Named for Charles II's mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, the Royal Yacht Cleveland was designed by Surveyor [Sir Anthony] Deane and built under his direction at Portsmouth in 1671. Measured at 107 tons, she was just over 53 feet in length with a 20 foot beam and mounted 8-3pdr. guns by way of a ceremonial armament. Gaff-rigged on a single mast, she was typical of the other Royal yachts of her day and, for the first few years of her life, was the yacht most frequently used by the King. He would normally embark at Greenwich and, accompanied by other yachts carrying courtiers and officials, would proceed down the Thames to wherever the fleet was anchored, most often at the Nore. Cleveland's most notable outing was the King's visit to the fleet [after the battle of Solebay] on 6th June 1672, an event captured in a spectacular painting by Willem van de Velde, the Younger and widely reproduced. In January 1685, just prior to Charles II's death on 6th February, Cleveland was transferred into the service of the Office of the Ordnance for official use where she remained until paid off and sold (for breaking?) in 1715.
Barbara Villiers (afterwards Palmer), Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (1641-1709), was a noted London beauty who married Roger Palmer in 1659 yet became the mistress of the King the very next year. Created Countess of Castlemaine in 1661, following her husband's elevation to the Irish peerage, the King then obliged his new wife to accept his mistress as a Lady of the Bedchamber in 1662, from when onwards she exerted a massive influence over court affairs and royal appointments. Made Duchess of Cleveland in 1670, she was eventually supplanted in the King's affections by the Duchess of Portsmouth which resulted in the former taking up residence in Paris after 1677.
In addition to this portrait, Knyff also depicted the Cleveland lying alongside the First Rate Royal Sovereign at the Nore in 1673, whilst Willem van de Velde painted his own portrait of this yacht in addition to the 1672 Fleet Visit picture mentioned above.