- Periodical, The Legionary
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2000 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
I was intrigued to see the great interest which was aroused in the Montreal press over the firing of the 21 gun salutes to welcome the Princess Royal on her visit to Canada.
Correspondents were asking: “Why 21 guns?” This evoked a number of replies and many solutions were put forward. The most popular was that the old ships of long ago carried only 21 guns. I admit I was quite stumped, so I wrote to Major T.J. Edwards, the well-known Army historian in the United Kingdom. He very kindly referred me to the Librarian at the Admiralty in Whitehall, who replied as follows:
`In June 1688 “An Establishment Touching Salutes by Guns to be Henceforth observed in his Majesty’s Royal Navy” was published. This Establishment laid down the following scale of salutes to be accorded the various Naval ranks:
`For a Captain, 11 guns; for a Captain having other ships under Command, 13 guns; for a Rear-Admiral, 15 guns; for a Vice-Admiral, 17 guns; for an Admiral, 19 guns.
“No mention was made, then, of the number of guns to be accorded Royalty. However, the Naval Regulations of 1731 (the first issued) laid down that a Royal Salute was to consist of “such number of guns as the Chief Officer shall think proper, not exceeding 21 guns each ship.”
`Thus the 19 guns, laid down in 1688 for the highest rank in the Royal Navy, was increased in arithmetical progression to 21 for royalty.’
The foregoing will, I think, answer the interesting question raised in the press.
One or two points came to my mind: Why was the cardinal number 11 selected as the starting point by the Admiralty? Again, all salutes are odd numbers – because some allege the odd number is easier to remember. In my old militia gunner days (1900), when we fired a salute, the executive officer in charge always carried the requisite number of marbles which he passed from one pocket to another as the gun fired. Old gunners will remember how easy it is to miscount a salute of guns.
It is noteworthy, too, that many foreign countries fire a 21-gun salute to honour their heads of State. They probably copied this from the British.
(Colonel E.R. Rivers-Macpherson, OBE, In “The Legionary”, National Magazine of the Canadian Legion.)