The Battle of Poitiers

King Jean II of France met Edward, the Black Prince of Wales in battle at Poitiers on 19 September 1356 in one of the most decisive English victories of the Hundred Years’ War.

Battle_poitiers Delacroix

It really sucked to be French during the Hundred Years War, and the decades before and after the Battle of Poitiers were some of the worst of those bad times. Not only had the Black Plague decimated the populace, but the English invaders were setting a precedent for the Nazi atrocities against occupied France 600 years later. The Black Prince was very much like his father Edward III and his and great-grandfather Edward I; he was a very good English commander and a complete monster to anyone who wasn’t willing to be English. As his forefathers had done to the Welsh and Scots, the Black Prince now did to the French he was trying to bring under his rule and make English – he unleashed his troops to rape, pillage, plunder, and slaughter until there was no resistance left.

Using the English fief of Aquitaine as his base, the Black Prince brought his troops into French territory the summer of 1356 for a chevauchée – the medieval war tactic of burning down villages, towns, and cities as well as looting every last bit of food and wealth in order to demoralize and starve out the populace so they wouldn’t or couldn’t fight back. The English marauded their way through the French countryside until they arrived at the River Loire at Tours, where heavy rains prevented them from torching the keep. King Jean gathered his army and headed to Tours, hoping to kill enough of the invaders that they would retreat to Aquitaine to recoup. In an effort to get to Tours before the English headed off again to murder his subjects and destroy his country, King Jean dismissed “approximately 15,000–20,000 of his lower-quality infantry to increase the speed of his forces”. This would turn out to be a mistake.

Haste made waste, because although Jean arrived at Tours in time to meet the English, the English archers were too good for the heavy French cavalry to be effective. The English bowmen moved around the flanks and shot the French horses from behind, where the armor was weakest, and thus broke the cavalry charges before the cavalry could break English ranks. The French communication lines were likewise damaged, and although King Jean fought valiantly, his disorganized forces could not muster the formation needed to withstand the English assault.


Seeing that English victory was inevitable, King Jean sent away his sons so that the entire royal family would not be captured, although his youngest son Philippe refused to leave and fought by his father. After a prolonged resistance, Jean, Philippe, and several prominent French nobles were forced to surrender and taken hostage by the English.


As was customary, the hostages were given every courtesy and lived in luxury while their ransom was being arranged. Meanwhile, the French nobility and various companies of mercenaries took the opportunity to loot and savage what was left of the country. King Jean’s eldest son, Charles V, would retrench and make a strong comeback against the English, however, and would regain almost all of the territory taken by the Black Prince.


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