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Black Prince's chevauchée of 1356
|Chevauchée of the Black Prince|
|Part of Hundred Years' War|
Capture of King John II of France at the Battle of Poitiers
|Kingdom of England||Kingdom of France|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Edward, the Black Prince||John II of France (POW)|
The Black Prince's chevauchée of 1356, which began on 4 August at Bordeaux and ended with the Battle of Poitiers on 19 September, was a devastating raid of Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (known as the Black Prince), the eldest son of King Edward III of England. This expedition of the Black Prince devastated large parts of Bergerac, Périgord, Nontronnais, Confolentais, Nord-Ouest, Limousin, La Marche, Boischaut, Champagne Berrichonne, Berry, Sologne, south of Touraine and Poitou.
Since the Norman Conquest of 1066, English monarchs had held titles and lands within France, the possession of which made them vassals of the kings of France. Following a series of disagreements between Philip VI of France (r. 1328–1350) and Edward III of England (r. 1327–1377), on 24 May 1337 Philip's Great Council in Paris agreed that the lands held by Edward III in France should be taken back into Philip's hands on the grounds that Edward III was in breach of his obligations as a vassal. This marked the start of the Hundred Years' War, which was to last 116 years.
The duty levied by the English Crown on wine from Bordeaux, the capital of Gascony, was more than all other customs duties combined and by far the largest source of state income. Bordeaux had a population of more than 50,000, greater than London's, and Bordeaux was possibly richer. Although Gascony was the cause of the war, Edward III was able to spare few resources for its defence. In most campaigning seasons the Gascons had to rely on their own resources and had been hard-pressed by the French. Typically the Gascons could field 3,000–6,000 men, the large majority infantry, although up to two-thirds of them would be tied down in garrisons. In 1345 and 1346 Henry, Earl of Lancaster, led a series of successful campaigns in Aquitaine and the Anglo-Gascons were able to push the focus of the fighting away from the heart of Gascony.
The French port of Calais fell to the English in August 1347 after the Crécy campaign and shortly after this the Truce of Calais was signed. This was partially the result of both countries being financially exhausted. The same year the Black Death reached northern France and southern England, resulting in the death of approximately 45 per cent of the population. The treaty was extended repeatedly over the years; this did not stop ongoing naval clashes, nor small-scale fighting – which was especially fierce in south-west France – nor occasional fighting on a larger scale.
A treaty ending the war was negotiated at Guînes and signed on 6 April 1354. However, the French king, now John II, decided not to ratify it and it did not take effect. It was clear that from the summer of 1355 both sides would be committed to full-scale war. In April 1355 Edward III and his council, with the treasury in an unusually favourable financial position, decided to launch offensives that year in both northern France and Gascony. John II of France (r. 1350–1364) attempted to strongly garrison his northern towns and fortifications against the expected descent by Edward III, at the same time as assembling a field army; he was unable to, largely due to lack of money.
Black Prince arrives
Edward III's eldest son, Edward of Woodstock, later commonly known as the Black Prince, was given the Gascon command and began assembling men, shipping and supplies. He arrived in Bordeaux on 20 September 1355 accompanied by 2,200 English soldiers. The next day he was formally acknowledged as the king's lieutenant in Gascony, with plenipotentiary powers. Gascon nobles reinforced him to a strength of somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 and provided a bridging train and a substantial supply train.
Edward set out on 5 October on a chevauchée, which was a large-scale mounted raid. The Anglo-Gascon force marched from Bordeaux in English-held Gascony 300 miles (480 km) to Narbonne and back to Gascony, devastating a wide swathe of French territory and sacking many French towns on the way. John, Count of Armagnac, who commanded the local French forces, avoided battle, and there was little fighting. While no territory was captured, enormous economic damage was done to France; the modern historian Clifford Rogers concluded that "the importance of the economic attrition of the chevauchée can hardly be exaggerated." The expedition returned to Gascony on 2 December having marched 675 miles (1,100 km).
The English component resumed the offensive after Christmas to great effect, and more than 50 French-held towns or fortifications were captured during the following four months. including strategically important towns close to the borders of Gascony, and others over 80 miles (130 km) away. Local French commanders attempted no countermeasures. Several members of the local French nobility went over to the English; the Black Prince received homage from them on 24 April 1356.
Money and enthusiasm for the war were running out in France. The modern historian Jonathan Sumption describes the French national administration as "fall[ing] apart in jealous acrimony and recrimination". A contemporary chronicler recorded that "the King of France was severely hated in his own realm". Arras rebelled and killed loyalists. The major nobles of Normandy refused to pay taxes. On 5 April 1356 John arrested the notoriously treacherous Charles II, king of Navarre, one of the largest landholders in France[note 1] and nine more of his more outspoken critics; four were summarily executed. The Norman nobles who had not been arrested turned to Edward for assistance.
Seeing an opportunity, Edward diverted an expedition planned for Brittany under Henry, Earl of Lancaster to Normandy in late June. Lancaster set off with 2,300 men and pillaged and burnt his way eastward across Normandy. King John moved to Rouen with a much stronger force, hoping to intercept Lancaster. After relieving and re-victualling two besieged fortifications the English stormed and sacked the important town of Verneuil. John pursued, but bungled several opportunities to bring the English to battle and they escaped. John committed his army to besieging Breteuil, one of the fortifications resupplied by Lancaster. In three weeks the expedition had seized a large amount of loot, including many horses, damage had been done to the French economy and prestige, new alliances had been cemented, there had been few casualties and the French King had been distracted from the English preparations for a greater chevauchée from south-west France.
The French announced an arrière-ban, a formal call to arms for all able-bodied males, on 14 May. The response was unenthusiastic and the call was repeated in late May and again in early June. John's fifteen-year-old son John, Duke of Berry, was given command of an army in Languedoc, to guard against the Black Prince repeating the previous year's exploits.
Reinforcements of men and horses and supplies of food and materiel arrived from England during the spring.[note 2] Edward ordered 600 additional longbowmen be raised in England specifically to reinforce the Prince.
The Black Prince called a grand assembly of the Gascon nobility and representatives of the towns, made a show of seeking their advice and when it appeared that there was a consensus for war asked for funds with which to prosecute it. In the glow of his recent successes he was granted a tax of one fifteenth of all of Gascony's movable goods.[note 3] He thanked the assembly and made a stirring speech encouraging a large turnout for the forthcoming campaign. The gathering point was Bergerac: the town had good river supply links to Bordeaux and from there the Prince could strike in one of several directions. The hope was that this would cause the French to divide their forces in an attempt to cover all avenues of attack. In fact there was already a broad plan: three English armies would rendezvous somewhere on the Loire. Edward III would march south west from Calais, Lancaster would strike south from Brittany and the Black Prince would move north from Bergerac.
So many Gascons arrived at Bergerac that there was concern that the province would not be able to be adequately defended if the French were to counter attack. So 2,000–3,000 men were detached to remain, under the seneschal of Gascony, John de Cheverston. The force which set out contained some 6,000 fighting men: 3,000 English and Gascon men-at-arms; 2,000 archers, almost entirely English and Welsh longbowmen; and 1,000 other infantry, predominately Gascons. They were accompanied by approximately 4,000 non-combatants.
The chevauchée of the Black Prince in 1356 was very successful for the English. The defeat of the French army at Poitiers was more humiliating for the French than that of Crécy in 1346. At Poitiers and Crécy, the French used identical strategies, which resulted in identical failures. In 10 years, the French had not evolved their military technique. With the capture of John II, this led to a lengthy period of instability within France.
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