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Full text of "Poitiers"

RITISH BATTLE 



BY 



HI LAI RE BELLOC 



s 



IS 



POITIERS 



Captal At Bach* rufc \ *\N < - -, V v#x o 




T 



POITIERS 



BY 

HILAIRE BELLOC 



LONDON 
HUGH REES, LTD. 

5 REGENT STREET, PALL MALL, S.W. 



CONTENTS 



PART PAGE 

INTRODUCTION .... 9 

I. THE CAMPAIGN . . . .18 

II. THE PRELIMINARIES OF THE 

ACTION 33 

III. THE TERRAIN . . . .47 

IV. THE ACTION 68 

V. THE ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES . 102 

VI. THE RESULTS OF THE BATTLE . 115 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 



Coloured Plan of the Battle . 

Plan No. 1 page 12 

No. 2 ,,32 

No. 3 ..... 49 

No. 4 61 



POITIERS 



INTRODUCTION 

THE Battle of Poitiers was fought ten years 
and four weeks after that of Crecy. 

The singular similarity between the two 
actions will be pointed out upon a later 
page. For the moment it must suffice to 
point out that Poitiers and Crecy form 
unique historical parallels, distinguishing 
like double summits the English successes 
of Edward III.'s army upon the Conti- 
nent and of the first part of the Hundred 
Years' War. 

For the political situation which had 
produced that conflict, and for the objects 
which Edward III. had in provoking it, I 
must refer my reader to the first section of 
my little book upon Crecy in this series ; 
as also for the armament and organisation 
of the forces that served the English crown. 
There remain to be added, however, for 
the understanding of Poitiers and its 
9 



10 POITIERS 

campaign, two features which differentiate 
the fighting of 1356 from that of ten years 
before. These two features are : first, the 
character of the commander ; and secondly, 
the nature of the regions from which he 
started and through which he proceeded, 
coupled with the political character of the 
English rule in the South of France. I will 
take these points in inverse order. 

When Calais had fallen and had become 
an English possession in the summer of 
1347 no peace followed. A truce was 
patched up for some months, followed by 
further truces. Through the mediation of 
the Pope a final and definite treaty was 
sketched, which should terminate the war 
upon the cession of Aquitaine to Edward 
III. in full sovereignty. The French Valois 
king would perhaps have agreed to a settle- 
ment which would have preserved his feudal 
headship, though it would have put the 
Plantagenets in virtual possession of half 
France (as France was then defined). But 
Edward III. would not accept the terms. 
He had claimed the crown of France. He 
had won his great victory at Crecy still 
claiming that crown. He would not be 
content with adding to his feudal tenures 
under the French crown. He would add 
to his sovereignty at least, to his absolute 



INTRODUCTION 11 

sovereignty, or continue the war. In 1354 
(the Black Death intervening) the war was 
renewed. Edward would have been content, 
not with the whole of Aquitaine, but with 
complete sovereignty over the triangle 
between the Garonne and the Pyrenees in the 
south, coupled with complete sovereignty 
over the north-eastern seaboard of France 
from the Somme to Calais, and inland as far 
as Arras, and its territory, the Artois. But 
the French monarchy, though ready to 
admit feudal encroachments, would not 
dismember the nominal unity of the king- 
dom : just as a stickler in our north will 
grant a 999-year lease, but will not sell. 

The result of. this breach in the negotia- 
tions was that Edward, and his son the 
Black Prince, entered upon the renewal of 
the war with a vague claim to Aquitaine 
as a whole, with an active claim upon 
Guienne that is, the territory just north of 
the Garonne and a real hold upon Gascony ; 
and still preserving at the back of the whole 
scheme of operations that half -earnest, half- 
theatrical plan for an Anglo-French mon- 
archy under the house of Plantagenet which 
had been formulated twenty - five years 
before. 

It must be clearly grasped by the general 
reader how natural was both the real and 



INTRODUCTION 13 

the fantastic side of that pursuit. It in- 
volved no question of nationality as we 
should now understand it. It was based 
upon still living traditions of feudal con- 
nections which were personal and not 
racial ; the chivalry of France and England 
was a French-speaking society based upon 
common ideals and fed with common 
memories. Gascony was in favour of the 
Plantagenets. Further, Guienne the dis- 
trict north of Gascony beyond the Garonne 
was Edward's feudal own. He was not 
king of it, but he was feudal lord of it, and 
had done homage for it in 1331 to the Valois. 
It was not a new or distant tie. For the 
rest of the quarrel my first section in the 
essay on Crecy already alluded to must 
suffice, but for the link with Gascony a 
more particular emphasis is needed. The 
trade of Bordeaux, its great town, was 
principally with British ports. Its export 
of wine was a trade with Britain. It lay 
far from the centre of the French monarchy. 
It had counted in its Basque population an 
element indifferent for hundreds of years to 
the national unity of Gaul. The moneyed 
interests of its great commercial centres, 
of the western ones, at least (which were by 
far the richest), were closely bound up with 
England, with English trade. Add to this 



14 POITIERS 

his actual feudal tenure of Guienne, and we 
can see how the feeling that all the south- 
west corner of France was his grew to be a 
very real feeling in Edward's mind, and was 
shared by his son. 

When, therefore, upon the 20th September 
1355, Edward, the Black Prince, landed at 
Bordeaux, it was to find a province the 
nobles of which were honestly attached to 
his cause and the greater townsmen as well ; 
while in the mass of the people there was 
no disaffection to the idea of this one out 
of the vague, many, French-speaking feudal 
lords whom they knew to be their masters, 
being the actual governor of the land. 
There was no conquest, nor any need for it, 
so far as Gascony was concerned ; and in any 
expedition the Prince might make he was as 
certain of a regular following from the towns 
and estates that lay between the mountains 
and the Garonne as the King of France was 
certain of his own feudal levies in the north. 
But expeditions and fighting there would 
be because the Black Prince came with a 
commission not only to govern Gascony, 
but to establish himself in the more doubt- 
ful Guienne, and even to be if he could 
conquer it the lieutenant of his father, 
Edward, in all Aquitaine. He was to 
recover the districts immediately north of 



INTRODUCTION 15 

the Garonne, and even (in theory, at least) 
right up to the neighbourhood of the Loire ; 
and (in theory, again) he was to regard those 
who might resist his administration of all 
these " lost " countries of the Central and 
Southern West of France as " rebels." 

It was thought certain at first, of course, 
that the whole claim could never be pushed 
home ; but the Black Prince might well 
hope so to harry the districts which were 
claimed and the neighbouring county of 
Toulouse to the east, which was admittedly 
feudatory to the King of Paris as to com- 
pel that sovereign to recognise at last his 
father's absolute sovereignty over Gascony 
certainly, and perhaps over Guienne, or even 
somewhat more than Guienne. 

The remainder of that year, 1355, there- 
fore the autumn and the winter were 
spent in striking at the sole portion of 
Gascony that was disaffected (that of 
Armagnac), and pushing eastward to ravage 
Toulouse and Carcassonne ; for though these 
towns were admittedly outside Edward's 
land, the wasting of their territory was a 
depletion of the King of France's revenue. 

The Black Prince did more. In the early 
part of the next year, 1356, he set up his 
flag upon Perigueux, some days' march to 
the north of his father's real boundary ; 



16 POITIERS 

and, as the year proceeded, he planned 
an advance far to the northward of that, 
which advance was to be taken in co- 
operation with a descent of the Plantagenet 
forces upon the other extremity of the 
French kingdom. 

As to the character of the Black Prince, 
which so largely determined what is to 
follow, and especially his character in 
command, nothing is more conspicuous in 
the history of the Middle Ages. He was, 
partly from the influence of models, partly 
from personal force, the mirror of what the 
fighting, French-speaking nobility of that 
century took for its ideal conception of a 
captain. Far the first thing for him was 
the trade and the profession of arms, and 
the appetite for combat which this career 
satisfied certainly in its baser, but still more 
certainly in its nobler, effects in the mind 
of a virile youth. He had gone through 
the great experience of Crecy as a boy of 
sixteen. He was now, upon the eve of the 
Campaign of Poitiers, a man in his twenty- 
sixth year, thoroughly avid not only of 
honour but of capture, thoroughly con- 
temptuous of gain, generous with a mad 
magnificence, always in debt, and always 
utterly careless of it. His courage was of 
the sort that takes a sharp delight in danger, 



INTRODUCTION 17 

and particularly in danger accompanied by 
strong action ; he was an intense and a 
variable lover of women, an unwearied 
rider, of some (but no conspicuous) ability 
in the planning of an action or the grasp of 
a field, not cruel as yet (but already violent 
to an excess which later years, alas ! refined 
into cruelty), splendidly adventurous, and 
strung every way for command. He could 
and did inspire a force, especially a small 
force, in the fashion which it was his chief 
desire to achieve. He was a great soldier ; 
but his sins doomed him to an unhappy 
failure and to the wasting of his life at last. 



PART I 
THE CAMPAIGN 

As the first of the great raids, that of Crecy, 
had been designed to draw off the pressure 
from Edward III.'s troops in the South of 
France, and to bring the French levies north- 
ward away from them, so the second great 
raid ten years later, which may be called by 
courtesy the " Campaign " of Poitiers, was 
designed to call pressure off the English 
troops in the north and to bring the French 
levies down southward away from them. 
As Edward's march through Normandy had 
been a daring ride for booty, so was the Black 
Prince's ride northward from Aquitaine ; 
and as Edward from the neighbourhood of 
Paris turned and retreated at top speed 
from before the French host, so did the 
Black Prince turn from the neighbourhood 
of the Loire and retreat at speed from before 
the pursuit of the bodies which the King 
of France had gathered. And as the one 
IS 



THE CAMPAIGN 19 

great raid ended in the signal victory of 
O6cy, so did the other end in the signal 
victory of Poitiers. 

But these parallel and typical actions, 
lying ten years apart, have, of course, one 
main point of resemblance more important 
than all the rest : each includes the com- 
plete overthrow of a large body of feudal 
cavalry by the trained forces of the Planta- 
genets ; Crecy wholly, Poitiers partly, by the 
excellence of a missile weapon the long- 
bow. Each shows also a striking dispro- 
portion of numbers : the little force on the 
defensive completely defeating the much 
larger body of the attack. 

Those of my readers, therefore, who have 
made themselves acquainted with the de- 
tails of Orecy must expect a repetition of 
much the same sort of incidents in the 
details of Poitiers. The two battles are 
twin, and stand out conspicuously in their 
sharpness of result from the mass of con- 
temporary mediaeval warfare. 

In this opening section I will describe the 
great ride of Edward the Black Prince 
from the Dordogne to the Loire, and show 
by what a march the raid proceeded to its 
unexpected crisis in the final battle. 

I have said that the Black Prince's object 
(apart from booty, which was a main 



20 POITIERS 

business in all these rapid darts of the 
time) was to draw the pressure from the 
English troops in the north. 

As a fact, the effort was wasted for any 
such purpose. Lancaster, who commanded 
in the north, was already in retreat before 
the Black Prince had started, but that com- 
mander in the south could not, under the 
conditions of the time, learn the fact until 
he had set off. Further, the Black Prince 
hoped, by this diversion of a raid up from the 
south through the centre of France, to make 
it easier for King Edward, his father, to cross 
over and prosecute the war in Normandy. 
As a fact, the King of England never 
started upon that expedition, but his son 
thought he was about to do so, and said as 
much in a letter to the Mayor of London. 

The point of departure which the Black 
Prince chose for this dash to the north was 
Bergerac upon the Dordogne, and the date 
upon which he broke camp was Thursday, 
the 4th August 1356. 

His force was an extremely small and a 
very mobile one ; 3500 men-at-arms that 
is, fully armoured gentlemen were the 
nucleus of it ; 2500 archers accompanied 
them, and it is remarkable that these archers 
he mounted. Besides these 6000 riding men, 
he took with him 1000 lightly armed foot- 



THE CAMPAIGN 21 

soldiers, and thus, with a little band of no 
more than 7000 combatants all told, he 
began the adventure. He had no intention 
of risking action. It was his desire to take 
booty, to harry, to compel the French king 
to come south in his pursuit, and when that 
enemy should be close upon him, at what- 
ever stage this might be in his own northern 
progress, to turn and ride back south as 
rapidly as he had ridden north. Thus he 
would draw the French feudal levies after 
him, and render what he had been told 
was the forthcoming English expedition 
to Normandy an easy matter, free from 
opposition. As things turned out, he was 
able to ride north as far as the Loire before 
his enemy was upon him, and it gives one 
an idea of the scale on which this great 
raid was planned, that from the point on 
the Dordogne whence he started, to the 
point on the Loire where he turned south- 
ward, was in a straight line no less than 
a hundred and fifty miles. As a fact, his raid 
northward came to much more, for he went 
round to the east in a great bend before he 
came to the neighbourhood of the French 
forces, and his total advance covered more 
than two hundred miles of road. 

Of the 7000 who marched with him, 
perhaps the greater part, and certainly 



22 - POITIERS 

half, were Gascon gentlemen from the 
south who were in sympathy with the 
English occupation of Aquitaine, or, having 
no sentiment one way or the other, joined 
in the expedition for the sake of wealth 
and of adventure. Of these were much 
the most of the men-at-arms. But the 
archers were for the most part English. 

Raid though it was, the Black Prince's 
advance was not hurried. He proposed 
no more than to summon southward the 
French king by his efforts, and it was a 
matter of some indifference to him how far 
northward he might have proceeded before 
he would be compelled by the neighbourhood 
of the enemy's forces to return. His high 
proportion of mounted men and the light- 
ness of his few foot-soldiers were for local 
mobility rather than for perpetual speed ; 
nor did the Black Prince intend to make a 
race of it until the pursuit should begin. 
Whenever that might be, he felt secure 
(though in the event his judgment proved 
to be wrong) in his power to outmarch any 
body the King of France might bring against 
him. He must further have thought that his 
chance of a rapid and successful retreat, and 
his power to outmarch any possible pursuers, 
would increase in proportion to the size of 
the force that might be sent after him. 



THE CAMPAIGN 23 

The raid into the north began and was 
continued in a fashion not exactly leisurely, 
but methodically slow. It made at first 
through Perigueux to Brant ome. Thence 
up through the country of the watershed to 
Bellac. It turned off north-westward as 
far as Lussac, and thence broke back, but 
a little north of east, to Argenton. 

It will be evident from the trace of such 
a route that it had no definite strategic 
purpose. It was a mere raid : a harrying 
of the land with the object of relieving the 
pressure upon the north. It vaguely held, 
perhaps, a further object of impressing the 
towns of Aquitaine with the presence of a 
Plantagenet force. But this last feature 
we must not exaggerate. The Black Prince 
did not treat the towns he visited as terri- 
tory ultimately to be governed by himself 
or his father. He treated them as objects 
for plunder. 

The pace and method with which all this 
early part of the business was conducted in 
the first three weeks of August may be 
judged by the fact that, measured along 
the roads the Black Prince followed, he 
covered between Bergerac and Argenton 
just on a hundred and eighty miles, and 
he did it in just under eighteen marching 
days. In other words, he kept to a fairly 



24 POITIERS 

regular ten miles a day, and slowly rolled 
up an increasing loot without fatiguing his 
horses or his men. 

From Argenton, which he thus reached 
quite un weakened on the 21st of August, 
he made Chateauroux (rather more than 
eighteen miles off, but not nineteen by the 
great road) in two days, reaching it on the 
23rd. Thence he turned still more to the 
eastward, and passed by Issoudun towards 
Bourges. This last excursion or " elbow " 
in the road was less strategically motiveless 
than most of the march ; for the Prince had 
had news that some French force under the 
son of the French king was lying at Bourges, 
and to draw off such a force southward was 
part of the very vague plan which he was 
following. Unlike that string of open 
towns which the mounted band had sacked 
upon their way, Bourges was impregnable 
to them, for it was walled and properly 
defended. They turned back from it, 
therefore, down the River Yevre towards 
the Cher Valley again, and upon the 28th 
of August reached Vierzon, having marched 
in the five days from Chateauroux the 
regulation ten miles a day ; for they covered 
fifty miles or a little more. 

This point, Vierzon, is an important one to 
note in the march. The town lies just to the 



THE CAMPAIGN 25 

south of a curious district very little known 
to English travellers, or, for that matter, to 
the French themselves. It is a district called 
the "Sologne," that is, the "Solitarium" or 
"Desert." For a space of something like 
forty miles by .sixty a great isolated area of 
wild, almost uncultivatable, land intervenes 
between the valley of the Cher and that of 
the Loire. Only one road of importance tra- 
verses it, that coming from Paris and Orleans, 
and making across the waste for Vierzon to 
the south. No town of any size is dis- 
coverable in this desolate region of stagnant 
pools, scrub, low forest, and hunters. 

It was such a situation on the outer edge 
of the Sologne which made Vierzon the 
outpost of Aquitaine, and having reached 
Vierzon, the Prince, in so far as he was con- 
cerned with emphasising the Plantagenet 
claim over Aquitaine, had reached his north- 
ern term. But his raid had, as we know, 
another object : that of drawing the French 
forces southward. And, with the charac- 
teristic indecision of feudal strategic aims, 
it occurred to the Black Prince at this 
stage to immix with that object an alterna- 
tive, and to see whether he could not get 
across the Loire to join Lancaster's force, 
which was campaigning in the West of 
France on the other side of that river. 



26 POITIERS 

At Vierzon Edward's men came across 
the first resistance. A handful of John's 
forces, irregulars hired by the French king 
under a leader most charmingly named 
" Grey Mutton," skirmished to their dis- 
advantage against the Anglo-Gascon force. 

The Black Prince made back westward 
after " Grey Mutton," thinking, perhaps, to 
cross the Loire at Blois, and two days out 
from Vierzon (rather over twenty miles) he 
made the only assault upon fortifications 
which he permitted his men in the whole 
campaign. This was an attack upon the 
Castle of Romorantin, in which " Grey 
Mutton " had taken refuge. 

It was not the moment for delay. Edward 
knew that the French army must now be 
somewhere in the neighbourhood ; he had 
already touched lance with one small 
French force ; but he had his teeth into the 
business and would not let go his hold. 
The outworks were taken early in the 
affair. The keep held out for four days 
more, surrendering at last to fire upon the 
3rd of September. 

The season was now full late if the Black 
Prince intended a return to the south. But, 
as we have seen, he no longer entirely 
intended such a retreat. He had already 
begun to consider the alternative of crossing 



THE CAMPAIGN 27 

the Loire and joining his brother's force 
beyond it. He had information, however, 
that the bridges directly in front of him 
were cut. It is not easy to reconcile 
this with the passage immediately after- 
wards of the French army. But the most 
vivid, and perhaps the most accurate, 
account we have of this march not only 
tells us that the bridges were cut, but par- 
ticularly alludes to the high water in the 
Loire at that moment. It is a significant 
piece of information, because no river in 
Europe north of the Pyrenees differs so 
much in its volume from day to day as does 
the Loire, which is sometimes a trickle of 
water in the midst of sandbanks, and at 
other times a great flood a quarter of a mile 
across, and twenty feet deep, like the Thames 
at London. 

At any rate, from Romorantin, Prince 
Edward made for Tours, a distance of fifty 
miles as the crow flies, and a march of pre- 
cisely five days. It will be observed that 
his plotted rate of marching at ten miles 
a day was most accurately maintained. 

Now from his camp in front of Tours, 
Edward behaved in a fashion singular 
even for the unbusinesslike warfare of that 
somewhat theatrical generation. He sat 
down, apparently undecided which way to 



28 POITIERS 

turn, and remained in that posture during 
the remainder of September the 8th, all the 
next day, September 9th, and all the next 
day again, the 10th. There could be no 
question of attacking Tours. It was a 
strong, large, and well-defended town, and 
quite beyond the power of the Black Prince's 
force, which was by this time encumbered 
with a very heavy train of waggons carrying 
his booty. But while he was waiting there 
(and he could see, says one account, the 
fires of his brother's army by night beyond 
the Loire), his enemy, with such forces as 
he had been able to collect, was marching 
down upon him. 

The King of France had begun to get men 
together at Chartres upon the same day 
that his rival had reached Vierzon, the 28th 
of August. Five days later, just when 
Romorantin Castle was surrendering, he 
had broken up and was marching to the 
Loire. And upon the same 8th of Septem- 
ber which saw the Black Prince pitch his 
tents under the walls of Tours, the first 
bodies of the French command were be- 
ginning to cross the Loire at the two upper 
points of Meung and Blois, while some of 
them were preparing to cross at Tours 
itself. 

Yet so defective was Edward's informa- 



THE CAMPAIGN 29 

tion that it was not until Sunday, Septem- 
ber llth, that news reached him of King 
John's movements. He heard upon that 
day that the French king himself had crossed 
at Blois, thirty miles up river behind him. 
Edward at once broke camp and started on 
his retreat to the south. After him as he 
went followed the French host, which had 
combined its forces after its separate pass- 
ages of the river. 

It is important, if we are to understand 
what follows, to appreciate both the quality 
and the numbers of those whom the King 
of France had been able to gather. He 
had with him, by the still necessary and 
fatal military weakness of French society, 
only those loose feudal levies whose lack 
of cohesion had accounted ten years before 
for the disaster of Crecy. But John com- 
manded no such host as Philip had nomi- 
nally led in the Picardy Campaign against 
Edward III. At the most, and counting 
all his command, it was little if at all 
superior in numbers to that of the Black 
Prince. He hoped, indeed, to increase it 
somewhat with further levies as his progress 
southward advanced, and we shall see that 
his ultimate entry into the town of Poitiers 
did considerably reinforce him. But at no 
time before the battle which decided this 



30 POITIERS 

campaign was John in any important 
numerical superiority over his enemy, and 
even in that battle the superiority had 
nothing of the dramatic disproportion which 
has rendered the field of Crecy famous. 

John marched down the Loire straight on 
Tours. He reached Amboise, twenty miles 
off, in two days, coming under that town 
and castle upon Monday the 12th of 
September, twenty-four hours after the 
Black Prince had broken up his camp in 
front of Tours. As it was now useless to 
go on to Tours, John turned and marched 
due south, reaching Loches, another twenty 
miles away, not in two days but in one. 
It was a fine forced march ; and if the 
Black Prince had appreciated the mobility 
of the foe, he would not have committed 
the blunder which will be described in the 
next section. He himself was marching 
well, but, encumbered as he was by his 
heavy baggage train, he covered on the 
12th and 13th just less than thirty miles, 
and reached the town of La Haye des 
Cartes upon Tuesday the 13th, just as 
John, with his mixed force of Frenchmen, 
Germans, and Spaniards, was marching into 
Loches, twenty miles away. 

On the next day, Wednesday the 14th, 
John made yet another of those astonishing 



THE CAMPAIGN 31 

marches which merited a better fate than 
the disaster that was to conclude them, 
covered the twenty miles between Loches 
and La Haye, and entered the latter town 
just as the Black Prince was bringing his 
men into Chatellerault, only fifteen miles in 
front of him. Both the commanders, pur- 
suing and pursued, had been getting re- 
markable work out of their men ; for even 
the Black Prince, though the slower of the 
two, had covered forty -five miles in three 
days. But John in that determined ad- 
vance after him had covered forty miles in 
two days. 

With John's entry into La Haye des 
Cartes and Edward's leaving that town 
twenty-four hours ahead of him, we enter 
the curious bit of cross -marching and con- 
flicting purposes which may properly be 
called " The Preliminaries " of the Battle 
of Poitiers, and it is under this title that I 
shall deal with them in the next section. 



..>BUck Priruxs Track 
's 




CHAT ELL |RAULT 

i 



CHAUV1<2N\ 



1AILL6 



SKETCH MAP OF OPERATIONS PRECEDING THE BATTLE 



PART II 

THE PRELIMINARIES OF THE 
ACTION 

IT was, as we have seen, on the evening of 
Tuesday, September the 13th, that the 
Black Prince with his 7000 men and his 
heavy train of booty had marched into 
La Haye des Cartes, a small town upon the 
right bank of the Creuse, somewhat above 
the place where that river falls into the 
Vienne. 

His confidence that his well -mounted 
and light-armed troops could outmarch his 
pursuers was not yet shaken ; he was even 
prepared to imagine that he had already 
shaken them off ; but anyone who could have 
taken a general survey of all that country- 
side would have discovered how ill-founded 
was his belief. The great forces of the 
French king, coming down slantways from 
the north and east, had had nearly four miles 
to march to his three. Yet they were gaining 
33 3 



34 POITIERS 

on him. Edward had given the French king 
a day's advance by his hesitation before 
Tours, and the tardiness with which he had 
received news of John's crossing the Loire 
was another point in favour of the French. 

It was the Black Prince's business to get 
down on to the great road which has been 
the trunk road of Western France for two 
thousand years, and which leads from Paris 
through Chatellerault and Poitiers to Angou- 
leme, and so to Bordeaux. If (as he hoped) 
he could advance so quickly as to get rid 
of the pursuit, so much the better. If he 
were still pressed he must continue his 
rapid marching, but, at any rate, that was 
the road he must take. 

To the simple plan, however, of reaching 
Chatellerault and then merely following 
the great road on through Poitiers, he must 
make a local exception, for Poitiers itself 
contained a large population, with plenty 
of trained men, munitions, and arms ; and 
it was further, from its position as well as 
from its walls, altogether too strong a place 
for him to think of taking it. 

The town had been from immemorial 
time a fortress : first tribal (and the rallying 
point of the Gaulish Picts under the name 
of Limon) ; later, Roman and Frankish. 
The traveller notes to-day its singular 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 35 

strength, standing on the flat top and sides 
of its precipitous peninsula, isolated from 
its plateau on every side save where a narrow 
neck joins it to the higher land ; it is im- 
pregnable to mere assault, half surrounded 
by the Clain to the east, and on the west 
protected by a deep and formidable ravine. 

It was absolutely necessary for the Prince 
not only to avoid Poitiers, but not to pass 
so close to it as to give the alarm. What 
he proposed to do, therefore, was to strike 
the great Bordeaux road at a point well 
south of the city, called Les Roches, and to 
do this he must engage himself within the 
broadening triangle which lies between the 
Clain and the Vienne : these rivers join their 
waters just above Chatellerault itself. 

The main road from Chatellerault to 
Poitiers runs on the further side of the Clain 
from this triangle, and the Black Prince, 
by engaging himself in the wedge between 
the rivers, would thus have a stream between 
his column and the natural marching route 
of any force which might approach him 
from the fortified city which he feared. 

Further, he was well provided for part of 
this march through the triangle between the 
rivers by the existence of a straight way 
formed by the old Roman road which runs 
through it, and may still be followed. He 



36 POITIERS 

could not pursue this road all the way to 
Poitiers (which town it ultimately reaches 
by a bridge over the Clain), but some- 
where half-way between Chatellerault and 
Poitiers he would diverge from it towards 
the east, and so avoid the latter stronghold 
and make a straight line for Les Roches. 
This it would be the easier for him to do 
because the soil in that countryside is light 
and firm and traversed by very numerous 
cross-lanes which serve its equally numerous 
farms. Only one considerable obstacle in- 
terrupts a passage southward through the 
triangle between the rivers. It is the 
forest of Mouliere. But the Black Prince's 
march along the Roman road would skirt 
this wood to the west, and by the time his 
approach to Poitiers compelled him to 
diverge from the Roman road eastward, 
the boundary of the forest also sloped 
eastward away from it. 

His first day's march upon this last lap, 
as it were, of his escape was a long one. 
By the road he took it was no less than 
fifteen miles, and at the end of it he 
gathered his column into Chatellerault, a 
couple of miles from the place where the 
Clain and the Vienne meet, and where the 
triangle between the two streams through 
which he proposed to retreat begins. At 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 37 

the same hour that the Black Prince was 
bringing his men into Chatellerault, John 
was leading the head of his column into 
La Haye. He was just one day's march 
behind the Plantagenet. 

There followed an unsoldierly and un- 
characteristic blunder on the part of the 
Black Prince which determined all the 
strange cross-purposes of that week. 

The Black Prince having made Chatel- 
lerault, believed that he had shaken off the 
pursuit. 

In explanation of this error, it must be 
remembered that the population so far 
north as this was universally hostile to the 
southern cause and to the claim of the 
Plant agenets. Whether news of the ravag- 
ing and burning to the eastward had 
affected these peasants or no, we are 
certain that they would give the Anglo - 
Gascon force nothing but misleading infor- 
mation. The scouting, a perpetual weak- 
ness in mediaeval warfare, was imperfect ; 
and even had it been better organised, to 
scout rearwards is not the same thing as 
scouting on an advance or on the flanks. 
At any rate, he took it for granted that 
there was no further need for haste, that 
he had outmarched the French king, and 
that the remainder of the retreat might be 



38 POITIERS 

taken at his own pleasure. It must further 
be noted that there was a frailty in the 
Black Prince's leading which was more 
than once discovered in his various cam- 
paigns, and which he only retrieved by his 
admirable tactical sense whenever he was 
compelled to a decision. This frailty con- 
sisted, as might be guessed of so headstrong 
a rider, in trying to get too much out of 
his troops in a forced march, and paying for 
it upon the morrow of such efforts by 
expensive delays which more than counter- 
balanced its value. He relied too much 
upon the very large proportion of mounted 
men which formed the bulk of his small 
force. He forgot the limitations of his few 
foot-soldiers and the strain that a too -rapid 
advance put upon his heavy and cumber- 
some train of waggons, laden with a heavier 
and heavier booty as his raid proceeded. 

He stayed in Chatellerault recruiting the 
strength of his mounts and men for two 
whole days. He passed the Thursday and 
the Friday there without moving, and it 
was not until the Saturday morning that 
he set out from the town, crossed the 
Clain, and engaged himself within the tri- 
angle between the two rivers. 

The land through which he marched upon 
that Saturday morning had been the scene 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 39 

of a much more famous and more decisive 
feat of arms ; for it was there, just north of 
the forest of Mouliere, that Charles Martel 
six hundred years before had overthrown 
the Mahommedans and saved Europe for 
ever. 

So he went forward under the morning, 
making south in a retreat which he believed 
to be unthreatened. 

Meanwhile, John, at the head of the 
French army, was pursuing a better - 
thought-out strategical plan, whose com- 
plexity has only puzzled historians because 
they have not weighed all the factors of 
the military situation. 

We do not know what numbers the King 
of France disposed of during this, the first 
part of the pursuit, but we must presume 
that he could not yet risk an engagement. 
The town of Poitiers was everything to 
him. There he would find provisions and 
munition, some considerable body of trained 
men, and the possibility of levying many 
thousands more. It was a secure rallying 
point upon which to block the Black Prince's 
march to the south, or from which to sally 
out and intercept his march. But when 
John found himself in La Haye upon 
Wednesday the 14th, a day's march behind 
Edward's command, he could not take 



40 POITIERS 

the direct line for Poitiers because that very 
command intercepted him. He knew that 
it had taken the road for Chatellerault. 
He determined, therefore, by an exception- 
ally rapid progress, to march round his 
enemy by the east, to get down to 
Chauvigny, and from that point to turn 
westward and reach Poitiers. It was a 
risk, but it was the only course open to 
him. Had the Black Prince pursued his 
march instead of waiting at Chatellerault, 
John's plan would have failed, prompt as 
its execution was ; but the Black Prince's 
delay gave him his opportunity. 

From La Haye to Chauvigny by the cross- 
roads that lead directly southward is a 
matter of thirty miles. John covered this 
in two days. Leaving La Haye upon the 
morning of Thursday the 15th, he brought 
his force into Chauvigny upon the 16th, 
Friday. He left, no doubt, a certain 
proportion delayed upon the road, but he 
himself, with the bulk of the army, com- 
pleted the distance. 

While, therefore, the Black Prince was 
delaying all that Thursday and Friday in 
Chatellerault, John was passing right in 
front and beyond him some eight miles to 
the eastward ; and on the Saturday, the 
17th, while the Black Prince was leading 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 41 

his column through the triangle between 
the rivers, John was marching due west 
from Chauvigny to Poitiers by the great 
road through St Julien, yet another fifteen 
miles and more, in the third day of his great 
effort. The head of the column, with the 
king himself, we must presume to have 
ridden through the gate of Poitiers before 
or about noon, but the last contingents 
were spread out along the road behind him 
when, in that same morning or early after- 
noon of Saturday, the outriders of the 
Anglo-Gascon force appeared upon the fields 
to the north. 

It was an encounter as sudden as it was 
dramatic. The countryside at this point 
consists in wide, open fields, the plough- 
lands of a plateau which rises about one 
hundred feet above the level of the rivers. 
To the east of this open country a line of 
wood marks the outlying fragments of the 
forest of Mouliere ; to the west, five miles 
away, and out of sight of these farms, 
stands upon its slope above the Clain the 
town of Poitiers. The lane by which the 
Black Prince was advancing was that 
which passes through the hamlet of Le 
Breuil. 1 It is possible that he intended to 

1 Le Breuil Mingot, not Le Breuil 1'Abbesse, which. 
lies south upon the Chauvigny road. 



42 POITIERS 

camp there ; he had covered sixteen miles. 
But if that was his intention, the accident 
which followed changed it altogether. A 
mile beyond the village there is a roll of 
rising land, itself a mile short of the great 
road which joins Poitiers and Chauvigny. 
It was from this slight eminence that 
scouts riding out in front of Edward's army 
saw, massed upon that road and advancing 
westward across their view, a considerable 
body of vehicles escorted by armed men. 
It was the rearguard and the train of 
King John. 

A man following to-day that great road 
between Poitiers and Chauvigny eastward, 
notes a spinney and a farm lying respec- 
tively to the right and to the left of his 
way, some four kilometres from the gate 
of Poitiers, and not quite three from the 
famous megalith of the " Lifted Stone," 
which is a matter of immemorial reverence 
for the townsfolk. That farm is known 
as La Chaboterie, and it marks the spot 
upon the high road where John's rear- 
guard first caught sight of Edward's scouts 
upon the sky-line to the north. 

The mounted men of this force turned 
northward off the high road, and pursued 
the scouts to the main body near Le Breuil ; 
then a sharp skirmish ensued, and the 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 43 

French were driven off. This melee was 
the first news the Black Prince had that 
the French army, so far from having 
abandoned the pursuit, had marched right 
round him, and that his column was 
actually in the gravest peril. It warned 
him that though he had already covered 
those sixteen miles, he must press on further 
before he could dare to camp for the night. 
His column was already weary, but there 
was no alternative. 

The army reached the high road, and 
crossed it long after the French rearguard 
had disappeared to the west. Exhausted 
as it was, it pushed on another mile or two 
southward by the lanes that lead across the 
fields to the neighbourhood of Mignaloux, 
and there it camped. The men had covered 
that day close on twenty miles ! But before 
settling for the evening, the Black Prince 
sent out the Captal de Buch north-westward 
over the rolling plateau in reconnaissance. 
When this commander and his body reached 
the heights which overlook the Clain, and 
faced the houses of Poitiers upon the hill 
beyond, they saw in the valley beneath 
them, and on the slopes of the river bank, 
the encampment of the French army ; and 
reported, upon their return, " that all the 
plain was covered with men-at-arms." 



44 POITIERS 

Upon the next morning, that of Sunday 
the 18th of September, broken as the force 
was with fatigue, it was marshalled again 
for the march but no more than a mile 
or two was asked of it. 

Edward had scouted forward upon the 
morning, and discovered, just in front of 
the little town of Nouaille and to the north- 
ward of the wood that covers that little 
town, a position which, if it were necessary 
to stand, would give him the opportunity 
for a defensive action. 

That he intended any such action we may 
doubt in the light of what followed. It 
was certainly not to his advantage to do so. 
The French by occupying Poitiers had left 
his way to the south free, but the extreme 
weariness of his force and the possibility 
that the French might strike suddenly were 
both present in his mind. He wisely pre- 
pared for either alternative of action or 
retreat, and carefully prepared the position 
he had chosen. For its exact nature, I 
must refer my reader to the next section, 
but the general conditions of the place are 
proper to the interest of our present matter. 

The main business, it must be remembered, 
upon which the Prince's mind was concen- 
trated was still his escape to the south. 
He must expect the French advance upon 



PRELIMINARIES OF THE ACTION 45 

him to come down by the shortest road to 
any position he had prepared, even if he 
did not intend, or only half intended, to 
stand there : and that position was there- 
fore fixed astraddle of the road which leads 
from Poitiers to Nouaille. 

Now, just behind that is, to the south 
of this position runs in a tortuous course 
through a fairly sharp l little valley a stream 
called the Miosson. It formed a sufficient 
obstacle to check pursuit for some appreci- 
able time. There was only one bridge 
across it, at Nouaille itself, which he could 
destroy when his army had passed ; and 
the line of it was strengthened by woods 
upon either side of the stream. 

The Black Prince, therefore, must be 
judged (if we collate all the evidence) to 
have looked forward to a general plan 
offering him two alternatives. 

Either the French would advance at once 
and press him. In which case he would be 
compelled to take his chance of an action 
against what were by this time far superior 
numbers ; and in that case he had a good 
prepared position, which will shortly be de- 
scribed, upon which to meet them. 

Or they would give him time to file away 

1 The tops of the steep banks are nearly a hundred 
feet above the water. 



46 POITIERS 

southward, in which case the neighbouring 
Miosson, with its ravine and its woods, 
would immediately, at the very beginning 
of the march, put an obstacle between him 
and his pursuer ; especially as he had two 
crossings, a ford, and a bridge some way 
above it, and he could cut the bridge the 
moment he had crossed it. 

Finally, if (as was possible) a combination 
of these two alternatives should present 
itself, he had but to depend upon his 
prepared position for its rearguard to hold 
during just the time that would permit 
the main force to make the passage of the 
Miosson, not two miles away. 

With this plan clearly developed he 
advanced upon the Sunday morning no 
more than a mile or two to the position 
in question, fortified it after the fashion 
which I shall later describe, and camped 
immediately behind it to see what that 
Sunday might bring. He could not make 
off at once, because his horses and his march- 
ing men were worn out with the fatigue of 
the previous day's great march. 



PART III 
THE TERRAIN 

THE defensive position taken up by Edward, 
the Black Prince, upon Sunday the 18th 
of September 1356, and used by him in 
the decisive action of the following day, is 
composed of very simple elements ; which 
are essentially a shallow dip (about thirty 
feet only in depth), bounded by two slight 
parallel slopes, the one of which the Anglo- 
Gascon force held against the advance of 
the King of France's cosmopolitan troops 
from the other. 

We can include all the business of that 
Monday's battle in a parallelogram lying 
true to the points of the compass, and 
measuring three miles and six furlongs 
from north to south, by exactly two and a 
half miles from oast to west ; while the 
actual fighting is confined to an inner 
parallelogram no more than two thousand 
yards from east to west, by three thousand 
47 



48 POITIERS 

from north to south. The first of these areas 
is that given upon the coloured map which 
forms the frontispiece of this little book. 
The second is marked by a black frame 
within that coloured map, the main features 
of which are reproduced in line upon a larger 
scale on the page opposite this. 

I have said that the essentials of the 
Black Prince's defensive plan were : 

(1) A prepared defensive position, which 
it might or might not be necessary to hold, 
coupled with 

(2) an obstacle, the Miosson River, 
which (when he should retreat) he could 
count upon to check pursuit ; especially 
as its little valley was (a) fairly deeply cut, 
(b) encumbered by wood, and (c) passable 
for troops only at the bridge of Nouaille, 
which he was free to cut when it had served 
him, and at a somewhat hidden ford which 
I will later describe. 

I must here interpose the comment that 
the bridge of Nouaille, being of stone, would 
not have been destroyable during a very 
active and pressed retreat under the con- 
ditions of those times ; that is, without the 
use of high explosives. But it must be 
remembered that such a narrow passage 
would in any case check the pursuit, that 
half an hour's work would suffice to make 



HEIGHTS IN MGL 
FE-ET ABOVE THE 5 
AND CONTOU 
15 FEET APAR 




98f 



50 POITIERS 

a breach in the roadway, and perhaps to 
get rid of the keystones, that a few planks 
thrown over the gap so formed would be 
enough to permit archers defending the 
rear to cross over, that these planks could 
then be immediately withdrawn, and that 
the crush of a hurried pursuit, which would 
certainly be of heavily armed and mounted 
knights, would be badly stopped by a gap 
of the kind. I therefore take it for granted 
that the bridge of Nouaille was a capital 
point in Edward's plan. 1 

The line along which the Black Prince 
threw up entrenchments was the head of 
the slight slope upon the Nouaille or eastern 
side of the depression I have mentioned. 
It ran from the farm Maupertuis (now 
called La Cardinerie) to the site of those 
out-buildings which surround the modern 
steadings of Les Bordes, and to-day bear 
the name of La Dolerie. The length of that 
line was, almost to a foot, one thousand 
English yards, and it will easily be perceived 
that even with his small force only a portion 
of his men were necessary to hold it. Its 
strength and weakness I shall discuss in a 
moment. This line faces not quite due 
west, indeed nearly twenty degrees north of 

1 There are to-day three bridges, but in the fourteenth 
century only one existed, the central one. 



THE TERRAIN 51 

west. 1 Its distance as the crow flies from 
the Watergate of Poitiers is just under seven 
kilometres, or, as nearly as possible, four 
miles and six hundred and fifty English 
yards. 2 While its bearings from the town 
of Poitiers, or the central part thereof, is 
a trifle south of due south-east. 3 

The line thus taken up, and the depression 
in front of it, are both singularly straight, 
and the slope before the entrenchments, 
like its counterpart opposite, is regular, 
increasing in depth as the depression pro- 
ceeds down towards the Miosson, which, 
at this point, makes a bend upward to meet, 
as it were, the little valley. A trifle to the 
south of the centre of the line there is a 
break in the uniformity of the ridge, which 
comes in the shape of a little dip now 
occupied by some tile- works ; and on the 
further, or French, side a corresponding 
and rather larger cleft faces it ; so that the 
whole depression has the shape of a long 
cross with short arms rather nearer its base 

1 "Facing north-east," Fortescue, History of the 
British Army, vol. i. p. 39. I mention this con- 
siderable error for the purposes of correction : Mr 
Fortescue's history being rightly regarded as the 
standard text-book of English military history. 

2 "Some fifteen miles,* Fortescue, ibid. "Seven 
miles," Oman, History of Art of War, etc. Always use 
a map when you write about battles. 

3 " South-west," Fortescue, ibid., p. 38. 



52 POITIERS 

than its summit. Just at the end of the 
depression, before the ground sinks abruptly 
down to the river, the soil is marshy. 

Leading towards this position from 
Poitiers there was and is but one road, a 
winding country lane, now in good repair, 
but until modern times of a poor surface, 
and never forming one of the great high 
roads. The importance of this unique road 
will be seen in a moment. 

There had once existed, five hundred 
yards from the right of the Black Prince's 
entrenched line, a Roman road, the traces 
of which can still be discovered at various 
parts of its course, but which, even by the 
time of Poitiers, had disappeared as a 
passable way. The only approach remain- 
ing, as I have said, was that irregular 
lane which formed the connection between 
Poitiers and Nouaille. 

Now in most terrains where feudal cavalry 
was concerned, the existence or non-exist- 
ence of a road, and its character, would 
be of little moment in the immediate 
neighbourhood of the action : for though 
a feudal army depended (as all armies 
always must) upon roads for its strategics, 
it was almost independent of them in 
its tactics upon those open fields which 
were characteristic of mediaeval agriculture. 



THE TERRAIN 63 

The mounted and armoured men deployed 
and charged across the stubble. Those 
who have read the essay upon the Terrain 
of Crecy, which preceded this in the present 
series, will appreciate that the absence of a 
road uniting the English and French posi- 
tions in that battle was of no significance to 
the result. 

But in the particular case of Poitiers 
this road, and a certain cart-track leading 
off it, must be carefully noted, because 
between them they determine all that 
happened ; and the reason of this is that 
the front of the English position was 
covered with vines. 

The French method of cultivating the 
vine, and the condition of that cultivation 
in the middle of September (in all but a 
quite exceptionally early year so far north 
as Poitou), makes of a vineyard the 
most complete natural obstacle conceivable 
against the use of cavalry, and at the 
same time a most formidable entanglement 
to the advance of infantry, and a tolerable 
cover for missile weapons at short range. 

The vine is cultivated in France upon 
short stakes of varying height with varying 
districts, but usually in this neighbourhood 
somewhat over four feet above the ground ; 
that is, covering most of a man's figure, even 



54 POITIERS 

as he would stand to arms with a long-bow, 
yet affording space above for the discharge 
of the weapon. These stakes are set at 
such distances apart as allow ordered and 
careful movement between them, but close 
enough together to break and interfere 
with a pressed advance : their distances 
being determined by the f ulness of the plant 
before the grapes are gathered, a harvest 
which falls in that region somewhat later 
than the date of the action. 

Wherever a belt of vineyard is found, 
cultivated after this fashion, the public 
ways through it are the only opportunities 
for advance ; for land is so valuable under 
the grape that various allotments or pro- 
perties are cultivated to their outermost 
limit. The vineyards (which have now 
disappeared, but which then stood upon 
the battlefield) could only be pierced by 
the roads I have mentioned. 1 

This line, then, already well protected 
by the vineyards, was further strengthened 
by the presence of a hedge which bounded 
them and ran along their eastern edge 
upon the flat land above the depression. 

1 It may be presumed upon the analogy of surround- 
ing vineyards though it is not certain that the culti- 
vation of the vine would cease on the lower slope (since 
that inclined away from the sun), and was thickest upon 
the summit of the ridge. 



THE TERRAIN 55 

I have mentioned a cart-track, which 
branched off on the main lane, and which 
is marked upon my map with the letters 
' ' A-A." It formed, alongside with the lane, 
a second approach through the English 
line, and it must be noticed that, like the 
main lane, a portion of it, where it breasted 
the slope, was sunk in those times below 
the level of the land on either side. 

The first thought that will strike the 
modern student of such a position is that 
a larger force, such as the one commanded 
by the King of France, should have been 
able easily to turn the defensive upon its 
right. 

Now, first, a feudal army rarely manoeu- 
vred. For that matter, the situation was 
such that if John had avoided a fight 
altogether, and had merely marched down 
the great south-western road to block Prince 
Edward's retreat, the move would have 
had a more complete effect than winning a 
pitched battle. The reader has also heard 
how the Black Prince's sense of his peril 
was such that he had been prepared to treat 
upon any but the most shameful terms. 
It is evident, therefore, that if the French 
fought at all it was because they wanted to 
fight, and that they approached the con- 
flict in the spirit (which was that of all 



56 POITIERS 

their time) disdainful of manoeuvring and 
bound in honour to a frontal attack. A 
modern force as superior in numbers as was 
John's to the Black Prince's would have 
" held " the front of the defensive with 
one portion of its effectives, while another 
portion marched round that defensive's 
right flank. But it is impossible to estab- 
lish a comparison between developed 
tactics and the absolutely simple plan of 
feudal warfare. It is equally impossible 
to compare a modern force with a feudal 
force of that date. It had not the unity 
of command and the elasticity of organ- 
isation which are necessary to divided and 
synchronous action. It had no method of 
attack but to push forward successive bodies 
of men in the hope that the weight of the 
column would tell. 

Secondly, Edward defended that right 
flank from attack by establishing there his 
park of waggons. 

None the less, the Black Prince could not 
fail to see the obvious danger of the open 
right upon the plateau beyond the Roman 
road ; even in the absence of any manoeu- 
vring, the mere superior length of the 
French line might suffice to envelop him 
there. It was presumably upon this account 
that he stationed a small body of horse 



THE TERRAIN 57 

upon that slightly higher piece of land, five 
hundred yards behind Maupertuis and a 
little to the right of it, which is now the 
site of the railway station ; and this mounted 
force which he kept in reserve was to prove 
an excellent point of observation during 
the battle. It was the view over towards 
the French position obtained from it which 
led, as will be seen in the next section, to the 
flank charge of the Captal de Buch. 

There remains to be considered such 
environments of the position as would 
affect the results of the battle. I have 
already spoken of the obstacle of the 
Miosson, of Nouaille, of the passages of the 
river, and of the woods which would further 
check a pursuit if the pressure following 
upon a partial defeat, or upon a determina- 
tion to retire without accepting action, 
should prove serious. I must now speak 
of these in a little more detail. 

The depression, which was the main 
feature of the battlefield, is carved like 
its fellows out of a general and very level 
plateau of a height some four hundred to 
four hundred and fifty feet above the sea. 
This formation is so even that all the higher 
rolls of the land are within ten or twenty 
feet of the same height. They are, further, 
about one hundred feet, or a little more, 



58 POITIERS 

higher than the water level of the local 
streams. This tableland, and particularly 
the ravine of the Miosson, nourishes a 
number of woods. One such wood, not more 
than a mile long by perhaps a quarter broad, 
covers Nouaille, and intervenes between 
that town and the battlefield. On the 
other side of the Miosson there is a con- 
tinuous belt of wood five miles long, with 
only one gap through it, which gap is 
used by the road leading from Nouaille 
to Roches and to the great south-western 
road to Bordeaux. 

In other words, the Black Prince had 
prepared his position just in front of a 
screen of further defensible woodland. 

I have mentioned one last element in the 
tactical situation of which I have spoken, 
and which needs careful consideration. 

Over and above the passage of the 
Miosson by a regular bridge and a proper 
road at Nouaille, the water is fordable in 
ordinary weather at a spot corresponding 
to the gap between the woods, and called 
"Man's Ford" or " Le Gue d'Homme." 
Now, of the several accounts of the action, 
one, the Latin chronicler Baker, mentions 
the ford, while another, the rhymed French 
story of the Chandos Herald, speaks of 
Edward's having begun to retire, and of 



THE TERRAIN 59 

part of his forces having already crossed the 
river before contact took place. I will deal 
later with this version ; but in connection 
with the ford and whether Edward either 
did or intended to cross by it, it is worthy 
of remark that the only suggestion of his 
actually having crossed it, and of his in- 
tention to do so in any case, is to be found 
in the rhymed chronicle of the Chandos 
Herald ; and the question arises what re- 
liance should be placed on that document ? 

It is evident on the face of it that the 
detail of the retreat was not invented. 
Everyone is agreed that the rhymed 
chronicle of the Chandos Herald does not 
carry the same authority as prose contem- 
porary work. It is not meant to. It is a 
literary effort rather than a record. But 
there would be no reason for inventing such 
a point as the beginning of a retreat before 
an action not a very glorious or dramatic 
proceeding and the mere mention of such 
a local feature as the ford in Baker is clear 
proof that what we can put together from 
the two accounts is based upon an historical 
event and the memory of witnesses. 

On the other hand, the road proper 
ran through Nouaille, and when you are 
cumbered with a number of heavy -wheeled 
vehicles, to avoid a road and a regular bridge 



60 POITIERS 

and to take a bye-track across fields down 
a steep bank and through, water would seem 
a very singular proceeding. Further, this 
track would lose all the advantages which 
the wood of Nouaille gave against pursuit, 
and, finally, would mean the use of a passage 
that could not be cut, rather than one that 
could. 

Again, we know that the Black Prince 
when he was preparing the position on 
Sunday morning, covered its left flank, 
exactly as his father had done at Crecy ten 
years before, with what the Tudors called 
a " leaguer," or park of waggons. 

Further, we have a discrepancy between 
the story of this retreat by the ford and the 
known order of battle arranged the day 
before. In that order of battle he put in 
the first line, just behind his archers, who 
lined the hedge bounding the vineyards, a 
group of men-at-arms under Warwick and 
Oxford. He himself commanded the body 
just behind these, and the third or rearmost 
line was under the command of Salisbury 
and Suffolk. 

How are these contemporary and yet 
contradictory accounts to be reconciled ? 
What was the real meaning of movement 
on the ford ? 

I beg the reader to pay a very particular 



THE TERRAIN 61 

attention to the mechanical detail which I 
am here examining, because it is by criticism 
such as this that the truth is established in 
military history between vague and appar- 
ently inconsistent accounts. 

If you are in command of a force such as 
that indicated upon the following plan, in 
which A and B together form your front 

Direction from cokick attack is expected 
. A * 6 








line, C your second, and D your third, all 
three facing in the direction of the arrow, 
and expecting an attack from that direction ; 
and if, after having drawn up your men so, 
you decide there is to be no attack, and 
determine to retreat in the direction of X, 



62 POITIERS 

your most natural plan will be to file off 
down the line towards X, first with your 
column D, to be followed by your column 
C, with A and B bringing up the rear. And 
this would be all the more consonant with 
your position, from the fact that the very 
men A and B, whom you had picked out 
as best suited to take the first shock of an 
action, had an action occurred, would also 
in the retreat form your rearguard, and be 
ready to fight pursuers should a pursuit de- 
velop and press you. That is quite clear. 

Now, if, for reasons of internal organ- 
isation or what not, you desired to 
keep your vanguard still your vanguard 
in retreat, as it was on the field, your 
middle body still your middle body 
on the march, and what was your rear- 
guard on the field still your rearguard in 
the long column whereby you would leave 
that field, the manoeuvre by which you 
would maintain this order would be filing 
off by the left ; that is, ordering A to form 
fours and turn from a line into a column, 
facing towards the point E, and, having 
done so, to march off in the direction of X. 
You would order B to act in the same 
fashion next. When A and B had got clear 
of you and had reached, say, F, you would 
make C form fours and follow after ; and 



THE TERRAIN 63 

when C had marched away so far as to 
leave things clear for D, the last remaining 
line, you would make D in its turn form 
fours and close up the column. 

Now, suppose the Black Prince had been 
certain on that Monday morning that there 
would be no attack, nor even any pursuit. 
Suppose that he were so absolutely certain 
as to let him dispense with a rearguard 
then he might have drawn off in the second 
of the two fashions I have mentioned. 
Warwick and Oxford (A and B) would have 
gone first, C (the Black Prince, in the centre) 
would have gone next, and Salisbury, D, 
would have closed the line of the retreat. 
This would have been the slowest method he 
could have chosen for getting off the field, 
it would have had no local tactical advantage 
whatsoever, and to adopt such a method 
in a hurried departure at dawn from the 
neighbourhood of a larger force with whom 
one had been treating for capitulation the 
day before, would be a singular waste of 
time in any case. But, at any rate, it would 
be physically possible. 

What is quite impossible is that such a 
conversion and retirement should have been 
attempted ; for we know that a strong rear- 
guard was left, and held the entrenchments 
continuously. 



64 POITIERS 

To leave the field in the second fashion 
I have described is mathematically equiva- 
lent to breaking up your rearguard and ceas- 
ing to maintain it for the covering of your 
retreat. It is possible only if you do not 
intend to have a rearguard at all to cover 
your retirement, because you think you do 
not need it. As a fact, we know that all 
during the movement, whatever it was, a 
great body of troops remained on the field 
not moving, and watching the direction from 
which the French might attack. So even 
if there was a beginning of retirement, a 
strong rearguard was maintained to cover 
that movement. We further know that 
the Black Prince and the man who may be 
called chief of his staff, Chandos, planned 
to keep that very strong force in position in 
any case, until the retirement (if retirement 
it were) was completed ; and we further 
know that the fight began with a very stout 
and completely successful resistance by 
what must have been a large body posted 
along the ridge, and what even the one 
account which speaks of the retirement de- 
scribes as the bulk of the army. 

To believe, then, that Warwick filed off 
by the left, followed by the vehicles, and 
then by the main command under the 
Prince, and that all this larger part of the 



THE TERRAIN 65 

army, including its wheeled vehicles, had got 
across the ford before contact took place 
and an action developed, is impossible. It 
is not only opposed to any sound judgment, 
it is mathematically impossible. It also 
conflicts with the use of a park of vehicles 
to defend the left of the entrenched line, 
and with the natural use of the line of retreat 
by Nouaille. I can only conclude that what 
really happened was something of this sort : 

Edward intended to retreat if he were 
left unmolested. He intended to retreat 
through Nouaille and by its bridge, but for 
safety and to disencumber the road he sent 
the more valuable of the loot-waggons by 
the short cut over the ford. 

The Prince had got the bulk of his force 
standing on the entrenched position upon 
that Monday morning, and bidden it wait 
and see whether the enemy would attempt 
to force them or no. As there was no sign 
of the enemy's approach from the north- 
west, and as he was not even watched by any 
scout of the enemy's, he next put Salisbury 
in command of the main force along the 
hedge, put Warwick and Oxford at the head 
of a strong escort for leading off the more 
valuable of the booty which would pre- 
sumably be in few waggons and began to 
get these waggons away down the hill to- 

5 



66 POITIERS 

wards the ford. They would thus be taking 
a short cut to join the road between Nouaille 
and Roches later on, and they would relieve 
the congestion upon the main road of 
retreat through Nouaille. It is possible 
that the Black Prince oversaw this opera- 
tion himself upon the dawn of that day, 
involving, as it did, the negotiation of a 
steep bank with cumbersome vehicles, and 
those vehicles carrying the more precious 
and portable loot of his raid. This would 
give rise to the memory of his having 
crossed the stream. But, meanwhile, the 
mass of army was still standing where it 
was posted, prepared for retreat on the 
bridge of Nouaille if it were not 
molested, or for action if it were. Just 
as this minor detachment of the more 
valuable vehicles, with its escort, had 
got across the water, messengers told 
Edward that there were signs of a French 
advance. He at once came back, counter- 
manded all provisional orders for the 
retirement, and recalled the escort, save 
perhaps some small party to watch the 
waggons which had got beyond the river. 
Thus, returning immediately, Edward was 
ready to instruct and fight the action 
in the fashion described in all the other 
accounts. 



THE TERRAIN 67 

This, I think, is the rational reconciliation 
of several stories which are only in apparent 
contradiction, and which are rather con- 
fusing than antagonistic. 



PART IV 
THE ACTION 

THOUGH the accounts of the Battle of 
Poitiers, both contemporary with and subse- 
quent to it, show, like most mediaeval chron- 
icling, considerable discrepancies, it is pos- 
sible by comparing the various accounts and 
carefully studying the ground to present 
a collected picture of that victory. 

The reader, then, must first seize the posi- 
tion, character, and numbers of Edward's 
force as it lay upon the early morning of 
Monday the 19th of September. 

Three considerable bodies of men arranged 
in dense formation, faced west by a little 
north upon the level which intervenes 
between the modern farm of Cardinerie 
and the wood of Nouaille. These three 
bodies of men stood armed, one rank behind 
the other, and all three parallel. The first 
was commanded by Salisbury. It was 
drawn up along the hedge that bounded 
68 



THE ACTION 69 

the vineyards, and it stretched upon either 
side of the lane which led and leads from 
Poitiers to Nouaille. With Salisbury was 
Suffolk ; and this first line, thus facing the 
hedge, the depression, and the fields beyond, 
from whence a French attack might de- 
velop, was certainly the largest of the three 
lines. The reader must conceive of the 
road astraddle of which this command of 
Salisbury's and Suffolk's stood as lying flush 
with the fields around, until the edge of the 
depression was reached, and there forming 
for some yards a sunken road between the 
vines that stood on either side of it. The 
reader should also remember that further 
to the left, and covered by the last exten- 
sion of this line of men, was the second 
diverging lane, crossing through vineyards 
precisely as did the other, and sunk as the 
other was sunk for some yards at the crest 
of the little depression. It is this lane 
which now passes by the tile-works and 
leads later to the ford over the river in 
the valley beyond. The line thus holding 
the hedge, and commanded by Suffolk and 
Salisbury, contained the greater number 
of the archers, and also a large proportion 
of men-at-arms, dismounted, and ready to 
repel any French attack, should such an 
attack develop in the course of the morn- 



70 POITIERS 

ing to interfere with the retirement which 
Edward had planned ; but as yet, in the 
neighbourhood of six o'clock, there was no 
sign of the enemy in the empty fields upon 
the west beyond the depression. The King 
of France's camp was more than two miles 
away, and it looked as though Edward 
would be able to get his whole force beyond 
the river without molestation. 

So much for what we will call the first 
line, for the position of which, as for that 
of its fellows, I must beg the reader to refer 
to the coloured map forming the fronti- 
spiece of this book. 

Immediately behind the first line so drawn 
up came a second line, under the command 
of Warwick and Oxford, but it was a much 
smaller body, because it had a very different 
task to perform. Its business was to act 
as an escort for certain of the waggon-loads 
which Edward, both on account of their 
value and of the difficulty of getting them 
up and down the banks of the steep ravine 
of the river behind them, had determined 
to send forward at the head of his retirement. 
This escort, then, we may call the second 
line. Before the retiring movement began it 
stood parallel to and immediately in the 
rear of the first line. 

The third line was a somewhat larger 



THE ACTION 71 

command, principally of Gascon men-at- 
arms under the direct leadership of the 
Black Prince himself. 

To this picture of the three lines standing 
one behind the other and facing away from 
the sunrise of that Monday morning, we 
must add a great body of waggons, parked 
together, upon the right of the first line and 
defending it from any turning movement 
that might be attempted upon that flank, 
should a French advance develop after all. 
We must suppose some few of the more 
valuable waggon-loads, carrying the best 
booty of the raid, to have been put last in 
this park, so that their drivers should have 
the opportunity of filing off first when the 
middle or second line, which was to be their 
escort, began the retirement. Further, we 
must remark teams harnessed and drivers 
mounted in front of those special waggons, 
while the mass of the wheeled vehicles still 
lay closely packed together for the purposes 
of defence against a possible attack, their 
teams standing to the rear, ready to harness 
up only when the retirement was in full 
swing, and to come last in the retreating 
column, saving perhaps for a small rear- 
guard that might be left to watch the 
extremity of the line after everyone else 
had got safely off the field. We must see 



72 POITIERS 

the Black Prince's command, such of it as 
was mounted, all on horseback already, 
and the men-at-arms of the second line or 
escort under Warwick similarly in the saddle; 
but the first line, which formed the bulk of 
the whole force, we must picture to ourselves 
all on foot, the mounted men as well as the 
small proportion of foot-sergeants : for if there 
should be occasion to repel some attack 
developing during the retirement, it was in 
the essence of the Plantagenet tactics to dis- 
mount the men-at-arms during the defensive, 
and to hold a position entirely on foot. 

I have said that no sign of the enemy 
appeared upon the empty fields to the west 
beyond the depression while these dis- 
positions were being made ; and, when all 
was ready, perhaps between seven and eight 
o'clock, the order for the first movement of 
the retirement was given. Warwick and 
the escort he commanded turned from line 
to column and began to file off by the left, 
down towards the ford. The special waggons, 
whose safety was thus being first anxiously 
provided for, followed, and the whole of 
the second line thus got clear of the space 
between the first and the third. It marched 
south towards the river, with its little 
body of wheeled vehicles following up its 
mounted men. 



THE ACTION 73 

When the second line had thus got clear 
of the original formation, Edward, pre- 
ceded by his banner and accompanied by 
a certain number of men from the third 
line (how many we cannot tell, but pre- 
sumably no great force), rode off over the 
fields to the left of Warwick's string of 
cavalry and waggons, to superintend the 
difficult passage of the Miosson. He left 
behind him, standing to arms at the hedge, 
the whole of the strong first line under 
Salisbury and Suffolk, and the bulk of his 
own third line marshalled in parallel behind 
this first line. 

At this moment, then, somewhere be- 
tween seven and eight o'clock, the situation 
is thus : the Prince and the band with 
him are riding off towards the edge where 
the land falls somewhat steeply towards the 
Miosson. He and his men have their backs 
turned to the bulk of the army, which, in 
two bodies, the larger one lining the hedge 
and a smaller one behind it, are holding 
the chosen defensive position in case there 
should be any sign of a French pursuit. 
We must presume that if no such pursuit 
appeared to be developing it was Edward's 
intention, when he had got the special 
waggons and their escort safely across the 
ford, to withdraw the bulk of his force thus 



74 POITIERS 

left behind by the road through Nouaille 
and across its bridge. The smaller body 
would go first ; then, section by section, the 
first line would fall into column and retire 
by the Nouaille road, leaving at last no 
more than a small rearguard at the hedge, 
which, when all the waggons of the park 
had been harnessed up and were filing down 
the Nouaille road, would itself fall into 
column and bring up the extreme end of 
the retreat. 

By this plan the valuable waggon-loads 
with their escort, which had crossed at the 
ford under Warwick, would be joined in, say, 
an hour or an hour and a half by the bulk 
of the army, which would have rejoined by 
the Nouaille road, and the junction would 
be effected at the spot where, at the bottom 
of the frontispiece-map, the dotted line 
passing the ford reaches the main road. 
Well before noon the whole command, with 
its heavy and cumbersome train of wheeled 
vehicles, would be on the heights there 
called Le Bouilleau and would be approach- 
ing in safety, with the obstacle of the Miosson 
behind them, the great south-western road 
to Bordeaux, along which the rest of the 
retreat would take place. 

This plan would have every advantage, 
always supposing that there was no French 



THE ACTION 75 

pursuit, or that that pursuit should develop 
too late to interfere with the Black Prince's 
scheme. The more valuable of the booty 
would have been got clean away by a side 
track which was also a short cut, and 
which would put it, when the whole retire- 
ment was effected, ahead of the column, that 
is upon the safe side of the force, furthest 
from an enemy's attack. It would have got 
away early without suggesting to the enemy 
the line of its escape or the opportunity of 
using the ford. The retirement of the mass 
of the army by the Nouaille road would lead 
the pursuit, if any, along that road and 
towards the bridge, the cutting of which 
after the Anglo-Gascon force had passed 
would leave that force with the obstacle 
of the river between it and its enemy. 

As it happened, a French pursuit did 
develop, and, luckily for the Black Prince, 
it developed within a very few minutes of 
his setting off to superintend Warwick's 
passage of the ford. Had it come an hour 
later, when the mass of the force was in 
column of route and making for Nouaille, 
he might have had to record not a triumph 
but a disaster. 

The French camp was, as I have said, 
rather more than two miles away from the 
defensive position of Maupertuis. It lay 



76 POITIERS 

on all that open land which now forms the 
fields of La Miletrie farm and lies to the 
south-west of that steading, between the 
great Lussac road and that country road 
to Nouaille along which the march of the 
French army had proceeded, and across 
which, further along, the Black Prince's 
command lay astraddle. 

King John had no accurate knowledge 
of his enemy's dispositions. In spite of 
the coming and going of the day before, he 
still knew no more than the fact that some- 
where two or three miles ahead down the 
road, and between him and Nouaille, the 
Black Prince's force was gathered. He 
appears to have made no effort to grasp 
things in greater detail upon that Monday 
morning, and when he marshalled his host 
and set out, it was with the intention 
(which he pursued) of merely going forward 
until he found the enemy, and then attack- 
ing. The host was arranged in four bodies ; 
three main " battles " or lines, comparable 
to the English three lines it was the 
universal formation of a mediaeval army 
were brought up in column for the advance, 
to deploy when the field should be reached. 
The first was commanded by the heir to 
the throne, the Dauphin, Charles, Duke 
of Normandy ; the second by the Duke of 



THE ACTION 77 

Orleans, the king's brother ; the third was 
commanded by the king himself, and was 
the largest of the three. 

The attempt to estimate the numbers 
which John could bring against his enemy 
as he set out on that Monday morning is 
beset with difficulties, but must nevertheless 
be made. 

Froissart, with his quite unreliable and 
(let us be thankful) romantic pen, speaks of 
over 40,000. That is nonsense. But it is 
not without some value, because, like so 
many of Froissart's statements, it mirrors 
the tradition of the conflict which future 
years developed. If we had no other 
figures than Froissart's we should not 
accept them, but we should accept, and 
rightly, an impression of great superiority 
in numbers on the part of the attack. 

On the other hand, we have the evidence 
of a man who wrote from the field itself, and 
who wrote from the English side Burg- 
hersh. If anything, he would exaggerate, of 
course ; but he was a soldier (and Froissart 
was at the other psychological pole !). He 
actually wrote from the spot, and he thought 
that everything mounted in front of him 
came to about 8000, to which he added 3000 
men upon foot. Now, Burghersh may have 
been, and probably was, concerned to men- 



78 POITIERS 

tion no more than what he regarded as 
fighting units worth mentioning : infantry 
more or less trained and properly accoutred 
men-at-arms. For these latter, and their 
number of 8000, we have plenty of 
independent testimony, and especially 
Baker's. Baker gives the same number. 
As regards the trained infantry, we know 
that John had 2000 men armed with the 
arbalest (a mechanical cross-bow worked 
with a ratchet), and we know that he 
also had, besides these cross-bowmen, a 
number of trained mercenaries armed with 
javelins. 

We may set inferior and exterior limits 
to the numbers somewhat as follows : 
the French host included 8000 fully-armed 
mounted men ; that is, not quite double the 
Gascon and English units of the same rank 
and equipment. It had somewhat less than 
the English contingent of missile-armed 
soldiers, and these armed with a weapon 
inferior to their opponents. Count these 
two factors at 10,000 against the Anglo- 
Gascon 7000 or 8000. There you have an 
inferior limit which was certainly exceeded, 
for John's command included a number of 
other rougher mounted levies and other 
less trained or untrained infantry. Above 
that minimum we may add anything we 



THE ACTION 79 

like up to 10,000 for the untrained, and we 
get a superior limit for the total of 20,000 
men all told. Averaging the probabilities 
from the various accounts, we are fairly safe 
in setting this addition at 5000, and per- 
haps a little over. So that the whole force 
which John could have brought into the 
field, and which, had it been properly led 
and organised, he might have used to full 
effect in that field, was about double the 
numbers which the Black Prince could 
oppose to him. The Anglo -Gascons, stand- 
ing on the defensive, had from 7000 to 
8000 men, and the force marching against 
them on the offensive was presumably in 
the neighbourhood of 15,000 to 16,000 ; 
while an analysis of the armament gives 
you, in the capital factors of it, an inferior 
number of French missile weapons to the 
missile weapons of the English prince, 
but double the number of fully-armed 
knights. 

As a fact, the organisation of the two 
sides offered a more striking contrast than 
the contrast in their numbers. The Planta- 
genet force worked together and was one 
well-handled command. The Valois force 
was in separate commands, so little cohesive 
that one of them, as we shall see, abandoned 
the struggle without orders. For the other 



80 POITIERS 

causes of the defeat I must ask the reader 
to wait until we come to the actual en- 
gagement. 

To the three " battles " thus marshalled 
and advancing along the road, John added 
a special vanguard, the constitution of 
which must be carefully noted. It was 
sent forward under the two marshals, 
Audrehen and Clermont. They commanded : 
first, 300 fully-armoured and mounted 
men-at-arms, who rode at the head ; 
next, and following immediately behind 
these, certain German auxiliaries, also 
mounted, in what precise numbers we do 
not know, but few ; thirdly, 2000 spear- 
men on foot, and with them the whole 
2000 cross-bowmen using the only missile 
weapons at John's disposal. 

It will be seen that something like a 
third of John's whole force, and nearly half 
the trained part, was thus detached to 
form the vanguard in front of the three 
marching columns. Its function and mis- 
hap we shall gather when we come to the 
contact between them and Edward's force. 
Meanwhile, we must conceive of the French 
army as breaking camp some time between 
six and seven o'clock of the Monday, 
forming in three columns upon the Nouaille 
road, with the king commanding the largest 



THE ACTION 81 

rear column, his brother, the Duke of 
Orleans, the column immediately in front, 
and the King's son and heir, the Duke of 
Normandy, in front of Orleans ; while 
ahead of all these three columns marched 
the 4000 or 5000 men of the vanguard 
under the marshals, with their 300 picked 
knights leading the whole. 

It must have been at about eight o'clock 
that the men thus riding with the marshals 
in front of the French advance came up the 
slight slope near La Moudurerie, topped the 
hill, and saw, six or seven hundred yards in 
front of them, beyond the little depression, 
the vineyards and the hedge behind the 
vineyards, and behind that hedge again the 
massed first line of the Black Prince's force. 
Off in the rear to the right they could see the 
Black Prince's banner, making away down 
towards the river, and soon dropping out 
of sight behind the shoulder of the hill. 
The special waggons of booty, with Warwick 
and their escort, must already have dis- 
appeared when the French thus had their 
first glimpse of the enemy. 

The sight of the Black Prince's banner 
disappearing down into the valley on the 
right rear, rightly decided the French 
vanguard that their enemy had determined 
upon a retreat, and had actually begun it. 

6 



82 POITIERS 

The force in front of them, behind the hedge, 
large as it was, they rightly conceived to be 
the rearguard left to protect that retreat. 
They determined to attack at once ; and 
the nature of the attack, which had care- 
fully been planned beforehand under the 
advice of Douglas, the Scotchman who was 
fighting on King John's side, and who had 
experience of the new Plantagenet tactics, 
must next be grasped. 

The experience and the memory of Crecy 
ten years before had left with the Valois a 
clear though very general idea that the 
novel and overwhelming superiority of the 
English long-bow could not be met by the 
old-fashioned dense feudal cavalry charge. 
Any attempt to attack the front of a line 
sufficiently defended by long - bowmen in 
this fashion meant disaster, many horses 
would be shot long before their riders could 
come within lance thrust, the dense packed 
line of feudal knights, thousands in number, 
would be thrown into confusion by the 
maddened and fallen animals, the weight 
of the remainder as they pressed forward 
would only add to that confusion, and the 
first " battle," delivering the regular tradi- 
tional first-charge with which every old 
feudal battle had opened, would in a few 
minutes degenerate into a wild obstacle of 



THE ACTION 83 

welter and carnage stretched in front of 
the defensive line, and preventing anything 
behind them from coming up. 

It was to avoid misfortune of this kind 
that the vanguard of which I have spoken 
was formed. Its orders were these : 
The picked three hundred knights of that 
vanguard were to ride straight at the 
English archers, and almost certainly to 
sacrifice themselves in so doing. But as 
their numbers were few, their fall would 
not obstruct what was to follow. It was 
their business in this immolation of their 
bodies to make it possible for the mass of 
infantry, especially those armed with missile 
weapons, to come close in behind and tackle 
the English line. That infantry, aided by 
the mounted German mercenaries and 
meeting missile with missile by getting 
hand to hand with the English bowmen 
at last, would prevent those English bow- 
men from effective action against the next 
phase of the offensive. This next phase 
was to be the advance of the first " battle," 
that of the Dauphin, the Duke of Normandy. 
His men-at-arms were to go forward dis- 
mounted, and to close with the whole 
English line while its most dangerous 
portion, the bowmen, were still hampered 
by the close pressure of the vanguard. 



84 POITIERS 

The plan thus ordered by the French 
king at the advice of his Scotch lieutenant 
was not so incompetent as the results have 
led some historians to judge. It suffered 
from four misconceptions ; but of these one 
was not the fault of the French commander, 
while the other three could only have been 
avoided by a thorough knowledge of the 
new Plantagenet tactics, which had not yet 
been grasped in the entirety of their 
consequences even by those who had 
invented them. 

The four misconceptions were : 

(1) The idea that the attack would only 
have to meet the force immediately in front 
of it, behind the hedge. This was a capital 
error, for, as we shall see, Warwick with his 
men escorting the waggons came back in 
time to take a decisive part in the first phase 
of the action. But it was not an error 
which anyone on the French side could 
have foreseen ; Warwick's men having dis- 
appeared down the slope of the hill towards 
the ford before the French vanguard caught 
its first sight of the enemy. 

(2) The underrating of the obstacle 
afforded by the vineyard in front of the 
English line, and the consequent " bunch- 
ing " of the attack on to the lane which 
traversed that vineyard. Probably the 



THE ACTION 85 

archers themselves did not know what an 
extraordinarily lucky accidental defence 
the vineyard provided for their special 
weapon. It was exactly suited to giving 
them the maximum effect of arrow-fire 
compatible with the maximum hindrance 
to an advancing enemy. 

(3) The French king and his advisers 
had not yet grasped nor did anyone in 
Europe for some time to come the remark- 
able superiority of the long - bow over 
the cross-bow. Just so modern Europe, 
and particularly modern Prussia, with all 
its minute observation and record, failed 
for ten good years to understand that rate 
of delivery and not range is what turns 
the scale with modern artillery. The cross- 
bow shot an uglier missile, inflicted a nastier 
wound, was more feared by the man in 
danger of that wound than the long-bow 
was. In range the two weapons might be 
regarded as nearly equal, save for this 
deciding difference, that the trained long- 
bowman could always count upon his 
maximum range, whereas the cross-bow 
varied, as a machine always will, with 
conditions independent of the human will 
behind it. You could not extend its pull 
to suit a damp string, for instance, and if 
your ratchet caught, or your trigger jammed, 



86 POITIERS 

the complicated thing held you up ; but 
delivery from the long-bow was, from the 
hands of the strong and trained man, the 
simplest and most calculable of shots, 
variable to every condition of the moment. 
Its elasticity of aim was far superior, and, 
most important of all, its rate of fire was 
something like three to one of the arbalest. 
(4) Douglas and the French king rightly 
decided that horses were so vulnerable to 
the long-bow as to prevent a mounted 
charge from having a chance of success, 
if it were undertaken in a great mass. 
They decided, upon that account, to dis- 
mount their men-at-arms, and to attack on 
foot. But what they did not allow for was 
the effect of the new armour upon foot 
tactics of that kind. It was one thing for 
a line holding the defensive, and not 
compelled to any forward movement, to 
dismount its armoured knights and bid them 
await an attack. It was quite another thing 
for such armoured knights to have to make 
a forward movement of half a mile or more 
on foot, and to engage with the sword 
or the shortened lance at the end of it. 
Armour was at that moment in transition. 
To the old suit of chain mail, itself quite 
ponderous enough to burden a man on foot, 
there had been added in that generation 



THE ACTION 87 

plate in various forms. Everyone had 
plate armour at least upon the elbows, 
knees, and shoulders, many had it upon all 
the front of the legs and all the front of the 
arms, some had adopted it as a complete 
covering ; and to go on foot thus loaded over 
open fields for the matter of eight hundred 
yards was to be exhausted before contact 
came. But of this men could not judge so 
early in the development of the new tactics. 
They saw that if they were to attack the 
bowmen successfully they must do so on 
foot, and they had not appreciated how 
ill-suited the armoured man of the time was 
for an unmounted offensive, however well 
he might serve in a defensive " wall." 

These four misconceptions between them 
determined all that was to follow. 

It was a little before nine when the 
vanguard of the Valois advanced across 
the depression and began to approach the 
slight slope up towards the vineyards and 
the hedge beyond. In that vineyard, upon 
either side of the hollow road, stood, in the 
same " harrow " formation as at Crecy, the 
English long-bowmen. 

The picked three hundred knights under 
the two French marshals spurred and 
charged. Small as their number was, it 



88 POITIERS 

was crowded for the road into which the 
stakes of the vineyard inevitably shepherded 
them as they galloped forward, and, strug- 
gling to press on in that sunken way, either 
side of their little column was exposed to 
the first violent discharge of arrows from 
the vines. They were nearly all shot down, 
but that little force, whose task it had been, 
after all, to sacrifice their lives in making 
a way for their fellows, had permitted the 
rest of the vanguard to come to close 
quarters. The entanglement of the vine- 
yard, the unexpected and overwhelming 
superiority of the long-bow over the cross- 
bow, the superior numbers of the English 
archers over their enemies' arbalests, made 
the attack a slow one, but it was pressed 
home. The trained infantry of the van- 
guard, the German mounted mercenaries, 
swarmed up the little slope. The front 
of them was already at the hedge, and was 
engaged in a furious hand to hand with 
the line defending it, the mass of the re- 
mainder were advancing up the rise, when 
a new turn was given to the affair by the 
unexpected arrival of Warwick. 

The waggons which that commander 
had been escorting had been got safely 
across the Miosson ; the Black Prince had 
overlooked their safe crossing, when there 



THE ACTION 89 

came news from the plateau above that the 
French had appeared, and that the main 
force which the Black Prince had left behind 
him was engaged. Edward rode back at 
once, and joined his own particular line, 
which we saw just before the battle to 
be drawn up immediately behind the 
first line which guarded the hedge and 
the vineyard. Warwick, with excellent 
promptitude, did not make for Salisbury 
and Suffolk to reinforce their struggling 
thousands with his men, but took the 
shorter and more useful course of moving 
by his own left to the southern extremity 
of his comrade's fiercely pressed line (see 
frontispiece near the word " Hedge " ; the 
curved red arrow lines indicate the return 
of Warwick). 

He came out over the edge of the hill, 
just before the mass of the French van- 
guard had got home, and when only the 
front of it had reached the hedge and was 
beginning the hand-to-hand struggle. He 
put such archers as he had had with his 
escort somewhat in front of the line of the 
hedge, and with their fire unexpectedly and 
immediately enfiladed all that mass of the 
French infantry, which expected no danger 
from such a quarter, and was pressing for- 
ward through the vineyards to the summit 



90 POITIERS 

of the little rise. This sharp and unlocked 
for flank fire turned the scale. The whole 
French vanguard was thrown into confusion, 
and broke down the side of the depression 
and up its opposing slope. As it so broke 
it interfered with and in part confused the 
first of the great French " battles," that 
under the Dauphin, whose ordered task it 
was to follow up the vanguard and rein- 
force its pressure upon the English line. 
Though the vanguard had been broken, 
the Dauphin's big, unwieldy body of dis- 
mounted armoured men managed to go 
forward through the shaken and flying 
infantry, and in their turn to attack the 
hedge and the vineyard before it. Against 
them, the flank fire from Warwick could 
do less than it had done against the un- 
armoured cross-bowmen and sergeants of 
the vanguard which it had just routed. 
The Dauphin's cumbered and mailed 
knights did manage to reach the main 
English position of the hedge, bujb they 
were not numerous enough for the effort 
then demanded of them. The half mile of 
advance under such a weight of iron had 
terribly exhausted them, and meanwhile 
Edward had come back, the full weight of 
his command every man of it except a 
reserve of four hundred was massed to 



THE ACTION 91 

meet the Dauphin's attack. Warwick's 
men hurried up from the left to help in the 
sword play, and by the time the melee was 
engaged that line of hedge saw the unusual 
struggle of a defensive superior in numbers 
against an inferior offensive which should, 
by all military rule, have refused to attempt 
the assault. 

Nevertheless, that assault was pressed 
with astonishing vigour, and it was that 
passage in the action, before and after the 
hour of ten o'clock, which was the hottest of 
all. Regarded as an isolated episode in the 
fight, the Dauphin's unequal struggle was 
one of the finest feats of arms in all the 
Hundred Years' War. Nothing but a 
miracle could have made it succeed, nor did 
it succeed ; after a slaughter in which the 
English defending line had itself suffered 
heavily and the Dauphin's attack had been 
virtually cut to pieces, there followed a 
third phase in the battle which quite can- 
celled not only the advantage (for that was 
slight) but also the glory gained by the 
Dauphin's great effort. 

Next behind the Dauphin's line, the 
second " battle," that of the Duke of 
Orleans, should have proceeded to press on 
in reinforcement and to have launched 
yet another wave of men against the hedge 



92 POITIERS 

which had been with such difficulty held. 
Had it done so, the battle would have been 
decided against Edward. The Dauphin's 
force, though it was now broken and the 
remnants of it were scattering back across 
the depression, had hit the Anglo-Gascon 
corps very hard indeed. Edward had lost 
heavily, his missile weapon was hampered 
and for the moment useless, many of his 
men were occupied in an attempt to save the 
wounded, or in seeking fresh arms from the 
train to replace those which had been broken 
or lost in the struggle. What seems to have 
struck most those who were present at 
the action upon the English side was the 
exhaustion from which their men were 
suffering just after the Dauphin's unsuccess- 
ful attempt to pierce the line. If Orleans 
had come up then, he could have determined 
the day. But Orleans failed to come into 
action at all, and the whole of his " battle," 
the second, was thrown away. 

What exactly happened it is exceedingly 
difficult to infer from the short and con- 
fused accounts that have reached us. It is 
certain that the whole of Orleans' command 
left the field without actually coming into 
contact with the enemy. The incident 
left a profound impression upon the legend 
and traditions of the French masses, and 



THE ACTION 93 

was a basis of that angry contempt which 
so violently swelled the coming revolt of 
the populace against the declining claims 
of the feudal nobility. It may almost be 
said that the French monarchy would not 
have conquered that nobility with the aid 
of the French peasantry and townsmen 
had not the knights of the second " battle " 
fled from the field of Poitiers. 

What seems to have happened was this. 
The remnant of the Dauphin's force, falling 
back in confusion down the slight slope, 
mixed into and disarrayed the advancing 
" battle " of Orleans. These, again, were 
apparently not all of them, nor most of 
them, dismounted as they should have been, 
and, in any case, their horses were near at 
hand. The ebb tide of the Dauphin's 
retirement may have destroyed the loose 
organisation and discipline of that feudal 
force, must have stampeded some horses, 
probably left dismounted knights in peril 
of losing their chargers, and filled them 
with the first instinct of the feudal soldier, 
which was to mount. We may well believe 
that to all this scrimmage of men backing 
from a broken attack, men mounting in 
defiance of the unfamiliar and unpopular 
orders which had put them on foot, here 
riderless horses breaking through the ranks, 



94 POITIERS 

there knots of men stampeded, the whole 
body was borne back, first in confusion, 
afterwards in flight. So slight are the 
inequalities of the ground, that anyone 
watching from the midst of that crest 
could have made nothing of the battle to 
the eastward, save that it was a surging 
mass of the French king's men defeated, 
and followed (it might erroneously have 
been thought) by the Black Prince and his 
victorious men. 

At any rate, the whole of the second 
" battle," mixed with the debris of the first, 
broke from the field and rode off, scattered 
to the north. It is upon Orleans himself 
that the chief blame must fall. Whatever 
error, confusion, stampede, or even panic 
had destroyed the ordering of his line, 
it was his business to rally his men and 
bring them back. Whether from personal 
cowardice, from inaptitude for command, 
or from political calculation, Orleans failed 
in his duty, and his failure determined 
the action. 

The pause which necessarily followed the 
withdrawal of the central French force, or 
second " battle," under Orleans gave 
Edward's army the breathing space they 
needed. It further meant, counting the 
destruction of the vanguard and the cutting 



THE ACTION 95 

to pieces of the Dauphin's " battle," the 
permanent inferiority through the rest of 
the day of anything that the French king 
could bring against the Plantagenets. The 
battle was lost from that moment, between 
ten and eleven o'clock, when Orleans' 
confused column, pouring, jostled off the 
field, left the great gap open between King 
John and the lead of his third battle and 
the English force. 

Had strict military rule commanded the 
feudal spirit (which it never did), John 
would have accepted defeat. To have 
ridden off with what was still intact of his 
force, to wit, his own command, the third 
" battle," would have been personally 
shameful to him as a knight, but politically 
far less disastrous than the consequences 
of the chivalrous resolve he now made. 
He had left, to make one supreme effort, 
perhaps five, perhaps six thousand men. 
Archers wherewith to meet the enemy's 
archers he had none. What number of 
fully- armoured men-at-arms he had with 
him we cannot tell, but, at any rate, enough 
in his judgment to make the attempt upon 
which he had decided. The rest of the 
large force that was with him was of less 
considerable military value ; but, on the 
other hand, he could calculate not unjustly 



96 POITIERS 

upon the fact that all his men were fresh, 
and that he was leading them against a 
body that had struggled for two hours 
against two fierce assaults, and one that 
has but just emerged unbroken, it is true 
from a particularly severe hand-to-hand 
fight. 

John, then, determined to advance and, 
if possible, with this last reserve to carry 
the position. It was dismounted, as he had 
ordered and wished all his men-at-arms to 
be, and the King of France led this last 
body of knights eastward across the little 
dip of land. As that large, fresh body of 
mailed men approached the edge of the 
depression on its further side, there were 
those in the Black Prince's force who 
began to doubt the issue. A picturesque 
story remains to us of Edward's over- 
hearing a despairing phrase, and casting at 
its author the retort that he had lied damn- 
ably if he so blasphemed as to say the Black 
Prince could be conquered alive. 

I have mentioned some pages back that 
reserve of four hundred fully - equipped 
men-at-arms which Edward had detached 
from his own body and had set about four 
hundred yards off, surrounding his standard. 
The exact spot where this reserve took up 
its position is marked to-day by the railway 



THE ACTION 97 

station. It overlooks (if anything can be 
said to " overlook " in that flat stretch) 
the field. It is some twelve or fifteen feet 
higher than the hedge at which, a couple of 
furlongs away, the long defence had held its 
own throughout that morning. The Black 
Prince recalled them to the main body. 
Having done so, he formed into one closely 
ordered force all the now mixed men of the 
three lines who were still able to go forward. 
John was coming on with his armoured 
knights on foot, their horses almost a mile 
away (he was bringing those men, embar- 
rassed and weighted by their metal under 
the growing heat of the day, nearly double 
the distance which his son's men had found 
too much for them) . Edward bade his men- 
at-arms mount, and his archers mounted 
too. It will be remembered that six men 
out of seven were mounted originally for 
the raid through Aquitaine. The fighting 
on foot had spared the horses. They were 
all available. And the teams and sumpter 
animals were available as well in so far as 
he had need of them. John's men, just 
coming up on foot to the opposite edge of 
the little dip, saw the low foot line of the 
Anglo-Gascons turning at a word of com- 
mand into a high mounted line. But before 
that mounted line moved forward, Edward 

7 



98 POITIERS 

had a last command to give. He called for 
the Captal of Buch, a Gascon captain not 
to be despised. 

This man had done many things in the 
six weeks' course of the raid. He was a 
cavalry leader, great not only with his own 
talent, but with the political cause which 
he served, for of those lords under the 
Pyrenees he was the most resolute for the 
Plant agenets and against the Valois. The 
order Edward gave him was this : to take 
a little force all mounted, to make a long 
circuit, skirting round to the north and 
hiding its progress behind the spinneys and 
scrub -wood until he should get to the rear 
of the last French reserve that was coming 
forward, and when he had completed the 
circuit, to display his banner and come down 
upon them unexpectedly from behind. It 
was an exceedingly small detachment which 
was picked out for this service, not two 
hundred men all told. Rather more than 
half of them archers, the rest of them fully- 
equipped men-at-arms. Small as was this 
tiny contingent which the Black Prince 
could barely spare, it proved in the event 
sufficient. 

That order given, the Black Prince sum- 
moned his standard-bearer an Englishman 
whose name should be remembered, Wood- 



THE ACTION 99 

land set him, with the great banner which 
the French had seen three hours before 
disappearing into the river valley when 
Edward had been off watching the passage 
of the ford, at the head of the massed 
mounted force, and ordered the charge. 
The six thousand horse galloped against 
the dismounted armoured men of John down 
the little slope. The shock between these 
riders and those foot-men came in the hollow 
of the depression. The foot-men stood the 
charge. In the first few minutes gaps were 
torn into and through the French body by 
a discharge of the last arrows, and then 
came the furious encounter with dagger 
and sword which ended the Battle of 
Poitiers. It was the mounted men that 
had the better of the whole. The struggle 
was very fierce and very bewildered, a mass 
of hand - to - hand fighting in individual 
groups that swayed, as yet undetermined, 
backwards and forwards in the hollow. 
But those who struck from horseback had 
still the better of the blows, until, when this 
violence had continued, not yet determined, 
for perhaps half an hour, the less ordered and 
less armoured men who were the confused 
rearmost of John's corps heard a shout 
behind them, and looking back saw, bearing 
down upon them, the banner of St George, 



100 POITIERS 

which was borne before the Captal, and 
his archers and his men-at-arms charging 
with the lance. Small as was the force of 
that charge, it came unexpectedly from 
the rear, and produced that impression of out- 
flanking and surrounding which most de- 
moralises fighting men. The rear ranks 
who pressed just behind the place where the 
heaviest of the struggle was proceeding, 
and where John's knights on foot were 
attempting to hold their own against the 
mounted Gascons and English, broke away. 
The Captal' s charge drove home, and the 
remnant of the French force, with the king 
himself in the midst of it, found themselves 
fighting against a ring which pressed them 
from all sides. 

King John had with him his little son 
Philip, a boy of fourteen, later most pro- 
perly to be called " The Bold." And this 
lad fought side by side with his father, 
calling to the king : " Father, guard to the 
right ! Father, guard to the left ! " as the 
lance-thrusts and the sword-strokes pressed 
them. The lessening and lessening group 
of French lords that could still hold their 
own in the contracting circle was doomed, 
and the battle was accomplished. 

Scattering across those fields to the west 
and northward bodies of the Plantagenet's 



THE ACTION 101 

men galloped, riding down the fugitives, kill- 
ing, or capturing for ransom, the wounded. 
And Edward, his work now done, rode back 
to the old position, rested, sent messengers 
out to recall the pursuers (some of whom 
had pressed stragglers for four miles), and 
watched his men gathering and returning. 

He saw advancing towards him a clam- 
orous crowd, all in a hubbub around some 
centre of great interest for them, and slowly 
making eastward to where the banner of 
the Black Prince was now fixed. He sent to 
ask what this might be, and was told that 
it was the King of France who had been 
taken prisoner at last, and for whom 
various captors were disputing. John, 
pressed by so many rivals, had given up his 
sword to one of Edward's knights. That 
knight was a man from the Artois, who had 
said to the Valois, his lawful king, " Sir, I 
am serving against you, for I have lost my 
land, and, owing no allegiance, therefore, I 
became the man of the King of England." 

Edward received his great captive, and 
that was the end of the Battle of Poitiers. 

It was noon when the fight was decided. 
It was mid-afternoon when the last of the 
pursuers had been called back into the 
English camp. 



PART V 

THE ASPECT OF THESE 
BATTLES 

IN closing the coupled and twin stories of 
Crecy and Poitiers it is not without advan- 
tage to describe the aspect which they 
would have presented to an onlooker of 
their time ; and in doing this I must not 
only describe the general armament of 
Western European men in the middle of the 
fourteenth century, but that contrast be- 
tween weapons and methods which gave 
the Plantagenets for more than a genera- 
tion so permanent an advantage over their 
opponents. 

You would have seen a force such as that 
of the Black Prince or of King John camped 
before a battle, a white town of tents cross- 
ing the fields, with here and there a vivid 
patch of colour where some great leader's 
pavilion was of blue or red and gold. The 
billeting of men upon householders was a 
102 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 103 

necessary feature of a long march, or of the 
occupation of a town. But when there 
was question of occupying a position, or 
when an army was too large to lodge under 
roof, it depended upon canvas. But it 
must be remembered that not the whole 
of a force by any means enjoyed that 
advantage ; a large portion, especially in a 
considerable body, was often compelled to 
bivouac. 

Further, the reader must represent to 
himself a heavier impediment of vehicles 
than a corresponding force would burden 
itself with to-day : a far heavier impedi- 
ment than a quite modern army would 
think tolerable. There were no aids what- 
soever to progress, save those which the 
armed body carried with it. No command- 
eering of horses upon any considerable scale ; 
no mechanical traffic, of course ; and, save 
under special circumstances where water 
carriage could relieve the congestion, no 
chances of carrying one's booty (then a 
principal concern), one's munitions, and 
one's supplies, save in waggons. 

On the other hand, the enormous supply 
of ammunition which modern missile war- 
fare demands, and has demanded more or 
less for three hundred years, was absent. 
There was no reserve of food ; an army lived 



104 POITIERS 

not entirely off the country, for it always 
began with a reserve of provisions, but 
without any calculated reserve for a whole 
campaign, and necessarily in such times 
without any power of keeping essential 
nourishment for more than a few days. 

Say that your fourteenth-century corps 
was more burdened upon the march by far, 
but by far less dependent upon its base than 
a modern force, and you have the truth. 

You must therefore conceive of the 
marching body, be it 7000 or be it 30,000 
or more, as a long column of which quite 
one-half the length will usually consist of 
waggons. 

The first thing that would strike the 
modern observer of such a column would be 
the large proportion of mounted men. 

Even the Plantagenets, who first, by an 
accident about to be described, discovered, 
and who by their genius for command 
developed, a revolution in missile weapons, 
marched at the head of columns which were, 
not only for their spirit and their tradition 
and command, but for all their important 
fighting units, mounted. 

Tradition and the memory of a society 
are all-important in these things. From the 
beginning of the Dark Ages until well on 
into the Middle Ages, say, from the end 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 105 

of the fifth century to the beginning of 
the fourteenth, a battle was essentially a 
mounted charge ; and the noble class which 
for generation after generation had learnt 
and gloried in the trade of those charges 
was the class which organised and enjoyed 
the peril of warfare. 

The armoured man was always an expen- 
sive unit. His full equipment was the year's 
rent of a farm, and what we should to-day 
call a large country estate never produced 
half a dozen of him, and sometimes no more 
than one. He needed at least one servant. 
That was a mere physical necessity of his 
equipment. Often he had not one, but two 
or three or even four. He and his assist- 
ants formed the normal cell, so to speak, 
of a fourteenth-century force. And on the 
march you would have seen the thousands 
of these " men-at-arms " (the term is a 
translation of the French " gensdarmes," 
which means armed people) surrounded or 
followed by a cloud of their followers. 

Now their followers were more numerous 
than they, and yet far more vulnerable, and 
they form a very difficult problem in the 
estimation of a fourteenth- century force. 

When I say, as I have said with regard 
both to Crecy and to Poitiers though it is 
truer of Crecy than of Poitiers that the 



106 POITIERS 

number of combatants whom contempo- 
raries recognised as such was far less than 
the total numbers of a force, I was point- 
ing out that, by our method of reckoning 
numbers, it would be foolish to count 
Edward III.'s army in 1346 as only 24,000, 
or the Black Prince's ten years later as only 
7000. The actual number of males upon 
the march who had to be fed and could be 
seen standing upon the field was far larger. 
But, on the other hand, the value for fight- 
ing purposes of what I may call the domes- 
tics was very varied. Some of those who 
served the wealthiest of the men-at-arms 
were themselves gentry. They were youths 
who would later be fully armed themselves. 
They rode. They had a sword ; they could 
not be denied combat. Even their inferiors 
were of value in a defensive position, how- 
ever useless for offensive purposes. When we 
hear of A making a stand against B though 
B was "three times as strong" as A, we 
must remember that this means only that 
the counting combating units on B's side 
were three times A's. If A was holding a 
defensive position against B, B would only 
attack with his actual fighting units, whereas 
A could present a dense mass of humanity 
much more than a third of B, certainly 
two-thirds of B, and sometimes the equal 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 107 

of B, to resist him, though only one-third 
should be properly armed. While, on the 
other hand, if B should fail in the attack 
and break, the number of those cut down 
and captured in the pursuit by the victorious 
A would be very much greater than the 
fighting units which B had brought against 
A at the beginning of the combat. All the 
followers and domestics of A's army would 
be involved in the catastrophe, and that is 
what accounts for the enormous numbers 
of casualties which one gets after any 
decisive overthrow of one party by the 
other, especially of a large force against a 
small one. It is this feature which accounts 
for the almost legendary figures following 
Crecy and Poitiers. 

The gentry, who were the nucleus of the 
fighting, were armed in the middle of the 
fourteenth century after a fashion transi- 
tional between the rings of mail which had 
been customary for a century and the plate 
armour which was usual for the last cen- 
tury before the general use of firearms, 
ornamental during the century in which 
firearms established themselves, and is 
still the popular though false conception 
of mediaeval accoutrement. From imme- 
morial time until the First Crusade and the 
generation of the Battle of Hastings and the 



108 POITIERS 

capture of Jerusalem, fighters had covered 
their upper bodies with leather coats, and 
their heads with an iron casque. From at 
least the Roman centuries throughout the 
Dark Ages, a universal use of metal rings 
linked together over the leather protected 
the armed man, and our word mail is French 
for links, and nothing else. In time, the 
network of links came to be used separate 
from the leather, and so it was put on like 
a shirt of flexible iron all through the great 
business which saved Europe during the 
ninth century against the Northmen in Gaul 
and Britain, against the Moor in Spain. It 
was the armour of the knights in Palestine, 
of the native armies which drove the 
Germans from Italy, and of the Norman 
Conquest. 

But with the end of the thirteenth 
century, which for simplicity and virile 
strength was the flower of our civilisation, 
armour, with many another feature of life, 
took on complexity and declined. Men 
risked less (the lance also came in to frighten 
them more). The bascinet, which had 
protected the head but not the face (with 
later a hinged face-piece attached), was 
covered or replaced by a helmet protecting 
head and face and all. At the knees, 
shoulders, elbows, jointed plates of iron 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 109 

appeared. Scales of iron defended the shin 
and the thigh, sometimes the lower arm as 
well. The wealthier lords covered the front 
of every limb with plates of this sort, and 
there was jointed iron upon their hands. 
The plain spur had rowels attached to it ; the 
sword shortened, so did the shield; a dagger 
was added to the sword-belt upon the 
right-hand side. 

We must further see in the picture of a 
fourteenth-century battle great blazonry. 

The divorce of the gentry from the 
common people (one of the fatal eddies of 
the time) developed in the wealthy this 
love of colour, and in their dependants the 
appetite for watching it. Of heraldry I say 
nothing, for it has nothing to do with the 
art or history of soldiers. But banners 
were a real part of tactics and of instructions. 
By banners men had begun to align them- 
selves, and by the display of banners to 
recognise the advent of reinforcement or 
the action at some distant point (distant as 
fields were then reckoned) of enemies or of 
friends. Colour was so lively a feature of 
those fields that shields, even the horses' 
armour, cloths hung from trumpets, coats, 
all shone with it. 

Now to the feudal cavalry with their 
domestics, to the gentry so armed whose 



110 POITIERS 

tradition was the soul and whose numbers 
the nucleus of a fourteenth-century army, 
one must add, quite separate from their 
domestics and squires, the foot-soldiers; and 
these were trained and untrained. 

At this point a capital distinction 
must be made. Armies defending a whole 
countryside, notably the French armies 
defending French territory during the 
Hundred Years' War, levied, swept up, or 
got as volunteers masses of untrained 
men. Expeditions abroad had none such : 
they had no use for them. Edward had 
none at Crecy and his son had none at 
Poitiers ; and what was true of these two 
Plantagenet raids was true of every organised 
expedition made with small numbers from 
one centre to a distant spot, throughout the 
Middle Ages. It is important to remember 
this, for it accounts for much of the great 
discrepancies in numbers always observ- 
able between an expeditionary force and its 
opponents, as it does for the superior 
excellence of the raiding tens against the 
raided hundreds. 

But if we consider only the trained force 
of foot-men in an army of the fourteenth 
century, we discover that contrast between 
the Plantagenet and the Valois equip- 
ment with which I desire to conclude. 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 111 

England had developed the long-bow. It 
is a point which has been vastly over- 
emphasised, but which it would be un- 
scholarly and uncritical to pass over in 
silence. A missile weapon had been pro- 
duced and perfected by the Welsh, the art 
of it had spread over the west country ; and 
it was to prove itself of value superior to 
any other missile weapon in the field 
throughout the fourteenth and even into 
the early fifteenth centuries. Outside these 
islands it was imperfectly understood as 
a weapon, and its lesson but imperfectly 
learnt. When it was replaced by firearms, 
the British Islands and their population 
dropped out of the running in land arma- 
ment for two hundred years. The long-bow 
was not sufficiently superior to other weapons 
to impress itself dramatically and at once 
upon the consciousness of Europe. It re- 
mained special, local, national, but, if men 
could only have known it, a decisive element 
of superiority up to the breakdown of the 
Plantagenet tradition of government and of 
Plantagenet society. 

I have described in the writing of Crecy 
how superior was its rate of delivery always, 
and often its range, to other missile weapons 
of the time. We must also remember that 
capital factor in warfare, lost with the 



112 POITIERS 

Romans, recovered with the Middle Ages, 
which may be called the instruction of 
infantry. 

The strength of an armed body consists 
in its cohesion. When the whole body is in 
peril, each individual member of it wants to 
get away. To prevent him from getting 
away is the whole object of discipline and 
military training. Each standing firm (or 
falling where he stands) preserves the unity, 
and therefore the efficacy, of the whole. 
A few yielding at the critical point (and 
the critical point is usually also the point 
where men most desire to yield) destroy 
the efficacy of nine times their number. 
Now, one of the things that frighten an 
individual man on foot most is another 
man galloping at him upon a horse. If 
many men gallop upon him so bunched 
on many horses, the effect is, to say the 
least of it, striking. If any one doubts 
this, let him try. If the men upon the 
horses are armed with a weapon that can 
get at the men on foot some feet ahead 
(such as is the lance), the threat is more 
efficacious still, and no single man (save 
here and there a fellow full of some religion) 
will meet it. 

But against this truth there is another 
truth to be set, which the individual man 



ASPECT OF THESE BATTLES 113 

would never guess, and which is none the 
less experimentally certain which is this : 
that if a certain number of men on foot 
stand firm when horses are galloping at 
them, the horses will swerve or balk before 
contact ; in general, the mounted line will 
not be efficacious against the dismounted. 
There is here a contrast between the nerves 
of horses and the intelligence of men, as 
also between the rider's desire that his horse 
should go forward and the horse's training, 
which teaches him that not only his rider, 
but men in general, are his masters. What 
is true here of horses is not true of dogs, 
who think all men not their masters, but 
their enemies, and desire to kill them, and 
what is more, can do so, which a horse can- 
not. A charge of large mounted dogs 
against unshaken infantry would succeed. 
A charge of mounted horses against un- 
shaken infantry, if that infantry be suffi- 
ciently dense, will fail. 

To teach infantry that they can thus 
withstand cavalry, instruction is the in- 
strument. You must drill them, and form 
them constantly, and hammer it into them 
by repeated statement that if they stand 
firm all will be well. This has been done 
in the case of men on foot armed only with 
staves. It is easier, of course, to inculcate 

8 



114 POITIERS 

the lesson when they are possessed of 
missile weapons ; for a continued discharge 
of these is impossible from charging riders, 
and an infantry force armed with missile 
weapons, and unshaken, can be easily 
persuaded by training, and still more by 
experience, that it can resist cavalry. 
Under modern conditions, where missile 
weapons are of long range and accurate, 
this goes without saying ; but even with a 
range of from fifty to eighty yards of a 
missile that will bring down a horse or 
stop him, infantry can easily be made 
sufficiently confident if it is unshaken. 
Now, to shake it, there is nothing available 
(or was nothing before the art of flying was 
developed) save other men, equally station- 
ary, armed with other missiles. The long- 
bowman of the Plantagenets knew that he 
had a missile weapon superior to anything 
that his enemy could bring against him. 
He therefore stood upon the defensive 
against a feudal cavalry charge unshaken, 
and he was trained by his experience and 
instruction to know that if he kept his line 
unbroken, the cavalry charge would never 
get home. That is the supreme tactical 
factor of the Plantagenet successes of the 
Hundred Years' War. 



PART VI 
THE RESULTS OF THE BATTLE 

THE immediate results of the victory of 
Poitiers consisted, first, in the immensely 
increased prestige which it gave to the 
House of Plantagenet throughout Europe. 

Next, we must reckon the local, though 
ephemeral, effect upon the opinion of 
Aquitaine, through which the Black Prince 
was now free to retreat at his ease towards 
Bordeaux and the secure territories of 
Gascony. 

But though these results were the most 
immediate, and though the victory of one 
monarch over the other was the most 
salient aspect of the victory for contem- 
poraries, as it is for us, there was another 
element which we must particularly con- 
sider because it illustrates the difference 
between the political conditions of the 
fourteenth century and of our own time. 

The real point of the success was the 
115 



116 POITIERS 

capture of the king's person. The impor- 
tance of the action lay, of course, to some 
extent, in the prestige it gave to the Black 
Prince personally; though that point was 
lost a very few years afterwards in the sub- 
sequent decline of the Plantagenet power 
in the south. In so far as an action in 
those days could carry a national effect 
that is, could be regarded by distant civilian 
populations as proof of strength or weakness 
in contrasting races and societies Poitiers 
had not even the claim of Crecy ; for it was 
not principally an archers' but a knights' 
battle, and the knights were mainly the 
gentry of the South of France, while those 
who had been broken by the only cavalry 
movement of the engagement were not 
even French knights, but levies of German, 
Spanish, and other origin. But the capture 
of the King of France at that particular 
moment of chivalry, that last fermentation 
of a feudal society which was reaching its 
term, had a vast positive effect, as well as 
an almost incalculable moral effect. 

There is nothing in modern times to 
which such an accident can be accurately 
paralleled. Perhaps the capture of the 
capital city would be the nearest thing ; 
but there is this grave difference between 
them, that the capture of the modern 



RESULTS OF THE BATTLE 117 

capital must mean prolonged and decisive 
success in war, whereas the capture of John 
was an accident of the field. The victory 
would have been less by far if the whole of 
the king's command had fled, with the king 
himself at the head of the rout. 

A modern parallel more nearly exact 
would be the transference in the midst of 
a conflict of some great financial power from 
one side to the other ; or again, in a naval 
war, the blowing up of so many capital 
ships by contact mines as would put one 
of the two opposing fleets into a hopeless 
inferiority to the other. To capture a 
king was to capture not so much a necessary 
part of the mechanism of government as 
the most important and the richest member 
of a feudal organisation. It meant the 
power to claim an enormous feudal ransom 
for his person. It meant, more doubtfully, 
the power to engage him, while he was yet 
a prisoner, to terms that would bind his 
lieges : " more doubtfully," because the 
whole feudal system jealously regarded 
the rights both of individual owners and 
of custom from the peasant to the crown. 
Finally, to capture the king was to get 
hold of the chief financial support of an 
enemy. A feudal king had vast revenues 
in the shape of rents, not competitive, but 



118 POITIERS 

fixed, which came to him as they did to 
any other lord, but in much greater amount 
than to any other lord. The king was the 
chief economic factor in that autonomous 
economic federation which we call the 
feudal organisation of Gaul. 

The fact that his capture was an accident 
in no way lessened the result ; it was re- 
garded in the military mind of those days 
much as we regard the crippling of a modern 
financial power by some chance of specula- 
tion. It was only a bit of good fortune on 
the one side, and of bad fortune on the 
other, but one to be duly taken advantage 
of by those whom it would profit. 

The immediate result of that capture 
was twofold : an admission on the part 
of John of the Plant agenet claim, and a 
corresponding spontaneous movement in 
France which led to the defeat of that claim ; 
the signing (ultimately) of a treaty tear- 
ing the French monarchy in two ; and, 
finally, the rejection and nullifying of that 
treaty by the mere instinct of the nation. 
But these lengthy political consequences 
followed by the further success of the Black 
Prince's nephew at Agincourt, and again 
by his successor's loss of all save Calais 
do not concern this book. 



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