On this day in Tudor history, 10th August 1512, the English fleet’s flagship, the Mary Rose, saw battle for the first time in the Battle of Saint-Mathieu, a naval battle in the War of the League of Cambrai.
The battle was fought between the English fleet and the Franco-Breton fleet just off the coast of Brest.
1,500 to 1,600 men were lost that day, but how? What happened? And who was victorious?
On this day in Tudor history, 10th August 1512, the Battle of Saint-Mathieu, a naval battle in the War of the League of Cambrai, too place between the English and Franco-Breton fleets off the coast of Brest. England was allied with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire at this time.
As the Mary Rose Museum points out on their excellent website, it was the Mary Rose’s first battle and she was chosen as the English fleet’s flagship by Sir Edward Howard, Admiral of the English fleet. Howard, who was moored with the English fleet at Portsmouth on the south coast of England,, had heard that the French fleet had gathered at Brest and so set off to meet them. The two fleets met in Berthaume Bay, near Brest, on 10th August and the battle began.
The English fleet had twenty-five ships and the French fleet had twenty-one.
The Mary Rose Museum states that:
“It was the Mary Rose that, according to records, drew first blood, when she shot off the main mast of the French flagship Grand Louise, commanded by Admiral René de Clermont. Although the Grand Louise was able to escape, with the loss of 300 men, this marked the first time in the history of Naval warfare that ships with lidded gunports had engaged one another.”
The battle lasted hours, but it was the English fleet that had the victory in the end. However, its largest ship, the Regent, sank, as did France’s the Marie La Cordelière. The two ships had been firing at each other at close quarters when a fire broke out on board La Cordelière. It soon reached the ship’s powder magazines and when that happened both the Regent and La Cordelière were blown up. Both captains were killed, along with around 1,500 men. Those killed included Sir Thomas Knyvet and Sir John Carew who had been given joint command of the Regent. Edward Hall recorded this in his chronicle:
“[…] but for all that the English men entered the Carick, which, seeing a varlet Gunner being desperate, put fire in the Gunpowder as other say, and set the whole ship of fire, the flame whereof, set fire in the Regent, and so these two noble ships which were so grappelled together that they could not part, were consumed by fire […] The captain of this Carick was Sir Piers Morgan and with him 900 men slain and died: and with Sir Thomas Knyvet and Sir John Carew were 700 men drowned and burnt, and that night all the Englishmen lay in Berthhaume Bay, for the French fleet was sparkeled as you have heard.”
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey wrote of the battle in a letter to Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester:
“Gives an account of a severe sea fight near Brest on Tuesday fortnight, where the Regent captured the great carrick of Brest; but both, fouling, were burnt, and most part of the crew in them. Sir Thomas Knyvet and Sir John Carew slain. Begs he will keep the news secret.
P.S.—The French fleet has fled to Brest. Sir Edward [Howard] has vowed “that he will never see the King in the face till he hath revenged the death of the noble and valiant knight Sir Thomas Knyvet.””
According to Edward Hall, when Henry VIII heard of the loss of the Regent, he ordered another ship to be made, the Henry Grace à Dieu.