"Normans, Picards and Spaniards entered the town, pillaged it, killed many, deflowered maidens and forced wives" - The Sack of Southampton in 1338


5 October 1338, a pirate fleet in service of King Philip VI of France sacked the city of Southampton.
“As soon as Sir Hugh Quiriel, Sir Peter Bahucet, and Barbenoire were informed that hostilities had commenced, they landed one Sunday morning in the harbour in Southampton, whilst the inhabitants were at church; Normans, Picards and Spaniards entered the town, pillaged it, killed many, deflowered maidens and forced wives; and having loaded their vessels with booty, they fell down with the tide, and made sail for the coast of Normandy. They landed at Dieppe, and there divided the plunder.“ (The Chronicles of Sir John Froissart)



A contemporary illustration of a naval landing from the “Chroniques de France ou de St Denis“




Privatisation of public institutions implicates that performance and service go to the dogs sooner or later, but piracy seems to be the great exception. Admittedly, naval warfare was rather no well-ordered affair in the late Middle Ages anyway, but when hostilities broke out between England and France in 1337, the infamous affair that was later dubbed the Hundred Years’ War, King Philip VI instinctively did the right thing. He hired privateers from seafaring nations of western Europe, his own Norman vassals, Scots, Scandinavians, Frisians, various Italian city states, especially the Genoese, Castilians and whatnot and set them as mercenaries in French service on the English to cut Edward III off from his lifeline, trade with Flanders, and prevent him to land troops on the continent.




A 15th century imagination of fitting out a naval expedition in France - here: Philip le Bel's naval yard at Rouen


Philip’s privatised navy under the overall command of the ex-treasury official Nicolas Béhuchet proved to be a smashing success over the next two years. Portsmouth became the first major victim of the naval chevauchées. The important trade city was virtually destroyed in 1338 during a major raid and many coastal villages along the southern English coast followed, the Channel Islands were occupied, the coasters were in panic and King Edward began to run short of the money his continental alliance depended upon. And a few short weeks before winter made crossing the Channel a far too perilous affair, matters came to a head for the English. After having captured a small fleet off Flanders, a huge squadron under the overall command of the Genoese Charles Grimaldi, one of the ancestors of the present-day Prince of Monaco, set sail from Harfleur and Dieppe and landed an international armed force near Southampton. The city walls were in a lamentable state and as soon as the thousands of Frenchmen, Normans, Genoese and Castilians approached, the garrison fled to the countryside and those of the townsfolk who stayed were either slaughtered or sold into slavery while their homes were plundered and put to the torch afterwards.



A modern interpretation of an English cog from the days of the Hundred Years' War,
actually a merchantman, cogs were often commandeered to go to war

Then winter came and Edward used the following months to organise defences with a vengeance and when the raiders returned in the spring of 1339, they were met with stiff resistance. After getting a bloody nose at Jersey, Harwich, Plymouth and, again, at Southampton, King Philip’s privateers decided they had had it and quitted his service while the English started to raid the French coast. A year later, in June 1340, the newly built English warships defeated the French at the Battle of Sluys off Flanders and having now the upper hand in the Channel, and, with Edward having declared himself King of France already in January, the invasion and the war began in earnest.

And more about the English Channel naval campaign of 1338 and 1339 on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Channel_naval_campaign_(1338%E2%80%931339)