Tag Archives: Roger Mortimer

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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King at last, or how Edward III overthrew Roger Mortimer

isabella-at-the-siege-of-bristol1326

 

King, but not ruling

Edward III’s reign officially began on 25th January 1327 following the abdication of his father, Edward II. Edward II had been forced to abdicate by his wife, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, following their invasion of England in September of the previous year.

Edward III was only thirteen when he became king and Isabella and Mortimer were the de facto rulers of England. Mortimer surrounded the king with spies so that Edward’s actions were constrained. Edward even had to agree a secret code with the pope so that the latter would know which letters purporting to come from the king really were from him.

Worrying Times

By October 1330 a few things had happened which would have made the young king worry about his personal safety. Edward II had been notoriously healthy, yet he died in September 1427 after only eight months of imprisonment and his body, contrary to custom, was not displayed before it was buried. This led many to believe that he had been murdered on Mortimer’s orders.

In March 1330 Edward III had been forced to acquiesce to the execution of his uncle, the Earl of Kent, an event so terrible and unexpected that it proved difficult to find someone willing to carry out the execution.

On 15th June 1330 Edward of Woodstock, Edward III’s first son, was born. This did not necessarily increase Edward’s immediate danger. It was not unusual for children, even the children of kings, to die very young. Of Edward’s thirteen children, four lived no more than a few of days and only six reached their twenties. If  Mortimer wanted a boy he could manipulate until he was of an age to rule in his own right, they would have to make sure they chose the right one before they disposed of Edward.

What did present an immediate danger to Edward was the rumour that his mother was pregnant. During the previous four years Mortimer had been behaving as if he were the king, even taking precedence over the king at public events. If he were to have a son by Isabella, his ambition was such that he might depose (and kill) Edward in his son’s favour. He had many supporters, so such a possibly would not have been unthinkable to a man who had already deposed a king.

The big question mark in all of this is how far Isabella would have gone along with her lover. She was close to her son and it’s difficult to imagine her agreeing either to his deposition or his murder, even if she was carrying Mortimer’s child. This in turn raises the question of how much influence she had over Mortimer by this stage.

The king takes action

Regardless of whether he thought his mother could prevent his being killed or not, Edward was sufficiently concerned to lead a few trusted men against Mortimer on the evening of 19th October 1330. Mortimer had been alerted by his spies that something was being planned, but they didn’t know the details. Mortimer did everything he could to ensure his own safety. Many of the king’s closest companions had been questioned. Edward’s supporters were not permitted to lodge in Nottingham Castle, where the king, Mortimer and Queen Isabella were staying. The castle guards were told to obey Mortimer’s orders, not those of the king, and Queen Isabella held the keys to the castle. All of these things were, of course, an insult to the king.

The king’s friends, led by William Montague, rode out of Nottingham Castle very conspicuously and re-entered the castle secretly through a small gate which had been left open for them. They joined the king, and Mortimer was arrested. Edward wanted to kill him there and then, but cooler heads prevailed and Mortimer was taken away to London where he was tried. He was hanged just over a month after his arrest.

 

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Edward III and King Arthur

king_arthur_and_the_knights_of_the_round_table

From the time of Edward I English kings used the legends about King Arthur to bolster their claim to rule all the British Isles. Although Arthur was a British hero, by the thirteenth century he had come to symbolise the English, and the mythology was used, consciously or unconsciously, to unite Britons, Saxons and Normans. King Arthur represented many things: he was the ideal king, the ideal knight, the ideal husband and the ideal Christian.

The myths and legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were known all over Europe and were recorded very early in ‘romances’, long poems which are often regarded as the prototype of the novel. Even though Arthur was associated with Britain, works about him were written in many countries. Geoffrey of Monmouth was a twelfth-century cleric, from or based in Wales, whose book Historia Regium Britanniae contains a very early version of the Arthur stories. Later in the twelfth century, Chrétien de Troyes, who served at the court of Marie de France, Coutness of Champagne, wrote four complete and one incomplete romances about Arthur (Erec et Enide, Cligès, Yvain, Lancelot and Perceval). He is also credited with inventing the character of Lancelot. Another French poet of the late twelfth century, Robert de Boron wrote Josephe d’Arimathe about the Holy Grail, and Merlin. Around the same time Wolfram von Eschenbach was writing Parzival in Bavaria (probably), claiming that Chrétien de Troyes had got the story wrong. In the 1360s the Italian poet Boccaccio wrote a long poem about Arthur. Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt was written in England in the late fourteenth century by an unknown poet referred to either as ‘the Pearl poet’ or ‘the Gawain poet’. Possibly the best known version of the stories is Le Morte d’Arhur written by Sir Thomas Malory in the middle of the fifteenth century. Ironically, given the chivalrous nature of Arthur and his knights, Malory was a less than savoury character, being a thief and possibly a murderer. He changed sides during the Wars of the Roses and wrote down the stories while in prison.

Edward I was obsessed with Arthur, even taking his new bride to see Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury.  He usurped the Arthurian mythology when he conquered Wales. To the Welsh Arthur was the British hero who would return to beat back the English, but Edward I used him to bolster his own legend and to demonstrate to the Welsh that Arthur wasn’t coming back.

His grandson, Edward III, was similarly obsessed. Edward venerated his grandfather, and this was probably why he was interested in Arthur, although, as we shall see, there were other reasons for him to pursue this interest. From boyhood Edward III studied the lives of great kings from the past in order to be a good king and these included King Arthur. He studied the histories about Arthur, rather than the romances. Even though Edward III probably did not read the romances himself, it’s probable that he either heard the stories read aloud or told as entertainment. Both his mother and his wife were fond of the romances.

After he had overthrown his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in 1330 Edward III’s contemporaries began to talk of him as King Arthur returned, fulfilling the prophecies of Merlin. He, however, was careful to claim no more for himself than the rôle of Sir Lionel, which had been assigned to him by Mortimer during a tournament. In this he learned from Mortimer himself. Mortimer had made himself unpopular by (amongst other things) identifying himself with Arthur.

Mortimer’s family held that they, being descendants of the Welsh kings were also descendants of Arthur. In 1329 Mortimer played the part of King Arthur and Isabella played Guinevere at a tournament, while Edward, the king, was a mere knight, Lionel. Mortimer was clearly putting himself above the king and this was probably one of the many things that made Edward III feel threatened and led to his coup against his mother. Lionel could be understood to mean ‘little lion’ and Edward later used it as a reference to the lions on his standard.  He named his third son Lionel.

When Edward III came to found his order of chivalry in the 1340s, his original vision was that his band of knights should have a round table at Windsor. He even planned a round building to house it. It was Edward I who had ordered the construction of the Round Table which is now in Winchester Castle and Edward III was probably thinking of this when he ordered his own Round Table to be built. Although there is nothing specific in the way the Order of the Knights of the Garter was set up that refers to Arthur, the mere fact that Edward set up an order of chivalry with a small number of knights was enough to make his subjects see the comparison.

Other medieval monarchs used the mythology of Arthur to their own ends. Henry VII named his first son Arthur. Henry was Welsh and, like Mortimer, was claiming descent from King Arthur. He did this in order to legitimise not only his own reign, but that of his son. The use of Arthur as a name for the Prince of Wales is not limited to medieval times; the current Prince of Wales also has Arthur as one of his names, as does Prince William.

 

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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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The Hundred Years War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Little Piece of England in France

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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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