Tag Archives: Sir John Chandos

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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A Garter and Chivalry

Edward III and the garter

Edward III was his father’s son and the early years of his reign, at least, were informed by the disastrous end of his father’s. Edward III was at pains to show that he was a different kind of king in the hope of hanging on to his crown… and his life.

Although far from a coward, Edward II didn’t seem to enjoy fighting as much as his son and he certainly possessed none of Edward III’s military genius. Edward II had little in common with his barons, and his wife and her lover found it fairly easy to depose him and then murder him. Edward III wished to escape a similar fate.

The creation of the Order of the Knights of the Garter was an important step in the process of creating a new kind of kingship for England. Edward had been considering ways in which to bind his knights to one another and to him for some time. He had originally considered something similar to the Round Table. Arthurian legends were popular at the time and it wouldn’t hurt the king to be considered a second Arthur.

In the end he decided to create a chivalric order that included an element of the spiritual.

After the surprising military successes of 1346 (victories against the French at Crécy and the Scots at Neville’s Cross) the king was in a position to his ideas into effect and the Order was created on St George’s Day 1349 (probably).

There are only ever 24 Knights of the Garter, plus the monarch and the Prince of Wales. These days they tend to be rather elderly – 4 are in their 90s and the youngest is 64. When the first Knights of the Garter were created they were much younger, mostly in their 20s. The Black Prince was 18 and the king himself was one of the oldest at 36.

The first knights included men who had fought beside the king and the Prince in France, such as the earl of Lancaster (the king’s most trusted general), the earl of Warwick, the Captal de Buch (a trusted Gascon lord) and the Prince’s friends Sir John Chandos and Sir James Audley, as well as Thomas Holland, first husband of Joan of Kent who later married the Prince.

The Knights would meet on St George’s day, usually at Windsor and their meeting would often be accompanied by a tournament. The tournament provided a spectacular entertainment for those in attendance, but it also had a more serious purpose. The Order of the Garter was an order of chivalry and the tournament allowed its members to demonstrate their chivalry by feats of arms.

Orders of knighthood were being formed in other European countries at the time, as the modern methods of warfare were beginning to make their rôle in it less important. Soldiers were being paid rather than providing their services as a feudal duty and had little personal loyalty to those who paid them.

The Garter Knights have a motto ‘Hony soi qui mal y pense’, which probably refers to Edward III’s claim to the French throne. Since one of the objects of the Order was to bind the members to him so that they would support him in foreign wars, this makes sense. It means ‘Shamed be he who thinks evil of it’.

No one knows why the garter was chosen as the emblem, although there are lots of theories, some of them rather salacious. It probably symbolized something relating, again, to the king’s claim to the French throne.

Windsor was important to Edward III as it was his birthplace. It was also his favorite residence outside London, although Woodstock, where three of his children were born, including the Black Prince, was another place where he liked to stay. It was in Windsor that he chose to institute the Order and where he built their spiritual home, which reflected the increasing attribution of English military success to St George and the cross of St George was used to represent the king as much as his own royal standard.

One of the more surprising things about the institution of the Order is that it happened while England was in the grip of the Black Death. It’s easy to imagine that everything just stopped for the time during which Europe was expecting the world to end, but things did continue, although there were some comments from contemporary chroniclers that this might not be the best time for what many considered frivolity. Since he lost one of his much-loved daughters to the Black Death, Edward III was as aware as anyone else of the impact the plague was having on the country.

The kind of kingship he created certainly worked for him. Unlike his predecessor and his successor, he died a natural death and was king for 50 years.

 

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A Noble Expedition in Spain

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chandos Herald and the Life of the Black Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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