From Spear to Flintlock: A History of War in Europe and the Middle East to the French Revolution

By Frederic J. Baumgartner | Go to book overview

11
The End of the Medieval Military

The French threw themselves on the English archers, who had their sharp stakes fixed before them . . . . And the French all retreated excepting three men; to whom it unluckily happened that by their horses falling on the stakes they were thrown to the ground, among the archers, and were immediately killed. The remainder, or the greater part of them, with all their horses, from fear of the arrows retreated into the French advanced-guard in which they caused great confusion, breaking and exposing it in many places, and caused them to retire to some new-sown ground for their horses were so wounded by arrows that they were unmanageable. And thus the advanced-guard being thrown into disorder, the men-at-arms fell in great numbers and their horses took to flight, following which example numbers of the French fled.

The lord of Saint-Remy quoted in Alfred Burne, The Agincourt War ( London, 1956), p. 81. The lord of Saint-Remy was a Burgundian noble who fought for the English at Agincourt in 1415.

The meaning of the English victories at CrÉcy and Poitiers was clear enough to the more perceptive leaders in France, especially the new king, Charles V, and the constable, Bertrand Du Guesclin. Upon becoming king in 1364, Charles quickly revealed his style of rule: the use of cunning instead of direct confrontation, little commitment to the principles of chivalry, and a willingness to take small gains instead of waging all on one great battle. He was the first French king not to command in the field, leaving that duty to his lieutenants, especially Du Guesclin.

The constable was from a petty noble family of Brittany, and his lowly origins were part of the reason why most French nobles hated him. More important, however, was his refusal to take on the English in pitched battles. Du Guesclin was determined to wage a war of attrition, striking at isolated forces, harassing armies on chevauchÉc, and raiding English-held castles. Illustrative of his tactics is the story that he used prostitutes to enter an English castle, who during the night opened the gates for his forces. The story goes that a prominent French noble refused to lead his

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