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rangements for naval service from the Cinque Ports. He established a dockyard at Portsmouth, and set the fashion of using it for the construction of stout ships, exclusively the property of the Crown. He paid especial attention to the economical and satisfactory fitting-out of all ships intended for warlike purposes, saw that they were efficiently manned, and put wise and brave officers in charge of them.
The greatest of these officers was Hubert de Burgh, whom King John made Justiciary of England in 1215. He was also for many years Constable of Dover Castle. His best work was done under the ungracious rule of Henry III.'s governors. Hearing, in August, 1217, that a French fleet of eighty great ships, with a large number of galleys and smaller vessels, was on its way for the invasion of England, he promptly summoned a council to consider how the attack was to be resisted. “If these people land,” he is reported to have said, “ England is lost. Let us therefore boldly meet them, and God will be with us." The other members of the council were not so zealous. “We are not sea-soldiers, or pirates, or fishermen,” they exclaimed; "go thou and die!” To do that for his country, if need were, De Burgh was resolved. Without an hour's delay he ordered out sixteen Cinque Ports' galleys, large and well manned, which happened to be then at Dover, with about twenty smaller ships, and placed himself at the head of the little armament. He met the invading fleet off the North Foreland, and, having the wind in his favour, suddenly bore down upon its rear, caused grapnels to be thrown into
Sea-Fighting under King John.
the ships that were first approached, and so made it impossible for them to escape. The French, disconcerted by this bold manoeuvre, were soon overcome by the vigorous fighting of their opponents. The English sailors, having no arms to use, threw unslaked lime into the air, that it might be blown by the wind into the enemy's eyes, and thus might blind them. Others deftly cut the rigging and haulyards, and so caused the sails to fall down “like a net upon ensnared small birds.” The cross-bowmen and archers plied their weapons with deadly effect; and before long more than half of the French ships were captured. Fifteen managed to escape,
and about as many were sunk during the contest. By his promptitude and tact and valour, Hubert de Burgh secured a victory unparalleled in the previous naval history of England. *
It had many parallels, however, in the ensuing generations. The long and wasteful wars with France and Scotland, that lasted, with few intermissions, from Edward I.'s time down to Henry V.'s, afforded many opportunities for naval prowess, and resulted in the establishment, among all the European nations, of that reputation for good and brave seamanship which has been maintained by England down to the present day. The chief details of these engagements, and the general purport of the whole, are familiar matters of history, and therefore need not here be dwelt upon. So thoroughly were patriotic Englishmen, as early as “Our
* MATTHEW PARIS, Historia Major (ed. 1644), p. 206; ROGER OF WENDOVER, vol. iv., p. 28.
the fifteenth century, impressed with the necessity of good seamanship to the well-being of the nation, that the prospect of naval degradation was regarded by them as the greatest of all impending evils. enemies laugh at us,” exclaimed one historian in 1441, when the disasters of the Wars of the Roses were beginning to be felt, “and say, 'Take the ship off from your precious money, and stamp a sheep upon it, showing thereby your own cowardice.' We, who used to be the conquerors of all nations, are now being conquered by all nations! The men of old used to call the sea the wall of England; and what think you that our enemies, now that they are upon the wall, will do to the inhabitants who are not ready to meet them ? Just because this matter has been so long neglected is it that our ships are already so scanty, our sailors few, and those few unskilled in seamanship from want of exercise. May the Lord take away this reproach and rouse a spirit of bravery in our nation !"*
In due time the spirit of bravery was revived, to be displayed, however, hardly any more in renewal of the ambitious projects for continental conquest in which the patriots of those times thought they saw the chief and best
way of national aggrandisement, but generally in more peaceful and honourable ways. The warlike requirements of England continued to be, as they had been from the first, the leading motive to its naval advancement; but we shall see that, among
the seamen of the Tudor period, fighting for fighting's sake was at any
* CAPGRAVE, De Illustribus Henricis.
The Water Walls of England.
rate only a secondary inducement, and that if fighting came it was mainly in consequence of the growth of maritime enterprise which has issued in the establishment of our vast colonial empire and the independent empires that have sprung and are springing therefrom all contributing in a very notable way to the growth in wealth and influence and character of England itself.*
* A very full and sufficient account of the earlier maritime progress of England, to which I am indebted for help in writing the foregoing pages, is to be found in the History of the Royal Navy, by SIR NICHOLAS Harris NICOLAS (1847), of which the only two volumes published treat of the period from Julius Cæsar's landing to the death of Henry V.
THE VOYAGES OF THE CABOTS.
[1485—1517.] The traditions of English effort at maritime discovery before the time of Henry VII. are few and unimportant. For the fable about Saint Brendan, the holy Irish abbot, who in the sixth century is reported to have sailed out, with twelve chosen monks, into the unknown western sea, and, after long and tedious voyaging, to have reached a land of wondrous beauty and luxuriance, where the sun never set and winter never came;* and for the fable about Madoc, the Welsh chieftain, who in the twelfth century is said to have crossed the Atlantic and founded a Celtic colony somewhere south of the
* “So cler and so light hit was, that joye ther was ynough;
Treon (trees] ther wer ful of frut, wel thikke on everech bough;
Saint Brendan, a Mediæval Legend of the Sea, ed. by WRIGHT
(1844), for the Percy Society.