Sailing Ship - Rates
From the Early/Mid 1600's to about 1817 Royal Navy warships were divided
into categories by size (or rate).
The term Rate came to mean the measure of the power of an English (later British) warship's guns; by number and weight of shot, and also an indication of her size.
There were six Rates or sizes of warship.
Other warships, which were normally smaller in size, were Unrated warships.
Rate of Pay
This classification grew from a system which determined the 'Rate of Pay' for a Captain. When Captain was an officer of the Rank of Captain - (not necessarily the most senior officer of the ship). So all Rated warships were commanded by a Captain. Unrated warships were commanded by an officer of a lower rank than Captain.
The earliest mention of rates of pay for men at sea is for Edward the Confessor, when each man (seaman or possibly soldier) was paid £4 to £6 a year, 2½d to 4d a day. This being more than the rate of pay for a Knight in the household of the early Norman Kings.
About a hundred years after the Norman Conquest the standard rate for a seaman was 1d a day for sailors and 2d a day for steersmen.
By 1379 the House of Commons complained that a
By the mid-1500's the Rate of a Captain's pay had settled into 5 or 6 classifications depending on the Captains seniority. Naturally the most senior Captains demanded that they command the largest ships.
Then in 1582 the entire payment system was overhauled and specified the amount paid to each rank or rating. In addition, officers pay was determined by the size of the ship they served in.
From this, in 1653 a scheme of six rates of sea pay was adopted, defined by the size of the ships crew.
So by now there were six Rates of Captains pay, determined by the size of the ships company, and so the size of the ship. With the most senior Captains (paid the highest Rate of Pay) commanding the largest ships, and less senior Captains (paid smaller Rates of Pay) commanding correspondingly smaller ships.
It followed that the largest ships mounted the heaviest and greater number of guns.
So the term "Rate" became an indication of the size and firepower of an English (later British) Sailing Warship.
The scheme of Six Rates continued from 1653 until about 1817 with various minor adjustments to take account of changes in ship technology.
Of the Six Rates of Warship, the first Four were considered large enough and strong enough to lie in the Line-of-Battle and have a reasonable hope of withstanding the firepower of the heaviest enemy ship she could encounter.
So the first four Rates were considered to be Ships-of-the-Line or Line-of-Battle.
(Note: after 1756 small 4th Rates with less than 60-guns, were no longer considered fit to lie in the line-of-battle.)
This evolved from the mid-1800's, into the largest and heaviest of powered warships being known as Battleships,.
The first Royal Navy Battleship was HMS Warrior completed in 1861.
Although not called as such, a 1st Rate ship of any period can be considered the equivalent of a Battleship for her time.
To Pre 1661 Ships
- before 1509
- 1509 to 1546
- 1547 to 1557
- 1558 to 1602
- 1603 to 1660
This page last edited -
14 July, 2012.
Copyright © Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.