The Great Harry

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Henry Grace Dieu

Henry Grace Dieu, launched in 1514, was an English carrack built in the 16th Century for King Henry VIII. Also known as Great Harry she was the first purpose built great ship in the Tudor navy with four masts, a four deck forecastle and a two deck stern castle.

Henry Grace Dieu Dimensions
The Mighty Henry Grace Dieu was approximately 165 feet (50 metres) in length and had a estimated displacement of 1,500 tons. She was armed with 43 cannons and 141 light guns and carried a complement of approximately 700 members of crew.

Famous use of Henry Grace Dieu
Henry Grace Dieu was most famously used to transport Henry VIII to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. Being a mainly diplomatic vessel, her only action was against the French during the famous Battle of the Solent, where she witnessed the sinking of the more famous Mary Rose.

Henry Grace Dieu Destruction
Henry Grace Dieu is generally believed to have been destroyed by fire while berthed in Woolwich when a fire broke out at the Royal dockyard. Unfortunately exact records no longer exist to confirm this belief.

Why Was Henry Grace Dieu Built?
Henry Grace Dieu was built as a replacement for King Henry VIIIs flagship the Regent which was lost on August 10, 1512, during the Battle of Brest Haven. The Regent lay alongside the French ship Cordeliere and sent a boarding party to set fire to Cordelieres gunpowder store. The resultant fire burned so quickly it spread to the Regent before she could distance herself adequately. She was lost to the fire with her 700 strong crew.

Where was Henry Grace Dieu built?
The infrastructure of existing dockyards was unsuitable to build ships with the unprecedented size and displacement of Henry Grace Dieu, so the King chose to build a Royal Dockyard in Woolwich for that purpose. This location was also close to King Henry VIIIs palace at Greenwich, which allowed him the opportunity to keep an eye on the progress of the build.

When Was Henry Grace Dieu built?
Construction of Henry Grace Dieu began in 1512, and Henry Grace Dieu was launched when the hull had been completed in 1514, three years after the Mary Rose. Following the launch of Henry Grace Dieu, she was moved the Naval Dockyard in Erith, Kent, where she fitted out.

How Big and Powerful was Henry Grace Dieu?
Once completed the "Henry Grace Dieu" had a massive displacement of 1,500 tons and, for the first time in England's Royal Naval history, boasted two gun-decks. She was also the first ship to have purpose built gun-ports in the hull, allowing her guns to fire directly into the hulls of her enemies from close range.

Henry Grace Dieu Crew and Sails
Henry Grace Dieu required a crew of 700 to 1,000 when in battle order. Her four masts allowed her to carry a great arrangement of sails including mainsails, topsails, topgallants and lateens. The forecastle contained four decks and the stern castle had two decks.

Why Was Henry Grace Dieu So Big?
At this time, the vast majority of naval warships were being converted from commercial ships, or their designs, with a normal displacement of up to 100 tons. Firmly believing in the need for a strong and impressive navy to protect his island nation, King Henry VIII decided that his new flagship, Henry Grace Dieu, would be purpose designed and built as the greatest and most powerful warship ever built.

Translation of Henry Grace Dieu
Building Henry Grace Dieu, which translates as Henry Grace of God was more about making a statement, by displaying wealth and power, than building an efficient warship. The size was probably influenced by the 1,000 ton Scottish Carrack Michael which had been built for King James IV of Scotland and had been completed on February 18, 1512.

Remodelling of Henry Grace Dieu in 1536
In 1536 Henry Grace Dieu underwent remodelling in Erith, Kent, which lowered the height of her hull and reduced her displacement to around 1,000 tons. This had become necessary to address the fact that Henry Grace Dieu was top heavy and prone to extreme rolling when the sea was rough; which badly affected her overall performance as a warship. Her armament was reduced to 151 guns including 21 that were bronze. Her complement of crew was also reduced to between 700 and 800.

Henry Grace Dieu or the Great Harry?
Ships of this size were referred to as Great Ships, by the general population, to differentiate them from the general ships of the day, which they dwarfed. A similar thing happened when Boeing introduced their 747 airliner which became known as the Jumbo Jet by the general public. It is believed that King Henry VIII was popularly referred to as King Harry in the same was as the current Prince Henry of Wales is popularly know as Prince Harry. A combination of these led to the Henry Grace Dieu being generally referred to as the Great Harry.

Henry Grace Dieu Diplomatic Use
King Henry VIII used Henry Grace Dieu as a diplomatic vessel to transport him to the summit with King Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. Henry Grace Dieu was lavishly decorated for the occasion with standards flying from the tops of her masts and armorial bearing shields decorating her sides.

Henry Grace Dieu in Action
Henry Grace Dieu saw very little action. On the night of July 18, 1545, King Henry VIII dined aboard Henry Grace Dieu. The following day Henry Grace Dieu sailed out to meet the French at the Battle of the Solent, during which she witnessed the sinking of the Mary Rose.

Fate of Henry Grace Dieu
Henry Grace Dieu was renamed in 1547 following the accession of Edward VI. Although some believe Henry Grace Dieu rotted by the side of the River Thames, it is generally believed that she was destroyed in 1553, during a fire that occurred at the Royal Woolwich Dockyard where Henry Grace Dieu was berthed at the time.

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Published 2018

Global Anchor Limited

Modified 2018

By James Drake

Henry Grace Dieu Size - The Great Harry Armament - Henry Grace Dieu Information - The Great Harry Sails - Henry Grace Dieu Built - The Great Harry Masts - Images - Facts and Information - Henry Grace Dieu Crew - King Henry VIII - The Great Harry Cannons - Henry Grace Dieu Guns