HEYWOOD, Thomas A true description of His Majesties royall ship, built this yeare 1637. at Wooll-witch in Kent

London, printed by Iohn Okes, for Iohn Aston, 1637


FIRST EDITION 4to. pp. [viii], 48. A-G . Folding engraved frontispiece of the ship (very slightly trimmed at outer margin). Roman and Italic letter. Woodcut initial, typographical headpieces and ornaments. Age yellowing, a little light, mostly marginal, spotting, engraved frontispiece with closed tear at gutter with early restoration on verso, creased in outer margin, title very slightly dusty. A good copy in English C19th polished calf, covers bordered with a single gilt rule, spine with raised gilt ruled bands, red morocco label gilt inner dentelles gilt marbled endpapers, a little worn at extremities.

First edition, extremely rare complete with the folding engraved plate, of Heywood’s description, in prose and verse, of ‘The Sovereign of the Seas’, the most famous warship of her day, and until then the largest and most expensive ship built in England. Thomas Heywood (c. 1574-1641) was a prolific author of plays, poetry, pageants, and pamphlets. During the early 1630s, he collaborated with members of the Christmas family of tomb sculptors in producing a series of Lord Mayor’s Day pageants. In 1637, the same team created the elaborate decorative carvings for the biggest, most expensive, and most heavily-armed ship the world had ever seen, King Charles I’s Sovereign of the Seas. Heywood had a hand in the decorative design and also wrote a commentary on the finished product. His ‘A True Description of His Majesty’s Royall Ship’ described the mythological, legendary, and allegorical subject-matter of the most prominent carvings and inscriptions. It also provided a descriptive chronicle of ships and navigators to serve as background to the portrait of the ship. The Sovereign of the Seas was an incredible architectural and engineering feat but also one of Charles I’s greatest follies. Heywood’s little-known book is of particular value to the history of Renaissance pageantry, sculpture, and iconography, and gives a unique account of a massive experiment in naval architecture by one closely involved. “Not only was the massive ship an extravagant exercise in royal and national propaganda, whose funding contributed materially to the widespread resentment over the issue of Ship Money and thus played its part in the cause of the English Revolution; it represented a feat of engineering which tested the limits of available technology for ends which had more to do with royal and national prestige than with military or economic usefulness,… The Sovereign of the Seas cost over 65,000 [pounds], roughly ten times the usual price of a 40-gun warship (and a cost-overrun of at least 50,000 [pounds] on the original estimate); 2,500 mature oak trees were felled to build her, and she had 102 cannon. But she saw action on only three or four occasions, during the Dutch Wars, and was eventually destroyed, in 1696, by a candle which a careless cook left burning in her gallery” Michael Bath,’The Review of English Studies.’

Thomas Heywood was born in Lincolnshire and is said to have been a fellow at Peterhouse College Cambridge; he was a member of the Lord Admiral’s Company (1598) and composed lord mayor’s pageants (in which capacity he succeeded Thomas Dekker). Heywood claimed to have contributed to some 220 plays; many are extent though most were not published. He attended the Queen’s funeral in 1619 as ‘one of her Majesty’s players.’ “Heywood himself appeared to endorse the the king’s right to ‘the ship money’ but this strange text was not only ‘Published by Authoritie’ as the title page claims, but probably commissioned by royal authority too.” Richard Rowland ‘Thomas Heywood’s Theatre, 1599–1639: Locations, Translations, and Conflict.’

ESTC S106217. STC 13367.
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