Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rainier I and the Franco-Flemish War

Lord Rainier I was renowned as a great sailor, particularly for his part in the victory of the English and Flemish fleet at the battle of Zierikzee. Long before that he had a reputation for naval excellence in the service of King Charles II of Anjou and against the Ghibellines. But what was the background of the conflict that brought him to his most celebrated victory? It started with a campaign that would have sounded familiar to Napoleon Bonaparte many centuries later. King Philippe IV of France had determined that the way to cripple the power of England was to cut her off from trade with the European continent. Toward this end he undertook a diplomatic campaign to effectively create a blockade of England. His efforts were quite successful with rulers from Sicily to the Baltic closing their ports to English ships. England was soon becoming more and more weakened and the formidable King Edward I determined that something had to be done about this. However, England was not much of a naval power in those days and Edward I realized that he needed an ally that was.

Flanders was the place the English king looked to. A trading people even then, the blockade of England had hurt the Flemish economy, making them more open to the idea of an alliance with England, and the Flemish were renowned sailors. In 1297 King Edward I and Count Guy of Flanders signed the Treaty of Bruges which granted a monopoly to English and Flemish ships on all trade between Europe and England. This did a great deal to save the situation of England but it took a toll on the French ports in the area, such as Calais and others, and King Philippe IV determined that war was the only answer. He would have to attack England and Flanders on the high seas to break their dominance of Channel trade and restore his proto-Continental system. To do that he would need good warships and a veteran naval warrior to command them and for that he turned to Lord Rainier I of Monaco from the House of Grimaldi which had served French royals so well in the past. Rainier I came with sixteen well-armed galleys to add to the twenty ships the King of France had available but these were poorly built and the crews not experienced. It was up to Rainier I to train them for serious combat and he took a 'hands on' approach, taking them in several small-scale raids against English ships to teach them the ways of naval warfare. This helped them gain the experience they would need to confront the more formidable Flemish ships.

When the fight came, both sides called on all available allies. France had the Count of Holland who contributed warships while on the English side help came, primarily from Flanders but also from Spain, Sweden and the Hanseatic League. France also, it seems, had an agent among the enemy fleet. As battle was first joined the Anglo-Flemish forces seemed to be getting the better of the Grimaldi admiral as the larger French ships tended to run aground in the shallow coastal waters. However, when the tides changed, the French galleys began to take a terrible toll on their enemies. Then, during the night, someone who was presumably an agent of France, cut the anchor cables of the Anglo-Flemish ships and they drifted out of formation and the next day Lord Rainier I had little trouble picking them off one at a time until the enemy fleet was totally destroyed. As a result the siege of Zierikzee was lifted, Guy of Flanders was captured and King Philippe IV led his army to victory against the Flemish at the battle of Mons-en-Pévèle on August 18, 1304. Not a bad contribution to history by the veteran sailor from Monaco.

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