19 September – On this day
The Battle of Poitiers was a major battle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The battle occurred on this day in 1356 near Poitiers, France. Preceded by the Battle of Crécy in 1346, and followed by the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, it was the second of the three great English victories of the war.
Edward, Prince of Wales (later known as the Black Prince), the eldest son of King Edward III, began a great chevauchée (raid) on 8 August 1356. He conducted many scorched earth raids northwards from the English base in Aquitaine, in an effort to bolster his troops in central France, as well as to raid and ravage the countryside. His forces met little resistance, burning numerous towns to the ground and living off the land, until they reached the River Loire at Tours. They were unable to take the castle or burn the town due to a heavy downpour. This delay allowed John II, King of France, to attempt to catch Edward’s army. The King, who had been besieging Breteuil in Normandy, arranged the bulk of his army at Chartres to the north of the besieged Tours, dismissing approximately 15,000–20,000 of his lower-quality infantry to increase the speed of his forces.
At the beginning of the battle, the English removed their baggage train leading the French to think they were about to retreat which provoked a hasty charge by the French knights against the archers. The archers moved to the sides of the cavalry and shot the horses in the flanks. The results were devastating, causing the first ‘battle’ led by Jean de Clermont, Marshal of France to collapse and fall back. The Dauphin Charles, the French king’s eldest son, attacked and pressed his advance in spite of heavy shot by the English archers and complications of running into the retreat of Clermont’s force. He advanced to the English lines but ultimately fell back. The French were unable to penetrate the protective hedge the English were using. This phase of the attack lasted about two hours.
This cavalry based attack was followed by an infantry attack. The Dauphin’s infantry engaged in heavy fighting, but withdrew to regroup. The next wave of infantry under the Duke of Orléans, seeing that the Dauphin’s men were not attacking, turned back and panicked. This stranded the forces led by the King himself. This was a formidable fighting force, and the English archers were running very low on arrows; the archers joined the infantry in the fight and some of both groups mounted horses to form an improvised cavalry.
At about this time, King John sent two sons from the battlefield. His youngest son, Philip, stayed with him and fought at his side in the final phase of the battle. When the Dauphin and other sons withdrew, the duke of Orléans also withdrew. Combat was hard, but the Black Prince still had a mobile reserve hidden in the woods, commanded by Jean de Grailly, the Captal de Buch; which was able to circle around and attack the French in the flank and rear. The French were fearful of encirclement and attempted to flee. King John was captured with his immediate entourage only after a memorable resistance.