Book Review: French Warships in the Age of Sail 1626-1786: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates


by Rif Winfield and Stephen S. Roberts,

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017. Pp. viii, 440. Illus., maps., plans, appends., biblio., index. $76.95. ISBN: 1473893518

French Warships in the Age of the Enlightenment

The well regarded naval historians Winfield and Roberts have given us the first of what will be a two volume treatment of the ships and wars of the French Navy from the early seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth, from the reign of Louis XIII through that of Louis XVI, during which the French repeatedly fought the British, and at times the Spanish, Dutch, and some others.

About a tenth of the book comprises an introduction. In this, they explain their methodology and the technical terminology which may be unfamiliar with modern readers. They then discuss France’s widely regarded naval design and technology, and offer an outline French naval history and organization across the period. The rest of the book is about ships.

Winfield and Roberts cover every type of vessel imaginable, from great ships-of-the-line through frigates and on down to war galleys, yachts, packet boats, supply ships, and even fire ships, for a total exceeding some 2,500 vessels; Each type of ship has its own chapter, in which the text is supplements by numerous illustrations and plans. For and each ship, and the authors include prizes, they give a profile the length of which varied depending upon the uniqueness of its design and its career. So at times, some impressive looking major warship may not get as much coverage as a smaller vessel, with a more impressive career, such as Lapérouse’s L’Astrolabe.

This is an essential work for anyone interested in the age of fighting sail.


Note: French Warships in the Age of Sail, 1626-1786 is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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