Seakeeping-p2-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 Seakeeping-p2-art.
NOTE: See also the files: med-ships-art, ships-bib, ships-msg, nav-inst-msg,
rope-msg, travel-msg, Nav-Crosstaff-art, travel-foods-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.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
<begin, part 2 of 2>
Section II, Part III: Temporary Fleets
As has been hinted at above, the cornerstone of good sea
keeping was a fleet at sea, defending the English coast and
the ships of English merchants and fishermen from enemies of
the realm. Since the great armada of Henry V had been sold
off for nearly three decades by 1450, the Crown had to make
temporary sea keeping fleets by impressing merchantmen and
fishing smacks. This section will examine various issues
involved in the use of such fleets from 1450 until 1480: who
gathered the ships together and led the fleets, the strategic
rationale behind their activities, and how the fleets were
supplied and financed.
The least expensive-but also least useful-fleet to
gather was that of the Cinque Ports. The Cinque Ports, as was
mentioned above, was a confederation of towns on the Sussex
and Kent coasts, which dated back to the reign of Edward the
Confessor. Each member of the confederation had to provide a
certain number of ships, each manned by twenty men, the
ship's master, and a cabin boy, to serve the king for two
weeks free of cost, or a sum of money great enough to pay for
hiring those ships for the fortnight. The fleet that could be
created in this fashion was quite respectable-fifty seven
ships, which was larger than any permanent royal fleet of
that century, even Henry V's.59
There were two problems with depending upon the Cinque
Ports for naval defense, however. Many of the ports had been
affected by geological changes which damaged their harbors,
and hence, their prosperity and ability to raise the required
number of ships for service.60 The two weeks service, while
it was enough time to load up troops, cross the English
Channel, unload, and return, was not quite long enough for a
trip to Gascony, let alone enough time for rooting out and
destroying pirate havens.61 For these reasons, the services
of the Cinque Ports were only called upon twice from 1450 to
The first time was during Henry VI's readeption. The
minutes of the meeting of the confederation's private court,
the Brodhull, record that the Warden of the Cinque Ports had
received a letter from the Privy Seal Office, authorizing him
to mobilize the fleet.62 The next time the Cinque Ports'
services were called upon was in 1475, when Edward IV called
upon the Warden once more to mobilize the fleet, and
rendezvous with other ships off the coast of Kent, in order
to transport his army to Calais.63
Aside from the Cinque Ports, there were two other ways
which the king could assemble temporary fleets. The first was
making indentures with shipmasters for a specified length of
time. The other, used more frequently, was by impressment,
also called arrest, of merchantmen in one or more ports. The
impressing was done by commissions of arrest, composed of
prominent men, often from the port or from the neighboring
countryside, though royal officials might find themselves on
such commissions. These impressed ships would then be put
under the command of a person or committee which had been
appointed by one of these bodies: Parliament, the king, or
the Privy Council.
The first keepers of the seas who rise into the
limelight in the period under examination were appointed, as
a group, by the Privy Council in 1449. One of them was Robert
Winnington, whose depredations on Hanseatic ships were
mentioned above, Gervase Clifton, who was the deputy of the
Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Alexander Iden. Thomas
Daniell was appointed to oversee their efforts, a few months
later. Unfortunately, except for Winnington, the other men
had to scrape and struggle for their money through 1449 and
into 1450, but to no avail. Aside from Winnington, the others
could not find many ships to hire. For that matter, how he
acquired his ships is hard to discover; perhaps, since he
came from Devon, a shire notorious for piracy, he had
previously been involved in crime on the high seas.64
Subsequent expeditions to keep the seas were planned in
1452, while troops were being shipped to Gascony. The first
was made on the twenty sixth of January. The men in charge of
it were Leo de Wellys, Richard Woodville, son of Lord Rivers,
and Osbert Moundford, who was a leader in the Calais garrison
and a notorious pirate. They were ordered to gather ships
together for the resistance of the king's enemies, and
because there was a rumor of war at Calais, for the king's
journey there. Since the rumor was false, these men were sent
off on their primary mission of sea keeping.65
The second was originally headed by Thomas de Clifford,
who was appointed to his office by the Privy Council on the
nineteenth of March.66 He was also among those selected to
arrest the ships for his own fleet, which was not typical.
He was aided by two knights, Sir James Pickering and Sir
James Strangways, and the customers-customs agents-of
Newcastle and Hull. Strangways and Pickering had previously
served as investigators into incidents of piracy, and
undoubtedly knew who the best men for naval warfare were in
that part of the kingdom.67 According to Griffiths, Clifford
was just the organizer, and another man, the Earl of
Shrewsbury, was placed in actual command.68
Another expedition, intended to supplement Clifford and
Shrewsbury, was led by Gervase Clifton, a Nottinghamshire
knight of old stock, in the summer of the same year.69
Clifton gathered his forces at either Dover or Sandwich, the
largest ports in Kent. After his force of a thousand men was
inspected, perhaps for payroll purposes, by the mayors of
Sandwich and Dover and two other gentlemen, he weighed anchor
on the fifth of September, and was required to serve for
three months.70 However, Clifton stayed at sea for two months
after the government's money ran out, and asked Henry VI to
reimburse him from the Exchequer for that service.71
Another sea keeping mission of 1452 was led by Sir
Edmund Hull, who was also given a force of a thousand
soldiers and asked to serve for three months. Unlike Clifton,
Hull adhered to his orders and came home after his three
months of service, only to die in the battle of Castillon.72
Also, Thomas, Lord Roos, agreed to raise a fleet of East
Anglian ships at his own cost, to patrol the sea in that
area, at about the same time.73 Since Lord Roos owned half a
dozen ships, he may have undertaken this mission because of
the hostilities between East Anglian fishermen and Hanseatic
pirates at that time, in order to protect his investments.74
1453, the year Gascony was lost, saw several arrests for
service in Gascony, but only a single mission to keep the
seas. With Gascony lost, and so much blood and treasure
wasted overseas, the Lancastrian government was stretched to
its limits. This mission was led by William, Lord Bonville,
in the autumn of 1453. Bonville had been seneschal of
Aquitaine, and steward of the duchy of Cornwall, so he was an
important member of Henry VI's court, and probably one
experienced in naval combat. Bonville used his connections in
the West Country, for he got his ships from the pirate ridden
ports of Fowey, Dartmouth, and Falmouth, as well as the ports
of Exmouth and Plymouth.75
The next year, 1454, was the year that the Duke of York
was appointed Lord Protector while Henry VI underwent a bout
of mental illness. York and the Privy Council made an
indenture, a contract, with some of the greatest nobles of
England to keep the seas for three years. The Earl of
Salisbury, who was the chancellor at the time, the Earl of
Worcester, who was the treasurer, Viscount Bourgchier, Lord
Fitzwarin, and the Earl of Oxford, who were allies of York,
were listed. Also, Lancastrians like the Earl of Shrewsbury,
who had led one of the sea keeping expeditions of 1452, the
Earl of Wiltshire, and Lord Stourton were included. In order
to fund the expedition, the keepers could practice simony-
they had the right to appoint a customer (customs inspector)
in each port. Since the office went to prominent merchants,
it was probably sold for a tidy sum. Also, Parliament had
been asked to arrange loans for the keepers, but due to the
restlessness of the garrison of Calais, the money that was
raised went instead to the paying of the soldiers of Calais,
and the navy was to be paid by shifting other royal revenues
to its commanders. The Privy Council also forbade English
ships from going to enemy harbors, and refused to issue safe
conducts to alien merchants, keeping the venture secret.76
The ships for this fleet were gathered in the spring of
1454 by two commissions, created at nearly the same time. The
first commission consisted of Thomas Martyn, William Veysey,
and Thomas Belgrave. Belgrave was a member of a commission in
charge of arresting ships for a mission to Gascony in 1453.
Neysey was "water bailiff" of the Thames, which was an office
involved in keeping order on the river, like keeping English
ships from leaving the Thames without making a deposition at
the Conservator's office. Martyn was a merchant, who had been
involved in shipping the troops over to Gascony. They were
ordered to arrest ships from London, Sandwich, Dover, and
Winchelsea, and assemble them at Sandwich, and to hire
mariners to man the ships as well.77 The other commission
consisted of John Thirsk, who was the mayor of Hull, the
customers of Hull, and Hugh Clyderowe. Clyderowe had
previously been mayor of Hull himself, and was often called
upon to act as a member of a commission of inquiry in piracy
With all of the effort expended in gathering a fleet, it
is disappointing to record that the fleet which was gathered
only went to sea once, in the summer of 1454. It may have
swept the seas of foreign pirates, but one of its shipmen,
Andrew Trollope, who was a leader of a detachment of soldiers
in Calais, is said to have committed some acts of piracy
under its umbrella. After that summer sailing, money ran out,
and the political turmoil in England prevented them from
finding any more money. The fleet was disbanded, which left
Sandwich easy prey when Piers de Breze came to burn it in
August of 1457.80
The Earl of Warwick's appointment in 1456 to the
Captaincy of Calais put him in contact with several men
skilled in seamanship or piracy. Gervase Clifton, Andrew
Trollope, and Osbert Moundford, an inveterate pirate who had
been involved in the Gacony rescue, were all serving there in
one position or another. After the sack of Sandwich, Warwick
was appointed keeper of the sea for three years, aided by Leo
de Wellys and Gervase Clifton.81 He was supported in this
office by a variety of revenues, including an entire grant of
tunnage and poundage--the major customs tax of the time--a
thousand pounds sterling from the revenues of the Duchy of
Lancaster, and five hundred pounds sterling from Chancery
The sea keeping fleet was assembled by seven
commissions, which were created in the fall of 1457. The
first commission was made to create a fleet for Gervase
Clifton, who may still have been working at Calais.83 The
members of this commission were Henry Auger, John William,
Robert Brenchley, and Laurence Borough. Borough and Auger
were otherwise unknown esquires, but William was a
Southampton merchant, who had previously been mayor of the
town. Brenchley came from a Kentish gentry family of the town
of Benenden, which was by the sea. None seem to have had
previous experience with such a commission, though William
had sat on inquiries for piracy.84
The next commission was supposed to hire mariners and
ships, and victual them as well. The commission consisted of
two men, Richard Grayell and Robert Chattok. Grayell was a
shipowner of London, who had been involved in the planning of
the missions to Gascony. Chattok enters the record here, but
he was later involved in other maritime commissions.85
The next commission was an order to the Warden of the
Cinque Ports, who was ordered to arrest ships to form a fleet
for Leo de Wellys. Wellys had been involved in a 1452
commission of arrest for a proposed visit by the king to
Calais. He was, himself, a leader of soldiers in Calais, and
was also involved in various peace keeping efforts in Kent.86
The commission after that was to gather sailors and
ships in Hull. It was composed of Hugh Clyderowe, who has
been mentioned above, James Kyghley, William Dobson, John
Brande, Robert Benyngton, and Thomas Marflete. Kyghley was a
merchant of York and a member of the Staple, who would have
sailed to and from Calais numerous times. Dobson was a
soldier, presumably of the Calais garrison. Brande's name
seems to have been previously unknown in governmental
circles, but Benyngton was anything but anonymous. He had
been involved in a series of felonies in 1449, for which he
had been pardoned. Marflete, a native of Hull, had been
involved in one of the commissions to hire seamen for the
large sea keeping expedition planned during the Duke of
York's protectorate. Also, Marflete was involved in the same
series of felonies as Benyngton; perhaps they had violated
the Conservator Statute and had bought pardons for piracy.87
The next commission was given to William Chattok, John
Stokker, John Lokke, William Haydok, William Corbet, Richard
Grayell, and William Kerver. Grayell has been mentioned
above, and Chattok, who might have been related to the Robert
Chattok who had served before with Grayell, is first noticed
here. Lokke was a merchant of London. Haydok was keeper of
Eltham manor, a royal appointment. Stokker was a merchant of
London. He had been a member of an embassy to the Hanseatic
League, which had been imprisoned at Lubeck, and had helped
get the ships for that embassy. Corbet seems to have been a
prosperous London merchant like John Stokker. Kerver's name
is first mentioned here.88
The commission after this was composed of Thomas
Everyngham and James Knyghley, who were supposed to arrest
ships in Hull. Everyngham had acted as a justice of gaol
delivery and a collector of forced loans for the expedition
to Gascony. Knyghley was a wool merchant from York.89
The next commission was made up of the sheriff of
Bristol, the mayor of Bristol, and a man named William
Howell. They were supposed to gather ships and shipmen,
carpenters for the maintenance of the ships, and entrenching
equipment for Calais. Howell had previously been sheriff of
Bristol himself. He was involved in the gathering of money
for the major sea keeping expedition during York's
protectorate.90 The final commission was the municipal
government of London. The city had decided to form a fleet
for the keeping of the sea, and needed permission to impress
ships and seamen for it.91
There were also several commissions to arrest ships for
the relief of Roxburgh.92 A few commissions had been made to
shipowners who had been retained directly by the Crown, so
that they could hire more sailors. For the most part, the
shipowners were English natives, but one was a resident of
San Sebastian in Castile, a sign that despite the Castilian
nominal enmity to England during the Hundred Years War, trade
was constant between the two realms.93
Although Warwick's fleet was active in 1458, it was not
until 1459 that he received more ships and victuals from
governmental sources. Three commissions were appointed to do
this duty. The first commission consisted of Henry Auger,
Richard Clapaham, William Frere, John Walker, John Paston,
John Golond, Robert Moot, and Christopher Couley. Paston's
career has all but entered into historical legend as a
country gentleman from East Anglia, because the papers of
his family have been meticulously preserved over the
centuries. Auger has been mentioned above. Frere was part of
a commission of inquiry into acts of piracy. Clapaham, Moot,
Couley, Walker, and Golond first appeared in this commission,
and their histories are unknown.94
The next commission had three members: Richard Grayell,
John Tymyot, and John Braunche. Grayell's career has been
mentioned above. Tymyot and Braunche never appeared before on
any commission until then, and their careers are unknown
until that point, though one might suspect that they were
associates of Grayell.95
The last commission had seven members. Not only were the
three men of the previous commission on it, but they were
joined in their search for ships, men and material by John
Ottir, William Brereton, John Edmond and John Thomas. Ottir
and Brereton are not mentioned on any commission until then.
Edmond was a shipowner in Sandwich. He also was part of a
commission that was sent to hunt down alchemists. One is not
readily able to discern what Thomas' previous career was, for
there are several John Thomases in the records, and none of
them appear likely candidates for a position on this
In addition to Warwick's general duties as Keeper of the
Seas, a final commission, given in the winter of 1459, was
given to William Scot to arrest ships and seamen. Scot was
supposed to safeguard the coasts around the town of
Winchelsea for one year. Scot was one of the handful of
shipowners who had been given a commission to impress seamen
for duty in 1457.97
1460, the period when the Yorkist revolt was at its
height, would have been a time when control of the seas
around England was vital. The Yorkist lords were in exile in
Ireland or in Calais. If a fleet was able to keep them
overseas, or even smash their forces, the Lancastrian cause
might well have been saved.
The Duke of Somerset was given orders to liberate Calais
from Warwick, and he sailed from Sandwich with a large army
in the last months of 1459. He was repelled by Yorkist
forces, and captured Guisnes, one of the fortresses on the
March of Calais, instead. The Lancastrians decided to build a
new fleet for the purpose of helping the Guisnes garrison in
the first few days of 1460. The fleet was supposed to be led
by Lord Rivers. It was captured in a daring night raid by the
Earl of Warwick's ally, John Dynham, who crossed the Channel
before Rivers could mobilize his fleet.98
In reaction to this raid, a commission was formed to
gather ships and men to hopefully ensure that more raids
would not take place. The four members were Thomas and
Baldwin Fulford, Otto Gilbert, and Willam Care. The Fulfords
and Gilbert were West Country gentry, who were active in the
militia and as justices of the peace in Devon and Cornwall.
Care does not seem to have previously participated in this
sort of public service.99
Another commission to keep the Yorkists out of England
was formed on the sixth of December of 1459. Of the seven
members of the commission, three had naval experience:
Gervase Clifton, Richard Grayell, and the Duke of Buckingham,
who was the Warden of the Cinque Ports. Grayell was
appointed, in a concurrent commission, to victual the fleet.
The other members of the commission were Thomas Kiriell, John
Cheny, Thomas Broun, and Thomas Hexstall. Broun, Hexstall,
Kiriell, and Cheny, were all residents of the shire of Kent.
All of them had been members of commissions of array, which
called out local militias for defense, and Hexstall had sat
on a number of piracy inquiries.100
The Duke of Exeter was appointed Admiral of England for
three years in a writ found in Foedera, made in the spring of
1460. He was assisted in this effort by Sir Baldwin
Fulford.101 In order to provide them with a fleet, two
commissions of arrest were formed. The first consisted of
Thomas Hexstall, who has been mentioned above, Robert
Colwell, John Lokwode, and John Clifford. Colwell was the
bailiff of Dover, one of the highest officials in the town's
government. Clifford previously was a member of several
commissions of array and of inquiry into acts of piracy.
Lokwode, however, does not seem to have had a previous public
The second commission was composed of nine men: the
sheriffs of Norfolk, Essex, and Suffolk, and Henry Coventre,
John Waynflete, Thomas Barker, Thomas Edmond, John Yong, and
John Samuell. Coventre was an East Anglian gentleman, whose
other exploits are unknown. Waynflete was a London merchant.
Barker and Samuell were unknowns, called to the front by the
press of circumstances. Edmond was one of the people who
supplied seafood to the royal household, and presumably had
connections with fishermen. Yong was also a London merchant,
and had served as London's sheriff.103
This fleet set out to intercept Warwick, on his way back
from Ireland, where he and the Duke of York had conferred.
However, Exeter and Fulford were warned that Warwick's
reputation among seamen was such that they would be faced
with a mutiny, and they retired to harbor. The effort that
had brought so many men and material together was wasted.104
As for other preparations for war at sea, Jasper Tudor
had been gathering ships along the Welsh coast, in order to
fend off York's forces in Ireland all through the spring of
1460.105 After the Duke of York had taken the reins of power
in 1460, he had a commission formed to augment the Earl of
Warwick's fleet in the fall. This commission was supposed to
arrest a specific ship, the Mary Cliffe, and all ships and
seamen needed by the earl in the towns of Dartmouth, Fowey,
and Plymouth. The commission's members were the mayors of the
aforesaid towns, and Otto Colyns, whose previous career is
Edward IV's reign started embroiled in chaos.
Lancastrian forces still roamed England, and the Scots and
French harbored Henry VI and many of his courtiers. The seas
had to be kept, or Edward IV would be killed just as his
father had been a few months before.
Edward IV's first fleet was led by Henry Auger, who has
been mentioned above, John Copildike, Edmund Yns, and John
Maners.107 This fleet was assembled to chase the fleeing
Henry VI and his entourage. Maners was a native of East
Anglia, while Copildike was a native of the Cinque Ports;
before this time he had been bailiff of Winchelsea. The
commission to arrest ships for these men consisted of William
Thommes, William Fetherston, Richard Barry, Thomas Williams,
Janicot Gascoign, who, from his name, seems to have been a
native of Gascony, John Porter, Richard Strange, and John
Hartilpole. Aside from Strange, who had been a justice of the
peace for Middlesex, the commission was composed of
unknowns.108 The Earl of Warwick still had his position of
Keeper of the Seas, and Edward IV sent several commissions,
mostly made of clerics, to the shires of Essex, Hereford,
Suffolk, and Devon to encourage the locals to donate ships
and sailors to the royal service.109 Later in 1461, while the
king was visiting Bristol, he arranged for the purchase of a
few ships and had them sent to Milford Haven.110
In 1462, a great rumor spread all over England of an
invasion which would literally come from all sides-Scotland,
France, and Iberia, with a "fifth column" of secret
Lancastrians. Edward IV reacted quickly, arresting suspected
traitors, and reappointing the Earl of Warwick to be Keeper
of the Seas. This appointment was to last three years.111
Two commissions were sent out to the ports of England to
fetch ships for the Earl of Warwick, who was joined in his
task by the Earl of Kent in the summer of 1462.112 The first
group, created in the spring, consisted of William and Thomas
Herbert, who were ordered to arrest ships in Bristol and
other West Country and Welsh ports. The Herberts were a
gentry family of South Wales, and had, in the short time of
Edward IV's reign, become instrumental in the peacekeeping
efforts in that part of the island.113 Another commission was
sent to East Anglia to arrest ships there, and it consisted
of John Twyer, Thomas Edmond, who has been previously
mentioned, and John Sorell. Twyer had participated in the
pacification of Norfolk as a justice of the peace. This
commission was Sorell's first venture into public service.
Once the invasion scare was realized, as Margaret sailed for
England, commissions, several of great size, were formed
along the coasts of East Anglia, Cornwall, and Devon to
impress anything afloat into naval service.114
When Edward IV learned that Margaret of Anjou had
slipped past this great fleet and landed in the north of
England, he wasted no time and headed to Hull to arrange for
another fleet, composed of all the ships in Hull's haven and
in the neighboring ports, to fend her off.115 The commission
to form and victual this fleet consisted of the mayor and
aldermen of Hull, the sheriffs of Hull, Ralph, Lord
Graystoke, Robert and John Constable, Robert Hilliard, John
Fereby, John Grene, William Eland, John Dey, and Robert
Taverner. Graystoke, a peer of the realm, had been involved
in the pacification of York and the repelling of the Scots.
The Constables were a powerful gentry family in York-John, in
fact, was sheriff at the time. Eland and Hilliard were also
part of the defense effort against the Scots. Fereby was the
escheator of York, and a yeoman of the king. Grene had been
one of the men sent out by Edward IV to convince the
citizenry to donate men, money and ships the year before.This
commission was Dey and Taverners' first venture into public
service.116 When Margaret of Anjou had been informed that
this fleet was heading towards her landing place, in order to
trap her supply ships, she broke off her invasion and
The next time Margaret tried to invade was the summer of
1463. Ralph Grey, constable of Alnwick Castle, turned
traitor, and let Margaret land.118 Edward IV had a fleet
raised, and put it under the command of the Earl of
Worcester, who had served as a naval commander in the
previous summer.119 Instead of going about and creating
commissions to arrest ships, Edward IV, by this time, had
purchased five new ships, and hired others.120 Most of the
commissions he sent out, therefore, were not for the arrest
of the ships themselves, but instead were commissions to
impress seamen for service and get supplies.121 The first
commission was made to Richard Jacomyn, of the Adam Goodale,
Thomas Philipp, of the Marie Cliffe, which had served the
king under the Earl of Warwick, and Richard Symond, of the
Grace Dieu.122 This was not the same ship as Henry V's Grace
Dieu, as that ship had been struck by lightening and
destroyed in 1439.123 Symond had participated in the
commissions to donate men and supplies of 1461. The second
commission was made to Robert Mill of Sussex, who was
supposed to supply the ships with beef. The next several
commissions were made out, as the first was, to shipmasters
who needed to impress men and get victualled. Several had
served before, like Richard Straunge, John Porter, William
Fetherston, Thomas William, Richard Barry, William Thomas,
and Thomas Philipp. Jenycot de Burdeux may be the same man as
Janicot Gascoign. Three other ships were owned by the Earl of
Worcester, and one was owned by the Earl of Kent, who had
served with Worcester.124 One commission of the older type-of
arresting ships-was made at this time as well. It was
composed of the mayor and sheriff of Newcastle and Robert
Rodes. Rodes was a Northumbrian gentleman, and not previously
known for any deeds at sea. However the ships came under
Worcester, the result was the same. As soon as the news hit
the Lancastrian forces, they broke and fled, Margaret heading
into Scotland, and then into France.125
The next several years were spent in relative peace on
the high seas, because of the truces and treaties that
Edward IV made with neighboring powers. The capture of
Henry VI in 1465 may have also helped to halt Lancastrian
invasion attempts that had plagued the earlier years of his
reign. The fleets that had served Edward IV were released
from their impressment.126 In 1467, when the French truce
expired, Edward IV did not wait for the French to make the
first move in gaining naval superiority. Edward IV placed
William Wade, Edmund Weston, Thomas Fulthorp, and Richard
Harleston in command of a fleet. Wade seems to have served in
one of the naval actions against the Scots and Lancastrians.
Fulthorp and Harleston were yeomen of the king. Weston,
however, does not seem to have had a record of public
service.127 The king also commissioned William Fetherston,
whose career has been mentioned above, in the spring of 1467
to impress men and ships. In February of 1468, he bolstered
those forces with other men and ships, gathered by Richard
Harleston and John Waynflete, who was one of the shipmen
named in the impressment commissions of 1464.128 The fleet
may also have escorted Margaret, Edward IV's sister, across
the Channel to her wedding in the Low Countries to Charles of
Burgundy.129 Another fleet, made in 1468 with the supposed
purpose of invading Gascony, was commanded by Lord Scales and
Lord Mountjoy. This fleet, battered by storms, did not
approach Gascony, but, upon hearing rumors that Margaret of
Anjou was preparing an invasion, scoured the Channel, and
eventually liberated the Channel Island of Jersey by 1469.130
An intensification of the conflict with the Hanseatic
League in 1470 impelled Edward IV to order the formation of a
new fleet under the Earl of Warwick.131 The direct hiring or
purchase of ships seems to have continued, for in February, a
dozen shipmasters, including John Porter, who has been
mentioned above, were called upon to gather men for the
king's service.132 Although the earl served Edward IV
faithfully in this cause, it was the last time. By the spring
of 1470, Warwick was in open rebellion against the monarch he
helped to the throne, and, crossing from Calais, he smashed
Edward IV's supporters and took Edward IV prisoner. However,
Warwick found that few people supported his move, and he was
forced to release his royal captive, though, undoubtedly, he
began to make connections with the Lancastrians in France at
Edward IV tried to act against his overmighty vassal,
but he was distracted once more by the conflict with the
Hanseatic League. He appointed Lord Howard and Warwick's
cousin, the Bastard of Fauconberg, to command a fleet against
the Hanseatic pirates. The fleet's mission was to last for
ten weeks, and was funded by the citizens of London and
several high churchmen.134 When Warwick broke once more with
the king he helped to enthrone, the Bastard of Fauconberg
took several ships from this fleet and went to Warwick's
Edward IV had to act fast, for he remembered how command
of the seas allowed Warwick and his father to ultimately
defeat the Lancastrians. He closed off Calais, and appointed
Lord Rivers to head a fleet which was intended to bottle up
Warwick's forces.136 The fleet Rivers was to command was
gathered by the mayor of Southampton, William Overay, and
John Chapman, and was strengthened by Edward IV's ships,
which had increased from five to seven.137 Overay was a
resident of London, who had previously served on a commission
of inquiry on piracy. Chapman was a yeoman of the king.138
The English fleet was joined by a fleet from the Low
Countries, and, after chasing Warwick and Fauconberg from
their pirating, they raided the port of Harfleur, where
Warwick and the Bastard had established their base of
operations, and set a blockade over it for a while. A tempest
scattered the blockaders, and before they could reunite,
Warwick and the Lancastrians slipped across the English
It took a short while for the news to reach Edward IV,
and he fled to the Low Countries. He escaped the Hanseatic
pirates at sea, and headed to Alkmaar, a small port in the
Low Countries, where, trapped outside the harbor by the
receding tides, all would have been lost.140 He was rescued
by the arrival of the Lord of Gruthuyse, who was one of the
leaders of the joint Low Countries-English fleet. Gruthuyse
forced the pirates to leave, and took Edward IV into
Meanwhile, in England, the Earl of Warwick put Henry VI
back on the throne. Henry VI appointed Warwick Keeper of the
Seas. Warwick, who had other things to attend to, appointed
the Bastard of Fauconburg to act as his deputy. Fauconburg,
once in command, committed an unwise act of piracy,
plundering a fleet of Portuguese merchantmen. The Portuguese,
who had been allies of England since the late fourteenth
century, were taken utterly by surprise.142 Henry VI also
planned to mobilize the Cinque Ports' fleet, as was mentioned
earlier in this section.
However Warwick and Henry VI may have planned to keep
the seas, Edward IV had other plans. He made several
agreements with shipmasters from the town of Koeln and the
Low Countries, and formed a fleet that brought him to
Ravenspur, where Henry IV had landed when he deposed
Richard II seven decades before.143 The two kings--Henry VI
and Edward IV--gathered their armies, and met at Barnet,
where Warwick was killed, and Henry VI taken captive and then
killed. The last battle of the Lancastrian armies was at
Tewkesbury, where Margaret of Anjou was captured, and her
son, Henry VI's heir, slain.144
Edward IV's agreements with the shipmen and merchants of
Koeln were such that only they received the old Hanseatic
privileges.145 The Anglo-Hanseatic conflict, never a cold war
anyway, intensified. In the first few days of 1472, Edward IV
gave John Cheyne command of a fleet directed against the
Hanseatic league. Cheyne was a long time public servant,
having previously served on commissions of array and of oyer
and terminer, as well as having served as Victualler of
Calais at one point.146 He was joined in the summer by two
naval veterans: John Kiriell and William Fetherston, as well
as other men: John Cole, Richard Haute, Philip Dymmer, and
Edward Brampton. Cole was one of the customers of Sandwich,
although he had once dabbled in piracy. Haute, Brampton, and
Dymmer had never participated in public service before. The
fleet must have had some success, for, by 1474, the Hanseatic
League and England were at peace.147
Edward IV had also signed an alliance with the duchy of
Brittany when he returned to the throne, and when the duke
went to war against France that summer, he kept to his
alliance. He permitted Lord Rivers to cross the Channel with
a thousand mercenaries, and placed Lord Duras in command of a
fleet to harass the French. The duchy, however, was soon
defeated, and the mercenaries returned to England.148 The
fleet, partially composed of Lord Duras' own ships, was
scouring the seas for the traitorous Earl of Oxford, but was
unable to catch him. Oxford was ultimately thwarted when he
was bottled up in the fortress of Saint Michael's Mount in
1473.149 The last major military exploit of Edward IV's reign
was the invasion of France in 1475. Like his predecessor
Henry V, Edward IV sent out a fleet to ensure the security of
the seas before the invasion fleet sailed, and added another
ship to his personal fleet to help them.150 This fleet was
led by John, Lord Dynham, who was given his commission in the
spring of 1475. Dynham, like most peers of the realm, had
been involved in commissions of array and of oyer and
terminer. He had also sat on two commissions of inquiry into
acts of piracy, one involving the deeds of the late Bastard
of Fauconberg. Dynham's fleet seemed to have done an
excellent job, as the French had no idea when the ships were
Like Henry V, almost all of Edward IV's great invasion
fleet was composed of impressed or hired ships. The hiring
and impressing began as early as the winter of 1474, and was
not complete until the end of the summer of 1475.152 The
fleet set sail from Sandwich, and landed in Calais without
mishap.153 Many of the shipmasters who had served Edward IV
before in earlier sea keeping expeditions had signed with him
to invade France, and dozens more joined his service. The
treaty of Picquigny which was a result of Edward IV's
expedition ensured that peace would last between France and
England on the seas, at least for Edward IV's lifetime.154
With all of England's neighbors at peace with her, there
was no longer any need for other sea keeping expeditions.
Piracy was kept to a minimum by the efficient Yorkist
government's enforcement of the Conservator Statute; indeed,
in 1474, the entire town of Fowey, a notorious pirates' nest,
was brought under the long arm of the law.155 Edward IV,
however, did not forget what advantages Henry V had with an
organized navy, especially after the trouble he had to go
through to raise a fleet to invade France. In 1480, he
appointed Thomas Rogers, a shipmaster in his service, to
become Clerk of the King's Ships, and ended the lack of naval
administration, which began in 1454.156
Temporary fleets were not an effective substitute for a
permanent navy. They had to be raised and victualled, and in
a time when the "newness of news" was measured in terms of
days, if not weeks or months, reports of pirate activity
might be out of date, and the pirates safe in their havens,
before the first commissions to form the sea keeping fleet
were even written. The commanders of such fleets might have
committed acts of piracy themselves, sometimes even during
their commissions to keep the seas. The ships that made up
these fleets were merchantmen, taken from legitimate trade.
Since they were away from commerce for a long period of time,
their owners' fortunes would have suffered. The wages for an
impressed ship and its mariners were scanty, and the sad
state of the Exchequer ensured that the wages would not be
paid on time. This encouraged the sailors on sea keeping duty
to commit acts of piracy in order to pay their bills and feed
The men who were chosen to lead these fleets were not,
for the most part, seamen themselves. Instead, most were of
gentle, if not noble, descent, and were appointed for
political reasons, as they were the men closest to the
throne. They learned about naval warfare from those they
commanded-the fishermen and sailors who had to face pirates
and enemy fleets on a constant basis. It seems that certain
commanders made reputations for themselves on the high seas,
especially Gervase Clifton and the Earls of Worcester and
Warwick, who all served as commanders on the high seas for
one king or another.
The men who were sent on commissions of arrest were, for
the most part, not from the upper class of English society.
A mix of royal officials, merchants, and gentry usually sat
on these commissions. One notes that Richard Clyvedon, Henry
VI's Clerk of the King's Ships from 1442 until 1454, is not
mentioned at all as a member of any commission to arrest
ships for the keeping of the seas, though several men seem to
have been regularly called on to serve on such commissions.
Mostly, these "regulars" were merchants from London or
another major port, who had a direct interest in seeing the
sea kept well, or household men, whom the king could trust to
do his bidding.
Unfortunately, what the king wanted was not very clear.
Was there a clear strategy behind the naval actions from 1450
until 1480? From 1450 until 1457, sea keeping seems to have
been partially coordinated with other expeditions, like the
1451-1453 fight to retain Gascony. The great expedition of
1454 seems to have been political in nature, because of the
fitful nature of its funding, which ended after the king
recovered and the Duke of York was removed from his office as
Lord Protector of England.
The Warwick expeditions were originally a reaction to
the raid by Piers de Breze in 1457, but they later developed
into a vehicle for the earl's political aspirations. The
conflict in 1460 produced some activity from the Lancastrian
government, but to little avail, because of Warwick's
popularity among the seafaring population. The expeditions
which took place under Edward IV's early reign were organized
to drive off Margaret of Anjou's invasion forces. After 1465,
most of the expeditions were either sent out to counter
Hanseatic piracy or to further the designs of Edward IV
against France, either by direct action against the king's
enemies or by aiding his allies in the Low Countries and
Naval superiority seemed to have been gained by simply
being the first to appear on the sea with a fleet, as opposed
to the modern method of having to batter the enemy fleet into
the seafloor.157 Instead of pitched naval battle showing who
had the superior fleet, superiority was often demonstrated by
piracy on enemy shipping or by raids on the enemy's coastal
villages.158 No active thought had really been given to the
strategic utility of proper sea keeping since the letters of
Sir John Fastolfe in 1435 and in 1440 about the state of the
war in France and how proper applications of seapower could
ease the English troubles there, by destroying the French
trade and fishing, and ensuring a clear line of supply and
communication between the Lancastrian dominions in France and
Logistics has always been a concern in military
operations. Orders to supply and arm the ships were sometimes
included in the orders of the commissions of arrest. If this
was not the case, then the job was left to the office of the
Great Wardrobe. Originally, the Great Wardrobe was part of
the royal household, as its name implies, but, before the
beginning of the Lancastrian dynasty, it had 'moved out of
court' and settled in Baynard's Castle in London, where it
acted as the quartermaster-general for the king's forces.160
Arming the ships was possibly the job of the Privy Wardrobe,
which had a similar history to the Great Wardrobe. It was
sited in the Tower of London, where a smithy was established
for making guns, armor, and blades.161 It has also been
demonstrated that a few merchantmen were fitted with cannon
by their owners, though it cannot be shown that this was the
case for all merchantmen that were arrested for naval
Arranging for the finances for a sea keeping expedition
could be a hard task, especially during the reign of the
financially irresponsible Henry VI. Soldiers and sailors
would frequently riot because they were unpaid. Payment would
often be made in the form of Exchequer tallies, which were
promises by the government to give the bearer a sum of money
drawn from the revenues of, say, the customs at a port, or
the income from a shire. However, the Exchequer was
frequently overdrawn, and if one arrived after the revenue of
one's tally had been paid out, one was out of luck. Other
leaders of sea keeping expeditions or commissioners of arrest
were given mandates from the Privy Seal which ordered the
Exchequer to release a sum of money into their hands.163 In
some cases the money had been arranged before the expedition
began, like the expedition made during the Duke of York's
tenure as Lord Protector. For still others, the money for the
expedition was provided by the expedition's commander, such
as that made by Lord Roos or one of those made by Gervase
Did all the efforts to preserve peace on the high seas
have salutary effects on the economy? Was sea keeping a
totally empty exercise in public relations? The next section
will examine the effects which sea keeping expeditions and
their success had on the import levels from 1450 to 1480 and
the political scene.
Section III, Part I: Trade and Sea Keeping
England's economic health depended upon her ability to
ensure the safety of merchantmen carrying goods to and from
English havens. The success of this period's efforts in sea
keeping will be examined by looking at the fluctuation in the
fortunes of the import trades of iron, non-sweet wine, sweet
wine, and salt. Although one might be surprised by the
absence of the wool trade in this survey, the author notes
that the wool trade was often manipulated by the rulers of
England and the Low Countries for purely political reasons,
and so showed fluctuations in trade that were not related to
the safety of the seas.1
During a war, it was customary for merchants to purchase
safe conducts from the warring powers to trade with their
opponent without official interference. However, the safe
conducts were scant shield against pirates of any nation or a
warship from another state.2 Hence, the ability to keep the
seas by better means than mere good intentions had a salutary
effect on trade.
Iron was a necessary good for England's economy and war
effort. Household goods, farm implements, ship's supplies,
armor, and weapons were made of iron or had iron components.
Although England had deposits of iron ore, many of them were
contaminated with phosphorus, which the English were unable
to remove with the smelting techniques of the day.3 So, they
imported iron from Castile, with some iron also coming from
Hanseatic sources.4 More or less accurate figures were kept
throughout the fifteenth century of the amount of iron
brought in from either source, because there was a tariff
levied on iron imports. W. R. Childs has produced a
tabulation and totaling of all the known records of the late
fifteenth century iron trade. These figures reveal an
interesting picture. Unfortunately, the average total amount
of iron imported per annum is hard to determine. For several
ports, records do not exist for some years. Hence, one has
only a fragmentary picture, a stained glass window with
When a sea keeping expedition was sent out, imports of
iron could increase dramatically. 1449 and 1450 saw a
spectacular increase in iron imports into London and
Sandwich. The few ports that have records of iron imports
from 1452 also seemed to do better than usual-in Sandwich's
case, nearly twice as well as the two years before, and
better even than the boom year of 1449. The big naval
expedition of 1454 boosted iron imports in Exeter,
Southampton, and Yarmouth. The Earl of Warwick's exploits
from 1457 until 1459, plus the various naval efforts to
contain the Yorkists in 1460, also had salutary effects,
increasing the levels of importation in Exeter, King's Lynn,
Sandwich, Southampton, London, and Yarmouth at one point or
The sea keeping efforts of the chaotic first few years
of Edward IV's reign allowed iron imports to remain at a
steady level in several ports, and allowed imports to
increase in such ports as Hull, London, and Southampton. The
treaty signed in 1467 with Castile, combined with the
expedition of that year, not only improved the fortunes of a
few ports, but seems to have introduced the iron trade into
Chichester. Because of the continual sweeps by Yorkist forces
looking for the crossing of Lancastrian rebels in 1470,
matters improved for the iron trade in a few ports, though
the readeption must have hit others severely, since such
ports which usually saw imports of iron like King's Lynn,
Yarmouth, and Bristol saw no iron imports being brought in.
The later sea keeping expeditions and treaties had good,
though not spectacular, effects on the trade, with few marked
increases coinciding with sea keeping expeditions.7
Unfortunately, the fragmentary nature of the customs records
prevents one from making any far reaching conclusions based
on iron imports. However, the earlier expeditions and
improvements, though sometimes minor, in the amount of iron
imported, could be linked. Real improvement seems to have
come after the normalization of Anglo-Castilian affairs in
the reign of Edward IV.
Wine, on the other hand, was a luxury good. Although
wine was necessary for the performance of the mass, much of
the wine imported into England was for domestic use.8 Wine
was brought to England from all over Europe: Portugal, Spain,
the Holy Roman Empire, and various provinces in France all
had their share of the market, but the lion's share was given
to Gascon wine, even after the conquest of Gascony in the
early 1450's.9 Margery James' work on the mediaeval wine
trade includes a tabulation of the amount of non-sweet wine
imported into England throughout the fifteenth century, and
the figures here show a somewhat different situation on the
Before the fall of Lancastrian France, non-sweet wine
imports stood at about ten thousand tons per year. After the
fall of Normandy, and the 1451 conquest of Gascony, imports
were down by over fifty percent, and revived only in 1452
when Talbot had briefly liberated the duchy. The loss of
Bordeaux saw the level of importation plummet, but the sea
keeping expedition of 1454 coincided with an increase in wine
imports almost to the level of the pre-conquest years, and
even better than when Talbot had governed the duchy.11
On the other hand, the years from 1455 until 1463 saw
imports drop, in some cases to about twenty percent of pre-
conquest levels, and the increase of imports in 1463 was
still below pre-conquest levels by hundreds of tons. 1464
showed a moderate slump, and by 1465, the trade had hit a
recession, which did not end until 1467, though this brief
period of prosperity ended a year later, and matters were
made even worse by the chaos in the years from 1469 to
After Edward IV's return, levels never dropped to those
seen in the period from 1455 until 1463 or the readeption,
but neither did they ever return to more than seventy percent
of the level of non-sweet wine importation seen in the
1440's, although the records for Bristol, Southampton, and
other ports are absent for the years from 1471 until 1478.13
Non-sweet wine imports, in some ways, seem to have been
linked more to the disturbances caused by the Wars of the
Roses than by the security of the seas. Considering that the
upper class was the major consumer for wine, their fortunes
would by necessity have an impact on that of the wine
merchants'. The years between 1455 and 1463 were marked by
internal disturbances in England, and the nobility would have
been more concerned with their own safety than with their
Sweet wine was, if anything, more of a luxury product
than non-sweet wine. Produced mostly in the Mediterranean or
on the Portuguese island of Madeira, discovered only within
the fifteenth century, it was shipped mostly by foreigners.14
The year before the conquest of Normandy, the English had
imported over twelve hundred tuns of sweet wine, and in the
previous two years, the import level was in the neighborhood
of seven hundred tuns. In 1450, the level dropped to six
hundred and sixty one tuns, and in 1451, the level plummeted
still further to under six hundred tuns. However, in 1452,
after the rescue of Gascony, the level rose to nearly nine
hundred tuns, and from 1453 until 1457, import levels dropped
steadily until they hit four hundred and forty one tuns. In
1458, tunnage shot up to over seven hundred and forty tuns,
but took a sharp dive in 1459 and 1460. Import levels from
1461 until 1466 stayed above four hundred tuns, once
approaching nine hundred tuns, but fluctuated above that
figure. From 1467 until 1480, however, the import levels
varied by dozens, if not hundreds, of tuns from one year to
Sweet wines, being even more of a specialty trade than
non-sweet wines, would be more affected by demand for the
product than by sea keeping efforts enabling the product to
be brought in. However, the simple fact that over eleven
hundred tuns could be brought into English ports in 1473,
when in Henry VI's day, the average level of importation was
four hundred tuns less, shows that the seas had become safer
in Edward IV's reign.
Salt was another commodity which the English imported in
the later half of the fifteenth century. It was both a
luxury, as a spice, and a necessary good, for the
preservation of victuals and as an ingredient for some
chemical preparations.16 Like the other commodities listed
here, salt came from several places, though the Breton
saltmakers were best known at that time. Bridbury's
examination of the later mediaeval salt trade includes a
table displaying the fluctuations in the price of salt
throughout the fifteenth century.17 Although this is not as
useful for the purposes of this thesis as a table showing how
much salt was actually brought in, because of the
relationship of scarcity to price, it can serve as an
The customs price--basically the wholesale price--of
salt in 1447, the last year in the records before the period
of interest here, was two shillings and two pence. The first
price found for the period of interest is that for 1452,
which showed a minor drop of two pence. However, the price in
1454 rose from two shillings to two shillings and seven
pence, but sank in 1456 to the level seen in 1452. The period
from 1457 to 1460 was a period of inflation, perhaps as a
result of Warwick's attacks on Hanseatic merchants, who
handled much of the salt trade, and the subsequent souring of
Anglo-Hanseatic relations. By 1460, the price had soared to
Edward IV's first reign saw a drop in prices, for, even
in 1461, prices dropped by a shilling, and from 1462 to 1463
prices were between one and one-half to two shillings, a
return to pre-1450 conditions. Prices dropped below the two
shilling mark from 1463 to 1466, when they shot up to two and
one-half shillings. This may have been a failed attempt to
corner the market, for in 1467, the price plummeted to eleven
pence, little more than a half of a shilling. In 1471, prices
shot up once more to three shillings and a pence, but were
down below the two shilling mark by 1472, and stayed that way
until 1475. The last record, for 1480, showed a frightening
increase in price to five shillings, though the years
following that were closer to two and one-half shillings.19
The effect of sea keeping expeditions on the fortunes of
the salt trade are impossible to discern. Increases and
decreases in price seem utterly disconnected with the times
that naval patrols were sent out. Some scholars have argued
that England's domestic sea salt manufacturing industry could
have filled the gap that lost imports would have caused, but
it has been shown that by the beginning of the fifteenth
century, England's saline needs were filled by imports, which
must have killed off the domestic industry.20 Reasons other
than the safety of the seas, such as the productivity of the
fisheries which needed salt to preserve the catch, or the
state of diplomatic affairs with the Hanseatic salt traders,
could be the major forces determining the price of salt in
the period under scrutiny here.
The effects of sea keeping efforts on these import
trades are hard to determine, for other factors could affect
each trade. In the iron trade, sea keeping expeditions
clearly had beneficial effects, though the treaty with
Castile could be the major factor in the improvement in the
trade after 1467. The non-sweet wine trade, though initially
more affected by the war for Gascony, also was benefited,
though in a weaker fashion than the iron trade; perhaps
tastes had changed over the three decades to favor a
different sort of wine. However, the sweet wine figures do
not necessarily seem to bear that hypothesis out, and seem to
be very erratic. Salt, on the other hand, seemed to act as if
the sea keeping expeditions had no effect, and would
sometimes rise when a sea keeping expedition was sent out.
This may also be because merchants from the Hanseatic League
were among the major salt merchants, and the chaotic state
until 1474 between England and the Hanseatic League probably
had more bearing on salt prices than the safety of the seas.
Section III, Part II: Politics and Sea Keeping
The English considered the reputation of their kingdom
to be intimately bound up with their ability to keep the
seas. The king who failed to keep the seas received the ire
of merchants who could not get goods to or from other lands.
Since the merchants of London and the other towns were the
major sources of loans and benevolences, their anger could
have an adverse effect on the purse of the realm. Also, the
nobles who lost lands and offices of worth in Gascony and
Normandy were irked by the absence of a permanent navy, for
temporary navies took too long to raise when Gascony and
Normandy were in danger. Meetings of Parliament often had
members pleading for expeditions to keep the seas, though, it
has been shown that their pleas were not frequently granted.
The importance the English ascribed to the keeping of
the seas can be seen if one examines a book written before
the loss of Normandy, called The Libelle of English Policy.
The Libelle, from libellum, Latin for little book, was
written by an unknown author, although one major critic says
that someone connected to Beaufort's party probably wrote
it.21 For the most part, the Libelle is a plaint for
protectionism, and even chauvinism, listing each country the
English traded with and their commodities, and, not
infrequently, making snide remarks about its subjects,
calling Hanseatics drunkards and Venetians dishonest
suppliers of useless goods, for example.22
The portion that most concerns us, though, is the first
part, in which the poet hearkens back to the good old days of
Henry V and his great fleet, and compares the conditions on
the sea then to the poet's present. He used the metaphor of
coinage, saying that the ship on the gold noble, which had
been struck since the reign of Edward III, ought to be
replaced by a sheep, so timid were the English at sea. He
also remarked on the utility of Calais, calling it and Dover
the two eyes of England. He called for a revival of the
English navy, and for a rather bizarre program of economic
terrorism. He would have used this navy to force any vessel
entering the Channel to stop in England and trade, and only
then might it be allowed to proceed to its destination.
Unfortunately, the poet was a voice crying in the wilderness,
for none of his ideas were adopted by those in power for
decades to come.23 A second book, written a few years later,
the Liber de Illustribus Henricis, by John Capgrave,
reiterated the need for sea keeping as a matter of national
necessity and pride, but also seems to have been
The next time that sea keeping might have made its
impact felt on a popular scale was in the revolt led by Jack
Cade after the loss of Lancastrian Normandy in the spring of
1450. The rebellion started on the southeastern coast of
England, which, since it was closest to the Continent, was
often hit by pirate raids, and, after Normandy's loss, became
all the more vulnerable.25 After the rebels forced their way
past a small force of soldiers retained by Henry VI's
courtiers, they set up an armed camp near London and
announced their demands to the realm at large, in document
form. A copy of this document still exists in the archives of
Magdalen College at Oxford. The document stressed the rebels'
basic loyalty to Henry VI, but said the king "hath hadde
ffalse counsayle, ffor his londez ern lost, his marchaundize
is lost, his comyns detroyed, the see is lost, ffraunse his
lost". The rebels were eventually scattered and destroyed,
and their demands neglected.26
Later, as the realm became more disordered, the keeping
of the seas became a more pressing concern, and the Earl
of Warwick took to his office of Keeper of the Seas like a
duck to water. Although he would seem a gentleman pirate to
modern folk, his reputation in his own lifetime was more like
that of a victorious admiral, turning the tables on the
foreigners who hit English fishermen and merchants without
mercy. Contemporaries speak of the enthusiastic welcome the
earl received when he travelled through Kent on his way to
one of the battles in the Wars of the Roses as if he were a
hero out of legend.27 This reputation as a great admiral saw
him in good stead when he and the Duke of Clarence rose in
rebellion in 1469, when in their manifesto of demands, they
claimed that the keeping of the seas had been neglected to
the enrichment of the Woodville affinity.28
In 1474, the speech that opened the Parliament of that
year referred to the keeping of the seas as a necessity which
would be much lessened when Edward IV had reconquered
Normandy and Picardy.29 However, the most important sign that
sea keeping had become successful under Edward IV was when a
poem, much like The Libelle of English Policy, was written
sometime after his readeption in 1471. Although it holds
forth on many topics of commercial interest, the keeping of
the seas is not even mentioned as a matter of concern, unlike
its counterpart of half a century before.30
Although keeping of the seas was not, aside for the Earl
of Warwick, a clear road to fame and fortune, it is clear
that sea keeping was a matter of concern. The rebellion of
Jack Cade and the Libelle of English Policy showed, in their
different ways, that Englishmen were not satisfied with
business as usual on the seas. Any man who could change the
situation was going to be looked on with favor, especially by
the mercantile community. Edward IV's administration's strong
enforcement of the laws in general served to bring down
piracy, and, originally, his backing by the Earl of Warwick
might have been a primary factor in his popularity, where
Henry VI's corrupt administration and failure to restrain
foreign and domestic pirates in any fashion could have been a
primary factor in his loss of popularity.
Section IV: Conclusion
The keeping of the seas was never easy for mediaeval
Englishmen. Navies were expensive, pirates common, and
enemies of the realm numerous and inescapable. The history of
sea keeping previous to 1450 showed that the seas could be
kept by a strong and wealthy king, who was as much an admiral
as he was a diplomat and lawgiver. Henry V's reign showed
that the seas could have been permanently kept, though only
if the realm was orderly and prosperous. The keys to his
success were: a navy which was constantly at his disposal,
friendly relations with the Low Countries and the other
powers near England, proper governance of the Plantagenet
overseas possessions, and strict laws governing piracy, which
could be utilized for diplomatic and military purposes.
His successor, Henry VI, through no fault of his own,
lost the first key because of Henry V's posthumous method of
settling his debts. His regents, and later, his privy
council, allowed one of the overseas possessions to slip from
their fingers because of their continual infighting and the
shifts in policy that resulted from their squabbling, and the
alienation of England's neighbors can be ascribed to the same
source. Henry VI's government sought to solve the loss of
the keys to Henry V's success by hiring ships on an ad hoc
basis, which was inefficient due to time delays between their
preparation and the problems which they were intended to
solve, an equally ad hoc approach to diplomacy, which used
temporary truces to patch over long standing disagreements,
and a slackened approach to enforcement of the Conservator
statute, partially because of infighting at the highest
levels of power, and partially because Parliament thought
that setting English pirates at foreign pirates would cause
mutual destruction of the offending parties. Unfortunately,
all it did was increase the level of piracy. Henry VI's
policies were failures, and the public dissatisfaction with
them may have played a part in his overthrow.
Edward IV came to the throne with the same problems
Henry VI faced-the confusion in government, the rampant
piracy, and poor foreign relations. He also had an additional
problem to deal with: an uncompromising party of emigres who
could possibly call upon many powerful men in England and
abroad for help. The governmental confusion was solved by his
style of kingship--he was an active participant in the day to
day matters of governance, as opposed to Henry VI's passive,
detached approach, one easily swayed by unscrupulous
courtiers--and a ruthless pursuit of his domestic enemies.
His approach to foreign relations was, at the start, much
like Henry VI's, concentrating on short term solutions, but
by the middle of his reign, truces were replaced by treaties,
if not alliances, ensuring permanent dialogues between
England and her neighbors. Edward IV originally approached
sea keeping in the same way as his predecessor-short term
fleets hired to deal with individual emergencies-but he later
went from this policy to purchasing ships for defense, though
his fleet was never very large, and still had to be
strengthened by impressed ships. At the end of the period
under discussion, he went from ownership with no organization
to centralization of supply and command, a policy continued
by later monarchs. Also, by the middle of Edward IV's reign,
the need for keeping the seas was made clear by the events in
1460 and 1470; he who possessed the seas, sooner or later
possessed the realm as well. This lesson, while forgotten by
Richard III, seems to have remained in the minds of future
Neither Henry VI nor Edward IV seem to have paid much
attention to the potential use of Gascony or Calais as naval
bases. Henry VI neglected the defense of Gascony and Calais
and instead wasted his time, treasure, and ultimately his
Crown on Normandy. If Henry VI had a strong navy, the loss of
Gascony might not have ocurred, because the blockade of
Bordeaux would have been broken.
Calais, on the other hand, is an excellent example of
how possession of a fleet and a harbor can dictate events.
The Earl of Warwick's captaincy of Calais showed that a fleet
based in Calais could wreak havoc all over the Channel, and
make lightning-fast raids on England. Unfortunately, because
the Exchequers of both Henry VI and Edward IV were deep in
debt, neither of them could take advantage of the position of
Calais, where a fleet could strike at the Low Countries,
France, and England, and choke off all trade going to and
from the North and Baltic Seas through the English Channel.
The effects of sea keeping efforts on England's trade
were hard to discern. Her major export, wool, was affected by
royal needs for income, and so the exports did not
necessarily reflect the conditions of safety on the high
seas. Records for imports are sadly incomplete for many
ports, and so present a confusing picture of the
effectiveness of the sea keeping methods of Henry VI and
Edward IV. The little that can be gleaned is this: sea
keeping fleets could work, and spectacularly so, the longer
they stayed on patrol, for imports fell when the seas were
left "unkept." The permanent improvement in exports came,
however, once trade treaties were signed between importer and
exporter and when the laws against piracy became more than
One may also note that before Edward IV established a
permanent organized navy, Henry VI and he had each built up a
"staff" of seasoned naval commanders, most notably the Earl
of Warwick, who served both men. Also, both monarchs had
built an ad hoc network of king's men, merchants, and gentry
who gathered together the ships for the commanders. Also,
Edward IV retained shipmasters who would become the core of
his permanent navy, and from this core of men, he would end
the period of naval disorganization by choosing one of them
to be his Clerk of the King's Ships.
The question of sea keeping without a large fleet has
once more become relevant in English politics. With the end
of the Cold War causing budget cuts for navies all over the
world, England, with her sluggish economy, has been among
those to slash the money going to her navy's maintenance. A
recent Parliamentary study has stated that, in the case of a
full scale war, the kingdom probably could not defend her
maritime assets.1 Even though the possibility of such a war
is thankfully remote, and that of a revival of piracy in the
seas around England even more so, this still has dire
implications for the attempt to control drug smuggling and
gun running. This was not intended to tell a cautionary
tale, but it has nevertheless. No matter how good relations
may be between England and her neighbors, a large permanent
navy is still the best key to her security. Until Edward IV
made firm treaties with the neighboring powers and
reestablished the office of Clerk of the King's Ships,
England's security was never more than temporary.
Section V: Footnotes
Note: CPR: Calendar of Patent Rolls
1 M. W. Labarge, Gascony, England's First Colony (London:
Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., 1980), p. 7.
2 G. P. Cuttino, English Medieval Diplomacy
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 51-53.
3 Montague Burrows, Cinque Ports (London: Longmans,
Green, and Co., 1888), p. 71.
4 K. M. E. Murray, The Constitutional History of the
Cinque Ports (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1935),
5 Burrows, p. 118.
6 Ibid., pp. 117-118.
7 Ibid., p. 73.
8 Susan Rose, The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings (London:
George Allen and Unwin, 1982), p. 28.
9 Ibid., p. 29.
12 Burrows, p. 95.
13 Ibid. , pp.96-101.
14 Douglas Duvall, The English Problem of Piracy in the
Later Middle Ages (Unpublished Master's Thesis, Ohio
University, 1972), p. 11, and Rose, p. 28.
15 Duvall, p. 12.
17 Burrows, p. 108.
18 Duvall, p. 16.
20 Burrows, pp. 118-121.
21 Ibid., p. 126.
22 Duvall, p. 20.
23 Rose, p. 29.
24 Nicholas Tracy, Attack on Maritime Trade (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 11.
26 Duvall, p. 22.
28 Ibid., p. 23.
29 Rose, p. 29.
30 Duvall, p. 30.
31 Ibid., p. 31.
32 Ibid., p. 33.
33 Ibid., p. 34.
35 Burrows, p. 139.
36 M. H. Keen, England in the Later Middle Ages (London:
Routledge, 1990), p. 126.
37 Duvall, p. 42.
39 Burrows, p. 138.
40 Duvall, p. 38.
41 C. L. Kingsford, Prejudice and Promise in Fifteenth
Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925), p. 79.
42 Burrows, pp. 145-149.
43 Duvall, p. 44.
44 Rose, p. 30.
45 Duvall, pp. 46-49.
46 W. R. Childs, "Anglo-Portuguese Trade in the
Fifteenth Century," Transactions of the Royal Historical
Society, 6th ser., vol. 2, 1992, p. 197.
47 Duvall, p. 53.
48 Ibid., p. 55.
49 Ibid., p. 63.
50 Ibid., p. 52.
51 Rose, p. 30.
52 Duvall, pp. 52-53.
53 Keen, p. 311.
54 Duvall, p. 57.
55 Ibid., pp 58-60.
56 Burrows, pp. 154-155.
57 Duvall, p. 63, and T. H. Lloyd, England and the German
Hanse, 1157-1611 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1991), p. 117.
58 Duvall, pp. 63-66.
59 Burrows, p. 155.
60 Duvall, p. 77.
62 Rose, p. 34.
63 Travers Twiss, The Black Book of the Admiralty, vol.
I (London: HMSO, 1871), p. 414-417.
64 Duvall, pp. 79-80.
65 Rose, p. 48, and David Howarth, Sovereign of the Seas
(New York: Atheneum, 1974), p. 59.
66 Duvall, p. 91-93.
67 Rose, p. 36.
68 M. W. Prynne, "Henry V's Grace Dieu," Mariner's Mirror
(Society for Nautical Research: Cambridge University Press,
1968), p. 126.
69 Rose, p. 49.
70 Howarth, p. 61-62.
71 Duvall, p. 93-94.
72 Rose, p. 52.
74 Ibid., pp. 52-55.
75 R. A. Griffiths, The Reign of Henry VI (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1981), pp. 179-180.
76 Keen, pp. 409-411.
77 Ibid., p. 382.
78 Ibid., pp. 415, 416, 384, 386-388, 420.
79 Griffiths, p. 206.
80 Duvall, p. 103-105.
81 Griffiths, p. 207.
82 Keen, pp. 389-391, 394.
83 Duvall, p. 107.
84 Ibid., p. 108.
85 Griffiths, pp. 425-426.
86 Ibid., pp. 426-427.
87 Keen, pp. 395, 423.
88 Ibid., pp. 426-427.
89 Ibid., pp. 395-396, 425.
90 Ibid., p. 398.
91 M. Oppenheim, The Administration of the Royal Navy
(London: The Bodley Head, Ltd., 1896), p. 26.
92 Keen, pp. 399, 401.
93 Ibid., pp. 401-402.
94 Ibid., pp. 403-404.
95 Duvall, pp. 119-120, and Griffiths, p. 428.
1 John Ferguson, English Diplomacy, 1422-1461 (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 148-166.
2 A. L. Brown, The Governance of Late Medieval England,
1272-1461 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), p. 51.
3 J. H. A. Munro, Wool, Cloth, and Gold (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1972), pp. 132, 153.
4 Ibid., pp. 134, 146.
5 Lloyd, pp. 181-182.
6 Ibid., pp. 185-187.
7 Ibid., pp. 189-191.
8 Ibid., pp. 192-195.
9 J. D. Fudge, Cargoes, Embargoes, and Emissaries
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), pp. 52-55.
10 Griffiths, p. 402.
11 Griffiths, pp. 811-812.
12 P. M. Kendall, Warwick the Kingmaker (New York: W. W.
Norton and Co., 1957), p. 41.
13 Charles Ross, Edward IV (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1974), p. 46
14 Ibid., p. 43.
15 Ibid., pp. 49-50.
16 Ibid., pp. 53-57.
17 Ibid., p. 90.
18 W. R. Childs, Anglo-Castilian Trade in the later
Middle Ages (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1974),
p. 53, and Ross, p. 111-112.
19 Ross, p. 113.
20 Griffiths, pp. 890-892.
21 Ross, pp. 160-168.
22 Fudge, pp. 71-76,
23 Ross, pp. 205-208.
24 Ibid., p. 210.
25 Ibid., pp. 213-213.
26 Childs, Anglo-Castilian..., p. 55.
27 Ross, p. 233-234.
28 M. G. A. Vale, English Gascony, 1399-1453 (Oxford:
Oxford University, 1970), p. 1.
30 Labarge, p. 5.
31 Griffiths, p. 178.
32 Keen, p. 394.
33 Vale, p. 138.
34 Labarge, p. 217.
35 Ibid., p. 218.
36 Ibid., p. 223-224.
37 Ibid., p. 224-226.
38 Ibid., p. 227-228.
39 Griffiths, p. 907.
40 J. R. Rainey, The Defense of Calais, 1436-1477
(Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Rutgers University,
1987), p. 4.
41 Ibid., pp. 40, 47.
42 G. L. Harriss, "The Struggle for Calais: an Aspect of
the Rivalry Between Lancaster and York," History, vol. 75
(London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1960), p. 30.
43 Ibid., p. 31.
45 Ibid., p. 34-40, and Kendall, p. 37.
46 Kendall, p. 40.
48 Ibid., p. 42-45.
50 Harriss, p. 49.
51 Kendall, pp. 59-60.
52 Ibid., p. 62.
53 Ibid., pp. 64, 66.
54 Ibid., pp. 67-69.
55 Ibid., p. 109.
56 Ross, p. 149.
57 Kendall, pp. 295-297.
58 Rainey, p. 43.
59 Burrows, p. 88.
60 Duvall, p. 34.
61 Burrows, p. 36.
62 Felix Hull (ed.) A Calendar of the Black and White
Books of the Cinque Ports (London: HMSO, 1966), p. 62.
63 Great Britain, Public Record Office, Calendar of Close
Rolls, Edward IV, vol. II (London: HMSO, 1959), p. 399.
64 Griffiths, p. 428.
65 CPR, Henry VI, vol. V, p. 537, and Rainey, p. 198.
66 Griffiths, p. 429.
67 CPR, Henry VI, vol. V, pp. 540, 579, 439, 438.
68 Griffiths, p. 429.
70 CPR, Henry VI, vol. V., p. 583.
71 Griffiths, p. 429.
72 Griffiths, pp. 429, 441.
73 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, p. 55.
74 G. V. Scammell, "Shipowning in England circa 1450-
1550," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5 ser.,
vol. 12, 1962, p. 120.
75 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, p. 166, vol. V, 306, 526.
76 Griffiths, p. 732-733.
77 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, p. 172, 120, 117, 76.
78 Ibid., p. 172, vol. V, pp. 88, 316.
80 Griffiths, p. 733.
81 Thomas Rymer, Foedera, Conventiones, Literae, et. al.
vol. V (London: J. Thomson, 1727), p. 406., and CPR, Henry
VI, vol VI, pp. 403, 404.
82 Kendall, p. 42.
83 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, p. 403.
84 Ibid., p. 403, 332, 381.
85 Ibid., p. 404, vol. V, p. 444.
86 Ibid., p. 404, vol. V, p. 537.
87 Ibid., pp. 404, 411, 393, 178, vol. V, p. 256.
88 Ibid., pp. 404, 322, 140, 284, vol. V, p. 330.
89 Ibid., pp. 405, 53, 219, 411.
90 Ibid., pp. 405, 164.
93 Ibid., pp. 404-405.
94 Ibid., p. 494, 300.
95 Ibid., p. 495.
96 Ibid., p. 496, vol. V, pp. 318, 583.
97 Ibid., p. 556, 405.
98 Kendall, pp. 62-64.
99 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, pp. 563, 495, 310.
100 Ibid., pp. 525-526, 494.
101 Rymer, pp. 449-450.
102 CPR, Henry VI, vol. VI, pp. 605, 256, 557, 471.
103 Ibid., pp. 606, 497, 525, 291.
104 Kendall, p. 66.
105 Griffiths, p. 829.
106 CPR, Henry VI, vol VI, p. 652.
107 C. L. Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the
Fourth (New York: Octagon Books, 1967), p. 156.
108 CPR, Edward IV, vol. I, p. 36, Henry VI, vol. VI,
109 Ibid., pp. 33, 37.
110 Scofield, p. 199.
111 Ibid., pp. 231, 244.
112 Ibid., p. 255.
113 CPR, Edward IV, vol. I, pp. 100, 65, 38.
114 Ibid., pp. 201-204, 67.
115 Scofield, pp. 261-262.
116 CPR, Edward IV, vol. I, pp. 231, 206, 102, 209, 33.
117 Scofield, p. 262.
118 Ibid., p. 287.
119 Ibid., p. 292.
120 C. F. Richmond, "English Naval Power in the Fifteenth
Century," History, vol. 52, (London: The Historical
Association, 1967), p. 12.
121 CPR, Edward IV, vol. I, p. 281.
122 Ibid., pp. 281, 38.
123 Howarth, p. 61.
124 CPR, Edward IV, vol. I, pp. 301-302, 204.
125 Ibid., pp. 304, 336, and Scofield, p. 293.
126 Griffiths, p. 888.
127 Scofield, p. 449.
128 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, pp. 29, 57,
Edward IV, vol. I, p. 302.
129 Scofield, p. 457.
130 Ross, p. 113.
131 Scofield, p. 488-489.
132 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, p. 201.
133 Griffiths, pp. 889-890.
134 Scofield, p. 509.
135 Ibid., p. 519.
137 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, p. 217, Edward
IV, vol. I, pp. 151, 202.
138 Scofield, pp. 526-527.
139 Ibid., p. 536.
140 Ibid., p. 540.
142 Ibid., p. 554.
143 Ibid., p. 566-569.
144 Ibid., pp. 578-587.
145 Lloyd, p. 208.
146 Scofield, p. 29, and Harriss, p. 42.
147 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, pp. 340, 240,
148 Ross, p. 206.
149 Scofield, p. 59.
150 Ross, p. 218-219.
151 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, pp. 379, 287,
and Scofield, p. 130.
152 CPR, Edward IV and Henry VI, vol. I, pp. 493-496.
153 Scofield, p. 130.
154 Ross, p. 233-234.
155 Kingsford, p. 105.
156 Ross, p. 280.
157 Richmond, p. 3.
158 Anne Curry and Michael Hughes (eds.), Arms, Armies,
and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War (Woodbridge: The
Boydell Press, 1994), p. 187.
159 Joseph Stevenson, Letters and Papers Illustrative of
the Wars of the English in France, vol. II, pt. 2 (London:
HMSO, 1861), pp. 575-591.
160 Brown, pp. 57-58.
161 Ibid., p. 58.
162 Kelly de Vries, Medieval Military Technology
(Lewiston: Broadview Press, 1992), p. 306.
163 Stevenson, vol. I, p. 517.
1 Munro, p. 5-7.
2 M. H. Keen, The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 197-204.
3 W. R. Childs, "England's Iron Trade in the Fifteenth
Century," Economic History Review, ser. 2, vol. 34, (1981),
5 Ibid., p. 34-35.
8 E. M. Veale, Studies in the Medieval Wine Trade by
Margery Kirkbride James (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), p.
9 Ibid., p. 42.
10 Ibid., p. 57-59.
14 Eileen Power and M. M. Postan (eds.), Studies in
English Trade in the Fifteenth Century (New York: Barnes and
Noble, 1966), p. 33.
15 Ibid., pp. 402-406.
16 A. R. Bridbury, England and the Salt Trade in the
Later Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. XV.
17 Ibid., pp. 176-177.
18 Ibid., pp. 120, 176-177.
19 Ibid., pp. 176-177.
20 Ibid., p. 163.
21 Thomas Wright (ed.), Political Poems and Songs
(London: HMSO, 1861), p. XLI.
22 Ibid., p. 169-174.
23 Ibid., p. 158-159.
24 Richmond, p. 2.
25 Griffiths, p. 610.
26 Ibid., pp. 610-617, 636.
27 Kendall, pp. 45, 70.
28 James Orchard Halliwell, Warkworth's Chronicle
(London: The Camden Society, 1839), p. 51.
29 J. B. Sheppard, The Letter Books of Christ Church,
Canterbury, vol. III, (London: HMSO, 1889), pp. 281-282.
30 Wright, pp. 282-287.
1 Richard Sharpe (ed.), Jane's Fighting Ships (Coulsdon:
Janes Information Group, Ltd., 1994), p. 33.
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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.
<end, part 2 of 2>