January 2007: See Footnote

The Signal to Anchor: What, When and Why

"An English Fleet Coming to Anchor; Artist Peter Monamy; Date circa 1708"
National Maritime Museum

August 1st 2003: The National Maritime Museum website comments: "The painting probably depicts the 'Royal Anne' arriving with the Queen of Portugal at Spithead in 1708. The 'Royal Anne', with the Commander-in-Chief, Sir George Byng, on board is positioned prominently in port-quarter view in the centre of the painting. The Union flag flies at the main together with a striped ensign at the stern that is the signal for the fleet to anchor. Also present are a vice-admiral of the red (red at the fore) and a rear-admiral of the blue (blue at the mizzen), together with a great many other ships of the fleet flying the colours of their respective squadrons. Rear-Admiral Baker's ship, 'Revenge', escorted the yachts bringing the Queen from Holland. Monamy, a self-taught artist, was influenced by van de Velde the Younger and may have worked in his studio."

RA Exhibition, 1934, catalogue note: "MONAMY, PETER. 1690 (?) Jersey - London 1749. ARRIVAL OF THE QUEEN OF PORTUGAL AT SPITHEAD, 24 SEPTEMBER, 1708. In the centre, a port quarter view of Sir George Byng's flagship, the Royal Anne, in which the Queen sailed for Lisbon. A yacht passing under the stern. Starboard bow, Rear-Admiral Baker's Revenge escorting yachts bringing the Queen from Holland. In the l. middle distance, the Triumph, the flagship of Sir J.Jennings, Vice-Admiral of the Red. Signed: Peter Monamy: Pinx."

The Byng Papers, Vol II, ed. Brian Tunstall, 1931, Introduction, p xxi: "Byng's next enterprise was his voyage to Lisbon in the autumn of 1708 with the Queen of Portugal, preparatory to assuming the command in chief in the Mediterranean next year. The new King of Portugal, John V, who succeeded in 1706, had married a daughter of the Emperor Joseph I, and it was therefore a matter of some difficulty and importance to get her to Lisbon without being captured by the French privateers which infested both the Channel and the Mediterranean."

Ibid, Part IV, p 263: "In addition to his other duties as future commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean Byng was to escort the Queen of Portugal to Lisbon. ... it was also considered that Jennings might take her to Lisbon, but on 1st August Prince George applied to Queen Anne to know how many ships should be detached from Byng's Channel Fleet to go with the Queen of Portugal and definitely implied that Byng himself would command the detachment (S.P.Dom. 42/7). ..... preparations for her reception in the Royal Anne went forward, and at last on 25th September she arrived at Portsmouth under Baker's escort. On 1st October Byng received his instructions from Prince George. These may be summarised as follows: ---

(1) He was to proceed to Lisbon with 11 ships, the Queen of Portugal, and the outward-bound trade.
(10) He was to patrol the Straits with cruisers. .....
(13) He was to take steps for protecting Gibraltar and the coast of Portugal if necessary. .....
(17) If Leake captured Port Mahon Byng was to consider how many ships could be refitted or winter there, and how many at Lisbon, according to the general strategic situation.

Guildhall and Whitechapel Exhibition, 1928-9, catalogue note: "PETER MONAMY (?) 1670-1749. 'A FLEET AT SEA.' The principal vessel portrayed in this picture is perhaps intended for a First Rate of the period 1690-1700. By the Union Flag at the main and the Dutch Ensign at the ensign staff she is signalling to the fleet, over which she presides, to anchor. If this picture is by Monamy, and the attribution must be regarded as conjectural, it can only be described as a magnificent example of this master's early manner, when he was following the Younger Van de Velde as closely as he could. In colours and composition it resembles the large ceiling painted at Hampton Court by A.Verrio who has represented a very similar incident. As Verrio's line of painting was altogether different, it is possible he invited Monamy's assistance on a subject of which he knew nothing."

Comment: What? The Guildhall note makes it perfectly clear that prior to 1929 there was no "tradition" of what this painting represented, other than "A Fleet at Sea". The note introduces the idea that Monamy was "following the Younger van de Velde as closely as he could", dates his birth to (?) 1670, suggests this was "his early manner", and draws a parallel with Verrio. Verrio was, indeed, a house-painter, of the same generic kind as Monamy. It will be interesting to see the Hampton Court ceiling, to ascertain the possible influence of one house-painter on another.

Tunstall's three volume edition of The Byng Papers was published by the Navy Records Society 1930-1932. Vol II contains a 28 page section dealing with the Queen's transportation to Portugal. However, the real significance of this concentration of naval warships under the command of Byng in September 1708 was to exploit the anticipated capture of Port Mahon, Oct-Dec 1708, and subsequent operations by the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, 1709. These aspects are dealt with by Tunstall in parts V and VI, pp 295-354, of his edition. The capture of Port Mahon, Minorca, the news of which Byng received in Lisbon on 13th November 1708, was a matter of the greatest possible national and strategic importance. Next to this event, the Queen of Portugal's transportation is a side-issue, and this is made abundantly clear by Prince George's orders to Byng, 30th September 1708, cited in full in The Byng Papers, Vol II, p.281.

The catalogue comments for the 1934 RA Exhibition were very probably made by Tunstall, and they certainly draw on his publication of two years before. But, whoever wrote the comments, and even if this painting does depict events at the end of 1708, the underlying significance of the gathering of naval warships at this time appears to have been overlooked. The central vessel in the painting is identified as the Royal Anne, without explanation, and an equation is made: Royal Anne = Sir George Byng + 11 ships + earliest likely post-1707 date = 24th September 1708. Whether the Triumph and the Revenge, flying the Red and the Blue respectively, are identifiable from the painting, is something for others to say, but there are indeed eleven ships in addition to the yacht and the first rate named as the Royal Anne. The note that the picture is signed Peter Monamy: Pinx is not confirmed by observation or in any other description, although a suggestion has been made that the signature appears on the back. No other well-informed writer who has commented on this painting since 1934, eg Oliver Warner or E.H.H.Archibald, appears to agree that its subject is either the Royal Anne or the Queen of Portugal. Probably because they noticed what I have only just noticed myself: see below. The presence of the letters GR in the painting makes all the discussion here and elsewhere completely irrelevant.


In default of my ability to identify the ships of Baker and Jennings, the presence of 11 men o' war does faintly suggest that the picture is linked with the events of 1708-9, rather than the review of 1729. To title it the "Arrival of the Queen of Portugal", however, strikes me as a serious devaluation of the painting's significance. There is, to my mind, nothing in the painting suggesting the presence of royalty, Portuguese or otherwise, or the arrival of anyone. Nor can I see any escorting of any yachts.


If Monamy had any positive or deliberate intention of depicting the presence of the Queen of Portugal, he would have clearly indicated that such was the case. How is it known that the main vessel is in fact the Royal Anne? What is being implied by the signal to anchor? A perhaps apter title might be: Admiral Sir George Byng, Commander-in-Chief of the English Fleet, preparing to depart for Mediterranean Operations in 1708 (?). This suggestion will meet with a wildly enthusiastic response. If the ship is not the Royal Anne it will anyway be uncertain whether Byng is involved in the first place. For discussion of when and why the picture was painted, see next page.

hope and glory: when and why
hope and glory 1       hope and glory 2       hope and glory 3
phlegmatic performances
monamy website index



Unless I'm going blind the lettering on the stern of this boat reads G R. Speculation on this and linked pages about the date of Peter Monamy's Signal to Anchor and event depicted can be chucked in the bin. The only question is whether GI or GII is intended.


© Charles Harrison Wallace 2003
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