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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: The Hundred Years War

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
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During the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1443) King Edward III confiscated all large ships to form his navy, and licensed pirates to attack all French shipping. The pirates, however, did not limit their attacks to French vessels, and would often attack any foreign ship. Sailing from Spain to England with a cargo of wine and honey, Saint Marie Rose, a Spanish ship sheltering in The Solent from a storm, was attacked and boarded by pirates who were also the Crown's Stewards.

Invasion Threats

The Island used a complex network of 31 Invasion Beacons to warn of invasion. There was a real threat of invasion, since the French King Philip VI planned to capture the Isle of Wight and use it as a base from which to attack the mainland.

In 1336 the French fleet was poised on the other side of the English Channel, ready for a full-scale invasion. Although this did not happen, the French ships preyed on English vessels anchored off the Isle of Wight in The Solent, boarding many, scuttling some, and capturing the others.

In 1337 the French raided Portsmouth, all but destroying it, leaving only a church and the hospital standing. Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight were attacked in March 1338, and, in September, the island of Guernsey was captured. In October 1338 they attacked Southampton, causing King Edward III to order the building of its town walls.

The Island Invaded

In 1330 the French invaded Yarmouth and St Helens on the Island, but were defeated by Sir Theobald Russell, the King's Warden of the Island, who was mortally wounded in the battle.

In 1340 Edward III won a spectacular victory against a far larger and superior French fleet at the Battle of Sluys, in which over 20,000 Frenchmen died.

This gave England control over the English Channel, yet it was not in total control, as Portsmouth was again raided in 1342, and yet again in 1370 and 1377. There was very little trade during the Hundred Years War. By the 1370s this had resulted in a large shortage of grain. In 1375 the Maudelyn, a ship sailing from Flanders to Valencia, was stranded on the Island. Its cargo of grain was requisitioned by King Edward III and sold to Southampton.

In 1377 the Island suffered its most devastating raid, with Yarmouth, Francheville and Freshwater destroyed, Newport burnt, and Carisbrooke Castle besieged. The castle's Constable, Sir Hugh Tyrell, gallantly defended it until a force under Sir John Arundel arrived from the mainland. The Island was again attacked in 1381, when Newport was again burnt by the French, and in 1402 a French army of 1,700 men landed and raided several Island villages. The French, under the Comte de St Pol, attacked again in 1403, capturing much of the Island before being counter-attacked by forces from Portsmouth and Southampton.

Ships Wrecked And Destroyed

Trading ships continued to be lost at sea. In October 1399 a Breton ship loaded with claret was lost, and in 1409 an Italian carrack (a large merchant ship) carrying wine and oil was wrecked off the Needles.

In 1411 records state that when the ship Passenger, owned by the burgesses of the Isle of Wight,

went from the Island freighted with goods to the value of £2,000 to take to the fair at Lymington, John Boucher of Harfleur in Normandy ... captured the ship and their goods.

In 1447 another carrack sank off the Island's coast. In 1449 English privateers captured the Bay Fleet, a fleet of 60 Hanseatic ships and 50 ships from the Low Countries, and took them to the Island. There, after diplomatic pressure, they were eventually released.

After The Hundred Years' War

After the Hundred Years' War trade was resumed, increasing the number of vessels in the Island's waters. In 1463 Le Maudeleyn came to the Island loaded with wine. The ship's Master had letters of safe conduct from King Edward IV, yet the letters, along with the cargo, were stolen by pirates.

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