Battle of Sandwich


Battle of Sandwich

Sandwich, Kent The 24th of August 1217 AD

After the death of King John in 1216, it seemed likely that Louis of France, son of the French king Philip, would seize the land. England was in disarray. John, by reneging on Magna Carta , had turned the vast majority of the powerful barons against the crown. He had left a nine-year-old heir, expected by many to meet an early death to make way for other claimants - John had left older illegitimate sons too. What saved the crown and the country more than anything was the deal John had done with the pope, resulting in the excommunication of Louis, and forcing Philip to be circumspect in his support of his son.
Nevertheless, at the end of 1216 Louis held London and had many powerful allies, though many barons turned from him when he lost the Battle of Lincoln Fair in May 1217. Louis needed reinforcements and new supplies in his London stronghold, and after several abortive attempts a French fleet sailed from Calais on St Bartholomew's Day (August 24) 1217, with more than 100 knights and more importantly with stores and currency aplenty. The large fleet had already been attacked in harbour whilst waiting for a fair wind in Calais, and the English had been given time to prepare for the invasion, assembling a fleet under Hubert de Burgh in Sandwich, Kent. The French fleet under Robert de Courtenai and the former pirate Eustace the Monk was undoubtedly larger than the defenders could muster, but as at the preceding Battle of Dover the English outsailed the French, manoeuvring behind them, boarding ships picked out as targets, and very effectively using lime to burn the French vessels and blind their sailors. Eustace pragmatically wanted to sail on to London once the English fleet was behind his own, but the more aggressive de Courtenai, perhaps conscious of his honour as well as aware of his force being numerically superior, decided to turn and fight. For Eustace this was to prove a fatal error. The English captured many of the knights sailing to reinforce Louis, and even more significantly they captured the supply vessels, putting the French sailors on board these ships to the sword.
Eustace, loathed for his former piratical exploits, was found hiding away from the fray, hauled up on deck, and in spite of his offer of a huge ransom was summarily executed by one Stephen Crabbe, who cut his head off there and then. The head was put on a spear and marched around Canterbury and Dover.
The Battle of Sandwich was the turning point for Louis, whose grab for England was now doomed. Indeed, the English ended up gaining The Channel Islands when the conflict was finally resolved.

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