Tag Archives: Geoffroi de Charny

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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De Charny and Chivalry

Perrin Remiet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Geoffroi de Charny literally wrote the book on chivalry. In fact, he wrote three. It’s not known, however, how much what he wrote reflected or influenced the behaviour and beliefs of fourteenth-century French knights.

Chivalry and knighthood underwent many changes in France during the fourteenth century, beginning with the destruction of the Templars during de Charny’s childhood at the beginning of the century. If the soldier monks couldn’t survive, what hope could there be for the ordinary knight?

As he grew up, it must have been obvious to de Charny that French knights were missing an essential element of chivalry: prowess. They were defeated by the English at Sluys (1340), Crécy (1346) and Calais (1347). They could no longer protect France even against one of the least powerful countries in Europe.

Loyalty to the king, another aspect of chivalry, had been undermined by the change of dynastic house. In 1328 the Capetians had died out, although Edward III was the nephew of the last three Capetian kings, and Philippe VI, a Valois, did not instil as much loyalty in his knights as his predecessors had done. This loss of loyalty contributed to Philippe’s inability to protect his kingdom against his counter-claimant to the French crown, Edward III. The knights in French armies were more interested in their personal glory and gain than in supporting their king.

Philippe’s son, Jean II, recognised the need for reform probably even before his father’s defeat at Crécy. This led him to create the Order of the Star in 1352, two years after he became king. As part of this reform, he asked de Charny to write about chivalry.

De Charny wrote three book: Demandes pour la joute, les tournois et la guerre, Le livre Charny, and Le livre de chevalerie. The first is a series of questions about jousts, tournaments and war. There are no answers, so it’s possibly a book intended to provoke discussion between knights or between squires and their teachers. The Livre Charny is in verse and is about the chivalrous life and the qualities required of a knight. The Livre de chevalerie is his most famous work and is an examination of what it means to be a knight and how a knight should behave.

All were probably dictated, possibly while de Charny was a prisoner in England in 1350 to 1351. They were written in French rather than Latin, so were not meant to be academic works, but accessible to knights. They’re not great works of literature, but they are interesting historically. There’s little evidence that they had much of a readership even in the fourteenth century, but they show what the man who was acknowledged as one of the most chivalrous men of his age thought about chivalry.

There was a constant tension between knights and clergy as to who had the higher calling. Medieval society was divided into three: those who prayed, those who fought and those who laboured. Publicly, everyone said that the clergy was the most important class, but there were obviously different private opinions. Being pious didn’t stop de Charny from being critical of the church, although he retracted a little by writing that people shouldn’t be critical. It’s obvious from his writing, however, that he clearly thought being a knight was a holy calling and that being a knight could be a form of martyrdom.

In his writing he emphasised how hard it was to be a knight. A knight had to train his body all the time and could not have an easy life. He also risked everything in battle. At the very least a knight could expect to be wounded or to break some bones while on campaign. De Charny also touched on the mental aspects of a knight seeing his friends wounded or killed.

When de Charny marched to battle near Poitiers in 1356, he must have thought that the future of French knighthood was bright. The king and his Order of the Star would encourage the chivalrous life and de Charny’s writings would give its members the guidance they needed. They had even sworn an oath not to run from battle.  On that day they were going to fight a much smaller, exhausted English army that had been trying to avoid battle. De Charny had even been given the honour of carrying the king’s personal banner. It was going to be a good day for French chivalry.

Sources:
The Book of Chivalry of 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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
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Geoffroi de Charny in December 1349

I said last week that we’d look at Geoffroi de Charny’s attempt to take back Calais two years after it had surrendered to Edward III. Before we get to the story I wanted to set the scene a bit. There are four main characters in this story: de Charny, Edward III, Edward of Woodstock and Aimeric of Pavia. At the time de Charny was at least 43 years old, Edward III was 37 and Edward of Woodstock, his oldest son and heir, was 19. I have no idea how old Aimeric was. I include this detail to show what was expected of young heirs to kingdoms in the Middle Ages. Edward of Woodstock had already proved himself in battle at the age of 16 and was about to prove himself again.

The other important point is that in 1349 Europe was still in the grip of the Black Death. I can’t emphasise enough how little what we’ve gone through in the last few months has resembled the Black Death. I know that people have made the comparison, but even the number of deaths in the First World War combined with deaths from Spanish flu a hundred years ago don’t come close. During the three years of the Black Death, somewhere between a third and a half of the population of Europe died and they died horribly. Despite that and the fear in which people must have lived, life seems to have gone on fairly normally, as we shall see.

After a long siege, the French town of Calais had surrendered to the English in 1347. Most of those who lived in the town and survived the siege were allowed to leave and Edward III filled the town with English merchants and soldiers. It was incredibly useful for a king who was expecting to continue to wage war on French soil to have a port in France just over 30 miles from the English coast. This, of course, presented a huge problem to the French king. Fortunately, de Charny had a plan for getting Calais back which didn’t involve besieging it.

There are different versions of the story, mainly told by people who weren’t there, but we’ll look at the story as told by Geoffrey le Baker, an English chronicler. According to him, Aimeric Pavia, a Lombard mercenary, was the governor of Calais. De Charny bribed him to open the gates to let in some French soldiers. Aimeric was greedy, but not stupid, and he wrote to Edward III, explaining about the plot, obviously hoping to be in good standing with both sides.

Edward III wasn’t stupid either and he decided to go to Calais himself. He took his oldest son and a few other men. (Other versions say that the news reached the king on Christmas Eve and he took his household knights and the retinues of some of the lords who were celebrating Christmas with him.) Le Baker says that they entered the town secretly, which they might have done, but he also says that they managed to build a false wall behind which they hid and they also sawed through parts of the drawbridge so that it would collapse if a heavy stone were thrown down on it, all without anyone noticing, which seems unlikely.

On 31st December, De Charny went with fourteen men into the castle, through the gate opened by Aimeric, on the day before the raid was to take place. Their task was to check that everything was as it should be and to pay Aimeric part of his money. Despite checking the castle thoroughly, they noticed nothing wrong. Again, I’m not sure how fifteen Frenchmen could stroll around a castle held by an English garrison without someone noticing, but apparently they did.

The next morning they raised French standards around the castle and opened the gates. The English garrison attacked them, despite the efforts of those who were in on the plan to trap the French inside the castle.

By this point the king and his men had been in hiding for three days. One of them was hiding near the drawbridge and he dropped the huge stone onto it, trapping the soldiers inside the castle. They were swiftly defeated by the king and his men when they emerged from their hiding place.

The French forces who had remained outside retreated, realising that the plan had failed. The king took 16 of the men he had brought with him and 16 archers from Calais, who didn’t know him, and chased after the French.

He attacked a force of 800 men. When the French realised how few men were pursuing them, they turned and fought. The king revealed his identity to the archers and le Baker points out that he positioned his meagre forces wisely. He doesn’t say, for obvious reasons, how lacking in wisdom the king was to chase after the French with so few men.

The king and his men managed to kill or capture many of the French soldiers, but they were facing overwhelming odds and it was obvious that they were going to lose. In true Boys’ Own Adventure style, however, Edward of Woodstock arrived with reinforcements just in time and rescued his father.

Le Baker tells us that 1,000 French knights with 600 men-at-arms and 3,000 foot soldiers had tried to take the castle. It would certainly have needed a large force, so perhaps it’s not an exaggeration. More than 200 French men-at-arms were killed and about 30 men were captured for ransom, Geoffroi de Charny and his son among them. Many French soldiers drowned in the marsh.

There are some incorrect details in le Baker’s account. Aimeric wasn’t the governor of Calais. During the siege of Calais he had been employed by the French. After the siege he changed sides and became master of the royal galleys and crossbowmen. In 1349 he was part of the English garrison at Calais and was in command of one of the gate-towers, which was why it was easy for him to let the French in.

As we learned last week, Aimeric enjoyed his bribe and the pension given to him by the king for a very short time before de Charny tortured and killed him. This whole episode wasn’t de Charny’s finest hour. Not only was he captured, but he was also wounded in his failed attempt to retake the town. Fortunately for him, the king who had provided soldiers to support his plan died while de Charny was a captive in England. The new king paid part of de Charny’s ransom. De Charny even managed to put a good gloss on the murder of Aimeric, since he made it clear that he was avenging an act of personal betrayal.

Next week we’ll have a look at another aspect of de Charny’s life.

Sources:
Life and Campaigns of the Black Prince by Richard Barber
Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine by Richard Barber
Trial by Fire by Jonathan Sumption
The Black Prince by Michael Jones

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

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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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