In dealing with this subject, I think it only fair to make some reference to the origin of the Navy, and to the type of ships of which it was composed. The English man-o’-war’s man traces his descent from the institution at least nine centuries old - namely, the Anglo-Saxon Buscarles or Butsecarles and he connects through the Cinque Ports Navy directly with the Royal Navy of our own times. The Butsecarles were a Naval fighting force which corresponded to the Huscarles or Royal Bodyguard of landsmen, who were troops of Canute, Godwin and Harold. They were picked men and maintained to fight the King’s ships, and were usually quartered near the mouth of the Thames and along the south coast of England. In peace time, as a rule, those of the Buscarles who were not actively employed in warlike operations were used either as sea police or for manning the ships on the King’s private affairs. This force was kept until the reign of Henry I., when they were amalgamated with the Cinque Ports Navy from which they had up to this time been entirely separate.

From the Buscarles we learn that in the 11th Century the ships were each under a Batsuen or Boatswain or Husband who commanded her crew in action, and acted at all times as Master, Pilot, or Steersman for which service he was paid 10 Marks. In the Merchant Service at the present time the person charged with the outfitting of the ship is still called the ship’s Husband.

Edward The Confessor’s principal ship carried a Rector or Captain, as well as a Boatswain or Steersman. The rowers, who took orders from the Boatswain, were paid 8 Marks a man, and were provided with provisions and clothing. The latter consisted of rough woollen cloth dyed blue; we thus see that Blue, even at this date, was considered an appropriate colour for use at sea. In this respect we can go back still further, namely, to about 55 AD, when we find a class of ship named the Pictae which rowed 20 oars a side and was coated with wax below water. In order to be invisible at sea they were furnished with grey blue sails and manned by oarsmen dressed in a similar colour. With such ships, the Counts of the Saxon shore watched the coasts, and later, Carasausius and Ellectus held British seas against all comers. This is probably one the earliest examples of camouflage in maritime affairs which is mentioned in history.

Beside the Boatswain already mentioned, we find the Cogswain, who apparently was the Officer in charge of a Cog, a different type of vessel manned by 39 mariners, with one Master in charge and two Constables as assistants.

This vessel was popular in the reign of Edward I., at which time the term Rector was going out of use. I will deal later with the powers and position of the Boatswain when we meet him subsequently.

The old Saxon type of ship called a Bus has its memory perpetuated at the present day. On the east coast, up to very recently, a sailing drifter was frequently referred to as a Herring Bus.

In 1645, during the Long Parliament, instructions were issued for general Courts Martial to be held for the trial of Captains and Commanders, and for the ship Courts Martial on Officers of junior rank. The Boatswain and Gunner were authorised to serve on the court on a Ship Court Martial.

Courts Martial probably originated from the Court of Chivalry, of which no trace now remains except as found in the court of the Earl Marshal. The jurisdiction of Courts Martial were prescribed by an Act of Richard II., 1377-1399.

Return to frontispiece