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This Week In History

The Battle of Arnemuiden. September 23, 1338.

The Battle of Arnemuiden was a naval battle fought on 23 September 1338 at the start of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. It was the first naval battle of the Hundred Years’ War and the first recorded European naval battle using artillery, as the English ship Christophe had three cannons and one hand gun.

In the early 14th century, France and England were pitted against each other over claims to the French throne. The House of Plantagenet which ruled England claimed the throne while the ruling House of Valois in France was determined to oppose the claim at all costs.

This led to a protracted military conflict between the two kingdoms. Most of the battles of the Hundred Years´ War were fought on mainland Europe although a few, including the Battle of Arnemuiden, were naval battles. The battle featured a vast French fleet a small squadron of five great English cogs transporting an enormous cargo of wool to Antwerp, where Edward III of England was hoping to sell it, in order to be able to pay subsidies to his allies.

The French fleet, numbered around 43 ships, was commanded by Nicolas Behuchat and Hugues Quieret. The English fleet sailed under the command of John Kingston. Although vastly outnumbered, one of the English vessels ‘Christophe’ was equipped with three cannons. This was unusual and marks one of the earliest occasions when a naval battle involved artillery.

The cannons helped the English fleet hold off the French successfully for a time. The fight that ensued was fierce and lasted a long time, resulting in significant losses on both sides. Ultimately, the French ships were able to overwhelm the English cogs and seized the English vessels, cargo and crew. The cargo and vessels were taken as prize while most of the English crew were put to death.

The battle is considered a major milestone in the naval history of Europe because it was the first recorded battle where artillery was used in naval combat. Soon afterwards, cannons became a standard feature of naval warships throughout Europe, ushering in the age of major and decisive naval combats.

Thus conquering did these said mariners of the king of France in this winter take great pillage, and especially they conquered the handsome great nef called the Christophe, all charged with the goods and wool that the English were sending to Flanders, which nef had cost the English king much to build: but its crew were lost to these Normans, and were put to death.

— Collection des chroniques nationales françaises écrites en langue vulgaire du treizième au seizième siècle, avec notes et éclaircissements par J. A. Buchon, p.272.

The Battle of Arnemuiden made it clear to England that France was ready to jeopardize English trade in order to defeat England. This encouraged England to have a stronger naval fleet in the English Channel. The battle itself took place near Arnemuiden which was then a part of the County of Flanders. Since it directly affected the trading links of Flanders where the English cogs were headed with their cargo of wool, the event may have contributed to the eventual rift between France and Flanders.

 

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