Curators choice: The Royal Barge

In this month's Curators Choice, James Turner looks at Charles II special barge, used to visit his fleet in Portsmouth. James talks about the barge in detail and the link between Nelson and the monarchy. 

This barge, built in around 1670 began life as a state barge for Charles II. The King used it for visiting the various ships in his fleet, an event which we now called a fleet review. This traditionally took place at Portsmouth. The barge is properly known as a “shallop”. It has rowlocks for five oars at each side.

The barge’s “golden hour” came in January 1806 when it was used carry the coffin of Lord Nelson to St Paul’s Cathedral for his funeral. The funeral was attended by many thousands of people, and the poet, Robert Southey remarked that “men…turned pale as if they had heard of the death of a dear friend”.  The barge was rowed by a team of oarsmen, and in the stern you can see a portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of the mistresses of King Charles.

This barge provides a link between Nelson and the monarchy, and the fact that the Admiralty used a royal barge to convey his coffin shows how highly Nelson was regarded by the British people.

It has a rounded bow and a square-shaped stern (known as a lute stern).


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