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The Black Prince's victory took place on September 19, 1356.
In August 1356, Edward, Prince of Wales, better known as the Black Prince, began a large scale raid into France from his base in Aquitaine. Moving north, he conducted a scorched earth campaign as he sought to ease pressure on English garrisons in northern and central France. Advancing to the Loire River at Tours, his raid was stopped by an inability to take to the city and its castle. Delaying, Edward soon had word that the French king, John II, had disengaged from operations against the Duke of Lancaster in Normandy and was marching south to destroy the English forces around Tours.
Battle of Poitiers
Date of the Battle of Poitiers: 19th September 1356.
Place of the Battle of Poitiers: Western France.
Combatants at the Battle of Poitiers: An army of English and Gascons against the French and their allies.
Edward, the Black Prince, commander of the English army at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years
Commanders at the Battle of Poitiers: The Black Prince against King John I of France.
Size of the armies at the Battle of Poitiers: The Black Prince’s army numbered some 7,000 knights, men-at-arms and archers.
Numbers in the French army are uncertain but were probably around 35,000, although Froissart gives the size of the French army as 60,000. The French army comprised a contingent of Scots commanded by Sir William Douglas.
Uniforms, arms and equipment in the Battle of Poitiers: Depending upon wealth and rank a mounted knight of the period wore jointed steel plate armour incorporating back and breast plates, a visored bascinet helmet and steel plated gauntlets with spikes on the back, the legs and feet protected by steel greaves and boots, called jambs. Weapons carried were a lance, shield, sword and dagger. Over the armour a knight wore a jupon or surcoat emblazoned with his arms and an ornate girdle.
The weapon of the English and Welsh archers was a six foot yew bow discharging a feathered arrow of a cloth yard. The rate of fire was up to an arrow every 5 seconds. For close quarter fighting the archers used hammers or daggers.
Winner of the Battle of Poitiers: The English and Gascons decisively won the battle.
Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: map by John Fawkes
Account of the Battle of Poitiers: Edward III, King of England, began the Hundred Years War, claiming the throne of France on the death of King Philip IV in 1337. The war finally ended in the middle of the 15th Century with the eviction of the English from France, other than Calais, and the formal abandonment by the English monarchs of their claims to French territory.
The war began well for Edward III with the decisive English victories at Sluys in 1340 and Creçy in 1346 and the capture of Calais in 1347. In the late 1340s the plague epidemic, called the Black Death, decimated the populations of France and England, bringing military operations to a halt one of the plague’s victims being the French king Philip VI.
In 1355 King Edward III again planned for an invasion of France. His son, Edward the Black Prince, now an experienced soldier 26 years of age, landed at Bordeaux in Western France and led his army on a march through Southern France to Carcassonne. Unable to take the walled city, the Black Prince returned to Bordeaux. In early 1356 the Duke of Lancaster landed with a second force in Normandy and began to advance south. Edward III was engaged in fighting in Scotland.
Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years
The new king of France, John I, led an army against Lancaster forcing him to withdraw towards the coast. King John then turned to attack the Black Prince, who was advancing north east towards the Loire pillaging the countryside as he went.
In early September 1356 King John reached the Loire with his large army, just as the Black Prince turned back towards Bordeaux. The French army marched hard and overtook the unsuspecting English force at Poitiers on Sunday 18th September 1356.
Cardinal Talleyrand leaves the English camp the night before the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: picture by Richard Caton Woodville
The local prelate, Cardinal Talleyrand de Périgord, attempted to broker terms of settlement between the two armies but the Black Prince’s offer of handing over all the booty he had taken on his “chevauchée” and maintaining a truce for 7 years was unacceptable to King John who considered the English would have little chance against his overwhelming army, and the French demand that the Black Prince surrender himself and his army was unacceptable to the English. The two armies prepared for battle.
The English army was an experienced force many of the archers veterans of Creçy, ten years before, and the Gascon men-at-arms commanded by Sir John Chandos, Sir James Audley and Captal de Buche, all old soldiers.
Sir John Chandos urges the Black Prince to attack saying ‘Sire the Day is yours’ at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: picture by Richard Caton Woodville
The Black Prince arranged his force in a defensive position among the hedges and orchards of the area, his front line of archers disposed behind a particularly prominent thick hedge through which the road ran at right angles.
King John was advised by his Scottish commander, Sir William Douglas, that the French attack should be delivered on foot, horses being particularly vulnerable to English archery, the arrows fired with a high trajectory falling on the unprotected necks and backs of the mounts. King John took this advice, his army in the main leaving its horses with the baggage and forming up on foot.
The French attack began in the early morning of Monday 19th September 1356 with a mounted charge by a forlorn hope of 300 German knights commanded by two Marshals of France Barons Clermont and Audrehem. The force reached a gallop, closing in to charge down the road into the centre of the English position. The attack was a disaster, with those knights not shot down by the English archers dragged from their horses and killed or secured as prisoners for later ransom.
Capture of King John of France and his 14 year old son at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: picture by Henri Dupray
The rest of the French army now began its ponderous advance on foot, in accordance with Douglas’ advice, arrayed in three divisions the first led by the Dauphin Charles (the son of the King), the second by the Duc D’Orleans and the third, the largest, by the King himself.
The first division reached the English line exhausted by its long march in heavy equipment, much harassed by the arrow fire of the English archers. The Black Prince’s soldiers, Gascon men-at-arms and English and Welsh archers, rushed forward to engage the French, pushing through the hedgerow and spilling round the flanks to attack the French in the rear.
After a short savage fight the Dauphin’s division broke and retreated, blundering into the division of the Duc D’Orleans marching up behind, both divisions falling back in confusion.
The final division of the French army, commanded by the king himself, was the strongest and best controlled. The three divisions coalesced and resumed the advance against the English, a formidable mass of walking knights and men-at-arms.
Thinking that the retreat of the first two divisions marked the end of the battle, the Black Prince had ordered a force of knights commanded by the Gascon, Captal de Buche, to mount and pursue the French. Chandos urged the Prince to launch this mounted force on the main body of the French army. The Black Prince seized on Chandos’ idea and ordered all the knights and men-at-arms to mount for the charge. The horses were ordered up from the rear in the meantime Captal de Buch’s men, already mounted, were ordered to advance around the French flank to the right.
Capture of King John of France and his 14 year old son at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years
As the French army toiled up to the hedgerow the English force broke through the hedge and struck the French like a thunderbolt, the impetus of the charge taking the mounted knights and men-at-arms right into the French line. Simultaneously Captal de Buch’s Gascons charged in on the French flank. The English and Welsh archers left their bows and ran forward to join the fight, brandishing their daggers and fighting hammers.
The French army broke up, many leaving the field, while the more stalwart knights fought hard in isolated groups. A mass of fugitives made for Poitiers pursued by the mounted Gascons to be slaughtered outside the closed city gates.
King John found himself alone with his 14 years old younger son Philip fighting an overwhelming force of Gascons and English. Eventually the king agreed to surrender.
The battle won, the English army gave itself up to pillaging the vanquished French knights and the lavish French camp.
The Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years
Casualties at the Battle of Poitiers: In his dispatch to King Edward III, his father, the Black Prince stated that the French dead amounted to 3,000 while only 40 of his troops had been killed. It is likely that the English casualties were higher. Among the French prisoners were King John, his son Philip, 17 great lords, 13 counts, 5 viscounts and a hundred other knights of significance.
Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years
Follow-up to the Battle of Poitiers: On the night of the battle the Black Prince entertained the King of France and his son to dinner and the next day the English army resumed its march to Bordeaux.
The effect of the defeat on France and the loss of the King to captivity was devastating, leaving the country in the hands of the Dauphin Charles, escaped from the ruins of his division at Poitiers. Charles faced immediate revolts across the kingdom as he attempted to raise money to continue the war and ransom his father.
Capture of King John of France at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: picture by Richard Caton Woodville
The release of King John proved difficult to negotiate as Edward III sought to extract more and more onerous terms from the French. Meanwhile the war continued to the misery of the wretched inhabitants of France.
King John was released in November 1361 against other hostages. Due to the default of one of those hostages John returned to London and died there in 1364.
Anecdotes and traditions of the Battle of Poitiers:
- King John actually surrendered to a French knight, Sir Denis de Morbeque, who took him to the Prince of Wales with the Earl of Warwick.
- Poitiers was the second great battle won by the English yew bow, although in this case it was the threat of the arrow barrage that caused the French to launch the ill-judged advance on foot thereby exposing them to the English/Gascon mounted charge that won the battle.
Capture of King John of France at the Battle of Poitiers on 19th September 1356 in the Hundred Years: picture by AW Ridley
References for the Battle of Poitiers:
The previous battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Creçy
The next battle of the Hundred Years War is the Battle of Agincourt
Battle of Poitiers Map - History
THE BATTLE OF POITIERS (September 19, 1356). In the early summer of 1356 the Black Prince took the field with a small army, not more than from eight to ten thousand men, 1 the most part not English, and rode into the Rouergue, Auvergne, and the Limousin, meeting no resistance, sacking and taking all they found, and so upwards to the Loire. The French King was lying before Breteuil, with a strong force, when news of the Prince's northward ride came to him. He hastily granted the garrison of the town easy terms, and they withdrew to Cherbourg then he marched to Paris, and summoned all his nobles and fief-holders to a rendezvous on the borders of Blois and Touraine. He himself moved southwards as far as Chartres.
The Black Prince threatened Bourges and Issoudun, failing to take either city then he marched to Vierzon, a large town of no strength, and took it here he found, what he sorely needed, wine and food in plenty. While he lay here he heard that King John was at Chartres with all France at his back, and that the passages of the Loire were occupied. So he broke up, and turned his face towards Bordeaux, at once abandoning any plan he may have had of joining the Earl of Lancaster in Normandy. King John, hastening to overtake him, actually overshot the English army, and placed himself across the Prince's line of retreat. Thus he had the English utterly in his power: a little patience and prudence, and he might have avenged himself almost without loss on the invading army, by capturing both it and its brilliant captain. But, unfortunately for France, John 'the Good' was possessed with chivalrous ideas, which prompted him to do exactly the wrong thing.
The Black Prince, seeing his retreat cut off, stood at bay in a strong position at Maupertuis, near Poitiers. It was a rough hill-side, covered with vineyards cut up by hedges, and also sprinkled with low scrub. Nothing could be better for defence: the chivalry of France, whose overwhelming weight would have been irresistible on the plain, were of no avail on such a hillside and there was plenty of cover to delight sharp-shooters who knew their work. The only point of attack from the front was a narrow and hollow way, liable to a converging fire, which would grow more severe the farther the enemy penetrated for the cheeks of the ravine commanded the whole of the roadway.
On the level ground atop lay the main English force: every available point was crowded with archers the narrow way had high hedge-crowned banks. Underneath lay the 50,000 Frenchmen, 'the flower of their chivalry,' all feudal, no city-levies this time. The King was there, with his four sons, his brother, and a crowd of great princes and barons. Had they been content to wait, and watch vigilantly, the Black Prince would have been starved, and must have laid down his arms. This, however, was not their idea, nor the idea of that age. So they got them ready to assault the Prince's formidable position to give themselves the utmost disadvantage arising from useless numbers and to give him the means of taking the greatest possible advantage of his ground, where every man of his little force was available.
Before the assault took place the Papal Legate interposed, and obtained a truce for twenty-four hours. The Black Prince, knowing well his peril, was willing to treat on terms honourable to France: unconditional surrender was the only thing King John would listen to. This would have been as bad as a lost battle what could they do but refuse? better die in arms than suffer imprisonment, starvation, and perhaps a shameful death. So they set themselves to use the remainder of the day's truce in strengthening their position an ambuscade was quietly posted on the left flank of the one possible line of attack.
Next morning, the 19th of September, 1356, the French army was moved forwards: in the van came two marshals, Audenham and Clermont, with three hundred men-at-arms, on swift warhorses behind them were the Germans of Saarbrück and Nassau then the Duke of Orleans in command of the first line of battle Charles, Duke of Normandy, the King's eldest son, was with the second and lastly the King, surrounded by nineteen knights all wearing his dress, that he might be the safer in the fight: 2 before him fluttered the Oriflamme.
With heedless courage the vanguard dashed at the centre of the English position for such were the King's orders. They rode full speed along the narrow roadway up the hill-side, between the thick hedges but the hill was steep, and the archers flanking it shot fast and well. A few only struggled to the top these were easily overthrown. The rest were rolled back in wild confusion on the Duke of Normandy's line, and broke their order at this moment the English ambuscade fell on their left flank. Then, when the "Black Prince saw that the Duke's battle 'was shaking and beginning to open,' he bade his men mount quickly, and rode down into the midst, with loud cries of 'St. George' and 'Guienne.' Pushing on cheerily, he fell upon the Constable of France, the Duke of Athens the English archers, keeping pace afoot with the horsemen, supported them, shooting so swiftly and well that the French and Germans were speedily put to flight.
Then Charles, the Dauphin, with his two brothers, put spurs to their horses, and fled headlong from the field there followed them full eight hundred lances, the pride of the French army, who might well have upheld the fortune of the day. It was a pitiful beginning for the the young Prince, who would so soon be called to fill his father's place. The first and second lines of battle were thus utterly scattered, almost in a moment: some riding hither and thither off the field, in panic others driven back under the walls of Poitiers, where the English garrison took great store of negotiable prisoners for at that time prisoners meant ransom.
The King, perhaps remembering the mishap of Crécy, now ordered all his line to dismount and fight afoot. And then for the first time a stand was made, and something worthy of the name of a battle began. The French were still largely superior in force: at the beginning they had been seven to one 3 and the advantage of the ground was no longer with the English. But the Prince of Wales pressed ever forwards, with Sir John Chandos at his side, who bore himself so loyally that he never thought that day of prisoners, but kept on saying to the Prince 'Sire, ride onwards God is with you, the day is yours!' 'And the Prince, who aimed at all perfectness of honour, rode onwards, with his banner before him, succouring his people whenever he saw them scattering or unsteady, and proving himself a right good knight. 4
Thus the English force fell, like an iron bar, on the soft mass of the French army, which had but little coherence, after the manner of a great feudal levy and this swift onset, with the Prince riding manfully in the van, like the point of the bar, scattered them hither and thither, and decided the fortunes of the day. The Dukes of Bourbon and Athens perished, with many another of noble name among them the Bishop of Chalons in Champagne: the French gave back, till they were stayed by the walls of Poitiers. King John was now in the very thick of it: and with his own hands did many feats of arms, defending himself manfully with a battle-axe. 5 By his side was Philip, his youngest son, afterwards Duke of Burgundy, founder of the second line of that house, who here earned for himself the name of 'le Hardi,' the Bold: for though but a child, he stood gallantly by his father, warding off the blows that rained thickly on him.
The rout was too complete to be stayed by their gallantry. The gates of Poitiers were firmly shut there was a great slaughter under the walls. Round the King himself the fight was stubborn many of his bodyguard were taken or slain. Geoffrey de Chargny, who bore the Oriflamme, went down: and the King was hemmed in, all men being eager to take so great a prize. Through the crowd came shouldering a man of huge stature, Denis of Mortbeque, a knight of St. Omer when he got up to the King he prayed him in good French to surrender. The King then asked for 'his cousin, the Prince of Wales': and Denis promised that if he would yield he would see him safely to the Prince: the King agreed. Thus he was taken, and with him Philip his little son.
Then arose around him a great debate between English and Gascons, all claiming to have taken him: they tore him away from Denis, and for a moment he was in great peril. At last two barons, seeing the turmoil, rode up and hearing that it was the French King, they spurred their horses, forcing their way into the angry croud, and rescued him from their clutches. Then he was treated with high respect, and led to the Prince of Wales, who bowed low to the ground before one who in the hierarchy of princes was his superior: he paid him all honour sent for wine and spices, and served them to him with his own hands. And thus King John, who one day before had held the English, as he thought, securely in his grasp, now found himself, broken and wounded, a prisoner in their hands.
Thus went the great day of Maupertuis, or, as it is more commonly called by us, of Poitiers.
Great was the carnage among the French: they left eleven thousand on the field, of whom nearly two thousand five hundred 6 were men of noble birth while nearly a hundred barons, and full two thousand men-at-arms, to say nothing of lesser folk, were prisoners. They were so many that the victors scarcely knew what to do with them: they fixed their ransom as quickly as they could, and then let them go free on their word. The Prince with the huge booty gathered in his expedition, and with the richest prize of all, King John and his little son, at once fell back to Bordeaux. The French army melted away like snow in spring, such feudal nobles as had escaped wandering home crestfallen, the lawless and now lordless men-at-arms spreading over the land like a pestilence. A two-years' truce was struck between England and France and Edward at once carried his captives over to London.
1 Froissart (Buchon), xxii me addition 3, p. 155: 'Avec deux mille hommes d'armes et six mille archers, parmi les brigands' (i.e. besides the light-armed mercenaries).
2 Froissart (Buchon), 3, c. 351, p. 186, 'armé lui vingtième de ses parements.'
3 Froissart (Buchon), 3, c. 360, p. 210, 'Les François étoient bien de gens d'armes sept contre un.'
4 Froissart (Buchon), 3, c. 361, p. 216.
6 In exact numbers, 2426. See the careful list given in Buchon's note to Froissart, 3, c. 364, p. 224.
Kitchin, G. W. A History of France, Vol 1, 3rd Ed, Rev.
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1892. 437-444.
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Poitou-Charentes, former région of France. As a région, it encompassed the western départements of Vienne, Charente, Charente-Maritime, and Deux-Sèvres. In 2016 the Poitou-Charentes région was joined with the régions of Aquitaine and Limousin to form the new administrative entity of Nouvelle Aquitaine.
The Massif Armoricain extends into northwestern Deux-Sèvres, while the Massif Central rises to the southeast. The centre of the region is low-lying and punctuated by the shallow valleys of the Vienne, Clain, Charente, and Sèvre Niortaise rivers. An oceanic climate prevails.
The population of the region declined by nearly one-tenth between 1901 and 1946, like that of most of rural France during that period. Since then population growth has been modest. There is no major urban centre, and nearly half of the population still lives in settlements of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. Rural areas are generally sparsely inhabited and characterized by an aging population. People and economic activity are increasingly concentrated in four main areas: in the Charente valley between Angoulême and Rochefort, along the Châtelleraut-Poitiers-Niort corridor, in the coastal belt, and in the northern area of Bressuire-Thouars in Deux-Sèvres. Two of these towns— Niort and Thouars—rank among the oldest towns in France.
An above-average number of people work in agriculture, although in general the activity is not highly productive. Wheat, barley, and especially corn (maize) are widely cultivated, with the lowlands around Poitiers and the central and southern parts of the region specializing in these crops. Sunflowers are also a key crop in these areas. Brandy, especially cognac (named for a town in the Charente River valley), is produced in Charente and Charente-Maritime. Beef cattle are raised on the Massif Central and the Massif Armoricain, and dairy cows are raised in southern Deux-Sèvres and in central eastern areas of the region. Sheep are grazed extensively in the Montmorillan area of Vienne, while goat cheese is produced around Melle in southern Deux-Sèvres. Shellfish farming, particularly of oysters, is a major activity in coastal areas.
The area is not heavily industrialized. Traditional textile, leather, and papermaking industries have declined. Today food and beverage processing, notably the production of brandy, is the most important industrial activity. Other important industries include chemicals, wood products, and electronics. Employment in services has expanded rapidly, particularly in the larger population centres such as Poitiers, Angoulême, and La Rochelle. Tourism is important along the coast and on the islands of Ré and Oléron. Inland, the Futuroscope theme park is a major tourist attraction in the département of Vienne.
As the natural approach from the southwest to the Paris region, Poitou-Charentes has been the scene of many battles. Among the most memorable were the defeat of the Saracens (Arabs) in 732 by the Frankish leader Charles Martel and the English victory over the French in 1356 at the Battle of Poitiers.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.
Animated Maps: Poitiers 1356, the Battle
You can let this animation run at it’s own speed, or click pause and then move the show on as you wish with the ‘next’ and ‘prev’ buttons. Enormous thanks to Andy Flaster and Jonathan Crowther for all the technology stuff.
Battle of Poitiers, 19 September 1356
Whatever his intention, battle was started by King John, who decided to assault the gap in the hedge, sending forward a small body of cavalry who were meant to break though the English archers, followed by the bulk of his forces on foot. This first 'battle was also supported by 2,000 Genoese crossbowmen. Behind this first 'battle' followed three more, the second led by John's oldest son Charles, duke of Normandy, probably 4,000 strong, the third under Philip, duke of Orleans, king John's brother, with 3,000 men at arms, and finally, the largest battle, of 6,000 men, led by King John himself. Seeing Edward start his probable retreat, King John ordered the advance, and the first battle, began it's attack. Mostly mounted, this first battle pulled well ahead of the rest of the army, and the three hundred knights ahead of the rest were almost wiped out by the English archers, leaving the rest of the first battle to struggle up to the English line, and although a melee developed, this first attack was beaten off by the earl of Salisbury before the rest of the English army under the duke of Warwick and Prince Edward returned to the line. The French first battle was defeated, and the Marshal Clermont killed, before the bulk of the French army had even reached the battlefield. Now the first division of dismounted French men at arms, under the Dauphin, reached the English lines, and a fierce fight developed, only won by the English when Edward put all of his troops bar a 400 man reserve into the battle. Finally, the second French battle was driven off, and heavily mauled fell back.
At this point, the French suffered a huge self inflicted blow, when the third battle, under Philip of Orleans, seeing the rout of the Dauphin's battle, fled the field with the bulk of his troops, leaving only King John with the last, but largest, French battle, against Edward's battleweary troops. The two forces were now roughly equal in number, but King John's troops were fresh, while Edward's had been engaged in heavy fighting. Seeing that he now faced the final French reserves, Prince Edward decided to take the offensive, and sending the Captal de Buch, one of his most loyal Gascon vassals, with force of less than two hundred men, to outflank the French and attack them from the side, led his troops in a charge. The two main battles met with a monument clash, and the fiercest fighting of the day commenced. This melee was still very much in the balance, when the Captal de Buch with his small band, having reached King John's original position, charged the French in the rear, causing a panic quite unjustified by the size of his force. Many of the remaining French troops fled the field, leaving King John and a core of his allies alone on the field. After seven hours of fighting, the English finally had the victory. French losses were apparently 2,500, while English losses were much smaller, but are not known. However, the true significance of the battle was in the capture of King John, along with his young son Philip, along with many of the greatest lords of France. Prince Edward withdrew to Bordeaux with his booty and his prisoner. The capture of King John altered the balance of power in the war, and gave the English a vastly improved negotiating position.In the Steps of the Black Prince - The Road to Poitiers, 1355-1356, Peter Hoskins. A fascinating attempt to trace the exact route of the Black Prince's raids through France in 1355 and 1356, based on a detailed exploration of the ground and the possible routes, and the linguistic changes in local names. This route evidence is then used to interpret the Prince's motives in both of these raids. [read full review]
File:Battle of Poitiers 1356 map-fr.svg
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