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stepping stones of maritime history


The Grace Dieu was the Flagship of King Henry V of England. It was the largest ship of her time and made an impressive sight with large castles on the bow and stern. It was designed as a high platform from which archers and soldiers could shoot at their enemies from above - the forecastle was 52 feet high. The ship was was launched in 1418, three years after the battle of Agincourt. She was the largest ship ever built in England up until then and three times bigger than any other ship that was to be built for another two centuries. According to Dr Justin Dix, a maritime geophysicist with Southampton Oceanography Centre, she was about twice the size of Henry VIII's Mary Rose a century later.

Her size did not ensure a successful career. Henry V had a series of large ships built, the Trinity Royal, Jesus and the Holy Ghost of the Tower with the Grace Dieu being the last. The role of these ships was to combat the Genoese carracks that tried to control the English channel together with the French. But when the Grace Dieu was finished, Henry V was the undisputed master of the Channel so there was not much use for the ship anymore.

The Grace Dieu undertook one voyage from Southampton in 1420 under the command of William Payne to patrol the Channel. On this voyage, the crew mutinied and the ship was forced to put in at St. Helen's on the Isle of Wight. After this she was laid up with the other large ships at Burlesdon on the River Hamble. In the end she was put in a dock in the mud inside an enclosure. There are no indications that she ever went to sea again but the ship remained impressive to everyone that saw her. On January 7th, 1439 the ship was struck by lightning and caught fire at her mooring and burned out. Salvage began immediately after that: iron wares and the burnt mast were salvaged and sold.

impressie van de Grace Dieu

National Archives

Impression of the Grace Dieu.


Armament: archers, 3 cannon

People on board250
Length200.1 feet (61 m)
Width49.9 feet (15.2 m)
Displacement2750 ton (1375 last)


Later generations did not tend to believe the stories about the size of the ship, but this changed when the wreck was surveyed in 1933. Previous examinations of the site had wrongfully concluded that it was a Danish galley or a mid-nineteenth century merchant ship.

The site is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act and was researched by the Channel 4 show Time Team. The episode was broadcast in 2005.

The site was examined again in 2011 by Wessex Archaeology. The following summary is from this research:

The Bottom part of the hull, a metre or so above the keel survives. The majority of the timbers are protected by silts. Structural features include a keel (130 ft long), a keelson, futtock timbers scarfed to the floor timbers, ceiling planking, stringers and crossbeams with protruding heads.

Some detached timbers are held in the National Maritime Museum, Winchester Museum and the Tudor House Museum in Southampton.

The wreck Lies in approximately 6 metres of water, embedded in silt on the foreshore of the River Hamble. Exposed timbers appear no longer to be covered by colonising marine organisms.

The site appeared stable at the time of investigation in 2011, experiencing sediment deposition rather than erosion. The site is only exposed during spring low tides and with the high sediment cover only the top surfaces of the frames were exposed; the stern area remains submerged at all times.

(Source: Historic England)

Computer impression made by Time Team 2004, projected in the river Hamble.

Channel 4

Computer impression made by Time Team in 2004, projected in the River Hamble.


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