Online Magazine

England’s Reserve Navy: The Ship Survey of 1572

Posted by Craig Lambert and Gary Baker, on January 17th, 2018

Abstract

The threats to Queen Elizabeth I from a possible Spanish invasion were real.  The ‘Queens maiesties shipes’ in 1570 listed only twenty ships and three galleys.  However, the merchant fleet could be requisitioned in an emergency, and Burghley ordered a survey of the merchant fleet, which was carried out by Thomas Colshill in 1572. Colshill was intimately acquainted with the merchant trade, having started in 1549 as supervisor of petty customs in London and appointed surveyor of great customs in London in 1572.  He used the customs accounts to compile the survey, listing the head ports all the way round the coast from Newcastle to Chester.  Under each port are listed all the ships in that port arranged by tonnage from the largest to the smallest, together with the master of that vessel. The complete survey contains details of 1,383 vessels.

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