4-10 May 1415: Piracy in south-east England

thomas fitzalan

As preparations for the king’s expedition to France continued into the first week of May, routine matters of governance were still dealt with by Henry V.

This included dealing with reported cases of piracy carried out by his subjects. On 8 May 1415 a commission was given to the constable of Dover Castle, Thomas FitzAlan, earl of Arundel, to arrange compensation for stolen goods which had been disembarked and sold in the town of Sandwich in Kent. This was in response to a suit brought by a Flemish widow, Katharine of ‘Kalewartes’ to the king, that certain of her merchandise worth £80 (a large sum of money at the time), had been captured at sea and taken to Sandwich.

It was reported that Katharine had pursued her case for no small time without restitution, despite the justice of her claim having been established. Truces with various rulers of the Low Countries had been in effect since the reign of Henry IV, which meant that these English sailors had committed a act of piracy as opposed to what we would understand as privateering (the latter being justified in times of war). FitzAlan was therefore instructed to levy £80 from the burgesses of Sandwich without delay and to imprison anybody found in possession of these goods.

The king’s interest in this case, however, was not merely a matter of ensuring that justice was done in his realm. Maintaining good relations with the rulers of the Low Countries was important for the preparations for the expedition to France. This was because he needed to hire large numbers of ships from the region to transport his army to the continent due to its great size.

FitzAlan, one of Henry’s closest friends, had already indented on 29 April, to take part in the expedition to France with a retinue of 100 men-at-arms and 300 archers. He was one of numerous soldiers who contracted dysentery before the town, however, which meant that he did not take fight at the battle as he was invalided home. FitzAlan returned to England on 28 September but was so ill that he soon died on 10 October at Arundel Castle.

This information came from Calendar of the Patent Rolls 1413-1416, pp. 326; 344-5; G. L. Harriss, ‘Fitzalan, Thomas, fifth earl of Arundel and tenth earl of Surrey (1381–1415)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9536, accessed 12 March 2015]; Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud: Tempus, 2005), p. 60.

Image of effigy from Church of St Nicholas, taken from Charles Alfred Stothard, The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain (London:  Chatto and Windus, 1876), which is out of copyright