Pirate Ships > Frigate

Frigate

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Background

A frigate is a type of warship that comes in various sizes and was used many times throughout the Golden Age of Piracy as a type of pirate ship. During the 17th century and primarily the Buccaneering Era the term was used for any type of warship that was build for speed and maneuverability which was a great advantage in the West Indies. They were often smaller than a Ship of the Line but were larger than a brigantine or brig.

Often these warships would carry their main battery of cannons or carriage mounted guns on a single deck or on two decks with other guns such as swivel guns mounted on the forecastle and quarterdeck of the ship. They were considered fully rigged ships which contained three masts and square-rigging on each of them. Often these types of ships were used for patrolling or escorts instead of for intense naval battles.

In a definition that was adopted by the British Admiralty they were considered ships that had 28 guns and had all of their primary weapons on a single continuous upper deck. In contrast, ships of the line would contain two continuous decks of cannons. Eventually the term would come to define a type of armored vessel throughout the 19th century but that is mostly outside of the scope of the types of ships used in the Post Spanish Succession Period and the Pirate Round.

Origins

Prior to the Privateering Era the term frigate was used in the Mediterranean in the 15th century to describe a light galleass type of ship with oars, sails and a small battery of guns that was built for speed and agility on the open waters. Eventually during the 16th century in 1583 as part of the Eighty Years war.

The term "frigate" (Italian: fregata; Spanish/Catalan/Portuguese/Sicilian: fragata; Dutch: fregat; French: fregate) originated in the Mediterranean in the late 15th century, referring to a lighter galleass type ship with oars, sails and a light armament, built for speed and maneuverability.[1] The etymology of the word is unknown, although it may have originated as a corruption of aphractus, a Latin word for an open vessel with no lower deck. Aphractus was, in turn, derived from the Ancient Greek phrase ἄφρακτος ναῦς (aphraktos naus), or "undefended ship". In 1583, during the Eighty Years' War, Habsburg Spain recovered the Southern Netherlands from the rebellious Dutch. This soon led to the occupied ports being used as bases for privateers, the Dunkirkers, to attack the shipping of the Dutch and their allies. To achieve this they developed small, maneuverable, sail-only vessels that came to be referred to as frigates. The success of these Dunkirker vessels influenced the ship design of the Dutch and other navies contending with them but because most regular navies required ships of greater endurance than the Dunkirker frigates could provide, the term was soon applied less exclusively to any relatively fast and elegant sail-only war ship. In French, the term "frigate" became a verb, meaning 'to build long and low', and an adjective, adding further confusion. Even the huge English Sovereign of the Seas could be described as "a delicate frigate" by a contemporary after her upper decks were reduced in 1651.[2] The navy of the Dutch Republic was the first navy to build the larger ocean-going frigates. The Dutch navy had three principal tasks in the struggle against Spain: to protect Dutch merchant ships at sea, to blockade the ports of Spanish-held Flanders to damage trade and halt enemy privateering, and to fight the Spanish fleet and prevent troop landings. The first two tasks required speed, shallowness of draft for the shallow waters around the Netherlands, and the ability to carry sufficient supplies to maintain a blockade. The third task required heavy armament, sufficient to fight against the Spanish fleet. The first of these larger battle-capable frigates were built around 1600 at Hoorn in Holland.[3] By the later stages of the Eighty Years' War the Dutch had switched entirely from the heavier ships still used by the English and Spanish to the lighter frigates, carrying around 40 guns and weighing around 300 tons. The effectiveness of the Dutch frigates became most visible in the Battle of the Downs in 1639, encouraging most other navies, especially the English, to adopt similar designs. The fleets built by the Commonwealth of England in the 1650s generally consisted of ships described as "frigates", the largest of which were two-decker 'great frigates' of the third rate. Carrying 60 guns, these vessels were as big and capable as 'great ships' of the time; however, most other frigates at the time were used as 'cruisers': independent fast ships. The term "frigate" implied a long hull design, which relates directly to speed (see hull speed) and also, in turn, helped the development of the broadside tactic in naval warfare. Boudeuse, of Louis Antoine de Bougainville At this time, a further design evolved, reintroducing oars to create the galley frigate such as HMS Charles Galley of 1676 which was rated as a 32-gun fifth rate but also had a bank of 40 oars set below the upper deck which could be used to propel the ship in the absence of a favourable wind. In Danish, the word "fregat" is often applied to warships carrying as few as 16 guns, such as HMS Falcon which the British classified as a sloop. Under the rating system of the Royal Navy, by the middle of the 18th century, the term "frigate" was technically restricted to single-decked ships of the fifth rate, though small 28-gun frigates were classed as sixth rate.[1] Classic design[edit] A Magicienne-class frigate Gun deck of the Pallas-class frigate Méduse The classic sailing frigate, well-known today for its role in the Napoleonic wars, can be traced back to French developments in the second quarter of the 18th century. The French-built Médée of 1740 is often regarded as the first example of this type. These ships were square-rigged and carried all their main guns on a single continuous upper deck. The lower deck, known as the "gun deck", now carried no armament, and functioned as a "berth deck" where the crew lived, and was in fact placed below the waterline of the new frigates.[4] A total of fifty-nine French sailing frigates were built between 1777 and 1790, with a standard design averaging a hull length of 135 ft (41 m) and an average draught of 13 ft (4.0 m). The new frigates recorded sailing speeds of up to 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph), significantly faster than their predecessor vessels.[4] They were able to fight with all their guns when the seas were so rough that comparable two-deckers had to close the gun-ports on their lower decks (see the Action of 13 January 1797, for an example when this was decisive). Like the larger 74 which was developed at the same time, the new frigates sailed well and were good fighting vessels due to a combination of long hulls and low upperworks compared to vessels of comparable size and firepower. The Royal Navy captured a handful of the new French frigates during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) and were impressed by them, particularly for their inshore handling capabilities. They soon built copies and started to adapt the type to their own needs, setting the standard for other frigates as the leading naval power. The first British frigates carried 28 guns including an upper deck battery of twenty-four 9-pounder guns (the remaining four smaller guns were carried on the quarter deck) but soon developed into fifth-rate ships of 32 or 36 guns including an upper deck battery of twenty-six 12-pounder guns, with the remaining six or ten smaller guns carried on the quarter deck and forecastle. From around 1778, a larger "heavy" frigate was developed with a main battery of twenty-six or twenty-eight 18-pounder guns (again with the remaining ten smaller guns carried on the quarter deck and forecastle). Both British and American frigates could (and usually did) additionally carry smaller carriage-mounted guns on their quarter decks and forecastles (the superstructures above the upper deck). Technically, rated ships with fewer than 28 guns could not be classed as frigates but as "post ships"; however, in common parlance most post ships were often described as "frigates", the same casual misuse of the term being extended to smaller two-decked ships that were too small to stand in the line of battle. Royal Navy frigates of the late 18th century included the 1780-vintage Perseverance class, which measured around 900 tons burthen and carried 36 guns; this successful class was followed by numerous other classes that measured over 1,000 tons burthen and carried 38 guns.

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