24 June 1440, an English fleet under the command of King Edward III decisively defeated the French “Army of the Sea” at the Battle of Sluys off Zeeland during the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War.
“Our knights are much braver than the English.” “How so?” said Philip, “The English do not dare to jump into the sea in full armour.” (Philip VI’s court jester breaking the news of the French defeat at the Battle of Sluys to the king)
|The Battle of Sluys - Illustration from Book I of Froissart's Chronicles around 1470|
|A late medieval Mediterranean war galley|
A 19th century imagination of |
English boarding a French vessel at Sluys
The English archers and men-at-arms who fought on the ships at Sluys were landed and bolstered the defences of Edward’s Flemish allies and the French overland invasion of their renegade province of Flanders was stalled. Six years later, they would protect Edward’s left flank when he invaded Normandy in the campaign that climaxed with the Battles of Crecy and Poitiers and ended with the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360. In the meanwhile, the English coasts were more or less safe from raiders and trade recovered, providing Edward with the necessary funds for his war. Since the victorious English cogs that fought at Sluys were, by and large, taken from the wool merchants and pressed into service, shipbuilding in England did not exactly flourish anymore, though, since the wary mercantile people feared another major recruiting of their keels. By the end of Edward’s reign in 1377, the ships the king once commanded were history long since and he never thought of maintaining an expensive navy. French raiding began anew, albeit on a far lesser scale than late in the 1330s. French aristos, in the meanwhile, had put all the blame for the disaster of Sluys on the late, originally untitled Béhuchet, widening the gap between the ascending bourgeoisie and nobility and isolating themselves in playing all major roles in civic as well as military affairs, a development that would cost them dearly when the flower of French chivalry was slain on the battlefields of the Hundred Years’ War by the arrows and billhooks of English and Welsh commoners.