One of the warships which saw much active service in the Navy of the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently with King Charles II’s, Royal Navy, was the Langport, completed in 1654 in Bright’s Shipyard, on the south bank of the River Thames. The Langport was 116 feet long, with a beam of nearly 36 feet, weighed some 681 to 694 tons net, carried between 50 to 62 guns, and was classified as a third rate Speaker–class frigate. Other ships of this class were Fairfax, named in honour of the English Civil War Parliamentary General, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and Plymouth, Bridgwater and Newbury, commemorating Parliamentary victories. The Langport celebrated the overwhelming defeat of Lord George Goring’s Royalist army by the Parliamentary New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, just outside the town in July 1645.
In 1654, the Langport accompanied by the fleet led by the legendary son of Somerset, Admiral Robert Blake, to the Mediterranean to show the flag and enforce the Navigation Acts which required cargos being transported to and from British ports to be carried on British ships. In 1655 the fleet was again in the Mediterranean, this time seeking compensation from the pirate states of the North African coast following attacks by Barbary Corsairs on English coastal towns and merchant ships. When the Bey of Tunis failed to pay, Blake’s fleet bombarded the Tunis forts and burnt nine of his ships.
In 1654 hostilities had broken out with Spain, and in April 1657 in a sea battle off Tenerife, Admiral Blake’s fleet sank 16 Spanish ships. However, this would be the Admiral’s last victory and he died on his flagship The George as she was entering Plymouth Sound on his return.
Three years later in 1660, following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the monarchy was restored and King Charles II regained the throne. One of the first acts of the new regime was to rename most of the Commonwealth ships, and the Langport became the Henrietta in honour of the King’s mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. Following the outbreak of war against the Dutch in 1665, the Henrietta fought in sea battles off Lowestoft in June 1665, the Four Days Battle off North Foreland in June 1666, Orfordness in July, 1666, and in the summer of 1673 in the battles of Schooneveld and Texel.
The Henrietta returned to north coast of Africa in January 1676, with two other warships, and attacked Tripoli in reprisal for more attacks by the Barbary Corsairs on British shipping.
The end came for this long-serving warship on Christmas day 1689, when the Henrietta was wrecked near Plymouth, and there has never been another Royal Naval ship to bear the name Henrietta or Langport.
November 2016 – Jack Sweet
Langport & District History Society