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De Charny at the Battle of Poitiers

Last week we left Geoffroi de Charny about to join battle with the English near Poitiers. It was Monday, 19th September 1356. An army led by the king of France, Jean II, had been pursuing an English, Welsh and Gascon army led by Edward of Woodstock (better known now as the Black Prince) for some days.

For most of his career, de Charny had the good fortune not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t, for example, at the battle of Crécy, where so many French knights and nobles were killed or taken prisoner that Philippe VI couldn’t raise an army large enough to take on Edward III at the siege of Calais a few months later. De Charny gained his reputation in siege warfare, but he was probably disappointed not to have faced the English in battle. His chance had finally come.

That morning it looked as if he still might be denied the opportunity of fighting in a battle. The prevailing opinion in the French camp was that the English army was in no state to fight and would retreat at the first opportunity, which was probably what Edward of Woodstock intended. He was at the end of a summer’s campaign of raiding in south-west France. As with many campaigns in the Hundred Years War, the objective was to show that the king of France was unable to protect his subjects, the main duty of a medieval king, and to take some booty along the way. After two years of such raids, it was a point so well made that the king had to do something.

Jean II was able to put together an impressive army made up of knights of the Order of the Star, men from the duchies and kingdoms on the eastern borders of France who owed allegiance to the French king, a large Scottish retinue and some mercenaries. They were all well-rested and well-supplied. Their main difficulty had been finding the enemy in order to engage them.

Edward of Woodstock had been leading his men in raids for two summers. It was a relatively small army and their supplies were exhausted. There had been almost nothing to eat or drink on the day before the battle. They had been avoiding the larger French army for some days and were very tired. Although they had picked a good spot for the battle and had reinforced it, the plan was still to slip away before battle could be joined.

De Charny was entrusted with the Oriflamme, the French king’s battle standard. It was a huge honour and it had been put into his hands during a religious ceremony at the abbey of St. Denis. When it was carried into a battle it was a sign that no prisoners would be taken. This was meant to scare the opposition into surrender, as most nobles didn’t expect to die in battle, but to be taken prisoner for ransom, as had happened to de Charny himself, twice. On this day, however, he could look forward to the knights of France demonstrating all the aspects of chivalry that he had written about and defeating the English.

There really could be little doubt about the outcome. The English army was about 6, 000 men strong. The French army was twice the size. The scene was set for a great French victory, except …

Except Jean II was no strategist. He was a man of great personal bravery, but he didn’t really know what to do with an army. Despite all his advantages going into this particular battle, he wasn’t a leader of men. Even had his opponent not been the greatest soldier of his time, Jean II would have struggled.

Except he French knights had not learned what de Charny had tried to teach them. Personal glory was still their main motivation and they couldn’t work together under the king or even obey him. The English and the Gascons, on the other hand, had been fighting together as a unit for months, under a commander who knew what he was doing.

Except no one had worked out a proper strategy for dealing with the English and Welsh archers. They had played an important role in defeating the French at the battle of Crécy and 10 years later the French still had no plan for opposing them. The only thing they had really thought about and prepared for (at the last minute) was the English preference for fighting on foot, which they had learned from the Scots.

In the end, the English didn’t run away, but fought. All day de Charny was in the thick of the battle holding up the king’s standard. We can’t know if he saw or understood much of what was going on around him, but he probably died, the battle standard still in his hands, before Jean II was captured by the English. He certainly didn’t live to know that more than eighty members of the Order of the Star had been killed or that more than a quarter of the army had been taken prisoner. Over two and a half thousand men from the French army died. The day that should have demonstrated the renewal of French chivalry ended in its complete defeat.

Sources:
Trial by Fire by Jonathan Sumption
The Book of Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charny by Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Geoffroi de Charny

I don’t very often write posts about famous or important people in the Middle Ages these days, but Geoffroi de Charny is worth looking at for many reasons, not least because he wrote a book about chivalry: Le Livre de Chevalerie. He also had the responsibility of carrying the Oriflamme, the King of France’s personal standard, and was the first owner that can be verified of the Shroud of Turin.

De Charny’s date of birth is not known, but his mother died in 1306. He was, therefore, probably born in the first few years of the fourteenth century. Although strictly speaking noble, he came from a junior branch of a junior branch of a great family. He had no land, no money and knew no one of any influence to help him. His first wife died after 1341 and his second wife was Jeanne de Vergy with whom he had two children. She brought him land and money, but, by that time, he had already come a long way by his own efforts.

The first major campaign he fought in was in 1337, at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. He fought first in Aquitaine, where Edward III was the duke. Later, when Edward III began creating alliances in the Low Countries, de Charny went to the north east of France, where he helped defend Tournai against the English and their allies. In 1341 Edward’s military interest moved to Brittany and de Charny was sent there, only to be captured and taken to England as a prisoner. He was released and allowed to return to France to find his ransom, which he did. By the following year he had been knighted.

Possibly bored by the lack of action once he was back in Brittany, de Charny joined a crusade against the Turks in Smyrna, arriving there in June 1346. He wasn’t terribly impressed by the experience, referring to it later as almost a martyrdom. He was probably back in France late in the summer of 1346 and was sent back to Aquitaine, thus missing the battle of Crécy in which much of the French army was killed in August. After they had defeated the French at Crécy, the English besieged Calais and Philippe VI sent for de Charny, who had a bit of a reputation for breaking sieges. De Charny went to Edward III, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the siege, but in reality to assess the English fortifications. What he saw made him advise Philippe VI against trying to break the siege, not that the king had any intention of throwing his newly-gathered army against the English. The French retreated and Calais eventually surrendered to the English.

The defeat of the French at Crécy and the loss of Calais led to changes in Philippe’s court and de Charny became a member of the king’s council. Since Philippe was not in a position to fight a war at the time (partly due to the unwillingness of the French to pay taxes for an army which had failed to protect them and partly to the Black Death) de Charny was entrusted with the task of negotiating truces. He was very successful in this diplomatic role. At the same time, however, he was behind an attempt to regain Calais by bribery at the end of 1349. He was betrayed and a small force led by Edward III and his son, Edward of Woodstock, defeated the men led by de Charny, who was taken prisoner again. Once more he found himself in England.

This time he couldn’t raise his own ransom, which would have been considerably higher than the sum he had paid in 1341. The new French king paid part of it, Philippe VI having died, and invited de Charny to be a member of the new order of chivalry that he founded in 1352. The Order of the Star was based on the Order of the Garter, created by Edward III in 1349 (or 1347 or 1348). There have only ever been 24 Garter knights at any one time and the order still exists today. Jean II originally intended to appoint over 500 knights and the Order of the Star fell apart after the French defeat at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, when 80 (possibly 90) of its members were killed and the king himself was taken prisoner by the English.

Once he had taken his revenge on the man who had betrayed him at Calais, decapitating him and quartering his body, de Charny wrote, probably at the request of the king, three books on chivalry. In 1347 and from 1355 until his death de Charny was the bearer of the Oriflamme, the personal standard of the King of France, which was a great honour. It was carried at the front of the French ranks in battle. Its bearer promised not to abandon it. It was an oath that de Charny kept. At the Battle of Poitiers he was killed and fell with the banner still in his hands.

Next week we’ll have a closer look at what happened in Calais in 1349, as it’s an interesting story.

Sources:
The Book of Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charny trans. Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy
The Origins of the Shroud of Turin in History Today November 2014 by Charles Freeman

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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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

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New Release

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Today is the anniversary of the battle of Poitiers, which took place in 1356. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, led an English and Gascon army against a larger French force and won.

This is the event which proves to be the turning point in the lives of the four brothers in my new historical romance series The Soldiers of Fortune, and this seemed to be an appropriate day to announce that the first book in the series, The Heir’s Tale, is available for pre-order and will be released on 29th September, closely followed by the other three books in the series.

Four brothers – one battle that changes everything

When Ancelin Montfort returns to England with the body of his brother after the battle of Poitiers, his only thought is to see the woman he has loved since he was a boy. Unfortunately, she is his brother’s widow and he is already betrothed. The knowledge that he is now his father’s heir weighs heavily on Ancelin, and his intended wife is part of that burden.

Emma was betrothed to Ancelin shortly before he went to France. There has been no communication between them for almost two years and the man who has returned from war is not the cheerful man who left her.

Days before their wedding is due to take place, Ancelin comes to believe that Emma has betrayed him. He has a choice. Should he believe and marry the woman he loves or the woman his father has chosen as his wife?

The cover is the work of the amazing Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics.

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How to become a squire

The_Squire_-_Ellesmere_Chaucer

Chaucer’s squire

The first of my new series of books will be published shortly and posts for the next few weeks will relate to those books. The Soldiers of Fortune series is about four brothers whose lives are changed at the battle of Poitiers.

All four brothers were squires under their uncle William. It was perfectly normal for aristocratic boys to be sent to a relative or a friend of their parents to learn the skills necessary for adulthood.

In the twelfth century, when William Marshal was sent from his home in Wiltshire to live with his uncle in Normandy, there was little difference between squires and servants. Some went on to become knights and others remained servants. William clearly received a good education for he was close to four kings of England and served one as regent. In addition, he found fame and fortune as a competitor in tournaments.

Going away to another noble household to be taught how to be a squire was like a mixture of boarding school and an apprenticeship. The boys’ education was broad and learning how to fight, with the aim of becoming a knight, was only part of it.

They began as pages, waiting on their lord and looking after his horses and armour. These were not considered demeaning tasks, but an honour. The boys were also learning about how to put armour on, which parts of the body it protected and how to look after it. Horses were expensive and a knight was expected to have a few, so knowing how to look after them was vital.

The pages learned from the knights in the household. They listened to tales of past battles and learned to tell which coats of arms belonged to which knights. Although there were usually heralds on campaign who trained specifically to identify knights by their coats of arms, it was always useful if you could tell your friends from your enemies yourself.

The first part of their military training was probably wrestling. The boys had to learn how to move, how to balance and when to attack an opponent. This would all be very important when they moved on to training with weapons.

They learned to use a lance against a quintain, which might be no more than a target on a post, but might be a length of wood with a target at one end and a weight at the other. It would swivel when the target was hit and the rider had to keep going so that he wasn’t hit by the weight from behind.

Quintain_and_Crocuses

Not at all medieval, but illustrates how a quintain worked.

They practised riding as well as using a lance and a sword, both on foot and on horseback. They learned to hunt and to use a bow and crossbow. Neither of these was a weapon really used by knights, except when hunting, but some nobles were very accomplished with them. Richard I was a very good shot with a crossbow.

Sometimes one team of boys would fight another as they learned to fight as part of a unit. They could also attend tournaments. Edward III was fond of tournaments and used them to celebrate important events.

The boys were supposed to learn to read, but not all did. There were usually clerics around who could read for them.

Once they were trained they were squires. Some squires never became knights, particularly towards the end of the fourteenth century, when there was increasingly little difference between the two.

A squire could go on campaign at a very young age. Edward III was 14 when he first led troops (unsuccessfully) against the Scots. His son, Edward of Woodstock, was 16 when he fought at Crécy.

One of the pilgrims on the way to Canterbury in The Canterbury Tales was a squire. Chaucer’s squire was about 20 years old and the son of the knight, the highest-ranking pilgrim in the group. The young man was well-dressed and was asked to tell a tale of love, about which he was supposed to know a great deal. His tale promised to be of epic proportions, but was interrupted by another pilgrim and never finished. Chaucer had been a page and a squire and might have used himself as the model for the knight’s son.

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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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Soldiers for Hire

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Following on from last week’s post about paid soldiers, this week I’m looking at the ultimate paid soldier:  the mercenary.

Some great soldiers became mercenaries in the fourteenth century, including Bertrand du Guesclin, who later became Constable of France and was buried near his king in St-Denis. It was du Guesclin who led the Great Company and was also the leader of the mercenaries who fought against the Black Prince at the battle of Nájera in 1367. One of his companions in that army was the English knight Sir Hugh Calvely, who changed sides and proved very useful to the Black Prince by securing the route through Navarre to Castile for the English and Gascon army. Robert Knolles was another sometime mercenary greatly valued by the Prince and his father, although his lowly origins sometimes caused problems for the nobles who served under him.

Mercenaries were used from the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War and the crossbowmen who formed the first wave of the French attack against the English army at Crécy were Genoese mercenaries. The English also used mercenaries in their garrisons in Brittany in the 1340s and 1350s, although they learned the hard way that mercenaries were difficult to control.

It was in peacetime that mercenaries became a real problem. King Jean II was captured at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. This led to a series of peace negotiations culminating in the treaty of Brétigny in 1360.With much of the French nobility dead or captured and the king a prisoner in London, it was almost impossible for the French to continue the war.

Men who were used to being paid to fight didn’t have anything to return to in England. Soldiers at a loose end joined together to form the free (not controlled by kings or governments) companies. They made money in two ways. One was a form of protection money. They would threaten towns and villages and allow themselves to be paid not to attack them. The money they collected was called a patis. The other was to be paid to fight on behalf of a lord, king or, in the case of Italy, city state.

After the Jacquerie, the French peasants’ revolt in 1358, the Dauphin (the heir to the French crown) had internal problems to deal with as well. This meant that there were thousands of soldiers in France with nothing to do and no way to earn money. Mostly these were English soldiers, but there were also French soldiers who thought that hiring themselves out would increase their wealth and social standing.

The best known of the free companies was the Great Company. It was made up of ever-changing smaller bands of mercenaries. It was originally formed out of some small Gascon groups, and the Gascons remained as its core, which goes a long way to explaining why Aquitaine was rarely troubled by them. Not surprisingly the free companies tended to be unstable. They were made up of the worst kinds of men from all social classes except the nobility. Many of them were criminals and thieves on the run from justice. All were self-seeking and ambitious. Interestingly it was the English groups that were the most stable. This was possibly because they had become used to fighting together in various campaigns, were better disciplined and tended to trust one another.

The bands of mercenaries became a great menace and Charles V used them creatively by hiring the Great Company to aid his ally Enrique de Trastámara in Castile when the king, Don Pedro, gave his support to Edward III. Du Guesclin led a band of French and English mercenaries into Spain to help depose Don Pedro. Most of the English mercenaries in the Great Company fought against their captain when they joined the Black Prince to fight on the side of Don Pedro.

One of the most famous and most successful English mercenaries was Sir John Hawkwood, who spent most of his career in Italy. One of the reasons why the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century was the incessant fighting in the north of Italy, which made it dangerous for the pope to remain in Rome. There was much work there for mercenaries. Hawkwood was completely ruthless and fought for most of the Italian states before ending up in Florence in 1380. Although he was known as Sir John, he was probably not made a knight by Edward III or by the Black Prince.

He was part of du Guesclin’s Great Company that attacked Avignon in 1361, but he later joined the army Innocent VI hired in order to move the papacy back to Rome. This became the White Company, which he eventually commanded. The White Company did in Italy what the Great Company was doing in France. It didn’t take long for the White Company to become known for its brutality. Eventually Hawkwood became commander-in-chief of the Florentine forces in the 1390s. At the end of his life he wanted to return to England, but died before he could do so.

Hawkwood was the orchestrator of more than one atrocity and had a reputation for brutality. Despite this, unlike many other mercenary captains, some of whom were killed by their own men, he died in his bed in 1394. At his death he was very wealthy, owning property and even a castle in Tuscany.

Avignon and, therefore, the pope, was forced to pay to rid itself of  mercenaries four times: in 1357, 1361, 1365 and 1368. By 1368 the pope had returned to Rome, but Provence was still perceived to be a place of wealth compared to France, which had been stripped bare by thirty years of war.

Whilst a mercenary might hope to become very rich, his fate was more likely to be that of the Genoese crossbowmen at Crécy who were either killed by the English and Welsh archers or trampled by the advancing knights behind them.

Fighting as a mercenary does not seem to have harmed the careers of the captains, as many of them returned to fight for their kings when hostilities began again in earnest in the 1370s. Being a mercenary wasn’t seen as incompatible with chivalry. Some praised knights for taking the opportunity to gain experience, but for many towns and villages in France their presence meant that there was never peace.

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Chandos Herald and the Life of the Black Prince

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I recently wrote a review of a biography of the Black Prince. One of the main sources for his life is Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. As his pseudonym implies, the writer was the herald of Sir John Chandos, who had been a close friend of the Prince’s from childhood. The herald’s real name is unknown.

The Life was written in verse in Anglo-Norman somewhere between 1376 and 1387. The poem was originally untitled. Many believe that the Life was written for Richard II, the Black Prince’s son, but the lack of a dedication to him makes it unlikely.

Chandos Herald came from Hainault, as did Edward III’s queen, Philippa, and the other great (English) historian of the fourteenth century, Jean Froissart. When he wrote his own history, Froissart used Chandos Herald as a source.

When Sir John Chandos died in 1370, the herald entered royal service and was made king of arms of England by Richard II at his coronation in 1377. No one seems quite sure what a king of arms was, but it seems to have been some kind of super herald.

Almost half of his poem is taken up with the Spanish campaign of 1367, which included the Prince’s victory at the battle of Nájera. It’s an accurate account, since the herald was present. His account is corroborated by a version from the opposing side. It is possible that Chandos Herald only intended to write about the Spanish campaign and then revised his plan after the death of the Black Prince in 1376. Some of the details of the Prince’s earlier life in the poem are very vague. It’s unlikely the herald was at the battles of Crécy or Poitiers. From his description of the battle of Poitiers it seems that it took place before he was in Sir John’s service.

When Chandos Herald wrote his poem it was already an old-fashioned way of telling history, as he admitted himself at the beginning of the text.

His objective was to write about good and chivalrous deeds, of the kind carried out by the Black Prince who, shortly after his death, became the personification of everything that had once been good about England. This was in contrast to what was going on during his son’s reign. The herald didn’t want to write about shameful deeds and refused to list the French knights who fled the field at Crécy.

In his Life Chandos Herald was at pains to show the real affection that existed between the Black Prince and his wife, Joan of Kent. He describes her fears as the Prince left on campaign and her grief at his death. He is also discreet, neglecting to mention her two previous marriages, one of which was bigamous. It’s another possibility that the Life was written at her behest, but the lack of a dedication counts against it as much as it does against it being written for her son.

Heralds didn’t have a job description and it’s not easy to tell today exactly how the herald served Sir John. Heralds’ tasks seemed to vary depending on the position of the herald’s master and what was going on at the time. Heralds were supposed to be experts in heraldic identification; they could identify knights from their banners alone. This was a particularly useful skill in a battle, when it was the only way of telling the difference between friend and foe. The herald might also be a minstrel, a musician or a barber, some of whom were also surgeons. Heralds were used at tournaments to announce the names of the participants to the crowds. They were frequently used as messengers, carrying letters from their masters, but also word of mouth messages. They were supposed to receive immunity in war, since they carried messages from one side to the other as part of peace or surrender negotiations. Heralds were also criers at public events.

It is very fortunate for us that the herald extended his duties to write about his late master’s friend.

 

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