The Battle of Poitiers, September 19, 1356, was the second of three major English victories over the French in the so called Hundred Years’ War. So called because it began in 1337 and did not end until the Battle of Castillon in 1453. My calculator claims it to be The Hundred Sixteen Year’s War. Presumably this is because, like other French irrational linguistic idiosyncrasies, it just “doesn’t sound good to the ear”. The first was Crecy August 26, 1346 where I go next and the third, Agincourt, which I have already written about here.
Historians will have you believe that the roots and causes of this war, which brought so much misery to France, are complicated. Indeed the historians weave a compelling narrative. The extremely short version is that In Eleanor of Aquitaine, divorces (Divorce? Pope in pocket; no problem) the French king, Louis VII and marries the English King, Henry II. This awards England a large territory in France and a base for future military operations. Eleanor’s sons and grandsons become English Kings and retain dominion over the territory. The French king Charles IV dies in 1328 without a male heir. Very big deal under feudal law. The number of monk hours expended to keep track of royal genealogy are like grains of sand in the Sahara, uncountable. However, this one is easy, Charles IV’s only surviving child, Isabelle, is married to King Edward II of England. Their son, Edward III now claims the French crown. Au contrare! cried the French dukes. They anoint a branch of the Valois family heirs to the crown of France. Edward III invades France to take by force what God has decided is rightfully his – all of France. Thus begins on again off again war which isn’t settled until twenty-two years after Joan of Arc,the subject of my current project, turned the tide of English victories. The English, on the threshold of conquering France, were unstoppable before this sixteen year old uneducated peasant girl showed the them how to win. The English suffered many defeats along the way to Castillon that Shakespeare forgot to write plays about. The raising of the siege of Orléans and The Battle of Patay were important turning points in the war.
As a former history major turned artist stridently unlearning every thing I learned in art school, I have a simpler shorter version for the English attempted conquest of France. French women and French cuisine. England is fortunately blessed with heavy fog much of the year so that one cannot see the food they are eating or the person they are eating it with.
Edward III, aka, “The Black Prince” invades France for the second time. He came north from Aquitaine. His mission was to convince the people of France that they should support his claim to be their king. The unsuspecting the people of Southern France were caught completely off guard and thus defenseless. His strategy to convince them is to pillage the country. Everything is burned, every woman captured turned over to the English army for “proper treatment”, every man captured is executed for treason. Children, the “lucky” ones, were left to starve among the ashes, the rest sold into slavery. The French king, Jean II, rushed with a large army to intercept The Black Prince. They met just outside Poitiers on September 17, 1356. Negotiations between the two armies to avoid a battle resulted in a one day truce on Sunday, called “God’s Truce”. The starving English army loaded with loot, considerably smaller than the French forces which opposed them, spent the day fortifying their position. They positioned themselves at the back of small ravine protected on three sides with impenetrable forests and set up archers on the high side of the ridges which formed the ravine. The French army spend the day drinking red wine, eating fabulous French cuisine and debauching the local peasant women. Several of King Jean II military advisers told him – Don’t go over there. They shoot horses! When they are eating their arrows for breakfast, they will come out and we will kill them easily.
Nevertheless, the next morning, the French full of anger and eager for glory could not be contained. The heavily armored French knights rode their favorite war-horse, Vainglory, into the ravine snatching death and defeat from the jaws of certain victory. The English arrows bounced off the knight’s armor so they simply shot the horses in the haunches. The horses reared and threw the French knights. Knights piled up like crepes. Unable to move or even lift their swords, the English foot soldiers sat on their chests and pushed daggers into the eyes of the French nobles. Thousands died. To complete the debacle, King Jean II was captured. The first Francs were minted in an effort to free their king. (Franc = Free) Alas, the French could not meet the ransom and Jean II spent the rest of his life in an English prison. The government of France effectively ceased to exist.
The Ridge from where they shoot horses.
“From that time on all went wrong with the Kingdom and the state was undone. Thieves and robbers rose up everywhere in the land. The nobles despised and hated all others and took no thought for the mutual usefulness and profit of lord and men. They subjected and despoiled the peasants and the men of the villages. In no wise did they defend their country from enemies. Rather did they trample it underfoot, robbing and pillaging the peasants’ goods.”
The place where King Jean II was captured.