Some 104 sailors, half the HMS Monmouth’s company, filed on to the flight deck to mark 350 years since the name ‘Monmouth’ was introduced to the Royal Navy.
An eight-gun yacht, the first Monmouth was commissioned on March 5 1666 (the same year as the Great Fire of London) under the command of one Captain Nicholas Hill.
Not too many documents survive relating to the first of seven ships to carry the name.
In 1683 Capt Grenville Collins took her entirely around the shores of the British Isles to produce the magnificent atlas, Great Britain’s Coasting Pilot.
And on April 17 1690, she was under the command of Capt William Wright as part of a squadron led by the wonderfully-named Cloudesley Shovell in a skirmish with the French in Dublin Bay, during which the yacht and especially her commander were “very serviceable .. [and] behaved himself very well in the action.” The ship was sold off in 1698.
By then, the Monmouth name was sullied by the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion in the mid-1680s.
It earned him the sobriquet ‘Black Duke’ – carried by today’s warship – and a date with the executioner at the Tower (who hacked his head off with half a dozen blows from a cleaver; a print of the ‘occasion’ was a 17th-Century bestseller apparently.)
In ‘honour’ of the treacherous duke’s actions, today’s Type 23 flies a black flag and her nameplate on the stern is painted black, not the traditional RN red.
And to mark the birthday, the recently-upgraded warship took a brief break from training with a Wildcat helicopter from 825 Naval Air Squadron’s, whose observer Lt Simon Stuart leaned out of the side and took this vertical view.
After visiting Cardiff and exercising her freedom of the town of Monmouth just before Easter, Monmouth is steeling herself for two months of rigorous operational sea training which readies ship and ship’s company for a deployment.
And if you think 350 is quite a good innings for a ship’s name in the Royal Navy, well submarines HMS Triumph and Vanguard can trace their lineage back to at least 1588 – the Spanish Armada, the Navy’s first battle honour, 428 years ago.