Medieval Sourcebook: Jean Froissart: On The Hundred Years War (1337-1453)
The "Hundred Years' War" between France and England (1337-1453) was an episodic struggle lasting well over a hundred years, for much of the time without any conflict. The battles were both violent, but also occasions when ideals of "chivalry" were displayed. Here are extracts describing various battles from the Chronicle of Jean Froissart.
The Battle of Crecy (1346)
The Englishmen, who were in three battles lying on the ground to rest them, as soon as they saw the Frenchmen approach, they rose upon their feet fair and easily without any haste and arranged their battles. The first, which was the prince's battle, the archers there stood in manner of a herse and the men of arms in the bottom of the battle. The earl of Northampton and the earl of Arundel with the second battle were on a wing in good order, ready to comfort the prince's battle, if need were.
The lords and knights of France came not to the assembly together in good order, for some came before and some came after in such haste and evil order, that one of them did trouble another. When the French king saw the Englishmen, his blood changed, and [he] said to his marshals: "Make the Genoways go on before and begin the battle in the name of God and Saint Denis." There were of the Genoways crossbows about a fifteen thousand, but they were so weary of going afoot that day a six leagues armed with their crossbows, that they said to their constables: "We be not well ordered to fight this day, for we be not in the case to do any great deed of arms: we have more need of rest." These words came to the earl of Alencon, who said: "A man is well at ease to be charged with such a sort of rascals, to be faint and fail now at most need." Also the same season there fell a great rain and a clipse with a terrible thunder, and before the rain there came flying over both battles a great number of crows for fear of the tempest coming. Then anon the air began to wax clear, and the sun to shine fair and bright, the which was right in the Frenchmen's eyes and on the Englishmen's backs. When the Genoways were assembled together and began to approach, they made a great [shout] and cry to abash the Englishmen, but they stood still and stirred not for all that: then the Genoways again the second time made another leap and a fell cry, and stept forward a little, and the Englishmen removed not one foot: thirdly, again they lept and cried, and went forth till they came within shot; then they shot fiercely with their crossbows. Then the English archers stept forth one pace and let fly their arrows so wholly [together] and so thick, that it seemed snow. When the Genoways felt the arrows piercing through heads arms and breasts, many of them cast down their crossbows and did cut their strings and returned discomfited. When the French king saw them fly away, he said: "Slay these rascals, for they shall let and trouble us without reason." Then ye should have seen the men at arms dash in among them and killed a great number of them: and ever still the Englishmen shot whereas they saw thickest press; the sharp arrows ran into the men of arms and into their horses, an many fell, horse and men, among the Genoways, and when they were down, they could not relieve again, the press was so thick that on overthrew another. And also among the Englishmen there were certain rascals that went afoot with great knives, and they went in among the men of arms, and slew and murdered many as they lay on the ground, both earls, barons, knights, and squires, whereof the king of England was after displeased, for he had rather they had been taken prisoners.
The valiant king of Bohemia called Charles of Luxembourg, son to the noble emperor Henry of Luxembourg, for all that he was nigh blind, when he understood the order of the battle, he said to the about him: "Where is the lord Charles my son?" His men said: "Sir we cannot tell; we think he be fighting." Then he said: "Sirs, ye are my men, my companions and friends in this journey: I require you bring me so far forward, that I may strike one stroke with my sword." They said they would do his commandment, and to the intent that they should not lose him in the press, they tied all their reins of their bridles each to other and set the king before to accomplish his desire, and so they went on their enemies. The lord Charles of Bohemia his son, who wrote himself king of Almaine and bare the arms, he came in good order to the battle; but when he saw that the matter went awry on their party, he departed, I cannot tell you which way. The king his father was so far forward that he strake a stroke with his sword, yea and more than four, and fought valiantly and so did his company; and they adventured themselves so forward, that they were there all slain; and the next day they were found in the place about the king, and all their horses tied each to other.
[The contingent led by the king's son, the Black Prince, was hard pressed in the fighting.] Then the second battle of the Englishment came to succour the prince's battle, the which was time, for they had as then much ado and they with the prince sent a messenger to the king, who was on a little windmill hill. Then the knight said to the king: "Sir, the earl of Warwick and the earl of Oxford, sir Raynold Cobham and other, such as be about the prince your son, are fiercely fought withal and are sore handled; wherefore they desire you that you and your battle will come and aid them; for if the Frenchmen increase, as they doubt they will, your son and they shall have much ado." Then the king said: "Is my son dead or hurt or on the earth felled?" "No, sir," quoth the knight, "but he is hardly matched; wherefore he hath need of your aid." "Well," said the king, "return to him and to them that sent you hither, and say to them that they send no more to me for any adventure that falleth, as long as my son is alive: and also say to them that they suffer him this day to win his spurs; for if God be pleased, I will this journey be his and the honour thereof, and to them that be about him."
The Battle of Poitiers 1356
Oftentimes the adventure of amours and of war are more fortunate and marvellous than any man can think or wish. Truly this battle, the which was near to Poitiers in the fields of Beauvoir and Maupertuis, was right great and perilous, and many deeds of arms there was done the which all came not to knowledge. The fighters on both sides endured much pain: king John with his own hands did that day marvels in arms: he had an axe in his hands wherewith he defended himself and fought in the breaking of the press. Near to the king there was taken the earl of Tancarville, sir Jaques of Bourbon car] of Ponthieu, and the lord John of Artois earl of Eu, and a little above that under the banner of the captal of Buch was taken sir Charles of Artois and divers other knights and squires. The chase endured to the gates of Poitiers: there were many slain and beaten down, horse and man, for they of Poitiers closed their gates and would suffer none to enter; wherefore in the street before the gate was horrible murder, men hurt and beaten down....
Then there was a great press to take the king, and such as knew him cried, "Sir, yield you, or else ye are but dead." There was a knight of Saint-Omer's, retained in wages with the king of England, called sir Denis Morbeke, who had served the Englishmen five year before, because in his youth he had forfeited the realm of France for a murder that he did at Saint-Omer's. It happened so well for him, that he was next to the king when they were about to take him: he stept forth into the press, and by strength of his body and arms he came to the French king and said in good French, "Sir, yield you." The king beheld the knight and said: "To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him." Denis answered and said: "Sir, he is not here; but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him." "Who be you?" quoth the king. "Sir," he, "I am Denis of Morbeke, a knight of Artois; but I serve the king of England because I am banished the realm of France and I have forfeited all that I had there. " Then the king gave him his right gauntlet, saying "There I yield me to you." was a great press about the king, for every man enforced him to say "I have taken him," so that the king could not go forward with his young son the lord Philip with him because of the press
[The Black Prince sent two lords to search for the French king.] These two lords took their horses and departed from the prince rode up a hill to look about them: then they perceived a flock of men of arms coming together right wearily: there was the French king afoot in great peril, for Englishmen and Gascons were his masters; they had taken him from sir Denis Morbeke perforce, and such as were most of force said, "I have taken him"; "Nay," quoth another, "I have taken him"; so they strave which should have him. Then the French king, to eschew that peril, said: "Sirs, strive not: lead men courteously, and my son, to my cousin the prince, and strive not for my taking, for I am so great a lord to make you all rich." The king's words somewhat appeased them; howbeit ever as they went they made riot and brawled for the taking of the king. When the two foresaid lords saw and heard that noise and strife among them they came to them and said: "Sirs, what is the matter that ye strive for?" "Sirs," said one of them, "it is for the French king, who is here taken prisoner, and there be more than ten knights and squires that challengeth the taking of him and of his son. "Then the two lords entered into the press and caused every man to draw aback, and commanded them in the prince's name on pain of their heads to make no more noise nor to approach the king no nearer, without they were commanded. Then every man gave room to the lords, and they alighted and did their reverence to the king, and so brought him and his son in peace and rest to the prince of W ales.
The same day of the battle at night the prince made a supper in his lodging to the French king and to the most part of the great lords that were prisoners. The prince made the king and his son, the lord James of Bourbon, the lord John d'Artois, the earl of Tancarville the earl of Estampes, the earl of Dammartin, the earl of Joinville the lord of Partenay to sit all at one board, and other lords, knights and squires at other tables; and always the prince served before the king as humbly as he could, and would not sit at the king's board for any desire that the king could make, but he said he was not sufficient to sit at the table with so great a prince as the king was. But then he said to the king, "Sir, for God's sake make none evil nor heavy cheer, though God this day did not consent to follow your will; for, sir, surely the king my father shall bear you as much honour and amity as he may do, and shall accord with you so reasonably that ye shall ever be friends together after. And, sir, methink ve ought to rejoice, though the journey be not as ye would have had it, for this day ye have won the high renown of prowess and have passed this day in valiantness all other of your party. Sir, I say not this to mock you, for all that be on our party, that saw every man's deeds, are plainly accorded by true sentence to give you the prize and chaplet." Therewith the Frenchmen began to murmur and said among themselves how the prince had spoken nobly, and that by all estimation he should prove a noble man, if God send him life and to persevere in such good fortune.
English Ravages in the 1370s
About the space of a month or more was the prince of Wales before the city of I.imoges, and there was neither assault nor scrimmish, but dailv they mined. And they within knew well how they were mined, and made a countermine there against to have destroyed the English miners; but they failed of their mine. And when the prince's miners saw how the countermine against them failed, they said to the prince: "Sir, whensoever it shall please you we shall cause a part of the wall to fall into the dikes, whereby ye shall enter into the city at your ease without any danger." Which words pleased greatly the prince, and said: "I will that to-morrow betimes ye shew forth and execute your work." Then the miners set fire into their mine, and so the next morning, as the prince had ordained, there fell down a great pane of the wall and filled the dikes, whereof the Englishmen were glad and were ready armed in the field to enter into the town. The foot-men might well enter at their ease, and so they did and ran to the gate and beat down the fortifying and barriers, for there was no defence against them: it was done so suddenly that they of the town were not ware thereof.
Then the prince, the duke of Lancaster, the earl of Cambridge, the earl of Pembroke, sir Guichard d'Angle and all the other with their companies entered into the ci , and all other foot-men, readv apparelled to do evil, and to pill and rob the city, and to stay men, women and children, for so it was commanded them to do. It was great pity to see the men, women and children that kneeled down on their knees before the prince for mercy; but he was so inflamed with ire, that he took no heed to them, so that none was heared, but all put to death, as they were met withal, and such as were nothing culpable. There was no pity take of the poor people, who wrought never no manner of treason, yet they bought it dearer than the great personages, such as had done the evil and trespass. There was not so hard a heart within the city of Limoges, an if he had anv remembrance of God, but that wept piteously for the great mischief that they saw before their even: for more than three thousand men, women and children were slain and beheaded that day, God have mercy on their souls, for I trow they were martyrs.
From G. C. Macauly, ed., The Chronicles of Froissart, Lord Berners, trans. (London:
Macmillan and Co., 1904), pp. 104-105, - battle of Crecy, pp. 128-131. - the batttle of Poitiers, p. 201 - ravages
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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996