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Great Michael (1511, Scottish '1st' Rate 55 guns)


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While far outside of the typical period associated with the age of sail the Great Michael is an important, yet often overlooked, part of the history of the Royal Scots Navy and of Naval History of the early 16th century. GM is one of only two 1st rates Scotland ever built but unlike its English counter-part Henry Grace à Dieu (Henry by Grace/by thanks of God) the Great Michael is more than just a 'big ship' with lots of guns on it.


Great Michael was born in an age where coastal defences still reigned supreme and most ships were little more than glorified troop transports. Battles were won by cutlass rather than by cannon fire and upon encountering a fortification most ships would drop sail and set troops ashore to capture it.

GM was the ship that changed that, with armour anywhere to a full meter thick in some areas she was a floating fortress that could moor off the coast of any fortification either out of range or simply impervious to any attacks, she had three Basilisk cannons, some of the longest ranged cannons of the period, and could easily pepper an enemy coastal tower all day if it wanted to, with these larger guns typically dragged out and fired from her deck, though mounts were provided from them in the hull, 1 chaser and 2 aft. 


In case of boarding her sides were run with grease, she had barbs and shards covering her sides as well as a number of small holes for sticking spears through, the top was covered in a thick net as well as anti-boarding barricades and a compliment of close to 1,000 marines, if all else failed she had between 22-36 smaller 1 and 2 ponder guns that could be filled with grape and fired down onto her deck from either forecastle, her half-meter thick pine and oak deck could probably take it.

Her broadside remained a little unimpressive at a mere 24 guns, most likely 6 and 9 lbs. But 10 of these guns (5 either side) are suspected to have comprised of Mons Megg or similar guns, these were 386 lbs bombard cannons capable of ,not only putting a large hole in the side of any ship but, spreading its atomised particles over a several mile distance.


She was 73 meters in length, 11 meters tall and displaced 1,000 tones, making her and equivalent to an 18th century first rate. Though her tonnage was calculated by using an estimate based on the weight of the materials used in her construction she was still the biggest warship in the known world, her existence caused such a panic in the English Royalty that King Henry VIII, in a fit of rage, instantly demanded a bigger warship be built. 

The existence of the ship sent shockwaves around the world (according to the Scots) she was the largest, most powerful and most technologically advanced warship of her day. Gilded, painted and with lavish carvings covering the hull she was a symbol of national pride for Scotland, a statement that cemented Scotland’s place among the merging naval powers of the 16th century leading to a joint venture into the Caribbean with the French, the capture of Borburata, and the founding of the first Scottish colony on Charles Island. 

Though her time was short, sold to the French in 1514 she saw action in the Battle of the Solent in 1545 which saw the English flagship Mary Rose sink, return to Scotland in later the same year before vanishing (fate unknown) she remains one of the most significant vessels ever constructed in Scotland.


Her position in game would be an interesting one, with 1,300 crew and wielding some of the biggest guns in the fleet her broadside would be a terrifying thing to face, while any return fire could be easily sponged by her thick armour, her ability to fire long chasers from her deck almost-turret style could help destroy Naval fortifications in Port Battles as her design intended or snipe at enemy masts. But her slow speed and her Carrak design would make her slow to manoeuvre and difficult to steer meaning her use in the open world would become a hilarious disaster. 


There is also a second problem, for reasons (possibly political) information on this ship is scarce, there are a few books which is where I've gotten most of my information on her but Wikipedia currently details more information on her than any museum in Scotland and details of her use in various battles, specially at Solent, are suspiciously missing. 

As such there are no plans for the ship and each picture or description of her varies, with some claiming her to be 100m long with nearly 1,000 guns, others proclaiming something shorter and more squat.

This would mean someone who tried to re-create it would have to work without plans, eyeballing it and filling in a lot of blanks, an enormous task and one probably not worth it in the end but as a ship I have been obsessed about from a young age, it's always nice to dream.

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She was a 24 gun ship which puts her at a broadside of 12 guns. The accounts of 1000 guns are most likely either miscommunicated or misunderstood records that relate to her having a crew of around 1000 who would mainly man the fore and aft castles in combat.

Her armaments wouldn't have consisted of either basilisk or great bombards but likely more reasonable sized guns that wouldn't be destined to a specific poundage, she would have fired stone shot and each of her guns would have had a unique weighting and projectiles individually crafted for each gun so as to fit with the somewhat mismatched production methods of the era. Most naval bombards of the era had a calibre of about 8-14 inches and took a long time to reload.

Its great to see some attention being brought to ships of this period but as a great ship of the early 16th century she wouldn't really have any place in the Age of sail, which didn't begin for almost 150 years after Michael's launch. Thank you for taking the time to research and write the post though. Its always great to see enthusiasm for naval history no matter the era :)

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Heh, it's a pipe dream at best, I know the Michael has no place here, but for such an important symbol of Scottish history it very rarely gets any attention whatsoever, I'm like a child when it comes to these things and cannot help but share what I know.


Its broadside was less than impressive because it came about before the idea of line tactics, which wouldn't really come to fruition till about 15 years after Michael's launch, therefor it's more likely she was built with the medieval understanding of Naval warfare, floating fortress, cannons all around.

There has been considerable debate if or not Mons Megg, or similar bombard cannons were implemented as part of its broadside as it seems more likely they would set these cannons up on the deck and fired from there, however this would render the Basilisk guns pointless as the range of these guns far exceeds the bombard guns. Early descriptions of the Ship provided by George Buchanan tell of five "great" cannons either side and it is more likely that they did form part of a broadside but were moved to the top deck to fire when stationary as to destroy a fort or tower the cannon would have to be firing upwards, typically onto a hill, not something really possible with a broadside. 

This idea of stopping the ship and setting bigger cannons up on the deck to fire at stationary targets seems more in-fitting with Scottish ship design ideas of the time as Michael seems more equipped to resist boarding attempts and fire 'down' at ships surrounding it rather than go broadside to broadside with another ship.


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