Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Medieval

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The Medieval Period

After the Norman Conquest, the waters of the Island became even busier, with the growth of Southampton as a port, as well as smaller, local ports such as Newport, Newtown, Brading, Wootton and Yarmouth.
The Island, too, was in the front line in the wars with France that were to last for the next 800 years.

Many ships were sunk in Island waters during these wars. In 1205 King John gathered a fleet at Southampton, and in 1206, a fleet was gathered in Portsmouth and King John stayed in Yarmouth on the Island, before John and his fleet sailed for La Rochelle. In 1208 King John ordered that the strongest men of Portsmouth, Southampton and surrounding areas gathered in Portsmouth to man the King's Galleys due to the threat of a French Invasion. In 1213, a fleet of 500 ships sailed from Portsmouth around the Island's waters to Damme, where they destroyed a French Invasion fleet.

To Islanders, shipwrecks were a much-needed source of income, with survivors from shipwrecks often being killed so that their cargoes could be seized with no questions asked. It is also likely, as Island legend states, that professional wreckers existed who would light fires to attract ships onto the rocks.

In 1224, the earliest written record we have of this, the Bishop of Winchester ordered the clergy of the Island to preach three times a year against those who "prevented the shipwrecked from saving their own lives".

In 1231, Henry III was petitioned by Osbert Percehays to enquire into the fate of one of his ships which had beached itself near Freshwater during a storm. Although the ship was not wrecked, a crowd of locals came to the ship and stole the cargo of Lampreys. Piracy was also common in this period. In 1236, Sir Phillip d'Albini demanded satisfaction be given to the merchants of Hainault and Flanders for ships plundered off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

In 1242, Henry III had assembled a fleet in Portsmouth Harbour to carry reinforcements for his French campaign, yet a French fleet attempted to blockade them. The English fleet managed to escape, only to be caught in a violent storm in the Channel and forced to return to port. It is possible that some of the ships were wrecked in Island waters.

In 1275, Edward I had created a law of shipwrecks, which stated that if any living thing, man or beast, escaped from a shipwreck alive, the owners had a year and a day in which they could claim the salvaged goods. As a result of this, after being shipwreck, survivors were often killed so that the ship's cargo could be legally stolen.

In 1293, after the last of the feudal overlords of the Island, Isabella de Fortibus, died, the Island became part of England and its rights of salvage reverted to the Crown. In 1301, when a ship from Calais was wrecked near Compton, the King and local landlords split the proceeds of the wreck.

In 1313, one of the most famous of the Island's shipwrecks, the St. Mary of Bayonne, came ashore in Chale Bay. Her story is interlinked with that of the Pepper Pot on St. Catherine's Down.

In 1320, the Saint Mary of Santander, after being wrecked near Yarmouth, had her cargo seized. Around 50 people were charged with "the Misuse of wrecked goods". Six people refused the summons to the court at Southampton, and were declared outlaws.

In 1321, another wreck off the Island's coast at Brighstone, the Portuguese vessel Ship Of Jesus Christ, was raided by around 50 men, some of whom came from Portsmouth, Lymington and even Christchurch, on the mainland. 45 men were accused of the crime of plundering a cargo valued at £5,000.

In 1327, a French fleet disguised as English sailors and flying English colours attacked and sacked Portsmouth and Southampton.

In 1341, a Spanish vessel was wrecked on a coast were salvage was the right of the king. This was no deterrent for the local population, who, armed, took to their boats and pushed the floating wine barrels and other goods with their oars to the open sea, where they could legally be claimed by anyone.

Shipwrecks Of The Isle Of Wight

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