Post-classical history


Charles the Wise 1360-1380


Ah, France, why shouldst thou be thus obstinate Against the kind embracement of thy friends?

The Raigne of King Edward III

Merde pour le Roy d’Angleterre

Song of the Hundred Years War

The reign of Charles V is the story of the defeat of Edward III and the Black Prince. The English lost everything they had gained at Brétigny, though they retained Guyenne and Calais. For the first time the Plantagenets faced an enemy who was their superior.

Charles was one of the truly great French rulers. In appearance he was unprepossessing with a thin, bony face, which however had a certain wry humour. (For some years the Louvre metro was graced by a copy of a contemporary statue of Charles V in the guise of St Louis, portraying a man of considerable charm.) He had a wretchedly frail physique, being afflicted by ulcers and a poor circulation and debilitated by an undiagnosed disease which frequently sent him exhausted to his bed. Even had he wanted, he could never have been a man of action. In fact he was both pious and bookish with a keen interest in theology and history, a genuine intellectual of his time who amassed a library of nearly 1,200 chained books in a tower of the Louvre. Indeed the name Carolus Sapiensbestowed on him by chroniclers meant Charles the Erudite rather than the Wise. Although no less magnificent and grandiose in his concept of kingship than his father—he held a surprisingly splendid court—Charles V’s unusual talents combined to give him a curiously legal approach to matters of state; he had all the lawyer’s passion for correct procedure and care for detail.

The new King of France was not at first ready to confront the English or to overthrow the Brétigny settlement, which had at least bought him time. He had first to deal with four other problems—the war in Brittany, the King of Navarre, the Flemish succession, and the Free Companies (routiers).

After twenty years of bloody warfare the Montfort and Blois factions were still fighting for the Duchy of Brittany, a situation which the English continued to exploit with their accustomed rapacity. Duke John IV had returned to the land of his ancestors in 1362 and in September 1364 (under the able direction of Sir John Chandos and Sir Hugh Calveley) finally defeated and killed his rival, Charles of Blois, at Auray. Though the French candidate had lost, there was now at least peace and a stable situation, and Duke John paid homage to King Charles in 1365.

The King of Navarre was altogether a more serious matter, as his lands near Paris enabled him to blockade the capital. At the beginning of 1364 he had again risen in revolt, enraged by King John’s bestowal of the Duchy of Burgundy on his son Philip; Navarre had been deprived of yet another inheritance, for his claim to Burgundy through his grandmother was better than that of his Valois cousins. He raised his followers in Normandy and recruited men from the Free Companies together with Gascon mercenaries under the redoubtable Captal de Buch. However, the latter’s forces were completely routed at Cocherel in May 1364 and the French then thrust deep into Normandy, overrunning the Navarrese strongholds. Charles the Bad made peace the following year and surrendered all his estates near Paris. Henceforward, although still an irreconcilable enemy, he was no longer a real danger.

Flanders once again was threatening to fall under English control. Count Louis had decided that Margaret, his daughter and heiress, should marry an English prince, Edmund, Earl of Cambridge; and King Edward offered to endow his son with all his possessions in northern France. Charles V, much alarmed, managed to obtain a Papal ban on the projected marriage, on grounds of consanguinity; after years of diplomatic manoeuvre the French King finally succeeded in obtaining Margaret’s hand for his brother, Philip of Burgundy. If later the Valois were to regret bitterly this union of two vast fiefs, it was at least better than the establishment of a northern Guyenne.

The routiers of the Free Companies were the most difficult problem of all. There were so many of them, veteran soldiers who were unwilling to return to a life of poverty or even serfdom. Often they had served under the Black Prince and had taken to living off the country after being discharged. So professional were they that every company had a proper command structure with a staff which included secretaries and butiniers to collect and share out the loot; some had their own uniform, like the bandes blanches of the terrible Archpriest Arnaud de Cervole. Among them were Bretons, Spaniards, even Germans, and of course Englishmen, but the majority were Gascons. However, most of the captains were English, like Sir John Hawkwood, Sir Robert Knollys, Sir Hugh Calveley, Sir John Cresswell, and many more.

The routiers ‘wasted all the country without cause, and robbed without sparing all that ever they could get, and violated and defiled women, old and young, without pity, and slew men, women and children without mercy’. Captives were tortured as a matter of routine, in the hope that they might reveal hoards of treasure, or even just grain. The routiers’ lives were as uncertain as they were violent ; the Archpriest amassed a fortune but was lynched by his own troops, while a Gascon captain, Seguin de Badefol, accustomed to returning to Guyenne ‘with great pillage and treasure’, was poisoned by the King of Navarre for foolishly asking for arrears of pay. English captains seem to have been luckier though they were quite as rapacious, with a taste for monasteries with good cellars ; Sir John Harleston is said to have given a party to his routiers at which they drank out of a hundred chalices looted from the churches of Champagne. Significantly the French called all men of the Free Companies English, whatever their origin—Philippe de Mézières said that such Englishmen were the scourge of God.

Routiers were much in evidence after Brétigny, ‘Englishmen, Gascons and Almains, who said they must needs live’ and refused to evacuate the fortresses from which they levied their protection rackets, moving on and seizing new castles when an area had been milked dry. They were simply practising those English inventions, the chevauchée and the pâtis. The companies became still more dangerous when they formed themselves into bigger units—the Grand Companies, in which they were grouped by nationality inroutes. In 1361 I a Grand Company rode down the Rhône valley to Avignon and more or less held the Pope to ransom, while another peculiarly vicious band, the Tard-Venus or ‘Late-comers’ terrorized Lyons. In 1363, at Brignais, the Archpriest defeated a large army under the Duke of Bourbon, who died of his wounds.

Charles had neither the troops nor the money to exterminate these pests. Time and again local authorities had to buy them off. The King did at least try and persuade them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. He employed an obscure little Breton hedge-squire, the Sieur Bertrand du Guesclin, who had himself ridden with the routiers, to talk them into going on Crusade to help the Hungarians who were threatened by the Turks, but the plan failed. A golden opportunity came in 1365 when the Castilian pretender, Henry of Trastámara, asked Charles for help against his half-brother King Pedro the Cruel. A delighted Charles sent du Guesclin over the Pyrenees with every routier he could find. They met with gratifying success, establishing Henry on the throne of Castile, but two years later he was defeated at Nájera by the Black Prince and the routiers poured back into France.

Pedro the Cruel had sought the help of the Prince of Aquitaine as a fellow Biscayan ruler, offering lavish payment and the province of Guipuzcoa. The Prince responded enthusiastically, leading an army of English, Guyennois, Navarrese, exiled Castilians and ‘rutters’—the contemporary English term for routiers-down to the Ebro where on 2April 1367 he won his crushing victory at Najera—‘a marvellous dangerous battle and many a man slain and sore hurt’—and restored Pedro to his throne. It was more than just a chivalrous adventure: a friendly Castile would not allow France to use Castilian galleys against England. Unfortunately, true to his knight-errant’s code, the Prince refused to hand over to Pedro the key men of the Trastámara faction whom he had captured, and in 1369 Pedro was again overthrown and killed by his half-brother, who understandably was no friend to the English. Worst of all, Pedro had been unable to pay the Black Prince the 600,000 florins he had promised him and on which the latter was counting to pay for the campaign ; his principality would now have to foot the bill. (Prince Edward’s sole tangible gain was a great ‘ruby’—actually a garnet-once the property of the Sultan of Granada and still a famous English Crown Jewel.)

From the beginning the Black Prince’s reign in Aquitaine had not been altogether happy. He and his Princess held great state at Bordeaux and at Angouleme—‘so great, that in all Christendom was none like’. (He had made a love match in 1361 with his beautiful Plantagenet cousin, Joan of Kent, who was over thirty, twice married-one husband was still alive-and penniless. An annulment had been obtained from the Pope.) While an ecstatic Chandos herald might write that at Prince Edward’s court ‘there abode all nobleness, all joy and jollity, largesse, gentleness and honour, and all his subjects and all men loved him right dearly’, there was considerable local grumbling. Too many Englishmen had followed the Prince to Aquitaine and too many were given the best jobs. The Guyennois disliked having an energetic ruler of ‘si hauteyn et de si graunt port’ on the spot instead of far away over the sea, and were irritated by administrative reforms and a vastly increased bureaucracy. For the Guyennois the new administration took away the whole charm of English rule, which had been that they were left in peace. Worst of all were the new taxes. The Prince’s stately court, his feasting and his jousting, had to be paid for and three years running (in 1364, 1365 and 1366) he imposed a ferocious fouage or hearth tax throughout his domain. When King Pedro could not pay him he demanded yet another fouage, for five years. The English Chancellor of Aquitaine, John Harewell, persuaded most of the Aquitainian lords to agree to it at an assembly at Niort, though they did so with the utmost reluctance. Chandos warned the Prince to drop it but he would not, so Sir John retired to his Norman estates. Not only in the new territories but in the heart of English Guyenne men thought of transferring their allegiance.

In 1368 some of the highest lords of Guyenne, led by the Count of Armagnac (who in any case was on bad terms with the Prince) and Armand-Amanieu of Albret, refused to allow the hearth tax to be levied on their lands. Armagnac and Albret, who were in Paris for the latter’s wedding to the French King’s sister, suddenly decided to appeal to Charles V against the Prince’s excessive taxation. To allow their appeal would be to claim sovereignty over Aquitaine, a clear violation of the Treaty of Brétigny. But the French had never formally renounced suzerainty. Charles, who possessed such a taste for the law that Edward III sneered he was no better than a lawyer, at once realized that by a shrewd use of legal processes he could undermine the entire English position in France.

King Charles had been preparing for war for a long time. He had retained and extended the harsh consumer taxes—the aide, taille and gabelle-imposed for his father’s ransom, and while he still owed nearly half of the ransom, his war treasurers were seeing that his troops were paid more regularly than hitherto. No more ransom money was sent to the English, and the income from special taxes was ten times that from the irregular war taxation which the English Parliament allowed Edward III. Over a number of years the French King issued imaginative edicts dealing with military matters, and eventually he had a permanent force—it can hardly be called a standing army—of 3,000—6,000 men-at-arms and 800 crossbowmen, paid for by the new revenues. There were also attempts to impose a primitive command structure; men-at-arms were grouped in companies of a hundred under captains, who in turn were under lieutenants and marshals. The machinery of muster and review which controlled soldiers’ pay was tightened up to stop commanders claiming money for non-existent troops. Townsmen were ordered to practise archery so that they could help in defending their own walls, while château owners were commanded to keep their fortifications in good repair, the castles being regularly inspected and their lords being given money to maintain proper garrisons. Some frontier châteaux were taken over by the King and those which were indefensible were demolished. The arsenal at the Louvre was restocked. New warships were laid down in the Clos des Galées at Rouen.

Although he never once went on campaign, Charles masterminded all military operations throughout his reign. His strategy was a combination of scorched earth and guerrilla raids, and his troops were forbidden to engage in full-scale battle with the English. He recruited new commanders, obscure men who had proved themselves as captains of frontier garrisons or as routiers. He wanted guerrilla leaders, not paladins. Soon he had a formidable band-Olivier de Clisson, Boucicault, Amaury de Craon, the Bègue de Vilaines, the Admiral Jean de Vienne and, above all, Bertrand du Guesclin whom he made Constable of France.

Nothing shows Charles’s resourcefulness more than his use of du Guesclin. Perroy considers him to have been ‘incapable of winning a battle or of being successful in a siege of any scope, just good enough to put new life into pillaging routiers who recognized their master in him, swollen with self-importance’. This is not quite fair. Admittedly du Guesclin was a rotten general, but in the end he learnt to understand his King’s Fabian tactics, recognizing that there was no other way of defeating the English combination of archers and dismounted men-at-arms in a direct confrontation. He became a commander who, if he could not win battles, could win campaigns. Charles deliberately metamorphosed the ugly, ungifted plebeian little man into a folk-hero, ransoming him at exaggerated prices, making him a Count and finally burying him with the Kings of France at Saint-Denis.

Throughout 1368 Charles’s agents collected nearly 900 appeals against the Black Prince in Aquitaine, appeals by magnates and squires, by towns, by bishops and abbots. All this was done in secret, until at the very end of the year the French King announced publicly that he was entitled to receive such appeals. In January 1369 he sent a summons to the Black Prince at Bordeaux to answer them. ‘We command you to come to our city of Paris and there to show and present yourself before us in our chamber of peers.’ The Prince, visibly astonished, shook his head and then glared at the French envoys. ‘Sirs, we will gladly go to Paris,’ he replied grimly, ‘but I assure you that it shall be with helmet on our head and 60,000 men.’ However though Prince Edward might be able to send an army he could not now ride with it; since his Spanish campaign he had suffered from dysentery and mysterious fevers and was now swollen with dropsy—he could only travel by litter. Illness was affecting both his temper and his judgement.

Edward III, shrewder than his son, saw impending disaster and told him to withdraw the hearth tax. The English King implored Charles not to receive appeals from Aquitaine and suggested that both sides make the formal renunciations stipulated ten years earlier at Brétigny. Charles took no notice and sent a letter of formal defiance to King Edward ; it was delivered—so Froissart claims—by a scullion, which infuriated him. War was declared in June 1369. In November the French King announced that he had confiscated Aquitaine.

Before the English knew what was happening the French had also overrun Abbeville and the county of Ponthieu. Fighting broke out in Pérrigord, in Quercy and in the Agenais, while all the Rouergue was lost. At the end of 1369 the English suffered a truly disastrous casualty; the Prince had hastily recalled Sir John Chandos, who returned to be killed at an obscure siege on New Year’s Eve. Even his enemies mourned him—Charles V said that had Chandos lived he would have found a way of making a lasting peace.

The English resorted to old, tried tactics. King Edward’s third son John of Gaunt—now Duke of Lancaster-led a chevauchée into Normandy in midsummer 1369, before the harvest. It was indistinguishable from a Grand Company’s campaign as the English government was too short of money to pay the troops properly and made arrangements to pay them out of booty, appointing special receivers for the purpose. Indeed many of Gaunt’s men were routiers, together with large numbers of the worst criminals in England who had been promised pardons. The following year Sir Robert Knollys-who had once boasted that he fought neither for the King of England nor for the King of France, but for himself-was actually put in command of another and larger chevauchée. Many English lords in the army were horrified at having to serve under ‘the old bandit’ [vetus vispilio] and went off on their own. Sir Robert struck boldly into the Ile de France devastating the country up to the very gates of Paris ; King Charles could see the smoke going up from burning villages at his palace, the Hôtel de Saint-Pol, but would not let his troops offer battle. Eventually, as in 1360, the English left in disgust.

Generally the French refused to fight a pitched battle even when odds were in their favour. The Constable’s tactics were those of raid, ambush, night attack and general harassment. He concentrated on isolated towns and fortresses where garrisons were small, savaging foraging parties and wagon-trains, cutting communications, and wearing down enemy morale by constant surprises. At sieges he offered good terms and even money to bring about a quick surrender, and he kept his word. His overall strategy was to encourage the French of Aquitaine to rise and he used persuasion, bribery and threats to make them do so. If they were frightened of English reprisals, he told them to stay behind their walls till the English had gone, emerging only to attack stragglers, and he promised them armed assistance.

One town which found such tactics less than successful was Limoges which, led by its Bishop, Jehan de Cros, turned against the English in 1370. The Black Prince was particularly angry because he had thought that the Bishop, who was his son’s godfather, was a friend, and swore ‘by his father’s soul’ that he would make the people of Limoges pay dearly. For an entire October the English mined the walls. (A medieval siege-mine was a tunnel beneath the foundations which was supported by wooden props ; when it was ready the props were fired, to bring the wall above crashing down.) The defenders counter-mined without success, and the attackers’ mine suddenly demolished a large section of the wall, the rubble filling the moat. The English poured into the town before the garrison realized that a breach had been made. Prince Edward was carried in on his litter, ordering his men to give no quarter. ‘It was great pity to see the men, women and children kneel down on their knees before the Prince for mercy, but he was so inflamed with ire that he took no heed to them.’ More than 3,000 civilians were massacred. The three leaders of the garrison survived, but only because they found themselves in single combat with John of Gaunt, his brother Cambridge and the Earl of Pembroke who accepted their surrender. Gaunt also saved the Bishop’s life. But the fate of Limoges did not deter other towns from rising against the English.

The siege was almost the Black Prince’s last campaign ‘for always his sickness increased’. He was also demoralized by the death of his eldest son. On the advice of his surgeon the Prince returned to England in January 1371, leaving John of Gaunt in charge. At home he recovered a little and next year sailed on an expedition, but was blown back by bad weather. In October 1372 he finally resigned his Principality of Aquitaine, retiring to his castle at Berkhamsted where, apart from a few rare public appearances, he spent his time as a bedridden invalid. The ‘flower of the chivalry of England’ died in April 1376. His monument may still be seen at Canterbury Cathedral—he wears armour and is much as he must have appeared at Poitiers. He left a remarkable legend. Shakespeare wrote of him, in King Richard II :

In war, was never lion rag’d more fierce,
In peace was never gentle lamb more mild,
Than was that young and princely gentleman.

England’s new royal paladin was John of Gaunt—John, King of Castile and Duke of Lancaster to give him his full style and titles. He was probably the mightiest subject England has ever seen. The Duchy of Lancaster was an independent palatinate within whose boundaries the King’s writ did not run. In addition Gaunt possessed countless rich estates and properties throughout England, ranging from a vast sheep ranch in the Peak District to his splendid palace of the Savoy just outside the City. His revenues and his retinue were scarcely surpassed by those of his father. Moreover, as the husband of Pedro the Cruel’s daughter he was rightful King of Castile. Yet although vigorous and ambitious, he was not of the same stuff as his father and eldest brother and turned out a curiously ineffectual figure-not a man to roll back the French advance.

King Charles’s reconquest had continued. Although the Mayor of Poitiers supported the English, its people opened the gates to du Guesclin in 1372 and the rest of Poitou soon followed its capital. In June the same year, off La Rochelle, a Castilian fleet defeated an English fleet under the Earl of Pembroke—the new Governor of Aquitaine—sending the ship carrying his troops’ pay to the bottom and taking the Earl back to Spain as a prisoner. In consequence the Mayor of La Rochelle overpowered the English garrison and admitted du Guesclin. The Constable also took Usson in the Auvergne, while the whole of the Angoumois and the Saintonge went over to the French. There were not enough English troops to provide adequate garrisons and the enemy seemed to be everywhere. The English strongholds in Normandy and Brittany were falling and even Guernsey was invaded by a French force under Evan of Wales (a member of the former ruling family of Gwynedd).

King Edward, old, wifeless, in the hands of a greedy mistress—Alice Perrers—and possibly drinking too much, made a final effort. At the end of August 1372 a fleet of 400 ships carrying 4,000 men-at-arms, 10,000 archers and the ailing Black Prince left Sandwich, the King on board theGrace-Dieu. For six weeks the English armada sailed into contrary winds, beaten and buffeted and blown off course time and again, until the sailors despaired and put back to port. The abortive expedition cost the enormous sum of £900,000. ‘God and St George help us !’ cried old Edward. ‘There was never so evil a King in France as there is now, nor ever one who gave me such trouble.’

The following year the Archbishop of Canterbury asked for prayers for another chevauchée, which was the only answer the English had to the new French tactics. In midsummer 1373 John of Gaunt led 3,000 men-at-arms and 8,000 archers out of Calais on one of the most daring raids of this sort, going through Picardy, Champagne, Burgundy, the Bourbonnais, the Auvergne and the Limousin, cutting a hideous swath of fire and destruction down central France. After a terrible passage through the mountains of the Auvergne in the depths of winter, Gaunt reached Bordeaux and safety with 6,000 starving troops, having lost most of the rest and all his horses from cold and hunger. It was a brilliant feat—he had covered over 600 miles in five months-but he had not succeeded in capturing a single town or found anyone to fight him.

By the end of 1373 Aquitaine no longer existed. Even Guyenne was diminished ; during the year the Duke of Anjou had taken Bazas on the English side of the Garonne, and even La Réole, the key to Bordeaux. The d’Albret, ancient vassals of the Plantagenets, had gone over to the Valois, driving a salient into the duchy which was now smaller than when Edward III had begun the war in 1337. Furthermore, most of Brittany had been occupied by the French, including every English stronghold, and its Duke had had to take refuge in England. In the north only Calais and a garrison in Normandy held out.

But by 1374 both sides were growing weary, especially in Aquitaine. Edward III was drink-sodden and used up, an old man with a long white beard. For these last years of the reign John of Gaunt stood behind the throne, but his ministers were unpopular and he himself seems to have been incapable of organizing a concerted war effort—there was no overall strategy as in the 1340s or 1350s. The treasury was empty ; even before the War had recommenced in 1369 the vast sums paid for King John’s ransom had been spent, while the English economy—and therefore royal revenues-had not recovered from the Black Death. Chevauchées and all the tactics once so successful had failed totally. Gaunt, still recovering from his unpleasant experiences in the Auvergne mountains, was only too ready for a truce. From this year on, on the other hand, Charles V’s health grew progressively worse, gout being added to all his other afflictions. The Constable du Guesclin saw little hope of overrunning the heart of Guyenne. In January 1374 at Perigueux, he and Gaunt agreed to a truce covering all Aquitaine. In June 1375 a further truce was negotiated, to last for two years and covering not merely Aquitaine but all France. Pope Gregory XI, a Limousin from a province which had suffered severely, did his best to secure a lasting peace. From 1375-1377 a surprisingly modern-sounding peace conference sat permanently at Bruges, with Cardinals as negotiators and attended by both Gaunt and the Duke of Burgundy. A territorial compromise was reached, but neither side would give way on the old question of the sovereignty of Guyenne. Even so, the Duke of Burgundy gave a banquet for the participants when the conference ended.

On 21 June 1377 King Edward III died at the notable—for the time-old age of sixty-five. Sadly, on account of that most unpopular of mistresses, Alice Perrers, he was little mourned by his subjects although he had been a great King. However Charles V, who if no knight-errant did not lack chivalry, pronounced that Edward was worthy to rank with the world’s greatest heroes and said ‘how nobly and valiantly he had reigned’. He summoned the lords of France to attend a requiem for the English King at the Sainte-Chapelle. Edward was succeeded by the Black Prince’s ten-year-old son, Richard of Bordeaux.

Nevertheless the war began in June 1377, and this time took a new turn. While only five English ‘King’s Ships’ were still operating, the French had been steadily building up their navy at the Clos des Galées ; by the late 1370s they had at least twenty-five galleys. The English had to hire Genoese warships, though they were able to obtain oared sailing-barges known as ‘balingers’ from the Cinque Ports. What made the French naval effort so formidable was their excellent Admiral, Jean de Vienne, whose aim was to control the Channel and prevent English reinforcements reaching Guyenne and Brittany. The same month that King Edward died nearly fifty ships carrying 4,000 troops crossed the Channel. Rye was sacked, after which the French penetrated as far inland as Lewes which they burnt ; they then sailed on to burn Plymouth. In August they returned and burnt Hastings, but were beaten off at Southampton and Poole. Pinpricks by comparison with what had been done in France, such raids caused uproar in England. But though there were further raids-Winchelsea and Gravesend suf fered in 1380—these hit-and-run tactics failed to cut England’s sea communications which were buttressed by a string of fortresses on the French coast from Calais to Bayonne.

Also in 1377 the Duke of Anjou and the Constable again invaded Guyenne. The Seneschal, Sir Thomas Felton, was defeated and taken prisoner at Eymet in September, and Bergerac fell. But the Guyennois held firm, staying loyal to the Plantagenets. It is illuminating to remember Froissart’s considered opinion of the ‘Gascons’ : ‘ils ne sont point estables’ —not a stable people, but preferring the English to the French and inclined to think that the English would always win. Indeed the Captal de Buch KG, that doughty squire from the sandy Landes, preferred to die in captivity rather than transfer his allegiance, although he was offered large sums of money. In 1379 a really capable Lieutenant arrived at Bordeaux, Lord Neville of Raby KG, from County Durham, who took the offensive, raiding in the style of the French Constable and sailing up the Gironde to recapture Mortagne. He is said to have retaken over eighty towns, fortresses and castles during his lieutenancy which lasted hardly more than a year.

The French were being contained on other fronts too. Although they had conquered Brittany they failed to take the port of Brest, which was relieved by a fleet under the Earl of Buckingham (Edward III’s youngest son, the future Duke of Gloucester). Then King Charles made the mistake of trying to confiscate Brittany from Duke John in the way that he had confiscated Aquitaine. The Bretons rallied en masse to their Duke-they had no desire to be united to the kingdom of France. Accompanied by Sir Robert Knollys, John returned to be received with joy, and he speedily recovered the west, eventually regaining the whole of his duchy. He ceded Brest to his English allies.

From Calais in 1377 the Deputy Sir Hugh Calveley raided Boulogne, burning ships and plundering. When the fortress of Marke in the Calais march fell to the French he retook it the same day. In 1378 the King of Navarre returned to the scene: he seems to have offered John of Gaunt the County of Evreux in return for the hand of his daughter Catherine. He also had an interesting scheme for poisoning Charles V (he was credited with having recently rid himself of an irritating cardinal by this method), a plot which was discovered when two of his agents were arrested. The Constable at once invaded Navarre’s last possessions in Normandy. But before fleeing to his Pyrenean kingdom, Charles the Bad managed to sell Cherbourg to the English, who rushed in a garrison.

In Normandy, Brittany and the Pas-de-Calais the ordinary people had continued to suffer from English garrisons. In 1371 1 that of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte in the Contentin held 263 parishes in thrall, extracting over £13 from each. The English were greedier in Brittany; at Brest in 1384 they were to mulct every one of 160 parishes of nearly £40, and they had been equally rapacious at Vannes, Ploermel and Becherel. During the peace which followed Brétigny, and in the midst of all the reverses of the French reconquest, English troops, as well as blackmailing miserable peasants, also contrived to make a fat profit from ransoms. Sometimes enormous sums were realized. In 1365 Sir Matthew Gurney obtained nearly £5,000 for Jean de Laval, and in 1375 Lord Basset of Drayton got £2,000 for a prisoner. There were other ways in which a soldier might make money in addition to ransoms and loot. In 1375 the English garrison at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte were paid £9,000 to surrender their fortress and march off peacefully. (Cherbourg replaced Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte as the scourge of Normandy.)

So long as men gave good service to the English King’s armies, the most deplorable conduct was tolerated. Sir Robert Knollys, said by Jean le Bel to have been one of the first routiers, was the principal captain of the Grand Company in 1358 and made 100,000 gold crowns (nearly £17,000) during that one year alone, when he controlled forty castles in the Loire valley-where the peasants were credited with throwing themselves into the river out of terror at the mere mention of his name-sacked the suburbs of Orleans, and threatened the Pope himself at Avignon. Charred gables were called ‘Knollys’s mitres’. Yet Edward III was so pleased with the damage inflicted by Sir Robert on the French that he gave him an official pardon. Later he became one of the King’s principal generals, leading as has been seen the chevauchée of 1370 and acting as chief-of-staff in another in 1380. (In 1370 he was paid the princely sum of 8s per day, or £146 a year.) Sir Robert amassed ‘regal wealth’ and built a palatial house in London as well as buying rich estates. He died full of years and honour in 1407. Even Sir John Chandos’s respected friend, Sir Hugh Calveley, led 2,000routiers to ravage Armagnac in the late 1360s ; like Knollys, who was his half-brother, Calveley had to seek pardon for felony. Later he was Deputy Lieutenant of Calais and then Governor of Brest.

In 1376 the Commons petitioned the King to give a pardon like that of Knollys’ to Sir Nicholas Hawkwood, who was the most famous of all the ‘rutters’. The son of an Essex tanner and said to have been a London tailor in his youth, Hawkwood was pressed into Edward’s army as an ordinary archer, but by 1360 he was leading the Tard-Venus to blackmail the Pope. Two years later he took the notorious White Company over the Alps, to begin a long and glorious career as a condottiere in Italy; he ended with a bastard Visconti for his bride and a pension of over 3,000 gold ducats from the Florentine Republic.

Another instance of social mobility was that of a certain bondsman of Saul in Norfolk. Conscripted by the commissioners of array in the 1340s to serve in Brittany, by 1373 he was Sir Robert Salle, captain of the fortress of Marck near Calais ; he had been knighted by King Edward and his courage was admired even by the snobbish Froissart, though his end was far from prosperous. In 1381 he was murdered in his home county by envious peasants. (A chronicler calls Sir Robert ‘a hardy and vigorous knight ... but a great thief and brawler’.)

The War was long remembered as a time to rise in the world. The fifteenth-century herald, Nicholas Upton, wrote that ‘in those days we saw many poor men serving in the wars of France ennobled’. Other serfs besides Robert Salle may have become gentlemen of coat-armour. Moreover as some gentry families were killed off there was room for new men to rise up and take their places.


Many great houses were paid for by booty won in France. Cooling Castle in Kent was built out of such resources by Lord Cobham in 1374, as was Bodiam in Sussex by Sir Edward Dallingridge (Captain of Brest in 1388), and probably Bolton in Yorkshire, which cost Sir Richard Scrope, a noted captain in the War, £120,000 and took eighteen years to complete. Soldiers anxious for their salvation founded religious establishments out of their ill-gotten gains, like the church at Pontefract endowed by Sir Robert Knollys, and Sir Walter Manny’s Charterhouse in London.

The English armies had earned their country a bad name, particularly the rank and file. Froissart-who, it must be remembered, was not a Frenchman but what today we would call a Belgian-considered the English ‘men of a haughty disposition, hot tempered and quickly moved to anger, difficult to pacify and to bring to sweet reason. They take delight in battles and slaughter. They are extremely covetous of the possessions of others, and are incapable by nature of joining in friendship or alliance with a foreign nation. There are no more untrustworthy people under the sun than the middle classes in England.’ However ‘the gentlefolk are upright and loyal by nature, while the ordinary people are cruel, perfidious and disloyal . . . they will not allow them [the upper classes] to have anything—even an egg or a chicken—without paying for it.’

But in war the English nobility showed themselves no less avaricious than their inferiors. It was not only the adventurers who made fortunes, as has been seen. So did-in the words of their inspired historian, the late K. B. McFarlane- ‘that maligned body of far-from-average men, the landed aristocracy of medieval England’. The same writer claims that ‘there is no truth in the theory that the aristocracy

A knight of the Dallingridge family and his wife, c. 1390. This is probably Sir Edward Dallingridge, Captain of Brest in 1388, who built Bodiam. (From a brass at Fletching, Sussex)

started the war and left the mercenaries to finish it off‘, listing a host of noblemen who played a crucial part and in consequence amassed huge sums of money. In the Good Parliament of 1375 William Lord Latimer KG (who had fought at Crécy) was accused of having made £83,000 out of his captaincy of Bécherel-he undoubtedly managed to buy twelve English manors to add to his estates. Richard Fitzalan KG, Earl of Arundel and Surrey—popularly known as ‘Copped Hat’—left £60,000 in coin and bullion alone when he died in 1376 ; he was both an imaginative investor and a money-lender on a large scale, though in the view of McFarlane (the leading authority on the medieval English nobility) the original source of Arundel’s wealth was almost certainly the War. The Beauchamp Earls of Warwick were another noble family which did well out of the fourteenth-century campaigns in France, as did the great house of Stafford. Royal rewards for service in the field enabled the Cobhams to enter the peerage. Everyone, adventurer or magnate, routier or pressed archer, had good reason to keep the War going.

Here one should emphasize that, although everyone had hopes, not every soldier actually made a fortune out of the Hundred Years War. At the Count of Foix’s castle at Orthez ‘a squire of Gascony called the Bascot of Mauléon, a man of fifty years of age, an expert man of arms’ was only too keen to tell Froissart his story while they sat by the fire waiting for midnight and for the Count to begin supper. The Bascot (Bastard) was a by-blow of a family of petty nobles and had had to support himself entirely by soldiering. ‘The first time I bore arms was under the Captal de Buch at the battle of Poitiers,’ said the Bascot. ‘I had that day three prisoners, a knight and two squires, of whom I had one with another 400,000 francs.’ He then went to Prussia to fight at the side of the Teutonic Knights, returning to put down the jacquerie ; and he was with King Edward during the Rheims campaign. After Brétigny he became Captain of a Free Company, riding with Hawkwood to Avignon to demand money from the Pope. He was in Brittany under Sir Hugh Calveley, taking prisoners at the battle of Auray ‘by whom I had 2,000 francs‘, and he accompanied the Black Prince to Spain. During the renewed war between France and England he kept the main chance in mind, capturing a castle near Albi which had since been worth ‘100,000 francs’ to him (presumably by extorting money from the surrounding countryside), though ‘I abide still good English and shall do while I live’. Yet although the Bascot travelled ‘as though he had been a great baron’ and ate off silver, he admitted he had known ‘as much loss as profit‘, that at times he had been so miserably poor—’so overthrown and pulled down’—that he could not afford even a horse. For all his campaigns and silver plate, he was ending as a mere household man of the Count of Foix. Many English men-at-arms must have been disappointed in the same way.

In 1378 a new Pope was elected, the Italian Urban VI. The Papacy had returned to Rome in 1369 and Urban decided upon radical reforms which would diminish French influence. A group of cardinals were so alarmed that they declared Urban’s election invalid and chose another Pontiff, Clement VII. Charles was delighted and invited Clement to reinstall the Papacy at Avignon. Western Christendom was to be divided by the Great Schism for nearly half a century. Only the Scots and the Neapolitans joined the French in recognizing Clement, most countries trying to remain neutral. Naturally the English gave Urban enthusiastic support. Hitherto the Papacy had played a most valuable part in negotiating truces and attempting to make peace-now there was no international body to perform this work of mediation.

Charles V, iller than ever and approaching the end of his painful life, was so worn out and so depressed by his recent lack of success that he sued for peace. He offered the English all Aquitaine south of the Dordogne, together with Angouleme and a marriage between his daughter and Richard II ; the project collapsed when one of Urban’s cardinals arranged another match for the young English King. The French were increasingly restive under Charles’s ferocious taxation, which was essential for the war effort. There were revolts in Languedoc during which tax collectors were lynched. The risings were crushed but the King’s nerve was shaken and he abolished the most important levy, the hearth tax, thereby seriously diminishing the regular revenue which was vital for war.


Seal of the Black Prince after the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360, when the English ruled a third of France. The inscription reads: ‘Seal of Edward, the King of England’s eldest son, Prince of Aquitaine and Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester.’

The English were nothing if not persevering. The Earl of Arundel, Marshal of the West, attacked Harfleur at Whitsun 1378, but met with such a warm reception that he had to beat a hasty retreat back to his ships. The same year he and Gaunt besieged Saint-Malo with no better success. In July 1380 the Earl’s brother, Sir John Arundel who was Marshal of England, led a nasty little raid on Brittany which demonstrated both the savagery of the English and their self righteous hatred of the Pope at Avignon. His troops stormed a convent and raped and tortured the nuns, carrying off some of the unfortunate women to amuse them for the rest of the raid. God, however, does not seem to have appreciated this fine theological distinction between schismatic and orthodox nuns, and a terrible storm sent Sir John to the bottom on the way home, with twenty ships and a thousand men. Only Sir Hugh Calveley and seven others were washed ashore alive.

In the same month the Earl of Buckingham and Sir Robert Knollys marched out of Calais on yet another chevauchée. They made for Brittany by a circular route which went through the Beauce and Vendôme before linking up with Duke John’s troops at Rennes. They did the usual fearful damage without being offered battle, and achieved nothing.

It was also in July 1380 that Bertrand du Guesclin fell ill and died while he was besieging a castle in the Auvergne. His master survived him less than three months, dying on 16 September at Vincennes from a heart attack. He was only forty-three. Yet even though he had failed to drive the English out of his country, Charles V had won back the greater part of that which had been conquered by Edward III.

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