Traitté de la construction des galères
By Wendy van Duivenvoorde

The document Traitté de la construction des galères is a valuable source for French naval architecture and the technical terminology of galleys. The text is extremely interesting for those who want to understand how the French built their galleys in the 17th century.

The manuscript was written in 1691 and is one of three documents from the cabinet of Louis XIV that are currently kept by the "Service Historique de la Marine" in the Queen's pavilion of the Castle of Vincennes. The three documents, all dating to the 17th century, are:

1. Mémoire sur la manoeuvres et sur les agrèz d'une galères
2. Figures de la première et de la seconde partie de la construction , et du mémoire de agrèz d'une galère senzille
3. Traitté de la construction des galères

The Traitté de la construction des galères is written in two sections. The first part consists of 166 numbered pages (plus three tables) and the second of 352 pages (plus 14 pages of tables).

In the first section of the manuscript the overall concept of the galley's hull and those timbers determining its shape are discussed. This part deals with the theory of the galley's design. The author describes the steps that one has to take to design a galley and applies this to a galère senzille (simple galley), one of three galley types mentioned in the manuscript used by the French navy. The 144-feet long galère senzille (from sternpost to stem) had 26 rowing benches, on each side, over the length of the vessel and was smaller than the other two types of galleys, galère réale and galère patrone (30-32 benches). The galère réale was the first galley or flagship, which carried the king, princes and usually the captain of the fleet. The galère patrone was the second galley of the king.

The second section of the manuscript focuses on the practical part of the construction. It discusses in detail the vessel's timbers, what their function is and what wood they are made of. There's a sail plan and an instruction on how to build the masts, the outfitting and lading of the galley.

The anonymous author had access to or must have been in contact with people providing him access to official documents of the royal shipyards. The handwriting of the text does not throughout the document and is from one hand, but the captions of the illustrations are of another hand. The author, therefore, must also have had help of a draftsman who illustrated his written work.

The manuscript was published by Jan Fennis in 1987 who added a very helpful and extensive vocabulary of the terminology used in the document at the end of the book.



Translation into English




Fennis, I. 1987. Manuel de construction des galères (1691). Amsterdam: APA - Holland University Press.

Rieth, E. 1996. Le maître-gabarit: la tablette et le trebuchet. Essai sur la conception non-graphique des careens du
Moyen Âge au XXe siècle.
Mémoires de la section d'histoire des sciences et des techniques 9. Paris: CTHS.


Roques, G. 1987. "Manuel de construction des galères (1691), p.p. F. Fennis." Book Review. Revue de linguistique romane.

Citation Information:

Wendy van Duivenvoorde

2003, Traitté de la construction des galères, World Wide Web, URL,, Nautical Archaeology Program, Texas A&M University