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The Battle of Poitiers 1356

The Battle of Poitiers 1356

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by David Green

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This is the story of one of the great battles of the Hundred Years War, often ignored in favor of its more celebrated siblings, Crecy and Agincourt. The victory at Poitiers by an English force outnumbered two-to-one as led by Edward the Black Prince was one of the most significant of the Hundred Years War. The consequences of the battle resonated throughout the


This is the story of one of the great battles of the Hundred Years War, often ignored in favor of its more celebrated siblings, Crecy and Agincourt. The victory at Poitiers by an English force outnumbered two-to-one as led by Edward the Black Prince was one of the most significant of the Hundred Years War. The consequences of the battle resonated throughout the remainder of the century and influenced the war to its end in 1453. David Green has researched the battle and the raids that preceded it exhaustively and details the strategy, tactics, arms, and armor used by both sides. He reconstructs the battle using an array of contemporary sources and discusses the protagonists, setting, course, and outcome of the encounter and considers the implications of the capture of King Jean II of France and many of the most important members of the French nobility.

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The History Press
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4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Battle of Poitiers 1356

By David Green

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 David Green
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9634-4


The Grande Chevauchée of 1355

In 1346, before the Crécy campaign, an appeal for military assistance had led to an English expedition in France. So it was once again in 1355. In January certain members of the Gascon nobility including Jean de Grailly, the captal de Buch (so-called because of the hereditary title he bore, to the captalate of Buch), and the lords of Lesparre and Mussidan, were present in England at the birth of Edward III's son, Thomas of Woodstock. They took the opportunity to express their deep concern at the hostile activities of the count of Armagnac. As one of the most important members of the nobility of southern France, Jean d'Armagnac had been appointed the French king's lieutenant in Languedoc in November 1352. He had not proved an amicable neighbour – only two months later he laid siege to the Gascon town of Saint-Antonin. Military pressure continued and considerable inroads were made into the duchy so that by the end of May 1354 Armagnac was encamped on the banks of the River Lot only twenty-seven leagues from Bordeaux.

This assault was set against a general backdrop of growing hostility. Formal activity in the Hundred Years War had been limited after the fall of Calais to the English in 1347, partly because of the disruption caused by the Black Death (1347–50). Attempts at diplomacy including the abortive treaty of Guînes had failed and subsequent negotiations at Avignon had broken down. Accordingly, the Gascon request for a response to Armagnac's attacks merely hastened the resumption of the Anglo-French war.


The Black Prince's expedition in 1355 marked his first independent command, and the size and quality of the army he led was indicative of his importance and authority as a military commander and his status as heir-apparent. The expeditionary force composed members of his household, his retainers, annuitants and the retinues of those magnates who followed him.

The English military machine had undergone something of a transformation, perhaps even a revolution, since it had been taught a bitter lesson in many battles with the Scots, the most painful of which had been delivered at Bannockburn. By 1355, English armies were becoming increasingly 'professional'. They were no longer recruited through traditional 'feudal' means. Rather, recruiting captains were employed by means of indentures – contracts specifying the number and types of troops to be supplied for a particular campaign or particular period of service. Specific conditions of service concerning payment, booty and dates, and points of embarkation were agreed. Such agreements, which might be taken out for an individual or a whole army, were indicative of the increasingly sophisticated military approach the English had adopted.

However, if the means of bringing an army into the field was innovative, the broad strategy that the army would implement was not. Raiding had been and continued to be one of the most common forms of warfare waged throughout the medieval period. But, the degree of organisation and devastation that the Anglo-Gascon army brought to this military tradition was something new. The English chevauchée strategy aimed to dislocate the foundations of economic, social and political life in France. In the event that this drew out the enemy to the battlefield an effective strategic and tactical plan had been established. In order to implement this, the right kind of troops, properly equipped and supplied were necessary. Such a strategy was not cheap, however, and its cost led to the development of near- permanent taxation in England.

On 10 July 1355, the prince signed an indenture with his father which outlined the composition of the expeditionary force and the responsibilities of those involved. The prince was to lead a force of 433 men-at-arms (although this may have been exceeded), 400 mounted archers and 300 foot archers totalling 1,133 soldiers. This was to be supplemented by troops under the command of the earls of Warwick, Suffolk, Oxford, and Salisbury, Sir John Lisle and Sir Reginald Cobham. Taking into account the advance payments made to the captains around the same time, it is probable that the prince set sail with a total force of around 2,700.

There are no extant muster rolls for the 1355 expedition, but some reconstruction of the army can be made through shipping records which indicate that Warwick, Suffolk, Oxford, Salisbury, Lisle and Cobham probably brought 500 men-at-arms and 800 archers. In addition to those recruited by the prince, this gives a total of 933 men-at-arms and 1,800 archers to which were added about several thousand Gascon troops.

The first indications that there would be a campaign, at least in recruiting terms, pre-dated the formal signing of the indenture and began in the prince's earldom of Chester. In May and June 1355, 500 archers were to be 'chosen, tested and arrayed' along with 100 from Flintshire. They were contracted to arrive at Plymouth, the point of embarkation, 'by three weeks before Midsummer' and it appears that all but forty of these did so. Cheshire archers, probably due to national leanings rather than an indication of military skill, received a higher rate of pay than the Welsh soldiers who were employed as both archers and light infantry, armed with lances and pikes.

In contrast to the Crécy-Calais campaign there was only a small Welsh contingent in the prince's army in 1355. These were attached to the prince's own household retinue. Gronou ap Griffith commanded 60 men from north Wales, and David ap Blethin Vaghan, 30 men from Flintshire. Three notable Welsh knights also brought their retinues: John Griffith, Rhys ap Griffith, who may have been the leader of a force from south Wales, and Hywel ap Griffith, known to posterity as Sir Hywel of the Axe. This was the first campaign in the Hundred Years War in which the Welsh were recorded as using horses.

Wages of war and 'regard' (an advance payment) were received by the following:

Prince of Wales: £8,129 18s.
Earl of Warwick: £2,614 4s.
Earl of Suffolk: £1,428 6s. 8d.
Earl of Oxford: £1,174 13s. 10d.
Earl of Salisbury: £1,124 2s. 2d.
Reginald Cobham: £652 8d.

As well as a considerable administrative and logistical exercise, this was a major financial undertaking. The advance cost of the expedition including war wages and payment of 'regard' totalled some £19,500, and shipping contributed a further £3,300. In the year from September 1355, over £55,000 was spent on the prince's military operation in Gascony.

Although sent to Gascony to lead a military expedition the prince also had governmental, political and diplomatic responsibilities. Appointed his father's lieutenant in the duchy, he was provided with financial resources 'for the conciliation of the people of the country' and authority to make ordinances and act 'as he shall think best for the honour and profit of the king in all matters ... in the duchy of Gascony'. Furthermore, in the event of the prince being besieged or beset by overwhelming forces, reinforcements were to be sent by the king in person and/or the duke of Lancaster, and earls of Arundel, Northampton, March and Stafford. It was to be a national expedition, resourced by the crown and supported by the most powerful magnates of the realm, but the inherent dangers were also recognised and the potential threat of the loss or capture of the heir-apparent was given due consideration.

Nonetheless, the force that left England in 1355 was small compared with those recruited in 1346 although it was complemented on arrival by Gascon forces and further increased prior to the 1356 expedition when Sir Richard Stafford, one of the prince's key retainers, was commissioned to reinforce and re-supply the army.

Evidence for the Gascon participants in 1355 and 1356 is also not as comprehensive as one would wish. Despite the abundance of records in Gascony for the period 1354–61, those detailing the 1355 campaign are not complete. It is clear, nonetheless, that several members of the local nobility led military companies and some had seen action in English service in the past. Despite the chequered nature of Gascon relations with the English crown over many years, the political and military integrity of the duchy depended, to a greater or lesser degree, on the support of the local aristocracy. In this context, even without any other motivation, the reason is clear for the success of the Gascon appeal to Edward III. The Captal de Buch, an established supporter of the English cause, was among those who asked for help in January 1355. To further strengthen his loyalty, Edward III granted him various rights and perquisites, mainly in the towns of Bénauges and Ilaz. In addition, members of the Albret family, Amauri de Biron, sire de Montferrand, Auger de Montaut, sire de Mussidan, Guillaume de Pommiers, Guillaume Sans, sire de Lesparre, and Guillaume Amanier, sire de Roson all led troops in the campaigns of 1355–6.

The Commanders

The chief commanders and officers of the 1355 expedition were closely associated with the prince's household and personal retinue. Among the magnates, Robert Ufford, earl of Suffolk, the titular head of the prince's council, had been associated with him since 1338, and William Montague, earl of Salisbury, had been knighted with the prince when they had landed at La Hogues on the Crécy campaign in 1346. In addition to Warwick, Lisle and Cobham, the leaders included James Audley, Richard Stafford, John Chandos, John Wingfield, Baldwin Botetourt, Bartholomew Burghersh, Nigel Loryng, Stephen Cosington, Roger Cotesford, Alan Cheyne and William Trussel. These were men of considerable military experience in the wars with France and Scotland, and several had fought in Gascony and understood its political character. Among these, Loryng, Audley and Stafford had served with Henry of Grosmont, then earl of Derby, in 1345.

The military talent at the prince's disposal can be seen in the fact that the army contained seven current knights of the Garter and two future members – Ufford and Cobham. Among the commanders at least a dozen had fought at Crécy. These bonds would be strengthened by a year's campaigning, and its growing collective experience made the prince's retinue an extremely effective military force.

In addition to the purely military arm of the prince's entourage, much of his domestic household also rode with him, and their peacetime function was amended to incorporate campaigning duties both for the prince himself and the army at large. The prince's household staff included Nicholas Bonde (squire), Henry Aldrington (master-tailor), William Bakton (yeoman of the buttery), Richard Doxeye (baker), Robert Egremont (pavillioner), Geoffrey Hamelyn (keeper of the prince's armour), John Henxteworth (controller of the household), William Lenche (porter), and Henry Berkhamsted (porter, later constable of Berkhamsted castle). These men organised and administered the campaign and the prince valued their service highly: officers of the household received gifts worth a total of £275 10s. for their efforts in outfitting the expedition to Gascony.

The roles these men played in the daily organisation of the army and in its command structure can be reconstructed partially from evidence contained in a number of campaign letters. These were part of an ongoing propaganda campaign that appears to have been relatively successful in ensuring public support and, more importantly, public money for the war with France. These communications, sent back by Edward and others, indicate Audley, Chandos, Botetourt and at times Burghersh 'were the prince's handy men for field work, that Stafford was assigned to special tasks (as he had been before the campaign), that Wingfield remained as 'head of the office' and that these men who had of course known one another before going out to France, formed a group bound by friendly relations to one another and by common loyalty to their chief: they were part of the 'permanent staff'.'

Preparation and Transport

The indenture of 10 June 1355, in addition to outlining the troops to be recruited for the expedition, also detailed the means by which the army was to travel to Gascony and undertake the chevauchée once it arrived there. It included specifications for the purchase of horses, the provision of ships, and lesser matters such as the purveyance of hurdles (used for separating horses when onboard ship). Thomas Hoggeshawe, lieutenant of John Beauchamp, the admiral of the fleet west of the Thames, was appointed acting commander of the prince's fleet, and John Deyncourt, sub-admiral of the northern fleet, was also involved. General orders regarding the impending expedition were sent out as early as April. Henry Keverell, presumably a merchant or supplier of ships and boats, was paid for the purchase of gear for the prince's ship; items were delivered to John le Clerk and his fellows, the keepers of the Christophre, the ship on which the prince was to travel; and on 16 July, ships from Bayonne were impounded (or 'arrested' as it was described) in various ports. Some of these vessels had previously been used to transport Henry of Lancaster's troops to Normandy where he was to be engaged in a campaign in the hope that a twin-pronged assault would divide French royal forces between the north and the south. Letters of safe conduct were issued to the prince's men between 8 June and 6 September. Preparations were undertaken, it seems, with the intention that the expeditionary force should arrive in Gascony immediately after the expiration of the Anglo-French truce on 24 June. In the event, however, contrary winds and delays in securing sufficient numbers of ships prevented departure until the second week of September. During the delay at Plymouth the prince stayed at Plympton Priory and concerned himself with affairs concerning his duchy of Cornwall. Tiderick van Dale, usher of the prince's chamber, and Bartholomew Burghersh, the younger, led an advance party prior to the arrival of the main fleet soon after 1 July, and Stephen Cosington and William the Chaplain prepared the archbishop's palace at Bordeaux for the prince who stayed there, whilst not on campaign, until his return to England in 1357. The fleet sailed on 8 or 9 September and arrived in Bordeaux just over a week later at the height of the vendage. The earls of Warwick, Suffolk and their retinues embarked and sailed separately from Southampton.

On 21 September, the prince was presented to the great and the good of the duchy. He spoke before the nobles of Gascony and the citizens of Bordeaux; his appointment as the king's lieutenant was proclaimed and his father's letters and commands were read out in a ceremony conducted in considerable splendour in the cathedral of St Andrew.

Les cavaliers de l'Apocalypse

Following as it did on the heels of the Black Death, the chevauchée of 1355 was a catastrophe for the people of southern France. The raid from Bordeaux to Narbonne cemented the Black Prince's reputation, and perhaps, consequently, his pseudonym: Louis of Anjou's Apocalypse tapestries would depict a similar raid as demonic. The prince was to be only one of the horsemen, however. As had been the strategy in 1346, the campaign was preceded by an attempt to divide French forces. This, again, involved Henry of Grosmont; he attacked Normandy with Charles of Navarre, while the prince rode from Gascony. It is possible that there was a third element to the plan and that King Edward himself may have intended to lead a further expeditionary force into the French interior.

No attempts at secrecy preceded the attack led by the prince in 1355. Hostilities had already broken out between Armagnac and the Gascons, and the raid from Bordeaux was merely one element in a wider operation; French forces would be divided if they tried to deal with the king, the prince and Lancaster simultaneously.

The army left Bordeaux on or a little before 5 October. Its strength, augmented by the contingents led by the Gascon nobility, probably numbering a further 4,000 men, brought the total force to between 6,000 and 8,000 troops. It marched south and a little east before heading almost due east on reaching Plaissance. Thereafter the raid continued to the Mediterranean coast and Narbonne. The return to Bordeaux followed a not dissimilar path, widening the band of destruction to encompass Limoux, Boulbonne and Gimont. The raid proved to be a remarkable exercise in devastation and destruction, and was the pre-eminent example of the chevauchée strategy. The army travelled from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back. It targeted the economic resources and the political credibility of the Valois monarchy in the south through assaults on more than 500 villages, towns, castles and other settlements.

When nearing Arouille, following usual practice, the army divided into three columns in order to march on a broad front to maximise any damage that might be caused. Anglo-Gascon casualties were low throughout the 1355 raid but there was a notable exception at this point in the operation when John Lord Lisle fell at Estang. Lisle had a long history of distinguished service. In 1339 and the early 1340s he had served in Gascony with Derby, and he had fought at Crécy in recognition of which he was appointed a founder member of the Order of the Garter. He had also been involved in the naval encounter at Winchelsea in 1350 and such service may well have contributed to his appointment as sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire and governor of Cambridge castle. Military service often led to public duties in the shires and, increasingly, in the service of central government as well as in parliament amongst whose members were many old soldiers.


Excerpted from The Battle of Poitiers 1356 by David Green. Copyright © 2013 David Green. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Battle of Poitiers 1356 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is to military history as sand is to engine oil, so do not buy