David Nicolle. The Great Chevauchée: John of Gaunt’s Raid on France 1373. Illustrated by Peter Dennis. Raid series. Botley, England: Osprey, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84908-247-1. Illustrations. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 80. $18.95 (paperback).
The Caroline War (1369-1389/96) has received little attention outside of general studies of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). “This interesting conflict,” so writes Dr David Nicolle, “has been largely ignored by English historians, and has been misunderstood by some of those who did refer to it” (p.12). As such, Nicolle’s brief study The Great Chevauchée in the Osprey Raid series is a valuable contribution to the literature. The author is well-known for his many studies in the Osprey military history series, including French Armies of the Hundred Years War (2000), Crécy 1346: Triumph of the Longbow (2000), Poitiers 1356: The Capture of a King (2004), Orléans 1429: France Turns the Tide (2005), and The Fall of English France, 1449-53 (2012).
At the end of the first phase (Edwardian War) of the Hundred Years War in 1360, Edward III of England (ruled 1327-1377) ruled over about a third of France. However, Charles V of France (ruled 1364-1380) sought revenge for the humiliating Treaty of Brétigny (1360) without risking a full-scale war. The French monarch started by intervening in the Breton War of Succession (1341-1364) and coming to terms with the pro-English Jean V, Duke of Brittany and Count of Montfort (1345-1399). Charles V and Edward III then fought a proxy war supporting rival claimants to the kingdom of Castile and Léon in the War of the Two Pedros (1356-1375). In the meantime, England’s military occupation of French territory was draining financial resources. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1363-1404), supported his brother Charles V.
In 1369, Charles V created a clash with Edward (the Black Prince), Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine, over his rule of Aquitaine. The French monarch ordered the “confiscation” of Aquitaine, which resulted in the outbreak of the Caroline War. The English were caught unprepared for this conflict. The French army, under the command of Bertrand du Guesclin, was joined by Charles V’s brothers the Duke of Anjou, Duke of Berry, and Duke of Burgundy. During the first six years of the conflict the French achieved several military successes along with a combined Franco-Castilian naval victory against the English at La Rochelle (1372). The Caroline War saw “the fall, one after another, of English-held fortresses that were supposed to guard Aquitaine” (p.13). Du Guesclin defeated an Anglo-Breton army at the battle of Chizé and took the English-held town, completing the reconquest Poitou in early 1373. The French next invaded Brittany.
England was on the defensive. English leaders believed that the only offensive strategy they could carry out was the traditional chevauchée. The hope was that a large-scale raid would reverse the course of the war. As such, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and the Duke of Brittany assembled a large Anglo-Breton army at Calais. Lancaster led the so-called Great Chevauchée from Calais southeastward towards Reims in August 1373. The French army shadowed John of Gaunt very closely and avoided a major battle with the Anglo-Breton force. Frustrated, John of Gaunt decided to turn his Great Chevauchée towards the southwest and make the extremely difficult march across central France towards Bordeaux in October, reaching safety in late December. The Great Chevauchée had marched 900 kilometers across France, losing about a third of the army and most of the horses. The Anglo-Breton army carried out widespread destruction along its path, but there were no major battles. Most of the fighting was on foot in ambushes, skirmishes, and unsuccessful assaults on French towns and suburbs. The Great Chevauchée, according to Nicolle, raised English military prestige for a while but was “certainly no major victory” (p.69). The author stresses that the French contained, if not defeated, the Great Chevauchée. It “was just one more step in a military and political process that saw the English confined to a few small coastal enclaves by the time of the 1396 truce” (p.76).
Nicolle provides an interesting, useful study of the Great Chevauchée. The work is full of illustrations, including valuable maps. It adds to the rich literature on the Hundred Years War, including some related works such as Richard Vernier’s The Flower of Chivalry: Bertrand du Guesclin and the Hundred Years War (2003) and Anthony Goodman’s John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe (1992).
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota