A warship is a ship that is built and primarily intended for combat. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more maneuverable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically only carries weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. In wartime, the distinction between warships and merchant ships is often blurred with merchant ships often armed and used as auxiliary warships. In the early part of the 17th century it was common for merchant ships to be pressed into naval service and not unusual for more than half a fleet to be composed of merchant ships.

The evolution of broadside cannon during the first half of the 17th century soon led to the conclusion that any fleet had to fight in a single line to make the maximum use of its firepower without one ship getting in the way of another. One consequence of the line of battle was that a ship had to be strong enough to stand in it. In the old type of mêlée battle a small ship could seek out an opponent of her own size, or combine with others to attack a larger one.

As the line of battle was adopted, navies began to distinguish between vessels that were fit to form parts of the line in action, and the smaller ships that were not. By the time the line of battle was firmly established as the standard tactical formation during the 1660s, merchant ships and lightly armed warships became less able to sustain their place in a pitched battle. In the line of battle, each ship had to stand and fight the opposing ship in the enemy line, however powerful she might be. The purpose-built ships powerful enough to stand in the line of battle came to be known as a ship of the line.

Below is information about a selection of major warships of the 17th century. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but does contain key ships of each of the major European naval powers.

Warships of England

Warships of France

                                                   Warships of Russia

Warships of Spain

There is a surprising lack of information, other than contradictory lists, about Spanish sailing ships of the 17th century. In fact three of the ships below may be the same ship, or may have never existed at all. After many hours of research what follows is the information and and pictures I could find.

   Warships of the United Province

Warships of Other Nations and City States