Lyon's Whelp

The Lyon's Whelp was the name of a series of ten British naval ships built around 1628, the tenth of which was an important part of the pre-Great Migration flow of immigrants into New England.

The name is possibly from the biblical quotation from Genesis; Judah, the fourth son of Leah, is described with these famous words: "Judah is a lion's whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of beasts, who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet…." (Genesis 49:9-10 )

The following is based on a "note" published in the "Mariner's Mirror" Vol. 63 (1977) p.368 in response to an earlier "note" (p.128) concerning the name given to ten small English warships built in 1628 originally for the Duke of Buckingham.

George Villiers (1592-1628), created Duke of Buckingham by King James, had a precedent for naming the ten new ships Lion's Whelps. A earlier ship called Lion's Whelp had been owned by Charles, Earl of Nottingham who was Buckingham's predecessor as Lord Admiral of England. This ship was loaned to Sir Walter Raleigh for his 1595 expedition and was sold to the State in 1602 and repaired at Chatham by up-and -coming shipwright Phineas Pett.

Buckingham received her as a gift from King James just before James died in 1625. She was to be the Duke's contribution to an expedition under William Hawkridge to find a North-West passage. As this gift was not ratified when James died, the whole procedure had to be repeated with Charles, the new King. I have not traced the fate of this ship.

Although masted and armed from Royal Navy stores, the ten new Whelps were built at the Duke's expense. As the Duke's private fleet, they were used to prey on French shipping (with the proceeds going to the Duke's war-chest) before joining the rest of the English fleet for the final attempt to relieve the siege of La Rochelle. They were taken into the Royal Navy after the Duke was assassinated and in 1632 the State reimbursed his estate with £4,500. The accounts of Captain Pennington (who supervised their construction) show that the Duke spent almost £7,000 on them. Had he lived he would probably have recouped his expenses by selling them to the State (following Nottingham's precedent) - at a better price than that paid to his estate!

The coat of arms of the Villiers family was a lion rampant- no doubt the Duke appreciated the allusion in the name!


Built by William Castell of St. Saviour's (Southwark). Converted into a chain ship for the Chatham "Barricado" c. 1641. Sent to Harwich as a careening hulk in August 1650 and not mentioned further, but was probably the hulk at Harwich ordered to be sold October 1651.


Built by John Taylor of Wapping. Converted into a chain ship for the Chatham "Barricado" c. 1641. Ordered to be sold in August 1650 together with the Defiance and the Merhonour as being too rotten for service. She was to have been sent to Harwich as a careening hulk but was found to be "too decayed" even for this.


Built by John Dearsley of Ipswich at Wapping. Listed as unfit for service in Batten's survey of 1642 and "cast" before February 1643.


Built by Christopher Malim of Redriff. Used for experiments on the "project of a Dutchman" c. 1633. Works in the hold were ordered to be removed in March 1634 as they were of no use in a man-of-war. I have not found any details of these works, which were probably carried out by Cornelis Drebbel, who died in 1633. Struck a rock in St. Aubin's Bay, Jersey on 4 August 16361 and sank, without loss of life.


Built by Peter Marsh of Wapping. Spent most of her service life based in Ireland. Foundered in the North Sea on 28 June 1637 (Capt. Edward Popham commanding) with the loss of 17 men. The blame was placed on her construction of "mean, sappy timbers".


Built by Peter Pett of Ratcliffe. Captained by Phineas Pett's son John and lost with all hands off the coast of Brittany while returning from La Rochelle in 1628. Pett lost other relatives in the wreck and there were Army casualties too- A Captain James Whitehead of Colonel Greville's regiment was lost.


Built by Matthew Graves of Limehouse. Blown up on 25 October 1630 and lost. She and the Mary Rose were involved in a dispute with a Dutch warship from Enkhuizen over a Dunkirk privateer captured off the Suffolk coast. Only 10 men survived the explosion, which was caused by negligence in the powder store as the ship set about the Dutchman. Captain Dawtrey Cooper survived but lost both a son and a nephew.


Built by John Graves of Limehouse. Used to transport gold to the Scottish parliament in 1644. By July 1645 was considered too rotten to be worth repairing and was ordered to be laid up on shore at Woolwich.2


Built by John Graves of Limehouse. Spent her service based in Irish waters. Captained by Dawtrey Cooper in 1632/33, during which time there were constant disputes and near-mutinies on board. These seem to have resulted from Cooper's actions- perhaps the loss of the Seventh Whelp affected his reason. The Ninth was wrecked in the river Clyde with the pinnace Confidence while taking supplies from Ireland to Dumbarton Castle (on the Clyde near Glasgow) in April 1640. She may be the ship referred to in a warrant of 1642 authorising the Marquis of Argyle to use "four of the best " of the cannon lying near Newark Castle which had come from the "English ship" cast away there3. The Eighth and Ninth are noted in some records as having been sunk in 1628. This arises from a misreading of a letter in the State Papers, Domestic stating that they were "lost to the fleet" in the bad weather that wrecked the Sixth Whelp. In fact they were separated from the fleet and returned to Portsmouth later.


Built by Robert Tranckmore of Shoreham. Went over to the Royalists after the fall of Bristol in 1643 and was recaptured by Parliament's forces in 1645. Was at Helvoetsluys with the Earl of Warwick's fleet in 1648 (see below) and was fitted out as a fireship for Blake's pursuit of Prince Rupert to Lisbon in 1650. She was used for convoy work and despatches during the first Dutch war. Sold "by the candle" (a form of auction- a pin is stuck in the side of a candle and the last bid made before the pin falls, wins) on 19 October 1654 to Jacob Blackpath for £410. (SP18.89)

A ship by this name brought William Dodge along with William Sprague's family, Thomas Miner and others to Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. The Lyon's Whelp left Gravesend 24 April 1629 and arrived in Salem mid-July 1629, under Master John Gibbs/Gibbon. It was one of six ships; the others including the Talbot, George Bonaventure, Lyon, and a ship called the Mayflower (though not the Mayflower of the Pilgrims).

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