Little John the mariner (links)
By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2017-03-08. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2022-06-01.
On this page are found records relating to the Little John who was in royal employ as a mariner during much of the reign of Edward II. That the records listed below all refer to one and the same Little John is quite clear from the following table of facts and associations:
|1312||✓||Richard atte Wose|
|1313||✓||William le Fisshere|
|1315-07-22||✓||Richard atte Wase; William le Fisshere; John Mot; Thomas Springot|
|1315-10-08||(✓)||Richard de la Woses; William le Fissher; John Mot; Richard Golde|
|1316-07-21||✓||Richard Golde, Roger Catur|
|1316-09-24||✓||Richard Golde; Thomas Sprynget; Roger Catour|
|1323||✓||(✓)||Roger Catour; Cokkus atte Wose|
|1325-05-27||✓||Richard atte Wose; Roger le Catour|
|1325-12-31||(✓)||✓||Catour, mariner; Cok' atte Wose, mariner|
Six of the records refer to Little John as master of one of the king's ships; two refer to him as a mariner. On the two occasions when he allegedly participates in acts of piracy or privateering, he acts in association with fellow ship's masters and sailors of the royal fleet. The home port of the royal vessels is Westminster according to the records of 1312, 1313, 1316 (both), 1317 and 1324. In the record dated 22 July 1315, our intrepid mariner is referred to as "John Petit of Westminster".
The name 'atte Wose', 'atte Wase' or 'de la Woses', which occurs together with that of Little John in several of the records, has appropriately maritime connotations, for used as an uncountable noun 'ooze' means "Wet mud or slime; esp. that in the bed of a river, estuary, or sea", a sense recorded from the OE period to 1841, while as a count noun its sense is that of "a stretch or extent of mud; a mudbank; a marsh, a fen; a piece of soft boggy ground". During the early 15th century, royal ships were based at Greenwich "where there were facilities of some sort for repairs and where, following the usual practice at the time, the vessels were drawn up out of the water on les Woses (the mudflats) during the winter months with their running rigging removed". Is it perhaps worth noting that Little John in the Gest of Robyn Hode claims to have been born and raised in Holderness, a maritime region?Kathryn Warner, at her excellent blog on Edward II, provides some interesting details on royal sailors of this period, including this in connection with her discussion of Edward II's preparations for a naval attack on Normandy in 1326:
The king sent a sailor called Litel John (i.e. Little John) to Winchelsea with letters for Stephen and Robert Alard - the Alards were a thirteenth/fourteenth-century naval family of Winchelsea whose tombs can still be seen in the church of St Thomas the Martyr in the town - ordering them to take La Dorre to Portsmouth.
She further notes that
on 23 July 1326, [...] four ships' captains - Richard Councedieu of the Valence, William Pouche of the Blithe, Roger Catour of the Cog Nostre Dame and Robert Metacre of the Maudeleyne - were sent "to diverse parts on the king's affairs" with a total crew of 220.
Of Thomas Springot or Sprynget (etc.) she notes that "Thomas Springet of Greenwich", the captain of a ship which took part in the naval campaign against Normandy in early September 1326, often appears in the Edward II's accounts of the period and "was close enough to him that he was allowed to talk to the king in person in Edward's private rooms".
Records relating to Mariner John Little
The following 11 records are found for the period John Little, master of the king's ship:
- 1312 - Safe conduct to John Petit, master of king's ship
- 1313 - Safe conduct to John Petit, master of king's ship
- 1315 - John Petit among disobedient mariners
- 1315 - John Petit plunders cargo of ship from Dinant
- 1316 - Safe conduct to Little John, master of king's ship
- 1316 - Writ of aid to John le Petit, master of king's ship
- 1317 - John Petit's ship driven ashore and looted
- 1323 - John le Little confiscates ship at Newcastle-on-Tyne
- 1324 - John Petit, master of king's ship
- 1325 - John le Luttle to be arrested
- 1325 - Mariner John Petit released from the Tower
- Little John described as mariner.
- Little John's ship driven ashore and looted. In view of his record, can we rule out entirely the possibility that this was no accident?
- Little John mentioned, but only arrest of R. atte Wose and R. le Catour ordered.
- OED, s.n. ooze, n.1, 1. a. and b.
- Soper, William, compil.; Rose, Susan, ed. The Navy of the Lancastrian Kings: Accounts and Inventories of William Soper, Keeper of the King's Ships, 1422-1427 (Publications of the Navy Records Society, vol. 123) (London, 1982), p. 31. Rose's italics.
- Edward II's Attacks on Normandy and the French Fleet in August/September 1326, where source references are provided. Warner's italics, our bold type.