The time was a period of expansion and glory for France. King Louis XIV was the master of his destiny and absolute monarch of the late 17th and early 18th century.
To understand SOLEIL ROYALE an insight into Louis XIV and his brilliant reign is needed. Louis believed in the divine right of kings, as did most monarchs of Europe (given by God to rule by birth). Louis' ego was colossal. As proof, all you need do is consider Versailles! Even in the 20th century, people are awed by the magnificence and splendor of this great wonder of the modern world. The great chateau is three-fifths of a mile long and could house 16,000 people at one time. It was the new location of Louis' government.
Louis hardly ever missed an opportunity to remind the world that his radiance imitated the sun. If the sun shone brightly for all, so did he, hence he was known as the Sun King. Great palaces, grand navies and armies produced pride. Louis and his ministers gained achievements in manufactured goods, crops, wines, etc. and this allowed his tax collectors to squeeze more out of the populous.
His many wars and expansionist politics made him unpopular and feared throughout Europe. When he died, the continent took a deep breath of relief on his passing. He lived such a long and prodigious life that when he died in 1715 (at age 77) no one then alive in all the kingdom could remember anyone else as king.
Surely the monarchs that followed envied and hoped for as productive and long reign. No nation in the European-influenced world was so affected, to such a degree as to hold master control over its people, country and even the future.
In the late 17th century, France's ship building made it the leading maritime nation. Their ships advanced in size and excellence owning to the intelligence and energy of Jean Colbert and Laurois, the able ministers of the king.
Colbert spent 20 years in the science and modernization of the navy. He is often considered the Father of the French Navy. French ships had better lines, carried their guns higher above the water, were roomier and faster then their contemporaries.
To Louis, a strong navy was essential if he was to be the dominant power. Although he hat no great love for ships or the sea, he knew he would have to possess a great navy to shield his merchant fleet from harm and deal with foreign navies.
England and Holland were France's rivals. With large merchant ships they made long annual trips to the Americas, Far East, India, Asia and Africa. It was common to see a hundred merchant ships beating up the English Channel, fat with cargo to sell to hungry Europe.
There were four SOLEIL ROYALE's. The first two ships were one in the same and are the subject of this article. The SOLEIL ROYALE's keel was laid down in the late 1660's. She was built in 1689.
Her plans were drawn by L. Hubac. The ship expressed a magnificence about her. At the waterline, she was 187'. Length over all was an impressive 250' and her beam was 51'. The mainmast height from keel to topmast was 245'. She was armed with over 100 bronze guns. Her largest caliber was on the lower gun deck. There were twenty eight-36 pounders, weighing five tons each with barrels 11' long. k took 15 men to crew each gun. The total war time complement was 1,100 men. In peace time, it was about 250 less.
SOLEIL ROYALE was also lavishly decorated. The decorations originated with Louis' great court painter, Charles Le Brum. These drawings were interpreted by Jean Berain into concrete color sketches still existing in the Muse de Louvre in Paris. From these sketches, the carvings were carried out by Antoine Corsevoix.
The configuration of the head with its three separate rail members commenced in a rosette scroll. At the bow, the figurehead Winged Glory, was mounted on an allegorical sea horse. The ornamental band was on a level with the main deck. It was pierced with gun ports and gilded carved embellishments. There were no port lids on this deck or on the upper decks because they were set high enough above the waterline to not be needed. The two complete lower gun deck lids were painted red and a carved fleur-de-lis was in the center.
The intricate stern and quarter gallery had gilt windows and balconies that stood three stories high. Giant sculptures resembled those of the Greek and Roman bronze style. On the stern was Apollo driving his quadriga, very smartly placed as if coming down from the clouds. At the taffrail, were more sculptures and three inverted pear shape lanterns, crystal and gilded with copper. Such was the SOLEIL ROYALE after her reconstruction of 1689.
The time it took me to build the SOLEIL ROYALE was considerable, owing to the research mostly, because the material offered is hard to find, sparse and often contradictory. The construction time was immense. In all it took me 14 years, though I was not always diligent to the cause.
In my opinion, changing a plastic sailing ship kit to more of a composite, is very rewarding. You truly enhance the model and give it that professional museum look.
Although Heller puts out a good product for the average kit builder, I took my model some steps above this. Having worked as a model maker at one of the well-known model companies in the midwest, I think I know what can be done with this ambition.
The SOLEIL ROYALE had a long career. Being rebuilt in 1689, there were different looks to her. If all the construction and reconstruction history had been documented, some of it was lost. You can never be sure if everything in the model represents the actual ship.
There exists a fine model of SOLEIL ROYALE, unfinished. It was built in the middle of the l9th century by Admiral Francois Edmond Paris' staff, when he was in charge of the Museum de la Marine (1871-1893).
Like most model companies, Heller could spend only so much time and money on any one project. Consequently, the kit has errors and is incomplete. A gross mistake in the model is the closed up stern quarter gallery (open outside gallery). The Admiral Paris model shows them open. Cherish The Sea by Jean de la Varende, Forty Famous Ships and Book Of Old Ships by Henry B. Culver and Gordon Grant, and a new book Classic Sailing Ships by Kenneth Giggal with paintings by Cornelis de Vries all talk of or show paintings of open galleries.
The alteration made to the quarter galleries added plenty of time to the construction of the model. Six panels had to be cut out. I used a #11 X-Acto blade and scraped them almost paper thin. I then painted them light blue and gold. With careful alignment and keeping them perpendicular to the carved pillars of the galleries, they were glued to the bulkhead. Floors and ceilings were added to the back sides of the galleries. I repeatedly laid it against the side of the ship to make sure it fit snugly. All my material was 1/32" sheet plastic.
I found it hard to believe that as large as the SOLEIL ROYALE was, there were no head rail bracket supports. Surely, without being braced up, they would have fallen into the sea. When I measured them at 1/8" = 1', it would have been a massive 32' across and 23' high. Considering the weight, it seems strange not to have included brackets in the design of the kit. I believe Heller didn't put them on because they did not find them on the "incomplete" Admiral Paris model.
The kit's chain plates for the deadeyes on the channels (long link chains) are also in error. The kit suggests using a larger gauge thread. I made a wood template that equaled only one long link. I wrapped iron wire around this several times, and then cut the whole wrapped group with a utility knife. The links were soldered together after they were assembled. The chains were lined up with the wale of the ship. Drilling small holes and using a straight pin, the chains were glued with cyanoacrylate in place and painted black.
I prefer to use iron wire, which can be found in several sizes at most hobby shops. The wire is soft and easy to work. Since it is already black, it doesn't always need painting. Hooks, eye bolts, rings, stropped deadeyes, blocks (in some cases) and mast bands can be made with this material. You also need a small tapering needlenose pliers and cutter to work the wire.
The kit comes with a great many different size blocks, but they still come up short. At 1:100 scale, the smallest block on the sprue tree is equal to 12'.' The need for smaller blocks is essential (10, 8 and 6"). These small blocks are needed in the sail gear, the gun tackles and even for raising the national flags. I made some blocks from boxwood and purchased others from Model Shipways.
I made all my masts, spars and other fittings. Pearwood is ideal because it's close grained and suitable for scale modeling. I did use the tops and caps from the kit, but painted them black. Topmasts, spars and flagpoles made by model companies are usually too heavy in order to give the pieces strength. So, when I copied them, I took off a couple thousandths of an inch to give them more scale.
In the kit, there were no parrel or parrel beads (or balls) for the yardarms. These are important objects as they hold the yard to the mast. I found glass beads that were close to the scale size. I painted them brown and then sprayed them with a flat finish. The parrels were made from the pearwood. At 1/32",I cut a whole series of them and lightly white glued them together and then made them as one. Separating them was easy by submerging them in water.
When painting plastic, the key is how to make it look like real wood. All plastic that is used is painted and finished with a flat or satin finish. Testor's and Pactra have spray varnish. When blending paints, I try not to mix manufacturers' brands because they don't all use the same ingredients.
The 17th and 18th century tar was made from gum turpentine made from tree sap. This sticky substance, from pine trees, once melted down became varnish. For authenticity, I applied it to some parts of the wood. The first applications of tar left the wood a natural color. With time, the varnish oxidizes and turns dark. With more and more coats added, the texture turns to a satin black.
The pigments found in the ship's colors were found in materials from the earth. Reds were from iron oxide, yellows from sulphur, blue and green were from copper. The colors produced were rather dull and drab, somewhat different than we know them now. Whites were more like cream. Bright yellow was more of a mustard, reds like maroon and so on.
Scale rigging is a must. The kit supplies a few spools of thread but it did not come close to complete accuracy. The model needs more than a dozen sizes of thread to complete the model.
I used wax linen thread mostly for running rigging because of its longevity and durability to temperature changes. After all, wrappings of Egyptian mummies will bear this out.
All the changes in rigging line diameters were consistent to weight and height according to the stress placed upon it. Although 17th century rigging looks clumsy and awkward, and the work is repetitious. On a ship of this period it keeps with the principals of the French rigging practice. When done, the model looks very intricate and impressive.
The book Seventeenth Century Rigging by R.C. Anderson will show you how to give a pleasing proportion to the overall view of the rigging. Following some of his general rules on thickness of standing rigging: the mainstay will have a circumference equal to half the greatest diameter of the mainmast. The forestay should be about 4/5 of the diameter of the mainstay. The main shrouds and main-topmast stay is half the diameter of the fore shrouds. The fore-topmast stay and mizzen stay is 2/5 the main-topmast. Mizzen shrouds are 1/4 the fore-topmast shrouds.
The barge and launch that come with the kit are empty shells, with no detail at all. I scratch built the frames (ribs), bench bracket supports, mast, floor boards, oars, eye-bolts and hooks. I used a set of boat plans drawn by Harold A. Underhill to finish the boats. The two boats exposed on deck were large, 38' and 33' long.
Iron wire was used for the boat's frames. I cut and form fit them to the inside of the shell. After gluing them in place, I filed and sandpapercd them flat. I painted the shell and frames in a light tan color and coated it over with varnish.
The bench supports for the boats were made from 1/16" square stock. I hand carved them using files and sandpaper. The floor boards were cut from 1/32" pearwood and tapered at the bow. All the wood parts were left natural with just a varnish finish. This added a nice contrast to the boats.
Oars, or sweeps as they were sometimes called, were made from 1/8" x 1/32" bass wood. I had pre-cut them earlier on my miniature saw. I had glued the assembly together and carved them as one piece. I then separated them by soaking in water and finished them off one by one. I left these natural with a coat of varnish and glued them to the boat benches.
The boats also had stretchers which lay across close to the bottom of the boat. Seaman placed their feet on this to brace their pull on the 17' sweeps. I used square stock pearwood to make these.
The gold fleurs-de-lis on the gun port lids were made by carving a lily and using it to make a mold. This saved time and gave uniformity on the gun lids.
All of the guns on the upper deck are fully rigged. All the six-inch stropped blocks had to be hand made.
The kit flags were not realistic, so I made my own. I spray painted aluminum foil and used Testors Dull Cote to varnish over it. With tracing paper and the use of kit's flags, I drew 42 lilies on each side. I then took a fine gold felt-tipped pen and meticulously painted the lilies on the flag. After cutting it out, I folded it to a realistic look and dressed it to the flag pole.
Revell's 1/96 scale figures fit on this model. Working with a magnifier, I carved or puttied the figures to give them more detail. I turned them into 17th century genteel sailors with broad brimmed hats, flowing great coats, knee breeches, silk stockings and buckled shoes. I also made the common sailor with baggy breeches and a pig tail. In all, about a dozen figures were used. To me, this gives a live look to this grand vessel of a by-gone era.
I feel I really accomplished something even though it took so many years to finish her. Just doing the best I could was a great satisfaction to me.