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Battle of Poitiers
The Battle of Poitiers was fought between England and France on September 19, 1356, resulting in the second of the three great English victories of the Hundred Years War. (The Battle of Tours is sometimes also known by the name "The Battle of Poitiers", but it is a different confrontation.)
On August 8, 1356, Edward, the Black Prince began a great chevauchée (raid) north from the English base in Aquitaine, in efforts to relieve allied garrisons in central France, as well as to raid and destroy the countryside. His sortie worked without much resistance, his Anglo-Gascon forces burning numerous towns to the ground and living off the land, until they reached the River Loire at Tours, where his army was unable to take the castle; nor could they burn the town due to a heavy downpour. His delay there allowed John II, King of France, to attempt to catch his army and eliminate it. The King, who had been confronting John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, in Normandy, arranged the bulk of his army at Chartres to the north of the besieged Tours, dismissing around 15,000–20,000 of his low-grade infantry to speed the chase to the Black Prince's position. This made the two armies surprisingly similar in size, a sight not to be seen in many other battles in the Hundred Year's War.
Upon receiving the reports of the French army on the move, Edward decided a retreat was in order. He marched south being pursued in earnest by John. The French caught up to the English a few miles southwest of Poitiers. A veteran of the battle of Crécy, at which he fought when he was only sixteen years old, the Black Prince decided on the same tactical scheme employed at that battle. He adopted for his troops a strongly defensive position, in a plane ground surrounded with natural obstacles, such as a creek on the left and a wood on the back. The luggage wagons, with a great amount of plunder, remained along the old Roman road, the main route from Poitiers to Bordeaux, to insure protection on his weak right side. All men dismounted and were organized in two, perhaps three units, with the Welsh longbowmen placed in a V-formation in both flanks. The Black Prince kept a small cavalry unit, commanded by Jean de Grailly, the Captal de Buch, hidden in the woods at the rear.
The attacking French forces were divided in four parts. At the front were around 300 elite knights, commanded by general Clermont and accompanied by German mercenaries (pikemen). The purpose of this group was to charge on the English archers and eliminate the threat they posed. These were followed by three groups of infantry (dismounted cavalry, in this case) commanded by the Dauphin, (later Charles V of France), the Duke of Orléans and King John.
Right at the beginning of the battle, the English simulated flight on their left wing. This provoked a hasty charge by the French knights against the archers. However, they were expecting this and quickly attacked the enemy, especially the horses, with a shower of arrows. Results were devastating and proved once more that the days of heavy cavalry charges were gone. This attack was followed by the Dauphin's infantry, who engaged in heavy fighting, but withdrew to regroup. The next wave of infantry under Orléans, seeing that the Dauphin's men were not attacking, turned back and panicked. This stranded the forces that were led by the King himself. This was a formidable fighting force, and the Welsh archers were out of arrows: the archers joined the infantry in the fight and some of both groups picked up horses to form an improvised cavalry. Combat was hard, but the Black Prince had still a mobile reserve hidden in the woods, which were able to circle around and attack the French in the flank and rear. The French were fearful of this encirclement and attempted to flee. King John was captured with his immediate entourage.
The result was a decisive French defeat, not only in military terms, but it was also an economic defeat: France would be asked to pay a ransom equivalent to twice the country's yearly income to have her king back, an impossible sum, and he would eventually die a prisoner in England. In many ways Poitiers was a repeat of the Battle of Crécy showing once again that the age of the mounted knight was over, a lesson the French were slow to learn.
- Green, David. The Battle of Poitiers 1356, (2004), ISBN 0752425579
- Nicolle, David. Poitiers 1356: The Capture of a King, (2004), ISBN 1841765163
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