The first HMS Ark Royal was built at Deptford on the River Thames in 1587, to the order of Sir Walter Raleigh. Originally named Ark Raleigh, she was bought by Queen Elizabeth's navy for £5000 ("money well given," according to her new commander, Lord Howard of Effingham) and, as Ark Royal, was the flagship of the English fleet during the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588. In 1608, under the new monarch James I, she was rebuilt and renamed Anne Royal. She was broken up in 1636.
The second HMS Ark Royal, after a gap of almost 300 years, was a merchant ship converted on the building stocks to be a seaplane carrier and was the worlds first aircraft carrier. Launched in 1914, she served in the Dardanelles campaign and throughout World War I. She was renamed HMS Pegasus in 1934, to free the name Ark Royal for a new ship, and was broken up in 1950.
The third Ark Royal (91) saw action in World War II and was sunk by a U-boat. Whilst serving in the Meditteranean she was called upon to search for the Bismarck in the Atlantic. During the search her planes mistakenly attacked a Royal Navy cruiser. Fortunately, the torpedoes were not primed properly and no major damage was incurred. The older torpedoes were then fitted to her Swordfish planes and the hunt continued. Her spotter planes eventually found the Bismarck. An attack commenced, crippling the Bismarck's rudder. The damage sustained lead to the rest of the Royal Navy surface fleet catching up with the Bismarck and sinking her.
The fourth HMS Ark Royal (R09) was an Audacious-class fleet aircraft carrier. Her keel was laid down by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead on 3 May 1943. She was launched on 3 May 1950 and commissioned on 28 February 1955. After starring in the 1970s BBC series "Sailor," she eventually went to the breaker's yard in 1980.