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This Week In History

The Battle of La Rochelle. June 22, 1372.

The Battle of La Rochelle took place on June 22, 1372 between the Castilian fleet and the English fleet along the coast of the city of La Rochelle, France. This battle was the first phase of what would lead to the siege of La Rochelle by the French, when terrestrial and naval forces of France and Castille took the city that had been in English hands.

In 1369, Charles V of France broke the Treaty of Brétigny, therefore renewing hostilities of the Hundred Years War after a nine-year respite. In great measure, the King of France took this decision counting on the support of Henry II of Castille, who had a powerful army that made the offense more likely to be successful.

The French king, following his strategy to take English strongholds, e intensified his blockade over La Rochelle, the key point of the control over the Duchy of Guyenne (or Aquitaine), under English control. He asked for the aid of the Castilian fleet, under the command of Almirant Ambrosio Boccanegra. Edward III of England, aware of the importance of the city, decided to defend it at all costs by investing a lot of resources in forming a strong fleet, and giving the command to his son in law, John Hastings, Count of Pembroke.

The Medieval sources that speak about the battle of La Rochelle differ on the size of the armies, depending on their support for one or another country. However, modern chroniclers more or less agree on the recount of 20 or 30 Castilian ships vs. 36 English ships, as well as 14 cargo boats.

After a minor skirmish on June 21, and having studied the situation, Boccanegra appeared to retire from further hostilities. The English read this as a cowardly move on the admiral’s part, although Boccanegra was already planning his stratagem. He knew perfectly well the natural conditions of the area and he also now knew the characteristics and size of his enemy´s fleet, so he decided to wait to the next day.

With the low tide, the English ships were stranded, and before the tide came in and the English ships could float again, the Castilians attacked, taking advantage of the lightness and the lower draft of the hulls of their galleys, which could move more freely even in shallow waters.

Benefitting from their opponent´s immobility, the Castilians managed to set fire to some of the English ships, resulting in approximately 800 English soldiers burned alive or drowned.

The Anglo-Saxon defeat was total. All the ships of the fleet were burnt, sunk or taken by the enemy. The men that were not killed surrendered, including Pembroke, and were made prisoners.

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