The Battle of Sluys

The decisive naval Battle of Sluys was fought on 24 June 1340 as one of the opening conflicts of the Hundred Years' War.

It is historically important in that it resulted in the destruction of most of France's fleet, making a French invasion of England impossible, and ensuring that the remainder of the war would be fought mostly in France.

The encounter took place in front of the town of Sluys or Sluis, (French Écluse), on the inlet between West Flanders and Zeeland. In the middle of the 14th century this was an open roadstead capable of holding large fleets; it later was silted up by the river Eede. A French fleet, which the English king Edward III, in a letter to his son Edward, the Black Prince, put at 190 sail, had been collected in preparation for an invasion of England. It was under the command of Hugues Quiéret, admiral for the king of France, and of Nicolas Béhuchet, a lawyer who had been one of the king's treasurers. Part of the fleet consisted of Genoese galleys serving as mercenaries under the command of Egidio Bocanegra (Barbavera). Although many English historians speak of King Edward’s fleet as inferior in number to the French, it is certain that he sailed from Orwell on 22 June with 200 sail, and that he was joined on the coast of Flanders by his admiral for the North Sea, Sir Robert Morley, with 50 more. Some in this swarm of vessels were no doubt mere transports, for the king brought with him the household of his queen, Philippa of Hainault, who was then at Bruges. As, however, one of the queen's ladies was killed in the battle, it would appear that all the English vessels were employed.

The battle, which was fought with exceptional ferocity, concluded with the almost total destruction of the French fleet. Quiéret was slain, and Béhuchet is said to have been hanged on King Edward’s orders. Barbavera escaped to sea with his squadron on the morning of 25 June, carrying off two English prizes. English chroniclers claim that the victory was won with small cost in life, and that the losses of the French amounted to 20,000 men, but no reliance can be placed on medieval estimates of numbers. After the battle King Edward remained at anchor for several days, and it is therefore probable that his fleet had suffered heavily.