The Grace Dieu, launched in 1418, was built in Southampton by William Soper as the flagship of Henry V’s navy. Soper was a wealthy burgess of the town who began a long association with the Royal Navy when building the Holy Ghost in 1414. Soon after its launch he was created Clerk of the King’s Ships and from 1423 he was appointed Keeper and Governor of the King’s Ships. He began building the Grace Dieu in 1416 and completed her in 1418. The three-layered, clinker-built, 300 foot long ship was the largest ship built in England up to that date and was probably one of the largest ships in the world at that time. Soper is thought to have used the Watergate quay for his routine shipbuilding and repairs, but he is believed to have constructed an entirely new dock to build the Grace Dieu.

After its completion in 1418 William Payne was appointed master, but it soon became apparent that the ship was not entirely seaworthy. She was never properly fitted out, nor was she ever fully manned. She was never used in battle and her only voyage was to the Isle of Wight in 1420, during which her crew mutinied. She was subsequently put in reserve and laid up at the River Hamble. Later she was de-masted and most of her gear was removed. In 1439 she was struck by lightening and burned to the waterline. She was then stripped of any salvageable material and the keel left to sink into the mud where it remained for the next 500 years.

In the 19th century the remains were thought to be that of a Viking war ship and some timbers were removed by souvenir hunters. In the 1930s the remains were positively identified as those of the Grace Dieu and the wreck was examined by marine archaeologists. In 1967 a small team of maritime enthusiasts led by local clergyman F C P Naish and major-general Michael Prynne visited the site (see plan and photographs below) and considered the possibility of raising the wreck. It was subsequently purchased by the University of Southampton in 1970 and further investigations were carried out.

Plan of the Site

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Drawing of the remains made by the investigation team in September 1967.

The Grace Dieu Site

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The team investigate remaining timbers, September 1967.

The Grace Dieu Site.

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Photograph, September 1967

Further reading:

‘The building of the Gracedieu, Valentine and Falconer at Southampton’, 1416-1420, by W. J. Carpenter Turner, in Mariner’s Mirror, Vol 40, 1954, p55-72.
Scrapbook of the 1967-69 Investigations


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