The Royal Navy is one of the world’s oldest military forces, one that was formed in 1546 when King Henry VIII committed a standing Navy with its own warships, dock, and secretariat. While ships had been enlisted in prior military actions, this was the first time England had a purpose-built fleet to protect its shores and interests around the world. In the centuries since, many ships have had the honor of sailing for the country and have earned renown for their feats and prominence. We have highlighted five of them for you below (which you can still visit today) and if you think there’s one we left out, you can let us know in the comments.
The Mary Rose was one of the most famous ships to sail for England. The Tudor warship was launched in 1511, just over three decades prior to the formation of the Royal Navy. The Mary Rose was lost at the Battle of Solent in 1545, but rediscovered in 1971 and brought back from the ocean’s depths in 1982. The museum that contains her opened in 2013 and has plenty of artefacts as well as exhibits from the ship and about sailing during the Tudor period, for which the wreck served as a time capsule.
HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned ship still in service and played a critical role in Admiral Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar. It launched in 1765 and remained in active combat service until 1807. The Victory served as a prison ship for a time and was nearly broken up during the Victorian period before public outcry saved her. Restoration in the 20th Century helped turn her into a museum for the Royal Navy, the Battle of Trafalgar, and Lord Nelson and the Victory can currently be visited as part of the Royal Navy’s museum in Portsmouth.
HMS Warrior was constructed in 1859 and launched in 1861, the first of a new type of combination sailing and steam-powered warship. The Warrior was built as a direct response to France’s first iron-hulled ship, the Emperor Napoleon and she spent most of her service in the Channel Fleet. She was only in service for twenty-two years before more powerful steam engines made her obsolete. The Warrior continued to see other uses until 1979 when she was restored to become part of the museum fleet at Portsmouth.
HMS Belfast was launched in 1938 and commissioned into service just before World War II began in 1939. A Town-class light cruiser, she participated in a number of engagements during the war including serving as the headquarters of Bombardment Force E during D-Day. The Belfast even saw service in the Pacific Theater once the war in Europe ended. Today, she is under the care of the Imperial War Museum and can be found moored on the Thames in London as a museum ship. The Belfast gives visitors a chance to experience life on a World War II light cruiser while also providing a rooftop bar with a great view of the Tower Bridge and other city landmarks.
Royal Yacht Britannia
The last in the great line of Royal Yachts, HMY Britannia did serve as a member of the Royal Navy and the crew were volunteers from the RN general service who were appointed for up to 2 years as “Yachtsmen”. The Britannia was in service to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II from 1953 until 1997 when it was moored in Edinburgh as a museum ship. More than just a ship for the Royal Family, it could be converted to a hospital ship in times of need and even served to help rescue 1,000 people from Arden during the South Yemen Civil War.