Battle of Poitiers
|Battle of Poitiers|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
The Battle of Poitiers (1356) Eugène Delacroix
|Duchy of Brittany||
Holy Roman Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
Sir John Chandos
||Earl of Douglas|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Poitiers was a major English victory of the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War. Fought ten years after the Battle of Crécy, it was the second of three major English victories during the war. The third, Agincourt, would not be fought till 1415.
The battle was fought on 19 September 1356 near the village of Poitiers in Aquitaine, southern France. An army of English, Welsh, Breton and Gascon troops, many of them veterans of Crécy, led by Edward, the Black Prince, defeated a larger French and allied army led by King John II of France, leading to the capture of the king, his son, and much of the French nobility. 
The effect of the defeat on France was catastrophic, leaving the country in the hands of the Dauphin Charles. Charles faced populist revolts across the kingdom in the wake of the battle, which had destroyed the prestige of the French upper-class. The war would end four years later in 1360, on favourable terms for England.
Following the death of Charles IV of France in 1328, Philip, Count of Valois, had been crowned as his successor, over his closest male relative and legal successor, Edward III of England. Edward had been reluctant to pay homage to Philip in his role as Duke of Aquitaine, resulting in Philip confiscating these lands in 1337, precipitating war between the two nations. Three years later, Edward declared himself King of France. The war had begun well for the English. They had achieved naval domination early in the war at the Battle of Sluys in 1340, inflicted a severe defeat on the French army at Crécy in 1346, and captured Calais in 1347.
In the late 1340s and early 1350s, the Black Death decimated the population of Western Europe, bringing all significant efforts in campaigning to a halt, one such victim being Philip VI of France himself. In 1355, Edward III laid out plans for a second major campaign. His eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince, now an experienced soldier following the Crécy campaign, landed at Bordeaux in Aquitaine, leading his army on a march through southern France to Carcassonne. Unable to take the heavily fortified settlement, Edward withdrew to Bordeaux. In early 1356, the Duke of Lancaster led an army through Normandy, while Edward led his army on a great chevauchée from Bordeaux on 8 August, 1356. 
Edward's forces met little resistance, sacking numerous settlements, until they reached the Loire River at Tours. They were unable to take the castle or burn the town due to a heavy rainstorm. This delay allowed King John II to attempt to pin down and destroy Edward's army. John, who had been besieging Breteuil in Normandy, organised the bulk of his army at Chartres to the north of Tours. In order to increase the speed of his army's march, he dismissed between 15 and 20,000 of his lower quality infantry, just as Edward turned back to Bordeaux.  The French marched hard and overtook the unsuspecting English army at Poitiers on Sunday, 18 September 1356.
Edward arrayed his army in a defensive posture among the hedges and orchards of the area, in front of the forest of Nouallie. He deployed his front line of longbowmen behind a particularly prominent thick hedge, through which the road ran at right angles. The Earl of Douglas, commanding the Scottish division in the French army, advised King John that the attack should be delivered on foot, with horses being particularly vulnerable to English arrows. John heeded this advice, leaving its baggage behind and forming up on foot in front of the English.
The English army was led by Edward, the Black Prince, primarily composed of English and Welsh troops, though there was a large contingent of Gascon and Breton soldiers with the army. Edward's army consisted of approximately 2,000 longbowmen, 3,000 men-at-arms and a force of 1,000 Gascon infantry.
Like the earlier engagement at Crécy, the power of the English army lay in the longbow; a tall bow made primarily of yew. Longbows had demonstrated their effectiveness against massed infantry and cavalry in several battles, such as; Falkirk in 1298, Halidon Hill in 1333 and Crécy ten years prior, in 1346. Poitiers was the second of three major English victories of the Hundred Years' War attributed to the longbow, though its effectiveness against armoured French knights and men-at-arms has been disputed. 
Geoffrey the Baker wrote that French armour was invulnerable to bodkin arrowheads, which either skidded off or shattered upon impact.  Such arrows were, however, highly effective against horses, which were largely unarmoured, or against common infantry, who did not have the wealth to afford plate armour. 
The English army was an experienced force; many archers were veterans of the earlier Battle of Crécy, and two of the key commanders, Sir John Chandos, and Captal de Buch were both experienced soldiers. The English army's divisions were led by Edward, the Black Prince, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Salisbury, Sir John Chandos and Captal de Buch.
The French army was led by John II of France, largely comprised of native French soldiers, though there was a contingent of German knights, and a large force of Scottish soldiers, led by the Earl of Douglas, the latter of whom fought in the King's own division.  The French army at the battle comprised approximately 8,000 men-at-arms and 3,000 common infantry, though John had made the decision to leave behind the vast majority of his infantry, numbering up to 20,000, in order to overtake and force the English to battle.
Prior to the battle, the local prelate, Cardinal Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord attempted to broker a truce between the two sides, as recorded in the writings of the English commander, Sir John Chandos. Attending the conference on the French side was , the Count of Tankerville, the Archbishop of Sens and Jean de Talaru. Representing the English was the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Suffolk, Bartholomew de Burghersh, James Audley and Sir John Chandos. The English offered to hand over all of the war booty they had taken on their raids throughout France, as well as a seven-year truce. John declined, who determined his force could easily overwhelm the English. His offer that the Black Prince and his army surrender was flatly rejected.
At the start of the battle, the English removed their baggage train from the field, prompting a hasty French assault, believing that what they saw was the English retreating.  The fighting began with a charge by a forlorn hope of 300 German knights, led by Jean de Clermont. The attack was a disaster, with many of the knights shot down or killed by English soldiery. According to Froissart, the English archers then shot their bows at the massed French infantry. The Dauphin's division reached the English line. Exhausted by a long march in heavy equipment and harassed by the hail of arrows, the division was repulsed after approximately two hours of combat.
The retreating vanguard collided with the advancing division of the Duke of Orléans, throwing the French army into chaos. Seeing the Dauphin's troops falling back, Orléans' division fell back in confusion. The third, and strongest, division led by the King advanced forth, and the two withdrawing divisions coalesced and resumed their advance against the English. Believing that the retreat of the first two French divisions marked the withdrawal of the French, Edward had ordered a force under Captal de Buch to pursue. Sir John Chandos urged the Prince to launch this force upon the main body of the French army under the King. Seizing upon this idea, Edward ordered all his men-at-arms and knights to mount for the charge, while de Buch's men, already mounted, were instructed to advance around the French left flank and rear.
Capture of King John II
As the French advanced, the English launched their charge. Stunned by the attack, the impetus carried the English and Gascon forces right into the French line. Simultaneously, de Buch's mobile reserve of mounted troops fell upon the French left flank and rear. Fearful of encirclement, the cohesion of the French army disintegrated as many soldiers attempted to flee the field. Low on arrows, the English and Welsh archers abandoned their bows and ran forward to join the melée. Around this time, King John and his son, Philip the Bold, found themselves surrounded. As written by Froissart, an exiled French knight fighting with the English, Sir Denis Morbeke of Artois approached the king, requesting the King's surrender. The King is said to have replied, "To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the Prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him". Denis replied; "Sir, he is not here; but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him". The king handed him his right gauntlet, saying; "I yield me to you". 
Following the surrender of the King and his son Philip, the French army had broken up and left the field, ending the battle.
Following the battle, Edward resumed his march back to the English stronghold at Bordeaux. Jean de Venette, a Carmelite friar, vividly describes the chaos that ensued following the battle. The demise of the French nobility at the battle, only ten years from the catastrophe at Crécy, threw the kingdom into chaos. The realm was left in the hands of the Dauphin Charles, who faced popular rebellion across the kingdom in the wake of the defeat. Jean writes that the French nobles brutally repressed the rebellions, robbing, despoiling and pillaging the peasants' goods. Mercenary companies hired by both sides added to the destruction, who plundered the peasants and churches. 
Charles, to the misery of the French peasantry, began to raise additional funds to pay for the ransom of his father, and to continue the war effort. Capitalising on the discontent in France, King Edward assembled his army at Calais in 1359 and led his army on a campaign against Rheims. Unable to take Rheims or the French capital, Paris, Edward moved his army to Chartres. Later, the Dauphin Charles offered to open negotiations, and Edward agreed.
The Treaty of Brétigny was ratified on 24 October 1360, ending the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War. In it, Edward agreed to renounce his claims to the French throne, in exchange for full sovereign rights over an expanded Aquitaine and Calais, essentially restoring the former Angevin Empire.
Nobles and men-at-arms present
Froissart states these men fought with the Black Prince:
Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick
William de Ufford, 2nd Earl of Suffolk
William de Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury
John de Vere, 7th Earl of Oxford
Reginald de Cobham, 1st Baron Cobham
Edward le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer
Lord James Audley
Lord Peter Audley
Lord Bartholomew de Burghersh
Lord of Felton
Lord Richard of Pembroke
Lord Stephen of Cosington
Lord of Pommiers
Lord of Languiran
Captal of Buch
Lord John the 69th of Caumont
Lord de Lesparre
Lord of Rauzan
Lord of Condon
Lord of Montferrand
Lord of Landiras
Lord Soudic of Latrau
Lord Eustace d'Aubrecicourt
Lord John of Ghistelles
Lord Daniel Pasele
Lord Denis of Amposta
Edward le Despencer, 1st Baron le Despencer
Sir Thomas Felton fought not only at Poitiers but also at the Battle of Crécy.
One of the chief commanders at both Crécy and Poitiers was John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, mentioned above.
Another account states that John of Ghistelles perished at the Battle of Crécy so there is some ambiguity as to this individual.
Froissart states these men fought with King John II:
Duke of Anjou
Duke of Berry
Philip the Bold - captured
Earl of Douglas
Geoffroi de Charny, carrier of the Oriflamme - killed
Duke of Bourbon - killed
Count of Brienne and Constable of France - killed
Jean de Clermont, Marshal of France - killed
Arnoul d'Audrehem, Marshal of France - captured
Count of Eu - wounded and captured
Count of Marche and Ponthieu - captured
Count of Étampes - captured
Count of Tancarville - captured
Renaud de Trie, Count of Dammartin - captured
Count of Joinville - captured
Guillaume de Melun, Archbishop of Sens - captured
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- Battle of Poitiers
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Poitiers (1356).|
- The Chandos Herald: Life of the Black Prince includes a detailed account of the Battle of Poitiers.
- Froissart: The Chronicles of Poitiers (eBook) including "The Battle of Poitiers" in Charles W. Elliot (ed.): Chronicle and Romance: Froissart, Malory, Holinshed, 1910, The Harvard Classics. ISBN 9780766181885.
- On The Hundred Years War, a primary source written by Jean Froissart
- Great Battles: The Battle of Poitiers (myArmoury.com article)
- An animated map of the Battle of Poitiers. By David Crowther
- An animated map of the Poitiers Campaign. By David Crowther