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Petit John (Southampton)

Locality
Coordinate 50.903389, -1.423941
Adm. div. Hampshire
Vicinity S coast of England, c. 15 km N of Isle of Wight
Type Transport
Interest Robin Hood name
Status Defunct
First Record 1416
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Southampton, the homeport of the Petit John.
Southampton docks, a view towards the container terminal from the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal / David Dixon, 16 July 2016, Creative Commons, via Geograph.

By Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2019-04-22. Revised by Henrik Thiil Nielsen, 2019-05-31.

The Petit John was a royal ship, of a type known as a balinger or ballinger, whose homeport was Southampton. Figuring in the records from 1416 to 1423, this is the oldest vessel known to have been named 'Little John'.

In his review of the edition in which the records are found – they are cited below – J. R. Maddicott noted, as if this interpretation were certain, that "the historian of popular culture may note the appearance in the accounts of a ship called the Little John, a rare and early allusion to the Robin Hood ballads".[1] Apart from a few printed in appendixes the records are in fact inventories, not accounts, and not only can the bare mention of the name 'Little John' not be taken as an allusion to ballads, it is in fact also doubtful if the vessel was named after the traditional character, something Maddicott could hardly have failed to notice had he read carefully the introduction to the book he was reviewing.

Susan Rose, the editor of the records, notes that it was common for the largest royal vessels to have a 'follower', a smaller vessel acting in concert with it, which would not appear separately in the accounts. Sometimes for one reason or another such a vessel would be regraded to an independent ship. Thus the follower of the Holyghost gained independence as the James, while that of the Trinity Royal enjoyed its emancipation as the Swan. Rose continues:

The Littel John, which may at one time have belonged to the Duke of Bedford but whose origin is otherwise obscure, may possibly have been the follower of the Cog John which had been lost at sea.[2]

Even if we did not know this, the occurrence of another ship named John among the royal vessels at the time should warn us not to jump to the conclusion favoured by Maddicott. So also should the occurrence in roughly the same period of a Gabriel or Grand Gabriel and two other Gabriels, a Grande Marie and several other Maries including "Petit Marie", two Holyghosts and one Little Holyghost, two Trinities and a Little Trinity.[3] It is perhaps after all not too obvious to mention that 'little' is a common adjective and 'John' a common Christian name. The brief passage in Andrew of Wyntoun's Chronicle (c. 1420) remains the earliest certain mention of Robin Hood's second in command. Since this allusion is coeval with the Petit John, it is by no means impossible that the crew of the latter were aware that the name of their ship was also that of a famous outlaw.

The Cog John was possibly identical with a ship that had been taken as a prize at sea from Prussian mariners in 1407 and subsequently presented to Prince John Of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford. It was lost on 7 Oct. 1414 when it sank off the Breton coast, laden with wine on the way back from Bordeaux.[4] This accounts for the regrading of its follower to independent status not long after. The Petit John, single-masted and of unknown tunnage, also previously belonged to the Duke of Bedford and figures on the list of vessels used for his expedition against France in 1416.[5] Petit John was in bad repair by 1420 when it was sold to men of Southampton for the sum of £1 3s 6d.[6] Ballingers or balingers, the type of ship to which the Little John belonged, were in common use from the 14th to early 16th century. They seem to have been medium-sized vessels of c. 30 to 130 tuns, driven by sail and/or oars according to the circumstances, a good choice for speed and stealth, but of somewhat limited cargo capacity.[7]

A balinger named Little John figures at Portsmouth in 1451. Could this be the same ship?

Records

1416 - Expenditure on ship repairs

[1416:]
[F.119v.] These are the payments and expenses incurred by the said William Soper [then Surveyor of the King's Ships] by order and advice of the said king [Henry V] in the repair and fitting out of a certain royal ballinger called Petit John similarly [to the royal ballinger Jamys] for this voyage of the Lord Duke Bedford on the high seas in the fourth year when various carracks were captured from enemies from Genoa as mentioned above, that is
 Also to Walter Fettepas, 10s 6d for 21 ells of canvas called of Vitry bought from him and used in the repair of various bonetts of the sail of the royal ballinger called Petit John, price per ell 6d by agreement made with him 28 April in the fourth year of this king. [p. 222:]
  Also to William Nicholl 13s 4d for 40 wide boards called waynscott, price each 4d, and for 1 small barrel of tar price 4s and for 1 herche of tre pitch prize 4s bought from him and used in the repair of the same ballinger, by agreement made with him 3 May in the said year, overall total 21s 4d.
 [Nine more items follow.][8]

1423 - Inventory of Keeper of King's Ships (1)

[1423-27:]
Foreign receipts lately coming from the royal ballinger called Petit John for the safe-keeping of this ballinger, that is to say:
Anchor1 [p. 156:]
Purchases from previous years, that is to say:
Iron chains for the same4 weighing 24 lb
Hawser for making bacsteyes1 weighing 1 cwt 9 lb
Cable for the same ballinger1 weighing 3½ cwt 18 lb
Hawser for yerdropes and takkes for the same
1 weighing 1 cwt 1 qua 7 lb
Oars for the same ballinger6
Lanterns2
Anchor for the same ballinger1
Hawsers of white Bridport yarn for foresteyes, wynd-y-ng hauncer
and boyropes for the same2 weighing cwt 3 qua 5 lb
[F.64r.] Cable for the same ballinger] 1 weighing 2 cwt 1 qua
A certain sondynglyn1
Small rope called crenelyn1
Large oars for the same ballinger15
Mast for the same ballinger1
Hawsers for hedropes and takkes2 weighing 2 cwt 1 qua 3 lb[9]

1423 - Inventory of Keeper of King's Ships (2)

[1423-27:]
Foreign receipts lately coming from the royal ballinger called Petit John for the safe-keeping of this ballinger, that is to say:
Hawser for a forstey1 weighing ½ cwt
Hawser for making shetes and bowlynes
1 weighing ½ cwt 18 lb
A bowlyn pulley1[10]

1423 - Inventory of Keeper of King's Ships (3)

[1423-27:]
Foreign receipts lately coming from the royal ballinger called Petit John for the safe-keeping of this ballinger, that is to say:
Hawser for a forstey1 weighing ½ cwt
A certain trice pulley1[11]

Gazetteers

Sources

Discussion

Background

Also see

Notes

  1. Maddicott, J. R., review. 'Keeping the King's Ships', The Times Literary Supplement (20 Aug. 1982), p. 907.
  2. 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. 37. Rose's italics. For the Cog John also see there pp. 34, 35, 41, 46, 48, 245, 249, 251.
  3. 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), pp. 284-86 s.n. Ships' names – in royal ownership.
  4. 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. 35.
  5. See 1416 - Expenditure on ship repairs and 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. 251, where the duke's ownership is stated as fact.
  6. 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. 251.
  7. 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. 253 s.n. 'Balinger or Ballinger'.
  8. 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), pp. 221-22.
  9. 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), pp. 155-56.
  10. 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. 173.
  11. 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. 174.


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