Battle of Winchelsea

Coordinates: 50°52′26″N 0°49′01″E / 50.874°N 0.817°E / 50.874; 0.817

Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer
Part of the Hundred Years' War

A depiction of medieval naval combat from Jean Froissart's Chronicles, 14th century
Date29 August 1350
LocationSouthern coast of England, off Winchelsea
Result English victory
Kingdom of England Kingdom of Castile
Commanders and leaders
Edward III of England
Edward, the Black Prince
Charles de la Cerda
50 ships 40 ships
Casualties and losses
At least 2 ships lost 14-26 ships captured

The Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer ("the Spaniards on the Sea"), or the Battle of Winchelsea, was a naval battle that took place on 29 August 1350 and was a victory for an English fleet of 50 ships commanded by Edward III, with the Black Prince, over a combined Castilian and Genoese fleet of 44 much larger vessels commanded by Don Carlos de la Cerda. Between 14 and 26 Castilian ships were captured, and some were sunk, while 2 English vessels were sunk and many suffered heavy losses.[1]


Throughout the early part of Edward III's reign England shores were harassed by pirates. This remained one of the major incentives for the king's expansion of the Royal Navy and merchant shipping regulations. The records are scanty but they show a pattern of raiding and piracy that the king and parliament abhorred. In the north Scots sea rovers attacked the village of Scarborough and took vessels away. But in November 1349, Don Carlos de la Cerda, son of Don Luis captured several English ships laden with wine from Bordeaux, and murdered the crews. De la Cerda redoubled his efforts the following year entering Sluis to load up with merchandise before returning to Corunna. He loaded up with weapons of warfare - artillery, missiles, crossbows, longbows, soldiers and archers anticipating an English reprisal attack.[2] More serious attempts were made by Castilians to raid Calais and 'freebooters' plundered the town leaving it in dire circumstances. A planned French assault on the garrison was apprehended for 2 January 1350, but an expedition under Sir Walter Manny foiled the attempt.[lower-alpha 1] The town was in a desperate state of near starvation when in 1347 the Governor had sent out a Genoese Master Mariner with an urgent message for the king of England to come to their aid.[3] In Scotland, the English had captured King David II whose ransom would lead the French into an alliance, whilst Edward's recent string of victories put him in a much stronger position to wage war on his enemies.[lower-alpha 2]

Narrative of the battle

Castilian and Genoese ships had fought against England as the allies or mercenaries of France, and there had been instances of piratical violence between the trading ships of both nations. A Castilian merchant fleet was loading cargoes in the Flemish ports to be carried to the Basque coast. The ships were armed and had warships with them. They were all under the command of Don Carlos de la Cerda, a soldier of fortune who belonged to a branch of the Castilian royal family. On its way to Flanders the Castilian fleet had captured a number of English trading ships, and thrown the crews overboard. Piratical violence and massacre of this kind was then common on the sea. On 10 August, while the king was at Rotherhithe, he announced his intention of attacking the Castilians on their way home. The rendezvous of his fleet was at Winchelsea, and thither the king went by land, accompanied by his wife and her ladies, by his sons, the Black Prince and John of Gaunt, as well as by many nobles. The ladies were placed in a convent and the king embarked on his flagship, the Cog Thomas, on 28 August, and 21 year old Prince of Wales on another. The English fleet did not put to sea but remained at anchor, waiting for the appearance of the Castilians.[lower-alpha 3]

Don Carlos de la Cerda might easily have avoided the English if he had kept well out in the Channel; instead he hugged the coast. His strength lay in the size of his 40 largest ships, and in expectation of an encounter had recruited a body of mercenaries - mostly crossbowmen - in the Flemish ports. At 4 pm on 29 August, with an easterly wind behind, they bore down boldly on Edward's ships anchored at Winchelsea. When the Castilians hove in sight, the king was sitting on the deck of his ship, with his knights and nobles, listening to his minstrels playing German airs, and to the singing of young John Chandos.[lower-alpha 4] When the look-out in the tops reported the enemy in sight, the king and his company drank to one another's health, the trumpet was sounded, and the whole line stood out. Battles at that time, whether on land or sea, were finally settled by stroke of sword. At 5 pm the English steered to board the Castilians with grappling irons.[4] The king's own ship was run into by one of the enemy with such violence that both were damaged, and she was holed and began to sink. The Castilian stood on, and the Cog Thomas was laid alongside another, which was carried by boarding. It was high time, for the king and his following had barely reached the deck of the Castilian before the Cog Thomas went to the bottom. Other Castilian ships were taken, but the fight ing was hot. La Cerda's crossbowmen did much execution, and the higher-built heavier allied vessels were able to drop bars of iron or other weights on the lighter English vessels causing serious damage. The conflict was continued until twilight. At the close the large English vessel La Salle du Roi, carrying the king's household, and commanded by the Fleming, Robert of Namur,[lower-alpha 5] was grappled by a big Castilian, and was being dragged off by him. The crew called loudly for a rescue, but were either not heard or, if heard, could not be helped. The Salle du Roi would have been taken if a Flemish valet of Robert of Namur, named Hannequin, had not performed a great feat of arms. Boarding the enemy alongside he cut the halliards of her mainsail with his sword. The Castilian ship was taken. King Edward is said to have captured 14 of the enemy. What his own loss was is not stated, but as his own vessel, and the vessel carrying the Black Prince, were sunk; and from the peril of La Salle du Roi, we may conclude that the English fleet suffered heavily. They transferred to a Spanish prize vessel. Yet the prince was in great peril; until cries went up among the English soldiers and sailors "Derby to the rescue".[5]

In an act of inexplicable cruelty,

This encouraged the prince's party, and presently the Spaniard surrendered. Her entire crew was, nevertheless, as was the custom in that age, and long afterwards, flung overboard. The prince and his followers had barely time to crowd into the prize before their own craft foundered.[6]

There was no pursuit, and a truce was made with the Basque towns the following year.[7] Differing accounts of captured prizes came from the sources,[lower-alpha 6] but the English nevertheless, suffered many wounded.

The main contemporaneous account for the battle was Froissart, who was at different times in the service of King Edward or of his wife, Philippa of Hainault, and of the counts of Namur. He repeated what was told him by men who had been present, and dwells as usual on the chivalry of his patrons.[8] However, there also records from chroniclers Thomas Walsingham and Lord Avesbury, and later John Stow. Sir Nicholas Nicolas was the first modern historian to tackle this brief episode in naval warfare. The victor Edward III was theeafter dubbed "Avenger of the Merchants" and "King of the Sea." But it did not end there; immediately the king despatched a fleet to Bayonne, instructing his subjects that they were to ignore a truce, and seek out piratical fugitives from justice. But this did not prevent subsequent attacks in 1351 at Sluis and upon the Isle of Wight. In the longer-term Edward's aggression towards France and Castile crystallised in a commercial treaty with Portugal, which from 1353 set the pattern for English western diplomacy for centuries to come.[9]

Ships involved

England (Edward III)


Thomas Beauchamp
St Mary

32 others

Losses unknown - at least two sunk.

Castile (de la Cerda)

40 or 44 ships - Perhaps 24 captured


  1. some historians, namely Avesbury, has this action taking place off Sluys. see Avesbury, p.185
  2. Sluys or Sluis (1340), Tournai (1340), Crecy (1346), Siege of Calais (1347)
  3. Its strength is not known with certainty, but Stow puts it at 50 ships and pinnaces
  4. later the knight Sir John Chandos
  5. afterwards a knight of the Garter
  6. Avesbury put the number at 24, Walsingham at 26, not including those that were sunk.


  1. Burne, pp.137-40
  2. Froissart, i, p.285
  3. Foedera, iii, p.139; Avesbury, p.156; Clowes, p.266-7
  4. Clowes,p.271 - there seems to have been an hour before fighting commenced.
  5. Clowes, p.271; Burne, p.139
  6. Clowes, p.271
  7. Burne, p.139
  8. See his Chroniques, iv. 91.
  9. parliamentary rolls, i, p.311; Foedera, iii, pp.203, 206; Clowes, p.273

Secondary sources

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