The French attempt to get two barges laden with supplies past Aiguillon, to the further reaches of the Garonne. Two sorties issue from the city, one of small boats from Lunac, and another, led by Alexandre de Caumont, over the Lot bridge and through the French camp and north along the river, which capture the barges and bring them into the city. The French launch a counter attack as de Caumont is attempting to return, and after several hours of fighting and heavy losses the French capture the gate and fighting their way onto the bridge. They cut the sortie party off, and many are killed, and many others, including de Caumont, are taken prisoner. De Caumonts enormous ransom, mostly paid with an advance from the Earl of Lancaster, is paid and de Caumont is fighting again within days.
Running from April to August 1346, the unsuccessful French siege of the Gascon town of Aiguillon seriously weakened the French military position throughout south- western France.
In late 1345, Ralph STAFFORD , Lord Stafford, captured Aiguillon after a brief siege. Situated at the confluence of the Lot and the Garonne, the town commanded the approaches to La Réole and BORDEAUX ; control of Aiguillon was therefore vital to the security of English GASCONY . An arrangement seems to have been made in advance with confederates within the town, who attacked the French garrison and opened the gates shortly after Stafford’s arrival. Determined to restore French fortunes in the southwest after the recent successful campaigns there of HENRY OF GROSMONT , earl of Lancaster, PHILIP VI dispatched a large army to the region in March 1346. Commanded by the king’s son, John, duke of Normandy, and numbering almost twenty thousand, the army arrived at Aiguillon on 1 April. After proclaiming the ARRIÈRE-BAN for southern France, the duke settled down for a long siege, vowing that he would not withdraw until the town fell.
To prevent the kind of surprise attack from a relieving force that had recently destroyed an army of French besiegers at AUBEROCHE , the duke ordered that defensive trenches be dug behind the French siege lines. However, Lancaster, whose army was far inferior in numbers, withdrew to Bordeaux to regroup, waiting for an opportunity to disrupt the French lines of supply and communication. Commanded by Stafford and by the captain of the town, Sir Hugh Menil, the garrison numbered about nine hundred men—six hundred archers and three hundred men-at- arms, with the latter including the famous captains Walter MAUNY and Alexander de Caumont. In the early weeks of the siege, the garrison made frequent sorties on foot and by barge to prevent the French from bridging the rivers and completely encircling the town. By June, the French had cut off communication to the west, although, on 16 June, a daring sortie by Caumont captured two French supply barges.
In July, a contingent of Lancaster’s army fought its way into the town with more supplies, while Normandy found it increasingly difficult to feed his huge force from the surrounding area. Lancaster also harassed the besiegers by killing foragers, seizing supply trains, and attacking isolated units. In late July, a force two thousand strong, which the duke had detached to check raids on his supply lines, was attacked and defeated by the Anglo-Gascon garrison from Bajamont. With the siege stalemated and the CRÉCY campaign developing in the north, Philip recalled his son. On 20 August, after failing to persuade Lancaster to accept a local truce, Normandy abandoned the siege of Aiguillon and marched east along the Garonne. With the duke’s departure, Lancaster moved quickly to clear the Lot Valley of French garrisons and to secure English control of most of Gascony.
HENRY OF GROSMONT, DUKE OF LANCASTER (c. 1310–1361)
A kinsman of EDWARD III and revered ancestor of the House of LANCASTER , Henry of Grosmont, first duke of Lancaster, was among the most important of England’s military and diplomatic leaders during the first decades of the HUNDRED YEARS WAR .
Called Henry of Grosmont to distinguish him from his father, Henry, earl of Lancaster, Grosmont was knighted in 1330 when he was called to PARLIAMENT in place of his blind father. Descendants of Henry III, his family led the baronial opposition to EDWARD II, who executed Grosmont’s uncle, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1322. Although Grosmont’s father supported the deposition of Edward II in 1327, his relations with the king’s supplanters, Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, earl of March, were equivocal and may have kept Grosmont from court until Edward III overthrew his mother and March in 1330. Being of similar age, Grosmont quickly won the king’s confidence. In April 1331, he accompanied the king to France, where, disguised as a merchant, Edward had a secret meeting with PHILIP VI. Grosmont also served in the Scottish campaigns of the 1330s and in April 1336 was appointed king’s lieutenant in SCOTLAND .
In March 1337, Edward ennobled Grosmont as earl of Derby, one of six young noblemen given earldoms to enlarge the English military command in preparation for war with France. In August 1337, Derby led a raid on Cadzand. In 1338, while in the Low Countries with the king, he participated in negotiations that created Edward’s ANTI-FRENCH COALITION , and he took part in the brief THIÉRACHE CAMPAIGN . In June 1340, Derby fought at SLUYS and in September was present at the siege of TOURNAI and helped negotiate the Truce of ESPLECHIN . He spent most of the following winter in the Low Countries in the custody of the king’s creditors. Beginning in 1343, Derby served as the king’s representative in a series of continental negotiations that concluded in 1345 with the failed Anglo-French peace talks held at Avignon under the auspices of Pope CLEMENT VI.
Made lieutenant of AQUITAINE on 13 March 1345, Derby launched a highly successful campaign that culminated in October with the battle of AUBEROCHE , a victory that brought the Agenais and most of Périgord and Quercy under PLANTAGENET control. Auberoche increased both the earl’s reputation and his wealth; his great London palace, the Savoy, was built with the RANSOMS taken in this campaign. In 1346, Lancaster—he had succeeded his father in 1345—conducted a successful CHEVAUCHÉE that captured Poitiers and extended English authority into Saintonge. In 1347, he laid down his lieutenancy in Aquitaine to participate in the siege of CALAIS and then helped negotiate the Truce of CALAIS on the town’s fall. He became a founding member of the Order of the GARTER in 1348 and, in 1351, became, as reward for his services, only the second duke in English history (after EDWARD, THE BLACK PRINCE ). In an unprecedented show of favor, Edward III also gave the duke a lifetime grant of palatine powers in the county of Lancaster, thereby making Lancaster virtual ruler of his own APPANAGE .
Lancaster led another chevauchée in Aquitaine in 1349, fought at the Battle of WINCHELSEA in 1350, and was involved in negotiation of the abortive Treaty of GUINES in 1354. Appointed royal lieutenant in BRITTANY in September 1355, he oversaw the English war effort in that duchy until 1358 and also conducted a successful chevauchée in NORMANDY in 1356. Lancaster also participated in the RHEIMS CAMPAIGN of 1359–60 and was chief English negotiator at the talks that resulted in the Treaty of BRÉTIGNY in 1360. However, he did not live to see the treaty implemented, dying at Leicester Castle on 23 March 1361. Because of the Livre de seyntz medicines, a French memoir written by Lancaster in 1354, we know a great deal more about his personality than is common for nonroyal figures of the fourteenth century.
The chevauchée, a swift and highly destructive raid through enemy territory, was a military tactic frequently employed by English forces during the HUNDRED YEARS WAR , especially in campaigns before 1380. Such raids sought to destroy the authority and legitimacy of the VALOIS monarchy and to win profit and honor for the English Crown and soldiery.
Further Reading: Burne, Alfred H. The Crécy War. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1999; Sumption, Jonathan. The Hundred Years War. Vol. 1, Trial by Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. Fowler, Kenneth. The King’s Lieutenant: Henry of Grosmont, First Duke of Lancaster, 1310–1361. London: Elek, 1969.