This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Naval Battle of Sluys.
The sea fight of Sluys began the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. It is also memorable as England’s first great naval victory. The origin of the war lay in the Salic Law, which excludes women from the throne of France. This overruled the claims of Queen Isabella of England, and her son Edward III in 1328, when the twelve peers and barons of France unanimously gave the crown to Isabella’s cousin, Philip of Valois, who ascended the throne as Philip VI of France.
Edward III ingeniously maintained that though the Salic Law prevented his mother from filling the throne, it did not destroy the rights of her male descendants, and he early entertained the project of enforcing this contention; but it was not until 1337 that he felt able to assert formally his claim to the French crown and to assume the title of king of France.
The following year, with a considerable body of troops to support his presumed rights, he crossed to the Continent, and passed the winter at Antwerp among the Flemings who had taken up his cause, and with whom, as well as with the Emperor-King of Germany, he effected aggressive alliances. He made a formal declaration of war in 1339, beginning hostilities which were prolonged into the Hundred Years’ War, and which as a contest of the English kings for the sovereignty of France produced a series of important revolutions in the fortunes of that country.
The first serious action of the war was a naval battle at Sluys, near the Belgian frontier just northeast of Bruges, June 23, 1340. King Edward and his entire navy sailed from the Thames June 22, and made straight for Sluys. Sir Hugh Quiriel and other French officers, with over one hundred and twenty large vessels, were lying near Sluys for the purpose of disputing the English King’s passage. Froissart, with his usual terseness, has graphically recorded the combat which ensued.
A more important victory was that won in the land battle at Crécy in 1346, which, however, simply paved the way to the capture of Calais, for it was not until the battle of Poitiers, ten years later, that Edward made any progress toward the conquest of France. In 1346, after landing with a force of troops at Cape La Hogue, Edward reduced Cherbourg, Carentan, and Caen, and, with the intention of crossing the Seine at Rouen, commenced his march on Calais, where he was to be joined by his Flemish allies. Philip, making a rapid march from Paris to Amiens, had posted detachments of soldiers along the right bank of the river Somme, guarding every ford, breaking down every bridge, and gradually shutting up the invaders in the narrow space between the Somme and the sea.
Edward sent out his marshals with their battalions to find a passage, but they were unsuccessful, until a peasant led them to the tidal ford of Blanchetaque. Although desperately opposed by fully twelve thousand French, under the Norman baron Sir Godémar du Fay, they effected a crossing, and, marching on, encamped in the fields near Crécy. The King of France with the main body of his troops had taken up his quarters in Abbeville.
This selection is from Froissart’s Chronicles by Sir John Froissart published in around 1400. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Sir John Froissart was the great historian who lived around 1400.
Place: Sluy, at sea just NW of Bruges
When the King’s fleet was almost got to Sluys, they saw so many masts standing before it that they looked like a wood. The King asked the commander of his ship what they could be, who answered that he imagined they must be that armament of Normans which the King of France kept at sea and which had so frequently done him much damage, had burned his good town of Southampton, and taken his large ship the Christopher. The King replied: “I have for a long time wished to meet with them, and now, please God and St. George, we will fight them; for, in truth, they have done me so much mischief that I will be revenged on them if it be possible.”
The King drew up all his vessels, placing the strongest in the front, and on the wings his archers. Between every two vessels with archers there was one of men-at-arms. He stationed some detached vessels as a reserve, full of archers, to assist and help such as might be damaged. There were in this fleet a great many ladies from England, countesses, baronesses, and knights’ and gentlemen’s wives, who were going to attend on the Queen at Ghent. These the King had guarded most carefully by three hundred men-at-arms and five hundred archers.
When the King of England and his marshals had properly divided the fleet, they hoisted their sails to have the wind on their quarter, as the sun shone full in their faces, which they considered might be of disadvantage to them, and stretched out a little, so that at last they got the wind as they wished. The Normans, who saw them tack, could not help wondering why they did so, and said they took good care to turn about, for they were afraid of meddling with them. They perceived, however, by his banner, that the King was on board, which gave them great joy, as they were eager to fight with him; so they put their vessels in proper order, for they were expert and gallant men on the seas. They filled the Christopher, the large ship which they had taken the year before from the English, with trumpets and other warlike instruments, and ordered her to fall upon the English.
The battle then began very fiercely; archers and cross-bowmen shot with all their might at each other, and the men-at-arms engaged hand to hand. In order to be more successful, they had large grapnels, and iron hooks with chains, which they flung from ship to ship, to moor them to each other. There were many valiant deeds performed, many prisoners made, and many rescues. The Christopher, which led the van, was recaptured by the English, and all in her taken or killed. There were then great shouts and cries, and the English manned her again with archers and sent her to fight against the Genoese.
This battle was very murderous and horrible. Combats at sea are more destructive and obstinate than upon the land, for it is not possible to retreat or flee–everyone must abide his fortune and exert his prowess and valor. Sir Hugh Quiriel and his companions were bold and determined men, had done much mischief to the English at sea and destroyed many of their ships; this combat, therefore, lasted from early in the morning until noon, and the English were hard pressed, for their enemies were four to one, and the greater part men who had been used to the sea.
The King, who was in the flower of his youth, showed himself on that day a gallant knight, as did the earls of Derby, Pembroke, Hereford, Huntingdon, Northampton, and Gloucester; the Lord Reginald Cobham, Lord Felton, Lord Bradestan, Sir Richard Stafford, the Lord Percy, Sir Walter Manny, Sir Henry de Flanders, Sir John Beauchamp, Sir John Chandos, the Lord Delaware, Lucie Lord Malton, and the Lord Robert d’Artois, now called Earl of Richmond.
I cannot remember all the names of those who behaved so valiantly in the combat; but they did so well that, with some assistance from Bruges and those parts of the country, the French were completely defeated, and all the Normans and the others killed or drowned, so that not one of them escaped. This was soon known all over Flanders; and when it came to the two armies before Thin-l’Evêque, the Hainaulters were as much rejoiced as their enemies were dismayed.
After the King had gained this victory, which was on the eve of St. John’s Day, he remained all that night on board of his ship before Sluys, and there were great noises with trumpets and all kinds of other instruments. The Flemings came to wait on him, having heard of his arrival and what deeds he had performed. The King inquired of the citizens of Bruges after Jacob van Artevelde, and they told him he was gone to the aid of the Earl of Hainault with upward of sixty thousand men, against the Duke of Normandy. On the morrow, which was Midsummer Day, the King and his fleet entered the port. As soon as they were landed, the King, attended by crowds of knights, set out on foot on a pilgrimage to our Lady of Ardemburg, where he heard mass and dined. He then mounted his horse and went that day to Ghent, where the Queen was, who received him with great joy and kindness. The army and baggage, with the attendants of the King, followed him by degrees to the same place.
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