Peter Hoskins. In the Steps of the Black Prince: The Road to Poitiers, 1355-1356. Warfare in History series. Woodbridge, England: Boydell Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84383-611-7. Plates. Figures. Maps. Appendices. Notes. Bibliography. Pp. xviii, 246. $90.00 (hardcover).
Peter Hoskins, a medieval military historian and former British Royal Air Force pilot, writes a fascinating study of Prince Edward’s (the Black Prince) chevauchées (mounted military expeditions) in 1355 and 1356. The Black Prince was Edward III of England’s eldest son, heir to the throne, and his lieutenant in Gascony. In preparing this study, the author walked over 1,300 miles retracing the steps (as much as possible) of the Black Prince and his Anglo-Gascon army.
Hoskins provides a brief discussion of the origins of the Hundred Years War and the first phase (Edwardian War) from 1337 to 1355. The Black Prince accompanied his father, Edward III, on the chevauchée from Normandy to Flanders in 1346. He fought in the English victory over France at the battle of Crécy (1346). Edward III then besieged and captured Calais (1346-1347) after eleven months. English victories resulted in a truce in 1347, and Anglo-French peace negotiations in 1353. The talks broke down in 1355, and Jean II of France (ruled 1350-1364) renewed the conflict.
The Black Prince arrived at Bordeaux in September 1355. Although late in the season, the Black Prince launched his first chevauchée in October. He sought to act swiftly before the French could organize a defense. His objective was to spread devastation throughout Languedoc, and if possible, bring the French to battle. As such, an Anglo-Gascon army of up to 8,000 men cut a path of destruction across southern France, from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean and back (p.21). The first chevauchée lasted until December. The author writes that the chevauchée “had laid waste of the lands of Armagnac, and in going beyond Toulouse had brought fire, pillage and destruction to parts of France that had previously been spared the direct ravages of the war” (p.113). There were considerable financial rewards. There were ransoms to be collected for the prisoners taken, and the booty filled about one thousand carts. The success reduced Jean II’s financial capability to fight the Black Prince.
During the next seven months, the Black Prince consolidated his gains and prepared for a second military expedition. He launched this chevauchée from La Réole (southeast of Bordeaux) with an Anglo-Gascon army of up to 10,000 men in July 1356. The prince sought to destroy the lands of Edward III’s enemies, with the hope of bringing the Count of Poitiers to battle. Some believe that the Black Prince wanted to join up with the Duke of Lancaster, who was fighting the French in Brittany and Normandy. As such, the Black Prince moved north into west-central France. Soon Jean II led a French army towards Tours. In mid-September, the Anglo-Gascon army, consisting of 3,000 men-at-arms, 1,000 sergeants, and 2,000 archers took on and defeated a French army of over 11,000 men at the battle of Poitiers (pp.171-72, 176). Hoskins provides a brief description of the battle. The Black Prince captured Jean II of France, and French morale was shattered. Afterwards, the Anglo-Gascon army returned to Bordeaux in October.
Hoskins discusses the results of the battle of Poitiers. The Anglo-Gascon victory led to a truce in March 1357, and then the First Treaty of London (1358) with Jean II. It included the English acquisition of French lands and a ransom for the French monarch. But, the inability of the French to pay the ransom led to tension, and subsequently a more severe Second Treaty of London (1359) with the French king. The ransom was reduced. However, England would gain more territory, including Touraine, Maine, Anjou, Normandy, and Brittany. As Hoskins writes, “the Angevin empire of Henry II would be restored and the west of France would pass to the English crown” (p.202). Still the French would not ratify this treaty. The Estates General urged the Dauphin Charles to fight England. As a result, Edward III assembled an army of 12,000 men under his command along with the Black Prince and the Duke of Lancaster. Edward III took this English army to Calais, with the objective of marching on Reims and having himself crowned and anointed as King of France. The English force failed in this mission. Nevertheless, Edward III’s show of force resulted in the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), which ended the first phase of the Hundred Years War. The settlement was close to the agreement in the First Treaty of London, with England holding full sovereignty over all the provinces in southwest France, along with Ponthieu, Montreuil, and Calais.
This impressive study is based on Hoskins’ personal knowledge of the landscape and local history, combined with the use of the chronicles and modern historical viewpoints. The author points out the difficult terrain and issues with logistical matters that impacted the expeditions. The work includes numerous photographs and maps indicating the path of the chevauchées. It is a fine addition to the literature on the Edwardian War that includes Herbert James Hewitt’s The Black Prince’s Expedition of 1355-1357 (1958), Clifford J. Rogers’ War, Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy under Edward III, 1327-1360 (2000), David Green’s The Battle of Poitiers 1356 (2002), and Christian Teutsch’s Victory at Poitiers: The Black Prince and the Medieval Art of War (2010).
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota