Great Sea Fights 5: A Tudor Battle, 1512 Part III: How to Recreate a Medieval Sea Battle

August 2021

In this the third and final part of our special mini Great Sea Fights series on the Tudor naval battle of St Mathieu in 1512, one of the Mary Rose’s earliest engagements and possibly the first ever naval battle in which guns were fired out of gunports. We explore the problems posed to historians trying to recreate a medieval sea fight. What sources are available? How can you recreate the tides on that day and the wind? How do you make progress with no logs or letters or detailed descriptions of battle? Dr Sam Willis speaks with Dr Dominic Fontana, a historical geographer who has over 35 years involvement in the Mary Rose maritime archaeological project including five years working as part of the archaeological team, and is an expert at recreating ancient tidal systems. Dominic and Sam discuss these problems both in relation to battle of St Mathieu of August 1512 and also the battle of the solent of July 1545 in which the Mary Rose sank. Sam also speaks with Tim Concannon, a naval historian currently working on recreating a chart of the paths of the ships at the battle of St Mathieu.

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    Sam Willis 

    From the Society for Nautical Research in partnership with Lloyd’s Register Foundation, I’m Sam Willis. And this is the Mariners Mirror podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history.

     

    Hello everyone and welcome to this our fifth edition of a great sea fight special. If you have missed out on the others do please find them in our back catalogue online@snl.org.uk. We have multiple episodes exploring the histories of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, Jutland in 1916. We’ve also covered the Battle of capes in Vincent in 1797, and the Battle of the River Plate of 1939. That key naval engagement at the very start of the Second World War. Now obviously we have been ignoring the mediaeval period we couldn’t allow that to continue. So this mini series brings you a lot of detail about one of the most iconic of mediaeval sea battles, the Battle of Sant-Mathieu of the 10th of August 1512. This particular episode brings to you a discussion about the problems posed to historians trying to recreate a mediaeval sea fight. Today I speak with Dr. Dominic Fontana, retired senior lecturer in geography formerly at the University of Portsmouth. He’s a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. And Dominic has over 35 years involvement in the Mary Rose maritime archaeological project, including five years working as part of the archaeological team. He is an expert at recreating ancient tidal systems. Dominic and I discussed these problems, both in relation to the Battle of Saint-Mathieu of August 1512, but also the Battle of the Solent of July 1545, in which the Mary Rose sank. Here’s  Dominic. Dominic, thank you so much for talking to me today.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, thank you for inviting me to.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So you are one of the few people in the world who has helped recreate a mediaeval sea fight with your work on the Mary Rose. When did you first come up with the idea of doing this?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, some while back, it was, I’ve been involved in the Mary Rose project for nearly 40 years. And one of the things that really intrigued me when I became involved was the Cowdray engraving. That’s the picture that shows the Battle of Portsmouth and the sinking of the Mary Rose herself. And it’s a picture that’s packed with detail, and incident about what went on in the battle, including the positions of the fleets and the various ships involved. As I live on the Isle of Wight, and cross the Solent, very frequently, I’m also very aware of the need to understand the movement of the tides and the currents in the Solent, if you’re going to have a battle there.   So some while back, I started looking into the nature of the tide and the relationship with the moon, on the basis that one should be able to work out what the tide was for, in the case of the sinking of the Mary Rose, the 19th of July 1545.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s some challenge, I wouldn’t know where to begin, how did you actually begin to do that?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, a straightforward observation, which is that, in the Solent, high tide is about 12 o’clock, when it’s full noon. So 12 o’clock midday. And that relationship is pretty fixed. It varies a little either side of that, but in general terms, as long as you know the phase of the moon, you’re able to make an assessment of the tidal times. And if you can make an assessment of the tidal times, you can start to make an assessment of the title current flows. It gives you a great deal of information if you can do that.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Just for those people who are listening and don’t understand the way that tides work. Let’s just explain that a little bit and then how that how the flow changes,

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, the flow is in and out. It comes in up to high tide every 12 hours and a bit each day, and then flows out again, and then back again. In the next 12 hours and a bit it’s a 28 day cycle, pretty much. It’s caused by the relationship between the Moon and the Earth, and the gravitational pull of the moon, on the water on the surface of the earth. So it sort of produces a bulge of the sea, as the gravitational pull pulls off in one direction, and the relationship is is very fixed.  So that if you know where about in the lunar cycle, one is for a particular date, you can work back from that, to ascertain the time of high tide. In the Solent. It’s very clear, it’s very easy to understand. And the tidal currents are directly related to the state of the tide.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I mean, I’m from, I live in Exeter, and I spend a lot of time out on the estuary, which is deadly. And I think the point is, is that you know that the water is slack not much happens either side of dead low or dead high tide, and then it increases in ferocity.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Exactly so, and this is what one needs to understand, because if you’re sailing, large, full masted ships, they only have the ability to move directly from the wind. But they also have considerable influence on where they go, provided by the current. So if you can understand the current flows, you can understand how fast the ships would go, you can understand the directions in which they would travel easily, and equally those directions in which they would find difficulty in travelling. In the case of the Battle of the Solent, in which the Mary Rose was lost, it occurs in a very constrained piece of waterway where the flows are on a flood tide from east to west, and then on an ebb tide from west to east, with slack tide of no movement, or you know, sort of complicated eddies’ and so on, in between those. So with flood tide coming from east to west, so flood tide from east to west, would give you a flow into the eastern Solent. That’s important in understanding the disposition of the particularly the English ships, who were sitting in the Solent with their bow’s facing into the current. So during that particular battle, the English ships were held bow on to the attacking French for part of the day. It’s quite complicated to visualize all of this.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It is, and you’ve done some wonderful maps, I enjoyed looking at those, you can see how the tidal flow change, let’s just go back a few steps. And you said, it all depends on whether you know the phase of the moon for a given date. How do you know that?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, there are calculations that are available and websites that will list the phase of the moon, NASA did a load of calculations and produce tables of these things some while back. So that’s generally where this data comes from. So there are tables that will give you the phase of the moon for that time. Now, again, there are all sorts of added complications in this, not least of which is the change in calendar, from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar that we use today. And so

     

    Sam Willis 

    So the 10th of August in in 1512, is not the 10th of August today.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Pretty much there’s about a 10 day difference between the two now, the in the NASA data, they’ve already taken that into account. So we don’t need to worry about that we can just look up the specific date for that particular thing that you’re trying to look at. So in the case of in the case of the Mary Rose, and the sinking of the Mary Rose, the battle took place on the 19th of July 1545. And from the NASA data, we can tell that the moon was full on the 23rd of July 1545. Taking into account the change of calendars. So therefore, we know that we need to count back four days before the full moon to get the right tidal position which would give us a tide for the 19th of July high tide, at about nine o’clock in the morning in the Solent.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Now and then things get really complicated as well. Because of all the different types of ships there, I suppose

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, that’s right. And, you know, again, we’ve got to really consider the nature of a battle, in the Tudor period at sea. You’ve got a mix of different ship types. You’ve got those ships that are powered solely by wind, you’ve got some ships that are powered by both wind and by oars. In the case of the Battle of the Solent, the French had brought about 25 Mediterranean galleys with them all the way from Genoa and Venice, having sailed all the way through the Mediterranean Straits of Gibraltar, past Portugal across the Bay of Biscay to join the French attacking fleet.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Unimaginable in a rowed galley, I still can’t believe they actually managed to do that.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s an awfully long way to come in what are relatively small vessels, certainly some extremely tricky waters coming across the Bay of Biscay. Would have required enormous effort and very considerable ability within logistics, to be able to keep enough supplies available for those ships, or to have representatives to meet them at various points around the coast, so that they could take on food and water. That there would be money to pay for those things as they made their journey. So the French really, I think, must have gone to an enormous amount of trouble to bring the galleys with them. Therefore, they must have considered that having Mediterranean galleys in the English Channel and the Solent would be an enormously useful thing to them, and a great sort of strategic advantage. Now, quite what, whether that actually worked for them or not, it’s difficult to ascertain at this point.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It makes me wonder whether they knew just how whooshy the water was in the Solent and that actually the area between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth is not a lake

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    No it certainly not a lake, it tends to be quite active water, the currents are important, the surface of the water is important to what you can do. But, you know, the tactics that the English employed in those circumstances, again, are really quite interesting because they basically sat out at the middle of Spithead, across the deep water channel, denying the French entrance into either Portsmouth or into Southampton. Thereby keeping the French sitting out at St. Helens roads just off the eastern end of the Isle of Wight. It was almost a stalemate position in a way, because the English couldn’t really get their big ships up and away without a large amount of wind being available to them to get some motive power, so that they could either sail out of the Solent and into the English Channel. But again, as that caused all sorts of problems for the English because they were seriously outnumbered. The French had brought about 225/230 ships with them, and the English had about 60. So you know, that’s nearly three to one outnumbered. So when one wonders about the nature of the battle. So anyway, going back to the tides, one can calculate the tides, one can calculate the current flows. And because they’re very predictable, you’re able to work out then what the positions of both the attacking and the defending fleets were at the outset of the battle, and how that might have progressed through the day. And I think it’s very important to remember that the Battle of the Solent in which the Mary Rose was sunk wasn’t just a short skirmish. It was something that took place over several days. And the the naval action certainly took place over an quite a number of hours. The French accounts claim that they started in the morning when they had an advantage. And if we look at the tidal current that is certainly case, because they were able to run into the Solent from St. Helens roads, assisted by the the tidal flow into the Solent. So they could run in towards the English ships held at anchor at about six or seven knots, that’s pretty fast for vessels of that period. That meant in turn that the French galleys with oars as well as sails, as well as the current could go right close into the bows of the English ships, loose off their forward facing ordinance, usually about two or four large bronze guns mounted in the bows of the French galleys, straight into the bows of the English ships. Turn around, and then row like crazy back towards safety and the rest of the French fleet. And, you know, that’s exactly what’s shown in the Cowdray picture of the sinking of the Mary Rose, that the French have sent four galleys into the Solent, and they’re shown in the Cowdray picture is sitting at No Man’s Land, which is halfway between the English fleet and the French fleet. And it’s an area of shallow water where the galleys could go, but the big English ships certainly couldn’t go, so that they were fairly protected at that point. And from No Man’s Land, they be able to make a run directly in towards the bows of the English ships, fir their guns, turn around runaway, back to No Man’s Land, reload, regroup, turn around and have another go. And they could keep that up for about five hours or so as long as they had the strength through row in and row back. And in the case of the tides on that day, they had a following tide for the French, pushing them in towards the English ships. And interestingly, the French accounts of the battle say that the tide turned in the afternoon, which indeed it does, and that the English ships with then rotated, were rotated so that their stern’s face towards the French, which gave the English a chance to fire their stern chasing guns at the French as they came into attack. And the French attack would be slower because they were rowing against the current, but their escape velocity would be rather higher, because by that stage of the day, the current would be with them.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So the English ships put their bows into the tide

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well they have in the morning, and then in the afternoon, when the tide has turned, the English ships on their anchor cables would rotate round the other way. So this will become a change in the nature of the battle. And the other thing that we know about the 19th of July 1545, was that the reports both from the English side, and from the French side, say that there was no wind. But it was a very calm day. In the Solent that happens when you’ve got a high pressure weather system sitting over the Solent and you end up with a very, very calm day through the morning. By the time you get towards the middle of the afternoon to three o’clock, the sea breeze tends to blow up from the southwest. So that you suddenly get the possibility of making or having some winds that might allow you to get a big square rigged ship going. And indeed, in the case of the Mary Rose, that’s almost certainly what happened. That late afternoon, mid to late afternoon, they up anchored, put out the sail on the foremast and then headed across the Solent, heading northwards, so that they could bring the starboard side guns to bear on the attacking French galleys. And we know that they did fire off the guns on the starboard side of the Mary Rose. Because we found those guns in a discharged condition they’d been fired. Now, she only had the chance to make that one passage northwards before she sank, now, something happened catastrophically at that point. And it may be that she was holed earlier in the day and had taken in some water and therefore was not sailing correctly, possibly with water down in the hold of the Mary Rose. And that gives rise to the distinct possibility of a free surface effect of water sloshing around in the hole. That if it pushes over to one side, suddenly, it’ll completely upset the balance of the ship. pulling it down. We don’t know yet we’ve got lots more work to do to discern what actually happened.

     

    Sam Willis 

    But it’s so fascinating realizing how how you can save just quite glibly that the wind and the tide are important to a mediaeval sea fight. But once you really kind of drill down into it, you realise how complex it is, and how much more there is for us to understand about exactly what happened. And I think more importantly, for historians why it all happened. And I love the fact that with the Mary Rose, you’ve got the wonderful Cowdray engraving. So for those of you who are listening, I’ll make sure I put a link to this onto Facebook and onto the SNL home page for the Mariners Mirror podcast for this episode, so you can see what we’re talking about. But the counter engravings really are magnificent, there is an artist who he’s not just drawing what he’s seeing. He’s absolutely trying to tell us something from the party, he knows is going to be seen. And he really is doing his best to, to describe an immensely complicated event.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    I think that’s absolutely right Sam it is so packed with detail. And every time when checks out the various details, they always check out as correct. So I’ve got a great deal of faith in the truth of what the picture is telling us about what was an immensely complex event, both in terms of the military technology involved, and the natural environment within which all of that happened. To be able to bring all of those things together and tease out the details is the crucial thing, because a mediaeval naval battle relies on the interaction between technology of the time, the people, the command structures, and that natural environment, the wind, the waves, the tide.

     

    Sam Willis 

    With written letters, it’s not often the case i don’t think that maybe it is with important letters that someone has written in the past knowing that there are going to be people poring over that document in the future but it’s very different with imagery. And I love the sense of this this this Tudor artists sitting down and going right now, come on. Try and work out this bit, you know what I’m trying to say go on have a think.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    I think this is fascinating. It really is. The original picture that was at Cowdray house, Midhurst in Sussex, was commissioned by Sir Anthony Brown. He was Master of the King’s Horse, and he’s shown prominently in the center of the image, riding just behind Henry himself. So it’s very much a picture that’s intended to memorialise Sir Anthony’s involvement in saving the kingdom, his involvement in these great events. But it’s also really evident that he’s included in the picture, all of the things that are important to him in terms of his political and family connections, but also that the accuracy of the events is exactly so. I think today we might consider him to be a really expert railway modeler, somebody to whom the little details matter enormously. It’s a fabulous picture. It really is.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s like a it’s a drawing of a diorama, isn’t it?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    It is, and it’s in terms of Tudor technology of being able to depict a series of events. It’s very much like a movie, a movie script, showing all sorts of things going on in the sequence. But within one picture, I think we’ve also got to remember that Sir Anthony had this installed, painted in his dining parlour at Cowdray house, the place where he could go with his chums after events and so on. And he could stand there and talk about the great events and use the painting as his visual aid, as his PowerPoint, to be able to show his audience everything that went on.

     

    Sam Willis 

    This brings us to the Battle of Sant-Mathieu in 1512, so 33 years beforehand. We do not have a beautiful engraving of what was going on at the Battle of Sant-Mathieu. So how did we go around working out what happened there?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, again, we can look at the landscape. There are maps from the period that show approximately where things were, we can certainly work out the tidal movements for the area. Again, the same methodology can be applied to that of looking for the moon phase for the 10th of August 1512. And it was a new moon on the 11th of August 1512. So it’s one day before New Moon. So immediately, we know that the tide is on what is called a spring tide, which is at the biggest extent between low tide and high tide. So at high tide, it’s come up further, there’s more water in the system, that means that the currents are going to be running at their strongest, we can then simply look for a modern equivalent of that at roughly the same time of year. And so this is taking place just off Brest in the Brittany peninsula. So we can look that up, and for example, for this year, it was new moon on the eighth of August 2021. So that gives a height a low tide of just after 12 o’clock midday. With a high tide just before six o’clock in the morning. Now that’s looking at a modern set of data, which will include the, the the nature of timekeeping these days. And that is the French time, French summertime is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, which is approximately solar noon, in the area. So we again, got to make some compensations for this. So in practical terms, we probably be looking at the tide being a couple of hours earlier. So that would give you low tide at about 10 o’clock in the morning. Except that we probably then need to allow for how far west The site is. That’s how far it is from the Greenwich meridian. And in the case of Brest, that’s probably somewhere around about an hour later, for local solar noon. This gets horribly complicated.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s great, I love it.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    It also the other problem is that Tudor timekeeping. Apart from being local and not national. Also was a little bit on the vague side. So, you know, we can pin things down to within about 15 minutes, half an hour or so on the basis of how they would have perceived time to be where they were. So in general terms, we probably be looking at low tide on on that day on the 10th of August 1512, probably around about 11 //1130 in the morning. So from there, we can then go and start working out the detail of the tidal currents and so on. All quite complicated, but it’s very important to the understanding of how events would play out in those circumstances.

     

    Sam Willis 

    We should say a little bit about the geography of of the Brest roads there. I’ve been lucky enough to sail there in a modern yacht, and also a square rigger but i would i would definitely not want to sail there and then mediaeval carrack..

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Yes, there’s plenty of things to come to grief on. So not an easy piece of waterway to navigate. I certainly wouldn’t want to try it I can tell you.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Hidden rocks, narrow, narrow gully’s and vicious fierce tides

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    But then if one is taking a big military risk, and is wishing to achieve a great victory, perhaps those are the calculations that one considers to be worth taking the risk on.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, very good point. And it’s very interesting that the, you know, the French were completely surprised by the English attack. And it may be that they took a great deal of security in their surroundings and in their location, just thinking it would be madness for anyone to try and attack them.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    I’m sure they did. And, you know, strangely enough, if we think to the Mary Rose battle in 1545, the English made that same mistake in a way, in that their naval position was one of blockage that the French couldn’t really attack, which served its purpose, because they did stop the invasion. But there was no way that the English could bring any real power to bear, militarily, on the French. And now, it could be that in those circumstances, they were relying on diplomatic efforts and perhaps, military intelligence to be able to deal with the problem in the long term. I mean, in the case of the Mary Rose battle, it was widely known, right throughout the courts of Europe, that both Henry and Francois in France, were not well men, and therefore unlikely to last any great amount of time. And perhaps the commanders would take a chance on incurring the wrath of the king, in the knowledge that he might not last that long. It’s difficult to know, in the case of the Battle of Sant-Mathieu, you know, there we’ve got a new king who’s recently come to the throne, he’s vigorous, and wants to be seen as the warrior Prince. Wants to be seen to have his navy and his court, taking real action. And so the political context of that battle is very different. Also, that the ships that he was using in the Battle of Sant-Mathieu were new, they hadn’t been around for any great amount of time. And consequently, you’ve got these new toys, you want to try them out, see how well they work? And people I think, would have been quite gung ho about it at that stage.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s fascinating point, isn’t it? Maybe almost sort of over overestimating the capability we shouldn’t I think there’s a great deal of surprise of that the the huge explosions, which, which happened at that battle as well. And people sort of coming to grips with a new technology, you know, the the the artillery onboard ship?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Absolutely. So I mean, you know, in a world without big machinery without diesel engines and steam engines and things like that, you know, you’d people would be unused to big noises. They’d be very surprised by vast amounts of smoke, like going into the jaws of hell really, I think really would have been quite a huge change for all of those involved. Even those possibly used to things like guns going off on ships. Really, to be able to deal with all that new chip technology, that change.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I suppose seamanship is so much to do with having confidence in your immediate surroundings. And I say that because I spent a bit of time and suddenly I was on a ship, and there were 13 dogs on it, and it ruined everything. I didn’t know what to do. There was too much noise, there was too much barking, there were animals running around. And in some respects, I think it might have been a bit like that to suddenly have loads of cannon and gunpowder on board if you really knew suddenly to slightly lose control and wonder what on earth is going to happen next?

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Absolutely. So I mean, the disorienting effects of that must have been quite catastrophic for most people, you know, they used to a fairly straightforward, rural domestic life, even life aboard a ship was very domestic. And to suddenly find this, this chaos going on, with huge noise and lots of smoke, and commands coming from all directions, would be very difficult to cope with.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And the terror of a burning ship which we have at the Battle of Sant-Matheau as well. Dominic you’ve given us so much to think about. Thank you very much indeed for your time.

     

    Dr. Dominic Fontana 

    Well, thank you Sam, I thoroughly enjoyed herself.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Next up, we have Tim Concannon, a practicing barrister and author. Tim was born and brought up in Portsmouth and has nurtured a deep interest in naval history since childhood. Tim’s book, ‘Jutland, a Yanks Tale’,  tells the fictional story of a Lieutenant in the United States Navy who finds himself at the Battle of Jutland. In recent weeks, Tim has been working on recreating a chart of the Battle of Sant-Matheau, showing the possible tracks of the ships involved. Here’s Tim. Tim, thank you so much for talking to me today.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Absolute pleasure, Sam. Delightful, sunny day and we can carry on.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It isn’t it is lovely. The Battle of Sant-Matheau. How did you begin to start thinking about this and how we might recreate it?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Well, we have a number of givens. We know the tide is going out until midday, is coming in after that, we know the English decided at 11 o’clock, and the action was over within three hours. We know the horizon for a mast 100 foot high is 12 miles and 100 foot is probably a good height for a mast on in a mediaeval ship. We know that the Mary James and the Sovereign are disabled, but they’re not captured. We know that the  Nef de Dieppe is damaged but managed to get back into action. And on the weather side of The Cordeliere,  outside the bounds of the English fleet. We know the Louise is disabled but not captured. We know from the picture that the Regent is shown to leeward of Le Cordeliere.  We know that the English fleet appears from the Malene Passage. We also know the sea is lively. It’s who it is, is the French word for it, which is lively.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. So we know all of that from, what are the sources?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Well, the sources are the letters, the reports, in English and in French, and with the good offices of Dom Fontana, who can calculate the tide. So these are all contemporary sources and contemporary letters.

     

    Sam Willis 

    And you said you referenced a picture there, saying that the Regent’s is shown to leeward of the Cordeliere, what picture is that?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Yes, the picture is a rather a wonderful painting, which is actually reproduced. And you can see it in the lesson papers of the French war 1512 to 1514.  Is actually I think, a French source because Herve de Portzmogeur, who was the Breton Admiral was something of a hero and the Breton’s and the French made a great thing of it. Indeed, there’s some rather bad poetry saying, along the lines of the boys did on the burning deck, that sort of thing.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? I’ll just say to our listeners that I’ll make sure that there is an image online of the Regent and the Cordeliere with the flames, all very dramatic indeed. So we from this sort of foundation where we’ve got we’ve got to, we’ve got some sources, we certainly haven’t got anything like the amount of sources that we’d have for a 17th or an 18th century naval battle. But we’ve kind of got just about enough. And from Dominic Fontana, we’ve got an idea of the tides, we, and certainly the landscapes not changed the seascape so we know exactly where it happened. And if you put it all together, then we can start to, to, you know, sort of tease out a little bit more information, you then move on to some consequential assumptions you describe them as

     

    Tim Concannon 

    yes, these are the assumptions that must follow from the given facts. So the first thing is the English have cited less than 12 miles. Because if they were cited further than that, then the French would have been able to get together, to get their act together, but they weren’t. So therefore they must have come behind an island which we can work out. We know that the Mary James and Sovereign were disabled before the tide turned or else they’d have drifted into the bay and not out of it. And we know that the Nef-de-Dieppe was also disabled before the tide turned but she was able to make the necessary repairs and she would then come in on the flood tide, which would have put her on the weather side of the Cordeliere, because she was attacking the English that were attacking the Cordeliere. The Louise must have been disabled, that’s the French flagship, must have been disabled after the tide turned or else should have been captured. Again, the wind can’t have been any further north and west because if it was, the English couldn’t have made the passage without being seen. We know the prevailing wind in that area is South Westerly, in either case, the French and Breton fleet would not have been able to go to sea. It would also result in a wind across the tide which would make for a lumpy sea. So there we got our ‘rouleuse’ sea. Yeah, so those must follow from the givens. We can then move on to some reasonable assumptions. The wind was fresh, in actual fact, when I re-read the French account is that wind is described as us fresh. Good speed for one of the ships on a fresh wind on a course will be six knots, which is two leagues. Tidal stream, maximum tidal stream in that area is about four knots at peak flow, which tails off in a sine curve over into the cycle. The ships are capable of tacking part into the wind. And I can go into that in a bit more detail for you, if you wish me to do that.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, why not? Let’s just have a little bit of exploring that while we there.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Well, the 15th century, the beginning of the 15th century 1400. The standard rig for a ship was a single mast with a single sail, by the beginning of the 1500s. We know that the ships are up to four masts. Now. Typically, you’ve got square rig on the foremast and on the main mast, and you’ve got a Lateen rig on the after masts. They doubled by the beginning of the 16th century by the beginning of the 1500s. So you’ve got two Lateen mizzens. Now, we know these ships had huge forecastles, which are wind traps. Now one of the ways of getting a ship to turn is to take it through the wind. Now if you’ve got a wind trap in a forecastle, then that’s going to push you downwind and you’re not gonna be able to turn through it. But what you can do is that you can erect a further wind trap, a moveable wind trap, in the after part of the ship. So we can actually follow through with Henry the Fifth ships,  the Agincourt ships. That by we get to the Grace Dieu, which is a massive ship from 1418. It’s got, we know it’s got a mizzen. We also have a very good picture of a ship, which is probably the Trinity, which has a mainsail and a mizzen. But no foreca, nope. No foremast. So what you can do is that if you flat out your mizzen, that will counteract the wind drag or the forecastle. And you can turn your ship through the wind

     

    Sam Willis 

    helps it pivot round.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    That’s a theory, in theory. years ago, when the Matthew replica was first, it was first prepared is that I got a trip on it. And I was trying to get them to try and work that work that through but the ship was so new that they decided they weren’t going to do that, which is a bit of a shame, because it might have might have actually proved the theory.

     

    Sam Willis 

    That’s the Matthew replica, which is in Bristol.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    That’s right, it is yes. I was allowed to play with it for a little while, which was great.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Very good. So what other reasonable assumptions Can we make about this sea battle

     

    Tim Concannon 

    The Franco Breton fleet we’re riding to single anchor and because we’re heading into the tidal stream, because they were they were waiting for the wind to change so they could sail and cause havoc in England. But of course, the English got there first. We also can think that in casting off the anchors Cordeliere, Louise, and Nef de Dieppe would have worn round using their mizzen sails and then tacked to head off the advancing fleet. Now one of the things you can do with these ships is you can actually go astern, and then put your rudder over the other way and that will also take you through the wind. Another reasonable assumption is the ability of the Sovereign to maneuver was hampered by battle damage because we know that she actually missed her target. She was supposed to be grappling with the Cordeliere but she didn’t. And then simply for convenience, I’ve made a couple of arbitrary assumptions, which is Cordeliere was to the north close to the shore, with Nef de Dieppe and Louise to the south. And also, when I tracked it out on the chart, we can see the Mary Rose is getting uncomfortably close to the Point de Capogee. And so I’m assuming that she bore across the stern of the Louise to rake her.

     

    Sam Willis 

    What happened to the Mary Rose in the battle? Because we know what they did at the beginning but not not much else.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    No All we know is that is that she disabled the Louise and the English claim that the Louise was dismasted. And these masts are huge things. They’re around, we have one from what he’s probably the Sovereign, which was excavated in the 1890s. And this mast is  about 20 feet around so it’s sort of eight feet in diameter and we can see some of  this in the literature.

     

    Sam Willis 

    So, from all of this work, what else do you think would be really good to know that we haven’t been able to find out?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Um, I’d quite like to know what happened to the rest of the English fleet. Because there is an account that because the Regent and the Cordiliere were so damaging each other. And we’re looking, within three hours, that actually, the English were reinforcing the Regent. And so they were landing troops on the Regent whilst she was in the middle of the battle. And the French sources seem to just yet seem to suggest that that is why someone set light to the Cordiliere which exploded just off the Capogee point. I would love to be able to find the wreckage of both of those ships.

     

    Sam Willis 

    I wonder if ever

     

    Tim Concannon 

    It’s Rocky, unlike Portsmouth, where we have this wonderful mud, which is so great at preserving things, I suspect there’s probably nothing very much left of them.

     

    Sam Willis 

    It’s a wonderfully early fight to be able to apply this to isn’t it? Do you think that this, this kind of technique of given facts, consequential assumptions, and reasonable assumptions is is fair to apply to naval battles of a later period where we do know more? Is it still worthwhile?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    It is worthwhile because once we know what the tides are, then it the whole sequence begins to make sense. And you can actually work out what’s going on? Or in all likelihood, what’s going on?

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, I think it gives you such a keener sense of the complexities of sea battle as well, even if you just open up the questions of what might have happened and what we can assume happened, you suddenly realize that there is there is so much going on, which would, you know, really allow us for more in depth historical research?

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Well, yes. I mean, these ships are nightmares to maneuver. You’ve got these huge castles. And they are. We know that the Mary Rose sailed fast because, oddly enough in the next season, is that the fleet raced from the tower, round the foreland to Portsmouth, and the Mary Rose was the fastest. And when you look at the lines of the Mary Rose, they are absolutely beautiful. But of course, speed and maneuverability are not the same thing.

     

    Sam Willis 

    No, And it’s interesting having to if you look at the chart just to see it is an enclosed area and you’ve got so many vessels maneuvering around and they’re all, you know, actually relatively clumsy because they’re already 16th century ships that to to attribute much to a sense of determination to what was happening is probably a little unfair. There was certainly a large a large degree of chaos going on here.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Yes, there was very much so. And of course, this was the first battle in which the heavy guns were used prior to that is that the object is to get on board and drop your troops and hence the castles.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah. And it makes you think that also being able to harness the tide and use the tide would have been such a key part of seamanship. Just because of the sort of the limited ability of to be able to put up a sail or move a ship quickly. What you can do is you can drift down in the direction very easily and quickly indeed,

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Yes indeed. And of course, these guys would have been experts in in their trade, you know, because seamanship is something that is required of anyone dealing with a ship going back into antiquity.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah, and particularly around Brest. No one could survive unless you’re a good seaman around Brest.

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Well, that’s what the Napoleonic fleet, with Napoleonic Wars showed, with the blockade of Brest.

     

    Sam Willis 

    Yeah absolutely. Tim, thank you so much for this. I think it’s raised so many questions about the battle. And we’ll give people lots to think about

     

    Tim Concannon 

    Sam. That’s my pleasure.

     

    Sam Willis 

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