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The Great Michael

The Great Michael was a carrack of the Royal Scottish Navy.  A carrack is a large sailing man-o-war with a large square aftercastle and a smaller forecastle - literally a fort at sea.


James IV, who ordered the ship to be built, was ambitious to build a powerful Scottish Navy and the Great Michael was to be the biggest and most heavily armed warship of its age.  When launched in 1511 she was the largest warship in Europe, with twice the original displacement of her English contemporary Mary Rose which was launched a year earlier.  In fact, the whole of Christopher Columbus fleet that sailed to the New World could fit inside the hull.


The undertaking was reputed to have used all the best oak that was in Fife (with the exception of the forest around Falkland Palace used for hunting), as well as timber from Norway and France as well as the best wrights from Scotland and France and other craftsmen from Flanders, Holland and Spain.


Lindsay of Pitscottie gave an account of its building at the time:- “The Scottish King bigged a great ship called the Great Michael which was the greatest ship and of most strength that ever sailed in England or France — to wit she was twelve score feet of length and thirty-six foot within the sides; she was ten foot thick in the wall, outted jests of oak in her wall and boards on every side so stark and so thick that no cannon could go through her.  She bore many cannons, six on every side, with three great bassils, two behind on her deck, and one before, with three hundred shot of small artillery — that is to say mijand, and battered falcon, and quarter falcon, slings, pes­tilent serpents, and double dogs, with baytor and culvering, cors bows and hand bows; she had three hundred mariners to sail her; she had six score gunners to use her artillery, and had one thousand men of warre bye her cap­tains, skippers, and quarter-masters.”  


Sir Andrew Wood was her first captain, but it seems that the Great Michael was never a success.  In all probability she was too heavy and cumbersome, and shortly after King James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 she was sold to France.

The Great Michael

by Peter Sellar


Model of the Great Michael












Scotland’s King, was James the fourth, who built a navy of great force.

He bared the forests of their oaks, brought to Newhaven foreign folks,

Who built the world’s largest ship, and France and England were in a snit.

‘Great Michael’, was the warship's name, which brought the Scottish navy fame.

With length and beam the largest yet, it had side planking ten feet thick,

James showed it off at ‘Pool of Aird’, and flaunted it with nothing spared.

And when Great Michael’s guns they saw, they simply stood and stared in awe

But without an alien ship in sight, Great Michael had no foe to fight,

But when King James died on Flodden Field, the Scottish purse was very tight   

So the King of France with a ‘ho and a hum’, bought Michael for a princely sum.

But he found her upkeep much too high, and beached the warship high and dry,

She lay unkempt through many storms and her timbers simply went to worms.

Now part of Newhaven’s history, and to many Scots still a mystery,

How James used gold he couldn’t spare, while Scotland’s girnals were so bare?

Model of the 'Great Michael', Burntisland Kirk, Fife


© Kim Traynor                                                    

This fine model of the Great Michael is on display in Ocean Terminal, Leith.


The Great Michael was larger than the pride of Henry VIII’s navy, the Mary Rose.


Photo courtesy of Kim Traynor

If you have contributions to make to the knowledge base and photographic archives on any of the topics on this page, they would be most welcome.


Please contact

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newhavenonforth.
org.uk