Tag Archives: Black Prince

Joan: Fair Maid of Kent

Salisbury_1430

Joan of Kent’s story is more fantastic than anything I would dare to make up in a novel. She was the daughter of a traitor who married the Prince of Wales; she knew poverty and great wealth; she had three husbands, two at the same time; and she married two of them clandestinely.

Her life was so full of incident that I’ve had to divide the post into parts. Like her last husband, the Black Prince, Joan was given her nickname after her death. In the light of her story, it’s very possibly ironic, since, as we shall see, she wasn’t a maid for very long. Although little is written or known about Joan herself, her life can be inferred from what the men closest to her wrote or are recorded as doing.

Joan was born in 1328.  Her father, Edmund of Kent, made the mistake of supporting his half-brother Edward II, then supporting Isabella and Mortimer in the rebellion against Edward, then supporting Edward again. Edward II had been deposed by his wife and her lover in 1326, imprisoned and declared dead in 1327. Tricked into believing him to be alive, Edmund tried to rescue his brother from his imprisonment in 1330. In March of that year he was executed as a traitor by Isabella and Mortimer and Joan, her mother and her brothers were made prisoners and all their property taken from them.

Seven months after her father’s death, Joan was taken into the royal household. She was cousin to Edward III, who finally took control of his kingdom in October 1330. Since the king’s first child, Prince Edward, had been born that summer, Joan and her brothers moved into the royal nursery. When the Prince’s sisters were born, Joan’s younger brother stayed with the prince (her older brother having died) while she went with the princesses into the queen’s household.

In 1338 she travelled with the king and queen to Flanders where Edward III tried to gain support for his war with France. In the spring of 1340, at the age of 12, Joan entered into the first of her clandestine marriages. She married Thomas Holland, who was probably twice her age. One of the king’s household knights, he was a good soldier who had served in Scotland and in France. He was not what any of Joan’s relatives had in mind for her and she was a great prize for an ambitious young man, even before she inherited her brother’s wealth. Holland was the second son of a father who had been murdered for changing sides in the earlier civil war. Shortly after they married, Holland took part in the battle of Sluys, fought in Edward III’s disastrous campaign in France and then went off to fight in a crusade against the Tartars, leaving his wife behind, all without anyone knowing that they were married.

Bearing in mind that Joan lived with the young princesses, it is difficult to imagine how Holland managed to court Joan and then get her away from her companions long enough to marry her and bed her, but he did, and their marriage, as we shall see later, was binding.

Later in 1340 Joan returned to England and in early 1341 she was forced into a marriage against her will with William Montague, oldest son of the Earl of Salisbury. In many ways this marriage shows Joan’s importance to Edward III. The Earl of Salisbury had been his closest and most trusted friend during the early years of Edward’s reign and he had led those who arrested Isabella and Mortimer at Nottingham castle in October 1330, enabling Edward III to begin to rule in his own right.  The marriage was advantageous to both Joan and Montague. Montague would be a very wealthy man when his father died and marriage into the royal family confirmed his father’s status.

Joan told her mother about her marriage to Holland, but was either not believed or the marriage was not considered valid. It is not known who knew about Joan’s first marriage, but it’s probable that the groom and his father had been told. It’s also possible that the king and queen were aware of their failure to look after her while she was in their care.

There has been speculation about why Joan didn’t just accept the marriage with Montague, since it was a good match for both of them and her first marriage could have been set aside or forgotten about. She must have loved Holland, but I also wonder, based on nothing but her continued disinclination to be his wife over several years, if she didn’t learn something about Montague that made her dislike him intensely. It’s pure speculation, but so is almost everything written about her.

It’s probable that Joan and her new husband lived apart. Ironically, since Joan had already consummated her marriage to Holland, they were considered too young consummate their marriage.Both Joan and her new groom were 13.

In late 1341 or the beginning of 1342 Holland returned and claimed his wife, but failed to remove her from her new husband. Holland had left her alone for so long that it is believed by many that he didn’t care for her and, on discovering that she was married to Montague, decided that he was willing to be bought off by the Earl of Salisbury. Holland was not bought off and nor did he relinquish his claim on Joan. He was sent back to fight in Brittany with nothing resolved. He later returned to England, but left almost immediately to crusade against the Moors in Spain. If Holland wanted Joan back, he would have to prove that his marriage to her was valid. That would take money, of which he had very little.

Holland returned to England and, since the Earl of Salisbury was also in England, it is believed that serious negotiations took place between them. These were cut short when the Earl of Salisbury was injured in a tournament and died of his wounds. Matters were still not resolved when Holland went to France again. He returned, only to go back to France in 1346 with Edward III. All three of Joan’s husbands were together on this campaign. It was the first campaign of the 16 year old Prince Edward and the 18 year old William Montague.  Holland was now a very experienced soldier in his early thirties.

Holland was promoted to joint commander of the Prince’s division and fought at Crécy beside him. He then went on to take part in the siege of Calais and was one of the king’s negotiators there. During the campaign he captured a French noble whose ransom was literally a fortune (although Holland only received part of it before his captive returned to France on parole and was executed) and when he returned to England in October 1347, Holland could afford to start proceedings in the papal court to establish that he was married to Joan. Partly due to Montague’s delaying tactics, it was two years before the judgment was announced.  The esteem in which Holland was held by the king at this point, is shown by his being honoured as one of the first Knights of the Order of the Garter along with the Prince and Montague.

It is possible, but not probable, that Joan had not seen Holland since he left Flanders in 1340. It is more likely that she saw him at tournaments and in the court as his favour with the king grew.  It may be for this reason that a close guard was put on Joan by Montague, when he forcibly removed Joan from where she had been living and took her into his own house.

On 13th November 1349 the pope confirmed that Joan was married to Holland.

Joan’s story so far raises all kinds of questions. Was she abducted, raped and forced into marriage by Holland? Was she later abducted and raped by Montague? Why did she persist in her marriage to Holland, when Montague was the wealthier man with higher status? Possibly the simple answer is that she fell in love with a dashing older man and, having given her word when she married him, refused to break it.

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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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How to go to market in the fourteenth century

Walking

A friend and I were discussing the fourteenth century last weekend.  She said that she had read that life was fairly easy for people then and that they had more free time than we do today. I took the contrary view. When you have to do everything more or less from scratch every day, you don’t have a lot of free time. If you wanted water in the fourteenth century, you had to go to the well and draw it up in a bucket. If you wanted hot water, you had to collect the wood, or other combustible material, first, then make it burn (not always as easy as it sounds), then wait while the water heated, although you would probably have plenty to do while it was heating.  If you wanted to eat something you had to grow it, catch it or exchange something of value for it.

The most telling thing for her, I think, was travel. She said, “Oh, they could buy that in a town” and I said, “How would they get there?”. We were in the Quantocks at the time. On my way home it took half an hour to drive to the nearest town, Taunton. The distance is not quite 12 miles.  12 miles would take at least four hours for the average person to walk and would take only a little less on horseback.

If you lived 12 miles away from your nearest town and market, going there and returning was not something to be accomplished in one day.  It is, of course, possible to walk 24 miles in one day, but most people are unable to do anything the following day. You would only be able to do it in the summer when there are enough hours of daylight.  I have walked 24 miles in one day more than once and it’s hard work. However well-shod your feet are, you’re very likely to end up with blisters. Carrying anything heavy over that distance would make it even harder. In reality very few people in the fourteenth century travelled more than 15 miles in one day.

One of the reasons why it took so long to get anywhere was the state of the roads. They were little more than dirt tracks which turned into mud in the rain, which meant that travelling at any time other than the summer would be very slow. The roads would be rutted, providing opportunities for the wheels of carts to get stuck and for people or horses to stumble.

The weather caused other problems.  Rain could make roads impassable as streams turned into rivers and roads could be washed away altogether. Frosts would break up the road surface even more and snow might make the road itself impossible to find.

Poor weather and darkness weren’t the only hazards people would face.  Thieves and vagabonds preyed on the unwary traveller. This meant it was often safer to travel in groups and to be armed.

There were three methods of transport for the medieval traveller: feet, horses and carts. I’m discounting ships and boats for the moment, as it would not have been possible to make the journey I was discussing with my friend by boat.

Strictly speaking there were also carriages, but these were prohibitively expensive and not terribly comfortable. There was no suspension, but if you were wealthy enough to be able to afford a carriage, you could probably stretch to a cushion or two. Carriages were mainly used to carry female members of the royal family. When the Black Prince, who by this point was so ill he could barely leave his bed, went to besiege Limoges in a 1370, he was carried on a litter, not a carriage. By most people’s standards he was fabulously wealthy, but he did not own a carriage. A litter was a chair on two poles suspended between two horses, one in front and one behind. It probably had a canopy to keep the sun or rain off the occupant. This, too, would not have been a comfortable way to travel long distances.

A horse was very useful if you had to go to town, although the state of the roads meant that it could not go very fast. Its greatest use was carrying home anything that had been purchased.  Horses were also expensive, however, so many people would have to carry their purchases themselves.

The third option was a cart.  Carts were also expensive and were not made to carry passengers. Someone riding on a cart would feel every jolt, for, like carriages, they had no suspension.

Since towns were so far away, a visit to market was rare for most people. It was often better just to stay at home and wait for the pedlar to visit.

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Garrison Duty

knights1

The hero of my current work in progress has just been assigned to garrison duty in a castle in Aquitaine. Why is he less than thrilled at the prospect and what’s in store for him?

Stephen is a knight and has spent most of his life training to fight on horseback in large battles. Garrison duty means being enclosed within the walls of a castle or town for months at a time. He has been used to raiding the French, but now he has to wait for them to come to him and possibly besiege the castle.

Life in a garrison was fairly dull for a knight. There would be training, of course. It was essential for a knight to retain or improve his skills every day. This would include practising with swords, maces and axes. Practising with spears was also a necessity. The knight would ride his horse towards a target and hit it with the spear in order to improve his aim. He would also have to scale ladders in full armour, so anything that increased his strength or his stamina would be useful.

The castle to which Stephen is sent is in the east of Aquitaine, near the border with France. It’s possible that the castle will be besieged by the French. If the castle were besieged, a knight might persuade his commander to allow him to lead a sally outside the walls. These were occasionally very successful actions where a large force would leave the castle and attack the besiegers, sometimes causing so much harm that the besiegers would leave. Sometimes they were complete disasters, with members of besiegers’ army mingling with the besieged, entering the castle with them when they returned, and taking it from within.

A knight like Stephen could expect to be taken for ransom rather than killed if the castle had to surrender. It’s the summer of 1357 and he’s become very wealthy from taking part in two chevauchées (long range raids) with the Black Prince and he’s also the son of an earl. He would be a good prize. The men serving with him would not be so fortunate. If they escaped with their lives they would be lucky. It’s quite common for the ordinary soldiers in a garrison to be mutilated in some way, perhaps by having their noses sliced with a knife, or their eyes put out, or their hands and feet cut off. They might simply be killed. All of this would serve as a warning for the next place the besiegers went to.

As an Englishman in France, Stephen might decide to make some money by terrorising the surrounding towns and villages. This was a common practice among the English garrisons in Brittany, where there weren’t always the funds to pay for the garrisons upkeep. They demanded a ‘patis’ (protection money) in order to leave their neighbours alone. This wasn’t simply a way of raising money, it was also a way of showing who was in charge.

Garrison duty also provided many opportunities for a soldier to spend the money he had earned or looted. Because castles provided some form of protection, people tended to build towns around them ,and towns attracted markets and wealth. There would be goods from distant lands to purchase, taverns to drink and gamble in, and brothels to frequent. There would be skilled craftsmen offering their goods for sale: goldsmiths, embroiders, armourers, tentmakers, apothecaries (medieval pharmacists), potters, furniture makers, basket weavers and so on. There would be plenty of distractions for a bored soldier to buy.

It will take a strong man to resist these temptations and Stephen doesn’t know yet which ones he’ll have to face.

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How to Conduct a Legal Siege

siege_of_acre

Medieval sieges were conducted (sometimes) in accordance with rules based on five verses in the book of Deuteronomy, “But if it [the town] makes no peace with you, then you shall besiege it. And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not the cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction.”

A siege had to begin with a formal challenge. This would take the form of a missile of some kind being fired at the gates of the town or castle. At the beginning of the siege the besiegers had to demand the surrender of the town or castle and they had to offer terms for surrender. Sometimes the head of the garrison would ask leave to consult his lord, who was elsewhere. Sometimes this was permitted, sometimes not.

Once it had begun there were three ways a siege could end:

  • Negotiated agreement
  • Storm
  • Unconditional surrender, by either side

 

NEGOTIATED AGREEMENT

Sieges were expensive for those doing the besieging. They tied up a large number of soldiers whose interest in the siege waned the longer it went on. The supplies usually had to be brought long distances, often through hostile territory. Since the besieging army was in one place for months, there was always the chance that the enemy might send an army large enough to destroy them. Negotiating a surrender was usually the best option. Some garrisons were bought off by the besiegers so that they would surrender. Sometimes the parties agreed that a town would surrender if no relief army arrived before a certain time.

It was a balancing act for the besieged between holding out to the bitter end and suffering starvation and illness and being sacked if no relief arrived, and surrendering early and incurring the wrath of their lord. The leaders of garrisons that surrendered to the enemy could suffer terrible punishments from their lords, even if they were allowed to live.

Being a messenger or even a negotiator could be hazardous. It was not unknown for messengers bringing bad new to be killed by their own side, so taking messages to the enemy was even more precarious. Messengers and negotiators were often taken prisoner or  killed as they went between the town and the besiegers.

Given what could happen if a siege continued to the bitter end, it’s not surprising that most ended with a negotiated agreement.

 

STORM

A storm was the taking of the town or castle by force. This could be by scaling the walls, breaking down the gates or walls by mining or siege engines, or by a small force finding a way in and opening the gates for the rest of the army. If the siege ended with a storm the attackers had complete control over the defeated. They could be enslaved, killed, raped and their homes and property seized. The defeated could expect no mercy.

The town could be sacked if it didn’t surrender and was successfully stormed. This happened at Limoges in 1370 where the town, which had surrendered to the French after three days, was held by the Black Prince to have committed treason. When the English and Gascon army arrived they successfully stormed the town after five days. The Black Prince would have been justified in killing all the inhabitants, but only about 300 were killed, about ten percent of the population. At Limoges there was no surrender and no negotiated agreement. What happened at Limoges was not exceptional.

Once the besiegers were inside after a storm, murder, rape and assault were the norm. Defending soldiers could often retreat to and hold the castle keep, so the civilians were usually the ones punished by the attackers.

In a siege the nobility and the garrison might come off well, as their chivalric code usually protected them, but the civilians suffered, because they were worth nothing in terms of ransoms. The poor were usually butchered. Knights would normally only surrender to another knight for fear of being killed by commoners. Such fears were not misplaced.

The chivalric code protected non-combatants, but it was difficult in a siege to differentiate between those who fought and those who did not. There are tales of besieging soldiers being killed by women throwing things from the walls onto them. Everyone within a besieged town could be considered a combatant, whether they fought or not. They had either enabled the siege to continue by feeding the defenders and assisting them in other ways, or by not attacking them.

 

UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER

Those surrendering unconditionally were expected to come out of the town barefoot, sometimes with ashes on their heads.  Edward III’s siege of Calais was one that ended with an unconditional surrender by those inside the town.

There was a great sense of what was honourable and what was not. The breaking of one’s word was not. If a town or castle did not surrender when they said they would do so, hostages who had been given could be killed. This would usually take place close to the town walls so that its inhabitants could see their executions. It was not unusual for these to be slow and humiliating.

A town was surrendered by handing over the keys to the besiegers. Truces were generally recognised. If there was a truce, people from the town could leave it, as long as they returned at the agreed time. Hostages could be taken to ensure that the truce was kept.

Some besieging armies preferred the besieged not to surrender, so that they could make money from looting. Towns tended to be centres of wealth and plunder was a strong motivation for a medieval soldier.

Sometimes the army doing the besieging simply gave up. This might be because a relief army for the town or castle arrived and the besiegers either didn’t want to take the risk of fighting them or did fight them and were defeated. The besiegers might run out of supplies, or they might lose so many men through disease that continuing the siege was untenable.

Although there were rules about how to conduct a siege, they were interpreted with a great deal of flexibility and violence was frequently used against the besieged to ensure that the next town would surrender quickly.

 

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The Englishman’s Wine

IMG_0563

There has long been a trading connection between Aquitaine and the south of England. It dates back at least to the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in 1152. Eleanor was duchess of Aquitaine in her own right and the duchy was inherited by her descendants, the Plantagenet kings of England. The boundaries of the duchy ebbed and flowed over four centuries, with King John losing a great deal of land in the thirteenth century and Edward III regaining it in the fourteenth. It was very briefly a principality (1362-1372) ruled by Edward of Woodstock, later known as the Black Prince, as a sovereign state.

By the fourteenth century the people of Aquitaine preferred English rule to French rule. They spoke the langue d’oc, the language of the south west, rather than the langue d’oil spoken in Paris and the north east. It wasn’t just in the matter of language that they had little in common with the French. The English king, as duke of Aquitaine, was their natural lord, not the French king. In the Hundred Years’ War Bordeaux was the last town to surrender to the French in 1453. It was this event that brought the war to an end.

Wine has always been important to the region. Gascony (the area to the east and south of Bordeaux) and England had been trading partners for centuries and England was the main market for wine from Gascony and wine was the base of the Gascon economy. An annual wine fleet carried wine from Bordeaux to Bristol and Southampton. Even during times of peace, the ships had pirates to contend with, often from Castile, home to the best sailors in Europe, and Brittany, around which every ship from Bordeaux to England had to pass. When the region came under the French crown it suffered a great deal economically as access to the English market was cut off.

England had produced its own wine from Roman times, but climate change meant that production declined and England had to rely more heavily on imports from the twelfth century on. It was very convenient that this was about the same time that the English crown gained Aquitaine.

One of the towns in England to which Bordeaux exported wine was Southampton. The picture at the top of the post is the Medieval Merchant’s House in French Street. As you can see from the barrel, this was the home of a wine merchant. There are vaults below the house where the wine was stored and the shop opened out onto the street where customers could be served. The vaults are stone, which was necessary to keep the wine cool. The house was built by Jean Fortin, a great importer of wine. It was near the quay, which was just the other side of the wall at the back of the house. This is the house that I used as the model for the home of Edward, the wine merchant, in The Winter Love, who imported wine from Gascony.

Much of the wine that came into the town was for the royal household, which explains Edward III’s anger and disgust when the town was raided by the French in 1338 and his wine was destroyed. The wine merchants gave wine to the king as a tax and this wine was stored in the town. Edward III was so angry that he accused the burgesses of conspiring with the French and letting them into the town.

 In 1368 a statute was created in England banning English merchants from Bordeaux and Gascony in an attempt to reorganise the wine trade. The Black Prince, who was at that time Prince of Aquitaine, had it repealed as soon as possible, as it was damaging the principality’s wine trade.

Today the Bordeaux region is the largest wine-growing area of France and the English are still great imbibers of the wines of the region. In England we even have a special name for red Bordeaux wine: claret. This was originally a dark rosé and was the most commonly imported wine up until the 1700s.

 

 

 

 

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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

Battle_of_Crecy_(crossbowmen)

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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A Little Piece of England in France

Church_of_Fontevraud_Abbey_Eleanor_of_Aquitaine_and_Henry_II_effigies.jpg

In the 1390s, when he was trying to make a peace that would end the Hundred Years’ War, Richard II suggested that Aquitaine be held by his uncle, John of Gaunt, brother of the Black Prince, on behalf of the French crown. Even though Gaunt had been his brother’s lieutenant in Aquitaine twenty years before, the idea that the duchy could be governed by a vassal of the Valois king did not go down well there. The Gascons ‘claimed that they had never been nor ever would be governed by any man other than the king of England or his heir’.

Aquitaine, an amorphous area of south west France that included the Atlantic ports of Bordeaux and Bayonne, first came to the English crown when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II in 1152, although he didn’t have his crown at that point. Eleanor had previously been married to Louis VII of France, but had not given him any sons, so he had their marriage annulled. She was twenty-eight (or possibly thirty) when she married the nineteen year old Henry. They had eight children of which two (Richard and John) became kings of England.

Henry was the first Plantagenet king of England. He was the son of the Empress Matilda whose own claim to the crown had led to a civil war with her cousin Stephen of Blois, which Stephen won. Henry eventually became the ruler of a large empire whose northern border was with Scotland and whose southern border was the Pyrenees. All the Atlantic coast and most of the northern coast of France was his. His empire stretched to the east until it encountered the land held personally by the king of France around Paris.

By 1215 most of this had been lost to the king of France. King John wasn’t called John Lackland for nothing. Despite losing most of his father’s empire he managed to hold onto Gascony, the most westerly part of Aquitaine. It was for this foothold in France that his descendants fought wars on and off for the next 250 years. Aquitaine was finally lost when Bordeaux surrendered to the French on 19th October 1453. This also marked the end of the Hundred Years’ War.

Aquitaine had much to offer the kings of England, mostly wine. The production of wine in England was in decline and wine that came from Aquitaine was, and still is, very much to the English taste.

Aquitaine was also host to many pilgrims. Three of the four overland routes to Santiago de Compostela went through it, including the main one from Paris, which went through Poitiers and Bordeaux.

For my purposes, it’s what was going on in Aquitaine in the fourteenth century that was important. Since Aquitaine was part of France the kings of France required the dukes of Aquitaine to pay them homage. This meant proclaiming that the king of France was lord of the duke of Aquitaine. The duke was also supposed promise to support the king of France against his enemies. This was not really viable when the duke was the king of England and the king of France was, more often than not, his enemy. Edward II sent his son, the future Edward III, in his place in 1325, making him duke of Aquitaine. This proved an ill-advised move as the young prince was kept in France by his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer. He only returned to England when they invaded it in September 1326, eventually deposing and murdering Edward II. In 1329 Edward III went to Amiens to pay homage to Philippe VI whom he was later to call a usurper when he made his own claim to the French crown.

Aquitaine wasn’t itself the cause of the Hundred Years War, but it was the loss of it that brought the war to an end. It was also the base from which the Black Prince led the chevauchées that caused so much harm to the treasury of the French king. These were essentially two great raids that took place in 1355 and 1356. The prince’s army moved very quickly and destroyed many towns and villages in south west France, before returning to Aquitaine. It was at the end of the second of these that the battle of Poitiers was fought during which the king of France was captured. He was taken to England and held for ransom. Aquitaine was made a principality in 1362 and the Black Prince became its prince. The principality was a mini-kingdom that received no financial support from England. It was, essentially, the Prince’s opportunity to be a king while his father was still alive.

For some years his reputation, and their own internal problems, prevented the French from carrying out anything more than desultory raids, but, as his health deteriorated after the battle of Nájera in 1367 so the attacks increased and were less easy to resist. Part of the point of the Prince’s chevauchées had been to show that the king of France was unable to protect his people. The French were now demonstrating that the Prince could not protect his and many turned to the king of France.

As we saw at the beginning, however, even twenty years later there was a lot of resistance towards the French king in Aquitaine, and it held out for another sixty years.

 

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A Noble Expedition in Spain

Battle_najera_froissart

“Battle najera froissart” by 15th century Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (Bib. Nat. Fr., FR 2643, fol. 312v).. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg#/media/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg

 

The Spanish campaign of 1367 set the seal on the Black Prince’s reputation as a soldier of great skill and courage, but also marked the beginning of the end of the English in Aquitaine. Although the campaign was notable for the English victory at the battle of Nájera, it was on this campaign that the Prince became ill with dysentery and was never well again. He failed in all his objectives for the campaign, ending up poorer than when he started and having to tax his subjects in Aquitaine so much that they complained.

The Spanish campaign feels like an odd interlude in the Hundred Years’ War. In 1360 a peace treaty between England and France put a lot of soldiers on both sides out of work. No longer able to make a living from pillaging and ransoms, many of them joined together to form mercenary bands and roamed France terrorising towns and villages for protection money. Some even threatened the Pope at Avignon. These groups were a real problem for most of France, but less so for Aquitaine. The Black Prince is thought to have encouraged them in ravaging France.

The Castilians were the best sailors in Europe and had attacked the south coast of England in support of the king of France, since Don Pedro, the king of Castile, was allied to France. This made him a problem worth solving for Edward III. A peace treaty between the two was made in February 1363, but was not ratified by Don Pedro for another 18 months for fear of retribution from the French king.

Don Pedro had an illegitimate half-brother, Enrique de Trastámara (or Henry the Bastard or just the Spanish Bastard), who had led numerous rebellions against him. He was also fighting a war with the king of Aragón. Under the pretext of going south to fight the Moors, a large band of mercenaries entered Castile to fight for Enrique in late 1365. Edward III had to write to the English mercenaries among them to threaten reprisals against them and their families, since, under the treaty, no Englishman was supposed to bear arms against Don Pedro. Don Pedro had little support in Castile and fled, first to Portugal and then to Aquitaine, where he asked the Black Prince for help. Since Enrique was pro-French, Edward III had already decided to assist Don Pedro, and the Black Prince took an army to Castile in February 1367, crossing the Pyrenees at almost the worst time of the year. His allies in this endeavour were known as Pedro the Cruel and Charles the Bad (of Navarre), although these characteristics apparently came as a bit of a surprise to the Black Prince when he saw evidence of them.

As soon as they knew that the Black Prince was on his way most of the English mercenaries still with Enrique changed side rather than fight their former commander, or they had already been paid off by Enrique, depending on which version of the story you believe.

Initially Enrique followed the advice that he had received from the French king not to face the English in a pitched battle and contented himself with harrying the army when it arrived in Castile. This proved quite effective, but Enrique, like others before him, gave in to pride and decided to stand and fight at Nájera on 3rd April 1367. He was also worried that his army would desert him if he didn’t prove himself.

The English vanguard (the division at the front) of the army at the battle of Nájera was commanded by Sir John Chandos and it’s reasonable to assume that his herald was with him, for it’s this battle that forms the centrepiece of Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. The Prince himself commanded the main body of the army. Sir Hugh Calvely, one of the English mercenary captains who had originally fought for Enrique, was one of the commanders of the rearguard.

Enrique was supported mainly by French mercenaries under the command of Bertrand du Guesclin, later Constable of France. Enrique’s fears about the loyalty of his troops were well-founded and about half the Castilian army ran away. Enrique himself had to be forcibly removed from the field of battle so that he wouldn’t be killed.

The Black Prince was undefeated in battle and his reputation as a great commander was assured, but the rest of the Spanish campaign did not go as planned. Don Pedro was supposed to pay the Prince’s costs of bringing an army into Castile, but he prevaricated and, rather than return to Aquitaine as he had intended, the Prince had to stay in Castile and prod Don Pedro to collect the promised money. Don Pedro even executed prisoners, a valuable source of income through ransoms. This episode shows one of the main differences between the Prince and his ally. For the Prince ransoming (and trusting) his prisoners was a mainstay of chivalry, although it must have come as a shock to discover that one of his prisoners at Nájera was a man he’d released on parole (that is a promise not to fight against him again) after the battle of Poitiers. Don Pedro, on the other hand, believed that those who had fought against him were traitors and deserved to die.

The Prince soon realised that Don Pedro could not pay what he owed, but didn’t return to Aquitaine until August, by which time he was gravely ill. He lost a great deal of money going into Spain, as he had to pay the army himself. More damaging, for him and for England, his health was ruined and he never recovered from his Spanish adventure.

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