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Hundred Years' War: Battle of Sluys

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Hundred Years' War: Battle of Sluys

The Battle of Sluys from Jean Froissart's Chronicles

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Conflict:

The Battle of Sluys was fought during the Hundred Years' War.

Date:

Edward III crushed the French fleet on June 24, 1340.

Fleets & Commanders:

English

French

  • Hugues Quiéret
  • Nicolas Béhuchet
  • 190-250 ships

Battle of Sluys Summary:

In 1340, King Edward III of England assembled a fleet of 250-400 ships with the goal of crossing the English Channel to assert his claim to the French throne. Like most fleets of the day, Edward's consisted of various sized of merchant ships. Many of these had been enhanced with forecastles and sterncastles to facilitate the boarding of enemy vessels, which was the preferred tactic for fighting at sea. Boarding the cog Thomas at Ipswich, Edward hoped to reverse England's naval fortunes which had fairly badly in the first three years of the conflict and had included the capture of two of his largest ships.

To counter the English threat, King Philip VI assembled the French fleet near the Flemish port of Sluys. Commanded by Hugues Quiéret and Nicolas Béhuchet, the French fleet numbered 190-250 ships had been reinforced a group of Genoese galleys led by Egidio Bocanegra. Crossing the Channel, the English fleet was joined by 50 ships under Sir Robert Morley and anchored off Blankenberge. Eager to locate the French, Edward landed two knights who rode to Sluys with a Flemish escort. After assessing the French fleet, they informed the king that it was drawn up in a defensive position in the harbor.

They also recommended delaying the attack as the confined waters would make it difficult to maneuver. Dismissing these reports, Edward ordered the fleet to make for Sluys and to proceed with the attack. As the English approached Sluys, they found the French anchored in two lines with their ships connected by boarding lines. These were ropes that allowed troops to cross from one ship to another, but also prevented the vessels from maneuvering. Seeing the English approach, Bocanegra advised putting to sea, but was ignored by the two French commanders.

Forming into two lines, the English fleet assaulted the left end of the first French line. Among the ships in this part of the French line was Christopher, an English vessel captured earlier in the war. Eager to reclaim it, Morley led the attack in with his archers opening fire and his men-at-arms swarming aboard. In this manner, the English worked their way down the French line taking ship after ship. Though the boarding lines were meant to allow reinforcements to reach the point of attack, not enough men were able to cross to prevent repeated English victories.

The boarding lines also prevented other vessels from sailed to their comrades' aid. Seeing the tide going against the French, Bocanegrafled that harbor with his galleys. Briefly pursued by Sir John Crabbe, Bocanegra turned and drove off the English before retiring to the west. In the harbor, the ships of the French second line began cutting their lines with some joining the fight and others fleeing. By nightfall, the majority of the French fleet had been destroyed. Those Frenchmen who escaped to shore were attacked by the Flemings. Quiéret was killed in the fighting, while Béhuchet was captured.

Aftermath:

As with many battles in this period exact casualties for the Battle of Sluys are not known. In the battle, the French fleet was effectively destroyed, and English chroniclers relate that 16,000-20,000 Frenchmen were lost. While they also state that English losses were slight, it is known that Edward remained anchored at Sluys for several days which suggests that his losses may have been heavier than indicated. The victory at Sluys gave the English control of the Channel for remainder of the war and allowed Edward to attack along the French coast at will.

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