1295: The Year of the Galleys

15th century galley

1295: The Year of the Galleys

Lecture by Ian Friel

Given at Gresham College on October 31, 2013

Introduction: In November 1294, King Edward I of England issued orders to various ports and cities for the construction of 20 large war galleys. The vessels are known to historians as the ‘1295 galleys’, from the year in which most of the building work took place. The accounts for their construction are the earliest-known detailed English shipbuilding records, and have been studied since at least the 1920s. The galleys were big vessels: the smallest of them, the Lyme galley, had 54 oars, and at least five of them had at least 100 oars or even more. They were clinker-built and one-masted, each carrying a single square sail, products of the technological tradition then prevalent across northern Europe.

The aims of this paper are to try to bring the story of the galleys to a wider audience, to show how important they are as historical evidence, and to look at some of the ways in which these much-researched sources can yield new insights. This paper is a report on research still in progress, and in the longer term I plan to turn my researches into a full-length study.

At least nine of these vessels were built, along with, in most cases, attendant oared barges and boats. Detailed financial accounts survive for seven of the galley-building projects, those at Lyme (Regis) in Dorset, Southampton, London (two galleys), Ipswich, York and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Some summary information also survives for the Dunwich and Grimsby galleys. Click here to download the transcript from Gresham College.

Top Image: 15th century galley – from BNF Italien 63 fol. 59v

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!