Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19, 1545 – Mary Rose leads Counter-invasion of France

In early July 1545, in the midst of England's participation in the Italian Wars, France launched a massive fleet in the Seine with the aim to invade English soil with some 50,000 troops. They sailed up the Solent (the strait between the Isle of Wight and the mainland) unopposed while the fleet of 80 small English ships held in the defenses of Portsmouth Harbor. July 18, the English came out to engage at long range, but the two fleets did little damage to one another.

On the 19th, the wind was calm, and the French made to use it to their advantage. They moved to use their galleys against the immobile English, but a breeze came up that evening, and the agile English ships became able to maneuver. The enormous carrack Mary Rose lead the charge, closing her lower gun ports and using the wind to sweep her into the midst of the French. Sporting 24 anti-ship cannon, the Mary Rose served as a potent flagship, bringing down numerous French ships herself and making way for vicious attack by other English ships.

The French were caught with large ships in the narrow harbor and made for the wider Solent, but they were cut down even there. Hoping to regroup in the Channel, French Admiral Claude d'Annebault called for the retreat. Before he could escape, however, the English pushed forward, gunning down ships until the dark of night allowed the remnants of the French fleet to slip away. Their land invasion was halted as there seemed no chance to unload and supply the massive invasion force.

With a resounding victory and thousands of French bodies floating in the sea, Henry VIII seized his opportunity for an invasion himself. His Austrian allies had made peace with the French upon fearing uprisings in the Germanies, but Henry refused to give up liberation of Boulogne in France. Instead, he used his ships to ferry a new army onto the continent and began a drive like that of Edward III in the Hundred Years War. Fearing another return to unending violence, the French opted for peace. Henry, knowing that his own coffers were running bare, agreed, and the details of the Treaty of Ardres were achieved in 1546. The French faced another diplomatic humiliation, but worse was the demands for reparations. While the French economy suddenly fell under vicious taxation to repay, England soared.

Henry would not live to see the financial fallout of his treaty as he would die in 1547. His son, Edward VI, would use the money to fund an increase in his navy, though he, too, would not live to see what his actions would do after his short reign of six years. Eventually his half-sister Elizabeth would come to the throne, and England would settle back into wars with Catholicism. With their economic upper-hand, however, their fleets would confound the Spanish attempts at reaping further wealth from the New World. Rather, English settlement would advance, taking over many of the unfunded colonies begun and abandoned by the French.

The further decadence would promote civil war against the pompous Charles, but the king had ample funds to put down the revolt with mercenaries. Creating a much weaker Parliament filled with yes-men, the House of Stewart would rule powerfully over a massive and growing empire. Along with trade, however, came new technology and ideas, and the Enlightenment would cause rebellion against monarchs all over Europe. Many kings gave up their absolute power in favor of constitutions, and colonies throughout the world would claim independence, such as the United States, Haiti, and Ireland from Britain. With his empire falling apart around him, James V would try to hold to the rule of his ancestors, but his heavy-handed efforts only brought the collapse of his crown, and England became a Republic in 1802, just as France did thirteen years earlier and the Netherlands for centuries. Later, Sweden and Prussia would join them. This division in Europe would spark the huge Monarchs' War in 1810, and many of the other kings would lose their thrones under guerrilla warfare in Iberia and major battles in eastern Europe.

Dust settling and only backward Russia still standing with its czar, the republics of Europe returned to empire-building. Trade and industry drove the countries to unpredictable wealth, but also to competition that would bring about the World War at the beginning of the twentieth century. Out of the wreckage, the new political ideology of communism would begin, some championing as a golden age of social justice while others mourn as an arrival of slavery for entire populations.

In reality, the lower gun ports of the Mary Rose were left open, and the strong breeze that pushed her caused her to careen over. Water rushed into the ship, sinking it so quickly that only a few dozen of its 450 crew escaped with their lives. The Battle of the Solent would be indecisive, as would be the Italian Wars themselves, bringing nothing but a costly stalemate for both England and France.

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