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Cromwell, Charles II and the Naseby: Ship of State

The fortunes of Oliver Cromwell and Charles II and the regard in which their successive regimes came to be held were mirrored in the fate of one of their mightiest naval vessels, as Patrick Little explains.

In the middle of May 1660, as the Restoration of Charles II became inevitable, hasty changes were made to the British fleet lying off the coast of the Low Countries. Samuel Pepys, who witnessed it, described a frenzy of activity, as ‘this morning we began to pull down all the State’s arms in the fleet, having first sent to Dover for painters and others to come to set up the King’s’. While the carved arms on the sterns of the ships received the attention of the carpenters, on deck ...

... the tailors and painters were at work cutting out of some pieces of yellow cloth into the fashion of a crown and ‘C.R.’ [Carolus Rex], and put it upon a fine sheet, and that into the flag instead of the State’s arms.

Such swift alterations were vital as in a few days time these very ships would be bringing Charles II home in triumph. The royal party joined the fleet on May 22nd and was entertained on the flagship, the Naseby, named after Parliament’s great victory over Charles I in June 1645. The other ships in service bore similarly unhappy titles: the Worcester, the Marston Moor, the Dunbar, to name but three. Further changes would have to be made and, according to Pepys, this turned into something of a parlour game: ‘After dinner, the king and the duke [of York] altered the names of some of the ships, viz. the Naseby into Charles’. So it was that the new king was brought back to England, two days later, on the newly named Royal Charles.

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