Battle of Nájera

Battle of Nájera (Navarrete)
Part of the Castilian Civil War
Battle najera froissart.jpg
The Battle of Nájera from a fifteenth-century manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles. The English and Peter of Castile are on the left.
Date 3 April 1367
Result Victory for Peter I
Arms of Henry II of Castile before his accession.svg Castilians supporting Henry
France moderne.svg Kingdom of France
Armas de Aragón.svg Crown of Aragon
Commanders and leaders
Total: more than 10,000.[1]
6,000 Elite European mercenaries
2,000 Aquitaine soldiers
1,000 English soldiers
800 Castilian soldiers
500 English longbowmen
300 Navarrese soldiers
Troops from Majorca
Henry deserters and other Spanish followers of King Peter.
Total: more than 4,500.[1]
2,500 Castilian soldiers
1,000 Elite French mercenaries
1,000 Aragonese soldiers
Casualties and losses
Unknown[citation needed] Heavy losses[citation needed]

The Battle of Nájera, also known as the Battle of Navarrete, was fought on 3 April 1367 near Nájera, in the province of La Rioja, Castile. It was an episode of the first Castilian Civil War which confronted King Peter of Castile with his half-brother Count Henry of Trastámara who aspired to the throne; the war involved Castile in the Hundred Years' War. Castilian naval power, far superior to that of France or England, encouraged the two polities to take sides in the civil war, to gain control over the Castilian fleet.

King Peter of Castile was supported by England, Aquitaine, Majorca, Navarra and the best European mercenaries hired by the Black Prince. His rival, Count Henry, was aided by a majority of the nobility and the Christian military organizations in Castile. While neither the Kingdom of France nor the Crown of Aragon gave him official assistance, he had on his side many Aragonese Soldiers and the French free companies loyal to his lieutenant the Breton knight and French commander Bertrand du Guesclin. Although the battle ended with a resounding defeat for Henry, it had disastrous consequences for King Peter, the Prince of Wales and England.


After the Treaty of Brétigny favorable to England signed in 1360, ending the Hundred Years' War, France tried to avoid open conflict with England and tried to associate with Castile to gain an advantage. France had to find employment for the mercenaries of the great companies dedicated to pillage now that there was no war. In late 1365, Charles V of France, with the help of Pope Urban V, succeeded in diverting temporarily most of the great companies. Under the pretext of carrying on a crusade against the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, the Pope paid for an expedition to Spain. Later on, France and Aragon paid to recruit these troops for Henry's cause, removing the free companies from France and supporting the ascent to power in Castile of their favorite. The strength of the army of Henry rested primarily on these companies, groups of mercenaries that had participated in the Hundred Years' War, composed mainly by Bretons, Gascons, English and French.

The Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine) was the main beneficiary of the peace treaty of 1362 between England and Castile that allowed Castile to keep safe maritime trade routes and in turn England kept herself safe from the large Castilian war fleet. Edward did not seem interested in prohibiting the participation of his Gascon and English subjects in the Castilian Civil War on the side of the pretender Henry, although it favoured France and was against the interests of England. Aquitaine was going through a difficult stage as the main funding sources for this traditionally poor region were the wine industry, which was depressed and warfare. Aquitaine no longer received subsidies from England and needed other sources of revenue.

England would not allow France to ally with Castile to establish Henry as the new king. When Peter I of Castile, who was losing the war against his stepbrother Henry and his mercenary troops, sought help, King Edward III of England ordered Sir John Chandos the constable of Aquitaine and other commissioners to ensure that the Gascon and English mercenaries stopped assisting Henry. In February 1366, England sent several Gascon great companies to strengthen the position of King Peter but these measures proved insufficient and Peter had to flee Castile.

Army composition

England then decided to recruit a huge army of mercenaries to support the cause of King Peter of Castile, with the incentive of plundering the riches of Castile. The Black Prince brought together a diverse and colossal army of Gascon, Poitevins and English nobles as well as distinguished mercenary troops consisting of the most famous captains of great companies that had struggled in recent years. These came mainly from Gascony but also from Brittany, Navarre, Foix, Germany (Holy Roman Empire), England, Calais, the County of Poitou, Hainault and elsewhere, including mercenaries who had served Henry of Trastámara in his ascension to the throne. With the mercenaries were back in France, they aided the cause of his enemy, King Peter. This army probably numbered around 8,000 to 10,000 men, something similar to the previous Battle of Poitiers.[2] There were also Castilians loyal to Peter, about 400 English archers recruited by John of Gaunt, some Aragonese unhappy with their king and the troops of King James IV of Majorca.

In August 1366, King Peter of Castile, the Prince of Wales, and King Charles II of Navarre met in Bayonne, to agree the terms of an invasion. The King of Navarre would allow the invading army passage from Aquitaine to Castile through Navarre, for which he would be well paid. Peter, who was willing to accept all conditions, was also to reimburse the expenses of the army recruited by the Prince of Wales and offer Castilian territories to be annexed to his duchy of Aquitaine.

Henry had dismissed almost all his troops, because of the tremendous expense that led him to keep his mercenary army in the rise to power. These troops roamed Castile committing outrages or changed sides. Henry came to an agreement with King Charles II of Navarre that Charles would, in exchange for a reward, block the Pyrenean pass from France to Castile, something that could be done easily with a few men. Charles was either betting on two horses or feared facing Castile and Aragon.

In February 1367, the English mercenaries of Hugh Calveley, who remained in the peninsula and worked for Henry, switched sides and overran several towns of Navarre from the south in a chevauchée. This forced the King of Navarre (Charles II) to open the way for the army of the Black Prince and to provide 300 men for their cause, a minimal amount to pretend he was on their side. To avoid to go to the battle in person, the King of Navarre faked his own capture during a hunt in collusion with captain Olivier de Mauny, cousin of Bertrand Du Guesclin, the Lieutenant of Henry's army.

When Henry heard of the entrance of the Black Prince's army to the peninsula he enlisted all the troops he could and sent Bertrand Du Guesclin immediately from Zaragoza back to Castile with his best captains, although most of their forces had to stand to protect Aragon from the Black Prince's army. No more than 1,000 French men-at-arms reinforced Henry's army along with some Aragonese nobles. From the mountains, Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Asturias came footsoldiers but they did not participate in the battle.

Army strength

The commonly accepted version among historians is the version of the chronicles of Pedro Lopez de Ayala in which the army of Peter, supported by the Black Prince, consisted of more than 10,000 men, most of them the best mercenaries that could be found in Europe, and the army of Henry had 4,500 men of which 1,000 were elite mercenaries from France.[1][3][4]

Another source is the unreliable chronicle of Jean Froissart, known for his Anglophilia, whose data should not be taken too seriously in this battle, because he was not even in Spain at that time.[5] According to Froissart, the Castilian-French army had 76,000 men.[6][7] Some British historians have raised the numbers to 86,000 men.[8] According to Froissart the Anglo-Castilian army had 24,000 men.[9]

Froissart was present in person at Bordeaux at the close of 1366, so that for the negotiations preceding the war we can compare the accounts of two eyewitnesses; but for the actual expedition and for the battle of Nájera he has so obviously drawn his materials from the Herald Chandos that his corroboration ceases to be of much value as evidence. The Spanish historian Ayala was present in the opposite camp and affords exceedingly useful information, but is naturally less well informed as to the proceedings of Peter’s army than of that of his rival; while the work of another eyewitness, a Latin poem on the battle of Nájera by Walter of Peterborough, monk of Revesby, although interesting, is very much confused, and is coloured throughout by a desire to enhance excessively the glory of its hero, the Duke of Lancaster.

Previous Encounters

During March, despite his huge disadvantages, Henry had great success using guerrilla tactics and skirmishing against the army of the Black Prince. Castilian troops had great offensive power and greater mobility thanks to their lighter armament, something that made them ideal for this type of action, unlike the slow and heavily armored army of Peter, composed mainly of heavy infantry and heavy cavalry. He was an experienced soldier, having fought in France as a great company commander against the English and knew that the best military strategy to take on the huge army of the Black Prince, was the wear it down with the harsh Castilian lands, hunger and the skirmishes. These were also the recommendations of the King of France and of Bertrand du Guesclin. The light cavalry was an old tradition in Castilian military systems and was designed for the frequent skirmishes with the Moors, even though the idea had been abandoned by other European armies of that time.

In the small Battle of Aríñez (Basque, battle of Inglesmendi, Battle of the English Mount) in the third week of March 1367, a vanguard of Henry's army formed by jinetes (Castilian light cavalry) led by Don Tello and Aragonese and French knights led by Arnoul d'Audrehem, Pierre le Bègue de Villaines and Juan Ramirez de Arellano wiped out a detachment of the Black Prince's army. Henry's vanguard easily defeated groups ahead of the bulk of the army of the Black Prince by skirmishes and then headed back to their base. On their way, they met with an exploration detachment of the Black Prince's army, which was led by the Seneschal of Aquitaine Sir Thomas Felton with 200 men-at-arms and archers. After suffering many casualties, the detachment of the Prince of Wales entrenched in the mountain of Inglesmendi, where the English longbowmen resisted the Castilian light cavalry. The French and Aragonese soldiers dismounted and attacked as infantry, defeating them. There died, among others, Sir William Felton, Seneschal of Poitou and captain of great companies; many others were captured, Thomas Felton, the captain of great companies, Richard Taunton, Sir Hugh Hastings, the military Lord John Neville, the captain of great companies Aghorises and the Gascon mercenary captain of great companies Gaillard Vighier (or Beguer), among others.

The army of the Black Prince that had hitherto been considered invincible, had suffered its first defeat and although their losses were not large in comparison with the large army, the troops began to become demoralized. The Black Prince mobilized his troops to approach Burgos —his goal— from Vitoria, but Henry stepped ahead and blocked his path which forced the army of Peter to retreat again. At the end of March the Black Prince crossed the Ebro at Logroño, where he made a camp. Henry again blocked access to Burgos by controlling the river Najerilla.

The political situation was quite different; more people adhered to the cause of Peter that gained strength, while his alliances weakened, because avoiding confrontation was seen as a sign of weakness by the Castilian nobility. Time was playing against the ambitious Henry, who advanced with his forces, leaving behind the protection of the river Najerilla to confront his half-brother. To prevent disaster, he had to face the most prominent mercenary troops of Europe, outnumbered, in a battle in the open and with the river in his back cutting his retreat, despite the opposition of Beltrán du Guesclin and the rest of his field commanders.[11]


According to Chandos Herald, p. 38, the Black Prince troops marched from Navarrete to Nájera taking a roundabout at night and with the first lights of dawn surprised quietly behind a hill the army of Henry (that was looking towards Navarrete in the east) from the northeast.[12][13] The vanguard of Henry directed by du Guesclin maneuvered quickly to confront the enemy, but in the confusion and fear other lines were broken and some Castilian horsemen defected to the enemy followed by a larger group of infantry.[14] This urged du Guesclin to abandon the defensive advantage and to charge with the vanguard -composed of the best Castilian troops and the French free companies - to prevent the situation from worsening. The charge forced the English companies of the vanguard of the Black Prince led by the Duke of Lancaster and John Chandos to go back. They were so close that both sides dropped their spears and began using swords, axes, and daggers.[15][16]

Meanwhile, the elite mercenary Gascon companies who were in the right and left wings started to flank the vanguard led by du Guesclin. The Castilian light cavalry of Don Tello approached the opposite wing of the enemy to prevent the flanking at the forefront of du Guesclin but had to suffer terrible losses because of the rain of arrows of the English archers as they approached because they did not have the adequate protections and were forced to flee.[17][18] Henry himself tried to succor the vanguard charging against the Gascon mercenaries several times from a side with similar results as the horses were easily killed by the English archers and fighting on foot was not an option because the Castilian cavalry considered it a humiliation.[19][20][21]

Once the elite Gascon mercenaries flanked the vanguard of Henry's army commanded by du Guesclin, it was quickly crushed and most of the main body that did not even participate in the battle fled precipitately toward the bridge of Najera as they were being attacked from two fronts, ignoring the harangues of Henry. The Aragonese cavalry of Jaime IV of Majorca chased and killed most of them, as they got trapped in their retreat by the great river and the narrow bridge.[22]

Henry's army had to suffer the vast majority of their losses, which must have been a total of more than half of the army, in the last minutes of the battle. Later on the Black Prince's army would finish off those who were hidden in Najera and pillaged the whole town, killing most of the inhabitants.[23]


After the battle, the Black Prince asked if Henry had been killed or captured. After the negative response, he stated in Gascon dialect: "Non ay res fait" (nothing then is done).[1] Despite capturing or killing most of the rival army and suffering light losses, the consequences of this battle were catastrophic for King Peter, for the Black Prince, for Aquitaine and for England since they missed the real target that was Henry:

  • Henry proved that he was a strong and courageous leader to the Castilian nobility and his allies by facing the magnificent enemy army in the open field. He also managed to escape across the Pyrenees mountain to France and continued the fight against his brother Peter.
  • Before long all the nobles and men-at-arms that fought by Henry and were captured by the mercenary armies of the Black Prince would pay their ransom and return to face Peter the Cruel being generously rewarded at the end of the war.
  • The Black Prince did not receive the reimbursement by Peter I of the huge sum of money used to hire such an army nor the territories that had been agreed in Bayonne either because King Peter was still immersed in the war against his brother or because he never meant to pay (Peter wrote letters to the cities demanding money so he could pay the Prince though). Consequently, relations between King Peter I of Castile and the Prince of Wales came to an end, and Castile and England broke their alliance so that Peter I would no longer count on England's support. This resulted in a political and economic disaster and astronomical losses for the Black Prince after a campaign full of hardships. This is what probably ended his brilliant military career embittering him until his death in 1376.
  • King Peter would get isolated internationally and was murdered at the hands of his brother two years later in the Battle of Montiel in 1369.
  • France avoided a direct confrontation against England aware of its weakness and found in Castile an important ally against England that lasted a century after promoting the new and definitive ascent of King Henry II to the Castilian Crown.
  • The fears of England and Aquitaine to France allied with Castile – a powerful adversary and the largest war fleet of the Atlantic – ended up in the Battle of La Rochelle five years later with the entire English fleet destroyed.


  1. ^ a b c d Ayala & Amirola 1779, p. [page needed].
  2. ^ Sumption 2001, p. 547.
  3. ^ Cáceres, Fernando Castillo (1991), "Análisis de una batalla: Najera (1367)", Cuadernos de historia de España (73): 105–146
  4. ^ Sumption 2001, p. [page needed].
  5. ^ "We read in later versions of Book I and in one of the dits of the chronicler’s journey north into Scotland to meet David Bruce and members of his court (1365), to Brussels (April 1366) where he received a gift from Jeanne de Brabant,2 then into Gloucestershire and the Welsh Marches (Autumn 1366) with Edward Despenser, whom he visited at Berkeley Castle. In 1367 we find him in Aquitaine at the court of the Black Prince in Bordeaux when the birth of the future Richard II is announced, but by July of the same year he is back in the Low Countries" (Ainsworth & Croenen 2013).
  6. ^ Froissart, Jean (1808). Sir John Froissart's Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II. to the Coronation of Henry IV. Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme. p. 302. There were in this battalion full four thousand knights and squires, excellently armed, and drawn up according to the French manner. Don Tello and his brother don Sancho commanded the second division. There were under them twenty-five thousand lance-men, as well on horse as on foot, who drew up a little behind the division of sir Bertrand, on his left hand. The third, and largest battalion without comparison, was commanded by king Henry himself. There were in it, and drawn up in array, upwards of seven thousand horsemen and forty thousand infantry among the cross-bowmen.
  7. ^ Froissart, Jean (1808). Sir John Froissart's Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II. to the Coronation of Henry IV. Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme. p. 312. for the Spaniards and Castillians were near one hundred thousand men in arms
  8. ^ James, Grant (1880), "XI. Black Prince in Spain, The—Najera, 1367", British battles on land and sea (Special ed.), London [etc.]: Cassell and co., limited, p. 64, OL 24188892M
  9. ^ Froissart, Jean (1808), Sir John Froissart's Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and the Adjoining Countries, from the Latter Part of the Reign of Edward II. to the Coronation of Henry IV, Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, p. 309[verification needed]
  10. ^ Pope & Lodge 1910, p. 198 note on lines 1649–1651.
  11. ^ "El Rey Don Enrique, segun dicho avemos, tenía su Real asentado en guisa que el rio Najerilla estaba entre el, é el logar por dó avian de venir el Rey Don Pedro é el Príncipe, é ovo su acuerdo de pasar el rio, é poner la batalla en una grand plaza que es contra Navarrete, por dó los otros venían, é fizolo asi. E desto pesó a muchos de los que con él estaban, ca tenian primero su Real á mayor ventaja que despues le asentaron" (Ayala & Amirola 1779, p. 453).
  12. ^ "But the true-hearted Prince did not go the most direct road, but took the road to the right hand. They descended a mountain and a big valley, all on horseback, so nobly arrayed and in such fair close order that it was marvellous to behold" (Pope & Lodge 1910, p. 161).
  13. ^ "The prince of Wales, as it has been before related, drew up his army in the manner he intended they should engage, whilst he lay before Vittoria, when the enemy did not appear according to his expectations. He had not since then made any alterations concerning it, and had always marched in this order. At break of day, therefore, the prince’s army took the field, marching in battle-array, as expecting to meet the Spaniards. No one advanced before the battalion of the marshals excepting those who received orders, as scouts; and the two leaders, as well as both the armies, knew, from the intelligence of the scouts, that they should shortly meet: they therefore marched forward with a gentle pace. When the sun was risen it was a beautiful sight to view these battalions, with their brilliant armour glittering with its beams. In this manner, they nearly approached to each other. The prince, with a few attendants, mounted a small hill, and saw very clearly the enemy marching straight towards them. Upon descending this hill, he extended his line of battle in the plain, and then halted. The Spaniards, seeing the English had halted, did the same in order of battle; then each man tightened his armour, and made ready as for instant combat" (Johnes 1857, p. 370).
  14. ^ "Y antes que las batallas se juntasen, algunos ginetes, y el pendón de San Esteban del Puerto, con los del dicho logar que allí eran con el Rey Don Enrique, pasáronse a la parte del Rey Don Pedro" (Ayala & Amirola 1779, Chapter "AÑO DECIMOCTAVO. 1367. Capítulo XII" p. 454)
  15. ^ "Y luego movieron los unos contra los otros,y el Conde Don Sancho hermano del Rey Don Enrique, y Mosen Beltran de Claquin, y los Caballeros que estaban con el pendón de la Vanda, y todos aquellos Caballeros que diximos que el Rey Don Enrique ordenara que estoviesen do pie fueronse juntar con la avanguarda de la parte do venían el Duque de Alencastre, y el Condestable de Guiana Mosen Juan Chandos, y otros muchos buenos Caballeros (...) Y tan recio se juntaron los unos con los otros, que a los de la una parte, y a los de la otra cayeron las lanzas en tierra: y juntáronse cuerpos con cuerpos, y luego se comenzaron a ferir de las espadas y hachas y dagas. (...) Y los de la avanguarda del Príncipe retraxeronse un poco quanto una pasada, en manera que los de la avanguarda del Rey Don Enrique cuidaron que vencían, y llegáronse más a ellos , y comenzáronse otra vez a ferír" (Ayala & Amirola 1779, p. 454).
  16. ^ "During this time, the first battalion, commanded by the duke of Lancaster, sir John Chandos, and the two marshals, sir Guiscard d’Angle and sir Stephen Cossington, was warmly engaged with that of sir Bertrand du Guesclin and the other knights from Arragon and France. Many valorous actions were done; and each tried his strength to open a passage through the enemy. Several fought with their spears in both hands, with which they dealt about lustily their blows; others made use of short swords and daggers. At the commencement the French and Arragonians made a desperate resistance, and gave the good knights of England much trouble" (Johnes 1857, p. 371).
  17. ^ "Y Don Tello hermano del Rey Don Enrique, Señor de Lara y de Vizcaya, que estaba de caballo a la mano izquierda de la avanguarda del Rey Don Enrique, non movia para pelear; y los de la ala derecha de la avanguarda del Príncipe, que eran el Conde de Armiñaque, y los de Lebret, y otros muchos que venían en aquella haz, enderezaron a Don Tello; y el y los que con él estaban non los esperaron, y movieron del campo a todo romper huyendo" (Ayala & Amirola 1779, p. 455).
  18. ^ "a sudden panic seized don Tello, so that he wheeled about, and fled in disorder without striking a blow, carrying with him two thousand cavalry of his division. No one knew how to account for this conduct. (...) The English archers, according to their custom, shot sharply with their bows, to the great annoyance and death of the Spaniards" (Johnes 1857, p. 371).
  19. ^ "Y el Rey Don Enrique llegó dos o tres veces en su caballo armado de loriga por socorrer a los suyos que estaban de pie, teniendo que así lo harían todos los suyos que estaban con él de caballo, y llegó donde veía que el pendón de la Vanda estaba, que aún no era derribado: y cuando él llegó donde era la priesa de la batalla, y vio que los suyos no peleaban, hubo de volver" (Ayala & Amirola 1779, p. 455).
  20. ^ "The Spaniards hurled with might archegays, lances, and darts. Each one strove to acquit himself well, for archers shot thicker than rain falls in winter time. They wounded their horses and men, and the Spaniards perceived well that they could no longer endure ; they began to turn their horses and took to flight. When the Bastard Henry saw them he was filled with wrath. Three times he made them rally, saying, 'Sirs, help, me, for God's sake, for you have made me king and have also made oath to help me loyally.' But his speech is of no avail, for the attack waxed ever stronger" (Pope & Lodge 1910, pp. 163–164).
  21. ^ "Those who were near king Henry did their duty like men; for he had before entreated of them to behave courageously. He himself set the example, and performed such valorous acts as gave courage to all around him. He advanced before those who were beginning to give way and fly, calling to them: 'My lords, I am your king. You have placed me upon the throne of Castille, and have sworn that you would die sooner than forsake me. For the love of God, preserve your oaths sacred which you have sworn to me, and behave yourselves handsomely in my cause. I will acquit myself towards you, for I will not fly one step as long as I shall see you combating by my side'. By these words, or others of a similar tendency, did king Henry thrice bring back his men to the combat. He himself behaved so valiantly, that he ought to be much honoured and respected. This battle was fought with great perils: many were slain, wounded, and put to flight (Johnes 1857, p. 372).
  22. ^ "The English and Gascons now mounted their horses, and went in pursuit of the Spaniards, who were flying in dismay, as far as Najarra. There was much slaughter and effusion of blood at the entrance of the bridge: many were killed and drowned: for great numbers leaped into the river, which was both rapid and deep, preferring the being drowned to being murdered (Johnes 1857, p. 374).
  23. ^ "In this flight, there were two valiant men of Spain, knights at arms, who wore, however, the dress of monks: one was called the grand prior of St. Jago, the other the grand master of the order of Calatrava: they and their attendants threw themselves for safety into the town of Najarra, but were so closely pursued by the English and Gascons, who were at their heels, that they won the bridge with great slaughter, and entered the town with them. They took possession of a strong house, which was well built with worked stone: but this was soon gained, the knights taken, many of the people killed, and the whole town pillaged. The English and Gascons gained considerable riches: they went to the lodgings of king Henry and the other Spanish lords, where the first comers found quantities of plate and jewels; for king Henry and his army had come thither with much splendour, and after the defeat had not leisure to return to place in security what they had left behind them in the morning"(Johnes 1857, pp. 374).


Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 42°25′N 2°44′W / 42.417°N 2.733°W / 42.417; -2.733