History is rife with monarchs, presidents, and potentates who sent their navies off to war—but in the case of the largest, bloodiest, and most significant naval battle in the annals of medieval Northern Europe, it was the king himself who sailed forth into harm’s way at the head of his armed-to-the-teeth fleet.
Here was the age of knights and jousts, of chivalry and dynastic complexity: 14th-century England in the reign of King Edward III. To the north, the Scots threatened. To the south, the French—simpatico with the Scots—likewise threatened. Edward, himself a scion of the French royal line, had a long-standing lineage claim to France’s throne as well, and in 1340 he opted to assert it with deadly force. Bravado? A hollow assertion? Perhaps—but an opportune one. For too long a time, French raids had been plundering and bedeviling the English coast—and now came the moment to strike back.
Edward III, letter to Prince Edward, 28 June 1340, London Guildhall, Register F, fol. 39; reprinted in Joseph Allen, Battles of the British Navy, vol. 1 (London: George Bell & Sons, 1878), 10.
Jean Froissart, The Chronicles of Jean Froissart, Lord Berner, transl.; Gillian and William Anderson, eds. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963), 32–34.
Gordon Corrigan, England Expects: The Battle of Sluys (London: Endeavour Press, 2016), 40–50, 55–66.
Susan Rose, England’s Medieval Navy, 1066–1509: Ships, Men & Warfare (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013), 129–133.
Timothy J. Runyan, “The English Navy in the Reign of Edward III,” (unpublished dissertation, 1971, courtesy Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy), 15–27.