French invasion of the Isle of Wight

The French invasion of the Isle of Wight occurred during the Italian Wars in July 1545. The invasion was repulsed.

France had a long history of attacking the Isle of Wight, and the 1545 campaign proved to be the last time to date that the French have attempted to take it.[1] Although the French forces, led by Claude d'Annebault,[2] greatly outnumbered those of the English, the battles fought (including the battles of the Solent and Bonchurch) ended without a clear winner. However, as the French were repelled, it could be considered an English victory.[3] Although the operation was inconclusive, the English suffered heavily, including the loss of the carrack Mary Rose in the Battle of the Solent.[4] Details of the conflict have not been very well recorded, and some accounts claim that the French were defeated at each battle rather easily.[5]

French strategy was to effect a landing at Whitecliff Bay and cross Bembridge Down to attack Sandown, and another landing at Bonchurch with a view to marching to link up at Sandown. The northern force was intercepted whilst crossing the Down, but fought its way to Sandown Castle, which was then under construction offshore. Both forces were repulsed after stiff fighting.

The Chronicle of Charles Wriothesley (died 1562) reports: "The 21 day of July the French galleys and navie came before Portesmouth haven, and landed certeine of theyre armye in the Yle of Wyght, and there burned and camped there about to the nomber of 2,000 men, and came every tyde with theyr gallies and shott their ordinaunce at the Kinges ships in the haven; but the winde was so calme that the Kinges shippes could bear noe sayle, which was a great discomfort for them." Three days later a muster of 1500 men was sent from the City of London to repel them, but by the King's command turned back at Farnham, the French having left the Isle of Wight "and divers of them slaine and drowned."[6]

Attack on the Isle of Wight
An 1873 illustration of the French landing

Contemporary accounts suggest that the French (or their mercenaries) sacked the area in order to provoke the English fleet into battle against a far larger fleet. Martin Du Bellay wrote: "...To keep the enemy's forces separated, a simultaneous descent was made in three different places. On one side Seigneur Pierre Strosse was bidden to land below a little fort where the enemy had mounted some guns with which they assailed our galleys in flank, and within which a number of Island infantry had retired. These, seeing the boldness of our men, abandoned the fort and fled southwards to the shelter of a copse. Our men pursued and killed some of them and burned the surrounding habitations..."[7]

A later mention by Sir John Oglander evidently paraphrases du Bellay: "They landed at three several places at one time, purposely to divide our forces. Pierre Strosse landed at St Helens where there was a little fort, and beat our men, being divided from the fort, into the woods. Le Seigneur de Tais, General of the Foot, landed at Bonchurch, where there was a hot skirmish between them and us, and on either party many slain."[8]

The French seem to have landed at undefended points and then attacked defences from inland. At Whitecliff Bay and at Bonchurch they moved swiftly to seize the high ground. However the attacks were expected and in both cases local forces reached the high grounds to oppose them. The settlement at Nettlestone and its manor were burnt.

At Bonchurch the French landed easily at Monk's Bay, but were then faced with the difficulty of breaking out from what is known descriptively as the "Undercliff". Their solution was to ascend the extremely steep slopes of St Boniface and Bonchurch Downs, which are over 700 feet (210 m) high. The defenders thus had them at a considerable advantage, having taken up positions on the top of the hill.

The French fleet attacks Bembridge
A French fleet attacks Bembridge in 1545.

The plaque at Seaview

The event is commemorated by a plaque in Seaview which reads:

"During the last invasion of this country hundreds of French troops landed on the foreshore nearby. This armed invasion was bloodily defeated and repulsed by local militia 21st July 1545".[9]

The veracity of this account has been challenged,[10] on the grounds that there were few if any local inhabitants, the militia may have been sent from the mainland, and the numbers involved are uncertain.


  1. ^ "Isle of Wight Heritage". April 2009. Archived from the original on 27 October 2005. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  2. ^ Glete, Jan (2000). Warfare at Sea, 1500-1650: Maritime Conflicts and the Transformation of Europe. Routledge. p. 141. ISBN 0-415-21454-8.
  3. ^ Murray, John (1876). A Handbook for Travellers in Surrey, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight. J. Murray. p. 396.
  4. ^ Chisholm, Hugh (1911). The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 627.
  5. ^ Rose, John Holland (1909). Dumouriez and the Defence of England Against Napoleon. J. Lane Company. p. 47.
  6. ^ W.D. Hamilton (ed.), A Chronicle of England during the Reigns of the Tudors by Charles Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, Vol. I, Camden Society New Series vol XI (1875), pp. 158-59.
  7. ^ Les Mémoires de Mess. Martin du Bellay Seigneur de Langay (A l'Olivier de P. l'Huilier, Paris 1569) pp. 340-41. (in French)
  8. ^ (T.N.A. Discovery Catalogue): Account book and common place book of Sir John Oglander of Nunwell, Isle of Wight Record Office ref. OG/AA/28. Cited in 'Minor Fortifications of the Isle of Wight', webpage of the Isle of Wight History Centre.
  9. ^ 'Memorials and Monuments on the Isle of Wight' website.
  10. ^ 'A Plaque comes before a Fall', Isle of Wight Historical Review website.

External links


The 1540s decade ran from January 1, 1540, to December 31, 1549.

1540s in England

Events from the 1540s in England.


Year 1545 (MDXLV) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will display the full calendar) of the Julian calendar.

1545 in France

Events from the year 1545 in France.

Antoine Escalin des Aimars

Antoine Escalin des Aimars (1516 - 1578), also known as Captain Polin or Captain Paulin, later Baron de La Garde, was French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1541 to 1547, and "Général des Galères" ("General of the galleys") from 1544.

Battle of Bonchurch

The Battle of Bonchurch took place in late July 1545 at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight. No source gives the precise date, although 21 July is possible from the sequence of events. The battle was a part of the wider Italian War of 1542–1546, and took place during the French invasion of the Isle of Wight. Several landings were made, including at Bonchurch. Most accounts suggest that England won the battle, and the French advance across the island was halted.The battle was between French regular soldiers, and local English militiamen. Although the French force that landed was considerably larger than the English force, it is thought that the number of French soldiers involved in this battle to be about 500, with the number of militiamen uncertain, with one source stating 300 and another 2,800. The English forces are believed to have been commanded by Captain Robert Fyssher, and the French by Le Seigneur de Tais.The battle was one of several fought between English and French on the Isle of Wight. The majority of sources state that the English won this battle, although one suggests that the French were victorious. The battle was fought as part of the French attempt to cause enough damage to force English ships to leave their defensive positions and attack in less favourable conditions. Something they failed to achieve and had to withdraw from the island Other French landings were made at Sandown, Bembridge and St Helens.


Bonchurch is a small village to the east of Ventnor, now largely connected to the latter by suburban development, on the southern part of the Isle of Wight, England. One of the oldest settlements on the Isle of Wight, it is situated on The Undercliff adjacent to the Bonchurch Landslips (or "The Landslip") Site of Special Scientific Interest. The main village is backed by a cliff to the north, with the Upper Bonchurch section on the clifftop halfway up St Boniface Down on the main A3055 road.

Claude d'Annebault

Claude d'Annebault (1495– 2 November 1552) was a French military officer; Marshal of France (1538–52); Admiral of France (1543–1552); and Governor of Piedmont in 1541. He led the French invasion of the Isle of Wight in 1545. Annebault was governor of Normandy and a very powerful figure during the reign of King Francis.Claude was a commissioner for the Anglo-French Treaty of Ardres, also known as the Treaty of Camp, which was signed on 7 June 1546 and a step towards the conclusion of the Italian War of 1542–1546. After a delay which the English found frustrating, Claude then visited England as a special ambassador for the peace treaty 20–30 August 1546. Four cannon at Walmer Castle burst while firing his salute. Claude wrote from London to his ally Mary of Guise in Scotland on 28 August, explaining his difficulties in forwarding their mutual interest.

Jesus of Lübeck

Jesus of Lübeck was a carrack built in the Free City of Lübeck in the early 16th century. Around 1540 the ship, which had mostly been used for representative purposes, was acquired by Henry VIII, King of England, to augment his fleet. The ship saw action during the French invasion of the Isle of Wight in 1545. She along with Samson were used in an unsuccessful attempt to raise Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose, after she foundered during the Battle of the Solent. She was latter chartered to a group of merchants in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth. Jesus of Lübeck became involved in the Atlantic slave trade under John Hawkins, who organized four voyages to West Africa and the West Indies between 1562 and 1568. During the last voyage, Jesus, along with several other English ships, encountered a Spanish fleet off San Juan de Ulúa (modern day Vera Cruz, Mexico) in September 1568. In the resulting battle, Jesus was captured by Spanish forces. The heavily damaged ship was later sold for 601 ducats to a local merchant.

July 21

July 21 is the 202nd day of the year (203rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 163 days remain until the end of the year.

List of wars involving France

The following is an incomplete list of French wars and battles from the Gauls to modern France.

Sandown Bay

Sandown Bay is a broad open bay which stretches for much of the length of the Isle of Wight's southeastern coast. It extends 8 1⁄2 miles (13.7 km) from Culver Down and Yaverland in the northeast to just south of Shanklin in the southwest, near the village of Luccombe. Near Luccombe, the bay is separated from The Undercliff by a large headland from which Upper Ventnor sits atop. The towns of Shanklin, Lake and Sandown are located on the bay's coast, while Luccombe and Upper Ventnor feature panoramic views across both Sandown Bay to the East and the Undercliff to the southwest. Due to the bay being relatively sheltered from offshore winds it is often used as temporary anchorage point for boats, including large cargo ships, before continuing east towards Continental Europe, or north towards The Solent.

Whitecliff Bay

Whitecliff Bay is a sandy bay near Foreland which is the easternmost point of the Isle of Wight, England about two miles south-west of Bembridge and just to the north of Culver Down. The bay has as a shorline of around three-quarters of a mile (1.2 km) and has a popular sandy shingle beach which is over half a mile long. It is a tourist site with three holiday parks in the vicinity of the bay, it has two cafes though minimal facilities. Access is limited and only possible down two steeply sloping concrete tracks.

The site is of a major geological interest, being part of the Whitecliff Bay And Bembridge Ledges SSSI.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.