Francis, Viscount Lovell was one of King Richard III’s closest and most trusted advisors. As the risk of a Tudor invasion increased it was to Lovell that the King turned. The South Coast in Hampshire and West Sussex was a highly probable landing site. It was easy for a French fleet to reach from the port of Harfleur or Cherbourg. Richard therefore put his most trusted counsellor in command of the defence of this part of the coastline.
Defending Southampton, the Solent and the South Coast
Southampton itself was very well fortified, being equipped with more cannon than any other coastal town and boasting Europe’s first purpose built gun tower. The area had a well planned defensive system based on allocation of men to sections of walled defence. There also many muster points for levies in ‘coastal land’. The naval priority for Lovell was to have the King’s ships readied for war – they were typically laid up when England was not at war.
Maritime Legacy of the Hundred Years War
The defensive policy was little changed from the maritime strategies of the Hundred Years War. Southampton was already well equipped to fulfil this role. A full survey of the town, its defences, the castle, and adjoining muster points had been undertaken 1453. It’s guns had been used in anger as recently as 1458. It’s waters had seen naval intervention in 1470.
Criticism of Richard III’s policy
Despite this, the policy of defending this part of the coast as a priority had it’s detractors. The Croyland Chronicle, quoted below, considers the investment to be a waste. History perhaps does not bear out the monkish belief. The area has received more investment on coastal defences from 1337 to the modern day than any other part of England’s coastline.
Viscount Lovell oversees the Fleet near Southampton
Rumours at length increasing daily that those who were in arms against the king were hastening to make a descent upon England, and the king being in doubt at what port they intended to effect a landing, (as certain information thereon could be gained by none of his spies), he betook himself to the north, shortly before the feast of Pentecost; leaving lord Lovell, his chamberlain, near Southampton, there to refit his fleet with all possible speed, that he might keep a strict watch upon all the harbours in those parts; that so, if the enemy should attempt to effect a landing there, he might unite all the forces in the neighbourhood, and not lose the opportunity of attacking them.
A great amount of provisions and money was wasted there in consequence of this uncalled-for policy the king being put to such great expense from the circumstance of his being deceived by a quibble on the name of that harbour, which had been mentioned by many as the place of their intended descent. For some say that there is a harbour in the neighbourhood of Southampton, called Milford, just as there is in Wales ; and there being some persons endowed, as it were, with a spirit of prophecy, these predicted that those men would land at the harbour of Milford, and were in the habit of looking for the fulfilment of their prophecies to that effect, not at the most famous place, but most commonly at the other one which bore the same name.
Further Reading on the Coastal Defences of Southampton and the 1485 Invasion
Naval Considerations in the Hundred Years War – a series of posts on my Hundred Years War website that outline the way in which English Coastal Defences were organised and developed in the 14th and 15th centuries. These structures were used by Viscount Lovell in 1485.
Richard III hears of Henry Tudor landing – how did King Richard III react to the news of Henry Tudor landing at Milford Haven?
The Stanley brother’s – the significance of Thomas, Lord Stanley and his brother Sir William Stanley for both Richard III and Henry Tudor in 1485.