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The Greatest Knights: Edward, the Black Prince

The Greatest Knights: Edward, the Black Prince


He fought his first battle at 16, won a crushing victory eight years later, and became Prince of Aquitaine not long after turning 30. Yet, the peace and plenty to follow proved to be more challenging to the Black Prince than the most ferocious enemy.

Was Edward the Black Prince really a nasty piece of work?

He was the superstar of his age, winning his spurs in battle aged just 16. But the reputation of Edward of Woodstock - or the Black Prince, as he has become known to history - is still the subject of the same type of dispute that rages over the reputations of Richard III and Oliver Cromwell.

A persistent theory runs that Edward's nickname refers to the cruelty he inflicted upon the French during the Hundred Years War - the dynastic struggle for the crown of France.

The blackest stain upon Edward's reputation is the sack of the French town of Limoges in September 1370.

An English possession, it was ruled by Edward as Prince of Aquitaine.

In late summer 1370, the Bishop of Limoges, Johan de Cross - a friend of Edward's and godfather to his son - betrayed the prince and defected to the French. He welcomed a garrison into part of the town, and held it against the English.

According to the chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward was incensed at the news and stormed it. A massacre followed, says Froissart.

"It was a most melancholy business - for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword. Upwards of 3,000 men, women and children were put to death that day."

Despite some academics dismissing Froissart's account, the sack of Limoges has become a well-known aspect of Edward's career to modern schoolchildren and history buffs. In a recent episode of the BBC's QI, host Stephen Fry described how the prince "almost destroyed the entire population of Limoges".

But now, a previously unknown letter written by the prince is shining new light on the controversy.

The letter was discovered by French historian Dr Guilhem Pepin in a Spanish archive.

"The letter was written by the Black Prince three days after the sack of Limoges," says Pepin, who will be presenting his research at the International Medieval Congress conference in Leeds this week.

"He was writing to the great Gascon lord Gaston Febus, Count of Foix, to tell him what had happened."

In the letter, Edward describes how he took several high ranking prisoners in the attack, including the bishop of Limoges and Roger de Beaufort, the brother of Pope Gregory XI.

Crucially, however, Edward refers to the number of prisoners he took in the town. "He specifies that he took 200 knights and men-at-arms prisoner," says Pepin. "When we compare this new evidence with other sources, it becomes very significant."

One source, the Chandos Herald, says there were 300 men garrisoning the town. "We also have a contemporary, local source written at the abbey Saint-Martial of Limoges, which says there were around 300 fatalities in total in the city," says Pepin.

"So, when this evidence is combined, it seems that 100 soldiers and 200 civilians were killed, as opposed to Froissart's claim of 3,000 innocents."

In the medieval world, the death of hundreds of people during the storming of a town was far from unprecedented. But the cold-blooded murder of 3,000 civilians would have been scandalous. Richard the Lionheart's decision to execute a similar number of Saracen prisoners at Acre during the Third Crusade in 1191, for example, has led to him being a controversial figure even in modern times.

It is now clear, though, that Froissart greatly inflated the scale of violence at Limoges, making it seem extraordinarily, excessively cruel. That Froissart's version has stuck is an injustice to Edward, argues Pepin.

"It now seems he doesn't deserve the ɾvil' reputation he has for what happened at Limoges." Froissart's credibility is further undermined by Edward making no reference to a massacre in his letter.

Major Battles

Sluys, 1340

Fought on June 24, 1340, the Battle of Sluys was the first major engagement of the Hundred Years’ War. The clash between the French and English navies ended with the near annihilation of the French fleet and the establishment of English naval superiority for the remainder of the war.

French Naval Dominance

Like most English victories in the early course of the conflict, the victory at Sluys came as a bit of a shock to both sides. Prior to the battle, the French boasted what was widely considered the most powerful navy in Europe. Furthermore, over the previous two years, the French had been conducting a series of raids on coastal English towns virtually unopposed. The towns of Portsmouth and Southampton had been burned and looted by French marines and their Italian allies. By 1340, Edward III of England had had enough and sent a large fleet into the English Channel to put a stop to the raids once and for all.

The French, meanwhile, had been assembling a large fleet of their own, comprised of ships from their own navy and allied vessels from Genoa, with an eye to invading England. A letter King Edward later wrote to his son puts the size of the French fleet at 190 ships. Edward’s own fleet was around the same size, but was bolstered by fifty ships from his Flemish (Belgian) allies. He found the French fleet riding at anchor in an inlet outside the town of Sluys.

The Battle

The French commanders, although advised by their Genoese ally to sail out to meet the English in open waters, remained at anchor, their ships lashed to each other in the standard medieval naval defensive formation.

Edward sailed his ships into the bay and engaged the French in close fighting. His ships were carrying units of archers armed with the longbow, a weapon soon to prove its effectiveness on the field of battle. At Sluys, which was essentially a land engagement fought on the water, it helped carry the day as well. Edward’s letter speaks of the fighting lasting all day and into the night, but by the next morning, the French fleet was in ruins.


Both commanders of the French fleet lost their lives, one during the battle, the other after capture. Many of the sailors in the French fleet were also killed, both in the fighting and by Edward’s Flemish allies while attempting to flee. Medieval chronicles give the French casualties as thirty thousand men lost, but these numbers are unreliable.

It is likely the English suffered heavily as well, for they remained at anchor for several days, neglecting to give chase to the Genoese, who had slipped away towards the end of the battle. Nevertheless, it was a battle well won for Edward. Although the French would occasionally employ Spanish ships in the future, their own navy would never again harass the English Channel or manage the sort of raids that saw Portsmouth and Southampton reduced to ashes.

England would enjoy command of the seas for the remainder of the war, an important foundation for the island nation. For example, the far-flung English province of Gascony, in southwest France with no direct link to other English territories, would have proven almost impossible to hold on to if the French controlled the sea as well as the land surrounding it. This thorn in the side of France would prove instrumental in future campaigns and in the course of the war in general.

More importantly, control of the sea lanes meant England was free to invade France at will and maintain supply lines to its armies on the European continent. After an unsuccessful invasion following on the heels of his victory at Sluys, Edward III would launch an invasion in 1346 that would culminate in the victory at Crécy. The Hundred Years’ War had begun in earnest.

Crécy, 1346

The Battle of Crécy, fought on August 26, 1346, was the first great land battle of the Hundred Years’ War. More importantly, the shocking victory marked the beginning of the end for the age of the heavily armored knight as the preeminent force on the battlefield.

Edward’s Invasion of Normandy

The roots of the battle lie with a five-year truce King Edward III of England had signed with his French foes after failing to take the city of Tournai in Flanders—modern-day Belgium—in an attempt to follow up on his naval victory at Sluys.

The truce had given Edward a chance to devise a new strategy. Although Flanders was geographically closest to England, it lacked a safe base from which to wage a protracted war. Edward decided instead to invade Normandy, once the jewel of English holdings in France.

Launching a one-thousand-ship invasion fleet in 1346, Edward landed in France and immediately besieged the city of Caen, which fell by the end of June. Leaving a garrison at the city, Edward then set out across the hostile French countryside, aware that a large French army led by King Philip VI was paralleling his progress.

The English March Cross-Country

Although Edward had entertained ideas of marching on Paris, he decided instead to march northeast toward Flanders. The army that marched with him constituted a new kind of army, one that was made up primarily of archers armed with the mighty English longbow. Edward’s wars in Scotland had allowed him a chance to refine the tactics of the bow and massed firepower, and he knew that if he was allowed to choose the time and location of battle, he could defeat an army much larger than his.

Several mighty rivers crisscross Northern France, and it was these rivers that posed the biggest threat to Edward’s plans. A race was on to get his troops across the rivers before the French could block every bridge and ford. At Poissy, as a French regiment bore down on them, English engineers barely managed to construct a bridge—only one plank wide—in time to allow troops across the Seine to establish a beachhead, successfully driving off the French.

With the English across the Seine, Paris was now threatened and Philip redoubled his efforts to pin the English down. Every crossing point along the mighty Somme River was guarded, and the French army was hot on Edward’s heels.

Acting on a tip from a local, Edward made a desperate midnight march to the ford of Blanchetaque, which he found guarded, albeit lightly. As the sun rose, the English bowmen laid down a hail of arrows, covering a desperate river crossing. Reaching the far bank, the English drove the French, disorganized and depleted by the arrow fire, back from the river. The English were across the Somme. The French army was right behind them.

The Battle

Edward knew the time had come to give battle, and he chose the town of Crécy as his ground. Occupying the high ground outside of town, Edward deployed his archers, around six thousand in all, in the center and on either flank of his army, which also included up to one hundred primitive cannons. Commanding the right wing of the infantry was the king’s own son, sixteen-year-old Edward, “the Black Prince.” The English were ready for battle.

The French arrived from the south in huge numbers. The size of the French army has been given as anywhere from two times to six times the size of the English, but most likely numbered about forty thousand troops against Edward’s ten thousand. What’s more, a large percentage of the French army was comprised of mounted knights, thought at the time to be nearly unbeatable. As the French arrived on the battlefield, the English, who had been at rest near their battle stations, rose and took up arms. The battle opened with an archery duel as Philip deployed his unit of fifteen thousand Genoese crossbowmen. Things did not bode well from the start, as the medieval chronicler Jean Froissart records:

[The crossbowmen] were quite fatigued, having marched on foot that day six leagues, completely armed, and with their crossbows. They told the constable that they were not in a fit condition to do any great things that day in battle. The earl of Alençon, hearing this, said, “This is what one gets by employing such scoundrels, who fail when there is any need for them.”

It was no contest. The rate of fire of the crossbow was no match for the English longbow. Furthermore, in addition to their fatigue, the Genoese suffered from a lack of pavises, large shields which they could use to shelter behind while reloading. To make matters worse, a rainstorm the night before had soaked their weapons, rendering them even less effective. The English archers, meanwhile, had kept their bowstrings tucked up under their helmets during the storm, safe and dry, ready to be restrung in the morning.

The English arrows fell like rain and the cannons added their own thunder as well. Although these early cannons were not terribly deadly, the casualties they did inflict, along with the noise and smoke they generated, had a further demoralizing effect. As the Genoese faltered, the impetuous French knights, who were so sure of victory that they had predetermined who would capture which English lord, sounded the charge, galloping over their own crossbowmen. The rainstorm had made the ground muddy and the uphill charge soon bogged down. As they made their way up the hill, most of the French knights were unhorsed, their unarmored mounts taken down by the ceaseless arrow storm. Advancing into a barrage of up to thirty thousand arrows a minute, the French died in great numbers. Yet more waves pressed forward, eventually reaching the English lines, exhausted and decimated, only to be driven back by the dismounted English knights.

The English fended off a succession of such wave attacks and, as the sun set, Philip VI, who was himself wounded, sounded a general retreat. He left behind at least a quarter of his army, dead and wounded on the battlefield. Among the dead were eleven princes, including Philip’s brother, as well as the blind King John of Bohemia (1296–1346), who had insisted on being led into battle. As darkness fell, the English peasant-soldiers made their way through the field of French dead, searching for captives who could be ransomed for large sums and killing those knights too wounded to take prisoner. It was a fitting end to a battle that saw the triumph of the lowly archer over the once invincible knight.

Siege of Calais, 1346–1347

The Siege of Calais, begun in 1346, was a direct result of the English victory at Crécy. The city’s eventual fall to the English would give that country an important military and mercantile base on the Continent for the following two hundred years.

The Importance of Calais

Edward III had launched his invasion of Normandy in 1346, taking the city of Caen, then marching on to defeat the French army decisively at Crécy. The French had retreated in complete disarray, shocked and broken after their loss. Edward had a pick of where to point his army and chose to make for the city of Calais on the coast of the English Channel.

Edward’s choice was both strategically and tactically sound. Although he faced no opposition in the open field, his men were running short of supplies. Paris, as well fortified as it was, would be too tough a nut to crack for Edward’s small army. Calais, on the other hand, would provide England with a fine beachhead from which to launch future operations. It was itself a well-defended city that enjoyed brisk trade with the city-states of Flanders, with which England already had an alliance. Lastly, Edward would be able to re-supply his men, even as they settled in for a siege, as Calais is separated from England by a mere twenty-one miles.

The Siege

The siege began in September 1346 and dragged on through the winter. The defenses that made Calais a prime choice for Edward in turn made it difficult to take the city from the French. The English, who bombarded the city walls with primitive cannons and large catapults, ringed in the city but were unable to take it by direct assault. Edward decided to starve out the inhabitants, blockading the port with his navy.

By the summer of 1347, the English army was close to reaching its goal. Food and water supplies in the city were nearly gone. In desperation, the city ejected its children and elderly, but Edward refused to grant them passage through the English lines. They starved to death outside the city walls as the siege dragged on.

Finally, on August 1, the city sent a delegation of six town leaders, shaven headed and wearing nooses around their necks, to meet with Edward and offer surrender. Edward, enraged by the city’s stubborn resistance, ordered the six men hanged, but his wife, Queen Philippa, tearfully begged him to spare the delegates. Edward consented and even granted the rest of the townsfolk safe passage out of the city, an unusually merciful act for the times. Calais was repopulated with English merchants and soldiers and their families.

Philip’s Plot

The French king Philip VI, who had been unable to muster an army during the course of the siege, did not give up on the city entirely. A plot was hatched to bribe the governor of Calais to sell the city out to the French. Word of this plot reached Edward in time, however, and he set out for Calais with a small army.

The French were caught off guard when Edward personally led a charge of his knights out of the town gates and directly into the heart of the attacking French. With the king rode his son, “the Black Prince,” who in the course of fighting, saved Edward’s life when he found himself surrounded by hostile troops—the young prince and his retinue hacked through the enemy lines to reach their king and lead him back to safety.

The French attack was repulsed and Calais remained in English hands. It was to stay that way well beyond the course of the Hundred Years’ War, becoming as English as England itself, even sending representatives to Parliament. It would not return to France until the reign of Mary I (1516–1558) in the sixteenth century.

Poitiers, 1356

The Battle of Poitiers, fought on September 19, 1356, was the high point of English fortunes in the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War and the victory that cemented the international reputation of Edward “the Black Prince.”

Prince Edward’s father, Edward III, had inaugurated the Hundred Years’ War in 1337, winning a major victory at Crécy in 1346. The prince had “won his spurs” at that battle, meaning he had experienced battle and proven his valor.

English Raid in France

Ten years after Crécy, Prince Edward was in command of a raiding force, setting out from the English-held territory of Gascony in the southwest of France. The army, which numbered about seven thousand men including one thousand archers was heading north to meet up with two other English armies, due to march in from the Channel coast.

Unfortunately for Edward, neither of the other two armies had set out as planned. Edward’s men, after marching 260 miles in six weeks, realized they were in the middle of hostile territory with no hope of reinforcement. Worse still, the French army was finally coming after them.

Prince Edward Cornered

Throughout the march, Edward had been trying to draw the French to battle. Despite the small size of his army, Edward was confident of victory, thanks to the tactics the English had perfected at Crécy. By using massed arrow fire supplied by the quick-firing and deadly longbow, the English army had proven that it could defeat a foe many times its size.

However, as Edward marched north towards the Loire River, he found himself less eager to join battle. His troops were low on supplies and tired. The Count of Poitiers had joined forces with his father, King John II of France, and now pursued Edward with a large army. As the French moved south of the English, making camp at the town of Poitiers, Edward found that all crossings over the Loire had been destroyed. He had two choices: surrender or fight. Edward chose to fight.

The French Battle Plan

Although the French had felt the sting of defeat at the hands of English archery, John had reason to believe that would not be the case this time. He had assembled two special units of heavily armored knights riding armored horses, whose job was to charge the flanks of the English army, where the archers were normally deployed. The extra armor would allow the knights to close with the archers, who would then be ridden down, allowing the rest of the French to charge the English infantry and defeat it in close combat.

Edward—due to the small number of troops in his army—deployed his archers in the center, unintentionally foiling John’s plan in the process. When the two French units advanced on the enemy’s wings, they found no archers. Confused, they charged the main body of the English army instead.

The Battle

Although the horses’ heavy armor protected them from the front, English archers were able to pour their arrows into the flanks of the approaching French, breaking up the charge, but nearly running out of arrows in the process. Coming right on the heels of this first charge was a wave of dismounted French knights led by the Dauphin (crown prince) of France. At the sight of this massive army’s approach, English morale faltered. It was a crucial moment. Prince Edward went before his assembled troops and exhorted them to fight—they were not beaten yet, he reminded them. In the desperate minutes before the French assault, archers darted out into the field to retrieve spent arrows from corpses of horses and knights alike. Edward meanwhile sent a small detachment of two hundred cavalry riding out around the French flank. Seeing these troops depart, and mistaking the move for retreat, the English once again despaired. His army on the brink of disintegration, Edward ordered a general charge.

With a cry of “St. George!” (England’s patron saint), the entire English force rushed at the startled French, the archers firing the last of their arrows, then drawing their hand weapons and joining in. The sudden attack forced the French back, and general panic broke out when Edward’s cavalry detachment appeared behind French lines, cutting off retreat. The French army fell into a general panic and routed off the field. King John II and his entourage were taken prisoner, and many more French nobles died. In total 7,500 Frenchmen were killed and two thousand were taken prisoner.

The Lasting Impact of Poitiers

Poitiers marked the final defeat for the French in the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War. Between Crécy and Poitiers, the French nobility had lost more members than were taken during the Black Death. The capture of John resulted in France paying a ruinous ransom equal to twice the country’s yearly national income. In order to raise money for the ransom, many nobles raised taxes to outrageous levels. Leaderless, the French army would cease to be an effective fighting force for the next decade, turning instead to open banditry as the countryside descended into chaos. These factors directly provoked the peasantry to rise in a mass rebellion known as the Jacquerie.

In contrast to the instability quickly descending over France, news of the victory was welcomed in England with a national celebration. The prince was welcomed back to a London whose fountains had been made to flow with wine, as a unit of five hundred “Merry Men” dressed like Robin Hood escorted the captive French King John II. The English joked that the pope might have been French, but their king was the new Jesus. The “miracle” of Poitiers resulted in the English gaining a third of French territory, crippling the French war effort for years to come.

Nájera, 1367

The Battle of Nájera was perhaps the greatest tactical English victory of the Hundred Years’ War. It was also England’s greatest strategic mistake and led directly to a renewal of hostilities in France and the loss of most of the territories gained after the victories at Crécy and Poitiers. Finally, it was during the Nájera campaign that Edward, “the Black Prince,” most likely contracted the disease that would eventually claim his life.

Sideshow Theaters

The Hundred Years’ War, like most major conflicts, could not be contained to a single theater. France’s neighbors soon found themselves acting as puppets to both England and France, who threw their support behind opposing factions in hitherto local conflicts.

After the English victory at Poitiers, France had been forced to sue for peace, ceding nearly a third of its territory in the Treaty of Brétigny. The Treaty put thousands of soldiers “out of work.” Organizing into so-called “free companies,” these mercenary bands caused havoc as they looted and pillaged the countryside. Eventually, they were drawn south to a war between two Spanish kingdoms.

Castile’s Pedro the Cruel (1334–1369) had been making war on Aragon for nearly a decade. With French and Aragonese backing, Pedro’s half-brother Enrique led a mercenary army of free companies to victory, sending Pedro fleeing into neighboring Portugal, where he sent a desperate plea for aid to England’s Prince Edward.

English Intervention

Edward, as commander of all English territories in France, decided to march to Pedro’s aid. The Black Prince sent out a call to arms that was immediately answered by the scattered English and allied-French companies. One English company that had served under Enrique literally had to fight its way out of Castile to meet up with Edward’s army, gathering in the mountain kingdom of Navarre. Once assembled, Prince Edward’s army invaded northern Castile. Edward’s progress was stopped by Enrique’s army, which held the mountainous high ground. The Castilian king’s French advisors, only too aware of English battlefield superiority, advised Enrique to hold his ground.

Edward, unwilling to attack from such an unfavorable position, retreated back into Navarre, then swung south and marched into Castile through territory more suited to open battle. Enrique moved his army south as well, camping at the town of Nájera. Hungry for battle, and ignoring further French advice, he then marched his army across the Najerilla River to engage Edward.

The Battle

The two armies met on April 3, 1367. Enrique’s army was a patchwork of French veterans and Aragonese and Castilian troops. Commanding the center of the army was the Frenchman Bertrand du Guesclin, one of the most famous knights of his day. Both wings of the army were comprised of light cavalry and hordes of peasant levies. Enrique commanded the right flank, his brother Don Tello the left.

The peasant levies gave the Castilians the numerical edge, but the English force was still more than a match. Marching under the leadership of Prince Edward and his brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, as well as their ally, Pedro the Cruel, the army was, like all English armies of the day, amply supplied with the deadly longbow. Nájera marked the first use of the longbow in Spain, and it lived up to its reputation.

The hostilities opened with the centers of both armies locking in battle, a stalemate that would last all day. Victory would be determined by events on the wings of the battle. On the Spanish left, Don Tello fled from the field before the English had even reached his lines. As their flank dissolved, the Spanish center was hit on the side by the English right wing.

Meanwhile, on the English left, Enrique led his troops against a storm of English arrows. The Spanish levies, armed with javelins and slings, were no match, but the Spanish king rallied his troops and charged three times before finally turning away for good. Now the other wing of the English army crashed into the exposed Spanish flank. The French veterans held out as long as they could, but it was a losing fight. As the day came to a close, the English finally took the field.

As Enrique’s center dissolved, the retreat turned into a rout. Many Spaniards, with the English bearing down on them, drowned in their attempts to get across the swift-flowing Najerilla.

A Hollow Victory

After the battle, Enrique fled to Aragon, which promptly turned him over to the English. Pedro the Cruel was restored to the Castilian throne and it appeared that Prince Edward could do no wrong. Nájera was the greatest tactical victory scored by the English in the course of the Hundred Years’ War and notable as the first time in the war that the English had won a victory while attacking rather than defending.

Strategically, however, the English intervention in Spain would prove disastrous. Pedro, living up to his nickname, alienated himself from Edward with his unchivalrous behavior, killing several high-ranking prisoners of war. Furthermore, it soon became clear that he had no intention of repaying any of the war debt he had amassed at Edward’s expense. The Black Prince soon marched back to France in disgust. Within two years of Nájera, Pedro the Cruel would be deposed, with French help, by Enrique, who would personally kill his half-brother and crown himself Henry II of Castile (1334–1379).

Meanwhile, Prince Edward had raised taxes on his French possessions to ruinous levels in an effort to pay off the debts that Pedro had shirked. This turn of events led his French subjects to petition Charles V, king of France, to depose Edward, thus leading to a renewal of hostilities in the Hundred Years’ War to France’s benefit.

Prince Edward himself would die while still relatively young, victim of a lingering disease, most likely dysentery picked up during his Nájera campaign. Thus, intervention in Castile, while resulting in a brilliant tactical victory, would indirectly cost the English nearly all their French gains as well as one of their most successful and beloved military leaders, losses that would not be offset until the rise of Henry V a generation later.

Agincourt, 1415

The Battle of Agincourt, fought on October 22, 1415, was one of the most remarkable victories of the Hundred Years’ War and was the finest hour for the English in the whole of that long conflict. Vastly outnumbered, tired, and stricken with disease, the English managed to not only emerge victorious over the French army arrayed against them, but very nearly brought down the French aristocracy and monarchy in the process.

Invasion of France

Upon taking the throne in 1413, Henry V grew anxious to renew the stalled war against France. Even as he was stamping out conspiracies against him at home, Henry began assembling an invasion army.

The English army of the Hundred Years’ War had always been small and built around the country’s legendary archers, armed with the deadly longbow. Although consistently outnumbered and lacking in heavy cavalry, the English outfought their French opponents time and again. The army Henry assembled followed the pattern. Numbering seven or eight thousand men total, the army was dominated by archers and lightly armored mounted infantry, with only about a quarter of the army consisting of heavily armored knights.

The army landed at the French port city of Harfleur and immediately besieged it, a move that caught the French off guard. Nevertheless, Harfleur refused to surrender, and the English settled in for a long siege. The city was doomed from the start, as Henry’s invasion coincided nicely with what amounted to a civil war between rival French noble factions. The Count of Orléans, whose followers were called the Armagnacs, was jockeying for power against his cousin, the Duke of Burgundy, as the mad French king Charles VI slipped further and further into ineffective irrelevancy. This squabbling, combined with the surprise of the English invasion, delayed French response and meant that Harfleur could not expect a relief force. Cut off, the inhabitants had no choice but to surrender.

The March to Calais

Although the English had taken the city, they were crippled by a massive outbreak of an intestinal disease, most likely dysentery. Fully one-third of the army was in no shape to march. Henry, abandoning plans for a march on Paris, decided instead to march his army through enemy territory, making for the English-occupied city of Calais. Henry told his men to set aside provisions for an eight-day march.

Unfortunately for the English, the French had finally managed to muster an army and were ready to engage the invaders in battle. Led by the cream of French nobility and made up almost entirely of Armagnacs, the army began paralleling Henry, trying to get between him and Calais and forcing the English further and further inland.


On October 22, short of provisions and still stricken with disease, the English came up against the French army near the town of Agincourt on the road to Calais, only sixty miles away.

The French took up a position between two woods, their multitudinous knights arrayed in three divisions. On either flank, they deployed their Italian crossbowmen. Then they waited. Henry, who had about six thousand men under his command, was outnumbered by as much as six to one. He was also working against time, as his army was close to disintegration due to fatigue, hunger, and disease. To make matters worse, conditions were miserable. Autumn rains had turned the area into a muddy quagmire. The mud was thick and deep, making walking a tiresome exercise. Five centuries later, British soldiers fighting in the region at the Battle of the Somme would encounter similar difficulties. But the muddy conditions at Agincourt worked against the French as well, all the more due to the preponderance of heavily armored knights in their army.

Henry realized it was up to him to make the first move. He ordered his army forward between the two woods and to within bowshot range of the French. The English archers, protected by a row of sharpened stakes that they drove into the ground, began laying a murderous volume of arrow fire into the French ranks. Braving the hail of arrows, the first wave of French knights charged on horseback and were cut down. The arrow fire from the longbows plucked knights from their saddles and drove wounded horses into a frenzy, causing chaos. The sharpened stakes of the archers turned back those that reached the English line. The retreating horsemen plowed through a second wave of knights who were advancing on foot, sowing even more chaos.

The French charge had managed to further churn up the mud of the battlefield, which made the going difficult for the dismounted knights. Sinking in mud that was sometimes knee-deep, the French presented an easy target for the English archers. Nevertheless, their heavy armor allowed most of the Frenchmen to reach the English lines and begin pushing back the thinly stretched army, nearly killing King Henry in the crush of melee.

However, the French numbers also worked against them. Constrained by the woods on either side that narrowed as they approached the English lines, the French were soon packed in shoulder to shoulder, slogging through the sucking mud. At this point the English archers, taking up daggers and hand axes, fell upon the helpless French knights, stabbing through vulnerable gaps in their armor. Many French knights were killed or taken prisoner.

Aftermath of the Battle

Henry sent the prisoners to the rear with the baggage and awaited another French attack that never materialized. However, late in the day, rumors spread of a French flanking force attacking the baggage train, and Henry, concerned that the French army before him would renew its attack and that the prisoners in the rear would join in, ordered the slaughter of all French prisoners. By the time Henry decided the French threat had passed, about two-thirds of the French prisoners had been killed.

Despite this slaughter, the English had much to celebrate. Henry and his nobles would go on to collect vast ransoms on the French knights captured that day. The English had only lost a few hundred men, with only two nobles among that number. The French had lost many more, perhaps as many as ten thousand, many of whom had suffocated in the mud of the battlefield, crushed by their compatriots, rather than from an English arrow.

Agincourt decimated the French nobility. Among the dead were the commanding general, the Constable of France, the Admiral of France, three dukes, seven counts, ninety lords, and over fifteen hundred knights. The sacred oriflamme, a French banner of victory that had been taken from the Abbey of St-Denis and brought to the battle, was lost, ground into the mud somewhere on the field.

The French very nearly lost their kingdom after Agincourt. Henry, after a second campaign, secured a promise to the throne of France but then died before he could make good on the claim. Only the emergence of Joan of Arc as a moral and military leader fifteen years after Agincourt saved the Kingdom of France in the end.

Orléans, 1428–1429

The Siege of Orléans, which lasted from October 1428 to May 1429, was the turning point of the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War. The English suffered their first major reversal since Agincourt and the loss of a key ally. Most importantly, the end of the siege saw the French cause reignited under the leadership of Joan of Arc, who earned her nickname, “The Maid of Orléans,” at this battle.

The Political Situation

By 1428, things looked quite grim for the French cause. Henry V had secured the promise of the French crown in 1422 but had died before that promise could be fulfilled. When the mad French King Charles VI soon followed Henry to the grave, the crown of France, by the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, was due to fall to Henry’s infant son, Henry VI. There were many in France, however, who did not feel that a treaty signed with a mad king constituted a binding promise, and who instead pledged support to the Dauphin, or crown prince, of France.

The English directly controlled all of northern France, including Paris. Furthermore, they were allied with the Burgundians, one of two French factions that began vying for power during Charles VI’s ineffectual reign. This left central France south of the Loire River in the hands of the Dauphin and his supporters. In 1428, the English decided to march south and secure the infant Henry’s legacy. The future of France would hang on the outcome of this campaign.


The immediate target for the English was Orléans, a city of forty thousand people, situated along the Loire River. Its capture would provide an ideal base of operations for further expeditions into the economically important provinces to the south. The English force that marched towards Orléans was ten thousand strong. Led by the popular Earl of Salisbury, it consisted mostly of troops from England and Normandy. After taking the towns surrounding the city and providing for their garrisons, there were only about four thousand Englishmen left to besiege Orléans itself.

The city sat on the north bank of the Loire, connected to the south bank by a quarter-mile long bridge. The garrison within Orléans was perhaps six hundred strong, made up of experienced veterans willing to sit out a long siege, bolstered by a large contingent of citizen militia.

The Siege Begins

The siege began with an assault on the southern end of the Loire bridge, which was guarded by a massive gatehouse/fortress known as Les Tourelles. The French defenders withdrew into the city, destroying a portion of the bridge as they went. The Earl of Salisbury moved in, converting Les Tourelles into his headquarters. Lacking the men to surround the city, the English began constructing a series of small forts, concentrated to the south and west of the city, but also including the reinforced abbey of Saint Loup a mile east of the city. Using these forts as anchor points, the English set up a blockade, attempting to keep supplies from reaching the inhabitants behind the thick city walls. Meanwhile, those very walls were subjected to constant bombardment from English cannons. For example, on October 17 alone, 124 stone balls were fired at Orléans.

The English were not the only ones with cannons, though. In fact, it was a French cannonball that spelled doom for the Earl of Salisbury, who had half his face sheared off by flying debris kicked up by a ball that struck Les Tourelles in the last week of October. He died a week later, much to the dismay of the entire English army, which ceased active operations for a month. Sir William Glasdale eventually took his place as commander, but the Earl could not be replaced in the hearts of his troops.

Despite the loss of Salisbury, the siege seemed to be going in England’s favor as the year came to a close. Although some supplies were getting through the blockade—along with six hundred reinforcements in November—it was not enough, and the inhabitants of Orléans were beginning to feel the strain.

The Siege Turns in France’s Favor

The first real break for the French came when the Burgundians deserted their English allies. The citizens of Orléans had offered to surrender themselves to Burgundian control. The English overruled this, driving a major rift into their alliance in the process. The departure of the Burgundians further weakened the English blockade of the city. On April 29, 1429, one of the most remarkable personages of the Hundred Years’ War slipped through this ineffectual perimeter, accompanied by a small unit of soldiers.

The teenaged girl was Joan of Arc, and she had come from a province on the eastern edge of France, guided by voices only she could hear. Appealing to the Dauphin to lift the siege, she was allowed to accompany a small relief force bearing supplies to the besieged city. Word of her approach emboldened those within the walls of Orléans, as for some years, stories had been circulating in the country that a maiden in armor would emerge as the savior of France. Her arrival in the city, dressed in a full suit of white steel armor and bearing a white banner, was met with cheers and adulation.

The Maid of Orléans

Joan did not lack for confidence. Believing herself to be acting on a divinely mandated mission, she sent a letter to the English before her departure for Orléans, warning them to raise the siege or suffer the consequences. Once in the city, she immediately began pressing for attacks on the English positions. She personally scouted out the enemy fortifications from the battlements of the city, at one point exchanging a shouted conversation with Glasdale himself.

Notified of a diversionary French attack on the English stronghold at Saint Loup, Joan led a unit of citizen militia into the fight, turning the skirmish into a full-blown battle that resulted in the English being routed from their positions. With the eastern approaches now open, more French troops began arriving at the city. Shortly thereafter, Joan and the French crossed the Loire and attacked the English positions outside Les Tourelles. By May 7, the French were ready to assault Les Tourelles itself. The fighting lasted all day. At one point, Joan was wounded when she was struck in the shoulder by an English arrow. After receiving treatment for the wound, she withdrew to the woods to pray. The French assault was nearly called off.

Returning from the woods, Joan argued to press the attack and made her way back into battle. The sight of her white banner advancing toward the fortress walls emboldened the French, who redoubled their efforts. By nightfall, the tower was in their hands, Sir William Glasdale drowned at the bottom of the Loire. The next day, the remaining English forces abandoned their fortifications and formed up for battle. The French also turned out in battle formation, but neither side advanced. Joan was for once reluctant to lead an attack, owing to the fact it was a Sunday. After an hour, the English withdrew to the north, leaving Orléans to the French.

The victory at Orléans was the beginning of the end of the Hundred Years’ War. The French army cleared the rest of the Loire Valley of English opposition, then marched on Rouen, taking the city and crowning the Dauphin as Charles VII. Paris was next to fall. The English claim on the French throne was broken for good.

Castillon, 1453

The Battle of Castillon, fought on July 17, 1453, is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years’ War. A French victory, it marked the death of England’s great general John Talbot and the first use of massed artillery in battle.

The English, so long dominant in the Hundred Years’ War, had been on the defensive ever since their defeat at the Siege of Orléans in 1429. Despite the capture and execution of Joan of Arc, hero of Orléans, the French had found their cause renewed, driving the English out of northern France.

Invasion of Gascony

In 1451, they turned their attentions to Gascony, a territory that had been in English hands for three centuries. The French army swept through quickly, taking most towns without a fight. When Bordeaux, the capital of the territory, fell to the French, a letter was sent to England’s Henry VI asking for aid—most Gascons considered themselves more English than French.

In October 1452, an English army of three thousand men, led by the famous general John Talbot, landed near Bordeaux, which immediately opened its gates, ejecting the French garrison. Most of the other towns in Gascony did the same. In response to this renewed threat, the French King Charles VII raised three armies and marched them into Gascony in 1453. Talbot, meanwhile, received three thousand more reinforcements. When the main French army camped near the town of Castillon and prepared to lay siege to it, Talbot decided to march out from Bordeaux and meet them.

John Talbot was known for his rashness. In fact, it was his lighting attacks and recklessness in battle that had brought him most of his victories. This time, however, it would be his undoing.

The French Artillery Park

The French army consisted of about seven thousand men and three hundred guns. It is likely that most of these guns were large, two-man handguns, as opposed to massive siege cannon, but this concentration of firepower was still quite unusual at the time. The French had camped outside Castillon, fortifying their position when they heard of the English approach. Despite their recent victories, England’s long history of battlefield dominance tended to dictate a cautious French approach. The fortified camp was situated between a river and a dry streambed. The wall of the camp followed the meandering course of the streambed, providing an ideal defensive setup.

Talbot, meanwhile, had personally led his mounted troops, about thirteen hundred strong, ahead of the main army on their approach to Castillon. Hoping to catch the French off-guard, the English cavalry marched through the night, arriving near the town before morning and scattering a unit of French archers. The English then took a well-deserved rest in the woods, waiting for the rest of the army to catch up.

Talbot’s Rush to Battle

As the sun rose on July 17, Talbot received word that the French were retreating. A large dust cloud rising up near the town seemed to confirm this. Eager to strike while the army was in disarray, Talbot ordered his men to mount up. The English cavalry arrived at the French camp to find it still in arms. The dust cloud and reports of retreat were both due to a column of camp followers who had been asked to leave in the face of the coming battle.

After his capture at the Battle of Patay in 1429, John Talbot had taken a solemn oath that he would never again personally don armor and stand in battle against France. True to his chivalric code, Talbot was unarmored and did not participate in the forthcoming battle. He ordered his men to dismount and assault the camp, despite the fact that the French clearly were not retreating.

In the first demonstration of the effectiveness of massed artillery in Western Europe, the English assault was torn to pieces by the French guns. The irregular line of the French palisade, constructed along the dry stream, only added to the effectiveness of the guns as the English drew closer to the wall—the cannons were able to shoot down the length of the English lines, a concept known as “enfilading fire.” The remainder of the English army had begun to arrive on the field, but this only ensured that more units were shot up as they joined the assault one at a time. Despite some fierce fighting at the palisade, the English routed after an hour of battle when a unit of Breton cavalry charged into their flank.

During the rout, a cannonball killed Talbot’s horse and the venerable English general was pinned under the carcass. A French archer, hot on the heels of the retreating English, recognized him and dispatched him with a hatchet blow to the head.

End of an Age

Both sides mourned Talbot’s death—he was considered the greatest general of his age, and a worthy foe for the French. Today, despite the battle’s significance for the French cause, the sole monument at Castillon is a statue commemorating John Talbot.

Gascony fell under French rule for good. With the sole exception of the coastal city of Calais, all of France was under Charles VII’s rule. Castillon marked the effective end of the Hundred Years’ War. It also heralded the ascendancy of the gun, just as Crécy had heralded the age of the longbow. The age of modern warfare had begun.

Edward’s Campaigns in France

Edward earned fame and popularity because of his many successful campaigns on the continent against France. He first led the Crecy campaign which helped England establish a firmer control over Normandy while pushing back the French successfully. Edward then turned to northern France where he scored yet other victories over the French forces. He also led the English at the Battle of Winchelsea, defeating the Castilian fleet.

The grandest victory Edward bagged against France was the Battle of Poitiers. After ravaging the countryside and crippling France economically, he defeated a large French force at Poitiers and captured the King and his son. This event single-handedly pushed France into instability for more than a decade.

The Order of the Garter

The most noble Order of the Garter is the world's most ancient order of chivalry and was founded by King Edward III. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system.

The origins of the Garter as the order's emblem and for its motto, Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense, will probably never be ascertained with certainty, but King Edward III, inspired by chivalric tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, founded the order in 1348. The sovereign alone can grant membership. Legend relates that it began at a ball, when Edward III's dancing partner, perhaps Joan, Countess of Salisbury, dropped her garter to her great embarrassment. The King is said to have chivalrously retrieved it and tied it around his leg, uttering in French "Evil to him who thinks evil of it".

A further legend states that King Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199) while fighting in the Third Crusade, was inspired by St George the Martyr to tie garters around the legs of his knights. Edward III was said to have recalled the custom in in the C14th when founding the Order. Founder members included King Edward, his eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince, the king's second cousin, Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, Sir Roger de Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March, Thomas Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick and William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury.

The patron saint of the Order is St. George and its home St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, all members of the Order are entitled during their lifetimes to display their heraldic banners in St George's Chapel.

For ceremonial occasions, members wear the full vestments of the Order. A dark blue mantle or cloak, lined with white taffeta, with a red hood. The mantle bears the shield of St. George's Cross. The Garter Star is pinned to the left side of the chest, it is an enamelled heraldic shield of St. George's Cross encircled by a garter, which is encircled by an eight-point silver badge. A black velvet hat decorated with white ostrich and black heron feathers is also worn.

The gold collar bears knots and enamelled medallions showing a rose encircled by the garter. The George, an enamelled figure of St. George and the dragon is worn suspended from the collar. The ribbon, a wide blue sash, is worn over the left shoulder to the right hip. On its base is a badge showing St. George and the dragon. The garter itself, a buckled dark-blue velvet strap with the motto of the Order is worn on the left calf by knights and the left arm by ladies. Holders of the order add the initials KG after their names.

Many famous names have been granted the order over the centuries. However, some members have fallen from grace and forfeited the garter. The notorious King Henry VIII beheaded six garter knights.

George V ordered the name of his cousin, Charles Edward, Duke of Albany and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, removed from the register of the order during the First World War. Charles Edward had supported their mutual cousin, the kaiser and fought on the German side. He was the son of Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. During the dark days of the 2nd World War, the crests of Emperor Hirohito of Japan and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy were removed from the St George's Chapel.

Following the 2nd World War, when the Conservative party was voted from office, Winston Churchill refused the honour when it was first offered to him by King George VI, stating, “I can hardly accept the Order of the Garter from the king after the people have given me the Order of the Boot.” Churchill was finally admitted into the order in 1953.

The order today includes the Queen, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles Prince of Wales, and 24 Knights Companion. Saint George's Chapel, Windsor Castle plays host to the annual gathering of the order, which is held on a Monday in mid-June. If any new knights invested, a morning service is held in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle. Following lunch, a colourful procession with all members in their full regalia proceeds through the castle from Saint George's Hall to the chapel.

Armies, battles and weaponry

English longbowmen at Crecy © The English armies of the Hundred Years War were small by modern standards. Henry V probably had fewer than 7,000 men at Agincourt, Talbot at Castillon maybe 6,000. Forces were raised principally by voluntary recruitment and organised by aristocratic leaders who contracted to serve the crown with a stated number of men-at-arms (knights and esquires) and archers. The terms, recorded in a written indenture, stipulated wages and an agreed length of service, such as six months or a year, with the possibility of extension.

These aristocratic leaders contracted in their turn with those that they recruited into their companies. This method of raising an army ensured an effective command structure much superior to that of the hastily assembled French armies that fought at Crécy and Agincourt). Archers as well as men-at-arms were usually mounted, ensuring a high degree of mobility. Both usually dismounted for battle. The men-at-arms were armed with lance and sword, the archers with the famous longbow.

The final French victory at Castillon in 1453 was the first major field engagement of the war to be decided by gunfire.

The longbow played an important part in the English victories in the field. Its special qualities were its accuracy and penetrating power over a long range (approximately 200 metres) and the ease of rapid discharge, which was much faster than the rate of fire of French crossbowmen. The fire of well-positioned longbowmen was decisive against charging French cavalry at Crécy, and at Agincourt against both cavalry in the first attacking wave and the dismounted men-at-arms in the second wave.

Archery contributed to victory again at Poitiers, but in this very hard fought battle, charging Anglo-Gascori cavalry had a decisive impact at a critical juncture. The longbow did not make the English invincible. Archers were always very vulnerable if they could be taken in the flank. At Jargeau, Joan of Arc’s cavalry successfully rode down the English bowmen.

Archers also played an important part in naval warfare. The longbow’s range and rapid rate of fire could be of great advantage as ships were closing to grapple. This was thought to be the key to Edward III’s naval victory at Sluys in 1340. Both he and Henry V well understood the importance of safeguarding the Channel for the transport and supply of English forces in France, as well as for the protection of English overseas commerce.

In the siege-dominated fighting in France post-1417, gunnery became seriously important. Henry V’s great sieges at Rouen (1418-1419) and Meaux (1421-1422) ultimately succeeded only by starving out the defence, as had Edward III’s 1347 siege of Calais. But at Maine (1424-1425), bombardment was a key to English success. There was brisk artillery fire from defenders as well as attackers at Orleans in 1428-1429. The final French victory at Castillon in 1453 was the first major field engagement of the war to be decided by gunfire.

The Greatest Knights: Edward, the Black Prince - History

N.B. Each coloured type represents a different historical source [given in the references at the bottom of this page] . Compare the differences in detail, transcription, date calculation and other discrepancies which exist with secondary and interpretive sources such as these. You will soon discover history is no science!
Bold type indicates where Sir William de Miggeley may have been involved.

1327 25th January . Fifteen [fourteen] [fourteen] years old when Edward ascended the throne and began his reign
Roger Mortimer was a Marcher Baron of the Welsh border who had Edward II murdered. Mortimer and Queen Isabella quickly took power.
1327 Edward crowned 1st February, at Westminster Abbey.
He had to kneel in front of the King of France, Philip IV, in this year to retain the wine province of Gascony.
1327 April, Edward II was imprisoned at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire and probably murdered by his jailers.
1328 A marriage was arranged between Philippa of Hainaut ['Hainault"] and Edward III [she was 14 and he 16 (15 16 ) years old] by his mother Isabella and Mortimer. A papal dispensation had to be obtained as Edward III was Phillipa's 2nd cousin. Isabella used Philippa's dowry to pay the knights wages in Hainaut and Germany who helped with the 1326 invasion of England 14 . At a Parliament held in 1328 at Salisbury [Old Sarum], Mortimer was given the title Earl of March 16 .Many of the leading nobles stayed away and held an alternative Parliament in London. Mortimer took the young Prince Edward III from Salisbury in the same year to attack the lands of Lancaster. The barons were too divided to overthrow Isabella's and Mortimer's government
The Scots under Robert de Bruce having recognised the instability of the crown, began marauding and burning Northumberland. English troops were amassed at York. They had difficulty locating the Scots who were lightly armed and travelled rapidly on horseback. Eventually with the help of an escapee, a Yorkshireman Thomas de Rokeby, they were located encamped on a steep hillside to the north of the River Wear. A stand off occurred, the Scots moved to an even steeper hill and the English army then camped opposite at Stanhope Park. The Scots retreated. This was the first engagment with the Scots during Edward III's reign. To seal a peace pact which was ratified at this time, Edward the III's sister Johanna/Joanna [Joan] then aged seven was promised by Queen Isabella to David II of Scotland then aged about six 8 .or 7 The nuptials were celebrated at Berwick on the Sunday before the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene 16 . Later, Joan of the Tower, the sister to Prince Edward [later Ed III] was married to David II of Scotland.

During the Battle of Neville's Cross in 1346 David II was captured after being wounded in the head or face by an arrow. It would take Scotland over a century to retake what was lost at Neville's Cross. King David was incarcerated in Windsor Castle 14 David was imprisoned for a total of 11 years [1346-1357] in one of the caves beneath Nottingham Castle, some drawings on the walls of which are purported to be his. Joan was permitted visits to her husband by Edward III, her brother. Joan was popular in Scotland but on David King of the Scots release his infidelities led her to return to England, where she died in 1362.

Edward II later built a new prison for the Scottish prisoners at Nottingham. David was the son of Robert de Bruce.
Scotland was given up, much to the dismay of the Northern English who desired peace from the incessant raids into Northern England and who would now be under the control of Robert de Bruce.

On the 24th January, Edward married Philippa of Hainaut at York . There was much merry-making and rejoicing for four weeks marred only by a second serious engagement beween the hired "Hainaulter" troops and the English army.
Philippa had [12] [12] 13 children. She bore six sons and five daughters. Edward was king only in name under the tutelage of his mother Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Henry of Lancaster with the support of the King's uncles [Earls of Norfolk and Kent] led the opposition against Mortimer. As a result, Mortimer attacked Henry of Lancaster's lands.
1329 Robert de Bruce died and is succeeded by the young David II under the care of the Regent for Scotland, the Earl of Murray.
Isabella and Mortimer began to set a trap for the Duke of Kent, the father of Joan "The Fair Maid of Kent" [left - a composite of Joan showing her mother's Wake heraldry and the arms of her three husbands]. They had suspicions that the Earl would support any opposition to the status quo. It was put about that Edward II was alive and kept at Corfe Castle in Dorset. When the Earl sent a friar to determine the truth and pledge his sword to Edward II it was discovered too late that it was a ruse and the Earl's intentions were then made clear 17 .
1330 Edward was forced to hold a Parliament at Winchester which had Edmund condemned. In March 1330, Mortimer had the Earl of Kent, Edmund of Woodstock executed. Edmund Plantagenet was Edward II's half brother 16 . The Duke was taken outside the walls of Winchester Castle, ostensibly the executioner refused to carry out the act, but after an hour or so, someone was found to accept the devil's pay to do the dirty deed. This was Mortimer's undoing, and Edward III seized his moment at Nottingham.
In June 1330, Edward III's first child was born, Edward, later"The Black Prince" 16 .
The death of the Duke of Kent convinced the nobles and Edward III of the danger of Mortimer and this led to a coup at Nottingham.
During Edward III's reign three parliaments were held at Nottingham Castle.
1330 Michelmas,
October During a parliament held in Nottingham castle [an earlier structure than the present stone construction] at the age eighteen years of age, ["rising 17"] with a band of his young friends, including Sir William Eland [Constable of Nottingham castle], William Montague and fellow knights, Edward seized the dictator, Mortimer, in the Queen Mother's bedroom in Nottingham Castle in a swashbuckling coup. Isabella and Mortimer were arrested by Edward and his men in Nottingham Castle. At this point Edward became king in fact as well as name. Edward seized power in this year. The day after Mortimer was seized, Edward III said " The affairs that concern him and the estate of his realm shall be directed by the common counsel of his realm and in no otherwise". This was a turning point in the relations between the barons and the King.
Edward took control of the Government and ordered the arrest of Mortimer at Nottingham. Mortimer was taken to Tyburn and hanged on the 29th November 1330 16 . Isabella, Edward's mother was sent to her Castle and manor at Castle Rising in Norfolk for the last 28 years of her life, she was free to come and go, Edward would visit her and she often irritated the burghers of King's Lynn 14 . Isabella received £3000 p.a. maintainance, dying 30 years after her dismissal from Court in 1360 after becoming a nun towards the end. She was buried in a Franciscan cemetary at Newgate 16 , not at Westminster, for although she was Edward III's mother she was seen by the English people as a French traitor. The present Sandringham, used by the Royal Family is part of this original manor.

Descibed as the "She-Wolf of France". She governed England for three years with Sir Roger Mortimer. Isabella had come to England as a 12 year old bride to marry Edward II.
However she was overshadowed by Piers Gaveston a homosocial who received the best of her jewels & rings she had brought from France along with presents.from Edward II. She complained bitterly of this in a letter to her father. Despite recent attempts to portray Isabella in a better light, the weight of evidence indicates that she was fully implicated with Mortimer in the:
1. Invasion of England.
2. She encouraged Mortimer's liason and dalliances.
3. She was aware of the Duke of Kent's pending execution, a Plantagenet, like her husband.
4. Aware of the impending attacks upon Henry Plantagenet Earl of Lancaster's lands.
Born 1292? died 1358. Betrothed to Edward II 1303. Married Edward II in 1308 12 .

1331 Edward recognised England could make "add-on" profit from the wool trade and so invited Flemish weaver's to Yorkshire, Lancashire and Norfolk. [Philippa his wfe was Flemish] In this year Philippa was granted the Honour of Knaresborough Castle in Yorkshire.

1332 Parliament [Fr: "Parley"= talk, discuss] was divided into two houses, The Lords and The Commons. From the 1230's parliament was an assembly of nobles and administrators who offered advice to the king.
The "Common Assent" or the assent of Parliament came to be required in Edward's time if the King needed extra taxes for military excursions. This was the first parliament to vote supplies for war. At the coming of age of Edward III, Parliament became more important and the views and opinions of burghers [later, town councillors] and knights were heeded.Contemporary chroniclers began to use the term 'The Commons"

Statue of Edward III (right) with his father and grandfather high on the western facade of Lichfield Cathedral

1333 Edward advanced on Berwick 16 and invaded Scotland to defeat David II at Halidon Hill. Berwick was placed under seige and much slaughter followed the surrender 16 . Edward's first great victory was at Halidon Hill, near Berwick The Scots were thoroughly beaten and routed 16 . . The battle is recorded by Queen Philippa's chronicler, Jaques Froissart. Cannon appear to have been used and as a result of the success, Berwick became English although the County of Berwickshire remained Scottish.
As a result Edward de Baliol, Earl of Galloway was placed on the Scottish throne, but he had to cede Berwickshire and S.E. Scotland to Edward III 16 .

The landed gentry had a condition of military service attached to their tenure. Unpaid military service lasted for only 40 days, so mercenaries were used, such as landless knights, younger sons or professional soldiers who fought for pay and plunder. Knights used war horses called DESTRIERS, for everyday use the knight used a PALFREY.
Knights usually served a great lord [e.g. Earl of Lancaster whose seat was at Pontefract] The lord's lands were divided into "knights fees". Each fee had to support a knight who followed his lord and king.
On a writ sent to the Sheriff, 2 knights from each shire were elected by the freeholders.
1334 Edward III had the tallest Spire in England added to Salisbury Cathedral It was also in this year that David II of Scotland fled to France, he stayed there for 7 years. The French encouraged Scotland during this time to rebel against England. The Count of Flanders and other Flemish nobles sided with France at this time. They placed obstructions on the English wool trade and threatened the Flemish weavers.
1335 Sir William de Miggeley is recorded as serving in the house of Commons in the English Parliament at York. In this Parliament Edward III obtained substantial sums of money for the renewal of active war 16 with France.
1336 Sir William de Miggeley serves in the house of Commons in the English Parliament at York.
In 1336 as a result of the tyrrany of the Flemish aristocrats towards the Flemish weavers, whilst
William de Miggeley was a serving member of 'The Commons' in Parliament held at York, an embargo was placed on wool exports to the Netherlands. However the townspeople of Flanders rose against the Flemish aristocracy with no small success. The Flemish town burghers were threatened with revenge and so Edward encouraged these Flemish weavers to migrate to England, with them they brought their wool spinning, carding and weaving skills. It was the merchantile section of Parliament which pleaded for action with Edward III and William de Miggeley is likely to have been an influential part of this lobby group, having likely invested heavily in Yorkshire Pennine wool.
See Lord William Hastings and the Calais Wool Staple.
1337 The Painted Chamber ['The Comons' composed of knights and town burghers came to have a speaker in 1337, Sir Thomas Hungerford 16 .

1337 The French king laid claim to English possessions in France, Edward III replied by claiming the throne of France in 1340 . The Hundred Years War began. Edward quartered the fleur-de-lis on his coat of arms [1340] with the leopards of England. In reality he attempted to control Gascony and the wine trade at Bordeaux and keep open the wool trading with the woollen markets of Flanders.
Calais was captured after an 11 month seige in 1347, the residents had been reduced to eating cats and dogs. The burghers of the town were only saved, according to Froissart, from hanging, by Queen Philippa's intervention.

A journey from York to London could take a week, Edward therefore recognised that he Edward's main aim was to unite the nobility into a cohesive class of public servants, motivated by chivalry, enriched by the wealth he enabled them to win and tied to the crown through marriage to his relatives. He thus fostered the ideal of Chivalry and based the King's Court on the conduct of the Arthurian legend.
needed the nobles (Barons, Magnates) as allies.He thus developed a concilliatory approach, providing the nobles with a range of liberties.

Personality traits:
Impulsive, ge ner ous, flambouyant, affable, passionate, energetic,restless a boyish charm, the beau ideal of Chivalry. He loved display and pageantry. Notoriously licentious and unfaithful to his wife.
Tall, handsome, red-gold hair. Over six feet tall, he literally towered over his subjects.
Excelled in Knightly Arts, enjoyed jousting and feasting with his knightly companions in arms. Loved hunting & falconry, he was much loved by his people. A man of action, who enjoyed leading his troops.Edward was not always faithful to Philippa but he relied greatly on her, he rapidly declined after her death.
1340 Edward II declared himself king of France and added the fleur-di-lis to his coat of arms. The "Hundred Years War" commenced between England and France with the battle of Sluys [Flanders], this has been described with some detail by the chronicler, Geoffrey le Baker 17 .
1341 David II returned from exile in France to engage the English armies as a result Edward Baliol was deposed. Edward III raised the seige of Wark Castle held by Catherine de Montague wife of William Montague, Edward's best friend 14 .In this year Johnson stated that Edward III "came of age" 14 .
1343 Parliament was composed of 1] Prelates and magnates, 2] Knights and burghers. The first group met at Westminster in "The White Chamber" [now the "Lords" which is a red colour] and the second group met in "The Painted Chamber" [now the "Commons" which is a green colour].
The Painted Chamber came to have a speaker in 1337, the first speaker being Sir Thomas Hungerford 16 .

1344 Edward had a "Round Table Tournament" at Windsor Castle where he "re-established" the "original" Arthurian order of knights. He built a round tower at Windsor Castle to accomodate a "Round Table" at which he and his knights sat & feasted after their jousts and tournaments as equals "in fair fellowship" Edward gained such a great respect from the legend of King Arthur, that he had his own "Round Table" constructed during the first years of his reign . [Edward I, previously had a "Round Table" constructed which now hangs in the Great Hall at Winchester Castle 9 ]
Legend began to shape reality. Edward was hailed as the new King Arthur. To young English nobles he seemed the reincarnation of King Arthur. In the same year 1344, he introduced a number of gold coins the florin [2 shillings], half-florin [1 shilling], quarter-florin [six-pence], and for the first time:, the noble [80 pence], half-noble [40 pence] and the quarter-noble [20 pence]. Up until then the florin range had been produced in gold by two Florentine goldsmiths 18 .
: The gold Noble introduced by Edward III to commemorate the Battle of Sluys

Edward III attacked France who as Scotland's strategic ally attempted to defeat England, thus hoping to have England fighting on two fronts. Edward allied with Holland [his wife Philippa was from Flanders, the expanding English wool production had found ready markets long before in Flanders and cordial trading relations and courtly interactions had followed]

1346 Edward assembled his fleet & set sail from Potrsmouth for the invasion of Normandy. The expedition was supplied from Yorkshire via the Ouse and Trent rivers to Hull. Edward raised no troops from the north for his Crecy campaign , he "kept the postern gate well guarded".
Percy and Neville kept the Northern Marches safe 14
Later he won the
Battle of Crecy at this battle the "Black Prnce" [ Edward the King's eldest child] distinguished himself.
From this time the adoption of the three feathers and motto "Ich dien" [I serve] into the second Prince of Wales' regalia occurred [Edward-the "Black Prince"]. These were taken as trophies from the blind and fallen leader of the Bohemians at the Battle of Crecy and presented to Edward the "Black Prince" by his father who knighted him on the battlefield.
1346 David II invaded England while Edward III was fighting in France at Crecy. Edward's wife Queen Philippa raised an army which defeated and captured David II at Neville's Cross near Durham. A final major battle was fought against the Scots at Neville's Cross, near Durham. King David II was captured [Robert de Bruce's son] and was not released back to Scotland until 1357. An army assembled at York under its archbishop William de La Zouche and marched north to Neville's Cross 14
David had reached as far as York, Queen Philippa was at this time keeping her court at York, she summoned the barons and peoples of the north. The two armies met in combat at "Red Hills" outside the walls of Durham Castle. on 17th October 1346. David was wounded and taken prisoner, Philippa then took him to London. The Scots lost 20,000 and the flower of Scottish knighthood, the English lost about 4000.
see The Battle of Neville's Cross

Personality traits:
Warm hearted [much loved by the people], intelligent,
patient and with great forebearance.
Not beautiful, physically hardy.
Bore 12 children, only 3 died in childhood.
Accompanied Edward on some of his campaigns [Halidon and Calais]
Early in Edward's reign she encouraged cloth workers friom her own country [Flemings] to settle in Norwich. She encouraged coal mining on her estate of Tyndale in Northumberland [between the River Tyne and Scottish border] , which began exports to the Low Countries.
Raised an army against Scottish invaders for Neville's Cross when her husband was securing his claims in France in 1346.
A major influence in maintaining good relationships between her sons and their father, Edward III.

1347 In this year [or 1344] following Crecy, Edward founded the
"Order of the Knights of the Blue Garter" consisting of himself and 26 of his most renowned companions . The Order is housed in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
He created the Order of The Garter for his bravest knights. The Order won its name and motto when Joan 'Countess of Salisbury' his cousin, dropped [lost] a garter at the ball in 1348. He boldly picked it up [and fastened it to his own leg] and to counter the sniggers, declared: "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" [Let him be ashamed who sees evil in it] [Shame on him who thinks evil of it] The Order of the Garter was born and the motto remains on the coat of Arms of the Royal Family to this day. This act by the king was to counter the perception by the assembled guests that The King was having an affair with the Countess of Salisbury, such that he made light of it by turning the embarrassment for her around and making it an honour. The Regent thereafter having to kneel down and affix the Garter to the knight's leg at the Garter ceremony in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Joan was wooed but not won by the king, for she was in love with the steward of the earl of Salisbury. To be closer to her lover, she wed the earl, but when both the earl and his steward died, she became the bride of the Black Prince. Another version says Edward is supposed to have made ministrations to the "Countess of Salisbury", Alice/Alys* the wife of William Montague, Earl of Salisbury at Wark castle. Or this could have been the wife of Edward Montague, younger brother of the Earl of Salisbury, William being on campaign in France and Edward Montague at Wark castle with his wife and sister-in-law. * Actually Katherine Grandisson married the 1st earl

UPDATE: A thorough search of the C. P. R. indicates that Joan was never the 'countess of Salisbury'! 'Joan of Kent' does not appear as we would expect her salutation to be as 'Joan wife of William de Monte Acuto, earl of Salisbury'. The reason for this is that the man she married in 1341, who became William Montacute 2nd earl of Salisbury, did not come of age until 1349. In the C. P. R. he does not appear as the earl of Salisbury until 1350. Before 1350 he is merely referred to as the 'heir of William de Monte Acuto earl of Salisbury' and the ward of Edward III. Similarly Joan is referred to as the 'wife of William de Monte Acuto, son on William de Monte Acuto, earl of Salisbury'. The Pope granted a marriage annulment to Joan and William in 1349 when they were both aged twenty/twenty-one which seems to have coincided with William becoming the earl of Salisbury.

Thus unless Froissart mistakenly used the title 'Countess of Salisbury' at the Garter Ball meaning Joan, then the Garter incident originated with the widow of the first earl of Salisbury's wife, Katherine Grandisson not Joan of Kent. Her husband, the first earl died in 1344 and Katherine was thus widowed from the age of about 40 [1344] to age 45 [1349] which encompasses the time of a possible ball held after the siege of Calais or shortly thereafter, for the Garter ceremony was inaugurated in 1348.

Was Joan of Kent the basis for the star-crossed lover, Juliet Capulet?

As Juliet and Romeo were married secretly by a priest, Joan of Kent, was clandestinely married by a priest to Thomas Holland without King Edward III's consent and probably unknown to Joan's mother, Margaret Wake. The name Montague appears in 'Romeo and Juliet' as Romeo's surname, whereas Joan married secondly and bigamously, William Montague, later 2nd earl of Salisbury. This bigamous marrige could be the reason for Edward III saying, 'Think nothing of it' when Frossart's 'countess of Salisbury' had her garter slip at the post Crecy ball. Such an occurence would have been seen as an ill-omen amongst the superstitious medieval nobility. Joan is rumoured to have been the most beautiful woman in England at the time and no doubt her beauty and desirability was much enhanced by the death of her brother John and her subsequent inheritance.

In all probability, the play supports Protestantism, by the fact that the meddling Catholic priest was seen as one of the root causes of the tragedy. During the 1900's some came to question whether William Shakespeare was the author of the well known play as he never seems to have left England, nor travelled to Italy. Some came to suspect that the well travelled Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford was the real author b. 1550, d. 1604. Edward de Vere' was descended from Joan of Kent and Thomas Holland, being their 5th great grandson [Through John Holland 1st duke of Exeter > Alice his daughter who married Richard de Vere 11th earl of Oxford > Robert de Vere > John de Vere > John de Vere 15th earl of Oxford > John de Vere 16th earl of Oxford the father of the 17th earl]. Like all landed nobility, Oxford knew of his genealogical well and would have had the story of Joan's secret marriage passed on to him through his family.

Edward de Vere came into disfavour with Queen Elizabeth I by impregnating one of her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour, a Yorkshire lass from a baronial family. As a result there were skirmishes and 'violent street brawls' between retainers of the earl of Oxford and relatives of Anne Vavasour. These are reminiscent of the street fighting between the Montague's and the Capulets. Poetic licence gathered from real-life, elements of reality welded to fiction - the best foundation for a good story!

In 1347 food prices had risen and were causing great hardship for example corn was 10 pence a bushel whilst wages were 15 pence a week.
However during the intevening years England had become very prosperous, mainly through exporting wool to the Brabant weavers who were also encouraged to settle in York, Kendal and other towns.
Printing from moveable type appears in this year.

The Black Death, The Great Plague entered England from Melcombe [Weymouth Bay] on 23rd June 1348.
(Bubonic and Pneumonic) Bubonic plague was transmitted by fleas either the human flea, Pulex irritans or from infected rat fleas, Xenopsylla cheopsis
Pneumonic plague was carried by sputum, sneezing, coughing and even perhaps infected breath in cramped conditions. It was a disease mainly of the very young the old, the poor and the lowest classes.

In some areas up to 45% - 50% [or 1/3] of the population died. Many people were thrown into open communal pits. The oldest, youngest and poorest died first.
The religious houses suffered severely as a result of their vow of attending to the sick. On 2nd September 1348 the Archbishop of Canterbury succumbed to the plague.
Parliament had to be prorouged due to the Black Plague being in London 14 .
After the plague landlords offered labourers higher wages, people would move to where better pay was offered. This was the beginning of the end of serfdom and the rise of true FREEDOM which, contrary to popular belief, had not been granted at Runnymede. It took a PLAGUE, and Edward III's parliamentary changes to begin the world of modern DEMOCRACY.
1351 Edward then passed a law [The Statute of Labourers] holding wages to pre-plague levels, but the law of supply and demand eventually won..
In this year Edward made a new charge that could be applied in law, that of 'treason' for those who worked against the King. The need for this term had come about as a result of Mortimer's behaviour.Also in 1351 a range of denominations were introduced 18 :
1] In gold- the Noble, half-noble, quarter noble. These exhibit some of the best of English stamped coins ever produced. William Lord Latimer bought the as mint engraver at the Tower in 1329 without Edward III's permission but after requesting a pardon was granted such.
2] In silver- the groat, half groat, the penny, half-penny and the farthing.
From 1343 up to this time gold coins had been produced by two Florentine Goldsmiths [hence the derivation of Florin], but these products were not considered successful.
The sickle came to be replaced by the scythe in order to increase the efficiency of food production 14 .
As a result of the Great Plague, there were large changes in land ownership, about two to two and a half miliion people were left in England from a pre-plague level of about four milliom.
On August 8th 1348, Edward held the first Garter Ceremony at the newly constructed St. Georges Chapel, Wnndsor Castle.
On the 2nd September 1348 Joan, Edward III's daughter, one, if not his only favorite child, died from the plague whilst at Bordeaux.
The Great plague is believed to have "naturally selected" those with immunity to the disease. It is now thought that the exposure or existing immunity produced 10% immunity to H.I.V. amongst Caucasians today. Negroid and Asian groups have none of this immunity 13 .

1354 Following the Plague much arable land had been turned to sheep grazing because of the scarcity of labour. Wool exported from England at this time was worth £193,978 [about £2 million in 1892 value] 8.
1355 Following the Great Pestilence, the war with France was back in full swing 16 .

1356 Poitiers - another overwhelming victory to the English Army under Edward "The Black Prince", 4000 Englishmen defeated 40,000 Frenchmen and captured John II of France.
1357 David II of Scotland was released from the Tower of London 16 .
1360 The Treaty of Bretigny gave England the southern half of France. In this year a plague 12 years after the first Great Plague killed mostly young children the product of those who had survived this previous pestilence 16 .

1361 The office of J.P. was created. In this year a second outbreak of The Plague appeared which lasted into 1363 and which particularly affected children 14 .
1362 Edward III addresses Parliament in English for the first time T he English language was first used to open Paliament. English replaced French as the official language of the Law Courts. A new merchant class evolved with the spread of lay learning. In this same year, William Langlands ["Long Will"] produced Piers Plowman an account accurately reflecting England in the 1300's, containing truths, wrongs, briberies, reason and conscience 16
When English was first introduced into the Parliament, Northerners could not understand Southerners, only the Midlanders could understand both 14 . Edward III's autograph is the first regent's signature to survive.
1363 The Courts of Quarter Sessions were introduced. They were established to deal with low grade offences under the stewardship of Justices of the Peace [J.P.] These courts were in existence until 1971!

1368 a third outbreak of the Plague occurred 16 .
1369 Edward's Queen Philippa dies fromthe Plague 16 . A third outbreak of the Plague occurred 14 . From this time until 1395 England lost almost all the territory in France. When the "Hundred Years War" ended in 1453 only Calais and the coastal area around were retained. From this time Edward takes a mistress, Alice Perrers. Perrers and William Lord Latimer with the support of John of Gaunt controlled the Royal Household whilst Edward III was in his dotage.
1374 A third plague strikes
1375 The plague continues through this year
1376 Edward the "Black Prince" dies after a painful illness contracted in Spain and is buried at Canterbury Cathedral.
1377- In this year parliament first granted to Edward III a Poll Tax at the rate of four pence [a groat] per head 14 .
On the 21st June Edward III died of a str okeat Sheen Palace, Surrey, aged 64 [65]. Alice Perrers is said [by malevolent French chroniclers] 14 to have stripped the rings from his fingers and fled, but this may have been an attempt by the French to discredit Edward and his Court . Alice was the daughter of a Hertfordshire knight. She had entered the service of Queen Philippa before 1366 and married William de Windsor, Alice died in 1400. 14 . Edward III was buried at Westminster. The crown then passed to Richard, [son of Edward the "Black Prince"] who became Richard II.
Almost all of Edward's III's conquests had been lost due, it is thought to a lack of man-power [with three outbreaks of the plague to the end of the century]
1378- a fourth outbreak of The Plague occurred 16 .

One of the lasting tangible legacies of Edward III's reign is at Salisbury Cathedral originally built in the 1200's it had a spire added during Edward III's time, which has been described as "One of the Glories of Mankind" Perhaps a token of his debt to earl Salisbury's line.
Other less tangible but far more important outcomes were the widespread usage of English replacing
* French as the language of the Courts and Parliament.
* The appearance of Quarterly Sessions and the J.P.
The separation of Parliament to include knights who were not of noble [essentially
Normandy-French] pedigree.However both commoners and knights gathered in the same
* The Creation of the Order of the Garter.
* Introduction of new currency.
* The evolution of personal freedom and an increase in paid wages for labour,
* The rise of the Merchant Class ["nouveau riche"]
* A Wool Staple is established at Calais.
* Edward had heraldry systematised. The heralds adjudicated on claims to Arms and rival claims
were settled by the King with his Constable and Marshal at a Court of Chivalry.
* The popular revival of the formerly British/Welsh Arthurian legend which became erroneously
and inextricably mixed with knights and chivalry.
* Piers Plowman was written by William Langlands. In the late medieval period script
tended to be cursive which increased the speed of writing, whereas Anglian and Saxon scribes
had used a slow and formal script.
Above all else the sense of England as a country separate from France began to emerge, speaking essentially one language with the consequent development of English literature such as Geoffrey Chaucer's works during this time.

Edward III gave five dukedoms to five of his sons. Dukedoms were a particularly Norman-French title and Edward revived this tradition which probably related to the claims he made for French territory.
1. Edward of Woodstock [now Blenheim, Oxon] "The Black Prince", b. June 1330 16 , later
Duke of Cornwall, Prince of Wales, Prince of Aquitane, Earl of Chester. Edward did not
marry until he was 30, in 1361 to Joan, "The Fair Maid of Kent", the daughter of the Earl of
Kent [Edmund of Woodstock] and cousin to Edward III who had been recently widowed
after the death of her husband Thomas de Holland.
2. Isabella m. Enguerrand de Cuocy Earl of Bedford. Isabella died 1396
3. Joanna [Joan] d. 1348
4. William died in infancy
5. Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence & Earl of Ulster. Married 1] Elizabeth de Burgh who
died 1363. 2] Violantie Visconte d. 1404 Lionel died in 1368.
6. John of Ghent ["Gaunt"] Duke of Lancaster, d. 1399. Married :
1] Blanche Plantagenet, t he marriage produced three children, one of whom became Henry IV.
2] Contance/Constanza of Castile,.
3] Catherine Swynford [sister of Geoffrey Chaucer's wife].

7. Blanche died in infancy.
8. Edmund of Langley, b.1341, d.1402, [first] Duke of York [1385], Kt. of the Garter [1361]
Married 1] Isabella /Isabel of Castile in 1372 who was the sister of Constance, who married
John of Gaunt. 2] Joan Holland who died 1434.
9. Blanche- died in infancy.
10. Mary d. 1362
11. Margaret d. relatively young in 1361 married John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke who died in 1375
12. William died in infancy.
By others:
13. Thomas of Woodstock [illegitimate], Duke of Gloucester, d. 1397. Married Eleanor de
Bohun who died in 1399.
Edward III was also reputed to have had many mistresses most notably Alice Perrers after
Queen Philippa's death in 1369. Edward had at least three children by Alice Perrers, a son
and two daughters, the son was Nicholas de Litlington, who became abbott of Westminster,
was it he, the mistresses son, who ministered over the burial of Edward III?
King Edward I
King Edward II
Geoffrey Chaucer
John of Gaunt

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

November 10, 2008

A lot of people get confused about the difference between a strategy and a tactic. Since these are two words that I use often on this blog I shall explain the difference between the two. The difference is simple, easy to understand, but gets confused far too often.

Strategy comes from the Greek word Stratēgos meaning “the art of the general”. Our word strategy is not limited to military affairs, but is also used in business and politics, among other things. Strategy refers to the overall plan of accomplishing a goal. In a military example, the strategy would be the method of waging the war or campaign.

Tactics comes from the Greek word Taktikē meaning “The art of organizing an army”. Tactics are used to win an engagement or battle, not a war. Tactics are the methods of fulfilling the strategy.

Strategy without tactics is nothing more than a thought, an idea trapped within a man’s head. Strategy guides tactics so that men do not die in vain. Tactics without strategy is nothing more than pointless bloodshed. Therefore, the two are in need of each other. They sustain each other. One is useless without the other, and the man who understand this is well on his way to avoiding many grievous errors that have occurred in history.

Think of it this way: Strategy=Big Tactic=Small.

American trained Iraqi troops about to board a UH-60. Through the use of helicopters, these troops are able catch insurgents off guard and raid their positions.

Battle of Montaperti: 13th Century Violence on the Italian ‘Hill of Death’

The 13th century was arguably the darkest period of Italian history, marked by bloody struggles between rival political factions. The 15th century (the so-called Age of Warlords) was likewise replete with unscrupulous Italian despots who ruled with a refined cruelty, from Giangaleazzo Visconti to Cesare Borgia, but at least it was also a time of great creative achievement — the Renaissance.

In contrast, the 13th century was generally a time of unmitigated violence. Entire families were expunged in escalating blood feuds reminiscent of vendettas among the Mafia families in more recent times. The tragedy of Romeo Montecchi and Juliet Capuleti (made famous by William Shakespeare’s play in 1595) took place in that time.

The game of power made every northern Italian town a theater of civil wars. A family backing a particular political party often controlled a neighborhood adjacent to one controlled by a family belonging to a rival party. The year 1198 saw the beginning of two such political parties–the Guelphs and Ghibellines. (The Montecchis were Ghibellines the Capuletis were Guelphs.) The names are of German origin. At that time, German emperors also reigned over Italy, through a parallel kingdom built up by the Unrochingi, which by 888 was the first dynasty of the world whose rulers wore crowns considered holy by the Church.

The Guelphs became the upholders of papal supremacy, while the Ghibellines supported the political claims of German emperors and kings of Italy. Later, the Guelphs split into two factions: the Blacks (extreme Guelphs) and the Whites (moderate Guelphs). Ghibellines came to be regarded as the party of noblemen, Black Guelphs the faction of the upper middle class, and White Guelphs the faction of the lower middle class. The truth, however, was that all of those parties and factions steadily degenerated into gangs without any ideology who fought for the hegemonic ambitions of their own bosses to control local businesses and rackets.

In the middle of the 13th century, northern Italy, the so-called kingdom of Italy, was a myriad of independent city-states–more than 60, not counting smaller villages and excluding the independent republic of Venice. Central Italy was made up of the Papal States, from which the popes vied for rule over European Christendom with the Holy Roman Empire.

Southern Italy and the island of Sicily made up the kingdom of Sicily, whose ruling Norman Altavilla dynasty was replaced in 1194 by the Swabian dynasty–officially through a joyful marriage, but also by killing all the upholders of the Altavillas who did not agree with the change. As a child, William III, the last offspring of the Altavillas, was maimed by the Swabian thugs and then disappeared (it seems he died in what is now western Austria). An unusual fiefdom within the Sicilian domain was the town of Lucera, which was an autonomous Islamic republic allied with the Swabians.

In 1258, King Manfredi I ruled over southern Italy and also in northern Italy, where he was regarded as the chief of the Ghibelline Party. In Italy, his allies included Ezzelino da Romano, the powerful tyrant of Venetia, called the ‘Son of the Devil’ because of his violent temperament. Ezzelino, who married into the Swabians, ruled over a large territory and threatened all of his neighbors. Moreover, as a Ghibelline he controlled the strategic road to Germany. Manfredi, who controlled a kingdom that was supposed to have been ruled by his nephew Conradino (Little Conrad), had stolen the crown. He then set his ambitions on becoming ruler over Germany and northern Italy. Manfredi was heavy-handed when it came to domestic politics in southern Italy, he defended his power by sweeping away all opposition. His foreign politics were just as unscrupulous. Hoping to improve relations with the papacy (the popes hated the Swabians), he supported Pope Alexander IV when the latter decided to eliminate the tyrant Ezzelino, who was Manfredi’s brother-in-law. The Guelphs’ crusade against Ezzelino, who they represented as a tyrant who scorned God and all human beings, was made up of the Papacy, Venice, Milan, Ferrara, Padua, Mantua and Cremona. At the Battle of Cassano d’Adda, fought on September 19, 1259, Ezzelino was wounded, defeated and arrested. He died in the prison of Soncino a few days later. His entire family was subsequently killed.

After Cassano d’Adda, the relationship between the papacy and Manfredi did not permanently improve. The struggles also continued between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, especially in Tuscany, where the hatred between Florence (Guelph) and Siena (Ghibelline) escalated. Both towns wanted hegemony over Tuscany.

The Sienese, who knew that the Florentines wanted to destroy their town, asked Manfredi for help. In December 1259, Manfredi sent a force of 800 German knights and some Muslim noblemen from Lucera, led by his brother, Giordano d’Anglona.

In April 1260, Florence organized a great coalition to smash the Sienese. Jacopino Rangoni, the mayor of Florence, soon had 12 generals and nearly 35,000 soldiers at his disposal. All of the males of Florence aged 15 through 70 took up arms, and they were joined by troops from Genoa, Piacenza, Bologna, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato, Arezzo, Volterra, San Gimignano and the papal towns of Perugia and Orvieto. From smaller towns and from Germany, upholders of Conradino also came to fight. There were even Sienese fighting–exiled Guelphs who wanted to take power in their own town.

On the other side, Siena got additional support from Pisa (a traditional enemy of both Genoa and Florence), Cortona, and the Ghibellines of Florence (the most prominent of whom were Guido Novello and Farinata degli Uberti), who were trying to regain power in the town after 10 years in exile. In sum, the Sienese commander in chief, Aldobrandino di Santa Fiora, had about 20,000 soldiers.

September 4, 1260, a Saturday, would be the bloodiest day of the Italian Middle Ages. The ‘eternal peace’ signed by Florence and Siena on July 31, 1255, was only a memory, and the ongoing duel between those two towns, which had begun in 1140, was about to reach its gory climax. Near Montaperti (the ‘hill of death’), a handful of houses within sight of Siena, civilians prayed in churches for victory.

The Sienese were the first to attack. Both sides concentrated their efforts on conquering the Carroccio of the enemy–the holy wagon that always accompanied medieval Italian armies, where a priest celebrated mass during the battle.

The battle lasted from dawn until sunset. Although the Ghibellines were not as numerous as the Guelphs, they were more aggressive, and Manfredi’s German knights were selected troops. When sunset came and the last attempt of the Guelphs to conquer the Sienese Carroccio failed, some things occurred that finally decided the battle. First, the Count of Arras, a Ghibelline, launched an attack from Monselvoli. Then, a Florentine Ghibelline named Bocca degli Abati betrayed his own army. With his sword, he cut off the hand of the ensign-bearer of the Florentine cavalry, Jacopo dei Pazzi. The Guelphs were taken aback by that betrayal at the critical point of the battle, and while Abati and his allies (hundreds of whom had been waiting for the right moment) were attacking their former comrades-in-arms, the Ghibellines launched their final offensive.

For Florence and her allies, the Battle of Montaperti turned into a disaster. The Guelphs began to flee, and the Ghibellines, made crazy by their success, killed without restraint, including enemies who were ready to surrender. The Arbia Creek became red with Florentine blood. When night fell, 10,000 men lay dead in the field and 4,000 were missing. The Sienese and their allies took 15,000 prisoners and, of course, the Florentine Carroccio.

More than 700 years later, a cippus (monument) at Montaperti reminds passers-by of the tragedy that took place.

The Battle of Montaperti was a short-lived victory. In the short run, Florence became Ghibelline, and Manfredi’s influence over Tuscany grew. But the new pope, Urban IV, called for help from Charles of Anjou, brother of the king of France, a man thirsty for power. Landing in Italy, Charles became chief of the Guelphs and, after his coronation as king of Sicily, he went from Rome to southern Italy to destroy the Swabian dynasty–once and for all.

The big battle took place at Benevento on February 26, 1266. The Anjou cavalry, helped by traitors among the Swabian troops, destroyed Manfredi’s army. The Swabian regime collapsed within a few days of that defeat. The lords of manors who hitherto had always been pro-Swabian, became, as if by magic, pro-Anjou!

Manfredi was killed during the battle, and to this day the location of his tomb is still a mystery. His wife, Queen Elena, was arrested in Trani and died as a prisoner in a castle in Nocera six years later. Her children, separated from their mother, were swallowed up by the Anjou prisons. A new Pope, Clement IV, had called them ‘progeny of snakes.’

Two years later, in 1268, Conradino, the last of the Swabian family, was taken prisoner by the Anjous and was beheaded in Naples, the new capital of southern Italy. Under the Anjou dynasty, southern Italy sank into the darkest feudalism. There was no place for Swabian allies: 34 years after the Battle of Benevento, the Islamic Republic of Lucera was destroyed.

The pitiless end of the Swabian dynasty had other famous consequences. In Florence and in Siena, the Guelphs regained power and started a fierce persecution of the Ghibellines. Also in Florence, the Guelphs split into Whites and Blacks under the Cerchi and the Donati families, respectively. Supported by Pope Boniface VIII, the extreme faction, the Blacks, under Corso Donati, ultimately won out. Among the Whites who felt Donati’s wrath was the writer Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy. Dante, who hated the Blacks, was condemned to death by burning at the stake on March 10, 1302, but he was later able to escape before the sentence was carried out. It is a small consolation, perhaps, that the casualties in Italy’s shameful era of civil strife did not include the ‘father of the modern Italian language.’

This article was written by Marco Picone-Chiodo and originally published in the June 1996 issue of Military History magazine.

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Medieval Battle with Flails

18 Sunday Jul 2010

Medieval Battle with Flails – this rare video is showing mass knight fight with flails. Hussite strategy against medieval knights.

Flail was a favourite Hussite weapon during Hussite wars in Bohemia (15th century). Hussites annihilated several armies of crusaders.

Knights fighting with flails

Hussite strategy against knight armies

Lets imagine Hussites on their war wagons. They are shooting with artillery, guns, crosbows and slings. Crusaders running their cavalry attack. Knights use lances. Lance can be used once, knight must draw his sword after lance attack. Both weapons – lance and sword are useless against Hussites protected on war wagons. Hussite warriors has no horses but they are still on a higher position than knights on their horses. Hussites using flails, pikes, partisans, swords, maces, and other weapons to beat group of knights driven into chaos after totally useless attack. Hussite cavalry attacking demoralized crusaders thrown out of horses and finishing battle with only a few loses.

Notice on video – flail can be a very fast weapon comparing to lance that can be used only once.

History facts

Crusaders from mostly German lands but also from other European countries (Italy, France, Flanders, Spain..) lost more than 20 battles against Hussites in Bohemia. Hussites were more flexible and they used advantage of properly selected terrain against slow medieval knights with the only one strategy – direct charge with lance and the following fight with sword.

Watch the video: The Greatest Knights: Edward, the Black Prince (January 2022).