Frequent reference to the Royal Yacht Squadron will be found elsewhere in this work, and under this particular heading no attempt can be made to give anything further than the merest outline of this club’s history.
The Squadron dates from 1815. For some few years prior to that date the pastime of sailing had been growing in favour in the Solent, and a number of visitors were attracted to Cowes every summer to indulge in the sport. It was only natural that these first yachtsmen should ultimately form a club to carry on their sport in an organized fashion, and so we find that a meeting was held at the Thatched House Tavern in St. James’s Street on June 1, 1815, under the presidency of Lord Grantham, when it was decided to form the Yacht Club, which was to consist of men interested in the sailing of yachts in salt water.
The qualification for membership was the ownership of a vessel not under 10 tons, and the original subscription was two guineas, with an entrance fee, afterwards imposed, of three guineas.
In 1817 the Prince Regent became member of the organization, and he was the first of the long list of Royal patrons which have honoured the club. Upon the Prince Regent becoming King in 1820, he consented to give a royal title to the club, and from that date it was known as the Royal Yacht Club – the first yacht club to enjoy that distinction. For some years after the formation of the club but little was done in the way of organized racing; but in the year 1826 a regatta was held, on August 10, at which a gold cup of the value of £100 was competed for. The winner of this, the first cup ever competed for under the auspices of the Royal Yacht Club, was Mr. Joseph Weld’s famous cutter, Arrow.
In the following year, in addition to cups presented by the club and by the town of Cowes, the regatta was made memorable by the presentation of a cup by King George IV. This was the first royal trophy presented for competition in a yacht race, and was won by Mr. Maxse’s cutter Miranda.
The club continued to be known as the Royal Yacht Club until the year 1833, when, in July of that year, King William IV, as a mark of approval of an ‘institution of such national utility,’ authorized the name to be altered to that of the Royal Yacht Squadron, the name by which it has ever since been known. His Majesty followed the example set by King George IV, and gave a cup to be competed for every year, and this custom has been observed by the reigning monarch ever since.
Up to the year 1829 there had been several alterations in the flag flown by yachts belonging to the club, but in that year the Admiralty issued a warrant authorizing members to fly the white ensign, and at the same time the white burgee, as we know it to-day, was adopted.
The application of steam power to yachts was viewed with much disfavour in the Squadron in earlier days, and at a meeting held at the Thatched House Tavern in 1827 the following resolution was passed : ‘Resolved that as a material object of this club is to promote seamanship and the improvements of sailing vessels, to which the application of steam-engines is inimical, no vessel propelled by steam shall be admitted into the club, and any member applying a steam-engine to his yacht shall be disqualified thereby and cease to be a member.’ In 1844 this rule was somewhat modified by admitting steam yachts to the club of not less than 100 horse-power, and in 1853 all restrictions in regard to steam were removed.
The present quarters, the Castle, were taken possession of in 1858.
The first Commodore was the Earl of Yarborough, who held the post from 1825 to 1846. He was succeeded by the Marquis of Donegall, who occupied the position for two years, and was in turn succeeded by the Earl of Wilton, who retained the post from 1849 to 1881. In 1882 the office was filled by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and retained by him until 1901, when, upon becoming King, His Majesty became Admiral, and the Marquis of Ormonde was elected to the Commodoreship.
The Vice-Commodores during the same period have been : The Earl of Belfast, from 1827 to 1844, and afterwards (as the Marquis of Donegall) from 1845 to 1846; Sir Bellingham Graham, Bart., from 1847 to I850 ; C. R. M. Talbot, Esq., M.P., from 1851 to 1861; the Marquis of Conyngham, from 1862 to 1875; the Marquis of Londonderry, from 1876 to 1884 ; the Marquis of Ormonde, from 1885 to 1901 ; the Duke of Leeds, 1901 to present day.
The Royal Yacht Squadron has often been referred to as the most exclusive club in the world. Its list of Royal members, past and present, is an imposing one, and includes : H.M. King George IV; H.M. King William IV; H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester; H.M. Queen Victoria; H.R.H. Prince Albert (Prince Consort); H.I.M. Nicholas, Emperor of Russia; H.R.H. Prince Louis de Bourbon; H.I.H. the Grand Duke Constantine; H.M. William III, King of the Netherlands; H.M. Napoleon III; H.M. King Edward VII; H.R.H. the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught; H.R.H. Prince Henri de Bourbon; H.M. Oscar I, King of Norway; H.I.M. William II, German Emperor; H.R.H. Prince Henry of Prussia; H.R.H. Prince Henry of Battenberg; H.R.H. the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; Prince Ibrahim Halim Pacha; H.M. the King of the Belgians; H.R.H. the Duke of Abruzzi; H.R.H. the Prince of Wales; H.M. Alfonso XIII., King of Spain.