1633, Philip Clarkson asks to be appointed as Master Gunner

Philip Clarkson. SP 16/231 f. 14

To the right honourable the lordes and others comissioners for the Navie and Admiraltie of England.

The humble peticion of Phillip Clarkson.

Sheweth that your peticioner from his childehood hath bene bredd and brought upp in his majesties Navie as a gunner, and theis 14 yeares last past hath served therein as gunners mate. In all which time hee behaved himselfe honestly carefully and dilligently, and is knowne to be every way sufficient to discharge the place of master gunner in any of his majesties shippes of the third or fowerth rate, as by certificates under the handes of Capten Penington and the Master Gunner of England apeare.

Your petitioners humble suite therefore is. That your honours will vouchsafe out of your noble disposicions to take his long and faithfull services into your honourable consideracions, and be pleased to give order that hee may have the place of master gunner in one of the two of his majesties shippes which are lately erected, wherein hee will use his uttermost indeavours for his majesties service

And be daily bound to pray for your honours eternall prosperities

Report by Mary Wiggins

In his petition, Philip Clarkson attested to 14 years’ diligent service as a gunner’s mate. He now sought the post of master gunner.

Thomas and Philip Clarkson

Philip Clarkson’s father, Thomas, was the master gunner of the Convertine – a ship that was originally named the Destiny and built for Sir Walter Raleigh.  The Destiny was launched in 1616 at Woolwich Dockyard and subsequently confiscated (or purchased) by the Crown in 1620 and renamed the Convertine. When Thomas Clarkson died, his son Philip tried to gain the master gunner’s role, as he had previously served on the Convertine as a gunner’s mate for seven years.  As his petition says, he was ‘born and bred a gunner’ and had served as a gunner’s mate altogether for fourteen years, although it is not known on which ship. However, he was unsuccessful in gaining this position on the Convertine so was instead looking for a similar role ‘in one of the ships currently being built’.

The Petition

This petition was supported by Captain Pennington and the Master Gunner of England (John Reynolds, 1623-1638). John Pennington was the captain of the Convertine at the end of Philip Clarkson’s service on this ship.  He was then was appointed Captain and Commanding Officer of the Convertine, Bonaventure, Vanguard and the Charles from 1631 to 1633. He was appointed Knight Batchelor on 14 April 1634, became Vice-Admiral in 1636 and Admiral in 1639 before being appointed Admiral of the Fleet by the King in 1643. His command consisted of around eighteen armed merchantmen at Bristol. He was subsequently appointed Commander of the Summer Guard of 1646 and died the same year. It was an amazing rise for a man whose father was a tanner. This shows that Philip Clarkson seemed to have very influential backers for his petition.[1]

The Bonaventure was acquired in 1621, built at Deptford Dockyard and was sunk in action around 1652/53. There are no details on individual crew members or warrant officers.[2]

In May 1633, following receipt of Philip’s petition, his case was summarised in the king’s papers:

‘Late gunner’s mate of the Convertive (Convertine). Has served in the said place seven years, and from his youth has been bred in the navy. His competency certified by the master gunner. When Thomas Clarkson, petitioner’s father, lately died, who was master gunner of the Convertive, petitioner made suit for his place, and failed. Prays for a similar place in the Dreadnought, vacant by the death of Miles Burley.’

The certificates of John Reynolds, Master Gunner and Captain John Pennington, in support of Philip were added to the record.

On the same day, Philip was granted the role he had asked for:

‘Lords of the Admiralty to officers of the Navy. To enter Philip Clarkson master gunner of the Dreadnought.

‘Lords of the Admiralty to Sir John Heydon, Deputy Lieutenant of the Ordnance. To deliver over the remains of ordnance stores on board the Dreadnought to Philip Clarkson.’[3]

The Dreadnought was acquired in 1614 and broken up in 1648 so it was not one of the new ships being built that was mentioned in this petition.[4]

The Rank of Gunner

The rank of gunner can be traced back to the 15th century.  Gunners were examined by, and answerable to, the Ordnance Board for the ship’s guns and ammunition supplied by the Ordnance Board.  As warrant officers, they were assisted by armourers and yeoman of the powder room and by one quarter gunner for every four guns.

Warrant officers come after commissioned officers, appointed by warrants from naval regulating bodies, hence the name. The highest warrant officer rank was master, followed by surgeon, purser and chaplain, gunner, boatswain and carpenter.[5]


[1] ‘Sir John Pennington (d. 1646)’, Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail,  https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_crewman&id=2089.

[2] ‘British Third Rate middling ship Bonaventure (1621)’, Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail,  https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=3358.

[3] ‘Charles I – volume 238: May 1-17, 1633’, in John Bruce (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1633-4 (1863), pp. 41-61. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1633-4/pp41-61.

[4] ‘British Third Rate middling ship Dreadnought (1614)’, Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail, https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=11086.

[5] ‘Trafalgar Ancestors’, The National Archives, http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/help/trafalgarancestors/glossary.htm.


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.