God, leadership, Flemings and Archery: Contemporary Perspectives of Victory and Defeat at the Battle of Sluys 1340
By Kelly DeVries
American Neptune, vol.55 (1995)
Introduction: Most historians of the Hundred Years War see the battle of Sluys, fought on June 24, 1340, as the first major onslaught of this late medieval conflict between France and England. A victory for the English, this naval battle allowed Edward III to land on the continent, to gather his Low Countries’ allies to him and to besiege the town of Tournai, the nearest major French-controlled enclave.
Although militarily it was only a minor setback, the English siege of Tournai failing as it would, the French fleet had been destroyed and it would take a number of years before France could again challenge the English for control of the channel. What caused this English victory and French defeat?
After a brief look at the modern historical explanatiaons of the causes of victory and defeat, this article will examine contemporary perceptions of what led to Sluys’ result. It will show that for English, French, and Low Countries’ authors, there are different reasons given for victory and defeat at Sluys. Finally, it will show how Jean Froissart, in three different redactions of his Chroniques, used all three ‘nationalistic’ perceptions.
The battle of Sluys has excited the pens of many modern historians. Indeed, much more has been written about the battle in our own century than was ever written about it in the fourteenth century. Modern historians seem to have analyzed every aspect of the battle. Great historical discoveries have been made, and nearly, it is fair to say, as many unsubstantiated leaps of historical faith have been taken. However, one thing cannot be agreed on. What was the cause of the victory and defeat at the battle of Sluys? They either blame the French for the defeat, credit the English for the victory, or see the intervention of the Flemings on the side of the English as the reason for victory.