On this day in history, 10th August 1512, the Battle of Saint-Mathieu took place. It was a naval battle in the War of the League of Cambrai and it was between the English and Franco-Breton fleets off the coast of Brest, in present day Brittany, France. England was allied with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire at this time.
The Mary Rose, Henry VIII's famous warship whose wreck was discovered in 1971 and raised in 1982, was chosen as the English fleet's flagship by Sir Edward Howard, Admiral of the English fleet. It was her first battle. The twenty-five ship English fleet had set out from Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, after hearing news of the twenty-one ship French fleet gathering at Brest, and the two fleets engaged in Berthaume Bay on 10th August 1512.
The Mary Rose museum website states:
"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 English fleet was victorious but 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 Caricke, whiche seyng a varlet Gonner beyng desperate put fire in the Gonne powder as other saie, and set the whole ship of fire the flame wherof, set fire in the Regent, and so these twoo noble shippes which were so crappeled together that thei could not part, wer consumed by fire [...] The capitain of this Carick was sir Piers Morgan and with hym. ix. C. men slain and ded: and with sir Thomas Kneuet and sir Ihon Carow wer. vii. C. men drowned and brent, and that night all the Englishemen laie in Bartrain Baie, for the Frenche flete was sparkeled as you haue hard."
Charles Wriothesley summed it up in one sentence:
"This yeare the Regent of England, a shippe, and a carike of France, were burnt in Bristowe haven, and Sir Thomas Knyvett in her with all his men."
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 Thos. Knyvet and Sir John Carewe slain. Begs he will keep the news secret. Farnham, 26 Aug. Signed: "Thomas Wulcy."
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.""
Sources and Further Reading
- Hall, Edward (1809) Hall's chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, London, Printed for J. Johnson, p. p. 534. Read online at http://www.archive.org/stream/hallschronicleco00halluoft#page/534/mode/2up
- Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, p. 7, read online at https://archive.org/details/chronicleengland00wriouoft
- "A Day in History, Tuesday 10th August 1512", Early Modern Forum 1450-1850, University of Warwick. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/emforum/projects/adayinhistory/10august1512/
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1356.
- The first battle of the Mary Rose, Mary Rose Museum - http://www.maryrose.org/the-first-battle-of-the-mary-rose/