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Title: Poitiers
Author: Belloc, Hilaire, 1870-1953
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



POITIERS



[Illustration]



  POITIERS


  BY
  HILAIRE BELLOC


  LONDON
  HUGH REES, LTD.
  5 REGENT STREET, PALL MALL, S.W.
  1913



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              _frontispiece_

  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
Crécy.

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
Crécy form unique historical parallels, distinguishing like double summits
the English successes of Edward III.'s army upon the Continent 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 Crécy 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 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 settlement 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 Crécy 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 _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 kingdom: just as a stickler in our north will grant a
999-year _lease_, but will not _sell_.

The result of this breach in the negotiations 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 monarchy under the
house of Plantagenet which had been formulated twenty-five years before.


[Illustration]


It must be clearly grasped by the general reader how natural was both the
real and the fantastic side of that pursuit. It involved no question of
nationality as we should now understand it. It was based upon still living
traditions of feudal connections 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 district 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 Crécy 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 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 doubtful 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 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
compel 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, therefore--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; 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 Crécy 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 contemptuous 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, 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 Crécy, had been designed to draw
off the pressure from Edward III.'s troops in the South of France, and to
bring the French levies northward 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 great raid ended in the
signal victory of Crécy, 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 complete overthrow of a large body of feudal cavalry by
the trained forces of the Plantagenets; Crécy wholly, Poitiers partly, by
the excellence of a missile weapon--the long-bow. Each shows also a
striking disproportion 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 details of Crécy 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
contemporary mediæval 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 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 commander 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-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 whatever 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 southward, 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
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
lightness 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 raid into the north began and was continued in a fashion not exactly
leisurely, but methodically slow. It made at first through Périgueux to
Brantôme. 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 territory 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 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 unweakened on the 21st of
August, he made Châteauroux (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 Châteauroux 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 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 traverses it, that
coming from Paris and Orleans, and making across the waste for Vierzon to
the south. No town of any size is discoverable 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 concerned with emphasising the Plantagenet claim over
Aquitaine, had reached his northern term. But his raid had, as we know,
another object: that of drawing the French forces southward. And, with the
characteristic indecision of feudal strategic aims, it occurred to the
Black Prince at this stage to immix with that object an alternative, 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.

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 disadvantage 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
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 afterwards 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
particularly 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 precisely 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 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 September which saw
the Black Prince pitch his tents under the walls of Tours, the first
bodies of the French command were beginning 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 information that it was not until Sunday,
September 11th, 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 passages 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 Crécy. But
John commanded no such host as Philip had nominally 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 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
Crécy 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 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 Châtellerault, only fifteen miles in front of him. Both the
commanders, pursuing and pursued, had been getting remarkable 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
advance 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 conflicting 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.



[Illustration: 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 countryside 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 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 Châtellerault and Poitiers to Angoulême,
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 Châtellerault 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 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 impregnable 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 Châtellerault itself.

The main road from Châtellerault 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 could not
pursue this road all the way to Poitiers (which town it ultimately reaches
by a bridge over the Clain), but somewhere half-way between Châtellerault
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 interrupts a
passage southward through the triangle between the rivers. It is the
forest of Moulière. 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 Châtellerault, 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
the same hour that the Black Prince was bringing his men into
Châtellerault, 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 uncharacteristic blunder on the part of
the Black Prince which determined all the strange cross-purposes of that
week.

The Black Prince having made Châtellerault, 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 Plantagenets. Whether news of the ravaging 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 information. The
scouting, a perpetual weakness in mediæval 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 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 campaigns, and which he only retrieved by his admirable
tactical sense whenever he was compelled to a decision. This frailty
consisted, 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 counterbalanced
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 cumbersome train of waggons, laden with a heavier and heavier
booty as his raid proceeded.

He stayed in Châtellerault 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 triangle between
the two rivers.

The land through which he marched upon that Saturday morning had been the
scene of a much more famous and more decisive feat of arms; for it was
there, just north of the forest of Moulière, 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 complexity 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 the direct line for Poitiers because that very
command intercepted him. He knew that it had taken the road for
Châtellerault. He determined, therefore, by an exceptionally 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 Châtellerault, 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 crossroads 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,
completed the distance.

While, therefore, the Black Prince was delaying all that Thursday and
Friday in Châtellerault, 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 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 afternoon 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 Moulière; 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
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 respectively 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
rearguard 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 French were driven off. This mêlée 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."

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 Nouaillé and to the northward 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 prepared 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
concentrated was still his escape to the south. He must expect the French
advance upon 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 therefore fixed astraddle of the road which
leads from Poitiers to Nouaillé.

Now, just behind--that is, to the south of--this position runs in a
tortuous course through a fairly sharp[2] little valley a stream called
the Miosson. It formed a sufficient obstacle to check pursuit for some
appreciable time. There was only one bridge across it, at Nouaillé 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 described, upon which to meet them.

Or they would give him time to file away 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 marching 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 east 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 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 Nouaillé, 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 Nouaillé, being of
stone, would not have been destroyable during a very active and pressed
retreat under the conditions 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 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 Nouaillé was a capital point in Edward's
plan.[3]


[Illustration]


The line along which the Black Prince threw up entrenchments was the head
of the slight slope upon the Nouaillé 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 west.[4] 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.[5] While its bearings from
the town of Poitiers, or the central part thereof, is a trifle south of
due south-east.[6]

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
proceeds 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 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 remaining,
as I have said, was that irregular lane which formed the connection
between Poitiers and Nouaillé.

Now in most terrains where feudal cavalry was concerned, the existence or
non-existence 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 mediæval agriculture. The mounted and
armoured men deployed and charged across the stubble. Those who have read
the essay upon the Terrain of Crécy, which preceded this in the present
series, will appreciate that the absence of a road uniting the English and
French positions 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 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 fulness 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 properties 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.[7]

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.

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 manoeuvred. 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
conflict in the spirit (which was that of all 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 establish 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 organisation 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 manoeuvring, 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 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 Nouaillé, 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 determination 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, 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 Nouaillé, and intervenes between that town and the
battlefield. On the other side of the Miosson there is a continuous belt
of wood five miles long, with only one gap through it, which gap is used
by the road leading from Nouaillé 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 Nouaillé, the water is fordable in ordinary weather at a spot
corresponding to the gap between the woods, and called "Man's Ford" or "Le
Gué 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 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 intention to do so in any case, is to be found in the
rhymed chronicle of the _Chandos Herald_; and the question arises--what
reliance 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 contemporary 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 Nouaillé, and when you are
cumbered with a number of heavy-wheeled vehicles, to avoid a road and a
regular bridge 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 Nouaillé 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
Crécy 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 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
apparently 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 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, 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 develop and press you. That is
quite clear.


[Illustration]


Now, if, for reasons of internal organisation 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
rearguard 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 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 rearguard was left, and
held the entrenchments continuously.

To leave the field in the second fashion I have described is
mathematically equivalent to breaking up your rearguard and ceasing 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 describes 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 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 Nouaillé. 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 Nouaillé 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 northwest, 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 presumably be in
few waggons--and began to get these waggons away down the hill towards
the ford. They would thus be taking a short cut to join the road between
Nouaillé and Roches later on, and they would relieve the congestion upon
the main road of retreat through Nouaillé. It is possible that the Black
Prince oversaw this operation 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 Nouaillé 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, countermanded 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.

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



PART IV

THE ACTION


Though the accounts of the Battle of Poitiers, both contemporary with and
subsequent to it, show, like most mediæval chronicling, considerable
discrepancies, it is possible 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 position, 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 Nouaillé. 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 the
vineyards, and it stretched upon either side of the lane which led and
leads from Poitiers to Nouaillé. With Salisbury was Suffolk; and this
first line, thus facing the hedge, the depression, and the fields beyond,
from whence a French attack might develop, 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 extension 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 morning 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 frontispiece 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 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
rearguard that might be left to watch the extremity of the line after
everyone else had got safely off the field. We must see 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 dismount 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 dispositions 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.

When the second line had thus got clear of the original formation, Edward,
preceded by his banner and accompanied by a certain number of men from the
third line (how many we cannot tell, but presumably 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 between 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 left behind by the road through Nouaillé 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 Nouaillé 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 Nouaillé 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
Nouaillé 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 approaching 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 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 retirement 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 Nouaillé 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 Nouaillé, 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 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
Nouaillé 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 somewhere two or three miles ahead down the road, and between
him and Nouaillé, 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 attacking. 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 mediæval 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 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--Burghersh. 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 mention 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 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 perhaps 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, standing 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 Plantagenet 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 causes of the defeat
I must ask the reader to wait until we come to the actual engagement.

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 spearmen 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 mishap 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 Nouaillé road, with the king commanding the largest 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 disappeared
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. 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 carefully 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 Crécy 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 traditional
first-charge with which every old feudal battle had opened, would in a few
minutes degenerate into a wild obstacle of 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
bowmen 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
dismounted, 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.

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 disappeared 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 "bunching" of the attack on to the
lane which traversed that vineyard. Probably the 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 remarkable 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,
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 dismount 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 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 Crécy, the
English long-bowmen.

The picked three hundred knights under the two French marshals spurred and
charged. Small as their number was, it was crowded for the road into
which the stakes of the vineyard inevitably shepherded them as they
galloped forward, and, struggling 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 vineyard, 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 vanguard, 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 remainder
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 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
vanguard 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 forward through the vineyards to the summit of the little rise.
This sharp and unlooked 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
reinforce its pressure upon the English line. Though the vanguard had been
broken, the Dauphin's big, unwieldy body of dismounted 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
unarmoured 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, but 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 meet the Dauphin's attack. Warwick's men
hurried up from the left to help in the sword play, and by the time the
mêlée 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 cancelled 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 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 unsuccessful 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 confused 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 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, 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 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 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 overhearing a despairing
phrase, and casting at its author the retort that he had lied damnably 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 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, embarrassed 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 command into a high mounted line. But
before that mounted line moved forward, Edward 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 Plantagenets 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 summoned his standard-bearer--an
Englishman whose name should be remembered, Woodland--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, 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 outflanking and surrounding which most
demoralises 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 properly 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 men galloped, riding down the fugitives, killing, 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 clamorous 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 Crécy and Poitiers it is not
without advantage 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 between weapons and methods which
gave the Plantagenets for more than a generation 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 crossing 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 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 impediment than a quite modern army would think tolerable. There
were no aids whatsoever to progress, save those which the armed body
carried with it. No commandeering 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
warfare demands, and has demanded more or less for three hundred years,
was absent. There was no reserve of food; an army lived 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 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 expensive 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
assistants 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 Crécy and to
Poitiers--though it is truer of Crécy than of Poitiers--that the number
of combatants whom contemporaries recognised as such was far less than the
total numbers of a force, I was pointing 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 fighting purposes of what I may call the domestics 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, however 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 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 Crécy and Poitiers.

The gentry, who were the nucleus of the fighting, were armed in the middle
of the fourteenth century after a fashion transitional between the rings
of mail which had been customary for a century and the plate armour which
was usual for the last century before the general use of firearms,
ornamental during the century in which firearms established themselves,
and is still the popular though false conception of mediæval accoutrement.
From immemorial time until the First Crusade and the generation of the
Battle of Hastings and the 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
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 themselves, 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 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 Crécy 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 observable 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 equipment with which I desire to conclude. England had
developed the long-bow. It is a point which has been vastly
overemphasised, but which it would be unscholarly and uncritical to pass
over in silence. A missile weapon had been produced 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
armament 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 remained 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 Crécy 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
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 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 cannot. A charge of large mounted dogs
against unshaken infantry would succeed. A charge of mounted horses
against unshaken infantry, if that infantry be sufficiently dense, will
fail.

To teach infantry that they can thus withstand cavalry, instruction is the
instrument. 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 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 stationary, 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 contemporaries, as it is for us, there was another element which we
must particularly consider 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 capture of the king's person. The
importance 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 subsequent 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 Crécy; 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 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 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 regarded in the military mind of those days much as we regard the
crippling of a modern financial power by some chance of speculation. 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 Plantagenet claim, and a corresponding spontaneous movement
in France which led to the defeat of that claim; the signing (ultimately)
of a treaty tearing 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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Footnotes:

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

[2] The tops of the steep banks are nearly a hundred feet above the water.

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

[4] "Facing north-east," Fortescue, _History of the British Army_, vol. i.
p. 39. I mention this considerable error for the purposes of correction:
Mr Fortescue's history being rightly regarded as the standard text-book of
English military history.

[5] "Some fifteen miles," Fortescue, _ibid._ "Seven miles," Oman, _History
of Art of War, etc._ Always use a map when you write about battles.

[6] "South-west," Fortescue, _ibid._, p. 38.

[7] It may be presumed upon the analogy of surrounding vineyards--though
it is not certain--that the cultivation 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.





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we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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