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Edward III and the War at Sea

Edward III and the War at Sea: The English Navy, 1327-1377

Graham Cushway
Volume: 35
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Edward III and the War at Sea
    Book Description:

    This book describes naval warfare during the opening phase of the Hundred Years War, a vital period in the development of the early Royal Navy, in which Edward III's government struggled to harness English naval power in a dramatic battle for supremacy with their French and Spanish adversaries. It shows how the escalating demands of Edward's astonishing military ambitions led to an intense period of evolution in the English navy and the growth of a culture of naval specialism and professionalism. It addresses how this in turn affected the livelihoods of England's mariners and coastal communities. The book covers in detail the most important sea battles of Edward III's reign - Sluys, Winchelsea and La Rochelle - as well as raids and naval blockades. It highlights the systems by which ships were brought into service and mariners recruited, and explores how these were resisted by mariners and coastal communities. It also tells the story of the range of personalities, heroes and villains who influenced the development of the navy in the reign of Edward III. GRAHAM CUSHWAY holds a PhD in Maritime History from the University of Exeter.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-945-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Edward of Windsor’s first experience of naval operations was as part of a small bedraggled invading army which landed on a sandy Essex beach at nightfall on 24 September 1326. The problems of naval warfare must have been apparent even to the 14-year-old Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne. The night drew in, and it was bitterly cold. Most of the force sat shivering on the beach, the cold sharpened by their damp clothes. As day dawned the situation was no clearer. They could question the Walloon masters of their ships all they might. A ruined fort on...

  7. 2 Edward II and Mortimer’s Invasion (1307–1327)
    (pp. 7-19)

    The reign of Edward II would have an even more profound impact both on Edward III’s style of leadership and on his use of the navy. Many of the decisions made between 1327 and 1377 were a direct result of the traumatic events of his father’s reign, and particularly of its inglorious end. These events were mostly the result of Edward II’s personality. Like his own father and his son, Edward II was tall, handsome and muscular. He was boisterous, he dressed magnificently and he was very strong. These were traits expected of a great war leader, and it was...

  8. 3 The King’s Navy
    (pp. 20-29)

    By Edward III’s coronation a small royal navy already existed in England. The new king inherited Edward II’s king’s ships more or less intact. The king’s ships were permanently available to fourteenth-century kings, and were used for a number of purposes, including war, transportation and trade. Unlike the Royal Navy of later years, the king’s ships were collected for his personal use and were used at the monarch’s discretion. They were too few to transport an army, and this and many other tasks were undertaken using ‘impressed’ merchant ships, those commandeered for royal use. The king’s ships were not considered...

  9. 4 Mortimer, the Admirals and Scotland (1327–1331)
    (pp. 30-37)

    In early 1327, England, unofficially led by Mortimer and Queen Isabella, faced a number of problems. Not least of these was a lack of funds. The royal coffers were drained to pay off the Hainault mercenaries and sustain Mortimer and Isabella’s lavish lifestyle. Savings had to be found somewhere. Henry, Earl of Lancaster, president of the regency council, was quickly at odds with Mortimer over an appropriated inheritance. Meanwhile both the old king and the new king were open to manipulation. The deposed Edward was a focus for plots, while Mortimer’s rule relied on his ability to contain an increasingly...

  10. 5 Edward III, the Navy and the Disinherited (1331–1335)
    (pp. 38-49)

    The capture of Mortimer had a profound effect on Edward’s rule. Edward III’s style of leadership was similar to that of Edward II, in that he relied on his closest friends to advise him. The group which had helped to capture Mortimer, or supported him during his minority, was awarded with the most important offices. Unlike his father, Edward III’s circle was not exclusive. His taste for tournaments and Arthurian literature proved popular with the nobility, and allowed considerable scope for pageantry. He relied heavily on Montague, but Montague was able, popular and trustworthy. The king’s relationship with Montague was...

  11. 6 The King’s Ships: Logistics and Structure
    (pp. 50-58)

    Edward III’s king’s ships were supported by an increasingly complex administrative and logistical structure. This was continually refined between 1335 and 1377 and was superior to the improvised methods used by Edward II and later reverted to by Richard II. One of Edward’s most important innovations was the introduction of a specialised officer called the Clerk of the King’s Ships. The first incumbent, a wardrobe clerk called Thomas Snettisham, was appointed in 1335. The clerk’s job was to maintain accounts for all the king’s ships, including their expenses and the proceeds of trade. He was supposed to keep these for...

  12. 7 England, France, Scotland and the War at Sea (1336)
    (pp. 59-65)

    While the English were satisfied with their progress in the war in Scotland, Balliol’s control over the country remained transitory. He led a chevauchee, the ravaging of territory by mounted forces into the Highlands in September 1335. Meanwhile, Edward was negotiating with David Bruce’s party. The two sides finally agreed that Balliol would rule in his lifetime, but would be succeeded by Edward’s brother-in-law David Bruce, who would hold Scotland as Edward’s vassal. This agreement was called the Treaty of Newcastle. Edward was confident the negotiations would succeed. Late in December he had his supply dump at Skinburness dismantled, and...

  13. 8 Walter Manny, Cadzand and Antwerp (1337–1339)
    (pp. 66-81)

    The king returned to Scotland in late 1336, spending early December fortifying Bothwell Castle. This policy of building fortifications would soon prove futile, as he lacked the funds to pay extensive garrisons and they were overrun whenever he left Scotland. On his return in mid-December he brought home the corpse of John of Eltham who had died in combat (the only thing Sir Thomas Gray would have considered ‘a fine death’) on 16 September. Edward III’s military ethos was characterised by daring and leadership from the front. This was the essential catalyst for many unlikely victories, but the high rate...

  14. 9 Merchant Shipping in English Fleets
    (pp. 82-89)

    The number of merchant ships Edward III could requisition would have been envied by French commanders. There were probably 1,000 to 2,000 ships operating from English ports in the early 1330s, although few were the big wine ships preferred for naval warfare. One pair of 220-tun cogs from Great Yarmouth, John Perbroun’s La Michel and Thomas Sad’s La Garlond, were used alongside the big king’s ships on the crossing to Antwerp in 1338, but large merchant ships became less common in English waters as the Hundred Years War progressed. Only one very large merchant vessel, the 240-tun La Trinite of...

  15. 10 Tactics, Strategy and the Battle of Sluys (1340)
    (pp. 90-100)

    Many historians remain dismissive of fourteenth-century generalship, portraying medieval commanders as being incapable of strategy. In fact all sides pursued strategies that were ultimately economic. Behuchet’s plan served the same purpose as Edward III’s chevauchees — to degrade the enemy’s capacity to wage war by economic means. A memorandum written in 1435 by Sir John Fastolf (a descendant of the fourteenth-century Deputy Admirals of the North) inadvertently expressed Edward’s strategy. Fastolf contended that towns should only be held if they could be resupplied by water. He thought that the wool trade could be protected by alliances with Genoa and Venice, and...

  16. 11 The Organisation of Impressed Fleets
    (pp. 101-106)

    Although the king maintained his own small flotilla, English fleets mostly consisted of requisitioned ‘impressed’ merchant vessels like the ones used at the Battle of Sluys. Edward III’s subordinates were empowered to requisition merchant vessels for their own use at any time. This was a feudal right, and Edward did not have to pay the owners. At the beginning of Edward III’s reign, trade was booming and there were a great many merchant ships operating in English waters. None of Edward III’s most likely adversaries could field a fleet anywhere near the same size. Scotland was an impoverished country which...

  17. 12 Brittany and the War at Sea (1340–1342)
    (pp. 107-113)

    Despite the crushing defeat at Sluys, within ten days of the battle English spies reported fresh French naval activity in the Channel ports. The western fleet had been disbanded, the council believing the French threat had sunk with the Grand Armee de la Mer. The brief absence of French shipping did allow Sir Thomas Ferrers to land on Guernsey with a small Southampton fleet on 13 July 1340. He returned most of the island to English control, laying siege to Castle Cornet four days later. The remnants of the French fleet consisted of three galleys and seven barges. These were...

  18. 13 The Crecy Campaign and Calais (1342–1347)
    (pp. 114-129)

    The year 1342 marked a nadir in Edward III’s relationship with the mariners. Their desertion of his cause in Brittany could have left him in grave danger. His first instinct was to blame the admirals. Montgomery was moved to other duties after the first wave of desertions in October. Morley was also dismissed at the end of the year. Unfortunately the navy’s problems were too grave to be remedied by such a simple solution. The events of 1342 proved that threatening mariners did not work, as little could be done if they deserted en masse. Many were able to evade...

  19. 14 Mastery of the Channel (1347–1350)
    (pp. 130-135)

    After concluding the Truce of Calais, Edward returned to England. En route he was again caught in a horrific storm. Several ships were lost, though Edward’s own vessel limped into port on 12 September. Despite Edward’s certainty that his cause was favoured by God, his ill luck with natural phenomena had become proverbial. His subjects believed the weather could be predicted by whether he was travelling to France or returning. It was fortunate for his cause that he was usually caught on his return journey. Edward was now used to such inconvenience and spent the next day organising corn supplies...

  20. 15 The Battle of Winchelsea (1350)
    (pp. 136-145)

    Although Alfonso XI died of plague on 27 March the Castilian fleet continued their attacks on English merchant shipping. Edward’s government feared the French might use them and a small knot of French vessels gathering at Leure to ’dominate the English Sea’, in a spate of raids similar to those of the late 1330s. It was feared that they might land an invasion force, and rumours also abounded that they planned to intercept the annual English wine convoy. That the Spanish vessels were famously valuable tarets also influenced Edward and his commanders. The Castilian merchant fleet in Sluys had disgorged...

  21. 16 Barges and Truces (1353–1357)
    (pp. 146-152)

    As the English were not expecting to fight until the summer of 1353, two of Edward’s principal commanders, William Bohun, Earl of Northampton, and Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, were made Admirals of the North and West in March. The title was currently an honorific, executive power being wielded by the experienced deputy admirals Thomas Drayton and Philip Whitton. The two deputies, supported by sergeants-at-arms, took advantage of the hard winter to conduct an extensive survey of English shipping. This was intended to cover all vessels over twenty tuns. Northern vessels were encouraged to trade once this was complete, but...

  22. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  23. 17 Edward III and Resistance to the Navy
    (pp. 153-158)

    Edward suffered considerable resistance to his use of merchant shipping which intensified as his reign progressed. The Hundred Years War made far greater demands on shipowners than earlier conflicts. Large fleets had been gathered under previous kings. Henry III had arrested 449 ships in 1230, although in the end he only used 228. In 1293 Edward I had arrested 325 ships for one expedition. Edward III was far more ambitious. He used 738 ships at the siege of Calais and 850 to 1,100 in 1359, almost every ship in the kingdom.¹

    Edward III also required larger fleets more often than...

  24. 18 The Fleet of 1359 and the Winchelsea Raid (1357–1360)
    (pp. 159-174)

    As soon as contact had been lost with Edward’s army as it headed north for the Burnt Candlemass campaign, panic had gripped the country. On 6 January 1356, long before galleys could put to sea, the array of militia forces commenced. As ever when Edward was absent, the exact nature of the threat was unclear, but taken very seriously. John Paveley, the Prior of the Hospitallers and an increasingly influential ally of the king, headed to Southampton to take up the order’s accustomed role as the town’s garrison. By the middle of the month the citizens of London were polishing...

  25. 19 Years of Peace, Years of Decay (1360–1369)
    (pp. 175-184)

    The king returned to England from Honfleur on 18 May, and commenced a round of feasting. While his subjects celebrated, the minds of king and council were focused on darker matters. Parliament had convened shortly before Edward’s return to England. Although details of the proceedings are scanty, naval reform was high on the agenda. The northern fleet had mutinied when England was most vulnerable, with the king abroad and with invaders ashore. Although in reality Edward was far less vulnerable than his father, he had been reminded of England’s apparent vulnerability to even a small invasion force. The mutiny was...

  26. 20 The Decline of the Fleet in the Final Years of Edward III
    (pp. 185-190)

    The apparently deteriorating situation was no illusion. King Jean II of France had died in England in April 1364 after returning there in lieu of a ransom payment. His ransom remained largely unpaid, and he had failed to ratify a number of territorial concessions owed to the English by the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny. The Dauphin, who succeeded him as Charles V, while physically ill-suited to the battlefield would prove a formidable political opponent. In May 1368 Charles, goaded by fresh attacks from English free companies and sensing the Black Prince’s weakness in Aquitaine, allowed an appeal from...

  27. 21 Failure and Fiasco: Knolles and La Rochelle (1369–1373)
    (pp. 191-207)

    By April 1369 Ponthieu had fallen to the French, who followed up with a successful attack on Le Crotoy in early May. This led to fears of an attack on Calais, the possibility lending urgency to English preparations. On 7 May, Gaunt’s expedition was cancelled, and the men-at-arms gathered for his expedition were redirected to castles in the March of Calais. Manny, no doubt frustrated to find himself dictating strategy to Pembroke from Westminster, was also dispatched there. Nine king’s ships, including Galley Philippe and La Welifare, were manned and readied. Stones for the king’s catapults were requisitioned from Kentish...

  28. 22 Edward III’s Final Years (1373–1377)
    (pp. 208-218)

    When parliament convened in November 1373, the Chancellor was for once able to give an upbeat assessment of the navy’s performance, praising the contribution of the ‘good and gracious ports’. Three hundred and seventy-two vessels had put to sea in the face of weak French and Castilian opposition and William Montague’s aggression as admiral had been worthy of his famous father. The town barges arrived at an erratic pace and some without equipment and with too few crew, but they had visibly made a difference to English fortunes. A great deal of booty was gathered in various English ports, mostly...

  29. Appendix I: English Admirals in the Reign of Edward III
    (pp. 219-224)
  30. Appendix II: Royal Ships Used by Edward III
    (pp. 225-235)
  31. Bibliography
    (pp. 236-242)
  32. Index
    (pp. 243-266)
  33. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-269)