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Following the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré and the Siege of La Rochelle, and in line with his general efforts to enhance the prestige and status of France in Europe, the Cardinal de Richelieu had a number of warships purchased from Holland, and eventually built in France by Holland-instructed French engineers.
The largest of these early ships of the line, such as the famous 72-gun Couronne launched in 1638, would mount a number of guns comparable to later units of the 18th and 19th century, but the brunt of these ships would mount between 20 and 40 guns.
These ships had no forecastle or poop, so that the two sections of the upper gun deck served the function of forecastle and quarterdeck, while the nominal quarterdeck was short and served in effect the function of a poop.
All First Rank ships built from 1689 (until 1740) had three full-length gun decks, usually plus a number of smaller carriage guns mounted on the gaillards (i.e.
Note that throughout this article the term "-pounder" refers to French pre-metric units of weight (livres), which were almost 8% greater than UK/US units of the same name; every other maritime power likewise established its own system of weights and each country's 'pound' was different from that of every other nation.
Similarly French pre-metric units of length (pieds and pouces) were 6.575% longer than equivalent UK/US units of measurement; the pre-metric French foot was equivalent to 324.8394 mm, whereas the UK/US foot equalled 304.8 mm.
Before 1670, the Second Rank consisted of ships of the line carrying from 50 up to 64 carriage guns (although there were exceptions); from 1671 this comprised ships of between 62 and 68 guns; in 1683 this was comprised ships carrying from 64 to 76 guns (again with exceptions), and by 1710 even 64-gun ships had been reduced to the Third Rate.
Most Second Rank ships were two-decked vessels, i.e.
Vessels of the Fourth and Fifth Ranks were categorised as frigates (frégates or frégates-vaisseaux) of the 1st Order and 2nd Order respectively; light frigates (frégates légères) and even smaller vessels were excluded from the rating system.The vaisseaux were classified according to size and/or firepower into a series of Rangs (ranks), roughly equivalent to the system of Rates used by the British Navy, although these did not correspond exactly.By 1671 there was a system of five Rangs, which officially pertained for over a century; the first three of these Rangs comprised the battlefleet vaisseaux, while the Fourth and Fifth Rangs comprised the larger frigates ("frégates-vaisseaux" or simply "frégates").This is a list of French battlefleet warships of the period 1621–1870 (plus some from the period before 1621).Battlefleet units in the French Navy (Marine Royale before the French revolution established a republic) were categorised as vaisseaux (literally "vessels") as distinguished from lesser warships such as frigates (frégates).
Only a few of these were built, but they always provided the flagships of the two Fleets - the Flotte du Levant (on the Mediterranean coast of France) and the Flotte du Ponant (on the Atlantic and Channel coasts). with three full-length gun decks, with the uppermost of these surmounted by an armed forecastle, quarterdeck and poop.