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The Battle of Poitiers - 19th September 1356

In August 1356, ten years to the month after Crecy, the Black Prince set out on a French raid, in a broad sweep from Bordeaux to Bourges and Tours. His army was in the nature of a light raiding force consisting of 3,500 men-at-arms, 2,500 longbowmen, and 1,000 light troops (mainly Gascons.)

The French king, Jean II had to act: his revenue and prestige were at stake. Gathering a force of 8,000 mounted men-at-arms, 6,000 footmen and 2,000 crossbowmen, and including Swiss, Scottish and German mercenaries, he set out in pursuit.

By 18 September, Jean caught up with the plunder-laden English just south of Poitiers. Edward, the Black Prince at first tried to negotiate, offering to surrender his prisoners and booty in return for free passage. This was refused.

The English dispositions the following day, 19 September 1356, suggest that the English wanted to flee the field. The wagon train was moved to cross the River Moisson. Edward's force was lined up along a hedge and ditch which they had dug during the previous day's negotiations. As at Crecy, they was formed up into three "battles" in which the men-at-arms were flanked by the longbowmen.

Three hundred picked knights charged forward from the French lines. Just as rapidly the survivors retreated, their charge having been shattered by the longbowmen. This was not a total surprise to the French king. He was advised by a Scot named Douglas to dismount his men-at-arms and form them into three divisions. The first division was commanded by the Dauphin. It advanced - slowly - but took fewer casualties than the cavalry charge. Hand to hand fighting was fierce but gradually Edward gained the upper hand and the French withdrew.

Edward's Anglo-Gascon knights were exhausted. Unaccountably, at this point, the Duc d'Orleans led his men of the second division off the field of battle. There remained the third division, under the command of King Jean himself.

In this extremity, Edward decided to remount his depleted force. He counter-attacked the advancing French, throwing every possible man onto every possible beast, including the pack-horses. The longbowmen supported the advancing knights. Edward also had a cunning plan. While he engaged the attention of the French to the front, he sent one of his Gascon commanders, the Captal de Buch with a force on a concealed march to take the attack to the enemy's flank and rear. When this happened, the French were routed.

While English losses were heavy, those of the French were catastrophic. They lost 2,500 knights dead and a further 2,000 captured including 26 leading nobles, the Dauphin - and the king himself. French doctrinal rigidity had been beaten by English flexibility and the superiority of the longbow.

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