With the limelight of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt fading, the anniversary of a less well-known naval engagement fought in the mouth of the river Seine is approaching.
On 15 August 1416, a fleet of English ships under the command of the king Henry V’s brother the Duke of Bedford successfully defeated and scattered a Franco-Genoese naval force blockading the recently conquered port of Harfleur.
Also known as the naval battle of Harlfeur, one may question whether it is worth highlighting this relatively little known naval encounter at all, but there are two very good reasons for doing so.
Firstly, it was one of only a few naval battles fought by an English fleet in the medieval period. Secondly, without this victory Henry’s conquest of France from 1417-20 and the treaty of Troyes, agreeing to Henry inheriting the French throne, may not have happened.
Only half a year had passed since the victory at Agincourt, yet by April 1416, England’s hard won military prestige in 1415 was close to unravelling. French and Genoese ships had since raided ports and villages along the south coast of England and were besieging and blockading the port of Harfleur.
Described in a 1416 session of parliament as ‘the chief key to France’ (C 65/78 m.10, transcribed, translated and available online subject to subscription), Harfleur’s loss would be a huge military reversal for Henry damaging to both his military ambition and prestige. Continue reading »