Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ye XVII Century Men-o'-War in 1:1200 scale

...In which ye protagonist doth wax eloquently about ye Langton Miniatures ships, and how they doth be both exquisite and expensive.

A Dutch 60-gun ship

Well, this was going to be a post about some Borodino-related material, but the pictures I took didn't turn out. Being too lazy to take new ones, I decided to blather about this instead.

Stern quarter view, showing detail.

Yes, it's yet another new project: this time the Ango-Dutch Wars of the XVII century (that's 17th, for the not-Roman-numerally-inclined). These were purely naval wars (from the English point of view, at least), and so this will be a purely naval project. That's good, since one of my main motivations for getting into it was for a change of pace from painting ranks of infantry and cavalry. Strangely, this is going to be my first-ever naval project-- and I say strange, because I'm a huge naval buff, with shelves full of books on ships in general and many a sea war in particular.

English 2nd rate (82 guns) alongside Dutch 60-gun ship, with a pencil for scale.

Anyway, I felt it was high time to do something naval. My main area of familiarity is actually the age of ironclads and pre-dreadnoughts, although I confess a healthy interest in the navies of the two World Wars and in the age of sail as well. Unfortunately, given my preferences, I couldn't find many ironclad miniatures that matched what I was looking for in terms of scale, price, and quality. However, broadening my search, I came across Langton Miniatures.
Langton Miniatures' AD6 - British 2nd rate (Royal Katherine, 76-86 guns). The description is something of a misnomer; since the Dutch wars were fought before the Acts of Union united England with Scotland (and later Northern Ireland), these were properly English ships.

Langton is actually a company I'd been aware of for some time, mostly by reputation; they're held to be the manufacturers of the finest 1:1200 scale ships money can buy-- albeit the most expensive. Well, having now sampled their wares, I can confirm that theirs is a reputation well deserved: they look spectacular... and are spectacularly expensive.

Broadside view of the Royal Katherine. This was the first of these ships I did; consequently there are a number of errors in the rigging, and it isn't painted quite as nicely as might have been. A good learning experience, however. My previous work with small-scale modeling certainly helped.

The spectacular-looking part is what's really important though, and so I was pretty much doomed to make the attempt, regardless of cost, as soon as I got to looking through the Langton picture galleries, inadequate though they may be. And since spectacular-looking was now the goal, I quickly opted for one of the age of sail lines, since it seemed a bit extreme to spend £6 on some clunky-looking American Civil War ironclad, no matter how beautifully sculpted and cast. The Anglo-Dutch line finally got the nod because the ships' over-the-top baroque decor always seems to give them more personality than their better-known Napoleonic-era counterparts. A glance through the paintings of the Dutch Old Masters will show what I mean.

Langton Miniatures' AD15 - Dutch, 60 guns. The model is generic, not having been sculpted to represent any particular vessel. My rigging technique shows some improvement here, and tying the flags on rather than wrapping them around the masts also looks better.

Of course when it came time to get out the paintbrush, I quickly discovered that 'personality' can be a double-edged sword. Most Napoleonic-era warships were built in classes, and thus had one or more nearly identical sisters; paintwork too tended to follow broadly similar lines. Not so in the period of the Dutch wars, where ships tended to be one-of-a-kind, with very distinctive decoration.

Royal Katherine. The sails and ratlines are brass photoetch; the rigging is acrylic thread. Flags are homemade paper.

With this in mind, I decided to base my first pair of ships on specific historical examples-- insofar as any kind of examples could be found, of course! The 17th century was a long time ago, and record keeping back then wasn't quite up to modern standards. In fact, if it hadn't been for the improvement of painting techniques, and the increasing predilection of the aforementioned Dutch Old Masters for realistic nautical scenes, we wouldn't have much idea at all of what these vessels looked like.

Eendracht or Eendraght with rearing lion stern art.
Since the English 2nd rate was sculpted as the Royal Katherine, the Royal Katherine she would be. Some Google-fu turned up pictures of a model of the ship, whose accuracy I can't vouch for, but which at least gave me a colour scheme to work around. The heavy gilding on the stern facade was common to most English warships, and can clearly be seen as the ancestor of the more subdued decoration of Napoleonic-era ships. During the Dutch wars, English men-o'-war were rated by the number of crew they carried, rather than the number of guns; hence the Royal Katherine saw service with anywhere between 70 and 90 guns. She had a colourful history, fighting in all the major battles of the Second and Third Dutch Wars. Although never a flagship (there were always enough English 1st rates to serve those roles), she was still larger than any of the Dutch warships she opposed, and thus constantly in the thick of the fighting. During the Battle of Solebay in 1672 she was captured by the Dutch, but recaptured later the same day; in De Ruyter's raid on the Medway she was sunk to prevent her capture, but avoided being burnt by the Dutch. Refloated and repaired, she served in the wars against France, being renamed Ramillies after the Duke of Marlborough's great victory in the War of the Spanish Succession. Later, in the Seven Years' War, she served as the flagship of the unfortunate Admiral Byng during the Battle of Minorca.

Some of the extraordinary detail on these tiny models is visible here. Cannon and gratings are well defined and easily painted, as are the decorative quarter galleries and figurehead.

Choosing a Dutch ship proved to be somewhat trickier, as each vessel had a unique design painted on its stern, often executed by one of the great painters of the Dutch school. Out of all the +/- 60-gun men-'o-war I could find a picture of, the one that most resembles the Langton model was a painting of the Eendracht, one time flagship of the United Provinces, by Ludolf Backhuysen. Ironically, the painting was made after the ship's destruction at the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, and many of the details are considered incorrect; unfortunately most other depictions of the ship tend to disagree with each other, so no one is really sure what the Eendracht looked like. In any event, I used the Backhuysen painting as a guide, and if the end product doesn't look like the Eendracht, she at least looks like a Dutch ship with her fine lines and painted stern. The Eendracht herself had the same sort of chequered career as most major warships of the day; she saw service carrying as few as 56 and as many as 73 guns, being victorious against the Swedes in the Battle of the Sound, but later was blown up in the midst of a duel against the 80-gun HMS Royal Charles during the aforementioned clash off Lowestoft (The Royal Charles herself was towed away as a Dutch prize during the Medway raid).

Comparison between the Royal Katherine (left) and Eendracht (right). The brighter sails and higher contrast between hull, strakes and gunport lids on the latter really make it stand out. Sail placement, rigging, and flags are also much improved.

I've got a few more English and Dutch ships to assemble in due course, so you can expect to see those in the future, as I try to get a grasp on tiny model shipbuilding. Happily, this is very much a do-whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like project, since once again I have no particular ruleset in mind. Heck, this time I don't even have a particular order of battle to aim for; given the massive scale of the major battles (100+ ships per side), and the huge costs of the models (approaching $20 per ship, after postage and packaging), I haven't a hope of being able to assemble forces for anything big. I may just work my way through the range, and decide after the fact whether or not I even want to game with these expensive little gems.

Next time: something different again. Maybe.


  1. Stunningly good stuff Mike, well impressed. I've a couple of Napoleonic ships done:
    Look down the bottom of the page.
    I've got to have a look at the Anglo Dutch wars, the ships were really colourful, you've done them justice.

  2. Oh my, those are beautifully painted. Best, Dean

  3. Hi.

    Simply - The best! Amazinig.


    Can I ask a question? I realize that you install a beautifull flags and pennants, that brings a "soul" to the ship, in my modest opinion.

    Can you tell me where you find those flags and pennants, I bought some from Langton's but they look too normal, with no vivid colours like yours.


    Nery (Brazil)

    1. Hi Nery,

      Yes, I agree with you about flags bringing "soul" to the ship. The ones I use are ones I print out at home (like you, I find Langton's too dark); if you have access to a half-decent printer, you can easily do the same.

  4. wow actually lets say that again wow these are amazing such fine detaail so crisp clean and perfect i love them and could never achieve such great painting on something so small

  5. Brilliant work. I think you've really captured the character of the period. Well done! I'd love to try one of these but I know the devil is in the details (i.e. the rigging) which makes me a bit timid to try.


  6. Absolutely stunning. Puts my work on my Langtons Napoleonics to shame!

  7. cracking work, I find I have two left thumbs when it comes to rigging the little blighters though!