Battle of Sluys
|Battle of Sluys|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
A miniature of the battle from Jean Froissart's Chronicles, 14th century.
|Kingdom of England||Kingdom of France|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Edward III of England (WIA)|| Hugues Quiéret †
Nicolas Béhuchet †
|120 - 150 ships||190–213 ships|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown. Estimated: Several thousand.||16,000–18,000 The (Hundred Years' War (Fr) by Georges Minois) to 20,000 (Europe: A History by Norman Davies)
Most ships captured
The Battle of Sluys (//; Dutch pronunciation: [slœys]), also called Battle of l'Ecluse, was fought on 24 June 1340 as one of the opening conflicts of the Hundred Years' War. Philippe's navy was destroyed, giving the English fleet complete mastery over the channel.
The encounter took place in front of the town of Newmarket or Sluis, (French Écluse), on the inlet between West Flanders and Zeeland. In the middle of the 14th century this was an open roadstead capable of holding large fleets; it was later silted up by the river Eede.
A French fleet, which the English king Edward III, in a letter to his son Edward, the Black Prince, put at 190 sail (French sources say 213), had been collected in preparation for an invasion of England. It was under the command of the Breton knight Hugues Quiéret, admiral for the king of France. Part of the fleet consisted of Genoese galleys serving as mercenaries under the command of Egidio Boccanegra (Barbavera).
Although many English historians speak of King Edward's fleet as being inferior in number to the French, it is certain that he sailed from the Orwell on 22 June 1340 with 200 sail and that he was joined off the coast of Flanders by his admiral for the North Sea, Robert de Morley, with 50 more. Some of this swarm of vessels may have been mere transports, for the king brought with him the household of his queen, Philippa of Hainault, who was then at Bruges. On the other hand, as one of the queen's ladies was killed in the battle, it would appear that all of the English vessels were employed. According to some authors, the English had "160 to 180" sail.
Edward anchored at Blankenberge on the afternoon of 23 June 1340 and sent three squires to observe the dispositions of the French. The Genoese, Barbavera, advised his colleagues to go to sea, but Nicolas Béhuchet, as Constable who exercised general command, refused to leave the anchorage. He probably wished to occupy it in order to bar the king’s path to Bruges. The dispositions of the French were made in accordance with the usual medieval tactics of a fleet fighting on the defensive. Quiéret and Béhuchet formed their forces into three or four lines chained together, with a few of the largest stationed in front as outposts. This was disastrous as it allowed the English to attack the left flank while leaving the rest of the French fleet paralyzed.
King Edward entered the roadstead on the morning of 24 June 1340 and after maneuvering to place his ships to windward bringing the sun behind him, he attacked with showers of arrows from his longbowmen on board. They could fire five times faster than the Genoese crossbowmen. In a letter to his son he said that the enemy made a noble defense "all that day and the night after". His ships were arranged in two lines, and it may be presumed that the first attacked in front, while the second would be able to turn the flanks of the opponent. The battle was a long succession of hand-to-hand fighting, boardings, and repelling of boarders. Many French ships were successfully boarded and captured after fierce battles. Genoese crossbowmen also managed to successfully board and capture two English ships. Edward made no mention of any actual help given him by his Flemish allies, though he said they were willing; the French claim that they joined after dark. They also asserted that the king was wounded by Béhuchet, but this is not certain, and there was no evidence other than a legendary one of a personal encounter between him and the French commander. Nevertheless it would not be improbable. It is a sure fact, though, that the King was wounded by either an arrow or a bolt during the battle.
By the end of the battle, the French fleet had been broken with the loss of only two English ships captured, and the water was reported to be thick with blood and corpses.