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Twenty-one years after King Edward I’s accession, there
arose a naval war between France and England. In 1286, Edward was the first who
appointed a person to the office of Admiral of the English Seas, as we find
William de Leybourne styled “Admiral de le Mer du dit Roy d’Angleterre,” at an
ordinance made at Bruges concerning the conduct of the ships of England and Flanders
in that year; and about the same time first mention is made of an admiral of
France, named Florent de varenne, whose successor, Enguerrand, was “Admiral de
la Flotte du Roi Philippe le Hardi,” yet never was the sea more infested by
piracy than in 1293, the period referred to. The feeble execution of the laws
had given licence to all kinds of men; and a general appetite for rapine,
followed by revenge for it, seemed to infect the mariners and fighting
merchant-traders of the time, and tempted them on the smallest provocation to
seek redress by immediate and merciless retaliation on the aggressors.

It chanced that a Norman and an English vessel met near the
coast of Bayonne (De Mezeray has it Guienne), and both having occasion for
water, sent their boats ashore at the same time, and, as misfortune would have
it, to the same spring, upon which there immediately ensued a quarrel for
precedence. In the squabble a Norman drew his dagger and attempted to stab an
English seaman, who grappling with him, hurled him to the ground. The Norman
was said to have fallen on his own dagger; be that as it may, the man was
slain, and from this petty scuffle between two obscure seamen about a cask of
water, there grew a bloody war between two great nations, involving half of
Europe in the quarrel. The mariners of the Norman ship laid their complaints
before the King of France, who, without caring to inquire into the matter, bade
them “take revenge, and trouble him no more about it.” Though more legal than
usual in applying to the crown, they required but this hint to proceed to
immediate outrage.

Meeting an English ship in the Channel, they boarded her,
and hanging some of the crew, together with some dogs, from the yard-arms, in
presence of their shipmates, bade them inform their countrymen that “vengeance
was now taken for the blood of the Norman killed at Bayonne.”

This injury, accompanied by circumstances so insulting, was
speedily resented by all the mariners of the Cinque Ports, who, without the
empty formality of appealing to King Edward, retaliated by committing precisely
the same barbarities on all French vessels without distinction; and the French
in return preyed upon the ships of Edward’s subjects, Gascon as well as
English: and soon armed piratical craft of all kinds swarmed in the Channel and
Bay of Biscay in pursuit of each other, the sovereigns of both countries
remaining perfectly indifferent the while. The English formed private
associations with the Irish and Dutch seamen, the French with the Genoese and
Flemings; and the animosities of these lawless spirits became more and more

A fleet of 260 Norman vessels set sail to the south for
wine, and in their passage seized all the English ships they met, and hanging
or drowning the crews, made spoil of the cargoes, and arrived in triumph at St.
Mahé, a port in Bretagne. Filled with fresh fury by this incident, the English
ports fitted out a fleet of eighty sail, stronger and better manned, to take
revenge. Depredations had now been carried to such a length, that at last the
nations agreed on a certain day to decide the dispute with their whole naval
strength, and a large empty ship was placed in the Channel midway between the
coasts of England and France to mark the spot of the engagement.

On the 14th April, 1293, they met in close battle. Long and
obstinate was the engagement, and no quarter was either asked for or given; in
the end the French were totally routed, and the -greater part of their ships
taken, sunk, or destroyed, and “the majority of their crews perished in the
ocean.” It has been alleged that the loss of the French was 15,000 men. If so,
it can only be accounted for by the circumstance that the returning Norman
fleet was transporting a considerable body of troops from the south.

Matters were now looking serious; and French King Philip IV,
enraged by a defeat so murderous and disgraceful, dispatched an envoy to London
demanding reparation. He did more, for he cited Edward to appear in his Court
of Parliament, as his liege man and vassal, being Duke of Guienne, and having
done homage on his knees as such before Philip, at Paris, in 1274. The English
king sent his brother; but Philip, dissatisfied with this equivocation,
declared him contumacious, and seized his French possessions. On finding
himself in something like the same absurd feudal snare he had prepared for the
Scots, Edward was exasperated; the more so when he found France making
preparations to invade England at a time when his hands were full with his
northern neighbours: so, to anticipate any descents on the coast, besides three
formidable fleets which were to protect it, he equipped a fourth consisting of
above 330 ships, with a body of 7,000 men-at-arms and archers on board, under
the command of the Earl of Lancaster, to recover his forfeited duchy of
Guienne. He sailed to the mouth of the Garonne, took a town or two, and thence
went to Bourdeaux and Bayonne, after the capture of which he died; but all this
did not prevent a French fleet of 300 sail, under the command of Matthew de
Montmorenci and John de Harcourt, assisted by Thomas de Tuberville, an English
traitor, from landing at Dover, and reducing that town to ashes, ere the men of
the country rose, and compelled the invaders fly to their ships with
considerable loss.

The Royal Navy, a History from the Earliest Times to the
Present/Volume 1/Chapter 8 by W. Laird Clowes

In 1294, large English fleets were assembled in the Narrow
Seas, one in the North Sea, being under Sir John de Botetort, one in the
Channel, being under Sir William de Leybourne, and one, in the Irish Sea, being
under a knight named Ormond. [206] On June 26th, the barons of England were
ordered to be at Portsmouth by September 1st, to accompany the king to Gascony;
and in July Edward himself was at Portsmouth. Meanwhile, wood was hewn for the
equipment of above two hundred ships to carry horses; the keepers of all the
ports were directed to suffer no man, ship, boat or vessel to quit the kingdom;
and John Baliol, King of Scots, who had done homage to Edward in 1292, was
enjoined not to allow any ships or men to leave his country for abroad.

The army destined for Gascony consisted of twenty thousand
foot soldiers, with five hundred men-at-arms. It sailed from Portmouth on
August 1st, but, off the Cornish coast, was dispersed by bad weather and driven
into Plymouth, whence it did not sail again until the beginning of October.
Entering the Gironde, the fleet appeared about the 28th of the month in the
Dordogne before Castilion, which place surrendered at once. Thence the
expedition proceeded up the Garonne to St. Macaire, which submitted on the
31st. On the following day the ships anchored off Bourg. On November 8th they
were off Blaye, whence they sailed to Bordeaux, where they remained for two
days. Failing to reduce it, they again mounted the Garonne to Lieux, where the
horses were landed after having been seventeen weeks and some days embarked.

The main expedition was followed by the Earls of Lancaster
and Lincoln with reinforcements, probably conveyed in vessels which the Cinque
Ports had been ordered to send to Portsmouth by September 8th; but this
division did not sail until the spring of 1295. In the interval, in October,
1294, certain goods belonging to

French subjects were directed to be seized and sold and the
proceeds paid into the Exchequer.

Sir Henry de Turberville has been mentioned as having played
a gallant part in the defeat of the French at the Battle of the South Foreland
in 1217. A relative of his took less honourable share in the naval history of
the reign of Edward I. This knight, Sir Thomas de Turberville, had been made
prisoner by Philip IV.; and, eager to advance himself, no matter at what cost,
turned traitor. He suggested in 1295 that Philip should fit out a large fleet
and crowd the vessels with troops; and that, in the meantime, he himself should
go to England, report that he had made his escape, and endeavour to obtain from
his sovereign a command at sea, or the custody of the ports, or both. He would
then, on seeing the approach of the French, deliver up his trust, the agreed
signal that his plot had been successful being his own banner hoisted above
that of the king. Philip accepted the offer, promised Turberville large
rewards, and kept two of the traitor’s sons as hostages.

Turberville reached England, but, though kindly received,
failed to obtain the wished-for command. Philip, on his part, collected more
than three hundred ships from Marseilles, Genoa and other places, and sent them
to cruise off the English coasts, in waiting for the expected signal. Not
seeing it the commanders grew impatient, and dispatched five of their best
galleys to reconnoitre more closely. One of these landed at Hythe. To induce
the intruders to advance inland, the king’s forces retired before them, and
then, suddenly turning, fell upon them and killed them all to the number of two
hundred and forty, afterwards taking and burning the galley. The other four
galleys rejoined their main body, which was far too formidable to be attacked
by such ships as were at the disposal of the English commanders on the spot.
Turberville’s treachery was still unsuspected in England; but the assemblage of
Philip’s large fleet could not but be known; and, with a view to resisting
invasion, letters were dispatched on August 28th and 30th to the Bishop of
London and other prelates and priors instructing them to take the necessary
measures in case the enemy landed; and on September 28th the sheriffs were
informed that danger was apprehended from the machinations of certain foreign
ecclesiastics residing near the sea-board, and recommending their immediate
removal inland.

But, before this, a descent had actually been made. On
August 1st the French fleet had appeared off Dover, and had suddenly landed
about fifteen thousand men, who had seized the town and burnt great part of it.
The people had fled, but recovering their courage, and being reinforced, had
attacked the invaders so vigorously as to kill five thousand of them and to put
the rest to flight. Some had escaped to the ships, others had taken refuge in
the fields, where they had been afterwards found and massacred. Thirty seamen
had maintained themselves in the cloisters of the abbey until night, when they
had got away in two boats, only. however, to be followed in the morning by two
large craft and sunk. In the whole affray but fourteen Englishmen had lost
their lives.

The repulse at Dover and the non-appearance of Turberville’s
signal disheartened the French, who returned to their ports and dispersed; yet
Turberville’s treason was still undiscovered and might have gone unpunished but
for the suspicions of a clerk, who delivered to Edward a letter which led to
the conspiracy being laid bare, and to the culprit’s execution.

The retirement of the French opened the Channel to the
operations of English cruisers. The ships of the Cinque Ports captured fifteen
Spanish vessels full of merchandise, bound for Damme, and brought them into
Sandwich; and some Yarmouth ships landed a force at Cherbourg, fired the town,
robbed an abbey, and carried off an old priest.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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