Category Archives: Hundred Years War

The Battle of Poitiers – what happened next?

Schlacht bei Poitiers / aus: Froissart - Battle of Poitiers / from: Froissart - Bataille de Poitiers / De: Froissart

The battle of Poitiers is the event which changes everything for the four Montfort brothers in The Soldiers of Fortune series, especially for Ancelin in The Heir’s Tale. I’ve written about the battle itself before, but today I want to look at some of the after-effects of the battle.

It took place on 19th September 1356, so the anniversary was just a few days ago.

The battle established Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince, as a great soldier. His reputation began ten years earlier at Crécy, where he was in nominal command of one of the sections of Edward III’s army. Whether the command was nominal or not, he proved his skill as a soldier as well as his bravery on that occasion.

By the time he fought the battle outside the town of Poitiers in Aquitaine, he had been leading raids against France for a little over a year. The raids had formed a cohesive unit out of various English and Gascon retinues and Edward led a tired and hungry, but effective, army against a greater French force. In this battle he also showed his skill as a strategist. Thereafter he was known as one of the greatest soldiers in Europe.

During the battle, the king of France, Jean II, was captured and many French nobles and their allies were killed or taken prisoner.  Jean II was not much of a soldier and had little control over his army, wasting the advantages he had of a fresher and larger army. He was taken to England, where he was held hostage for ransom by Edward III. Interestingly, at this time, Edward III had another king as hostage, his brother-in-law, David II of Scotland.

The ransom demanded for Jean II and other French prisoners was £500,000, an incredible amount. It was five or six times more than Edward III’s annual income. France was the wealthier country of the two, but this amount would still be several times Jean II’s own income.

The capture of Jean II left his son Charles in charge of France. Charles was the first heir to the French crown to have the title ‘Dauphin’. He inherited the province of the Dauphiné in south-east France from his grandfather and this included the title, which means dolphin. It was originally a nickname, because the coat of arms of the province depicted a dolphin. Just in case you’re thinking it was a strange thing to have on a coat of arms, animals had meaning in heraldry and the dolphin symbolises swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love.  After 1350 each heir to the French crown was given the title ‘Dauphin’. At the time of the battle Charles was 18. As Charles V, he later earned the sobriquet ‘the Wise’, but he showed very little wisdom in his youth.

After 1356 there was, in theory, peace, but the cessation of hostilities meant that there were many soldiers on both sides with nothing to do. A large number of them carried on doing what they did best and they roamed the French countryside demanding protection money from towns and villages, wreaking havoc where they were denied.

By 1358 the French peasantry had had enough. The French nobility had failed spectacularly at Poitiers, increasing the threat of an invasion from England. The Dauphin’s government couldn’t protect them from marauding mercenaries. Taxes and grain prices were increasing. The final straw came when the Dauphin’s soldiers blockaded Paris and commandeered food and supplies without payment. The peasants were being robbed by the very people who were supposed to protect them and they rose up against them.

The revolt began on 28th May in different parts of the country and spread quickly. From an English point of view, this was a vindication of Edward III’s policy of conducting raids from Gascony in 1355 and 1356, the aim of which was to demonstrate that the French king could not protect his people and to cause as much destruction as possible in order to increase the financial burden on Jean II by reducing tax revenues available to him. The Dauphin was increasingly unpopular, as he failed to bring order to the chaos into which France was descending. The revolt (the Jacquerie) was brief, only lasting a fortnight, but it was very violent.

The ransom for Jean II was agreed in the Treaty of Brétigny, sealed on 8th May 1360, and the king was allowed to return to France. Several French nobles took his place as hostages, including his second son, Louis d’Anjou. In the treaty Edward III agreed to give up his claim to the French crown. In return he would receive the king’s ransom as well as complete sovereignty over the French territories he had inherited (instead of being a vassal of the king of France) and any territories he had conquered.

Little of the ransom was paid and, when it looked as if he was going to be in captivity for longer than he had thought, Louis d’Anjou escaped in July 1363. As soon as he heard what his son had done, Jean II returned to England, where he died less than a year later, thus depriving Edward III of his ransom.

Hostilities broke out again in 1369.

 

Sources:

The Hundred Years War: A People’s History – David Green

Trial by Fire: The Hundred Years War, Volume 2 – Jonathan Sumption

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Available from Amazon

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What can you learn at a medieval event?

Melford Hys Companie

Melford Hys Companie

Last weekend there was a medieval event not far from where I live. It was put on to celebrate the official launch of the Virtual Museum of the Grace Dieu. The Grace Dieu was a huge ship built for Henry V. It made only one voyage before it was hit by lightning and sank in the River Hamble, near Southampton. The medieval event took place in the River Hamble Country Park, close to where the ship sank.

Basket weavers

Basket weavers

There were two different groups of medieval re-enactors at the event. One group, the Medieval Free Company, represented a village where there was a leather worker, a fletcher, a woman who made herbal remedies, a scrivener and a basket weaver.  Their period is the Wars of the Roses.

The other group was Melford Hys Companie, a group of players. The players doubled up by demonstrating medieval crafts as well as acting. The crafts were woodturning, felting, spinning and basket weaving.

Woodturner

Woodturner

On the woodturning front I learned that greenwood was used to make household objects, such as bowls, rather than dry wood.  I’m sure the reason for this was explained, but I can’t remember it. I do remember that the wood warps as it dries, as you can see from the bowl on the end of the woodturner’s workbench.

One of the women in the group spins and I asked her some questions. I’ve never understood how spinning works and she was kind enough to explain it to me, whilst demonstrating. From her I learned that rich women did not spin. This was a bit of a blow, as I have a scene in my current work in progress where two very rich women sit down and spin together.

Another thing I learned was that, although medieval depictions of women spinning show them holding a spindle and a distaff at the same time, it’s perfectly possible to spin without a distaff.  After the demonstration, I was allowed to have a go and enjoyed it. Later in the day I realised that the basket full of fleece, carding implements and spare spindles was intended for children, but I was very grateful to have had the chance to try. I was so engrossed in what the spinner was doing that I forgot to take a photograph, but I was very inspired by my lesson and bought a spindle so that I can carry on practising.

Handspun thread

Handspun thread

To my great joy, pea pottage was on the menu for lunch for the players.  You can see the peas and carrot and rosemary in the pot. There’s also onion, garlic and a bit of bacon in there. They were aiming for something fairly substantial and  used marrowfat peas soaked overnight. Somebody had to sit and watch the pot all the time to make sure that the fire didn’t go out and that the pottage didn’t get too dry. It was quite windy, so there was a constant danger of the sparks setting fire to something.

Lunch

Pea pottage

The pottage must have done the job, because it all disappeared and I saw the pot watcher doing the washing up in the pot after lunch. Another lesson learned – pots are expensive and can be dual purpose.

Two of the women were working on felting projects. One was for children. The other, most decidedly, was not.

Felted bubs

Felt bosoms for the actors

The bosoms are to enable the male actors to look the part when they have to play female roles.

I only saw part of the felting process, but a rough pattern was made from a piece of linen cloth and the fleece placed on both sides of it. The wool was made wet and soaped. It was placed on a board and the woman making the prop had to keep rubbing it so that the fibres stuck together and shrank. The finished object was quite a bit smaller than the pattern.

On the right of the photograph you can see the knife with which she shaved off pieces of soap into the mug of water.

In the other camp there was a scrivener, who explained about how ink was made with ground oak apples, coperas (ferrous sulphate) and gum. On his table you can see cuttlefish for drying the ink on the page; a triple baked loaf of bread for polishing parchment; and a wax tablet for a learner writer. You can also see a part of his bow, as all men were supposed to know how to shoot.

Scrivener's table

Scrivener’s Table

If you look carefully on his writing desk, you’ll see a printed pamphlet and he’s writing on paper. Paper was used in the fourteenth century, but printing had not been invented.

Leather worker

Leather worker’s tent

The leather worker made sheaths for swords and daggers, as well as belts, flasks and pouches. Whilst his leather and some of his goods were arranged tidily, you can see that he was rather careless with his armour.

There was also a fletcher in the Wars of the Roses village. He demonstrated how arrows could be made to fit individuals, but the majority of arrows which went to France with archers were not made to order. They were made in what were essentially factories, churning out arrows for the English armies. As the fletcher explained, you did not have to be a particularly good archer, or have made-to-measure arrows, to succeed in a battle. An enemy army provided quite a large target and any arrow fired in its general direction would probably hit something. He also said that, in his younger days, he could let off a further two arrows before his first had landed, which goes some way to explaining why Welsh and English archers were so successful and so feared.

I was surprised by the different types of points I saw on the arrows. One looked like a fork and another like a knife. One had a very vicious-looking barb on it.

Fletcher

Fletcher

I had a very enjoyable day out with the re-enactors. It is one thing to read about how something is done, and another to see it being done. Best of all, I’ve got an inkling of an idea about a novel from it.

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Medieval Crossbows

Battle_of_Crecy_(crossbowmen)

In my current work in progress two English soldiers enter a French castle and discover that the soldiers from the castle garrison are pointing crossbows at them. Surely that was right, I thought. The French used the crossbow, the devil’s own weapon (its use against Christians had been prohibited by the papacy in the twelfth century), and the English used the honest longbow.  The novel is set in 1357, more than ten years after the superiority of the longbow had been demonstrated at the battle of Crécy. Perhaps the French now used longbows, as well.

Things were, of course, not that straightforward. A crossbow was an expensive weapon and the men who were expert with them were well-rewarded. They were elite troops and no medieval king’s personal retinue was complete without them. Often they were foreign mercenaries, so that they wouldn’t get any ideas about rebelling against the king. Most of the crossbowmen used by English kings came from Gascony, in south-west France. For centuries the kings of England were Gascony’s dukes. Some kings were handy with the crossbow themselves, most notably Richard I, who, somewhat ironically, died as the result of being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt. He was also reputed to be pretty accurate with the longbow.

The production of crossbows was limited to a few towns in Europe, the most famous of which was Genoa. Genoa was famed not only for the crossbows it produced, but also for the mercenaries it exported. These mercenaries were very popular with the kings of France who used them both as crossbowmen and as sailors.

Despite its elite status, the crossbow was easy to use and it did not need much skill or experience to shoot one, although it needed both to shoot one well.  A longbow was a much simpler mechanism, but required practice and skill if it was to be used effectively.

It was only in the fourteenth century that the longbow came into the ascendancy in England. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the crossbow was the main projectile weapon used by English soldiers, but in Wales, the Marches and Ireland the longbow was the preferred weapon. By the end of the thirteenth century it was beginning to predominate in the rest of the kingdom. On the Continent the crossbow continued to be the main weapon.

Using a crossbow was not very demanding physically, but using a longbow was. The crossbow was a machine which could be improved so that it would shoot with greater force or for longer distances, and it would have no impact on the man using it. Even a small improvement to a longbow meant that the archer had to be stronger, and there was a physical limit on this. When the skeletons of archers were discovered in the wreck of the Mary Rose (sunk in the Solent in 1545) they were deformed. Drawing huge bows over a long period of time had damaged their bodies.

Crossbowmen needed a lot of equipment as well as support staff. They had to wear armour, as loading a crossbow took some time, and the soldier was very exposed when he was loading it. Their armour was not necessarily plate armour. Some of them managed with aketons (padded garments), mail coats and bascinets (basic helmets).  They also needed someone to carry and hold their pavise (a large shield protecting the whole body). The man holding the pavise usually carried a spear to protect the crossbowman should the enemy come too close. This meant that they could not change position easily. Archers, on the other hand, wore hardly any armour at all and took cover behind bushes, trees and in ditches.

Crossbow bolts were shorter, thicker and heavier than arrows. This was to enable them to withstand the pressure when they were released. They travelled faster than arrows and could pierce mail.

When Edward III fought the battle of Sluys in 1340 he used both crossbowmen and archers to defeat the French. Six years later he had refined his strategy.

The first real test for the longbow against the crossbow came in August 1346 at the battle of Crécy. Philippe VI employed Genoese mercenaries. As usual, they were sent to face the enemy first and they were cut down by English and Welsh archers. In his account of the battle, written within the two years following it, Villani says that the archers fired three arrows for each bolt shot from a crossbow. Villani was a merchant based in Florence who wrote down information received from merchants who had been in northern France at the time. It is possible that his account is partially based on information from participants in the battle. When they tried to retreat, the Genoese were forced forward, trampled or killed by the cavalry behind them who believed that they had betrayed the French. Two thousand of them died, according to the chroniclers.

There are still arguments today about why the crossbowmen performed so badly. One reason was that their pavises had not arrived at the battlefield, so they were exposed to the arrows, but it’s said that the bolts they fired didn’t even reach the front line of the English army. It seems incredible that professional soldiers should fail in such a simple thing as getting the range right.

Even when the English stopped favouring the crossbow in battle, they still used it in sieges, where the speed with which bolts could be shot did not matter.  Crossbows were useful for both attackers and defenders because of the force and accuracy of the bolts.

A crossbow was also useful in hunting. It could be loaded before the beginning of the hunt so that there would be no noise to alert the hunted animal just before it was fired.

In this video the rates of fire of a crossbow and a longbow are compared.

 

References:

The Great Warbow – Matthew Strickland, Robert Hardy

Edward III and the Triumph of England – Richard Barber

The Battle of Crécy – Andrew Ayton, Philip Preston

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Edward III: King of England, King of France Part One

Edward III and the garter

 

All of my novels set in the fourteenth century take place during the Hundred Years War and the war itself influences the stories. In The Traitor’s Daughter Hugh and Alais meet during a French raid on Southampton. Richard in His Ransom is taken prisoner at Poitiers and sent to England until his ransom can be raised, and thus meets Rosamunde. In The Winter Love Henry finds Eleanor in order to fulfil a promise to a brother-in-arms who fell at Poitiers. All, except the first, take place later in the war in the 1350s. The events in The Traitor’s Daughter occur when the war had barely begun in 1338. The war was, to all intents and purposes, to support Edward III’s claim to the French throne, which was made and denied in 1328. Why did it take almost 10 years for Edward to make his claim with force? First, we’ll look at the basis of Edward’s claim to the French crown.

Edward III’s mother Isabella was the daughter of Philippe IV of France. When Philippe died in 1314, the eldest of Isabella’s three brothers, Louis, became king, but a scandal perpetrated by Isabella had an effect on the continuing succession.

In 1313 Isabella had been visiting her family in France and gave purses to her sisters-in-law and her brothers. Later she saw two of the purses being carried by two Norman knights. The conclusion that she came to was that her brothers’ wives were involved in adulterous affairs with the men and she told her father. The two women were tried and imprisoned for life, while their lovers were executed.  There was a papal interregnum at the time, so the marriages could not be annulled. Louis’ wife was one of the two and she died shortly after being imprisoned. Rumours were rife that she had been murdered, since he remarried within days. He died a few months later, leaving the succession in doubt, since his wife was pregnant. His heir was born five months after Louis’ death, but lived for only five days.

Despite the claims of Louis’ daughter, Jeanne, to the crown, Isabella’s middle brother, Philippe, became king (Philippe V). Philippe said that his niece was too young (she was four), that she was illegitimate (she was the daughter of Louis’ first wife) and, most important for his nephew, Edward of Windsor, that women could not inherit the French crown. It was not a foregone conclusion that Jeanne would not become queen, however. If she had been an adult or married, she would have been able to gather some support. As it was, such support as she had drifted away quickly. Philippe had a forceful personality and a large army. He had himself crowned as soon as he could.

Although Philippe’s wife had been implicated in the scandal along with his sisters-in-law, she was acquitted of adultery, and was his queen throughout his reign. They had daughters, but no sons, and when Philippe died, his younger brother Charles became king. Given what had happened with Jeanne, there was no suggestion that any of Philippe’s daughters should become queen. What was still undecided was whether or not the crown could be inherited through the female line.

Charles IV had three wives, but only managed to produce one daughter.  When Charles died in 1328 it seemed obvious to Edward III and his mother that he, as the closest in line to his grandfather, Philippe IV, should become king of France. Isabella pushed her son forward, but her cousin Philippe de Valois was crowned king.

The main reason why the French rejected Edward III’s claim was, of course, because he was English. With a French mother, he probably saw himself as more French than English. French was his mother tongue, as it was for all his barons; he was Duke of Aquitaine; and his ancestors had controlled more of France than the king of France. The French, however, saw him as English. Unlike Philippe de Valois, he had played no part in French politics and had no influence in the country, other than in Aquitaine.

There were other disadvantages for Edward, mainly in the form of his mother. She was a scandal and had rebelled against the rightful king of England, her husband. Since she controlled her young son (he was only 16), she would have power in France and there were fears that she might use it in the same way that she had in England. It was decided, therefore, that if a woman could not inherit the crown, the crown could not pass through her to her son.

Phillippe de Valois, on the other hand, was a grown man in his 30s. He was fully French and he was in France, which Edward was not. Unfortunately, for the French, he was a dreadful soldier and Edward III was a great one, although this was not obvious in 1328.

Before he could consider winning France, Edward had to win England. Although he wrested control from his mother and her lover in 1330, it was several more years before he was able to start making good his claim to the French crown.

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Edward of Woodstock: The Black Prince

Black Prince received Aquitaine

Edward of Woodstock, first child of Edward III was not known as the Black Prince in his lifetime; the nickname was given to him in the sixteenth century. When he was alive he was known as Edward of Woodstock; the Prince of Wales; the Prince of Aquitaine; or simply the Prince.  He had many other titles.

He was born on 15th June 1330 to Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, who were 17 and 15 respectively.  I give their ages because, as we shall see from Edward of Woodstock’s own life, life in the fourteenth century was usually short, and marrying and having children early was usually necesary.

In 1330 Edward III was still trying to gain control of his kingdom after the rebellion against his father led by his mother, Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer.  Edward had been crowned king, but did not rule. A son for his first born child was taken as a very good sign for his reign, which he began in his own right when he ousted Isabella and Mortimer in October of that year.

As his name indicates, the Prince was born at Woodstock, which was a favourite residence of the king and queen. More than one of the Prince’s siblings was born there. Titles and gifts were showered on the young prince and he was made Prince of Wales in 1343.

In the early years of war with France, Edward III had little success and began to lose the support of Parliament for his endeavours.  This changed in 1346.  Whether or not Edward III planned an invasion of France is not known, but he arrived at St-Vaast-La-Hogue on the Normandy coast on 11th July with a large army and marched east.

On 26th August he fought the French king (or the usurper, depending on your point of view), Philippe VI, at Crécy.  The Prince, at 16, was put in charge of the vanguard (the division at the front of the army).  This was a very responsible position.  Even if he didn’t have full control (he was supported by two of his father’s most trusted men), he had enough to demonstrate his not inconsiderable abilities as a soldier.  After the battle, the English army marched on to Calais, and the Prince spent the next year with his father besieging the town.

Two years later, with the Black Death raging in England, the Prince, along with 24 men who had fought with him at Crécy, was made a Knight of the Garter when the order was created.

In 1355 the Prince was sent to Aquitaine with an army.  From there he launched two lengthy and damaging raids on the French.  These were supposed to culminate in the invasion of France, but ended instead in the battle of Poitiers and the capture of the French king, Jean II, and much of the French nobility in September 1356.  The Prince was now widely-acknowledged as a great soldier.  At 26, however, the heir to the English crown was still unmarried.

The capture of Jean II led, eventually, to a peace treaty.  Aquitaine was increased in size and made a principality. The Prince was sent to rule it.  This had many advantages for Edward III.  It kept his heir out of England.  Edward III’s father had been deposed and murdered.  Although this probably played little part in his thinking, Edward was a great politician and the desire to ensure that he did not suffer his father’s fate was a strong motivation throughout his reign.  Settling the Prince in Aquitaine also meant that the French had the great soldier on their doorstep.  It was easier for him to fight them from Aquitaine then it was from England.  It also gave the Prince something to do.  The Prince was unlikely to become king in the near future and there was no war to keep him occupied.  The greatest advantage was that he would learn to rule, preparing him to be king. Aquitaine was to be run as a sovereign state and the Prince had almost complete authority, needing to refer very little to his father.

In 1361 he married his father’s cousin, Joan of Kent, an interesting woman who deserves, and will get, a post of her own, and set off in 1362 for Aquitaine. Their two sons were born there: Edward in 1365 and Richard in 1367.

Edward and Joan kept a flamboyant court which, in later years, was criticised for its excesses.  The court moved between Angoulême, where Edward was born, and Bordeaux, Richard’s birthplace.

Even during this period of peace with France the Prince still managed to find a battle to fight.  He went into Spain in 1367 to support Don Pedro, an ally of the English who had been deposed by his half-brother.  Once again the Prince knew victory, but this one left a bitter aftertaste.  The Prince became ill in Castile and he never recovered.  It took him nine more years to die, during which he was mostly bedridden and in almost constant pain.

Shortly after this the peace came to an end.  Possibly spurred on by the knowledge that the Prince was too ill to do much to stop them, the French made increasing incursions into Aquitaine.  English and Gascon armies opposed them, but most of the great captains from Crécy and Poitiers were dead and no one had risen to take their places. The armies found it more and more difficult to repel the French.

The Prince still had enough strength for one last stand.  In 1370 the town of Limoges surrendered to the French after a siege of three days.  He took the surrender as a personal betrayal, as the bishop who had charge of the town was his son’s godfather.  The Prince had himself carried to the town at the head of a large army.  His siege lasted five days and ended in a storm.  Many of the townspeople were killed as the Prince took his revenge.  Within the rules of siege warfare the Prince could have killed everyone in the town, but he limited the slaughter.  The town itself, however, was more or less destroyed by fire.  It was decades before Limoges was rebuilt.

This was another victory tinged with bitterness for the Prince.  He returned to Angoulême to discover that his oldest son was dead.

Acknowledging his inability to hold Aquitaine, the Prince returned to England in January 1371, leaving his brother, John of Gaunt, to govern the principality as his lieutenant.  He was so ill when he returned to England that it was some months before he arrived in London to meet his father.

The following year, after a great deal of rest had improved his health, he supported another attempt by Edward III to invade France, but it, too, was a failure.  Edward of Woodstock died four years later, a week short of his 46th birthday.

 

 

 

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The Hundred Years War

Battle-of-Sluys-Wikipedia-the-free-encyclopedia

All of my books set in the fourteenth century are set in the context of the Hundred Years War, which, along with the Black Death, overshadowed the second half of the century.  It was actually a series of wars that lasted for more than a hundred years.

This is a very brief overview of the war. Lord Sumption’s projected five volume history of the Hundred Years War has only just reached 1422 after more than three thousand pages and four books. This post contains fewer than a thousand words, so covers much less than the tip of the iceberg. The war involved complex alliances and treacheries and its origins are not as clear as they might be.

As well as being King of England Edward III, through his Plantagenet forebears was also Duke of Aquitaine and his ancestors had ruled over a large amount of France. His mother, Isabella, was the sister of Charles IV, the last of the Capetian king of France. On Charles’s death, Philippe of the house of Valois became king. He was a cousin of Charles IV, whereas Edward III was his nephew. This was in 1328 when Edward III had other things on his mind. Although he had been crowned king of England in 1327, Edward was little more than a figurehead for his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who had had Edward’s father, Edward II, killed.

Realising that if they could kill one king, they could easily kill another, Edward III decided to make his move against them. In 1330 he managed to take Isabella and Mortimer prisoner. After Mortimer’s execution, Edward was occupied with establishing himself as king of England.

It wasn’t until 1337 that he was able to concentrate on his claim to the French throne after Philippe VI had confiscated Aquitaine. Edward III’s was not a frivolous claim; each of his mother’s brothers had been king of France. It is probable, however, that it was, at this point at least, a ploy to distract Philippe from the dispute over Aquitaine.

At the time France was the most sophisticated nation in Europe and was probably its wealthiest with the best armies. England was poor and found it difficult to keep the Scots on their side of the border. The idea that England could take on France and hope to win was laughable.  The first few years of the war seemed to support this view.

War was a costly business and Edward III needed Parliament to keep agreeing to fund it. His lack of success in the early years made it more difficult to retain their support, but his victory in the sea battle at Sluys in 1340 kept Parliament behind him and his victory at Crécy in 1346 turned everything around. This was followed by the taking of the town of Calais, giving the English a foothold on the northern French coast, making an invasion of France more viable. The victories at Crécy and Poitiers (1356) were enough to give the English a reputation for winning battles and the French thereafter avoided joining battle with them for several decades.

After the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 there was peace for several years, although the fighting started again in Aquitaine in the late 1360s. This carried on until 1389. By this time Edward III and his son, the Black Prince, were both dead and Richard II, Edward III’s grandson, faced internal troubles. He lost interest in the war and agreed to a truce.

The peace lasted until 1415. Richard II had been deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, whose son, Henry V, used the madness of Charles VI as a way of making his crown more secure. There was civil war in France between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. Both sides asked for Henry’s support. In the end he sided with the Burgundians. This enabled him to pursue the war in France. He had a decisive victory at Agincourt in 1415 and by 1419 it looked as if the English had won. Henry V married the daughter of Charles VI.  It was agreed that, on Charles’s death, the son of Henry V and Catherine would be crowned King of France, with Charles VI’s own son, the Dauphin, being declared illegitimate. Both Henry V and Charles VI died in 1422. Henry’s nine month old son was declared king of England and France. Despite the efforts of Henry’s brother, the Duke of Bedford, against the Dauphin, who was eventually crowned Charles VII with the help of Jeanne d’Arc, the French had more victories. Bedford died in 1435 and the alliance with the Burgundians also died.

When he came of age, Henry VI, pursued a policy of peace, which led to him losing all of Aquitaine. The final battle in the war was at Castillon in 1453 which led to the surrender of Bordeaux. By the end of the war England had lost all its possessions in France with the exception of Calais, which it held for another hundred years.

 

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Failed Invasion

200px-Battle-poitiers(1356)

The Black Prince led two chevauchées (raids) from Aquitaine against the French, one in the autumn of 1355 and the other in the late summer of 1356. In contrast to previous campaigns led by his father, Edward III, the object of the first chevauchée was to do as much damage to France as possible. This was for two reasons. The first was to deprive Jean II of  much of his income and thus render him incapable of continuing the war. The second was to demonstrate that he was not capable of protecting his subjects.

The second chevauchée into central France was part of a three-pronged invasion of France. The Prince was to meet armies led by his father (landing in Calais) and the duke of Lancaster (landing on the Cotentin Peninsula). This plan failed. The duke of Lancaster marched south, but was unable to cross the Loire, as the bridges had either been destroyed or were well defended. Edward III was kept in England by an Aragonese fleet effectively blockading the south coast.

The Prince and his army left Aquitaine at the beginning of August. They burnt some towns to the ground and captured others. They lived off the land, causing great damage as they moved north. Jean II was besieging Breteuil in Normandy when word reached him, but he moved south quickly.

The Prince was returning to Aquitaine when the French army cut him off. The French had made ready for battle just outside Poitiers and the roads to Bordeaux and Angoulême were blocked. Whatever his preferred course of action, and many believe that he wanted to avoid battle, the Prince had to fight.

The two sides came face to face on 18th September 1356, a Sunday. Cardinal Talleyrand de Périgord brokered a truce for negotiation. Reluctantly the English took part in the negotiations, but the real purpose of the truce for the French was to allow more soldiers to arrive. The English used it to prepare for the battle, choosing positions and making screens for the archers.

The armies were not as uniform as they sound. In the English army the archers were English and Welsh and the men-at-arms (fully armoured cavalrymen) were Gascon and English. There were some Scots in the French army. These were commanded by Sir William Douglas. The Scots and the French were united against a common enemy and had formed the Auld Alliance in 1295.

The English army was split into three. The earls of Warwick and Oxford commanded the vanguard (the division at the front of the army). The Prince commanded the centre with his friends, Sir John Chandos and Sir James Audley. The earls of Salisbury and Suffolk led the rearguard.

Most battles begin with one side advancing on the other, but this one began with a retreat. At 8.00 on Monday morning the English centre and the baggage train retreated, making the French believe that the whole army was retreating. The French attacked the vanguard and the rearguard and were in turn attacked by the archers.

The vanguard eventually regrouped with the Prince and his men and they were protected from the second French attack by hedges, ditches and other obstacles. The French were unable to break through and withdrew.

Jean II moved the Dauphin away from the fighting, which didn’t improve the morale of his soldiers.

The withdrawal had given the English the time to regroup and retrieve arrows. Reserve horses were brought up and the Prince decided to respond to the next French advance with a cavalry charge. The Captal de Buch had been sent with some men behind the French lines. On his arrival he unfurled a flag displaying the Cross of St George. That was the signal for the Prince to attack. This phase of the fighting went on for a long time and turned the tide against the French.

In the afternoon Jean II surrendered. His fourteen year old son, Philippe, who had remained on the battlefield, was also captured, but the Dauphin escaped. The remnants of the French army fled, pursued by the English army as far as the gates of Poitiers.

The Prince’s friend, Sir James Audley, was seriously wounded. He was found and brought to the tent where the Prince was dining with Jean II that evening. The Prince left the king so that he could reassure himself about his friend. Audley recovered.

For the French the battle was a disaster. Large numbers of the French nobility were dead or captured by the end of it. The Prince had proved conclusively that the French king and his nobles were unable to protect his subjects.

One of those who died on the French side was Geoffroi de Charny, the great French model of chivalry. He was the bearer of the Oriflamme, the battle standard of the king of France, which was captured by the English. Geoffroi de Charny was the first recorded owner of the Shroud of Turin.

Despite being the larger army, the French approach to fighting had weaknesses which cost them the battle. Most of the soldiers in the English army had spent the autumn of 1355 and the summer of 1356 on the chevauchées with the Prince. They had fought together and learned to trust one another. On the whole, the men who commanded below the prince were his friends and they, too, trusted one another. The lines of communication in the English army were good and the army could respond to each situation as it arose. The French army, on the other hand, had only recently been recruited to fight the duke of Lancaster in Normandy and had seen no real action. They lacked discipline and communication was poor. They had to stick to the plan that they had been given before the battle started, regardless of what was going on on the battlefield.

Poitiers confirmed the Prince’s reputation as a great soldier, which he had gained at Crécy ten years before. He was still only twenty-six.

 

 

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Ransoms: the way to riches, the way to poverty

During the Hundred Years’ War many knights were able to go into battle fairly confident that they would survive. The ransom system meant that, should they surrender, provided the battle wasn’t being fought to the death or there had not been an order not to take prisoners by the other side, there was a good chance they would be taken prisoner and released later on payment of a ransom. This made the knights more valuable alive than dead.

The chivalric code was what made it possible for Christian knights to fight one another. Earlier the Anglo-Saxons and Norsemen killed or enslaved vanquished enemies, but this was not acceptable to the church when both sides were Christians. Often men fighting one another were related or friends and killing an opponent who surrendered in such circumstances wouldn’t always be well-received. Due to the way knights were trained they often knew one another well, having served as squires together or met at tournaments. The ransom system meant that they didn’t have to kill their friends.

Knights could still be killed, of course. It wasn’t always possible to take prisoners and prisoners who were to be ransomed had to be protected, which was often difficult in the midst of a battle. Knights were essentially killing machines. They were trained to kill and it could be quite hard to restrain them once they had started. In the heat of battle they could often carry on killing, even when the enemy was surrendering to them or retreating.

The ransom system was part of the chivalric code and it applied only to knights, not to the ordinary soldier. A knight who was captured in a battle or a siege could be expected to buy his freedom by paying a ransom, or having it paid for him. Sometimes he could be set free on parole by promising that he would not take up arms against the one who had set him free and that he would pay his ransom.

Some men became wealthy by capturing and ransoming knights. Others could become poor through paying a ransom. The ransom of Jean II, who was captured at the battle of Poitiers in 1356 almost brought France to its knees, even though half of it was never paid. Jean died in captivity after his son, who had taken his place in prison to allow his father to return to France to raise his ransom, escaped. Feeling the dishonour of his son’s action, Jean returned to England where he died a few months later.

If a man could not pay a ransom he was either kept prisoner or made to redeem his ransom in some other way. For many that meant being taken to another country. It could take a long time to raise the money required and, since a captive was considered the property of his captor, the son of the captor could inherit the captive on his father’s death.

There were laws governing how a prisoner could be captured and how he could be kept and ransomed. When a man was taken prisoner for ransom there was what amounted to a legal contract between the man captured and the man to whom he had surrendered. The captive was supposed to be taken to a place of safety and protected until the battle was over. If this didn’t happen he could consider himself no longer bound by his surrender and try to escape. He was also supposed to be well-treated by his captor. In this respect being captured by the Germans or Spanish was decidedly undesirable. They were known to keep their prisoners in chains and mistreat them, even if they expected to receive a ransom for them. The ransom itself was supposed to be within the means of the captured man to pay, although this was frequently not the case.

One of the attractions of fighting in France during the Hundred Years’ War for the English was that France was known to be full of wealthy men and many Englishmen became rich from taking prisoners, just as many Frenchmen became poor from paying for their release. For a novelist this is quite a useful device for enabling a second son without property to become rich (like Henry in The Winter Love) or penniless (like Richard in His Ransom).

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