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The Staple

In early medieval times, ‘the staple’ meant England’s staple export: wool. But it was inconvenient and inefficient for the king’s men to collect the customs duties that were payable on the exported wool from every one of the hundreds of little English ports all around the country. London, Bristol, Ipswich and Sandwich were major ports but little ships could sail from any small harbour or river estuary. Therefore, since wherever the ships had sailed from, they were all taking their cargo of wool to Flanders (modern day Belgium and north-east France), it was easier to collect the customs when they arrived at their destination. In 1313, Edward II ordained that all merchants had to land their ‘staple’ at a port he would designate. During the Hundred Years War, England acquired Calais from the French and from the mid-fifteenth century until 1558 this port became the convenient Calais Staple, where customs duties were collected on all English wool exports.

From “A Year in the Life of Medieval England” by Toni Mount.

The image is Old bird’s-eye view plan of Calais by Braun & Hogenberg 1597

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Edward III, Sir John Kyriel and the French invasion that didn’t happen. . .

 

 

Edward III drawing

Edward III was a great king. No doubt about that. And a forceful leader who knew his mind. The same went for his son, who has gone down in history as the Black Prince. So it came as a surprise to me when, on glancing through my new copy of The Black Prince by Michael Jones, I came upon a little story that reveals Edward III to have not always known his mind when it came to “Should I go over to Calais in person to show the French I mean business?”

It was in the summer of 1369, there was a fear of French invasion, and Edward was still in mid-debate with himself about how to react, when his beloved queen, Philippa of Hainault, died. Her death on 15th August finally decided him not to go, and perhaps her failing condition affected Edward’s clarity of mind, because immediately before she passed away, at least one of his captains kept getting conflicting messages from him.

The following is paraphrased from the book:-

On 7th August, Kent-based Sir John Kyriel received a letter from Edward, telling him the king planned to cross the Channel, and instructing him to join the army in two weeks’ time. Edward wrote that he had decided to respond personally to the French threat “which greatly affects our dignity”.

pointing knight - 3

 

Then, on 13th August, when Kyriel would have been busy preparing his men and so on, another letter arrived from the king, countermanding the first letter because the king “had now learned for certain that the enemy intended to invade”.

pointing knight - 4

 

So Kyriel stood down, as the saying goes. At least, he began to, because the very next day, 14th August, no fewer than two royal letters plopped through his letterbox. In the morning, the first said that Edward had decided to cross the Channel after all, but wouldn’t assemble his army until the beginning of September.

royal letter

Kyriel was told to aim for that date. But in the afternoon, another one came with completely different instructions. Kyriel was ordered to proceed to Sandwich immediately because enemy galleys were planning an attack there.

Off to war

The bemused Kyriel was galvanised into action, and headed off to Sandwich without delay. Not a French ship was in sight when he got there.

14508932-confused-knights

On 15th August, the day of the queen’s death, poor Kyriel received his fifth royal letter in eleven days. Edward now wanted him to cross the Channel at once, because battle with the French was expected the following week. Kyriel did as he was told, but no such clash materialized when he got to Calais. The French had retreated, and in the process had left behind large supplies of wine and beer. So Sir John Kyriel and his men had at least some compensation.

Kyriel celebrating

 

 

 

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