The Battle of Winchelsea

BattleofSluys

A depiction of medieval naval combat from Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, 14th century.

Edwards Cog thomas

King Edward’s flagship, Cog Thomas.

In 1350, King Edward III of England was at peace—with Scotland, after capturing King David II at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and with France, after a decisive victory at the Battle of Crécy in the same year. For many years, however, trouble had been brewing with Castille—a Spanish kingdom whose navy had taken to raiding English ships in the Channel. A chance for restitution came when news reached Edward that a Spanish fleet had sailed to Flanders to trade wool. “We have for a long time spared these people,” he announced, “for which they have done us much harm; without amending their conduct; for on the contrary, they grow more arrogant; for which reason they must be chastised.” He resolved to intercept the fleet as it returned to Castille—a feasible operation in the narrow waters of the English Channel.

Edward assembled a fleet of 50 ships by the usual means of conscripting merchantmen and outfitting them for war, and issued a summons to his lords and knights. At least 17 lords and more than 400 knights responded, creating a top-heavy command structure on board ship; at the time, the title of “captain” was essentially a military one, and it was held by the lord or knight who commanded the troops on board. The fleet gathered off Winchelsea, then a significant harbor on the south coast and one of the Cinque Ports, which were obliged to maintain ships for the Crown in case of need. Edward’s warrior son, the Black Prince, and the 10-year-old John of Gaunt were among the troops, as was Robert of Namur, Edward’s favorite knight, who took charge of the Salle de Roi, which carried the King’s household.

Meanwhile, the Spanish fleet of 47 ships had loaded up with linen at Sluys, in Flanders, where the English had sunk most of the French fleet 10 years earlier. Don Carlos de la Cerda, the Spanish commander, had heard of Edward’s plans and armed his ships accordingly; as many cannons as he could find were lifted aboard, and the wooden “castles” atop the ships’ masts were stocked with stones and iron bars to drop on the English vessels. When they raised anchor, the ships, according to the Flemish chronicler Jean Froissart, were “so beautiful, it was a fine sight to see them under sail.”

Edward sailed in the Cog Thomas, commanded by Robert Passelow, and the fleet cruised between Dover and Calais. He enjoyed himself as he waited for the Spanish, encouraging Sir John Chandos, his tactician at the battle of Crécy, to sing with the royal minstrels. Eventually, late in the afternoon of August 29, the lookout caught sight of the Spanish. “I see two, three, four, and so many that, God help me, I cannot count them,” he cried. The minstrels were silenced and the king offered wine to his knights, who drank and put on their helmets. Always conscious of his image, Edward stood at the prow of the ship, dressed, according to Froissart, in a black velvet jacket and a beaver hat, “which became him very much.”

The Spanish had the wind behind them and could have declined battle (they had more to lose with valuable cargoes on board) but “their pride and presumption made them act otherwise.” The king shouted to Passelow, “Steer for that ship for I want to joust with her,” since he loved tournaments and had recently revived the Arthurian ideal of chivalry. Normally the master of the ship had the right to advise on such matters, but in this instance he remained silent:

The sailor did not want to disobey his orders because it was the King who desired it, even though the Spaniard came on at speed sailing on the wind. The King’s ship was strong and manoeuvrable, otherwise she would have split; for she and the great Spanish vessel struck with such force that it sounded like thunder and as they rebounded the castle of the King of England’s ship caught the [top]castle of the Spanish ship in such a way that the mast levered it from the mast on which it was fixed and it fell in the sea. All those in the castle were drowned and lost.

But the Spanish ship was not the only vessel damaged in the collision. The seams between the planks of the Cog Thomas opened and she began to take on water. The knights pumped and baled, but did not dare to tell the King, who looked at the ship alongside the one he had “jousted” with and called out, “Grapple my ship to that one; I must have her!” One of the knights exclaimed, “Let her go, you’ll get a better!” and soon another vessel drew near and the knights snared it with grappling hooks and chains:

The English royal knights made strenuous efforts to take the ship they had grappled with because their own… was in danger of foundering as she had taken in so much water. At last the King and his crew fought so well that the Spanish ship was taken and everyone on board her was thrown over the side. Then they told the King of his peril from the sinking ship and that he should go on board the prize vessel. The King took this advice and went on board the Spanish ship with all his men leaving the other empty.

The battle raged around the English as they drew close to the Spanish, who shot arrows and pelted them with iron bars. Night was falling and the English were anxious to reach a conclusion, but the Spanish were “people well used to the sea and with large well-equipped ships.” The Black Prince soon became embroiled in a fight of his own as his ship grappled a large Spanish vessel. His ship was holed in several places, perhaps by the iron bars, and was beginning to sink when the Duke of Lancaster came alongside in his own ship. The old crusader called out “Derby to the rescue!”—since he was also the Earl of Derby—and boarded the Spanish vessel. He was victorious, and again the captured enemy prisoners were thrown overboard.

The Salle de Roi was grappled by a large Spanish ship, which hoisted its sails and tried to drag her off. As the two ships passed the Cog Thomas, members of the royal household aboard the Salle de Roi cried for help, but there was no response. One of Robert’s followers, called Hanekin, then leapt into action:

With his naked sword in his hand, he leapt on board the Spanish ship, reached the mast, and cut the halyard and the sail collapsed and didn’t draw any more. And then with great effort he cut the four mighty shrouds which supported the mast and sails so that they fell on the ship and the ship stopped and couldn’t go any more.

Robert’s men boarded the ship with swords drawn, and, according to Froissart, “fought so well that all on board were killed and thrown overboard, and the ship taken.” It was the end of the battle—an indisputable victory for the English, who captured 20 Spanish ships at the cost of only two of their own.

In spite of Edward’s success, however, Winchelsea was only a flash in a conflict that raged between the English and the Spanish for over 200 years, coming to a head with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was a typical naval battle of the late-medieval period, both harking back to the ram-and-board tactics of classical times and straining toward the early modern period, in which vessels with designated gun decks were developed. It proved yet again that merchant ships were ill-suited to housing cannons, and effectively became hand-to-hand battlegrounds when they met each other in combat. Little would change until the 16th century, when the first true warships in the modern sense were built, heralding an age in which ships could fire at each other from a distance, and battles could be won or lost without boarding.

SHIPS AND THE SEA I

late-12th-century-northern-cog

Late 12th Century Northern Cog.

Ships built in the ancient period were too feeble to routinely take to the sea in any but fair weather. Longships—rowed galleys—were the state-of-the-art ships-of-war of the day, but they could not venture far. The classic Mediterranean galley had a freeboard too low to test even a moderate sea, and the oarsmen who filled the narrow, cramped hull forced frequent stops for food and water. The round, or sailing, ship could better manage rough seas, and its small crew and ample storage space gave it greater freedom of movement. But the roundship was difficult to sail, especially upwind, and it was hostage to breezes and currents in a way that the galley was not.

Geographic ignorance and nescient navigational methods also handicapped ancient mariners. There were marvelous, though periodic, scientific advances. In the third century bc astronomers determined that the earth was a round sphere rotating on its axis as it revolved around the sun. About 240 bc Eratosthenes of Alexandria, the most versatile scholar of his day, calculated the size of the planet, overestimating it slightly but establishing the theoretical groundwork that allowed Columbus 1,700 years later to sail west to reach the east. In the second century ad Claudius Ptolemy, the most accurate of the ancient geographers, subdivided the world into fractions of a circle, marking his maps with what he termed lines of latitude and longitude.

Despite these advances, science was of little use to the practical navigator. The outlines of regions, and an entire hemisphere, were yet unmapped. Maps were rare, expensive, and inaccurate, at least for the purposes of navigation. While astronomical devices existed, they were rarely taken to sea. Mariners had to rely primarily on their eyes to render crude judgments of the position of celestial bodies to determine latitude, and had no means, until the late eighteenth century, of ascertaining longitude. At best, captains owned coast pilots—what the ancient Greeks had termed periplus—that contained information on distances between ports, locations where ships could water, prevailing winds and currents, depth of water, and assorted geographic descriptions to aid mariners as they made their way along a coast. At the height of the Roman Empire, some lucky captains may have possessed primitive charts of the Mediterranean.  But even after the appearance of functional navigational instruments late in the first millennium ad (the astrolabe and the magnetic compass, imported from the Arabs and the Chinese respectively), most European seafarers sailed or rowed near, if not along, the coast by their wits, relying on years of experience, and praying for the clear skies that allowed them to mark the positions of shore, sun, moon, and stars.

Lack of navigational tools did not prevent open-ocean navigation. Phoenicians and Greeks in the Mediterranean, Arabs in the Indian Ocean, the Irish and Norse in the North Atlantic, and the Chinese in the Pacific all conducted open-sea cruises of great length and difficulty. But the absence of instruments to guide mariners and the primitive state of the shipbuilder’s art combined to limit maritime activity to a season that lasted little more than half the year.

Evidence of the relative unimportance of the sea in the affairs of nations can be seen in the nature of piracy. The pirates of the ancient world, for example the Cretans, Illyrians, and Cilicians, sought their booty ashore, not afloat. As Lionel Casson wrote in his history of seafaring:

The ancient pirate, like his later brethren, chased and boarded merchantmen. But his stock-in-trade was not that; it was slave-running. And attack on the high seas was hit-or-miss: a pirate chief could not tell from the look of an ordinary merchantman plodding along whether it was carrying a load of invaluable silks and spices or cheap noisome goat hides. But a swift swoop on any coastal town was bound to yield, even if the place was too poor for plunder, a catch of human beings, of whom the wealthy could be held for ransom and the rest sold for the going price on the nearest slave block.

Not until after the Arab invasion of the seventh century ad turned the Mediterranean into an embattled frontier between two cultures did the activities of pirates gradually shift from raids against the shore to attacks against shipping, most notably by the corsairs of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. In northern European waters, where commercial development initially lagged behind that of the Mediterranean, piracy remained associated with coastal raiding much longer.

SHIPS AND THE SEA II

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Only in the fifteenth century did a combination of scientific and technological advances—the magnetic compass and the astrolabe, better maps, commercially available navigational charts, and ships of stronger construction, superior design, and improved rigs—allow mariners to challenge, though by no means to conquer, the seas. Only then did open ocean navigation become a regular, practical, and potentially year-round, though still dangerous, endeavor. Not until then did Europeans, somewhat serendipitously, find themselves in possession of a bundle of maritime technologies that would eventually allow them to dominate not just Europe but the world.

In the interim, humankind’s incapacity on the oceans limited the significance of sea power, even to those states with maritime pretensions. Commerce was seasonal, regional, and of marginal importance. Such limitations likewise circumscribed the significance of navies. Until the sea-lanes became a truly global common in the sixteenth century, interruption of activity on them was usually of minimal consequence, and the Mahanian concept of command of the sea was all but meaningless.

The galley, be it of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, or Turkish design, was not an effective seagoing weapon system. Galley fleets were too unseaworthy and too logistically short-legged to act independently. As a result, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies were still tethered to the shore. Galley fleets had limited radii of operations—five hundred miles at best—and that piloting along coasts, not sailing or rowing along a straight line from point to point. At night, galley commanders preferred to back their ships onto a safe beach, where the crew could sleep and search for fresh food and water. A blockade of a distant enemy port was virtually impossible. Only if a friendly army held a nearby stretch of coast could a galley squadron attempt a blockade. Navies, leashed as they were, usually operated as flanking forces for the armies to which they were attached. Until the sixteenth century, naval operations were extensions of land warfare, more amphibious than truly naval.

The changes in ship design, navigation, cartography, and armament that occurred between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries were not simply incremental steps in the evolution of sea power, but a collection of advances that engendered a maritime revolution. By the mid-seventeenth century the nature, scope, and scale of both maritime commerce and naval warfare had changed dramatically. Previously, only states with large and mighty armies—such as the Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, and Mongols—had been able to forge global domains. But now the world’s new empires were maritime states more akin to Athens than to Rome. Sea power was no longer merely an adjunct to land power. “The sea,” in the words of Fernand Braudel, had become “the gateway to wealth.”

That Europe’s maritime empires all fronted the North Atlantic, a harsh, challenging sea, was no coincidence. Northern Europeans were never as enamored of the galley as their southern cousins. Northern seas, even coastal waters, were too rough for vessels with low freeboards. Many of the tides and currents of the English Channel ebbed and flowed more quickly than the best speed of a rowed vessel. The Vikings conducted most of their distant oceanic voyages, not in their rowed longships or war galleys, but in more functional sailing vessels.

The harsh Atlantic environment forced northern Europeans to give more thought to the design and rigging of sailing ships, and to navigation techniques, than did the people of the Mediterranean basin. Often facing overcast or foggy conditions, northern mariners relied heavily on soundings and, when it became available, the compass. Eventually northerners developed several types of vessels notable for their seaworthiness, carrying capacity, range, and ability to sail upwind.

Northern shipbuilders enjoyed no monopoly on design improvements. Shipwrights in the Mediterranean also refined their roundships, not only by incorporating ideas imported from the north, but also through their own advances in construction techniques and rigging plans, advances northerners were more than ready to adopt. Shipbuilding know-how flowed freely between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

SHIPS AND THE SEA III

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Round Ship

Northern Europeans owed their maritime dominance over their southern neighbors, and ultimately over the entire world, to a pair of interrelated developments. First, northerners quickly adopted, by necessity rather than choice, improved roundships as war platforms; the Mediterranean states, both Christian and Muslim, did not. Second, the northern Europeans’ continued refinement of the sailing man-of-war in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries positioned them, unlike their southern neighbors, to take full advantage of the development of cheap iron cannon late in the sixteenth century.

Since the galley was never as satisfactory a platform for ship-to-ship fighting in rough northern waters as in the Mediterranean, as shipwrights constructed larger, more strongly built, more maneuverable roundships in the thirteenth century, states fronting the Atlantic began to incorporate the new vessels into their naval forces. The late-twelfth-century English navy, for example, consisted principally of assorted types of galleys, but by the early thirteenth century powerful roundships formed the core of English battlefleets. By the early fourteenth century galleys had all but disappeared from English orders of battle. In contrast, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies clung to their battle proven galleys, which continued to hold their own against roundships.

As a result, northern shipbuilders had a three-century head start, not in the design and development of sailing ships as such, but in the refinement of the roundship as a fighting platform. While most sailing ships taken into the fleet in wartime were merchant vessels pressed temporarily into service, northern European states began to look to shipwrights to design and build sailing vessels specifically for wartime use. These new ships incorporated several prominent design features, such as towering fore and aft “castles,” or fighting platforms, from which soldiers could hurl projectiles down onto their enemies. Gradually, the recognizable design of purpose-built sailing warships began to emerge.

Nevertheless, these early sailing men-of-war, even when armed with the primitive gunpowder weapons of the day, did not yet ensure technological superiority for northern navies beyond their home waters. Until the sixteenth century reliable cannon were too expensive to be used extensively, whether on land or on sea. States generally consigned their heavy guns to siege trains, of which the Muslim Ottomans, not the Christian Europeans, had the most powerful. Navies, both northern and Mediterranean, mounted only small numbers of heavy cannon, mostly brass or bronze, in the bows of their ships.

The costliness of the great guns masked the true nature of the technological changes taking place in the maritime world and lulled the Mediterranean powers into unwarranted complacency. As long as fiscal concerns limited the naval use of artillery, the galley was a viable fighting platform. Since bow-mounted guns fired forward, in battle they could be used more efficiently by the highly maneuverable galleys than by sailing ships. Thus in 1500 no one recognized that the war galley had reached the end of its long history of development; no one foresaw that the fighting roundship would continue to evolve as a weapons system for another 350 years; no one knew that by the end of the century the advent of cheap iron cannon would allow the larger, longer-ranged roundship to carry powerful broadside batteries to the four corners of the globe; no one suspected that the age of galley warfare was drawing to a close

The Nef as Ship

Nef is an old term for a type of boat, originally referring a largish sort of Knarr or “Halfskip” (which was a double ended sort of canoe shape, about 2.5 to 3 times as long as wide, and used by Northern European travellers and trades for exploration and cargo).

A fully rigged medieval sailing merchantman and warship. Developed in France, the nef had a broad beam, rounded ends, and a carvel-planked (flush rather than overlapping) hull. Similar in design and purpose to the cog, this type of ship was normally single masted with a more rounded stern than the cog. Fore and after castles were part of the hull structure. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the vessel had grown to almost 400 tons and carried three masts. Its basic purpose as a naval vessel was to serve as a fighting platform.

Nef: 1.Also called a roundship, a single-masted clinker-built ship used in Europe during the middle-ages until the 14th century, for example as transportation for the crusades. Descendant of the Viking longship a Nef still had a side-rudder and was used in Northern regions a century or two longer with a sternpost-rudder. 2.A French word for ship.

Variegated Reference for ‘nef’ as ship, from
Lewis, A.R. and Runyan, T.J.  European Naval and Maritime History, 300-1500.  Indiana University Press.  Bloomington.  1985.

p.66  “… the so-called _naves_ or _nefs_, which were large round-ships, lateen-rigged, with two masts …”

p.73  has a line-drawing of a Genoese nef based on the best available evidence.

p.74  “They may have been cheaper to build or to operate than a_nef_.”  The word _nef_ is used two more times on this page.

p.82  “Already by 1400, as we have noted, the older Mediterraneanround-ships such as _nefs_ and _taurides_ had been replaced by more efficient northern European _cogs_.”

p.83  “Often built as large as 700 or 1,000 tons, _carracks_,which were sometimes also called _nefs_ in the fifteenth century, carried most of the heavy bulk cargoes, such as salt, wheat, cotton, and timber, throughout the Mediterranean.”

North versus South in Naval technology

Large cog with the Latin sail aft and by light gun on the turning ring mount which ruled in the Baltic region and the North Sea almost 300 years.

The galley, be it of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, or Turkish design, was not an effective seagoing weapon system. Galley fleets were too unseaworthy and too logistically short-legged to act independently. As a result, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies were still tethered to the shore. Galley fleets had limited radii of operations—five hundred miles at best—and that piloting along coasts, not sailing or rowing along a straight line from point to point. At night, galley commanders preferred to back their ships onto a safe beach, where the crew could sleep and search for fresh food and water. A blockade of a distant enemy port was virtually impossible. Only if a friendly army held a nearby stretch of coast could a galley squadron attempt a blockade. Navies, leashed as they were, usually operated as flanking forces for the armies to which they were attached. Until the sixteenth century, naval operations were extensions of land warfare, more amphibious than truly naval.

The changes in ship design, navigation, cartography, and armament that occurred between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries were not simply incremental steps in the evolution of sea power, but a collection of advances that engendered a maritime revolution. By the mid-seventeenth century the nature, scope, and scale of both maritime commerce and naval warfare had changed dramatically. Previously, only states with large and mighty armies—such as the Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, and Mongols—had been able to forge global domains. But now the world’s new empires were maritime states more akin to Athens than to Rome. Sea power was no longer merely an adjunct to land power. “The sea,” in the words of Fernand Braudel, had become “the gateway to wealth.”

That Europe’s maritime empires all fronted the North Atlantic, a harsh, challenging sea, was no coincidence. Northern Europeans were never as enamored of the galley as their southern cousins. Northern seas, even coastal waters, were too rough for vessels with low freeboards. Many of the tides and currents of the English Channel ebbed and flowed more quickly than the best speed of a rowed vessel. The Vikings conducted most of their distant oceanic voyages, not in their rowed longships or war galleys, but in more functional sailing vessels.

The harsh Atlantic environment forced northern Europeans to give more thought to the design and rigging of sailing ships, and to navigation techniques, than did the people of the Mediterranean basin. Often facing overcast or foggy conditions, northern mariners relied heavily on soundings and, when it became available, the compass. Eventually northerners developed several types of vessels notable for their seaworthiness, carrying capacity, range, and ability to sail upwind.

Northern shipbuilders enjoyed no monopoly on design improvements. Shipwrights in the Mediterranean also refined their roundships, not only by incorporating ideas imported from the north, but also through their own advances in construction techniques and rigging plans, advances northerners were more than ready to adopt. Shipbuilding know-how flowed freely between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Northern Europeans owed their maritime dominance over their southern neighbors, and ultimately over the entire world, to a pair of interrelated developments. First, northerners quickly adopted, by necessity rather than choice, improved roundships as war platforms; the Mediterranean states, both Christian and Muslim, did not. Second, the northern Europeans’ continued refinement of the sailing man-of-war in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries positioned them, unlike their southern neighbors, to take full advantage of the development of cheap iron cannon late in the sixteenth century.

Since the galley was never as satisfactory a platform for ship-to-ship fighting in rough northern waters as in the Mediterranean, as shipwrights constructed larger, more strongly built, more maneuverable roundships in the thirteenth century, states fronting the Atlantic began to incorporate the new vessels into their naval forces. The late-twelfth-century English navy, for example, consisted principally of assorted types of galleys, but by the early thirteenth century powerful roundships formed the core of English battlefleets. By the early fourteenth century galleys had all but disappeared from English orders of battle. In contrast, well into the sixteenth century Mediterranean navies clung to their battleproven galleys, which continued to hold their own against roundships.

As a result, northern shipbuilders had a three-century head start, not in the design and development of sailing ships as such, but in the refinement of the roundship as a fighting platform. While most sailing ships taken into the fleet in wartime were merchant vessels pressed temporarily into service, northern European states began to look to shipwrights to design and build sailing vessels specifically for wartime use. These new ships incorporated several prominent design features, such as towering fore and aft “castles,” or fighting platforms, from which soldiers could hurl projectiles down onto their enemies. Gradually, the recognizable design of purpose-built sailing warships began to emerge.

Nevertheless, these early sailing men-of-war, even when armed with the primitive gunpowder weapons of the day, did not yet ensure technological superiority for northern navies beyond their home waters. Until the sixteenth century reliable cannon were too expensive to be used extensively, whether on land or on sea. States generally consigned their heavy guns to siege trains, of which the Muslim Ottomans, not the Christian Europeans, had the most powerful. Navies, both northern and Mediterranean, mounted only small numbers of heavy cannon, mostly brass or bronze, in the bows of their ships.

The costliness of the great guns masked the true nature of the technological changes taking place in the maritime world and lulled the Mediterranean powers into unwarranted complacency. As long as fiscal concerns limited the naval use of artillery, the galley was a viable fighting platform. Since bow-mounted guns fired forward, in battle they could be used more efficiently by the highly maneuverable galleys than by sailing ships. Thus in 1500 no one recognized that the war galley had reached the end of its long history of development; no one foresaw that the fighting roundship would continue to evolve as a weapons system for another 350 years; no one knew that by the end of the century the advent of cheap iron cannon would allow the larger, longer-ranged roundship to carry powerful broadside batteries to the four corners of the globe; no one suspected that the age of galley warfare was drawing to a close.

Cannon and sailing ships consummated their marriage unobtrusively. Only in the fifteenth century did ships begin to mount guns broadside. Not until 1501 did a Frenchman cut gun ports in the hull of a ship. Only a few men-of-war, such as the English Harry Grace à Dieu and the French François, mounted large batteries with numerous broadside cannon. And of the Harry’s 141 guns, only 21 were heavy cannon, all brass and rather expensive.

In the late sixteenth century the development by the English of cheap cast-iron cannon began to ensure the preeminence of the roundship over the galley. Cast-iron cannon weighed more than brass or bronze guns, did not last as long, and were more apt to explode. But new casting methods enabled English ironsmiths to produce large numbers of admittedly inferior but very inexpensive cannon. The use of both English methods and iron guns quickly spread throughout the navies of the north. As a result, northern Europeans possessed a monopoly on both the raw materials and the technological know-how to furnish enough guns to line the decks of their ships of war.

Early in the seventeenth century the Mediterranean powers discovered that their navies were obsolescent, if not obsolete. Refinements could no longer make the galley a viable warship. The southern Europeans, Turks, Arabs, and the rest of the world had fallen behind the northerners, so quickly, so imperceptibly, and so far.

COGS IN CONTEMPORARY ART

A remarkably realistic depiction of a sea fight between two cogs, dated to c. 1300-1320 by details of the armour and the ships’ construction. The picture emphasizes the importance of shock combat as the ultimate arbiter of boarding fights, although the two archers, identifiable as English longbowmen by the size of their bows and their full draw to the ear, seem to be playing a major role in the fight.

An English fleet landing at Lisbon during the time of the Hundred Years War, from a near-contemporary illuminated manuscript. A significant function of fleets at the time was to convey important persons and delegations to their destinations, though the vagaries of wind and weather made the business an uncertain one. As usual, the medieval artist’s focus is on noble personages.

From a near-contemporary manuscript illumination depicting the 1340 battle of Sluys, vividly conveys the character of sea fights in the pre-gunpowder era: desperate contests with edged weapons;, bows and crossbows, fought out behind the dubious protection of wooden bulwarks. The exaggerated size of the combatants and the prominence of armoured men-at-arms reflects the social and military dominance in Europe of chivalric elites who excelled in shock combat. The ships are cogs.