French Invade Isle of Wight

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French Invade Isle of Wight

Bembridge, Isle of Wight The 21st of July 1545 AD

Received wisdom has it Britain has not been invaded since William the Conqueror landed in 1066 . In fact numerous raids and invasions ravaged the country during the Hundred Years War in particular, but before that for example Prince Louis of France held London in 1216, only defeat at the Battle of Sandwich ending his hopes. The invasion of the Isle of Wight by Francis I’s forces in 1545 more than a raid was perhaps an attempt to establish a beach-head for a full scale invasion.
With Henry VIII abandoned by erstwhile ally Charles V, Francis I gathered a large fleet of mainly galleys, and an army of Frenchmen and foreign mercenaries, possibly as many as 50,000. They fought the English at sea on July 19th in the Battle of the Solent, during which the Mary Rose sank. From a letter of Henry VIII it may be that they had by that time landed some forces on the Isle of Wight. Three significant forces had, however, landed on the island at three points by July 21: one at Bonchurch ; one at Bembridge; and the third at St Helens .
One of the French parties numbered 500; battle casualties were heavy, and not only soldiers and militia suffered, the French set isolated habitations ablaze, and likewise burned Nettlestone. The French perhaps had several aims: to attack forts which could fire on their ships; to draw out the English fleet by firing the island; and to secure drinking water, either for their ships or a larger force to follow. It is unclear precisely what transpired, but the French quickly withdrew, losing one senior commander; but then so did the English, whose Captain John Fyssher was too fat to escape a rout and was never seen again.

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