Battle of Poitiers

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© Bob Denton 2014

Battle of Poitiers, 1356

Following the defeats of Crécy and Calais the estates of France were not prepared to award Philip more money for campaigning against the English forces. The deaths by plague meant that the nation was short of men for work or for soldiering which led to a period of inflation and instability.

Philip then alienated his son and many nobles when he decided to remarry and selected his son’s intended wife, Blanche of Navarre in early 1349. The following year, 1350, Philip VI died. Blanche was pregnant and in 1351 gave birth to a daughter, Joan.

Philip was interred in the Basilica of Saint-Denis and succeeded by Jean II le Bon (John II the Good).

John inherited all of his father’s problems with claims on French territories y Edward III of England and Charles II of Navarre. Provinces like Normandy was essentially autonomous and not particularly supportive of his cause. Many of his nobles were as connected to the English throne as to his.

Edward’s son Edward of Woodstock, had been invested as the Prince of Wales in 1343. He had notionally been the Regent for several periods while his father was away campaigning. He became known as the Black Prince only after his death, probably based upon his wearing black armour.

Following the successful leadership he displayed in the vanguard at Crécy, he was appointed in 1355 as his father’s royal lieutenant for Aquitaine. The Prince, from his base in Aquitaine, led two separate chevauchées in 1355 and 1356.

The first of these lasted for two months travelling six hundred miles from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean and back again. His force consisted of over 6,000 men and the expedition severely unsettled the French belief that John II was able to defend them. The French troops refused to engage in a set battle and instead secured Toulouse which they assumed was his goal.

The Prince moved instead of Carcassonne where he attacked part of town but chose not to try to attack its fortifications. He moved on to Narbonne and the Mediterranean coast, but hearing the French were finally responding and threatening to stop his return, he left.

In seeking to avoid the French his return journey was quite arduous through fairly barren territory. However he returned to Bordeaux with plenty of loot and lots of prisoners for ransom. It had been a great success.

It was to be his 1356 chevauchée that led to the second great set piece battle of the Hundred Years’ War at Poitiers.

They had met with little resistance as they marauded through central France. They arrived at Tours but failed in a siege of the castle and when they tried to burn the town they were defeated by a downpour of rain.

John II of France had been setting siege on Breteuil against an English incursion in to Normandy. He was no warrior prince, eschewing jousting and most physical pursuits but his royal family had a reputation to repair following the losses at Crécy and Calais.

Hearing of the English action at Tours, he marched most of his army to Chartres, leaving perhaps fifteen thousand of his less-able infantry behind so that he could advance speedily. He sought to outflank the Prince at Poitiers.

The English had perhaps 8,000 men to John’s 16,000. As the sides were sizing each other up the English decided to move their baggage train out of harm’s way.  But the French assumed this was preparation for a retreat and its cavalry attacked rather hastily. The haste meant that not all of the French superiority of numbers was actually brought to bear.

While the knight’s armour stood up well against the English archers, their horses did not. The French failed to penetrate a hedge the English had adopted as their ‘front line’. Attacks were launched for several hours without success.

When the French infantry advanced there was again some confusion. The Dauphin’s infantry had advanced and engaged the English, but withdrew to regroup from their first attack. The Duke of Orléans second wave of infantry seeing this panicked and ran.

John II, realising that things were not going well, ordered the Dauphin and another prince to leave the battlefield. The Duke of Orléans noting this also withdrew. Prince Edward had held a reserve force in the woods and these were able to attack the French in their flank and rear. The fear of being encircled completed the French problems and they tried to escape the battlefield.

Forward to John II – Back to The pestilence
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014