By Dan Spencer
In 1415 the federation of the Cinque Ports were called upon to supply ships for Henry V’s expedition to France.
This was a confederation of ports in East Sussex and Kent, which since the twelfth century had been granted special privileges in return for supplying fifty-seven ships each year for fifteenth days at their own expense. In 1415 some indication of this can be seen in the records for the formerly coastal town of New Romney (now over a mile from the sea due to silting!). This included a contribution of 33s 9d to pay for the expenses of Lord Talbot’s ships, so as to ‘have his favour’, and a further £3 16s 9d spent on repairing one of his ships described as a ‘barge’. In addition the town expended £3 2d on repairing another ship called a ‘balinger’ which belonged to a Richard Walter.
Supplies were also acquired for the king’s onward march to Calais, with 18s 6 ½d spent on victuals sent to Calais to await the arrival of Henry V from Harfleur. However, New Romney suffered losses as a result of the war, as can be seen by its participation, along with the town of Hastings, in a prisoner exchange with ‘the men of France’. This also included money spent on supplying victuals for sailors who went to sea against ‘our enemies, who were off the coast’. The ships provided by the Cinque Ports were important for expeditions to France and at sea, as the number of ships in the king’s ownership were insufficient. The transportation of a large army to France therefore required a large number of merchant ships supplied by the coastal towns of England as well as ships to be hired from the Low Countries. We will soon know more thanks to the research project of Dr Craig Lambert of the University of Southampton who has been awarded three years of AHRC funding for a project on late medieval shipping and coastal communities.
This information came from the Fifth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, p. 539; Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War: Volume 1, Trial by Battle (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1990), p. 175.
Photograph of the church tower of St Nicholas Church, New Romney, taken from Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons Licence