Warwick versus the Spanish

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Calais, Piracy in the Channel, Richard Nevill, Earl of Warwick

From the Paston Letters:

To Margaret Paston

Right worshipful cousin, if it please you to hear of such tidings as we have here, the basset of Burgundy shall come to Calais the Saturday after Corpus Christi day, as men say five hundred horse of them.

Moreover, on Trinity Sunday in the morning, came tidings unto my lord of Warwick, that there were 28 sail of Spaniards on the sea, and whereof there was sixteen great ships of forecastle; and then my lord went, and manned five ships of forecastle and three carvells and four spynnes; and on the Monday, on the morning after Trinity Sunday, we met together before Calais at four at the clock in the morning, and fought together till ten at the clock; and there we took six of their ships, and they slew of our men about four score, and hurt a two hundred of us right sore, and there were slain on their part about a hundred and twenty, and hurt five hundred of them.

And happed me, at the first aboarding of us, we took a ship of three hundred ton, and I was left therein, and twenty three men with me; and they fought so sore that our men were fein to leave them, and then come they and aboarded the ship that I was in, and there I was taken, and was prisoner with them six hours, and was delivered again for their men that were taken before; and, as men say, there was no so great a battle upon the sea this forty winters; and forsooth we were well and truly beat, and my lord hath sent for more ships, and like to fight together again in haste.

No more I write upon you at this time, but that it please you for to recommend me to my right reverend and worshipful cousin your husband, and mine uncle Gournay, and to mine aunt his wife, and to all good masters and friends, where it shall please you; and after the writing I have from you, I shall be at you in all haste.

Written on Corpus Christi day in greate haste.
By your humble servant and cousin,
John Jeryngan.

Warwick’s fleet sank six Spanish ships and he took another six as prizes. The proceeds of this and other acts of piracy in the channel helped him keep Calais garrisoned, paid for repairs to defences and swelled the English fleet (or Warwick’s fleet in fact). His actions were very popular in England, though not so much with the king.

Attempts were made to call Warwick to account, but once established as Captain of Calais and Keeper of the Seas he was impossible to shift. Not even the betrayal by Andrew Trollope and much of the garrison in 1459 could damage the relationship between Calais and the earl. It wasn’t until 1470, with Warwick in bitter and open rebellion against Edward IV, that Calais finally turned its back on its Captain.

Piracy would continue to be Warwick’s go to strategy when he needed to raise funds in a hurry.

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