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The Holigost

Unveiling the Mysteries of King Henry V’s Legendary Warship: The Holigost

The recent discovery of a shipwreck in Hampshire may finally unveil the secrets of King Henry V’s formidable warship, the Holigost, shedding light on medieval naval warfare and the ship’s storied past.

A thrilling discovery reminiscent of a medieval treasure hunt, a historic shipwreck has emerged from the depths of history, potentially unveiling the secrets of King Henry V’s legendary warship, the Holigost. Situated in what can be described as a ‘medieval breaker’s yard’ in Hampshire, this remarkable find is reshaping our understanding of medieval ships and naval warfare in the 15th century. Dr. Ian Friel, a prominent historian and expert advisor to Historic England, sheds light on this extraordinary revelation.

The Holigost: A Symbol of Royal Power

The Holigost was one of the crown jewels of King Henry V’s fleet, a fleet that included four renowned vessels known as the ‘great ships.’ These mighty warships were not only imposing symbols of royal authority but were also meticulously crafted to spearhead English invasions of France. Constructed between 1415 and 1420, the quartet consisted of the Trinity Royal, the Jesus, the Grace Dieu, and, of course, the Holigost. Their names bore testimony to Henry’s deep devotion to the Holy Trinity.

Rediscovering the Holigost

The Holigost
The Holigost

The long-lost Holigost has now resurfaced alongside the Grace Dieu, the largest ship in Henry V’s armada, in the muddy embrace of the River Hamble in Hampshire. While the Grace Dieu was rediscovered in the 1930s, the Holigost’s existence remained shrouded in mystery until now, making this find of immense historical significance.

A Glimpse into the Holigost’s Appearance

Near-contemporary depictions found in medieval manuscripts, currently housed in the British Library, provide valuable insights into the Holigost’s possible appearance. This clinker-built carrack, with its single mast, began its life as the Spanish merchant ship Santa Clara before being captured and repurposed by King Henry V in 1414. On November 14, 1415, the ship was entrusted to Jordan Brownyng, its first and only master.

Armed to the Teeth

During the early 1400s, naval vessels did not carry large numbers of guns, even in times of war. Of King Henry V’s impressive fleet, only 15 out of more than 30 ships were equipped with guns. Remarkably, the Holigost stood as the most heavily gun-armed ship, boasting seven breech-loader guns. Furthermore, it sported a colossal 4.8-meter anchor christened “Marie Tynktawe.” The ship’s crew, numbering 200, was armed with weaponry and armor, including bows, arrows, crossbows, helmets, and various hand weapons such as poleaxes and spears. Two specialized naval weapons, gads, and grapnels, played pivotal roles in the Holigost’s arsenal, contributing to its martial prowess.

The Holigost in Action

The Holigost didn’t merely exist as a symbol of power; it saw action on multiple fronts. On August 15, 1415, it served as the flagship of the English fleet under the command of the Duke of Bedford during the siege of Harfleur. The ship suffered considerable damage in the skirmish, indicating fierce onboard combat. In a critical engagement on July 25, 1417, it joined an English force battling a French-led fleet near the Chef de Caux at the mouth of the Seine, effectively crippling French seapower and paving the way for Henry V’s second invasion of France.

The Holigost’s Fate

In the spring of 1420, all four great ships, including the Holigost, were moored on the River Hamble for safekeeping. By 1423, the Holigost was plagued by severe leaks, prompting a daring underwater repair operation, possibly one of the earliest recorded instances of such diving work in England. Between 1426 and 1430, the Holigost’s decay accelerated, with its former master, Jordan Brownyng, making valiant but futile efforts to stave off its demise. Salvage operations in the following years retrieved various components of the ship, and by 1452, the Holigost was described as “sunk in the sea and in this way broken.”

Preserving a Piece of History

Today, Historic England is taking steps to protect and explore this newfound shipwreck, a vessel that has the potential to enhance our understanding of medieval maritime technology and naval warfare during the 15th century. The Holigost’s resurrection from the annals of history promises to rewrite the narratives of the past, shedding light on the valor and innovation that defined an era of maritime exploration and conquest.

As the Holigost emerges from its watery grave, it invites us to delve deeper into the rich tapestry of history, reminding us that even amidst the mud and muck of time, the treasures of our past can still shine brightly, offering us glimpses of a bygone age.


  • Abigail Thomas

    I'm reporter and multimedia producer for WaxMia. Previously I worked as an associate producer at RT News for about 4 years.

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