The Armies of Crecy and Poitiers (Men-at-Arms, Volume 111)

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In the later Middle Ages and throughout the Hundred Years War foot soldiers began to be used strategically, as an attacking force, although tactically they remained most effective when deployed in a defensive formation. If they established such a position infantry could — and typically did — repel cavalry.

A king had to show he was not impotent or unmoved should an enemy encroach on his sovereign territory — defending the realm was his most fundamental responsibility. And if an enemy commander, royal or otherwise, was unwilling to make the first move, as at Agincourt, longbowmen or crossbowmen could be used to provoke him. In England the major impetus to strategic innovation was a result of the crushing defeat at Bannockburn.

When Edward III returned to Scotland in the s he sought to lay to rest the spectre of that defeat and employed tactics similar to those which Robert Bruce had used so effectively against his father. The Scottish campaigns of the s proved a fine training ground for the English forces, and once the war with France began the lessons learned in Scotland were quickly put to the test. At Morlaix in , William Bohun, earl of Northampton c. Northampton defeated a substantially larger army by deploying infantry, making extensive use of the longbow and choosing a defensive position which he improved by digging a concealed ditch.

In response to these defeats the French began to experiment with a range of counter-strategies. In encounters at Lunalonge , Taillebourg , Ardres and Mauron they made imaginative use of cavalry and deployed an increasing number of foot soldiers. Such tactics were put into action at Poitiers , although without great success. Further initiatives were attempted in the years that followed: in at the battle of Auray, Bertrand du Guesclin tried to counter the threat the English longbowmen posed by advancing heavily armed infantry behind pavises large, usually rectangular shields that could be held in the hands or propped up by a wooden or iron brace.

He did this successfully although his forces were defeated in the subsequent hand-to-hand combat. Indeed, the balance of power shifted so far in this period that those living on the south coast of England received a bitter taste of the reality of war, and invasion came close on two occasions in and Stalemate followed, however.

The Most Famous, Bloodiest Medieval Battle - AGINCOURT - Full Documentary

The innovations that Charles V and du Guesclin had promoted were forgotten; for a time internal feuds and rivalries superseded those with the Old Enemy. Strategic innovation on any meaningful scale could be achieved only with sufficient resources and the right type of troops. It was recognised that, in order to be successful, armies needed to be properly equipped and comprised of experienced soldiers. The sheer length of the war ensured that a greater proportion of the resources of the state on both sides of the Channel came to be devoted to military purposes. The nature of service in arms changed as a result: sophisticated processes of recruitment, the implementation of innovative strategies and tactics and the use of new military technology all contributed to alter radically the experience of conflict for all those who fought — those who were the new bellatores.

In England the process developed swiftly in the early years of the war, building on earlier advances. In France the development was slower and punctuated with long periods of stasis, but by the end of the conflict Charles VII had outstripped his English rival Henry VI and constructed a permanent, standing army. At the outset of the war both sides relied, to varying degrees, on traditional means to recruit soldiers. The former was a call to military service of those who were royal fief-holders; the latter, introduced after the defeat at Courtrai in , was a military summons of all those fit to bear arms regardless of their status.

However, it proved to be a far from ideal system — slow, unreliable and lacking in uniformity. In part this was because it tended to be organised on a local level. Troops recruited in this way usually fought close to home, having been raised to combat a specific threat. The ban was, essentially, an extension of the system of urban defence. Towns took responsibility for their own protection through the system of guet and garde watch and ward. However, a proper national system could only be implemented with sufficient funds and these could only be acquired through taxation.

Until the Crown developed a robust and regular means of raising money it could not develop a professional army. In England, the precocious development of institutional financial systems meant that kings gained access to regular taxation from almost the beginning of the war. This, however, was not without its problems as it placed greater power in the hands of Parliament and especially in those of the Commons.

Battle of Crécy

This increased the scope of royal authority but could restrict the direction royal policy might take. Nonetheless, as a consequence of this development, recruitment to English armies became increasingly professional in the early years of the Hundred Years War, and the same basic model of recruiting soldiers was retained from c. Hence, by the time of the Agincourt campaign, soldiers were contracted through the tried and tested indenture system. The system was named after the document that formed the military contract.

The contract was copied twice onto a piece of parchment with an indented line cut between the two copies. Should a dispute arise, the two copies could be fitted together again showing that the documents and the conditions of service they specified matched.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Crécy, by Hilaire Belloc.

Indentures had a long history prior to the Hundred Years War but they were employed in an ever more standardised way and in far greater numbers after it began. The indenture system offered a much more sophisticated approach to recruitment than the traditional feudal array. Indentures allowed commanders to specify the types of troops they wished to raise for their expeditionary forces, their number, the proportion of infantrymen to archers and cavalry in the case of Agincourt approximately one man-at-arms to three archers , and conditions of service including pay, equipment and regulations concerning booty.

The growing professionalism of military activity in England and in France was a direct perhaps inevitable consequence of the Hundred Years War, and it offered new avenues of employment for many. Military service with its theoretically regular pay offered a career path or, certainly, a means of supplementing their income for the common man. Other incentives might also be important: pardons for various offences, the potential for booty or the chance of promotion.

Even during periods of truce there were opportunities to make a living through service in garrisons overseas or on the frontiers of Scotland and Wales. Calais often housed over a thousand men; after Harfleur was home to 1, men-at-arms and archers, and after about Normandy was garrisoned by between 2, and 6, troops.

Often the best way to secure wages for the last campaign was to sign on for the next. This process probably encouraged soldiers to serve for long periods, although it did not ensure a comfortable retirement.


In a petition for alms made to Henry VI between and , one Walter Orpington claimed to have served in France for thirty-six years during which time he was stationed in various garrisons and fought in numerous armies. Orpington would have served in a retinue. The indenture system raised armies composed of a number of retinues — individual commanders were contracted to bring a retinue containing specific numbers of troops with them. For the aristocracy these might consist of existing household staff or those formally recruited throughout the country by commissioners of array. In the Agincourt campaign the size of retinues varied considerably.

Some were very small: at least men made contracts to serve with fewer than ten men, and some brought no additional troops at all. Those of high rank and those with the greatest military experience brought the largest retinues. Thomas, duke of Clarence — , for example, recruited men-at-arms and archers; his retinue included an earl, two bannerets and fourteen knights. It was not only soldiers who had to be recruited for a campaign. Pavillioners, grooms, cooks, stablemen, cordwainers, wheelwrights, fletchers, bowyers, saddlers, armourers, clerks, tailors, miners, stonecutters, smiths, waggoners and physicians and surgeons might be required.

Even on brief raids a man-at-arms would usually be accompanied by one or more servants. These could add as much as 50 per cent to the numerical strength if not the fighting strength of a raiding force, while an army of occupation might be doubled in size. For major operations in which the king participated the royal household was put under arms, and so the expeditionary force included members of the pantry, kitchen, buttery, napery, spicery, poultry, scullery, bakehouse, hall, chamber and wardrobe.

Edward III even took thirty falconers with him on campaign in — This level of recruitment resulted in many sections of English society becoming increasingly militarised. The skeletal evidence, revealing wounds received in much earlier conflicts, shows that many of these men, like Walter Orpington, stayed in or returned to military service over an extended period. One of the Towton soldiers, who was about fifty years of age when he died, had suffered a ghastly facial wound some twenty-five years previously, perhaps when he fought in France.

Such men as this had made a military career for themselves.

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This probably suggests strenuous exercise, perhaps training with a longbow or unimanual weapon from a young age. In France, the Valois kings took some similar steps towards developing a professional army.

Jean II instituted a substantial review of military structures following his accession in , and Charles V made a series of major improvements in the s and s. The establishment of a relatively stable tax system, the military imperatives of the Hundred Years War and the support of a significant section of the French nobility allowed Charles to come close to gaining a permanent army of men-at-arms and some mounted crossbowmen by the end of his reign.

It is by no means certain that Charles intended to continue with this military system in the long term, but it is certainly the case that when he and Bertrand du Guesclin died in the core of the army decayed. Soon the only permanent military forces were garrisons in Normandy and the south-west. The feudal array was re-established, the nobility took charge of local defence and national political divisions became reflected in divisions in military structures that were disastrously evident at Agincourt. Consequently, as it progressed, the Hundred Years War was fought, increasingly, by paid professionals.

The capture of a king

In England after c. Yet it was also a means of social advancement, as Thomas Gray noted in the late s. The militarisation of society meant that independent mercenary companies or Free Companies became a common feature on the military landscape.