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Leopoldus Primus I

The Leopoldus Primus, also called Leopold I, was the first convoy ship commissioned to protect the free city of Hamburg. She was designed for use against piracy on the trade routes to Spain, Portugal, and West Africa and to accompany whalers to Greenland. Named in honor of the Roman Emperor Leopold I, she was put into service in 1668 and scrapped in 1705 after 34 major missions. She was probably identical with the Wapen von Hamburg, which went into service shortly after her.

In the 17th century, Hamburg was an important coastal town, well fortified but an attractive target to pirates. Particularly troubled by the corsairs of the Barbary Coast, and following the loss in June 1622 of eight fully laden cargo ships, the city determined that it needed to create a fleet of armed convoy ships to protect its interests, escorting merchant and other vessels.

The plans for the construction of Leopoldus Primus and the probably largely identical Wapen von Hamburg started in
1663. The first mention of these plans can be found in the Minutes of the Admiralty of 4 June 1663. While previously they had relied for protection on converted merchant ships, Hamburg now looked to full-fledged warships. On September 23rd, the council proposed to build two frigates, and the citizenry voted to enact the plan.

Not much is known about the construction of the Leopoldus Primus. Construction was delayed for unknown reasons, and for several years there were debates about who should take charge of funding the ships, but construction finally began, led by an unknown Dutch ship-master, in 1667. Builders of the period were secretive, so plans were not recorded or shared.
The Hamburg sculptor Christian Precht, also known for his work in churches, was hired to create a representation of Leopold I for the stern. This figure is now on display at the Museum of Hamburg History.


 leopold 1668

Painting of Leopoldus Primus by Johann Georg Stuhr, c.1700, in the Hamburg Museum

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