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A Royal Visit to the Fleet in the Thames Estuary, 1672
1696
Willem Van de Velde the Younger

A Royal Visit to the Fleet in the Thames Estuary, 1672  1696 Willem Van de Velde the Younger

During the summer of 1672 Charles II visited ships of the fleet that were refitting in the Thames following the Battle of Solebay in May of that year. This may record a visit that took place in September when the king was on board the yacht 'Cleveland'. The yacht in the left foreground is probably the 'Anne', which was used by his brother James, Duke of York. She flies the red ensign and is decorated with the figure of a woman holding a crown in her right hand on her stern, together with putti holding a garland above her head.

In port-quarter view is the 'Cleveland' with her mainsail hauled up and a man aloft hauling down the royal standard. This indicates that King Charles has transferred from the 'Cleveland' to hold a council-of-war on board the 'Prince', the principal ship in the painting, viewed at anchor with a number of other craft around her. These include French boats, France being allied with England in the Third Dutch War of 1672–1674. The painting is a busy scene of yachts and boats moving towards the 'Prince' in response to the signal of a royal standard in the mizzen shrouds calling a council-of-war of all flag officers.

The 'Prince' also flies the royal standard at the main, the Admiralty flag at the fore and the Union flag at the mizzen. A yacht passing under the 'Prince's' stern is thought to be the 'Kitchen'. In the center distance is the 'London', with the new admiral of the blue squadron, Sir Edward Spragge, who had replaced the Earl of Sandwich, drowned while escaping from his burning flagship 'Royal James' at Solebay. The king's barge with the royal standard in the bow is shown alongside the 'Prince'. The Duke of York's flag captain, Sir John Narborough, recorded several royal visits between June and September in 1672 in his journal. Early in 1673 the Test Act forced the Roman Catholic duke to relinquish command of the fleet, so this picture represents one of the last occasions when he commanded the fleet at sea.

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