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Battle of Poitiers

The Battle of Poitiers was fought on September 19 1356 during the Hundred Years' War. Edward, the Black Prince was laying waste to the area north of the English holdings in Gascony, in the hope of depriving the French of the ability to continue the war in that area. His forces, around 7,000 men, were attacked at the village of Maupertuis, three kilometres south of Poitiers, by a superior French army numbering 15,000-20,000 and commanded by king John II of France himself. The French were hoping to destroy the English army and prevent it from retreating to Bordeaux. After an attempt to withdraw, Edward is forced to abandon the siege of Tours.

Battle of Poitiers
Dates of battleSeptember 19, 1356
ConflictHundred Years' War
Battle beforeCrecy
Battle afterAzincourt
Site of battlenear Maupertuis,
3km south of Poitiers
Combatant 1England
led byEdward, the Black Prince
Forces7,000 men
Combatant 2France
led byJohn II of France
Forces20,000 men
resultdecisive English victory

A veteran of Crécy, which he fought with only sixteen years old, the Black Prince decided for the same tactical scheme. He adopted for his troops a strongly defensive position, in a plane ground surrounded with natural obstacles, such as a creek on the left and a wood on the back. The luggage wagons were placed along an old Roman road, to insure protection on his weak right side. All men dismounted and were organized in two, perhaps three units, with the English longbowmen placed in a V-formation in both flanks. The Black Prince kept a small cavalry unit, commanded by Captal de Buch, hidden in the woods at the rear.

The attacking French forces were divided in four parts. At the front were around 300 elite knights, commanded by general Clermont and accompanied by German mercenaries (pikemen). The purpose of this group was to charge on the English archers and eliminate the threat they posed. These were followed by three groups of infantry (dismounted cavalry, in this case) commanded by the Dauphin, the Duke of Orleans and King John II.

Right at the beginning of the battle, the English simulated flight on their left wing. This provoked a hasty charge by the French knights against the archers. However, they were expecting this and quickly attacked the enemy, especially the horses, with a shower of arrows. Results were devastating and proved once more that the days of heavy cavalry charges were gone. This attack was followed by the Dauphin's infantry, who engaged in heavy fighting, but withdrew to regroup. The next wave of infantry under Orleans, seeing that the Dauphin's men were not attacking, turned back and panicked. This left the forces led by the King himself. This was a formidable fighting force, and the English were out of arrows: the archers joined the infantry in the fight and some of both groups picked up horses to form an improvised cavalry. Combat was hard but the Black Prince had still a mobile reserve hidden in the woods, which were able to go around and attack the French in the flank and rear. The French were fearful of this encirclement and attempted to flee. King John was captured with his immediate entourage.

The result was a decisive French defeat, not only in military terms, but also economical: France was forced to pay a ransom equivalent to the yearly income of the country times two to have her king back.


Note: The Battle of Tours in 732 is sometimes called 'Battle of Poitiers' as well.