By Dan Spencer
In the summer of 1415 all ships over 20 tons at London were ordered to assemble at Southampton to transport Henry V’s army to France.
But Southampton had also been chosen by Henry as a location where some of his ships would be constructed. These works were carried out by William Soper, a wealthy burgess of the town (who later served as an MP and had an affair with the niece of his fellow MP!).
On 20 February 1414 Soper received £100 in part payment for constructing the ‘Saint Claire of Ipsam’ and, two days later, £100 towards the construction of the ‘Holigost’. In the summer of 1414 he received a further £496 4s 2d towards the construction of the ‘Holigost’ and £20 for its cables. On 30 October 1414, £125 was given to him for the building of the ‘Saint Claire’, and in the following month a further £20 for cables for the ‘Holigost’ purchased from a roper of Bridport. In January 1415 further work was carried on the ‘Holigost’. This included the painting of swans, antelopes and coats of arms on the ship. These ships were well armed, with an inventory of 1416 for the Holigost, including 7 cannons, 14 bows, 91 sheaves of arrows, 6 crossbows, 3 pole-axes and 27 bascinets (helmets).
Southampton had been one of the first places to see military action in the Hundred Years War. In the aftermath of a devastating French raid in 1338 the townspeople had spent considerable sums of money on building a complete circuit of stone walls. These works continued into the reign of Henry V. By 1417 ‘God’s House Tower’ had been constructed on the south-eastern corner of the town. This was one of the earliest types of fortification constructed in England which was designed specifically for the use of gunpowder weapons.
This information came from The National Archives E403/614, 617, 619, 621; The Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Henry V, Volume 1, 1413-1416, available online; Ian Friel, The Good Ship: Ships, Shipbuilding and Technology in England 1200-1520 (London: British Museum,1995) and Colin Platt, Medieval Southampton: the Port and Trading Community, A.D. 1000-1600 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973).
Photograph of God’s House Tower taken by Dan Spencer