Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

At sea in the Hundred Years War

Last night was the first meeting this term of the Stubbs Society, the oldest History society within Oxford University, and one which has had a genuine renaissance in recent years. The speaker was Jonathan Sumption QC, the author of several books, including a standar one on Pilgrimage and three magesterial volumes on the Hundred Year War. It was an aspect of that about which he spoke, giving an impressive and fascinating paper on "Problems of English naval strategy in thr Hundred Years War."

He began by making the point that although there are a considerable number of records of the navy at the time they have not received the attention given to the land armies of the war.

Amongst the many points he illuminated were the problems caused by frequent impressment of vessels, which with consequent losses of ships and to trade meant a gradual decline in the number of ships available. The consequential decline of Great Yarmouth as a port was highlighted. There was the necessity of not disrupting the late summer wine fleet from Bordeaux, vital to Gascon trade and taxes and to English palates. There was the sheer difficulty of knowing where the enemy was so as to fight them - the two fleets, in effect, made an appointment so to do near a harbour - or indeed for the government to know where its own fleet was once it had put to sea.

He dealt with the logistics of transporting men and horses, with provisions, the distances involved, and the contrasting utility of the deep sea English vessels and the more manoeuverable but vulnerable oared galleys of the French and Castillians, or hired in from the Italian maritime republics of Genoa, Venice and, later, Florence.

He also pointed out that Calais, prized possession that it was, and landbridge to the enemy was not necessarily in the best strategic position for land campaigns, or where an invading army might wish to commence activities. For that the Breton ports might be more useful, and hence the English interest there in the fourteenth century civil wars over succession to the Duchy.

The lecture addressed the fourteenth century rather more than the fifteenth, but there was a reference to King Henry V's ship building programme, including the Grace Dieu.

Channel 4's Time Team and Southampton scientists reveal the secrets of Henry V's greatest warship –

A reconstruction of King Henry V's ship Grace Dieu

Photo: Southampton University

I have included reference to the ship, about which you can read more here and here, which was the largest ship to be built for the next two centuries, and three times the size of the more famous Mary Rose, because its remains still survive in the Hamble, and it is a reminder of what English naval power could amount to under a ruler like King Henry V.

A most enjoyable and elegant lecture was followed by a convivial drinks party in the room of the Society's President - a good way to spend Friday evening stimulating the historical and vineous tastebuds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear John,
I have just borrowed your excellent picture of Henry V's Grace Dieu on your 29/1/11 blog entry for a lecture I am giving on the shift from the Middle Ages to the early modern period to St Andrews' first years - contrasting its design with that of The Great Harry built a century later. I found your image quite by chance using Google Images. I do hope you are well.
All the best,
Guy Rowlands