800, but what Fowles had in mind eludes (or misleads) me completely from the details he has included.’

Michael Hurman,

No doubt I will get shot down for my two pennyworth but I would like to say that I believe the location to be West Cowes Castle. The fort is I believe, a Device fort. The topography fits for the entrance to the Medina beyond the fort as viewed from the West of the fort. See my poor attempt using google map satellite view in the attached screenshot. Also the 1725 plan of West Cowes castle shows the square frontage building with 3 window openings. This was a redesign from the old rounded tower. It shows the rounded D shape gun emplacements. As to the identity of the ships I can't help. As to the historical occasion I can only offer a suggestion that it was a poor attempt to show the landing of Charles 1st in 1647 taken prisoner to spend the night at West Cowes before being taken to Carisbrooke Castle. I couldn't find any other royal references linked to West Cowes in the 18th Century.


Kieran Owens,

According to one online source:

"In 1668 the vessel HMS Charles I was launched from Deptford. A second-rate ship of the line, it had 96 brass cannons. It was rebuilt at Portsmouth in 1701 when it was renamed the HMS St George. It was built by a Master Shipwright of the King’s Yard named Jonas Shish whose company had been building ships for over 100 years and whose monument remains today in the nave of the Church of St. Nicholas in Deptford. HMS St George was rebuilt again in 1733, and relaunched on 3 April 1740. She was finally broken up in 1774."




Problematically with the newspaper clipping, which mentions the date of 1678, according to Pat. 13 Chas. II, pt. xiii, no. 4, it appears that Newport's Royal Charter, under which it was governed until 1835, was granted by Charles II in the 13th year of his reign, which would have been in 1673. However, this might just be typological error in the article and it should (or does, if seen more clearly) read 1673. Can anyone confirm that Newport's Royal Charter was granted by Charles II in 1873?

• Title

If the above date for the granting of Newport's Royal Charter can be confirmed as being 1673, then the amended title could read:

"HMS Charles (1668) delivering the Royal Charter of Charles II to the town of Newport, Isle of Wight, in 1673"

And if all of the above is correct, perhaps the flags on the ships can now be better identified.

Well done both: you have rapidly sorted out local topography and (purported) incident.

The gold single-masted medieval ship on the barge's red flag is clearly that from the old seal of Newport, which is in the second section here as well as still featuring on the modern Medina local arms:

The Union flags shown are erroneously post-1801 but I really can't make out what the others on the 'Charles' are meant to be.

The 'Royal Charles' inscription on the NMM van de Velde drawing (PAJ2300) is some old collector mistake: that was the ship (built under the Commonwealth as the 'Naseby') which Charles II renamed when it collected him from Holland at his Restoration in 1660: it was the main prize of the Dutch raid on the Medway in 1667.

The one shown by Fowles is intended to be the 'Charles' later 'St George' of 1668 built by Jonas Shish, then Master Shipwright in the Royal Dockyard, Deptford. (It was a family who worked for the Crown, not a private 'company' building in its own yard as the Wiki para implies.) It is possible that Fowles saw some image of the ship after its later rebuilds: that might account for its rather 18th-c. look, but even then its not very convincingly done. 'Historical subjects' of this sort were not his strength, at least by modern standards.

Kieran - Is a more original title visible further up your newspaper clipping?

If not my only quibble with the one you suggest is that it starts either 'HM ship 'Charles'...' or 'The warship 'Charles'...'.

'HMS' is an anachronism for ships of the 17th century: despite occasional late 18th century use, often in haste, its only fairly safe as a general abbreviation after about 1820. 'HM ship/ sloop/ cutter etc' was the usual form before, when they were also pickier in whether they were technically rated as a 'ship' or not.

Kieran Owens,


attached is the preceding opening paragraph, within which it is acknowledged that the charter was granted in the 13th year of the reign of Charles II.

My use of HMS was purely one informed by the Wikipedia entry and I have no trouble with your expert alternative suggestion. As Fowles was clearly creating an historical reconstruction more than 200 years after the supposed event, it is understandable that he might have employed some artistic licence in the absence of verifiable detail.


Louis Musgrove,

Pieter-I am looking at the arms of Newport .Usual sort of 13th/14th century ship design as seen on so many seals. .But I cannot see where it is in the painting--which barges red flag ??as you say.Could you post enlargement link please.
As you say -this is a poor illusion to a 17th century event.The main ship looks more like the Victory !!! Especially sternwise.And four sails on the mainmast. !!! BTW.There do seem to have been an awfull lot of ships called HMS Charles for a while before renaming.

Thanks Kieran: best stick with your basic idea then

Louis: It's the bow flag shown in detail no. 3 posted by David Saywell right at the top @ 02/07/2021 14:42

The reference to 'Pat. 13 Chas. II') implying 1673 in the present case are interesting in that Charles II at least preferred to date his reign from the death of his father in 1649: perhaps it didn't always happen.

Unless anyone has anything material to add it seems that Michael and Kieran have resolved the intended location as indeed the entrance to the Medina with West Cowes Castle and the at least as reported occasion, so subject to collection view on the proposed adjustment of the painting title, this can probably wind up. Many thanks for sorting it all out.

Kieran Owens,

Pieter, you are absolutely correct about Pat. 13 Chas. II, as in a history of Woking the following has been written. "James Zouch in 1662 received the grant of a fair on 12th September and an weekly market on Friday (Pat. 13 Chas. II., pt Xvi, no. 5).......

This also fits in with the following, from a history of Newport:

"In December 1661, Charles II granted the burgesses their final charter, under which the town was governed until 1835."

There are a number of other online reference to "13 Charles II" that bear out a 1661/1662 date.

Given that Charles I was executed on Tuesday 30th January 1649, 13 Charles II would, presumably, start on the Tuesday 30 January 1662, so the actual deliver of the charter could have been after January 1662, which would still be 13 Charles. The disparity between 1661 or 1662 being 13 Charles might be explained thus:

"1 January was sometimes treated as the start of the new year – for example by Pepys – while the "year starting 25th March was called the Civil or Legal Year". To reduce misunderstandings on the date, it was not uncommon for a date between 1 January and 24 March to be written as "1661/62". This was to explain to the reader that the year was 1661 counting from March and 1662 counting from January as the start of the year."

If 13 Charles II is 1661/1662, it creates a problem of historical accuracy regarding the whole of the subject of this painting, as how could the 1668-built warship Charles be used to deliver Newport's 1661 charter. Fowles could have made the same ill-informed mistake as I did and assumed the 13 Charles was 13 years after the commencement of Charles II's reign and therefore thought the charter was delivered in 1673.

On this basis, my whole proposed title, and Fowles' conception for the painting, seems rather unsustainable. It's time for some expert opinions to resolve this conundrum.

Kieran Owens,

Additionally, there was a HMS Charles, "a royal yacht launched in 1662 and transferred to the Ordnance Office in 1668" but could that fit the description of the vessel depicted by Fowles? His does look like a warship. Perhaps if anyone has access to the 1932 "Royal Yachts", by Charles Murray Gavin, it might help identify this vessel. See also:

Kieran Owens,

For what its worth, the sun is rising in the east on the left side of the painting as the artist's view is north to south from Cowes down the Medina to Newport.

I think your press report suggests historical dating slip by artist is the most likely scenario: the description otherwise fits the picture and the ship is not a yacht: but thermatter can stay open a while for other explanation.

Louis Musgrove,

I am very baffled. Fowles seems to do lots of paintings of warships and yachts around the Isle of Wight that were contemporary with him.He seems to like HMS Duke of Weliington ( BTW this collection has a terribly damaged painting of HMS Duke of Wellington that I think should be restored-).
This warship looks very like the HMS Britannia- which was the Flag Ship at Portsmouth for some years-or a very similar ship- but no steam funnel. Serres (artist) in the RMG collection paints it with four sails on the mainmast- though lots of other images have it with only three. Why can't this be an event circa 1850 with The Royal Yacht Squadron?? Especially as QV used to pop down to Osborne House so often.
PS.Thanks Pieter for ref.

Kieran Owens,

Louis, perhaps you did not read the newspaper report posted above (02/07/2021 20:49). The most obvious reason for it not being an event circa 1850 is that Fowles specifically states that it is his representation of the Newport's royal charter being delivered. "The picture having been uncovered, Mr. A. W. Fowles, the artist, gave a description of it......." Every detail of this description fits with the image being presented. Here are the two attachments again.

The Royal Yacht Squadron was founded in London as the 'Yacht Club' in 1815 and became 'Royal' in 1820. As far as I can quickly see it started organising yacht racing at Cowes in 1825 and had an early but no longer extant clubhouse there from about that time. It only occupied Cowes Castle from 1858.

Nothing resembling an early or mid 19th-c. 'gentleman's yacht' is shown in the picture. I have already made comments about the apparent early/mid 18th-c. appearance of the (not very good) main ship, which is best considered as Fowles's stab at the 1668 'Charles', possibly after its early 18th-c. rebuildings. Even the largest ships had lost the lateen mizzen yard shown on it by 1800, and had not used a full mizzen sail (also shown) on that for a long time before: nor were barges like those included ever carried by ships, so where they came from is another puzzle.

If Fowles or his source got the dates wrong on 'anno 13 Charles II' as being 1673 rather than 1662 then he could just as easily have confused two very different ships called 'Charles' - the yacht and the 1668 warship -or the 'Royal Charles' lost in 1667 for that matter: and what is the veracity of the source story anyway (?) - but please don't answer that, its only a rhetorical question!

I don't think trying to square the circles here is really a game worth the candle. Kieran's press report ('Hampshire Independent', 20 Sept 1879) self-evidently applies to this picture, which is also dated 1879, and lays out Fowles's claim to have made it as faithful to his source(s) as he could, allowing there appears to be a printer's typo of 1678 for 1673. That is all we need to know in identifying what he intended, despite the apparent errors involved.

Whether the source of his Newport narrative was itself unreliable is not something we need to pursue. The collection may wish to of course and, whatever the outcome, the picture needs a health warning on it.

Even if the story is true for 1662 or 1673, the shipping shown is not authentic for that date. If - true or false - it turned out to apply to 1662, then the only other candidate for the flagship shown would be the 'Royal Charles' of which there are various pictures and which it does not resemble. That had the Royal Arms on the stern, which largely survive to this day. Dutch friends will be happy to point them out to you as evidence of Britannia not always ruling the waves should you go with them to Rijksmuseum: see

Collection comment (including on title adjustment) would now be especially welcome.

Louis Musgrove,

Pieter- no doubt you have been admiring this in the RMG collection.:-)
The conundrum is that the Newspaper report said that Fowles had studied paintings and models of ships of the 17th century and the three decker was decorated in accordance with the practice of those times. Hmn! Is this that same painting ,or another version-or has something curious happened over time? Fowles' other paintings seem very accurate-detailwise.That is the point I was trying to convey.

Whatever the newspaper report claims on behalf of Fowles, the outcome as regards the shipping does not live up to it.

The NMM picture you link to is one of at least two (contemporary) Backhuysens of the captured 'Royal Charles', the other being a more directly stern view which (I think) is still in private hands in a big house somewhere in northern England: I've only seen a photo and have half a memory it is at least occasionally accessible to the public but haven't found it in a quick look on the web.

Michael Hurman,

Keiran, Sorry I did not understand your point regarding the Sun and artist view. The sun as you say is rising in the east which works with the description of early morning. The view is from the West looking east past the mouth of the Medina which is beyond and to starboard of the ship just past West Cowes Castle. Cowes itself is hidden from view by the ground rising behind the castle and Newport is well out of the picture. The view surely is therefore looking east along the southern side of the Solent which disappears into the rising sun. The deep water mooring buoys (one of which is seen in the Painting) run east west as they do today. The strong tidal effects that ebb and flow past there make it a difficult anchorage. The painting looks like it is at slack tide.

The only two reasonably credible ships (i.e. three-masters) in that are the one partly shown in stern view between 'Mayflower' and the sunset, and that at extreme right distance - but both more for the later 18th century than the early 17th. Even granting sso much, only large warships had lateen mizzen yards by the 1790s rather than gaffs, and were by then using gaff sails solely on the aft ends of them. Smaller ones had dropped lateen yards by about 20 years earlier than that.

The following well-known image of 'Victory' going down Channel in 1793 is a useful one marking the rough watershed of the change in large ships: you won't find lateen mizzen yards much after it. Why it took so long to take the unused 'counterweight' fore part of the yard off in them too I am not sure, but its not for pursuit here:

Yes, but I fear it does not help (though shows the standard gaff that succeeded the older lateen yard for the 'driver' sail on the mizzen).

Until we have further comment from the collection, can we call a pause for the moment on the broad suggestion already made by Kieran that what Fowles appears to have intended to show is 'The "Charles" (1668) delivering the Royal Charter of Charles II to the town of Newport, Isle of Wight, in 1673', but with the proviso that he may have confused his 'anno 13' year dates and that the story (if true at all) may relate to 1662. In that case the only 'flagship' called 'Charles' then around to do so would have been the 'Royal Charles'.

The issue of what actually happened in 1662 or 1673 - or not at all - is not relevant: only what Fowles thought happened and when for the purpose of his painting (as explained in the 1879 press report cited).

Kieran Owens,

Michael, the point about the sun is that some people would not necessarily know that the Medina is entered from north to south and might make the mistake of thinking that the sun was setting in the west to the left of the canvas. As I do so myself, I believe that most people in the Northern hemisphere use the north pole or the Northern star as as reference point when determining where east and west are, i.e. east is to the right, west is to the left. It is not really that important, but just confirms for me that the scene is the morning after the becalming of the night before, as described in the newspaper report. It was just an idle observation, of no real consequence.

The Victoria County History of Hampshire vol V (1912) which Kieran has already quoted at 03/07/2021 22:47 confirms the actual date of Charles II's Newport charter as December 1661, cited as Pat. [Anno] 13 Chas. II, pt. xiii, no. 4.

(See note 54 in

The '13' is accounted for by Charles iI's reign - as he counted it - ending with his execution of his father on 31 January 1648 (not 1649) under the official Julian 'Old Style' dating used until 1752, in which the new year began on 1 March.

The 'Worsley' mentioned in Kieran's newspaper report of 1879 as a source referred to by Fowles is Sir Richard Worsley's 'History of the Isle of Wight' (1781). It mentions (p. 150) the Newport charter granted in 'the thirteenth year of Charles the Second' but as far as I can see is not the source of the story of its delivery recounted by the picture. Worsley gives no other Charter date, however, so could account for the apparent error of setting the scene in c.1673.

I think Fowles is working (misdatedly) from a 'myth' of which we don't know the source, If there is a source anyone can find that would fully wrap the matter up but it's not critical to closing the discussion, subject to collection view.

Osmund Bullock,

I've not looked at this discussion before. Well done all for finding and explaining the keys to what would otherwise have been a quite incomprehensible scene, so inaccurately and confusingly is it portrayed and described. I must, though, make an important correction to Pieter's summary of 16/07/2021 10:27 with regard to Old Style/New Style dates.

From 1155 to 1752 the official civil and legal New Year under the Old Style calendar in England, Wales, Ireland and the British Empire did not begin on 1st March, but on *25th* March (Lady Day). Scotland, however, had already officially changed to 1st January in 1600.

It's also not quite right to associate the New Year change with the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Although in Britain they took place in the same year (1752 - the Gregorian change came eight months after the N.Year one, in Sept), the two issues being thus addressed were quite separate: much of Continental Europe, for example, had adopted 1st Jan as their New Year decades before they changed from Julian to Gregorian in 1582. Like Britain they had to lose 10-11 days in order to do the latter.

If you're now even more confused than you were before, don't worry: this is a subject that's very hard to understand even when you know all the facts...and immeasurably more so when combined with the confusion of Regnal dating. I'm reminded of that famous (but sadly apocryphal) Richard Fenyman quote, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics then you don't understand quantum mechanics".

My slip Osmund, re: 1 and 25 March (as also date of Charles I's execution, which was 30 January not 31st) but thanks for pointing out, though I don't think it makes a difference to the matter of Fowles's 13-year confusion.

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