In October 1338, at the outset of the Hundred Years War, a combined force of French and Genoese under the command of French admiral Hugh Qiueret, attacked Southampton, killing many of the townsmen, violating its women, burning many of its houses and churches and carrying off a considerable amount of plunder.

The accounts of the raid by the 14th century Jean Froissart and the 16th century John Stow agree that the raid began on the morning of Sunday October 4 when most of the town’s population was at church. A fleet of about fifty ships sailed up Southampton Water and landed at the western quays of the town. The inhabitants appeared to have posted no look outs and were taken completely by surprise. There was, at that time, no west wall to hamper the assailants who were able easily to enter the unprepared and largely unprotected town. Over the next day and night the town was sacked and many of its buildings burned. Archaeologists have found the burnt levels resulting from the firing of the houses and the shops and contemporary documentary evidence records massacre, rape and wholesale looting. However, many of the town’s people escaped to the surrounding countryside where they reformed and returned to the town, eventually driving the pirates back to their ships. Much of the wool, wine and other valuable goods in the town were carried off by the raiders, as were some of instruments of government including the official seal and the weights and weigh-beam from the Weigh House in French Street. The consequences of the raid were felt for many years afterwards.

Modern historians from the Victorian era onwards have repeated this account, but A D Morton, utilising a much wider array of sources - many not available to earlier historians - disputes much of it, including the date and time of the raid. He points out that the very earliest sources - an inquisition into the loss of the king’s wool, a royal council and the account of Murimuth, the first chronicler to mention the raid – all have it occurring on the late afternoon of Monday 5 October.

Morton also disputes that the inhabitants put up little resistance, pointing to French sources which describe fierce fighting and indicate significant casualties amongst the raiders. The English king Edward III, alarmed at having one of his main ports sacked and irked at having his goods plundered (a sizeable proportion of the seized goods was his property), was initially prepared to believe the worst: that the local defenders had not done their duty. However, after setting up enquiries into the facts, he seemed satisfied that this was not the case.

Edward visited Southampton in 1339 to inspect its defences and for the next forty years much of the town’s finances and labour was expended on completing the town walls and strengthening the castle.

Further reading:

Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p107-118. (HS/h)
'The French Raid on Southampton 1338, Part 1', by A D Morton in Southampton Local History Forum Journal, no. 23, Autumn 2014, p3-56. (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes, 2nd Series by ‘Townsman’, p28. (HS/h)
Excavations in Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt (ed), passim. (HS/f)
Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p1-3. (HS/h)


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