By the Treaty of Toledo of 1368, Spain’s Enrique of Trastámara undertook to give naval aid to the Frenchman Charles V in his war with the English. The Frenchman, in 1369, requested that the Castilian king fulfil his commitment, resulting in the victory at La Rochelle in 1372. Afterwards, Admiral Fernán Sánchez de Tovar, with fifteen galleys, marched to the siege of the Breton port of Brest, which fell into the hands of the besiegers in August 1373 in retaliation for the burning by the Earl of Salisbury’s English fleet of seven Castilian merchant ships anchored in the harbour of Saint-Malo.
In 1374, Fernán Sánchez de Tovar, now Admiral of Castile, was ordered to head for England with fifteen Spanish galleys and five Portuguese galleys, which were later joined by a French fleet under the command of Admiral Jean de Vienne. This joint armada raided the Isle of Wight, located at the mouth of the Southampton estuary, and then razed several towns in the south of England.
The following year the Castilian galleys and Jean de Vienne’s fleet collaborated in the land siege of the castle of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte located in the interior of the Cotetin peninsula in Normandy. The fortress was conquered on 21 March by the troops of Constable Bertrand du Guesclin, who was the decisive factor in Enrique II Trastamara being able to kill and seize the throne from his brother Pedro I of Castile: “I neither remove nor set up a king, but I help my lord.”
In June 1375 the Truce of Bruges was signed, but it was soon broken. In June 1377 Fernán Sánchez de Tovar set out with a fleet of thirteen galleys with five thousand men aboard to meet Jean de Vienne at Harfleur. His aim was to land on the southern coasts of England. The first village to be conquered was Rye in June 1377, which was sacked and burnt, before landing at Rottingdean, where the abbot of the monastery of Lewes with his vassals attempted to resist, but was defeated and killed in the fighting. Then, in July, Folkestone was stormed, followed by the capture of Portsmouth, Dartmouth and Plymouth. On 28 July the Franco-Spanish fleet returned to Harfleur to resupply and resume the campaign.
Three weeks later Admirals Jean de Vienne and Fernán Sánchez de Tovar set sail again against the Isle of Wight, which was completely razed to the ground, although its castle was able to hold out. The fleet was split into two groups: one attacked Winchelsea, which repulsed the attackers thanks to the defensive measures taken by the Abbot of Battle; the other attacked Hastings and Poole, which were sacked.
In May 1379, Juan I of Castile came to the throne and confirmed Fernán Sánchez de Tovar as Admiral of Castile.
In the summer of 1380 a new combined Franco-Castilian fleet returned to punish the English coasts for the fourth time. The Admiral of Castile sailed from Seville with twenty galleys to join the French at La Rochelle in July. Before the arrival of the Castilians, the French had already ravaged the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. The Franco-Castilian armadas headed for Winchelsea, where they now defeated the troops of the Abbot of Battle, to return to Harfleur and provision their ships and crews, setting sail on 24 August for the mouth of the Thames. They sailed up the river and after setting fire to the fortress of Winchelsea, the galleys rowed in through the North Foreland point into the King’s Channel. Once in the course of the Thames they advanced unopposed to land at Gravesend on the south bank, 35 kilometres from London, which they burned as well as other small coastal villages nearby. It was only a short time before the Castilians reached London, but Sánchez de Tovar had already achieved his goal of spreading panic on the island by arson and raids.
Apart from Julius Caesar, King Harald III of Norway in 1066 and, in the same year, the Norman William II, few other invaders managed to set foot on the British Isles. Great armies such as those of Hitler, Napoleon or Felipe II failed to cross the English Channel and land in England. Sánchez de Tovar’s feat inspired Felipe II to send the Great Armada of Medina Sidonia in 1588, which was to join forc
s with Alexander Farnese’s Army of Flanders to humiliate the English once and for all.
Today nobody remembers, but in the 14th century the Castilians managed to overrun southern England four times.
This post was translated from:
Togores, L.E. (2021) ‘El día que los españoles invadieron Inglaterra’, El Debate, Madrid, 30 September. Available at: https://www.eldebate.com/historia/20210930/dia-espanoles-invadieron-inglaterra.html (Accessed: 2 February 2022).