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fleet and won a battle sometimes called Winchelsea and sometimes
Espagnols-sur-mer or Spaniards-on-the-sea. Edward III had sworn
vengeance against the Basque traders from the coast of Spain who had
plundered the English vessels coming in from France. So he made ready
to attack the Spanish Basques sailing home from Antwerp, where they had
hired Flemings and others to join the fray. This time each fleet was
eager to attack the other; and a battle royal followed. On the fine
afternoon of the 28th of August King Edward sat on the deck of his
flagship listening to Sir John Chandos, who was singing while the
minstrels played. Beside him stood his eldest son, the famous Black
Prince, then twenty years of age, and his youngest son, John of Gaunt,
then only ten. Suddenly the lookout called down from the tops: "Sire,
I see one, two, three, four - I see so many, so help me God, I cannot
count them." Then the King called for his helmet and for wine, with
which he and his knights drank to each others' health and to their
joint success in the coming battle. Queen Philippa and her ladies
meanwhile went into Winchelsea Abbey to pray for victory, now and then
stealing out to see how their fleet was getting on.

The Spaniards made a brave show. Their fighting tops (like little
bowl-shaped forts high up the masts) glinted with armed men. Their
soldiers stood in gleaming armour on the decks. Long narrow flags gay
with coloured crests fluttered in the breeze. The English, too, made a
brave show of flags and armoured men. They had a few more vessels than
the Spaniards, but of a rather smaller kind, so the two fleets were
nearly even. The King steered for the Spaniards; though not so as to
meet them end-for-end but at an angle. The two flagships met with a
terrific crash; and the crowded main-top of the Spaniard, snapping from
off the mast, went splash into the sea, carrying its little garrison
down with all their warlike gear. The charging ships rebounded for a
moment, and then ground against each others' sides, wrecked each
others' rigging, and began the fight with showers of arrows, battering
stones from aloft, and wildfire flying to and fro. The Spanish
flagship was the bigger of the two, more stoutly built, and with more
way on when they met; so she forged ahead a good deal damaged, while
the King's ship wallowed after, leaking like a sieve. The tremendous
shock of the collision had opened every seam in her hull and she began
to sink. The King still wanted to follow the Spanish flagship; but his
sailors, knowing this was now impossible, said: "No, Sire, your Majesty
can not catch her; but we can catch another." With that they laid
aboard the next one, which the king took just in time, for his own ship
sank a moment after.

The Black Prince had the same good luck, just clearing the enemy's deck
before his own ship sank. Strange to say, the same thing happened to
Robert of Namur, a Flemish friend of Edward's, whose vessel, grappled
by a bigger enemy, was sinking under him as the two were drifting side
by side, when Hanekin, an officer of Robert's, climbed into the Spanish
vessel by some entangled rigging and cut the ropes which held the
Spanish sails. Down came the sails with a run, flopping about the
Spaniards' heads; and before the confusion could be put right Robert
was over the side with his men-at-arms, cutting down every Spaniard who
struggled out of the mess. The Basques and Spaniards fought most
bravely. But the chief reason why they were beaten hand-to-hand was
because the English archers, trained to shooting from their boyhood up,
had killed and wounded so many of them before the vessels closed.

The English won a great victory. But it was by no means complete,
partly because the Spanish fleet was too strong to be finished off, and
partly because the English and their Flemish friends wanted to get home
with their booty. Time out of mind, and for at least three centuries
to come, fleets were mostly made up of vessels only brought together
for each battle or campaign; and even the King's vessels were expected
to make what they could out of loot.

With the sea roads open to the English and mostly closed to the French
and Scots the English armies did as well on land as the navy did at
sea. Four years before this first great battle with the Spaniards the
English armies had won from the French at Cressy and from the Scots at
Neville's Cross. Six years after the Spanish fight they won from the
French again at Poitiers. But in 1374 Edward III, worn out by trying
to hold his lands in France, had been forced to neglect his navy; while
Jean de Vienne, founder of the regular French Navy, was building
first-class men-of-war at Rouen, where, five hundred years later, a
British base was formed to supply the British army during the Great War.

With Shakespeare's kingly hero, Henry V, the fortunes of the English
armies in France revived. In 1415 he won a great battle at Agincourt,
a place, like Cressy, within a day's march of his ships in the Channel.
Harfleur, at the mouth of the Seine, had been Henry's base for the
Agincourt campaign. So the French were very keen to get it back, while
the English were equally keen to keep it. Henry sent over a great
fleet under the Duke of Bedford. The French, though their fleet was
the smaller of the two, attacked with the utmost gallantry, but were
beaten back with great loss. Their Genoese hirelings fought well at
the beginning, but made off towards the end. In 1417 Henry himself was
back in France with his army. But he knew what sea-power meant, and
how foolish it was to land without making sure that the seaways were
quite safe behind him. So he first sent a fleet to make sure, and then
he crossed his army, which now had a safe "line of communication,"
through its base in France, with its great home base in England.

Henry V was not, of course, the only man in England who then understood
sea-power. For in 1416, exactly five hundred years before Jellicoe's
victory of Jutland, Henry's Parliament passed a resolution in which you
still can read these words: "that the Navy is the chief support of the
wealth, the business, and the whole prosperity of England." Some years
later Hungerford, one of Henry's admirals, wrote a _Book of English
Policy_, "exhorting all England to keep the sea" and explaining what
Edward III had meant by stamping a ship on the gold coins called
nobles: "Four things our noble showeth unto me: King, ship, and sword,
and power of the sea." These are themselves but repetitions of Offa's
good advice, given more than six centuries earlier: "He who would be
safe on land must be supreme at sea." And all show the same kind of
first-rate sea-sense that is shown by the "Articles of War" which are
still read out to every crew in the Navy. The Preamble or preface to
these Articles really comes to this: "It is upon the Navy that, under
the providence of God, the wealth, prosperity, and peace of the British
Empire chiefly depend."

Between the death of Henry V in 1422 and the accession of Henry VII in
1485 there was a dreary time on land and sea. The King of England lost
the last of his possessions in the land of France. Only the Channel
Islands remained British, as they do still. At home the Normans had
settled down with the descendants of the other Norsemen to form one
people, the Anglo-Norman people of today, the leading race within the
British Empire and, to a less extent, within the United States. But
England was torn in two by the Wars of the Roses, in which the great
lords and their followers fought about the succession to the throne,
each party wanting to have a king of its own choice. For the most
part, however, the towns and seaports kept out of these selfish party
wars and attended to their growing business instead. And when Henry
VII united both the warring parties, and these with the rest of
England, he helped to lay the sure foundations of the future British




England needed good pilots to take the ship of state safely through the
troubled waters of the wonderful sixteenth century, and she found them
in the three great Royal Tudors: Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII
(1509-1547), and Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603). All three fostered
English sea-power, both for trade and war, and helped to start the
modern Royal Navy on a career of world-wide victory such as no other
fighting service has ever equalled, not even the Roman Army in the
palmy days of Rome. It was a happy thought that gave the name of Queen
Elizabeth to the flagship on board of which the British
Commander-in-chief received the surrender of the German Fleet. Ten
generations had passed away between this surrender in 1918 and the
defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. But the British Royal Navy was
still the same: in sea-sense, spirit, training, and surpassing skill.

Henry VII was himself an oversea trader, and a very good one too. He
built ships and let them out to traders at a handsome profit for
himself besides trading with them on his own account. But he was never
so foolish as to think that peaceful trade could go on without a
fighting navy to protect it. So he built men-of-war; though he used
these for trade as well. Men-of-war built specially for fighting were
of course much better in a battle than any mere merchantman could be.
But in those days, and for some time after, merchantmen went about well
armed and often joined the king's ships of the Royal Navy during war,
as many of them did against the Germans in our own day.

English oversea trade was carried on with the whole of Europe, with
Asia Minor, and with the North of Africa. Canyng, a merchant prince of
Bristol, employed a hundred shipwrights and eight hundred seamen. He
sent his ships to Iceland, the Baltic, and all through the
Mediterranean. But the London merchants were more important still; and
the king was the most important man of all. He had his watchful eye on
the fishing fleet of Iceland, which was then as important as the fleet
of Newfoundland became later on. He watched the Baltic trade in timber
and the Flanders trade in wool. He watched the Hansa Towns of northern
Germany, then second only to Venice itself as the greatest trading
centre of the world. And he had his English consuls in Italy as early
as 1485, the first year of his reign.

One day Columbus sent his brother to see if the king would help him to
find the New World. But Henry VII was a man who looked long and
cautiously before he leaped; and even then he only leaped when he saw
where he would land. So Columbus went to Ferdinand and Isabella of
Spain, who sent him out to discover America in 1492, the same year that
they conquered the last Eastern possession in Western Europe, the
Moorish Kingdom of Grenada, which thenceforth became a province of
Spain. Five years later Henry sent John Cabot out from Bristol in the
little _Matthew_ with only eighteen men "to sayle to all Partes,
Countreys, and Seas, of the East, of the West, and of the North; to
seeke out, discover, and finde, whatsoever Iles, Countreyes, Regions,
or Provinces, of the Heathennes and Infidelles" and "to set up Our
banners and Ensigns in every village, towne, castel, yle, or maine
lande, of them newly found." Cabot discovered Canada by reaching Cape
Breton in 1497, three years before Columbus himself saw any part of the
mainland. But as he found nobody there, not even "Heathenries and
Infidelles," much less "villages, castels, and townes," as he lost
money by his venture and could not pay the king the promised "royalty"
of twenty per cent., we need not laugh too loudly over what the king
gave him: "To Hym that founde the new Isle - 10 pounds," which was worth
more than a thousand dollars would be now. Cabot went again and his
son Sebastian after him; but there was no money to be made in this
venture. True, Sebastian said the fish off Newfoundland were so thick
that he could hardly force his vessels through the water. But fish
stories and travellers' tales were as hard to believe then as now; and
the English thought America was worth very little after all. Indeed,
the general opinion in Europe was that America was more of a nuisance
than anything else, because it seemed to block the way to the Golden
East. Once people were persuaded that the world was round they wanted
to find a short cut to Cathay, the land of fabled wealth in silks and
spices, gold and jewels; and they expected to find it by sailing due
West till they reached the Far East. So, finding instead that America
had no such riches on its own shores and that these shores spoilt the
short cut to Cathay, and knowing that fish were plentiful in Europe,
most people never bothered their heads about America for another fifty

[Illustrations: Eddystone Lighthouse, 1699. The first structure of
stone and timber. Built for Trinity House by Winstanley and swept away
in a storm. Eddystone Lighthouse, 1882. The fourth and present
structure, erected by Sir J. N. Douglass for Trinity House.]

We shall soon see what wonderful changes took place when the Old World
at last discovered the riches of the New, and all the European
sea-powers began fighting for the best places they could find there.

When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509 his first thought was for
the "Broade Ditch," as he called the English Channel. In 1546, only a
little before he died, he appointed a Navy Board, which answered its
purpose so well that it looked after the pay, food, stores, docks, and
ships of the Royal Navy for nearly three hundred years; and then became
part of the Admiralty, which now does everything for the Navy that can
be done from the land. In one word, this Board took care of everything
except the fighting part of the Navy's work. That part was under the
Lord High Admiral or a body of men appointed to act for him. This body
still exists; and the old Board of Henry VIII works with it under
different names. One branch of the Admiralty, as the whole management
is now called, supplies the other with the means to fight. This other
orders everything connected with the fighting fleets. The fighting
fleets themselves are then left to do the best they can.

Henry never forgot for a moment that England could not live a day if
she was not a mighty sea-power. He improved the dockyards founded by
his father at Deptford and Portsmouth. He founded Trinity House, which
still examines pilots and looks after the lights and buoys all round
the British Isles. He put down pirates with a strong hand. And he
brought the best ship-builders he could get from Italy, where the
scientific part of shipbuilding and navigation was then the best in the
world, because the trade routes of Asia, Africa, and Europe mostly met
at Venice. But he always kept his eyes open for good men at home; and
in one of his own shipbuilders, Fletcher of Rye, he found a man who did
more than anybody else to make the vastly important change from the
ancient age of rowing fleets to the modern age of sailing ones.

From the time when the first bit of a wild beast's skin was hoisted by
some pre-historic savage, thousands and thousands of years ago, nobody
had learnt how to tack, that is, to sail against the wind. The only
way any ship could go at all well was with the wind, that is, with the
wind blowing from behind. So long as men had nothing but a single
"wind-bag" of skin or cloth the best wind was a "lubber's wind," that
is, a wind from straight behind. When more and better sails were used
a lubber's wind was not the best because one sail would stop the wind
from reaching another one in front of it. The best wind then, as ever
since, was a "quartering wind," that is, a wind blowing on a vessel's
quarter, half way between her stern and the middle of her side. Ships
with better keels, sails, and shape of hull might have sailed with a
"soldier's wind," that is, a wind blowing straight against the ship's
side, at right angles to her course. But they must have "made leeway"
by going sideways too. This wind on the beam was called a soldier's
wind because it made equally plain sailing out and back again, and so
did not bother landsmen with a lot of words and things they could not
understand when ships tacked against head winds.

Who first "tacked ship" is more than we can say. But many generations
of seamen must have wished they knew how to sail towards a place from
which the wind was blowing. Tacking probably came bit by bit, like
other new inventions. But Fletcher of Rye, whom Henry always
encouraged, seems to have been the first man who really learnt how to
sail against the wind. He did this by tacking (that is, zigzagging)
against it with sails trimmed fore and aft. In this way the sails, as
it were, slide against the wind at an angle and move the ship ahead,
first to one side of the straight line towards the place she wants to
reach, and then, after turning her head, to the other. It was in 1539
that Fletcher made his trial trip, to the great amazement of the
shipping in the Channel. Thus by 1545, that year of naval changes, the
new sailing age had certainly begun to live and the old rowing age had
certainly begun to die. The invention of tacking made almost as great
a change as steam made three hundred years later; for it shortened
voyages from months to weeks, as steam afterwards shortened them from
weeks to days. Why did Jacques Cartier take months to make voyages
from Europe and up the St. Lawrence when Champlain made them in weeks?
Because Champlain could tack and Jacques Cartier could not. Columbus,
Cabot, and Cartier could no more zigzag towards a place from which the
wind was blowing dead against them than could the ships of Hiram, King
of Tyre, who brought so many goods by sea for Solomon. But Champlain,
who lived a century later, did know how to tack the _Don de Dieu_
against the prevailing south-west winds of the St. Lawrence; and this
was one reason why he made a voyage from the Seine to the Saguenay in
only eighteen days, a voyage that remained the Canadian record for
ninety years to come.

The year 1545 is coupled with the title "King of the English Sea"
because the fleet which Henry VIII then had at Portsmouth was the first
fleet in the world that showed any promise of being "fit to go foreign"
and fight a battle out at sea with broadside guns and under sail.

True, it had some rowing galleys, like those of other old-fashioned
fleets; and its sailing men-of-war were nothing much to boast of in the
way of handiness or even safety. The _Mary Rose_, which Henry's
admiral, Sir Edward Howard, had described thirty years before as "the
flower of all the ships that ever sailed," was built with lower
portholes only sixteen inches above the water line. So when her crew
forgot to close these ports, and she listed over while going about
(that is, while making a turn to bring the wind on the other side), the
water rushed in and heeled her over still more. Then the guns on her
upper side, which had not been lashed, slid across her steeply sloping
decks bang into those on the lower side, whereupon the whole lot
crashed through the ports or stove her side, so that she filled and
sank with nearly everyone on board.

No, the Royal Navy of 1545 was very far from being perfect either in
ships or men. But it had made a beginning towards fighting with
broadsides under sail; and this momentous change was soon to be so well
developed under Drake as to put English sea-power a century ahead of
all its rivals in the race for oversea dominion both in the Old World
and the New. A rowing galley, with its platform crowded by soldiers
waiting to board had no chance against a sailing ship which could fire
all the guns of her broadsides at a safe distance. Nor had the other
foreign men-of-war a much better chance, because they too were crowded
with soldiers, carried only a few light guns, and were far less handy
than the English vessels under sail. They were, in fact, nothing very
much better than armed transports full of soldiers, who were dangerous
enough when boarding took place, but who were mere targets for the
English guns when kept at arm's length.

The actual Portsmouth campaign of 1545 was more like a sham battle than
a real one; though the French fleet came right over to England and no
one can doubt French bravery. Perhaps the best explanation is the one
given by Blaise de Montluc, one of the French admirals: "Our business
is rather on the land than on the water, where I do not know of any
great battles that we have ever won." Henry VIII had seized Boulogne
the year before, on which Francis I (Jacques Cartier's king) swore he
would clear the Channel of the English, who also held Calais. He
raised a very big fleet, partly by hiring Italian galleys, and sent it
over to the Isle of Wight. There it advanced and retired through the
summer, never risking a pitched battle with the English, who, truth to
tell, did not themselves show much more enterprise.

Sickness raged in both fleets. Neither wished to risk its all on a
single chance unless that chance was a very tempting one. The French
fleet was a good deal the bigger of the two; and Lisle, the English
commander-in-chief, was too cautious to attack it while it remained in
one body. When the French were raiding the coast Lisle's hopes ran
high. "If we chance to meet with them," he wrote, "divided as they
should seem to be, we shall have some sport with them." But the French
kept together and at last retired in good order. That was the queer
end of the last war between those two mighty monarchs, Francis I and
Henry VIII. But both kings were then nearing death; both were very
short of money; and both they and their people were anxious for peace.
Thus ended the Navy's part of 1545.

But three other events of this same year, all connected with English
sea-power, remain to be noted down. First, Drake, the hero of the
coming Spanish War, was born at Crowndale, by Tavistock, in Devon.
Secondly, the mines of Potosi in South America suddenly roused the Old
World to the riches of the New. And, thirdly, the words of the
National Anthem were, so to say, born on board the Portsmouth fleet,
where the "Sailing Orders" ended thus: - "The Watchword in the Night
shall be, 'God save King Henrye!' The other shall answer, 'Long to
raign over Us!'" The National Anthems of all the other Empires,
Kingdoms, and Republics in the world have come from their armies and
the land. Our own springs from the Royal Navy and the sea.

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

_King Richard II, Act II, Scene I_.


To sea, to sea! the calm is o'er;
The wanton water leaps in sport,
And rattles down the pebbly shore;
The dolphin wheels, the sea-cows snort,
And unseen Mermaids' pearly song
Comes bubbling up, the weeds among.
Fling broad the sail, dip deep the oar;
To sea, to sea! the calm is o'er.

To sea, to sea! our wide-winged bark
Shall billowy cleave its sunny way,
And with its shadow, fleet and dark,
Break the caved Tritons' azure day,
Like mighty eagle soaring light
O'er antelopes on Alpine height.
The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full: To sea, to sea!
- _Thomas Lovell Beddoes_.


Of Neptune's empire let us sing,
At whose command the waves obey;
To whom the rivers tribute pay,
Down the high mountains sliding:
To whom the scaly nation yields
Homage for the crystal fields
Wherein they dwell:
And every sea-god pays a gem
Yearly out of his wat'ry cell
To deck great Neptune's diadem.

The Tritons dancing in a ring
Before his palace gates do make
The water with their echoes quake,
Like the great thunder sounding:
The sea-nymphs chant their accents shrill,
And the sirens, taught to kill
With their sweet voice,
Make ev'ry echoing rock reply
Unto their gentle murmuring noise
The praise of Neptune's empery.
- _Thomas Campion_.

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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 4 of 19)