Tag Archives: Queen Philippa

Tournaments in the Fourteenth Century

Medieval-Jousting-Tournaments

Last week we had a brief look at tournaments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Today we’re moving on to the fourteenth century and the particular use Edward III made of them.

In the thirteenth century there might have been up to three thousand men in a mêlée and the mêlée itself would have covered a large area. In the fourteenth century tournaments took place in more confined spaces. Sometimes a wooden castle would be built, with one team attacking it and one team defending.

Since a tournament was often a celebration, there would be dancing, feasting and drinking as well. Tournaments usually took place over three days, with the participants being introduced and paraded on the first day, jousting on the second and the tournament itself on the final day. There were judges, and prizes were awarded to those who had distinguished themselves. It’s not clear how they managed to judge a mêlée end even the scoring systems for jousts varied. Generally, the highest score was given for unhorsing an opponent. The next highest score was for breaking a lance on an opponent and the lowest for striking the opponent’s helmet. The knights usually had three runs at one another.

Tournaments were not as profitable as they had been. The knights could no longer capture and ransom one another. There were still prizes in the fourteenth century, but they were of fairly low value.

Tournaments could be opportunities for settling scores. In 1307 Piers Gaveston, Edward II’s favourite, held a tournament to celebrate his marriage. Showing up with three times the number of men he had said he would bring, he defeated everyone else. A similar thing happened a few weeks later at a tournament to celebrate Edward II’s marriage to Isabella of France. Realising that this meant that he was widely hated among the aristocracy, Gaveston asked the king to cancel a third tournament intended to form part of the coronation festivities.

Edward III became king in 1327 when he was fourteen years old. He enjoyed tournaments and used them strategically to show that he was not like his father, who had been deposed, but like his grandfather, Edward I, who had participated in many tournaments in his youth and had been a great warrior. As a young man, he often appeared at tournaments as a simple knight, showing his solidarity with other knights.

He held tournaments all over the country – Derby, Warwick, Northampton, Pembroke, Oxford, Canterbury, Hereford. Although they were more often held in summer, they could be held at any time of the year. There were tournaments to celebrate Christmas, others to celebrate the knighting of nobles, and others to celebrate the betrothals and marriages of his children.

Edward held at least 35 tournaments in England between 1327 and 1357, using them to gain support for his wars against the Scots and the French. He often celebrated the conclusion of a successful campaign with a tournament. He fought in them himself, often in the company of his sons.

One of the last old-fashioned mêlées was held to celebrate the wedding of Edward III and Philippa in 1328 in York. Cavalry charges became increasingly rare in fourteenth-century warfare. Battles were increasingly dominated by men fighting on foot, rather than on horseback, so mêlées were becoming irrelevant as a means of training knights.

Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, the de facto rulers of England for the first three years of Edward III’s reign, often prohibited tournaments for fear of an armed uprising against them, but they put on four tournaments leading up to Edward III’s marriage to Philippa of Hainault in 1328.

Also in 1328 Mortimer used a tournament to demonstrate that he was more important and powerful than the king. He dressed as King Arthur, in a not very subtle attempt to suggest that he was descended from the Dark Ages leader. Edward III was given the role of Sir Lionel, one of Arthur’s lesser knights. Throughout the event Mortimer took precedence over the king. Mortimer was executed for treason two years later. The king often fought in later tournaments under the name Sir Lionel.

Edward III’s first London tournament was at Cheapside in September 1331.  Queen Philippa and her ladies were almost killed when their viewing stand collapsed. The king, a young man with a quick temper, wanted to kill the carpenters who had erected it, but Queen Philippa begged him to show mercy, which he did.

In the same year, Edward was saved from almost certain death by changing horses during a tournament. The horse he had been riding bolted soon afterwards and almost drowned the knight who had taken the king’s place by plunging into a river.

A tournament at Northampton in 1342 was a bit of a disaster, as many nobles were injured and horses were killed. Lord Beaumont died. On the whole there were few fatalities at the king’s tournaments. This one was an exception.

In 1344 Edward III called on 500 noble women and wives of the aldermen of London to attend a tournament in London. There was a huge banquet for the women in the hall of the castle. Only two men joined them. The Prince of Wales and the earls and barons ate in tents. I’m not sure where the king was, perhaps he ate with his son. During the tournament, the king and 19 knights fought against anyone who wished to take them on for three days.

The king gave tournaments in June 1348 to celebrate Queen Philippa’s churching after the birth of their sixth son. French nobles captured during the Crécy campaign of 1346 were allowed to take part.

A tournament was held at Windsor on St George’s day (23rd April) 1349 to celebrate the founding of the Knights of the Order of the Garter. The garter knights were divided into two groups. One side was led by Thomas Holland and the other by William Montague, both of whom believed that they were married to Joan of Kent at the time. Joan was present at the tournament.

A series of tournaments were held after the Prince of Wales’ return to England following his victory at the Battle of Poitiers starting in the autumn of 1357 at Smithfield. Edward III used the event to display his French and Scottish prisoners, including the two kings.

Sometimes the participants wore fancy dress to fight. In 1359 Edward III, his sons and some of their friends dressed as the mayor and aldermen of London for a tournament.

In March 1363 the Prince of Wales held a huge tournament to celebrate the churching of Joan of Kent after the birth of their son, Edward, in Angoulême in Aquitaine. His second son, Richard II, also gave tournaments, attending the feast of one in Smithfield in his full regalia, including his crown. This is probably the only tournament in which he took part, although he held many.

In 1382 William Montague, earl of Salisbury and second husband of Joan of Kent, killed his son in a tournament. Somewhat ironically, William had come into the earldom when his father died in 1344 from wounds he had received in a tournament.

The king was not the only one to put on tournaments; his nobles also organised them. Edward III only tended to ban a tournament when it clashed with one of his own.

Edward III turned tournaments into great spectacles. He dressed his ‘team’ alike and, when he wanted to hide his identity as a participant, they all wore masks.

There were few tournaments while the Hundred Years War was actively being fought. Edward III gave up taking part in his fifties and there were fewer tournaments after that.

Probably the most well-known joust of the fourteenth century took place in 1390 just outside Calais. Calais was a French town held by the English for two hundred years. Three French knights, including Boucicaut who recorded his training regime for posterity, said that they would fight anyone who would accept their challenge. About 100 English knights accepted. Against all expectations, the French knights won, although two of them were so badly bruised that they had to rest for a week.

As you know, there’s little I like more than videos of armour-clad men rushing around to prove how flexible and light medieval armour could be. Here’s one of a chap demonstrating that Boucicaut’s unlikely-sounding training regimen was perfectly possible.

 

 

Sources:

Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages – Michael Prestwich

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L Waugh

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

Knight – Michael Prestwich

Edward Prince of Wales and Aquitaine – Richard Barber

Edward III and the Triumph of England – Richard Barber (This book contains a chronological list of Edward III’s tournaments)

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Praying for the souls of the royal family

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This week I was in Coventry and was fortunate enough to be able to go into the church of St John the Baptist in the city centre. It is referred to as Coventry’s medieval gem, and this is no exaggeration. The church was founded in the fourteenth century, under circumstances that we’ll go into shortly, but underwent huge alterations in the fifteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the centre of Coventry was destroyed during the war, so it’s wonderful that St John’s has survived.

I went to the church to look at some needlework panels showing over a thousand years of Coventry’s history including St Osburga, Lady Godiva, the Civil War, the industrialisation of Coventry and the Second World War, but the real interest for me was the founding of the church, which is documented at various places inside the building.

In 1344 Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II and mother of Edward III, gave some land to the guild of St John the Baptist in Coventry. The land was part of her manor, Cheylesmore. The chapel was to be a chantry, where Masses would be said for members of the royal family, including her husband, the late king. Since the official date for the death of Edward II was September 1327, the timing of this endowment has been taken by many to confirm the theory that he didn’t actually die until the early 1340s, having escaped, or been allowed to escape, from Berkeley Castle and gone to the Continent.

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The impy on a pillar inside the church

 

The grant of the land includes the stipulation that, in addition to saying Masses for the members of the guild (living and dead), two priests had to say Masses daily for Edward III, his wife Philippa, and Edward, the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) during their lifetimes and for their souls after their deaths.  It has been suggested that she founded the guild of St John herself specifically to say Masses for the royal family. The chapel was consecrated on 2nd May 1350.

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The position of the chapel – probably

 

The photograph above shows the aisle that is believed to mark the original foundation, with the needlework panels I’d gone to see down one side. On Isabella’s death in 1358 her grandson, the Black Prince inherited the Cheylesmore manor and donated more land to the guild.

The guild flourished and by 1393 there were nine priests.

The chantry was dissolved in 1548 and became a parish church in 1734.

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Queen Isabella and the Downfall of Edward II

Isabella and her father and siblings

Isabella of France was the daughter of Philippe IV (best known for wiping out the Knights Templar).  Each of her three brothers became king of France, but died without producing any heirs. Isabella was born in 1295 and married Edward II in 1308, a year after he had become king. Isabella was a very intelligent woman and occasionally carried out negotiations on behalf of her husband, especially with her father and brothers.

Edward II is generally regarded as not having been much of a king. He was almost the antithesis of his father, the great warrior Edward I. He did not much like hunting, although he was interested in both horses and dogs. He did not joust, but he liked rowing. He also liked music. All of this set him apart from his barons. He was, however, very generous and he loved his family.

His besetting problem was that he had favourites whom he promoted at the expense of his more senior barons. The first was Piers Gaveston, an obscure Gascon, who became like a brother to the then Prince of Wales. He had been exiled by Edward I and recalled on the king’s death. Edward II was forced to exile him twice more. Gaveston was not above taking advantage of the king’s generosity and humiliating the barons who should have had the preference that he received. None of this seemed to worry Isabella, despite persistent rumours that the two men were in a homosexual relationship.

The third time Gaveston returned from exile, in 1311, he was captured before he could reach Edward II and killed. The king was heart-broken.

After four years of marriage, Isabella gave birth to her first child, the future Edward III, in 1312. England was on the brink of civil war as Edward II sought vengeance for the murder of Gaveston. The king also had problems with the Scots, losing the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Edward was now rumoured to have a new lover, Hugh Despenser, who was also a great enemy of those who had murdered Gaveston, although for different reasons. The two of them exacted revenge on their enemies, which led to a time of tyranny. Civil war erupted in 1321.

The end came for Isabella in 1322 when Edward and Despenser, fighting in the north, retreated from the Scots, abandoning her, so that she became cut off from them and the army, and had to make her own retreat. In 1324 fighting broke out with the French over Gascony. Much of Isabella’s property was taken from her on the basis that she was French. Despite this, in 1325 Edward sent her to France to negotiate with her brother, Charles IV, with a view to ending the fighting. Whilst in her brother’s court she became involved with an exile from England, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.

Mortimer was eight years older than Isabella. Initially Mortimer had been a supporter of Edward II, but the king awarded Despenser land belonging to Mortimer and to other Marcher lords (those who had land on the border with Wales). In 1322 he led the Marcher lords against Edward and Despenser and was captured. His death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in the Tower. In 1323 he escaped. His cause was still very popular and his escape to France was aided by many supporters. Isabella and Mortimer quickly became lovers, ironically, since she had, a few years earlier, exposed her adulterous sisters-in-law to her father.

The situation for Edward II became increasingly difficult. Isabella had managed to negotiate an agreement to end the fighting, but it required that the king pay homage for Aquitaine to Charles. Edward found himself in a quandary. If he left the country, the chances were good that war would break out while he was gone and he might not be able to return. Instead, he made his son Duke of Aquitaine and sent him in his place.

The young prince was duly sent to France where, after he had paid homage, he remained in his mother’s care. He wrote to his father begging to be forgiven for what must have appeared to be treachery, but the prince had no means of escaping from his mother.

When the scandal of their liaison made it impossible for them to stay in France, Isabella and Mortimer went to Flanders, where they negotiated with the Count of Hainault for the provision of troops to support their invasion of England. In return, Isabella promised that Prince Edward would marry the count’s daughter, Philippa. With the prince an unwilling figurehead, they landed in England on 24th September 1326. They were successful in gaining support once in England and Edward II tried to escape to Wales. He was captured and deposed. He was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, where he was either murdered or died in 1327. His younger brother Edmund, Earl of Kent, somehow came to believe that he had been removed to Corfe Castle, so the legend of his survival after 1327 persists.

Isabella and Mortimer took their revenge on those who had harmed them, usually in a cruel and bloody manner, particularly in the case of Hugh Despenser, and became little more than wealth grabbing tyrants. Prince Edward was crowned king, but did not rule. Since he was still a minor, this was not unusual in itself, but it could not have taken the new king long to realise that where his father had gone, he could soon follow.

As he did for the rest of his life, Edward III managed to gather people around him whom he could trust. They entered Nottingham Castle on 19th October 1330 and captured Isabella and Mortimer. Mortimer was tried and executed in November. He wasn’t given a second opportunity to escape from the Tower. The king’s mother, however, posed a different problem. For two years she was held at Windsor Castle, then she moved to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she lived for most of the rest of her life continuing her extravagant ways unabated until she died in 1358.

If you want to know more about Isabella and Mortimer, two very good starting places are The Greatest Traitor by Ian Mortimer and Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II by Paul Doherty.

 

 

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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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Edward III and St George (and the Dragon)

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St George has been patron saint of England since the sixteenth century, but he began to share that position with earlier saints in the fourteenth century. Richard I adopted him as his personal patron in 1199, and Edward III made St George patron of the Order of the Garter. During the latter’s reign St George became closely associated with England, together with the royal saints – Edward and Edmund.

Edward III had the chapel at Windsor that was to be home to the Knights of the Garter extended and dedicated to the Virgin and St George. The Garter Knights were to meet there every 23rd April (the feast day of St George). On this day there would be a mass, a tournament and a feast in the saint’s honour. So important was this feast to the king that it was the most expensive feast of the year.

St George is believed to have been born at the end of the third century to Christian parents and was raised as a Christian. His father was a soldier and George followed in his footsteps. In 303 Emperor Diocletian decided to purge the army of Christians, arresting many and forcing others to sacrifice to pagan gods. George refused and was tortured before he was executed.

The story of the slaying of the dragon is thought to represent his martyrdom, as a result of which some influential pagans turned to Christ. In the story a dragon is terrorising a city by cutting it off from its water supply. The dragon can be placated by being offered a sheep. If no sheep is available, a virgin will do. The victims are chosen by lot and one day the princess is chosen. The king begs for her to be spared, but the princess is taken out to be sacrificed. St George happens to come by and offers to slay the dragon and save the princess. He protects himself with the sign of the Cross and kills the dragon.

The tales of St George were brought back to England by crusaders. The flag that is associated with him today, the Cross of St George (the flag of England) was used as an emblem by crusaders. It was not particularly linked with St George until the twelfth century. When Edward III chose St George as the patron saint of the Order of the Garter he adopted the Cross of St George for the royal standard.

Edward III had always been attracted to St George, the warrior saint. He owned a relic of the saint. His grandfather, Edward I, was personally devoted to St George and adopted him as his patron saint in wars with the Scots and the Welsh. Edward III was conscious of his grandfather’s military reputation and took St George as his own patron saint as a result.  Early in the Hundred Years War, “St George” became the war cry of English soldiers.

The chapel at Westminster was decorated with a picture of Edward III and Queen Philippa with St George and their children (they had 13), possibly emphasising the fecundity of Edward III thanks to his patron saint in contrast to the infertility of the Valois and Capetian kings of France, who were protected by St Denis. Philippe VI (the first Valois king of France) had only two sons who lived more than a few days. His heir’s health was fragile and Jean almost died in his childhood. The last three Capetian kings (Edward III’s uncles) had not managed a single legitimate heir between them.

The process of making St George’s Cross England’s national banner began in the 1330s. The association between the Knights of the Garter and St George gradually percolated through England, until he became more important than either St Edward or St Edmund. By the 1360s the English felt they had a saint on a par with (if not better than) the very powerful St Denis, patron saint of France.

 

 

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The Siege of Calais and the Mercy of Edward III

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The siege at Calais, following the victory at Crécy, was one of Edward III’s greatest successes. I’ve been doing some reading about it, because one of the characters in the series of novels that I’m researching at the moment has her origins in Calais. She survives the siege, but the course of her life is changed by it.

The siege was the first great siege of the Hundred Years War. It lasted for eleven months, from 4th September 1346 to 3rd August 1347. Any hope that Edward might have of invading France and preventing France from invading England lay in having more than one place from which to attack the French king. Aquitaine was a long way from England by sea; the coast around Calais was much nearer. Edward’s attempt to invade France in 1356 was only conceivable because he was able to launch attacks from Calais, Brittany (where he had allies) and Aquitaine. In the event the invasion plans went awry, but they would have been unthinkable without Calais.

Calais had been Edward III’s aim from the start of the campaign. He had landed with his army in Normandy and marched east along the northern coast. Philippe VI gathered an army in the expectation that he would defeat the English soundly. Edward was trying to avoid the French army when they met at Crécy on 26th August. After the surprising English victory Philippe hardly knew what to do. He assumed that the English would head for their Flemish allies and disbanded his own army. It was some time before he realised his mistake and then it proved difficult to recall the army. So devastating had the defeat been, that some French nobles went over to Edward III. They were unwilling to support a king who had shown himself unable to protect his subjects.

Calais was not an important port, since its income was assumed to come from fishing. This assessment was later discovered to be incorrect. It was heavily fortified, because it was only a few miles from the border with Flanders. At this point in the war Flanders was allied with England. Calais had double walls and a ditch. The walls were very high and the town was mostly surrounded by the sea. Its other sides were protected by sand and marsh over which it was impossible to move heavy siege engines. The ground was also too soft to allow mining.

The English army started to arrive outside Calais on 4th September and reinforcements arrived by sea a couple of days later. They built a temporary town of tents and wooden buildings. Over the course of the siege it gained streets and a regular market. This town was larger than any English provincial town and had similar requirements for provisions. The town was called Villeneuve la Hardie (the bold, new town). It had a population of about 30,000 and Flemish merchants flocked to it.

At the beginning the supplies came overland from Flanders. The route was well-guarded to ensure that the supplies got through. Later, supplies also came from England in hundreds of ships which had been requisitioned for the purpose.

By the end of September the camp was considered safe enough to allow Queen Philippa to come from England to stay with her husband. She had had her tenth child in July, but Margaret was left behind. Isabella and Joan, the two oldest princesses, later joined their parents.

In October the Scots took advantage of Edward’s absence and raided the north of England. They were the allies of France and did this at Philippe’s instigation. They were defeated at the battle of Neville’s Cross and King David II was taken prisoner. He was the first of Edward III’s collection of kings.

As Edward III arrived at the town, 1,700 poor people were expelled by the garrison. Edward let them through. Since it was impossible to storm Calais, the inhabitants had to be starved out. This meant that the town had to be blockaded. Initially this was unsuccessful and the town received supplies late in the autumn and in March of the following year. Eventually, however, in April 1347, the English blockade was so effective that supplies were cut off entirely. 700 English ships were positioned in the Channel ensuring that English supplies could get through and French supplies could not.

The autumn was wet and the English had to move their town as the marshes became wetter. They started to become ill and desertion was rife. Many were wounded in attempts to scale the walls. One innovative approach to this involved fishing boats being fitted with scaling ladders. They sailed close to the walls so that soldiers could ascend the ladders up the walls of the town. These attempts failed.

At the end of the year Philippe IV’s contract with some Genoese galleys came to an end and they sailed away. They had caused a great deal of damage to English shipping. Once they were gone it was possible for the English to gain control of the sea.

During the siege there were occasional raids on smaller, less well-defended French towns to keep the army from boredom and the king threw a great feast at Christmas.

During May both sides expected a French army to turn up any day, but it didn’t. The food in the town ran out at the beginning of summer and the wells started to dry up. Even small boats could not get past the English blockade. There was another attempt to get a convoy carrying food to Calais, but many of the ships were sunk by the English and all the cargo was thrown overboard in an attempt to escape.

It was common in the last days of a siege for those who could not defend the town to be expelled and in July 500 such children, women and the infirm were sent out of Calais, relying on the mercy of the besiegers. It was not incumbent on the besiegers to spare them, however, and Edward III was notoriously lacking in mercy. They were not allowed to pass through the English lines and remained in the ditch, where they died of starvation.

Since the English had complete control of the sea, they started to bring in more troops. By the time Philippe arrived on 27th July, Edward had 5,300 men-at-arms, 6,500 infantry and 20,000 archers. It was the largest English army that had been sent abroad at that point and it was another 200 years before a greater one arrived in Europe. Edward’s Flemish allies had another 20,000 men. When Philippe arrived it was obvious that his own army was much smaller.

Philippe set up his camp at Sangatte, a hill 6 miles from Calais, and his banners were visible to the defenders of the town. They must have thought they were saved, but they were not. All approaches to the town were under English control. Philippe could not approach along the beach because there were palisades (fences made of wooden stakes) along the beach. The beach was also protected by the fleet of English ships, which contained archers and cannon. If he tried to cross the river, he would fail, as the bridge was held by the English. Beyond the bridge were earthworks and trenches.

By the evening of the 29th July Philippe knew that he wasn’t going to be able to relieve Calais. His scouts had reported to him that the town could not be helped. Despite this, he stayed and there were skirmishes between the two armies. A tower that guarded the marshes was attacked and taken. All the English soldiers in the tower were killed, but many Frenchmen lost their lives as well.

Philippe stayed within sight of Calais for a week, trying to work out how to defeat the English. In the end he decided to negotiate, but Edward wasn’t interested in what Philippe offered. On 31st July Philippe proposed that the English come out of the area around Calais and fight in a mutually acceptable location. It was a proposal that Edward III could neither accept nor refuse. Edward was in such a strong position that he could not accept it. Calais was all but his. His reputation, however, was such that he could not turn it down. Edward gave safe conduct to the French knights who were to discuss the location of the battle with his own representatives. Later, Philippe denied that this had happened, since the meeting never took place. The defenders of the town, initially cheered by the army’s arrival, were depressed by its inability to achieve anything. That night (1st August) they signalled that they were going to surrender. The French army burned its camp that same night and departed.

The town sent a message to Edward that they wanted to discuss terms. He refused, saying that they had held out against him for too long and they were all his to ransom or kill as he pleased.  His advisers pointed out that this would be a dangerous precedent to set, since it might be used against them in the future. He would doubtless expect them to hold out as long as they could in a similar situation, but they would not do so if they thought they could be killed.

The king was convinced and agreed to spare the people, except 6, who would be executed as an example. Those spared would neither have liberty nor their possessions.

Calais surrendered on 3rd August, eleven months after the beginning of the siege. As commanded by the king, 6 burghers of Calais left the town in their shirtsleeves with nooses around their necks and carrying the keys of the town. They were the prominent men of the town, including the richest man of the town.  The whole army was assembled to watch their execution. The king, the queen and the king’s counsellors sat on a dais ready to receive the men. The burghers threw themselves in front of the king and begged for mercy. The king called for the executioner. The king’s advisers protested, but only the queen, by then obviously pregnant with her eleventh child, could persuade him to mercy.

The army entered the town and raised the king’s standard. The inhabitants were forced out and the king went into the town.

The troops were given all movable property as booty. Everything was cleared from all the houses and sorted centrally. Calais proved to be a richer town than expected; it had been a centre for piracy for some time.

A few of the French garrison were held for ransom and sent to England. The townspeople were given food and most of them were sent away. They proved Edward’s point that Philippe could not protect his subjects almost as well as the taking of Calais itself. Philippe allowed them to settle in whichever towns they wanted and gave money and appointments to some.

Calais became an English colony, as Edward called on English merchants to populate it.  It was the last English possession to be lost in France, when it fell to the French during the reign of Mary I in 1558.

 

 

 

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The Dangers of a Medieval Siege

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The Hundred Years War wasn’t just about battles, it was also about sieges. It was more about sieges than battles, in fact. Early in the war the English proved that they could defeat the French in a pitched battle. This meant that the French avoided battles, and sieges became more important as the war went on. As a result Edward III’s strategy increasingly included sieges.

The first great siege of the war was a resounding success for him, even though it lasted almost a year. When it finally fell, Calais was a great prize, being on the northern coast of France and a very short distance from England. It was the last piece of France that the English surrendered when it was lost in 1558.

Sieges were difficult for besiegers and besieged alike. The besiegers needed a good supply line in order to keep an army outside a town. A siege could last several months.

The English struggled most with a siege, both as besiegers and besieged. If they were besieged there was less likelihood of an army arriving to rescue them. When they were the besiegers they rarely had enough supplies to carry out long sieges, nor the means to create a viable supply line. The siege of Calais in 1346-47 was the exception. Edward III’s navy was able both to cut off supplies to the besieged and to bring supplies to the besiegers.

The besieged had difficult decisions to make. If they surrendered this might mean that they would live. Usually this meant just that; they would be allowed to leave the town alive, taking with them whatever they could carry. They would not be allowed to return to their homes. For some this was little better than a death sentence.

If a garrison surrendered, it could be seen by their lord as a betrayal. When Limoges surrendered to the French after a mere 3 days in 1370, the Black Prince got off his sick bed and had himself carried to the town in order to exact his revenge. According to the chroniclers it was a terrible revenge, with thousands dying. By some this is seen as a stain on his chivalrous reputation; at the time it was regarded as heavy-handed justice. Froissart says that 3,000 people were killed, but it unlikely that it was more than 350, the majority of them civilians. This siege was also notable for the devastation wrought by the besiegers on the town, as they destroyed what they could not take with them and burned the town.

Few sieges in the Hundred Years War were this short. The siege at Calais in 1346-47 lasted eleven months. Orléans was besieged for seven months before it was relieved by an army led by Jeanne d’Arc in May 1429. The siege at Rouen in 1418-19 lasted a little less than six months. It was during this last that the inhabitants of the town expelled thousands of the poorest inhabitants to save food for the better off. Henry V refused to let them pass through the English lines, so they died in the ditch surrounding the town.

Sieges could lead to diseases on both sides. The dangers to the besieged are obvious. They were kept in an enclosed space until the food ran out. As the food they ate became older, staler and more rancid, the more prone they were to disease. The inhabitants of Rouen became so desperate they ate mice. The besiegers were rarely in more sanitary conditions. They, too, were confined to a small space for a long period of time, although they could be relieved. Henry V became ill during the siege at Meaux in 1422 and refused to leave until the town was beaten. He died on his way back to England. A large percentage of the besiegers in that instance died of dysentery and smallpox.

The besiegers were also exposed to attacks from the town’s inhabitants and any army that came to assist them. A town’s defences would be focused on keeping the besieging army so far from the town that they couldn’t make a conclusive attack. The defenders would fire burning arrows at the wooden siege engines and their attackers. When the besiegers did manage to get close enough to put their ladders against the walls, they had to contend with heavy objects and boiling water being dropped on them as well as arrows being fired at them.

Besieged cities could often be relieved by a friendly army arriving to fight off the besiegers, as at Orléans. Philippe VI tried to relieve Calais, but failed and gave up.

The besieging army often employed siege engines. At the beginning of the war these were mainly trebuchets, massive counterweight catapults. There is a frightening demonstration of one in the Secrets of the Castle DVD showing the distance a projectile could travel and the force with which it could strike its objective. Trebuchets were used to break down walls, or to throw things over them. In the siege at Caffa in the Crimea in 1346 (not part of the Hundred Years War) plague infested bodies were catapulted over the walls into the besieged town. Trebuchets could also hurl burning objects into the town.

During the course of the Hundred Years War trebuchets gradually gave way to cannon. At the battle of Crécy in 1346 they did little more than frighten the horses. By the end of the war they were one of the main siege weapons.

Blockades were the most effective way of winning a siege, but they took time. It was difficult to ensure that a town received no supplies so that it could be starved into surrender. Even a large army found it difficult to surround a town completely.

The quickest way to take a town was to storm it, as at Limoges, but fortifications became more effective and attacks of this nature became more difficult. Walls were made taller and thicker. Ditches were built outside the walls so that siege engines could not be brought close enough to be effective and means were developed to enable the defenders to shoot arrows whilst themselves being more or less invulnerable to attack. This is also illustrated in the Secrets of the Castle DVD.

During the siege of Rouen in 1418 the ditch outside the town not only prevented Henry V from entering the town, but became home, until they died, to the poor of the town who had been expelled.

Miners were used during many sieges. The walls of Limoges were weak and English miners built a mine beneath a tower and set fire to it, causing the tower and part of the wall to collapse.

Mining was a dangerous occupation in a siege. If the besieged became aware of a mine they could dug their way to it and fight the miners or flood the mine. In addition there were also the normal problems of mines that collapsed, killing the miners.

Just as soldiers made money from ransoming their captives so they also made money from sacking towns that surrendered. Anything and anyone within a conquered town was fair game.

When a siege began, no one could predict how it would end. The only thing that anyone knew was that many people would die.

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