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Seakeeping-p1-art - 8/20/98

"Seakeeping" by Dom. Pedro de Alcazar. The effort to maintain English naval superiority during the years 1450 to 1480.

NOTE: This article is split between two files, Seakeeping-p1-art and

NOTE: See also the files: med-ships-art, ships-bib, ships-msg, nav-inst-msg,  rope-msg, travel-msg.


This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.

Thank you,
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org

    by Dom. Pedro de Alcazar

This is a copy of my Master's thesis in history.

               Section I, Part I: Introduction

     What does "the keeping of the seas" mean, and why was
the period from 1450 to 1480 so important? "The keeping of
the seas," and variations of that phrase, were used to mean
the maintenance of English naval superiority upon the seas
surrounding England and her colonies. Naval superiority could
have given England several advantages. It meant that
merchants could travel safely, because piracy would be kept
to a minimum. It meant that the farms and towns on the coast
could prosper in peace, because the enemies of the realm,
fearing defeat by a defending fleet, would not dare to cross
the seas. Also, it meant that the king could send armies to
his dominions overseas without worrying about interception by
the king's enemies.

     The importance of the three decades from 1450 to 1480
lies in several factors. The most important factor, as far as
the keeping of the seas is concerned, is that throughout
those three decades, the English lacked a large permanent
navy to guard the coasts and colonies, and lacked the
bureaucracy that had maintained that navy. The second factor
is military: the beginning of this period is the time when
the Hundred Years' War came to a close. The English king lost
all of his overseas possessions, except for the town of
Calais and the Channel Islands, rendering most of the
neighboring coasts hostile. The third factor is political:
this period was a time of upheaval in England, from Cade's
Rebellion in 1450, until the Battle of Tewksbury in 1471,
which put a halt to the Wars of the Roses until after the
death of Edward IV.

     The thesis of this paper is simple: from 1450 to 1480,
the English government failed to come up with a consistently
successful way to keep the seas. In order to prove the
thesis, this paper will examine the historical background of
sea-keeping from the reign of John until 1450, the methods
which the English government used to keep the seas from 1450
until 1480, and the success of those methods on the political
and economic scenes.

         Section I, Part II: The Past of Sea Keeping

     Why begin the history of the keeping of the seas with
the reign of John? While the defense of England was the
rightful concern of every monarch, John had to deal with an
enemy who was formidable and ever-present: the French. Unlike
the Northmen raiders the kingdom had faced before, France was
nearby, had several large ports, and its king was the head of
a centralized government. The kings of France sought to
regain control of the Plantagenet lands, which threatened to
overwhelm their own, and for some time the French monarchs
had been whittling away at them. By 1204, John had lost
almost all of the Plantagenet lands in France, except for the
Channel Islands and Gascony, and the French king, Philip
Augustus, was threatening to bring war even to England
itself. Since Gascony's resources were strained to the limit
in the effort to resist the French in that region, John could
not rely upon Gascon forces to distract the French from an
attack.1 Therefore, John had to protect England and try to
retake his old lands by diplomatic efforts and naval force.

     On the diplomatic front, John entered into an alliance
with several magnates of the Holy Roman Empire, including the
Hohenstaufens in 1209. In 1213, John became a papal vassal,
guaranteeing the Pope's support for his efforts to maintain
the English throne. Also, John made pacts with several more
Imperial nobles at that time, and by February 1214, his plans
for revenge were put into action. He invaded France from
Gascony. John met with initial successes in Poitou, but he
eventually had to retreat to Gascony after Louis, the heir to
the French throne, defeated his forces in the summer of 1214.
A few days after his defeat, the forces of the Holy Roman
Empire were crushed at the battle of Bouvines. A truce was
finally made in the autumn between John and Philip Augustus,
which would supposedly end their fighting for six years.2

     At the same time, John made more solid preparations for
England's defense by negotiating with the Cinque Ports and
constructing his own navy.3 The Cinque Ports, an institution
peculiar to England, was a confederation of several ports in
the shires of Kent and Sussex created by Edward the
Confessor.4 It provided the king with a force of fifty seven
ships, each to be fully manned, to be used free of charge by
him for a fortnight.5 In return for providing this navy, the
Cinque Ports was granted a long list of privileges, which
guaranteed self government to both the confederation and its
members.6 John confirmed the Cinque Ports in the privileges
that had been granted to them by previous kings, and gave
them several more, in order to buy their loyalty.7

     The creation of a royal navy, on the other hand, was
quite a different matter. While previous kings of England had
owned a few ships, John had an armada large enough to split
into four squadrons, each with its own stretch of coast to
watch over.8 He also raised up a new bureaucracy to
administer his fleet, derived from the Exchequer. He
appointed a custos portuum (keeper of the ports) and a custos
galliarum (keeper of the galleys) who were in charge of
impressing, victualling, repairing, and crewing the royal
ships.9 They worked through bailiffs in the harbors,
independently of the sheriff, and may have also had something
to do with collecting the customs.10 By 1212, John had
established a royal shipyard at Portsmouth, in order to free
himself from the burden of hiring ships for his work.11

     This navy he established was put to use in 1216, when
the heir to the French throne, Louis, invaded in an attempt
to conquer England. The French landed near Dover and besieged
the castle. The navy and the Cinque Ports fleet harassed the
French supply ships, and the French were forced to leave.12
Later, in 1217, when Henry III was just seated upon the
throne, the French tried to invade once more, and were
smashed by the English at the battle of the Dover Straits.13

     Unfortunately, the weak rule of Henry III caused the
decay of John's bureaucracy. Records of the navy ceased by
1250, but even before then Henry III had let control of the
seas slip from his fingers into the hands of pirates of all
nations.14 At several points in his reign various English
ports were "at war" with citizens of other places, including
Bayonne and Normandy.15 Henry III seemed to take a
lackdaisical approach to dealing with the pirates. He did not
punish or even note their crimes in any way, except to demand
that a portion of their loot be sent to his coffers, until
the French came to terms and signed a truce in 1243.16 At
that point, piracy seemed to wane until the Baron's War, when
Henry III and Simon de Montfort vied for control over the
realm. Neither side concerned itself with the keeping of the
seas, and so piracy waxed once more, until 1265, when De
Montfort tried to stem the tide of piracy, which threatened
to cut off all legitimate trade with England. Later in that
year, when Henry III regained control, he continued De
Montfort's efforts to control the pirates but, because his
navy had vanished fifteen years before, he was forced to send
an army, led by his son, Edward, to defeat the pirates by
smashing their bases on land.17

     This son became Edward I in 1272. Although he is famous
for bringing order to England by reducing the power of the
magnates by prohibiting subinfeudation, which restricted the
size of their retinues and cutting the number of private
courts and other franchises by the Quo Warranto proceedings,
Edward I had scant success in keeping the seas. No matter
what he did, the civic feuds between English ports or between
Englishmen and foreigners simply could not be ended. During
his 1277 campaign to conquer Wales, he exacerbated the
problem of piracy by allowing English pirates to prey on
Welsh shipping without fear of punishment.18 Edward I also
lost a way of keeping track of the pirates by not taking a
share of the loot, as his father had done, perhaps to provide
a form of tax cut incentive for their attacks.19

     The problem of disputes between English ports and their
overseas counterparts came to a head in the 1290's. In the
space of four years, the sailors of the Cinque Ports settled
their differences with the Normans by a series of brutal
battles in the middle of the English Channel which
ended in 1293.20 Edward I's attempt at invading the Low
Countries was thwarted when the ships of the Cinque Ports
attacked the ships of Yarmouth, an East Anglian port with
which they often feuded, in 1297.21 Edward I was so disturbed
by the incident between the armadas of the Ports and
Yarmouth, which he himself had witnessed, that for the next
six years, judicial commissions were sent to both the Cinque
Ports and Yarmouth in order to sort out their differences.22

     Edward I may have tried to reduce his dependency on
pirate ships by purchasing some ships of his own, though his
finances were strapped by war in Wales, Scotland, and
Gascony. By 1295, he had acquired eight ships, several of
them galleys. However, with so few ships, the result may have
been that royal ships acted as flagships for armadas composed
of impressed vessels.23

     Edward I started to regulate piracy by instituting the
procedure of issuing letters of marque and reprisal in
1295.24 These letters were obtained by shipmasters who had
been attacked by pirates, if they could not obtain justice
from the pirates' home port. The shipmaster then had the
right to avenge his injuries by plundering ships from the
pirates' home port, to the value of his damages. Although the
earliest letters of marque and reprisal came from the
Chancellor, the responsibility for issuing these documents
went from one part of the royal administration to another.25

     Although Edward I may have tried to put an end to piracy
and the pirates' control of the seas by establishing his own
navy, and establishing a procedure for licensing the practice
of piracy, his son did not carry on that legacy. He allowed
unrestricted piracy to flourish when he declared a blockade
on Scotland, but the repercussions of this form of warfare
were quite disastrous for the English.26 The mariners of
other countries who had been plundered by English pirates
received letters of marque and reprisal from their homelands,
and responded to acts of violence with more violence.27

     Edward II responded in kind, but without following the
custom of opening negotiations to settle the matter
diplomatically with the states of the aggrieved mariners. In
a short time, the seas around England were filled with not
just English privateers and pirates, but also privateers from
France, the Low Countries, and the Hanseatic League. The
situation got so bad that the wool fleet was pillaged by a
flotilla of French marauders, even though Edward II had
established a convoy system, shielding the merchantmen with
warships.28 By his deposition, the seas of England, like the
land, were in turmoil.

     Edward II's son, Edward III, has always been compared
to his pusillanimous father as a just and chivalrous warrior-
king. This reputation was partially gained through his
success in the keeping of the seas. This may have been helped
by his expansion of the royal navy to a dozen vessels, which
were cared for by a bureaucracy headed by the Clerk of the
King's Ships, an office which lasted from 1344 until the last
decade of the reign of Henry VI.29

     The start of his reign was plagued by the nautical chaos
of his father's day, and the reopening of the war with
Scotland. In addition to allowing the pirates to ravage
Scottish vessels, he also allowed pirates to strike at any
ship carrying goods to Scotland, which drew the English into
trouble with the Low Countries, which had been supplying the
Scots with war material and food.30 Unlike his father,
however, Edward III began negotiations with the Count of
Flanders, which, while they did not stop the problem of
piracy completely, at least put an end to the most bitter
naval conflict England faced.31

     When the Hundred Years' War began in 1337, Edward III
was faced with the twin problems of restraining piracy and
the rivalries of the English ports with each other.
Unfortunately, not even the best efforts of the king, by
royal writs to the mariners to cease and desist from their
piracies, could stop them from pillaging ships in the
English Channel.32 However, at this point, the Cinque Ports
begin to fall out of the picture as a major strike force of
the Crown. Not only had they been the worst pirates in
England, which meant that the king had to punish them
frequently, but their harbors began to silt up.33 After this
period, although the Crown used their ships and harbors
often, the Throne hired the bulk of its vessels from London
and the ports on the West and East coasts.34

     This phase of the Hundred Years' War is remembered for
the astounding victories in France at Crecy and Poitiers and
the capture of the port of Calais. However, were it not for
the victories that Edward III had at sea, none of these feats
would have happened.35 The first of these victories was in
1340 at the port of Sluys in Flanders. Although it was not a
battle won on the open seas, Edward III was able to destroy
the majority of the French fleet, and gave the English the
naval superiority they needed to move troops and material to
France.36 Unfortunately, English command of the seas was not
to last, for the French started to rebuild their fleet, and
the opening of hostilities with Castile later in the war
resulted in the English facing mariners who were battle-
hardened against Moorish corsairs.37 In response to a
Castilian war fleet, which was ravaging the coastal
settlements as well as shipping, Edward III formed a fleet in
1350 which caught the Castilians' commander, Don Carlos de la
Cerda, off the coast of Sussex, and defeated his armada. This
battle, called Les Espagnols Sur Mer, resulted in Edward III
receiving the nicknames of "Avenger of the Merchants" and
"King of the Sea."38

     Unfortunately, despite those two spectacular victories,
Edward III could not control English pirates. He tried to
rein in the worst of the internal feuds by negotiating an end
to the Yarmouth-Cinque Ports dispute in 1348.39 As a result,
pirates moved their bases from the Ports to the harbors of
the western shires like Devon and Dorset. The western pirates
proved to be just as disloyal as their Cinque Port
antecedents, some Cornishmen even signing into the service of
the Duchy of Brittany and hitting English shipping from those
havens for the profit of the duchess.40 Edward III also made
a law against piracy in 1353, but the ease with which one
could get a letter of marque and reprisal made this law
difficult to enforce.41

     When hostilities resumed in the late 1360's, the English
were not as successful in retaining naval superiority. In
fact, pirates from France, the Low Countries, and Castile
beat the English many times at sea, despite attempts by
Edward III to raise a fleet to counter the new threat.42
Instead, English mariners, disgusted by the lack of pay in
the royal service due to Edward III's debt ridden Exchequer,
took to the seas as privateers, exacerbating the problem.43

     Edward III's grandson, Richard II, was unable to counter
the rising tide of piracy in the seas around England. The
English government had been forced to cut the navy by eight
ships, resulting in Richard II having a paltry four vessels
at his disposal.44 His reign began a new era in royal sea
keeping policy, in which private individuals were given
contracts by the Crown to hire ships and police the waves.
Pirates of all nations casually ignored the edicts of their
rulers and the truces the rulers negotiated in order to bring
peace to the seas, and even after Richard II organized a
great fleet of impressed vessels to sweep the seas clean, the
pirates ventured forth from their hiding places once more to
continue their plundering. In fact, the level of piracy was
so bad that Richard II was forced to move the Wool Staple,
the sole distribution point for England's major export, from
Calais to Middleburgh in the Low Countries. Piratical
expeditions with the goal of crossing the English Channel to
loot the other side's harbors were a common sight in his
reign.45 The sole bright point of Richard II's reign as far
as the situation at sea is concerned was the alliance made
between Portugal and England in 1387, which diverted
Castilian forces from the English Channel.46 Undoubtedly,
Richard II's inability to defend England's shores allowed
Henry of Derby to cross from the Low Countries unopposed in
1399, and led to Richard II's deposition and the start of a
new English royal dynasty: the Lancastrians.

     The story of sea keeping under the Lancastrian kings is
that of the rise and fall of a great power in the space of
six decades. Henry IV was faced with the rough seas of
politics from the start of his reign, and one of his most
pressing concerns was the keeping of the seas. The first nine
years of Henry IV's reign, from 1399 until 1408, were
troubled on land, and horrendous at sea. The conflict with
Scotland and the revolt of Owain Glyndwr of Wales and the
house of Percy in Northumbria at this time drained the
Exchequer of funds.47 This diversion of funds from the
keeping of the seas caused an increase in the amount of
piracy committed by Englishmen and foreigners. Although an
armistice between England and France had lasted for about a
decade, it was only on paper. The pirates of Brittany and
France preyed mercilessly on English merchants, and the
English retaliated in a similar fashion.48 The problem with
the Low Countries that began in the days of Edward III had
not ended, and threatened to reverse the tacit alliance that
England and the Low Countries previously enjoyed.49

     Henry IV took notice of these matters in 1400, first by
ordering English sailors to cease molesting the ships of
other nations, except those of Scotland. He appointed two
men, Lord Grey and Thomas Kempston, to act as his admirals,
and as keepers of the armistice.50 In January 1401, he made a
bold move towards constructing a great fleet, not only adding
two ships to those of Richard II's day, bringing the royal
fleet to the strength of half a dozen ships, but he also
ordered that each port in England had to build a ship for his
use, and that these ships were to rendezvous with the royal
ships in the spring.51 Indignant at the king's orders,
Parliament acted to repeal his proclamation, and Henry IV's
hopes for controlling the pirates and protecting England by
force dwindled away.52 Instead, English and foreign pirates
took over the Channel and the North Sea, allowing the French
and the Scots to bring aid to Glyndwr.53

     Henry IV tried to use judicial means of control, for he
tried to bring pirates to trial all through his reign.
Unfortunately, he could not deal too severely with them, for
he needed their skills in naval warfare to make up for his
lack of a large navy. Weak restrictions on piracy did not
stop the hard core criminals at sea, and atrocities and
reprisals on the part of Englishmen and foreigners continued.
In 1403, Henry IV made arrangements for armed ships to escort
English merchantmen, and a fleet led by Sir William Wilford,
composed of privateers, descended upon Brittany to avenge a
raid made by a large group of Bretons earlier in the year,
for which the French and Bretons retaliated in their turn by
plundering the Gascon wine fleet.54

     If 1403 was bad, 1404 was worse. Negotiations between
England and the Low Countries failed dismally, and relations
with the French were just as bad. Whole fleets of Breton
vessels, at one point many hundreds strong, ripped along the
English coast, answered by the capture of a French wine fleet
by the Captain of Calais. English pirates had begun to prey
on ships from the Hanseatic League, which closed the Baltic
Sea to English shipping, and made reprisals. The only bright
spot out of the year was an armistice signed between Castile
and England. Aside from this truce, England was isolated on
all sides, for the Low Countries began to arrest English
goods in reprisal for the crime wave that was sweeping the
seas around England.55

     On the other hand, the next year saw Henry IV
experimenting with hiring a pirate, Henry Pay, the Drake of
his day, to keep the seas, perhaps using the adage of "hire a
thief to catch a thief," but to no avail.56 Henry IV came to
terms with the Hanseatic League in 1406, and the capture of
the heir of the king of Scotland in the same year brought a
quick end to Scottish piracy.57 Henry IV then turned his
attention to the Low Countries, which from merely arresting
goods in revenge in 1404 and 1405 had opened their ports for
use in a proposed French invasion of England in 1407. Henry
IV opened negotiations with the French, the Bretons, and the
Low Countries in 1408, and a general armistice was made. This
brought about a decline in English piracy, for with firm
treaties with other lands, Henry IV could afford to clamp
down on domestic pirates without placing the safety of the
realm at risk. However, Henry IV was loth to destroy the
greatest English pirates, as he still needed their expertise
in case an emergency ever arose. Instead, he bribed them away
as best he could from piracy by offering them sinecures and
offices if they concentrated on the king's enemies. Many of
the lesser pirates escaped the long arm of the law by
corrupting the king's men in their neighborhoods with bribes
from their prizes, a problem which was to return in the days
of Henry VI.58

     Henry IV's son, Henry V, showed much promise while he
was Prince of Wales. Not only had he been placed in command
of the forces that defeated Owyn Glyndwr, but he also held
the office of Warden of the Cinque Ports, which meant that
the prince was charged with the defense of the shores of
Sussex and Kent, and also that he was the admiralty judge for
the Cinque Ports.59 Clearly, the legendary prowess of the
king in war was not the miracle depicted in Shakespeare's
play, but the result of years of training.

     Henry V was faced with an unstable peace at sea. Despite
the truces that his father had made with other maritime
powers, the quarrels between Englishmen and foreigners still
threatened to turn the English Channel into a sewer of
piracy. As one might have expected, the worst quarrels were
with England's neighbors: the Low Countries, France, and the
Duchy of Brittany. Henry V's first move was to have the ships
carrying wool to Calais and the fleet that brought Gascon
wine to England escorted by armed ships.60 However, he also
sent an envoy to the Low Countries, the worst offenders, in
an effort to settle issues peacefully, and punished English
pirates and the corrupt officials who aided and abetted

     The year after he succeeded to the throne, 1414, saw a
great leap forward in the Crown's ability to control the
pirates of England. Henry V expanded the fleet at this time
by three new vessels to eleven ships.62 At the same time,
Parliament passed a statute which, in effect, made
privateering a strictly regulated activity, and placed its
regulation in the king's hands.

     First, the new statute made the violation of truces and
safe conducts on the high seas an act of treason. Secondly,
each port had a Conservator of Truces assigned to it by the
Lord Admiral of England. This Conservator was to investigate
any cases of trucial violation and punish the traitors, with
the aid of a pair of attorneys. Also, the master of each ship
in the port was ordered to swear before the Conservator that
he would observe the truces, and that he would bring any
prize gained by privateering to that port, and inform the
Conservator before selling the booty. The skipper had to
register the name of his ship and his own name, the number of
his crew, and the nature of the ship's cargo before he set
sail. Letters of marque and reprisal went from being mere
licenses for unrestrained plunder, as they had been in the
past, to carefully crafted permits for revenge.63

     Apparently, the statute worked very well, when strictly
enforced, not as an across-the-board restriction upon piracy,
but as a way of directing the pirates towards specific
targets. Henry V used the privateers as diplomatic tools. If
the target country refused to restrain its pirates, Henry V
would simply allow mariners to get letters of marque and
reprisal directed against that country's vessels, and when
the foreigners came to terms after suffering the focussed
wrath of private English seapower, the letters would be
cancelled and violators of the truce severely punished. In
this way, the quarrels between England and her maritime
neighbors were brought to an end.64

     Henry V also decided to build a strong navy, for he had
designs on being more than the king of England. The
Lancastrians, despite being usurpers to the throne, were
still descendants of Edward III, whose claim to being king of
France had never been truly repudiated. Henry V, who now
enjoyed peace at home and on the high seas, prepared to take
what he thought was rightfully his: France.

     Leaving half a dozen vessels to protect the fishermen on
the North Sea and the Channel, and repress any impromptu
piracy that might otherwise have started in his absence,
Henry V crossed the Channel with a fleet of over a thousand
vessels, made up mostly of impressed merchantmen.65 His
successes in 1415 led him to bigger plans, among them a large
navy under his personal control. He could afford this, thanks
to the spoils of war. Henry V required such a navy, because
France still had to be fully subjugated, pirates of various
nationalities still cruised the seas, and quarrels with
Castile and other countries still remained unsettled.66

     From 1416 until 1420, naval activity reached an all time
high, and instead of piracy, this activity was directed
towards one object: ensuring the safe conduct of Henry's
hosts across the sea. This high level of activity was no
doubt in part due to the increased size of the navy. Henry V
had acquired a dozen captured ships which were brought to him
as prizes of war, and he built several others, including four
dreadnoughts, ranging in capacity from five hundred to
fourteen hundred tuns, which dwarfed the little hundred-tun
merchantmen of their time, and whose like were not seen again
in England for years to come.67 In fact, a recent study of
the wreckage of one of the great ships puts it in the same
size range as Nelson's HMS Victory, and taller above the
waterline than that famous warship.68

     These four great ships-the Holy Ghost, the Grace Dieu,
the Jesus, and the Trinity-were constructed as a result of a
battle fought in 1416 against the Genoese pirates who took
service under the French. Their ships, called carracks, were
much larger than any English ship of the day, and were able
to hold off many attackers.69 Clearly, Henry V wanted to have
"comparable-class battleships" to face them if they ever
returned. However, the four great ships were found to be
leaky, and were not sent out often, for the Genoese did not

     Henry V's foundation for sea keeping had begun to crack
even before his death of the bloody flux in 1422.  Even
though his navy was the largest in royal hands for many
years--in fact, he had as many warships as the Royal Navy
does today--he continued to impress merchantmen for service.
The taxes he levied to maintain the navy fell sorely upon
merchants.71 Yet, his success left a legacy which his son
would find hard to live up to.

     If the foundation had begun to crack in Henry V's reign,
the structure utterly collapsed in the reign of Henry VI, his
son. On the surface, the framework was stout: the Conservator
Statute, if scrupulously enforced, let the king control
piracy at home and gave him some leverage towards getting
other governments to control their pirates; the royal fleet
was well funded and maintained, and the Continental shores of
the English Channel were friendly, thanks to the Treaty of
Troyes' concession of Normandy to Henry V and the alliance
between Henry V and the Duke of Burgundy, who controlled the
Low Countries. Truces with other lands held, more or less,
guaranteeing that their pirates would not be set loose upon
English shipping. Yet, by 1450, everything listed above had

     The origins of this collapse lie in several factors. The
first is in Henry V's will, in which he requested that his
debts were to be covered by the sale of some of his ships.
The second is the infighting at the highest level of
government--the Privy Council--between various factions,
starting practically while Henry V's body was still warm. The
third is the disastrous conduct of Continental affairs by the
English, including the war in France.

     Henry V's will stipulated that his executors should take
care of his debts by selling some of his ships. It is
possible that he did not intend for his executors to
dismantle his entire fleet, but rather to reduce the fleet to
pre-Agincourt size, more in keeping with the sort of fleet
his predecessors owned. What his executors did, however, was
a total disarmament. All but the four dreadnoughts were put
on the auction block and sold.72 The once-great fleet,
composed mostly of ships suited to chasing pirates, was
reduced to a handful of leaky white elephants. Although the
number of ships had markedly decreased, funding for their
upkeep continued until 1452.73 However, all of the remaining
equipment--lines, anchors, and spare timbers--was sold off by
1447, and the ships themselves had rotted into useless shells
by the 1430's.74 The government decided to make the defense
of the English Channel a matter of only secondary importance,
and on the occasions that they wanted ships, would
temporarily impress them. Generally, all they wanted from the
impressed ships was troop transport from England to the
Continent, as opposed to patrol duty.75

     If the royal docks were a place of peaceful decay, then
the political scene of the time was a noisy shambles. The
government of England after Henry V's death, and before Henry
VI's majority, was vested in the Privy Council, with its
members selected by Parliament. Although Humphrey, Duke of
Gloucester, had been named as Protector of the Realm in
Henry V's will, his powers were mostly confined to being the
chairman of the Privy Council. Unfortunately, Humphrey's
position as the chairman was challenged by Bishop Henry
Beaufort, a close relative of the royal family. The bishop
was the major moneylender to the Crown, as well as being
chancellor of the realm. In France, Humphrey's brother, John,
Duke of Bedford, acted as a separate regent, although he had
precedence over his brother when he visited England.76

     The first arguments between Gloucester and Beaufort were
over Humphrey's wife, Jaqueline, Countess of Hainault. She
came from the Low Countries, as did her previous husband,
John of Brabant. However, she hated John, and had fled to
England in 1421, where Henry V gave her refuge. Gloucester
and Jaqueline fell in love, and Gloucester got Pope Benedict
XIII to annul her marriage with John. In 1423, Parliament
naturalized her, and Gloucester married her that year.
Gloucester wanted to defend his wife's rights in Hainault,
and he laid plans for an invasion of Hainault as soon as he
was married. He invaded in 1424, but the invasion was a
failure, on two levels. The first level was simple: he had
failed to attain any of his objectives in Hainault, and was
defeated at every turn. The second level was far more vital
to Lancastrian interests: this invasion, conducted without
protest from the Privy Council, alienated the Low Countries,
whose alliance had helped Henry V to victory, and whose
wealth and trading links were necessary to a continued
Lancastrian presence in France.77

     Immediately upon Gloucester's return to England in 1425,
he found that Beaufort had put mercenaries in London and
closed the Tower of London off to him. Gloucester claimed
that Beaufort intended to do away with him and seize the boy
king, and the Londoners responded by coming out in arms to
help him. Gloucester drew his forces up and, were it not for
the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke
of Bedford, civil war could have begun. As it was, Beaufort
was forced to resign the chancellorship, and left in 1427 to
preach the crusade against Jan Huss, returning as Cardinal
Beaufort soon after. Upon Beaufort's departure, however,
Gloucester's popularity seems to have fallen. His plans for
another expedition to the Low Countries fell through in 1428,
and he was persuaded to discard Jaqueline after Pope Martin V
cancelled Pope Benedict XIII's annulment. Meanwhile, the
French war was going poorly. The French had managed to
negotiate an armistice with the Duke of Burgundy in 1424, and
the Duchy of Brittany returned to its allegiance to the House
of Valois at about the same time. Five years later, the
English were astonished to find that a mere farmgirl, Joan of
Arc, was outgeneralling them, and liberating much of what
they thought was solidly held territory. Although she was
captured in 1431 and burnt as a witch, the decline of
Lancastrian France had begun. The reaction in England was
forceful and immediate. Parliament for the next several
years levied extraordinary taxes to help the Lancastrian
forces, but the best they could manage was a standstill until
1435, when the Duke of Bedford died. Moreover, in 1433, the
Treasurer revealed that the Crown was running a shocking
deficit because of official graft and the expensive war

     On the high seas, the Privy Council's decision to put
the keeping of the seas on the back burner and devote the
majority of the defense budget to France was already causing
problems.79 Although no major forces had come to challenge
the English mastery of the Channel, the only tool that
England had against foreign intrusions was the privateering
legalized under the Conservator Statute, which was kept as
strictly as possible. Unfortunately, this policy failed to
work in the North Sea, where Danes and English preyed upon
each other's fishermen. Although the use of privateering was
permitted against the Danes, no attempt at negotiation seems
to have been made, and matters were only made worse when the
Danes started a war with the Hanseatic League in 1427. The
English, unprotected by royal escorts, were forced to suffer
the injuries of a war not their own, and the privateers did
little to bring peace to the sea.80 In 1430, the Privy
Council arrested all ships in the western counties for a
brief period of six weeks to sweep the Channel free of
pirates, and in 1433, the Cinque Ports' fleet was mobilized
for the same purpose, but these were temporary measures.81

     1435 was a turning point in the fortunes of the house of
Lancaster. The Duke of Bedford, the only man who could bring
Gloucester and Beaufort to compromise, and a competent ruler
in France as well, died. Unfortunately, his death came at a
most unpropitious time, while a peace conference between the
English and French was taking place at Arras, in the Low
Countries. Despite strenuous efforts by both sides to
negotiate a peace, the English were unwilling to give up the
Lancastrian claim to the French throne, no matter what the
cost. The cost, however, was grievous: the Duke of Burgundy,
England's chief ally, broke from the English fold, where he
had been an unwilling ally at best, and allied with the
French. This rendered the Low Countries, and their ports,
hostile territory to Englishmen. Since they bordered on
Calais, the major disembarkation point for English forces,
this was a terrible stroke to English fortunes. Still more
disquieting for English fortunes at sea, French forces
liberated Dieppe, a port on the coast of Normandy in that
same year. A year later, the forces of the Duke of Burgundy
tried to besiege Calais, but were beaten off by forces led by

     The reaction of England to this news was one of dismay
and action. Although this would have been a prime time for
the English to rebuild their fleet to the size that Henry V
had intended it to be kept, the Exchequer was bare of funds.
In 1435, Parliament voted funds for the war effort-but only
for the forces in France-and slashed the funds for the
maintenance of the four great ships, which, even if large and
unwieldy, were all they had to defend the coasts, except for
a pair of small ships, which were used as messengers.83
However, it also suspended the Conservator Statute for seven
years, unleashing the pent-up energies of English pirates. As
it happened, English piracy was met with equal vehemence by
the French, and the seas became risky for shipping of any

     In response, the Privy Council decided to contract out
the task of keeping the seas. The king decided to keep the
seas by making an indenture with a Devonshire knight, Sir
John Speke. Speke had been an MP from Devon, though known for
little else. However, in 1440, he was supposed to raise
forces for a few voyages. He did so, enthusiastically, but
died in 1441 at sea.85 The next attempt at keeping the seas
took place in 1442 when, after continuing the suspension of
the Conservator Statute, Henry VI then contracted with four
knights: Sir William Eure, Sir Miles Stapleton, Sir John
Heron, and Sir John Popham. All of these men were well known
to the king; in fact, Popham was one of his household
knights. The others also had undeniable records of service:
Eure was sheriff of Northumberland, Stapleton was a relative
of the Duke of Suffolk, and Heron was the constable of
Bamburgh Castle on the border with Scotland. They gathered
over two thousand men to serve on the seas for three months.
It was planned that they would repeat their service in 1443,
but this plan was shelved. Instead, some privateers were
hired to do the job. 86

     Meanwhile, the battles in France and in the council room
continued unabated. The Duke of Burgundy, in the one action
he took on the side of the French, made a half-hearted
attempt to capture Calais in 1436, from which he was driven
away by Gloucester. Gloucester's protege, the Duke of York,
was appointed to the position of lieutenant of Normandy that
same year. Under his leadership the English were able to fend
off the worst of the French offensive that captured Paris.87
In England, Henry VI was declared of age in 1437, and began
to surround himself with supporters of Cardinal Beaufort,
like Beaufort's own nephew, the Duke of Somerset, and the
Earl of Suffolk.88

     York and Gloucester were outside the circles of power,
and were continually reminded of this. York was removed from
his position in France in 1440, and Gloucester was disgraced
when his wife, Eleanor, was implicated in a 1441 plot to kill
Henry VI by sorcery. However, troubles in France prompted the
Privy Council to place York back in power there, and he took
the opportunity to drive away French forces that were
nibbling steadily at the frontiers. The next offensive in
France, led by the Duke of Somerset in 1443, did much to
damage both Lancastrian fortunes in France and York's
standing. Somerset, rather than suffer under York's
leadership, persuaded the king to make him equal in the chain
of command, and led his men on an aimless venture. First, he
led a raid into the Duchy of Brittany, at that time friendly
to England, and then he spent the rest of his command
wandering about in the previously conquered province of

     The next step towards the disintegration of English
fortunes abroad began in 1443. The Earl of Suffolk, intent on
settling the French wars, searched for a bride for Henry VI
who could bring peace through a dynastic marriage. By 1444,
with the permission of Henry VI and the Privy Council, he
negotiated for the hand of Margaret of Anjou, the daughter of
Rene of Anjou, one of the great magnates of France. Margaret
married Henry VI in 1445. Unfortunately, all Suffolk achieved
was Margaret's hand and a truce that would last for only two
years.90 This truce seemed to have little bearing on the
level of piracy in the English Channel, for the Cinque Ports
were called upon to sweep the seas free of pirates in 1444
and 1445. This was the last time they would be called forth
to do their duty for fifteen years.91

     The marriage of Margaret and Henry VI was not greeted
with much enthusiasm in England. A two year truce was
scarcely enough for the English to rebuild and prepare for
another onslaught, especially when the Duke of York was
removed from the lieutenantship in 1446 and sent to
Ireland.92 The fact that Margaret convinced her husband to
surrender the province of Maine in 1447 turned opinion
against her and Suffolk. But the worst blow to English
fortunes came when Normandy was lost, as a result of
Suffolk's ham-handed attempt at regaining popularity. It all
began when the truce was renegotiated in 1448, and the Earl
of Suffolk changed the list of English allies to include the
Duchy of Brittany. Although the new duke, Francis, was
actually allied with the French, the French seem not to have
made much of a fuss over the change in his status. However,
Francis had a brother, Giles, a personal friend of Henry VI,
whom Francis kept under lock and key.93

     Suffolk must have thought that if the duchy was a power
allied to England, English forces could have free play inside
its boundaries. In 1449, he sent a group of mercenaries into
the duchy, who stormed Fougeres, a major town. Francis, irate
at this invasion, resisted strongly, and called for French
aid. After the French tried unsuccessfully to get Suffolk to
withdraw his troops, they sent a great army into Normandy,
and swept the English garrisons away by the middle of 1450.
The remaining possessions that England had overseas--Calais
and Gascony--were in danger of being taken by storm
themselves, for their troops were unpaid and their
fortifications dilapidated, thanks to the government's
wretched financial state. Even if the royal coffers were
full, and an army raised, help would have been slow in
coming, because there was no fleet ready to do the Crown's

     Meanwhile, the situation at sea was bleak. Pirates of
all nations regularly picked on English ships and even
periodically raided English coastal towns. A brief period of
activity was seen in 1449, after Parliament finally gave some
money for the keeping of the seas. Some of the king's men,
Gervase Clifton, Robert Winnington, Alexander Iden, and
Thomas Daniell, were asked to form a fleet to keep the seas.
They agreed, and after much difficulty in getting the money
to raise the fleet, set off in the spring of 1449.
Unfortunately for Henry VI and English shipmen, Winnington
acted as if he were one of the pirates he was sent to stop.
While at sea, he caught sight of the "Bay Fleet", which was a
group of ships from the Low Countries and the Hanseatic
League that plied regularly from their home ports to the Bay
of Biscay, where much salt manufacturing was done, and
plundered them. This work of piracy, seemingly sanctioned by
the English Crown, simply made a bad situation worse. The
Hanseatic League's members seized English cargoes as
reprisals, and the Duke of Burgundy, as the Low Countries'
overlord, had to be paid an indemnity by the English.95

     The lessons of history show that the best governments
were also the ones most successful in keeping the seas,
because the king took a personal concern to see that they
were kept. Whether he used ships of his own, or impressed
others' ships, a fleet was one important factor. Keeping
piracy under control, whether by means of law as Henry V had
done, or by physical confrontation, as Edward I and
Edward III had done, was another. The diplomatic situation
also could not be ignored, as Richard II discovered, when
Henry of Derby could take shelter in the Low Countries and
raise an army to strike him down with impunity, because of
the severance of diplomatic ties between the two powers.
Last, but certainly not least, the English overseas
possessions could leave their mark. It was the loss of
Normandy in John's reign which placed England's shores in
jeopardy in the first place, and the capture of Calais by
Edward III which gave England a chokepoint--the Straits of
Dover--on the English Channel, if it were properly used.
Gascony, because of its wine trade, attracted many ships,
which could have been impressed for service, should its lord,
the king of England, have desired to do so. Also, because of
its position on the Bay of Biscay, it could have been a
control point upon the Biscayan trade which flowed between
the Iberian Peninsula and points beyond the Pillars of
Hercules into the Mediterranean Sea and the lands that
bordered on the Atlantic and Baltic. It was up to Henry VI
and Edward IV to use their energies to keep the seas by the
means left to them: diplomacy, colonial assets, and fleets
created by impressment.

                Section II, Part I: Diplomacy

     It has been said that the easiest wars to win are those
which one does not have to fight. Diplomacy, whose role is to
settle disputes by negotiation, is one method which the
English used to keep the seas. Throughout the history of
England, kings or their envoys signed treaties and truces
which were designed, at least in part, to keep the seas by
either ending hostilities against, or forming alliances to
reduce piracy with, other maritime powers, and the three
decades under examination in this thesis are no exception.
When the Conservator Statute was revived in 1451, the English
government now had a tiger to threaten truce-violating
pirates with; unfortunately, under Henry VI's weak rule, the
tiger was mostly paper.

     England's relations with several powers could affect the
safety of the seas. Naturally, her neighbors--Scotland,
France, the Low Countries, and the Duchy of Brittany--were
very important, but the Hanseatic League, a group of towns in
the Holy Roman Empire and on the Baltic Sea, cannot be
ignored. Castile and Portugal also made their impact on
English maritime relations, though more by trade than by
diplomatic contact.

     Henry VI's and Edward IV's foreign relations were not
the sort of diplomacy we have today. Today, we have permanent
embassies in the capitols which deal with high level matters
like alliances, and consulates in the major metropolitan
areas, dealing with tourists, information distribution, and
the smoothing of mercantile troubles between locals and
foreigners, as the most common forms of diplomacy, with state
visits by dignitaries considered ceremonial affairs for the
final signatures on treaties or signs of the utmost urgency
in international problem solving.  Mediaeval diplomacy, on
the other hand, had no concept of the permanent embassy,
although the Steelyard of the Hanseatic League in London
might be considered a consulate. Instead, diplomatic matters
were conducted by visiting envoys, usually spiritual or
temporal peers, gentry, or heralds, accompanied by a retinue
of clerks and gentlemen.1 In England, diplomatic
correspondence was handled by the Privy Seal Office, although
the Chancery enrolled the treaties on the Treaty Rolls.2

     Henry VI's diplomacy and its relation to the keeping of
the sea centered around the maintenance or creation of truces
between England and her neighbors. The Low Countries had been
in a state of truce with the English since 1446, and had a
commercial treaty permitting free trade between England and
the Low Countries since 1439, which was due to expire in
1459.3 However, because of the competition that the Low
Countries' cloth industry faced from English weavers, the
Duke of Burgundy banned English cloth in 1447. The English
responded by strong, though peaceful, protests. After two
years of pleading with the duke, the Merchant Adventurers,
who were a group of English cloth exporters, decided to take
a more direct route, and boycotted the Antwerp fair, the
major fair in the Low Countries. In 1452, without a shot
having been fired, the English won, and Burgundy repealed his
ban on English cloth.4

     Henry VI's relations with the Hanseatic League, after
the Bay Fleet fiasco in 1449, were cold, at best. The
Hanseatic League announced an embargo on English merchandise,
which was frequently violated, and declared open season on
English shipping, which was responded to with great
enthusiasm, and the round of piracy and privateering began
with renewed ferocity.5 Envoys sent to negotiate with the
League's "protector," the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order,
were captured by Hanseatic pirates in 1450, who took them to
Lubeck. After they had left Lubeck later that year, either as
escapees from jail or upon being liberated, and joined a new
set of English envoys, among them the English prior of the
Knights of Rhodes, negotiations broke down over the question
of whether the escapees ought to be included in the new group
of envoys.6

     In 1452, the Grand Master announced that another
conference between the English and the Hanseatic League would
take place in the next year. However, the cities of the
League confounded him, and decided instead to hold an
internal meeting on their policy regarding the Low
Countries.7 In 1454, the Hanseatic League gave up on its
embargo, and in 1456, a truce was declared between the
Hanseatic League and England, which was broken by the Earl of
Warwick in 1458, when he attacked a League fleet in the
English Channel.8 This brought about a return of sporadic
conflict between the Hanseatic League and England, which
would not end until the middle of the reign of Edward IV, in
1474. In fact, Edward, prompted by the mercantile community,
entirely cut off all relations between the Hanseatic League
and England, save for the citizens of Koln, from 1468 until
1474, because of the Hansards' refusal to give into English
pleas for reciprocity of trading privileges and over the
settlement of piracy suits.9

     Scotland, England's oldest enemy, and the only one at
this time which shared a land frontier with England, was kept
nominally at bay by a truce which dated back to 1438. When
the truce was renewed in 1444, it was scheduled to expire in
1454.10 Henry VI also acquired a bargaining chip in 1452,
when the Earl of Douglas, who was in rebellion against the
king of the Scots because the king had murdered his father,
took refuge in England. When the truce expired in 1455, the
king of the Scots attacked Berwick, one of the frontier
forts, and renounced the truce in the spring of 1456. Even
though the Scottish forces were driven off by the Duke of
York in 1457, the ten year truce that was signed at the time
did nothing to stop piracy and border raiding.11

     As for Henry VI's relations with the Duchy of Brittany
and France, there is scant proof of any sort of truce at that
time between England and those powers. The conquest of
Gascony in 1453 effectively ended the Hundred Years' War,
since Calais was nestled in Artois, one of the provinces of
the Duke of Burgundy, with whom the English were at peace.
Later, in 1457, the sack of Sandwich, one of the Cinque Ports
in the shire of Kent, by Piers de Breze, Admiral of France,
showed that France had returned to the seas in a mighty way,
while England lacked a permanent navy.12

     Edward IV's major diplomatic problems were with the
Scots and the French. In the last phase of the Yorkist coup,
the Scots invaded England, beseiged Roxburgh, and threatened
to take over Berwick as well.13 Meanwhile, the French, urged
on by Margaret of Anjou, prepared a fleet to invade England;
the most it did, however, was conquer the island of Jersey.14

     The Lancastrian forces fled to Scotland, and were
promised aid in return for territorial concessions. However,
this aid was slow in coming, and Margaret was sent to France
to raise more aid. Edward IV persuaded the Earl of Douglas,
still a guest in England, to start a rebellion in Scotland in
1462, which diverted the Scots from helping Henry VI.
Eventually, the Scots came to the bargaining table, and a
brief truce that would last through the summer of 1462 was

     Meanwhile, the French had given Margaret a small
squadron of ships and men, which she landed at Bamborough.
Yorkist forces soon dispersed them and she and Henry VI fled
back into Scotland, where they would make periodic raids into
England, aided by traitors. Eventually, though, they wore out
their welcome and left for France, and the Scots made a
permanent truce with the English in 1464.16

     Throughout this period, the Earl of Warwick, Edward IV's
most important vassal, began creating a foreign policy which
ran somewhat in opposition to Edward IV's. He entered into
negotiation with Louis XI, the king of France, and, while
negotiating a marriage for his king, became enmeshed in the
political aspirations of the French king. Louis XI, like the
later Tudor monarchs of England, had a dislike of "overmighty
vassals" like the duke of Brittany and the duke of Burgundy,
who ruled their duchies as if they were independent states.
Louis XI, in proposing a marriage with his niece for Edward
IV, may have hoped to have drawn the young king into his
plans. However, Edward IV confounded their plans in 1464,
when he announced his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.
Despite the downfall of Louis XI's deeper plans, the two
kings signed a truce on land and sea in the spring of that

     Edward IV's own ideas on foreign relations did not agree
with Warwick's. Instead of letting Louis XI become the major
power in Europe, he preferred to keep a balance of power on
the Continent by allying with other powers: Castile, with
whom he signed a treaty in 1467, the Low Countries, whose
economies were so closely linked that of England, and the
duchy of Brittany. One of Edward IV's triumphs in this area
was the marriage alliance between Charles, the duke of
Burgundy's heir, and his sister Margaret in 1468.18 Edward IV
also signed an alliance with Brittany in that same year, in
which Edward IV was supposed to send some archers to support
Breton troops in the war that the duke was fighting against
the French, to be paid by the duke himself. However, the
treaty's details took so long to be hammered out, that by the
time the treaty was done, the duke of Brittany had to
surrender to the French forces. The duke of Burgundy,
disheartened by Brittany's poor fortune, also made his peace
with Louis XI. However, Edward IV did not let the force he
had built for Brittany go to waste-he used it to liberate the
isle of Jersey from the French.19

     Edward IV's diplomatic course had humiliated the Earl of
Warwick, and Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had
pushed the Neville clan from its high place in royal favor.
Finally, the earl broke his allegiance to Edward IV in 1469,
and eventually realigned himself with the Lancastrians, who
had been living in exile in France. After this turn of
events, Warwick and the Lancastrians invaded and put Henry VI
back on the throne. This brief period of Lancastrian rule,
called the readeption of Henry VI, lasted for just under a
year.20 Meanwhile, Edward IV fled to his brother in law's
dominions in the Low Countries, gathered a flotilla partially
composed of vessels from the Hanseatic League town of Koeln,
and invaded England, pushing Henry VI off the throne once and
for all, and killing the Earl of Warwick.21 As a reward for
their help, Edward IV signed a treaty with the town of Koeln,
granting it the old Hanseatic privileges. This only made the
Anglo-Hanseatic conflict more intense, but eventually both
sides went to the negotiating table and signed a treaty at
Utrecht in the Low Countries in 1474.22

     Edward IV returned to his earlier diplomatic strategy of
isolating Louis XI with a vengeance when he returned to the
throne in 1471. Brittany and Burgundy came forth with a new
alliance against the French, which Edward IV gladly accepted.
However, as before, once the Duke of Brittany was faced with
the possibility of losing a war to Louis XI, he broke the
alliance.23 Finally, in the summer of 1474, the Duke of
Burgundy and Edward IV came to an agreement about a joint
campaign in France, called the treaty of London.24 Edward IV
then pacified the Scots with a marriage alliance between the
heir to the throne of Scotland and one of Edward IV's
daughters, which included a truce that was to last beyond the
end of the century.25 As part of a plan of encirclement,
Edward IV also renegotiated the 1467 treaty with Castile in
1475, when Spain was united under the Catholic Monarchs, and
signed an alliance with Brittany, though he did not expect
much from the duchy.26

     The invasion of France that took place in 1475 was
scarcely the full scale war that Edward IV's predecessors had
waged. He landed at Calais with the greatest host seen in
years, drove south, and upon finding himself utterly deserted
by his allies, decided to make peace with the French. Louis
XI was happy to do so. The result was the treaty of
Picquigny. This was a full peace treaty, ending the Hundred
Years' War, and granting Edward IV a massive bribe to refrain
from molesting France again.27 By 1475, England was at peace
with all her neighbors, at least on paper. Treaties, however,
are like all other forms of promises: they are only as good
as the men who make them. The seas could not be kept by a
show of good faith alone, and the English kings had something
to help them that no others of their day had-colonies, which,
if defended, could act as a barrier to anything in the

           Section II, Part II: Gascony and Calais

     England's Continental possessions were once called her
"barbicans before the moat," with the moat being the seas
between her and her enemies.28 Barbicans were the parts of a
castle which were designed as pickets to delay the attackers,
as well as places for the defenders to make a counterat-
tack.29 In the period covered by this thesis, the major
Continental possessions were Calais and Gascony. Perhaps the
thinking was that England's enemies had to somehow neutralize
these territories, or fleets from England, Calais, and
Gascony could trap them on the sea and destroy them. Was
this, indeed, how England's colonies were used?

     In the case of Gascony, unfortunately, no. Gascony had
been Plantagenet territory ever since Henry II married
Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the twelfth century.30 The nobles of
Gascony served Henry VI's ancestors in their wars, and they
served him as well. But, early in his reign, a decision was
made by the Privy Council to concentrate the war effort on
holding Normandy and the other provinces which Henry V had
conquered, to the neglect of the keeping of the seas and
Gascony.31 In 1442, Gascony was almost conquered by a French
host, but was saved by a brutal winter.32

     By 1450, the situation in Gascony was dangerous. The
French had already marched against Normandy and smashed the
Lancastrian garrisons there, and, contrary to common sense,
the surrendering garrisons were not sent to bolster the
feeble forces in Gascony, but discharged at home, wages
unpaid. Gascony had been running at a deficit for years.33
The fortifications around the major ports of Bayonne and
Bordeaux were dilapidated, and, like the mother country, it
had no navy.34 The French invaded in 1451, and swiftly
defeated the English and Gascon forces, before reinforcements
could arrive from England under Lord Rivers.35

     The Gascons were restless under French rule, and in
1452, a delegation from Gascony arrived at the court of
Henry VI with a plan to liberate Gascony. All Henry VI had to
do was send an army to Gascony, and the citizens of Bordeaux
and the other towns would throw off their allegiance to the
king of France. Henry VI assented to this plan. In the autumn
of 1452, he sent Lord Talbot, one of the old generals who had
served under him, and his father before him, to Gascony with
a force of 2,000 soldiers. Upon Talbot's landing, the
rebellion proceeded as planned. Town after town opened its
gates to the returning English.36

     The French decided to wait until the spring of 1453 to
reconquer Gascony. The English took advantage of the respite
of a season by sending some more troops to Gascony under the
command of Talbot's son and the seneschal of Gascony, and
garrisoning the forts and towns around Bordeaux. When the
French arrived, however, they came prepared for a siege,
bringing an artillery train commanded by Jean Bureau. Also,
they blockaded the coast of Gascony, in order to cut off any
rescue missions from England or Calais. The first encounter
Talbot's forces had with the French, in May, was an English
defeat, and Talbot withdrew to his fortifications. This led
to his defeat, for the French reduced his garrisons one by
one, until Talbot held only the city of Bordeaux and the
Medoc Peninsula. The Medoc is part of the mouth of the
Garonne, which runs through Bordeaux and is its sole route to
the sea. The French decided to box Talbot in, and laid siege
to Castillon, the major town of the Medoc, in the high summer
of 1453. Talbot moved out of Bordeaux, and mistaking a
foraging column returning to the artillery positions for
fleeing French troops, went with his cavalry in pursuit. As
one might have expected, the well-fortified guns slaughtered
the English cavalry, and Castillon fell soon afterward.37

     The French moved next to encircle Bordeaux. The
shipowning citizens of Bordeaux sent out their ships to
harass the French land positions, and in an attempt to run
the French blockade. The French blockade held, and the city
of Bordeaux was forced to surrender in the fall of 1453.
English efforts to gather a fleet to raise the blockade had
been made, but the process of gathering it took longer than
the siege itself, and the gathered ships were sent back about
their normal business.38

     The history of the March of Calais from 1450 until 1480
differs from that of Gascony. Calais was never part of
Normandy, and because of its location in Artois, a nominally
Burgundian territory, it was not exposed to attack when
Normandy fell, as Gascony was.39 The March of Calais was a
strip of coastal plain of about twenty miles in length and
six miles in width, including not only the city of Calais,
but also several fortified places like Hammes and Guisnes.
The only port of the march, however, was Calais. The march
was governed by the Captain of Calais, who was appointed by
Parliament. The Captain was assisted in his duties by two
officials: the Treasurer of Calais and the Victualler of
Calais, who ensured that the garrison was fed, equipped, and

     Calais was excellently situated as a naval base for
England. The town was two dozen miles across the Channel from
Dover, and a set of signal beacons existed on Dover Castle
and Calais' church steeples. It took only two days for a
messenger to travel from London to Calais, and ships bearing
wool and supplies were constantly in the port of Calais.41
These ships might have easily been hired for military
service.  Also, the garrisons of Guisnes, Hammes and Calais
were the only English standing army, constantly ready for

     The first Captain in this period was the Duke of
Somerset, the last Lieutenant of Normandy. He was Captain
from 1451 to 1454, having taken over from the Captain of
Rysbank Castle and the Lieutentant of Calais. Although there
were several scares and rumors predicting French or
Burgundian attacks on Calais at this time, the last attack
made on Calais was that which the Duke of Burgundy had made
in 1436, and it was the only major attack made on the March
of Calais until the fall of Henry VI.43 Somerset's tenure was
a terrible time for Calais. The garrison's wages were often
in arrears, and the walls of the town and the fortifications
grew dilapidated from lack of money to make repairs, despite
the best efforts of Gervase Clifton, his Treasurer of Calais.
In 1454, the Duke of York, acting as Lord Protector of
England, forced Somerset from his captaincy, and insisted on
an accounting of the garrison's arrears. His investigative
team, headed by the Bastard of Fauconberg, a relative of the
Earl of Warwick, found that the debts owed to the garrison
were in excess of sixty thousand pounds sterling. In reaction
to Somerset's malfeasance, York tried to place a new man in
the position of Captain of Calais: the Earl of Warwick, but
had to wait for Somerset, placed again in charge of Calais
after the end of his protectorate, to be removed by the Privy

     Warwick took command of Calais in 1456, and was only
removed from his position by his death in 1471. He promptly
won the soldiers of the town and the outlying forts to his
cause by paying their wages.46 He also had other goals in
mind, for he also began to befriend important mariners in the
Cinque Ports, which were the nearest friendly ports to
Calais, and to purchase ships.47 After the 1457 raid by the
French on Sandwich, the Earl of Warwick was appointed Keeper
of the Seas for three years. He used this office as a chance
to practice piracy without let or hindrance, first hitting a
Castilian fleet in the spring of 1458, and smashing the "Bay
Fleet," as Clifton and the others had done in 1449, in the
summer of 1458.48 These actions could have been explained as
legal reprisal, for Castile and England were at war, and
there were ongoing hostilities in the North and Baltic Seas
between ships belonging to English ports and those belonging
to the Hanseatic League. When he sent his ships up the Thames
to plunder three vessels owned by Italians who had bought
licenses to bypass the Staple of Calais, supposedly the only
legal outlet for English wool, however, he entered into
outright piracy. Even so, he gained a great deal of popular
favor for his deeds from the xenophobic public.49 He might
have used the booty to pay the soldiers of Calais. In 1459,
he captured five Italian ships on the high seas, and lost
none of his popularity.50

     This popularity came in handy after the battle of
Ludlow in 1459, when he was deserted by the soldiers he had
brought over from Calais to meet the Lancastrian forces. He
escaped the pursuers which Margaret of Anjou, the head of the
Lancastrian faction, had sent after him, and ensconced
himself with other Yorkists in Calais.51

     The Duke of Somerset pursued him at sea, but, when
Somerset found that Warwick was too popular in the town of
Calais, he went down the coast, landed his forces, and
captured Guisnes.52 On the fifteenth of January of 1460,
Warwick heard that Lord Rivers had been preparing a fleet to
reinforce Somerset in Sandwich. Warwick sent a fleet led by
John Dynham to destroy the Lancastrian fleet. Dynham crossed
the English Channel without being challenged, and stormed
Sandwich, capturing Lord Rivers, Anthony Woodville, his son,
and the fleet which they were preparing. Dynham took his
captives and their former fleet fleet back to Calais. Warwick
added that fleet to his own, and after taunting the
Woodvilles in public and briefly imprisoning Rivers and his
son, sent them back to England. Warwick went to visit York in
Ireland, where York's rule as lieutenant was warmly
remembered, to plan their next move. On his way back, Warwick
faced a fleet led by the Duke of Exeter, and scattered them
without a shot being fired.53 A few days later, he heard that
Osbert Moundford, one of his former subordinates, was
gathering another fleet in Sandwich. Warwick sent off another
expedition, which was as successful as the one he had sent
against Lord Rivers. Moundford was brought back, and
decapitated on the twenty fifth of June of 1460.54 A day
later, Warwick sailed with the other Yorkists to England,
and, landing without facing any opposition, was able to help
Edward IV gain the throne of England. In 1462, Warwick was
appointed once more to the office of Keeper of the Seas, but
he spent most of his time in England and Scotland, fighting
the Scots and Lancastrians.55

     The next time Calais comes to the fore as a naval base,
was the period from 1469 until Warwick's death in 1471. At
first, the earl was taking advantage of a widening of the
rift between the English and the Hanseatic League to practice
piracy for his own gain, again using ships of his own fleet
based in Calais.56 Later, when the rift that was widening was
not that of England and the Hanseatic League, but that
between Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick, Calais held firm
under Warwick's subordinate, Lord Wenlock. Wenlock may have
temporarily saved Edward IV by denying Warwick the use of the
closest harbor to England. Instead, Warwick, after briefly
terrorizing the English Channel as a pirate, had to retreat
to Normandy to gather his invasion forces.57

     After Warwick's death in the battle of Barnet in 1471,
Calais was without a Captain. Edward IV decided to place a
faithful Yorkist in that office: his chamberlain, Lord
Hastings. Lord Hastings' tenure lasted throughout the reign
of Edward IV. The only dangers to Calais after 1471 were a
series of raids carried out by pirates from the Hanseatic
League during the years of 1472 and 1473, which ceased after
a peace treaty was signed by Edward IV and the Hanseatic
League in 1474. Calais was used as Edward IV's landing point
for his French invasion in 1475, but the town was never in
danger again, from land or sea.58

     Calais and Gascony may have been well placed to act as
English naval bases, but colonies do little good if they are
not properly governed. Gascony suffered by distance and
indifference, and those two factors led to its conquest by
the French. Calais also suffered from Lancastrian
mismanagement, but the arrival of the Earl of Warwick to its
Captaincy briefly brought its advantages to the fore. After
his death, Calais hosted a great fleet of warships once more.
Those warships were not there to patrol the Channel; instead,
they were a sign that the Channel was secure enough for
Edward IV to invade France. Simply having colonies along
major shipping lanes was not enough to ensure the keeping of
the seas; the history of Gascony demonstrates this fact.
However, the history of Calais demonstrates how a properly
governed colony, if it supported a fleet, could aid sea
keeping expeditions. In the end, it all depended on the
existence of a fleet to patrol the sea and supply the
colonial garrisons.

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Copyright 1996 by Craig Levin, 6700 Belcrest Road, apt. 1105, Hyattsville, MD 20782.< clevin at ripco.com>. Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided author is credited and receives a copy.

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org