October 13, 2015

The Holigost: 600 Year Old Pride of Henry V’s Fleet May Have Been Found


Every (British) schoolboy, every patriot knows what Henry V used to defeat the French: his “band of brothers”, of course, but above all archers, men who at Agincourt with bows of yew would lay waste to an army several times the size of their own. 
Yet long before Britannia ruled the waves, Henry was also a king who placed extraordinary faith in the value of naval war power. When he set sail across the Channel, it was with a massive fleet of — if contemporary reports are to be believed — up to 1,500 ships.

Now, on the eve of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the wreck of one of Henry’s great ships may have been discovered buried in the mud of an English river.

The wreck that has lain hidden in the River Hamble in Hampshire for so long is believed to be the Holigost — or Holy Ghost — the second of four “great” ships built for Henry V’s royal fleet, according to Historic England, the government heritage agency.

The wreck was first spotted from an aerial photograph by Ian Friel, a historian, next to Henry’s flagship, the Grace Dieu, which was identified in the 1930s.

Historic England is taking steps to protect and investigate the shipwreck, which Dr Friel identified as likely to be the Holigost when he was revisiting documentary evidence for his new book, Henry V’s Navy.

Future scientific research on the vessel, which could include sonar and aerial imaging using drones, could reveal much about 15th-century shipbuilding and improve understanding of life on board, naval warfare of the time, dock building and docking practices.

The Holigost, which had a crew of 200 and took large numbers of soldiers to war, was a major part of Henry’s war machine as he sought to conquer France. It took part in operations between 1416 and 1420, including two of the sea battles in the Hundred Years’ War that broke French naval power.

It was the flagship of the Duke of Bedford at the sea battle of Harfleur in 1416 — not to be confused with the siege of Harfleur of 1415 — and in the thick of the fighting off the Chef de Caux in 1417. Dr Friel said: “Unlike the Grace Dieu, which was the biggest ship of late medieval England, the Holigost actually saw action. The Grace Dieu was a bit of a white elephant — it was too late for the war.

“At the Battle of Harfleur it saw very heavy action. There is documentary evidence that enemy boarders must have boarded the ship. There were very concerted attempts to destroy the rigging that held the mainmast up.”

The ship, whose name comes from Henry’s personal devotion to the Holy Trinity, was originally rebuilt from a Spanish vessel called the Santa Clara that was captured in late 1413 or early 1414 and then acquired by the English Crown. Underwater repair work on the ship carried out by a “dyver” called Davy Owen in 1423 may be the first recorded example of a diver used in ship repair in England.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “The Battle of Agincourt is one of those historic events that has acquired huge national significance.

“To investigate a ship from this period close to the 600th anniversary is immensely exciting. It holds the possibility of fascinating revelations in the months and years to come. Historic England is committed to realising the full potential of the find.”

Dr Friel said: “I am utterly delighted that Historic England is assessing the site for protection and undertaking further study. In my opinion, further research leading to the rediscovery of the Holigost would be even more important than the identification of the Grace Dieu in the 1930s.

“The Holigost fought in two of the most significant naval battles of the Hundred Years’ War, battles that opened the way for the English conquest of northern France.”
Events are being held around the country for the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, including a service at Westminster Abbey on October 29.

By Valentine Low

With many thanks to The Australian

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