HISTORY OF TEN LIONS WHELPS
by John Wassell (edited)


Editors note:
In an e-mail, Wassell expressed his doubts about whether these
Whelps could be the one we are researching: (2/23/03)

     I think that your ancestor's ship was a privately owned vessel - possibly the vessel repaired by Phineas Pett in about 1602 and considered seaworthy enough for an expedition to find the North-West passage in 1625. There are no references in the CSPD* in 1629, which I would expect if what was by then a King's ship was used for this purpose. (The Ten Whelps having been "taken over" from the estate of the Duke of Buckingham after his murder in the summer of 1628).
     From my notes it seems that only the First Whelp is even a possibility- there is no mention of her in CSPD for 1629. I think this was due to the need for repairs after the battering that the fleet took in the bad weather during the return from the La Rochelle campaign (during which the Sixth Whelp was wrecked)- several other Whelps are recorded as needing such repairs before giong to sea in 1629.
     My researches would also have picked up any reference to a non-royal "Lyon's Whelp" if it was mentioned in the CSPD*. The references to the other eight Whelps mean it is highly unlikely that any of them could have sailed to the new world and back that year.

*Calendars of State Papers, Domestic

 

The following is based on a "note" published in the "Mariner's Mirror" Vol. 63 (1977) p.368 in response to an earlier "note" (p.128) concerning the name given to ten small English warships built in 1628 originally for the Duke of Buckingham.

George Villiers (1592-1628), created Duke of Buckingham by King James, had a precedent for naming the ten new ships lion's whelps. A ship called Lion's Whelp was owned by Charles, Earl of Nottingham who was Buckingham's predecessor as Lord Admiral of England. This ship was loaned to Sir Walter Raleigh for his 1595 expedition and was sold to the State in 1602 and repaired at Chatham by up-and -coming shipwright Phineas Pett.

Buckingham received her as a gift from King James just before James died in 1625. She was to be the Duke's contribution to an expedition under William Hawkridge to find a North-West passage. As this gift was not ratified when James died, the whole procedure had to be repeated with Charles, the new King. I have not traced the fate of this ship.

Although masted and armed from Royal Navy stores, the 10 Whelps were built at the Duke's expense. As the Duke's private fleet, they were used to prey on French shipping (with the proceeds going to the Duke's war-chest) before joining the rest of the English fleet for the final attempt to relieve the siege of La Rochelle. They were taken into the Royal Navy after the Duke was assassinated and in 1632 the State reimbursed his estate with £4,500. The accounts of Captain Pennington (who supervised their construction) show that the Duke spent almost £7,000 on them. Had he lived he would probably have recouped his expenses by selling them to the State (following Nottingham's precedent) - at a better price than that paid to his estate!

The coat of arms of the Villiers family was a lion rampant- no doubt the Duke appreciated the allusion in the name!

FIRST LION'S WHELP

Built by William Castell of St. Saviour's (Southwark). Converted into a chain ship for the Chatham "Barricado" c. 1641. Sent to Harwich as a careening hulk in August 1650 and not mentioned futher, but was probably the hulk at Harwich ordered to be sold October 1651.

SECOND LION'S WHELP

Built by John Taylor of Wapping. Converted into a chain ship for the Chatham "Barricado" c. 1641. Ordered to be sold in August 1650 together with the Defiance and the Merhonour as being too rotten for service. She was to have been sent to Harwich as a careening hulk but was found to be "too decayed" even for this.

THIRD LION'S WHELP

Built by John Dearsley of Ipswich at Wapping. Listed as unfit for service in Batten's survey of 1642 and "cast" before February 1643.

FOURTH LION'S WHELP

Built by Christopher Malim of Redriff. Used for experiments on the "project of a Dutchman" c. 1633. Works in the hold were ordered to be removed in March 1634 as they were of no use in a man-of-war. I have not found any details of these works, which were probably carried out by Cornelis Drebbel, who died in 1633. Struck a rock in St. Aubin's Bay, Jersey on 4 August 16361 and sank, without loss of life.

FIFTH LION'S WHELP

Built by Peter Marsh of Wapping. Spent most of her service life based in Ireland. Foundered in the North Sea on 28 June 1637 (Capt. Edward Popham commanding) with the loss of 17 men. The blame was placed on her construction of "mean, sappy timbers".

SIXTH LION'S WHELP

Built by Peter Pett of Ratcliffe. Captained by Phineas Pett's son John and lost with all hands off the coast of Brittany while returning from La Rochelle in 1628. Pett lost other relatives in the wreck and there were Army casualties too- A Captain James Whitehead of Colonel Greville's regiment was lost.

SEVENTH LION'S WHELP

Built by Matthew Graves of Limehouse. Blown up on 25 October 1630 and lost. She and the Mary Rose were involved in a dispute with a Dutch warship from Enkhuisen over a Dunkirk privateer captured off the Suffolk coast. Only 10 men survived the explosion, which was caused by negligence in the powder store as the ship set about the Dutchman. Captain Dawtrey Cooper survived but lost both a son and a nephew.

EIGHTH LION'S WHELP

Built by John Graves of Limehouse. Used to transport gold to the Scottish parliament in 1644. By July 1645 was considered too rotten to be worth repairing and was ordered to be laid up on shore at Woolwich.2

NINTH LION'S WHELP

Built by John Graves of Limehouse. Spent her service based in Irish waters. Captained by Dawtrey Cooper in 1632/33, during which time there were constant disputes and near-mutinies on board. These seem to have resulted from Cooper's actions- perhaps the loss of the Seventh Whelp affected his reason. The Ninth was wrecked in the river Clyde with the pinnace Confidence while taking supplies from Ireland to Dumbarton Castle (on the Clyde near Glasgow) in April 1640. She may be the ship referred to in a warrant of 1642 authorising the Marquis of Argyle to use "four of the best " of the cannon lying near Newark Castle which had come from the "English ship" cast away there3. The Eighth and Ninth are noted in some records as having been sunk in 1628. This arises from a misreading of a letter in the State Papers, Domestic stating that they were "lost to the fleet" in the bad weather that wrecked the Sixth Whelp. In fact they were separated from the fleet and returned to Portsmouth later.

TENTH LION'S WHELP

Built by Robert Tranckmore of Shoreham. Went over to the Royalists after the fall of Bristol in 1643 and was recaptured by Parliament's forces in 1645. Was at Helvoetsluys with the Earl of Warwick's fleet in 1648 (see below) and was fitted out as a fireship for Blake's pursuit of Prince Rupert to Lisbon in 1650. She was used for convoy work and despatches during the first Dutch war. Sold "by the candle" (a form of auction- a pin is stuck in the side of a candle and the last bid made before the pin falls, wins) on 19 October 1654 to Jacob Blackpath for £410. (SP18.89)

More reseach by John Wassell on the 10 Whelps can be found on his WebSite.