Henry V’s warship found buried in Hampshire

Sailing to war: an artist’s impression of ships crossing the English Channel. © British Library

The wreck of a 600 year-old warship, called the ‘Holigost’, has been discovered buried in the mud of the River Hamble. What is behind this island nation’s obsession with ships?

The timing could hardly be better. Almost 600 years to the day since the Battle of Agincourt, a relic of the Hundred Years War has been discovered. Beneath the oozing mud of the River Hamble, between Southampton and Portsmouth, archaeologists believe they have discovered the Holigost — or Holy Ghost — one of four great warships built for Henry V in his war against France.

The ship is now visible only as a U-shaped ripple on the surface of the water at low tide. Ian Friel, a historian who has devoted years to studying the navy of Henry V, spotted it in an aerial photograph. Historic England is to commission an investigation of the site, which could include dating the wood thought to belong to the ship.

The Holigost and her crew of 200 sailors were a major part of Henry V’s war machine during his brief reign from 1413 to 1422, though she was built just too late to be part of the flotilla that set off for the campaign culminating in the famous Battle of Agincourt of 1415. Her first action came in the naval battle at Harfleur next year, where she suffered extensive damage. Seven years later, the ship had to be repaired again.

It is for three major land battles that the Hundred Years War is most clearly remembered: Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt, all of which the English won, despite going on to lose the war. But as in many other conflicts involving Britain, including both World Wars, sea power played a crucial role.

Britain’s uniqueness largely stems from being an island, isolated from the rest of Europe. The British Empire was built on maritime voyages, and it was by sea that the Saxons, Vikings and Normans invaded.

All this has led to ships occupying a special place in the heart of many British people. A ship is both a work of popular art, like a cathedral, a work of technology, like a spaceship, and a small community that reflects a wider world. Long gone are the days of the formidable Admiral Nelson, just as of Henry V, but the fascination with ships survives.

A naval nation

Why all this fuss about a few bits of wood submerged in mud? The discovery of the Holigost is just one more piece of evidence that Britain’s past is mostly a series of unnecessary invasions and conflicts.

You do not have to be a lover of war to find a 600 year-old ship interesting, reply others. This ship is a miraculous find. It could give us fascinating new information on life and technology in the early 15th century. It is a real, tangible link to our past and reminds us how much we are tied to the water which surrounds us. Before the era of flight, the sea was the only way Britain could connect with the rest of the world. Ships and the sea form a huge part of our national psyche.

You Decide

  1. How different would Britain be if we were landlocked?
  2. Is it right to be proud of your country’s actions in war?

Activities

  1. Research the Holigost and draw a detailed diagram of the ship.
  2. Write a diary entry of someone crossing the English Channel on the Holigost.

Some People Say...

“Modern Britain doesn’t need a Navy.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This was all far too long ago to be important, wasn’t it?
Six hundred years is indeed a long time — America had not even been discovered by then, but history turns on the smallest moments. Had Henry V not died of dysentery relatively young at 35, this renowned military commander might have conquered large areas of France. And who knows: if he had done so perhaps even now people in Paris, Bordeaux and La Rochelle might be speaking English rather than French.
Where can I find out more about the Navy?
Well there’s the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, southeast London. And if you want to step foot on a real ship, you can visit the HMS Victory in Portsmouth, the HMS Belfast in London and the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh.

Word Watch

Hundred Years War
The Hundred Years War in fact spanned 115 years, from 1337 to 1453, but was really a series of different wars. The English kings’ aim in the war was to hold or win control of territory in France. During the early stages of the war, under Edward III, England had huge success largely thanks to the devastating firepower of the longbowmen. But decisive French victories at the end of the war led to England losing most of its possessions on the continent.
Henry V
The legend of Henry V has lived on thanks to Shakespeare’s play written 177 years after his death. From a supposedly riotous youth, Henry is said to have emerged as a strong, charismatic and well-respected monarch.
An aerial photograph
Friel first discovered the site 30 years ago when he saw a peculiar shape in the mud. The more he peered at it, the more it looked like the outline of the hull of another ship.
Seven years later
In 1423 it was repaired by a diver called Davy Owen. It is the earliest recorded instance of an underwater diver being used to make repairs.

Subjects

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