Battle of Mons-en-Pevele

Mons-en-Pévèle, août 1304 (French Edition) (French) Paperback – July 25, 2015

by Gérard Hugot (Author)

After the victory at the battle of Arques, Willem van Jülich’s rebel Flemish army marched against the French-allied Tournai, but the town did not fall. However, Philip IV (the Fair) was not ready to send an army against the Flemings, wishing instead to negotiate a truce. The king even released the imprisoned Count of Flanders, Guy of Dampierre, to aid in this peace process. Ultimately, this allowed Philip to rebuild his army. Early in 1304 the French king was ready to attack the Flemings. While the French army, led by the king himself, marched north to attack Flanders, the French navy sailed to Zeeland and struck the first blow on 11 May 1304 when it soundly defeated the Flemish army and navy at Zierkzee. Philip the Fair camped at Mons-en-Pevele, then in Flanders. Willem van Jülich, the Flemish leader, decided it was there he would fight the French. The battle of Mons-en-Pevele is one of the most difficult medieval battles to describe, although not because of a paucity of contemporary sources, including most importantly one by a French soldier, Guillaume Guiart, who had fought in the battle, and another by the generally reliable Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent).

The French army was reputedly smaller than the Flemish one, although none of the contemporary sources have credible numbers. It also contained a large number of French knights, whereas the Flemish army, as at the battles of Courtrai and Arques, was almost entirely made up of townspeople, although now more experienced in warfare after almost three years of armed rebellion. The French army in addition had a number of artillery pieces- large mounted crossbows and perhaps some trebuchets- although the Flemings seem to have destroyed them in a raid before the battle began. Finally, the French had brought the oriflamme, a banner of almost relic reputation that was normally only used in fighting against heretics or heathens.

Nevertheless, the French army faced Flemish soldiers highly encouraged by their victories thus far in the rebellion, who desired to fight the French king and believed they could defeat him. They arrived at Mons-en-Pevele on 13 August and set up their line opposite the French. Their formation was similar to that used successfully at Courtrai, but with the addition of a field fortification made up of their wagons and carts circled at their rear. However, the battle was not fought for five days after the arrival of the Flemings, although skirmishing and crossbow fire were frequent during this period. Peace was also discussed between ambassadors from both sides, but to no avail. The impasse was broken on the morning of 18 August when a French cavalry charge into the Flemish line initiated battle. The French fought well, but the Flemings held their position, and both sides took heavy casualties. By midday, after several hours of fighting, the Flemings began to gain the upper hand. Panic ran through the French army, and some began to flee from the battlefield. In desperation, Philip IV sent other cavalry to attack the flanks of the Flemish line, hoping that this would divert Flemish attention; an attempt was also made to attack the field fortification. But the Flemish infantry line continued to hold its position.

Soon the length of the battle and the August heat began to take its toll on both armies. Fatigue and thirst plagued everyone, but the French cavalry, in their heavier armor, seem to have been especially affected by it and many left the fighting. Some of the Flemish leaders believed that the battle was theirs and they withdrew their tired troops, leading Willem van Jülich to meet with the remaining Flemish leaders. They decided to break from their defensive formation and to charge into those French forces left on the battlefield. Initially the Flemish attack was successful, taking the discouraged French troops by surprise and forcing more into flight. Soon the Flemings were among the French camp, even threatening Philip the Fair. Only with great effort did the king’s bodyguards save him, all but two dying in the effort. The oriflamme was destroyed. But now the Flemings were even more exhausted, and Philip was able to rally his army and lead a counterattack that caught the fatigued and disordered Flemish army unprepared for such an assault. They turned and fled in a rout, with the French troops pursuing the fleeing Flemings well into the night. During this phase of the battle Willem van Jülich was killed, perhaps as some sources insist by fatigue and dehydration. Losses were high on both sides, but the Flemings were clearly demoralized, enough so that they agreed to the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge in June 1305, ending their rebellion.

Willem van Jülich

Willem van Jülich (Gulik in Dutch) was the son of Willem V van Jülich and Maria, the daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. Two years after his grandfather had been imprisoned by the French king Philip IV (the Fair) for treason, Willem – sometimes called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his father- came to prominence when he and his uncle, Guy of Namur, joined the 1302 Flemish rebellion against the king. It is not known how old he was at the time, but his capabilities as a military leader were recognized the following 11 July at the battle of Courtrai. Although only one of the leaders of the Flemings, he certainly was among the chief tacticians there, and following that victory he took over the generalship of the largest rebel army, leading them through the next two years. In 1303 at the battle of Arques, the Flemings again defeated the French, but in 1304, at the battle of Mons-en-Pevele, after a daylong engagement and suffering numerous casualties, the rebels were defeated. During the fighting Willem van Jülich died, from fatigue and thirst if the account in the Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent)- which is very critical of the young general- is accurate.


Primary Sources

Guiart, Guillaume. “Branche des royaux lignages.” In Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. 22, edited by J. D. Guignant and J. N. de Wailly. Paris, 1860. Johnstone, Hilda, ed. and trans. Annales Gandenses (Annals of Ghent). New York: Nelson, 1951.

Secondary Works

DeVries, Kelly. Infantry Warfare in the Early Fourteenth Century: Discipline, Tactics, and Technology. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U. K.: Boydell, 1996. Verbruggen, J. F. The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340. 2d ed. Translated by Sumner Willard and Mrs. R. W. Southern. Woodbridge, U. K.: Boydell, 1997. Verbruggen, J. F. Vlaanderen na de Guldensporenslag. Bruges, Belgium: West Flanders Gidsenkring, 1991.

Battle of Poitiers 1356 – Hundred Years’ War I

19 September 1356

On the morning of the battle (19 September), the sun rose a little before six o’clock, the day promised to be warm and clear. Cardinal Talleyrand made a final fruitless visit to the English camp in the hope of preventing a confrontation. Once more, the prince appears to have been willing to seek a compromise but his terms were again rejected by King Jean. After Talleyrand departed and made for Poitiers it was clear that a battle could not be avoided.

The assault does not appear to have been launched immediately as there was time for a discussion in the French ranks concerning the best plan of attack. One reason for this may have been the growing strength of the Anglo-Gascon defensive position. According to the author of the Chronique des règnes de Jean II et Charles V this certainly proved the main reason for the eventual failure of the French assault.

There is some disagreement about whether the English forces were retreating before battle was joined. The delay caused by Talleyrand’s attempts to broker a truce offered the prince an opportunity to escape and he may have been trying to get away right up until the moment of the French attack. It certainly appears that following the decision of a council held the previous evening, the earl of Warwick led his unit and perhaps the entire baggage-train to a position near the marshes to the south of the Champ d’Alexandre and near the ford across the River Miosson. Warwick may have been leading a staged withdrawal. Later, the prince described his intentions:

Because we were short of supplies and for other reasons, it was agreed that we should retreat in a flanking movement, so that if they wanted to attack or to approach us in a position which was not in any way greatly to our disadvantage we would give battle.

This was written after the event and despite the outcome of the battle it does not indicate the prince was looking for a battle at that time, nor did he feel the need to hide the fact that retreat remained an option. It is unclear if the prince intended to withdraw as early as possible or only if the attack proved too strong. Alternatively, Warwick’s manoeuvre may have been a feint to provoke a French attack. If so, it succeeded.

According to what was now normal English practice, the prince had laid out his army in three ‘battles’ (divisions) and had taken what advantage he could of the terrain. The precise location of the battle of Poitiers is highly conjectural and as the terrain played an important part this is an extremely significant issue and one that cannot be completely resolved, especially given that the present wood, river and marshes have, no doubt, altered in the intervening years. It is clear that Jean caught the prince south of Poitiers on the banks of the River Miosson. Edward, it appears, drew his army to some broken ground uncharacteristic of the plains of the area. The three divisions were positioned behind natural obstacles, hedges, trees and marshy areas that allowed the French only two routes of attack. It seems likely that the English army was drawn up behind a no longer extant hawthorn hedge through which there were two substantial gaps (enough for four men to ride abreast, according to Froissart). In front of them a brief slope fell away and then the ground began to rise towards the French lines. This meant that the French could charge downhill much of the way to the English forces but the last few yards were uphill and well protected by the hedge and other defensive contrivances. Furthermore, the gaps in the hedge were protected by archers so that any French troops attempting to break through would have to run the gauntlet of a hail of arrows. In the first phase of the battle, the difficult terrain and the English longbowmen proved more than a match for the cavalry charges led against by the French marshals, Jean de Clermont and Arnoul d’Audrehem.

English battlefield tactics depended on discipline and order in the ranks, and the three Anglo-Gascon divisions were each led by a seasoned commander. The earls of Warwick and Oxford, the captal de Buch, the lord of Pommiers, and several other Gascon barons commanded the first ‘battle’, the vanguard (located, somewhat confusingly in the southernmost position). The prince took charge personally at the head of the second ‘battle’, and he surrounded himself with experienced soldiers such as John Chandos, James Audley, Reginald Cobham and Bartholomew Burghersh. The earls of Salisbury and Suffolk controlled the third division, the rear-guard, composed of one of the main archery units and which included a number of German mercenaries. This defended the largest of the gaps in the hedge.

The French army was drawn up in four divisions and situated some distance from the English, out of bow-shot, perhaps as much as 500–600 yards away. Part of the French vanguard commanded by the constable, Gautier de Brienne, the exiled duke of Athens, fought on foot, while the marshals, Audrehem and Clermont, led a shock cavalry force to test and distract the English archers. The other divisions were to fight on foot. Among the ranks of the vanguard were such soldiers as the lords of Aubigny and Ribemont, and a German contingent under the leadership of the counts of Sarrebruck, Nassau and Nidau. The duke of Orléans, the king’s brother, led another of the divisions, and the dauphin Charles, duke of Normandy, was in nominal command of another unit. As he was only a teenager, the king reinforced this ‘battle’ with experienced soldiers such as the duke of Bourbon, the lords of Saint-Venant and Landas, and Thomas de Voudenay; Tristan de Maignelay was the ducal standard-bearer. The king directed the last French division which included a number of his close relations, including his youngest son, Philippe, and the counts de Ponthieu, Eu, Longueville, Sancerre, and Dammartin. Geoffroi de Charny carried the royal banner, the Oriflamme. In an attempt to prevent a reoccurrence of Crécy and following the advice of the Scottish knight, Sir William Douglas, the bulk of the French army fought dismounted. Douglas brought 200 men-at-arms to serve King Jean.

Phase One

Douglas gave wise advice. Battle such as Courtrai (1302), Bannockburn (1314) and Crécy (1346) showed that discipline, order and close communication were vital elements in launching an assault against an infantry army supported by archers in a well-defended position. In the event the initial French charge was presumptuous, premature and poorly co-ordinated. After the departure of the papal legate to the safety of Poitiers, the command of the French vanguard became divided between Audrehem and Clermont who are reported to have argued over the best course of action; one recommended patience, to which the other made accusations of cowardice. This dispute had been prompted by Warwick’s withdrawal, which may have been either a pretence to encourage the French to attack, or a real attempt to retreat. The French cavalry unit divided in two: Audrehem led his men to engage the prince’s forces at the bottom of the hill while Clermont, perhaps after a short delay, rode against the English at the western edge of the wood. Seeing the assault by the marshals, Warwick returned to the battlefield; he re-crossed the Miosson at the Gué de l’homme and engaged Audrehem’s forces, possibly with the support of a detachment of the earl of Oxford’s archers. The longbowmen were successful, mainly because they could shoot at the unprotected flanks and rumps of the horses. Thereafter Warwick re-ordered his archers alongside the prince’s division. In the meantime, or perhaps a little later, Clermont and the constable, Brienne, charged against the battle led by Salisbury located on the opposite wing at the north-western edge of Nouaillé wood. Salisbury’s archers fired on Clermont’s men as they approached and then the infantry moved to block their approach through one of the gaps in the hedge. The earl of Suffolk supported the defence with reinforcements and the French were driven back; both Clermont and Brienne were killed. On the other flank Audrehem was captured, and Douglas badly wounded. Although by no means apparent at this point, the failure of the French vanguard to break the ranks of the English archers proved decisive. Once again the combination of archers and infantry proved successful. Close-order discipline combined effectively with the ability to disrupt and kill at a distance. Geoffrey Le Baker emphasised the power of the longbow, noting that at relatively short distance, if the angle of impact was correct, the arrows punched through French armour.

Phase Two

After the failure of the initial assault, the dauphin’s division advanced to engage the dismounted Anglo-Gascons and managed to do so despite the onslaught of the English archers. The French forces in this ‘battle’ probably numbered about 4,000 and this crucial part of the engagement may have lasted as long as two hours. Not only did the dauphin’s troops have to contend with the English arrow-storm as they tried to break through the hedge, they were also impeded by the retreating French vanguard. Nonetheless, the dauphin and the duke of Bourbon – another casualty – led their troops to the English lines and a keenly fought struggle ensued. The French were only finally thrown back after both sides sustained heavy losses and the dauphin’s standard-bearer was taken captive. At this point the battle was once more thrown into the balance and it is possible that if King Jean had attacked at once with his remaining forces the outcome might have been different. Instead he decided on a more careful approach dismissing from the battlefield his three elder sons, including the dauphin. However, in addition to lessening the numbers at his disposal, this also weakened morale among many of the remaining French troops. It may have been the sight of the retreating soldiers that caused the division under the command of the young duke of Orléans to flee, in turn, towards Chauvigny, or it may be that Orléans was also commanded to leave the field. In any case, ‘from the moment this large body of troops turned away from the fight a French victory became almost impossible.’

The partial French withdrawal gave the English a moment’s respite to gather themselves, rearm with those few arrows they could collect, and attend to their casualties. At this point, some in the prince’s division apparently thought the entire French host was in the process of retreat and launched an attack in the hope of routing the enemy and taking prisoners. The earl of Warwick may have launched such a premature sortie, and Maurice Berkeley certainly left the English lines in pursuit of booty and glory. He gained neither and instead acquired the unfortunate distinction of being one of very few Englishman taken prisoner at Poitiers – he was captured by a Picard knight, Jean d’Ellenes.

Phase Three

The remaining French troops joined with the ‘battle’ commanded by King Jean and advanced slowly, giving the Anglo-Gascons more time to recover. This substantial force included a large number of crossbowmen who may have originally been part of the constable’s division. These indulged in a long-range missile exchange with the English archers which had little effect on either side. On this occasion, the archers did not make much impact on the main body of the French infantry when it came into range. This was due to a lack of arrows so the English longbowmen could not maintain the barrage, and also because the French approached under cover of an interlinked shield-wall. While effective, this tactic delayed the French advance allowing the English infantry to secure their positions. It is important to note that the majority of this part of the French army was still fresh and had not been involved in any fighting. By contrast the English had been engaged in the conflict, albeit with brief intermissions, for up to three hours. By this point, however, because of the French withdrawals, the English forces probably outnumbered the remainder of enemy.

In response to this slow advance, the Black Prince re-ordered his forces, drawing them together in a single division. He also took the tactical initiative: first, he had some of his men-at-arms remount their horses and prepare to charge the French lines. Second, he commanded the captal de Buch to lead a cavalry detachment in an encircling manoeuvre by which they would be concealed from the French behind a small hill. The longbowmen fired their remaining arrows, although with little effect it seems and then joined the infantry, fighting with daggers and swords. Finally, the prince remounted another contingent of men from his division which charged the French lines. This group may have included James Audley. Once the captal’s men, numbering some 60 men-at-arms and 100 mounted archers, were in position, they, the combined forces of the English division and the remaining cavalry attacked in concert. This final phase of the battle was again a close run affair, but the assault on two flanks ultimately proved successful. The English victory may also have been aided by the return of a number of troops, possibly led by the earl of Warwick who had detached in the pursuit of prisoners earlier in the engagement.

It is somewhat ironic that the terrible consequences of the defeat at Poitiers might have been lessened if the battle had not been so closely fought. If the outcome had been apparent much earlier in the day the French king and many of his high-ranking nobles who were killed or taken prisoner would have had time to retreat. One of the final indications of French defeat was the death of the standard-bearer, Geoffroi de Charny, ‘the most worthy and valiant of them all’ according to Froissart; he fell with the Oriflamme in his hand.5 King Jean himself, finally overwhelmed in the crush of men, was in considerable danger after he surrendered as many men fought over this most important of prisoners. Captured with the king was his son, Philippe. First, Denis de Morbeke, a knight of Artois, claimed the king as prisoner and Jean offered him one of his gauntlets to indicate his surrender. However, a number of others, mainly Gascons led by a squire called Bernard de Troys, then grabbed hold of the king. Fortunately Reginald Cobham and the earl of Warwick then arrived on horseback, forestalling further danger and indignity. They forced back the struggling crowd and guided the king and what remained of his entourage to safety.

With the king taken the battle was finished, and the chase for the remaining prisoners began. Some remnants of the French were routed into the marshes below the original English position, and others fled towards Poitiers, eight kilometres north-west of the battlefield. Englishmen and Gascons pursued them to the walls, which forced the townspeople to close the gates for the defence of the city. A terrible massacre followed outside Poitiers, and many Frenchmen readily surrendered in order to save their own lives.

The number of those Frenchmen captured and killed was very considerable – around 2,500 men-at-arms. By comparison only 40 Anglo-Gascon men-at-arms were recorded as slain, in addition to an undisclosed (and presumably much more sizeable) number of infantrymen and archers. Many more were wounded. One William Lenche lost an eye in the battle and the prince rewarded him with the rights to the ferry in Saltash in Cornwall. Sir James Audley was also gravely wounded, and in recognition of this and his great deeds of arms in the battle he received the most generous reward of all those who served the prince in the expeditions of 1355–6, an annuity of £400.

With considerations of strategy completed and the battle won, the prince invited all the captured nobles to dine with him. The prince himself served the king’s table, and all the other tables as well with every mark of humility, and refused to sit at the king’s table saying he was not yet worthy of such an honour, and that it would not be fitting for him to sit at the same table as so great a prince, and one who had shown himself so valiant that day. Such courteous behaviour set the seal on what became the Black Prince’s almost legendary reputation, but this was a courtesy and chivalry only appropriate after a battle; it was also courtesy due to those of noble and royal blood, and, of course, it was courtesy to a relative.

The victory at Poitiers and the capture of Jean immediately changed the diplomatic and political balance of Anglo-French relations, but to what extent and how far would be the subject of hard bargaining. Geoffrey Hamelyn, the prince’s attendant, was sent to London with Jean’s tunic and helmet as proof of his capture. The army returned to Bordeaux and negotiations began regarding a truce and the exact value of a king’s ransom.

Battle of Poitiers 1356 – Hundred Years’ War II

unknown artist; The Battle of Poitiers, 19 September 1356; Kirklees Museums and Galleries;

Animated Maps: Poitiers 1356, the Battle

Analysis of the Battle

The sources for the battle of Poitiers are difficult, often contradictory and lacking detail. They include chronicles and campaign letters which need to be used in conjunction with cartographic and landscape evidence although with the understanding that contemporary geographical features are not identical to those in 1356. In particular the extent of marshland around the Miosson and the size of the wood of Nouaillé must be conjectural. More significantly for the purposes of reconstructing the initial disposition of troops, the length and position of the hedge and ditches which protected the Anglo-Gascon position is especially problematic. There have been many attempts to describe the battle, and many of these have been consulted in the present study alongside a range of contemporary and near-contemporary sources. Any reconstruction must be conjectural because of the nature of those sources, and not all questions have been resolved satisfactorily. The key problem lies in the initial disposition of English and French forces after which the course of the battle is somewhat more straightforward. The battle plans provide an interpretation of the encounter but some evidence will be cited at length so that the reader may come to his or her own conclusions.

A number of campaign letters were written concerning the engagement but most of these, such as Burghersh’s dispatch recorded by Froissart, merely noted the names and number of casualties and prisoners taken and that the battle took place half a league from Poitiers. The prince himself wrote to the mayor, commons and aldermen of London on 22 October but provided no information concerning the disposition of troops, merely noting that ‘our very dear and beloved knight Nigel Loryng, our chamberlain, who is bringing this [letter], will tell you more in detail from his own knowledge.’8 The situation prior to the battle is best described by the Anonimalle Chronicler.

‘That night [Saturday, 17 September 1356] the prince encamped with all his army in a wood on a little river near the site of the defeat … On Monday morning … the Earl of Warwick crossed a narrow causeway over the marsh … but the press of the carriage of the English army was so great and the causeway so narrow that they could hardly pass and so they remained up through the first hour of daylight. And then they saw the vanguard of the French come towards the Prince … And so the Earl of Warwick turned back with his men’

It appears that some of inherent contradiction in the sources can be resolved if the events they describe are considered to have been contracted or expanded over time. Such a possibility should be considered when reading Geoffrey Le Baker’s account below. This provides an explanation for the suggested positioning of the prince in a northerly location along the wood. Le Baker suggests Edward first camped around the south and then moved north, perhaps making a camp on the hill to the north of the wood. From there his forces were repositioned along the western edge of the wood protected by the hedge that may have run along much of the length of the road. The gaps described may have been made by the carters mentioned. According to Geoffrey Le Baker:

…he [the prince] surveyed the scene, and saw that to one side there was a nearby hill…Between our men and the hill was a broad deep valley and marsh watered by a stream. The prince’s battalion crossed the stream at a fairly narrow ford and occupied the hill beyond the marshes and ditches where they easily concealed their positions among the thickets, lying higher than the enemy. The field in which our vanguard and centre were stationed was separated from the level ground which the French occupied by a long hedge and ditch, whose other end reached down to the marsh. The earl of Warwick in command of the vanguard, held the slope down to the marsh. In the upper part of the hedge, well away from the slope, there was a certain open space or gap, made by the carters in autumn, a stone’s throw away from which our rearguard was positioned, under the command of the earl of Salisbury.

Some further details are provided by the less-than-reliable Jean Froissart, but his evidence cannot be ignored.

‘And how are they disposed?’ asked the King. ‘Sire’, replied Sir Eustace [de Ribemont], ‘they are in a very strong position…They have chosen a length of road strongly protected by hedges and bushes and they have lined the hedge on both sides with their archers, so that one cannot enter that road or ride along it without passing between them. Yet one must go that way before one can fight them…At the end of the hedge, among vines and thorn-bushes between which it would be impossible to march or ride, are their men-at-arms … It is a very skilful piece of work.’

This reasonably detailed description is confusing. Froissart suggests the Anglo-Gascons were arranged along a road which was strongly protected by hedges – an approach I have followed. His comment that these were lined with archers so that any assault had to pass between them requires some assumptions about the positioning of a gap and therefore the disposition of the archers. This gap was only wide enough for four men to ride abreast. Presumably, if one accepts this account, the archers were drawn up behind a hedge facing the French, and this hedge was bisected with a road and/or the carters’ track. There were also archers at either end of the hedge arranged in a formation that Froissart describes as being in the form of a ‘herce’, possibly a triangle or ‘harrow’ shape. This can be explained by the archers under Salisbury to the north and those commanded by Warwick to the south.

One of the reasons for the prince’s success in 1356 and indeed for many English victories during this phase of the Hundred Years War was the composition of the armies that encountered the French. This developed from the salutary lessons the English had received at the hands of the Scots from the early years of the fourteenth century. The war that the English fought in France was a mobile one that struck at the social and economic foundations of the Valois kingdom and yet allowed for the possibility of a set-piece encounter. The evolution (if not revolution) in military thinking that had taken place since Edward I’s reign had created an increasingly professional army, one recruited to perform specific tasks. Troops were recruited after 1347 almost entirely through the indenture system by which captains signed up to lead a particular number of soldiers armed to particular specifications to implement a range of strategic and tactical plans. The prince’s forces at Poitiers and during the chevauchées of 1355 and 1356 consisted of three types of troops: men-at-arms, horsed archers, and footmen. This allowed for an extremely flexible tactical response to a variety of situations.

The Anglo-Gascon army was probably composed of 3,000–4,000 men-at-arms, 2,500–3,000 archers, and 1,000 other light troops. The French army may have included 8,000 men-at-arms, 2,000 arbalesters, and numerous poorly trained and lightly armed troops totalling some 15,000-16,000 soldiers.

Hence, Jean could raise fewer men for Poitiers than his father, Philippe VI, had ten years before at Crécy, but contemporaries did not attribute defeat to a shortage of manpower. Rather, and particularly by the author of La complainte sur la bataille de Poitiers, blame was heaped upon the nobility. The very raison d’etre of the nobility was to defend the patria – the homeland; they held their exalted social position because they had been appointed by God to that sacred task. They were, in traditional feudal parlance, the bellatores – those who fought – and if they failed in this role, they failed in their primary function and duty. It is significant that the revolt of the Jacquerie which occurred in the anarchy after Poitiers targeted the French aristocracy. It was not, like the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, a reaction to economic and social impositions. Rather it was a violent response to the general failure of the nobility to fulfil its traditional role.

In addition to the failure of French chivalry (the warrior aristocracy), were other, more prosaic reasons for the defeat. One of these was the lack of missile weapons Jean had at his disposal, and that those crossbows he had were inferior to the English longbow. Crossbows could do considerable damage, but they were slow and clumsy weapons compared to the longbow. Furthermore, the English had been allowed time to prepare their defensive position. The army was well dug-in behind earthworks and used the natural protection of the hedge and wood – they had the terrain in their favour. ‘Par son recrutement, et plus encore par sa préparation immédiate, la petite armée du prince de Galles était dans les meilleures conditions pour vaincre.’

The English were drawn up in three major ‘battles’. Warwick and Oxford led the Anglo-Gascon vanguard with the captal de Buch, and Salisbury and Suffolk commanded the rearguard. The bulk of the prince’s retinue was in the centre led by Edward, with Burghersh, Audley, Chandos and Cobham. The archers, perhaps defended by earthworks, were stationed on the flanks and possibly at right angles to the enemy because of the nature of the herce formation (on the battle plans depicted as a ‘harrow’). As at Crécy, the longbowmen proved extremely effective against mounted troops, but less so against infantry advancing in close formation – that is until the French were at close range when the longbows with their heavy draw-weights could punch through French armour. However, the length of the battle meant that arrows were in short supply after the opening salvos.

The French army was in its entirety considerably larger than the Anglo-Gascon force, perhaps twice its size, but Jean did not take full advantage of his greater strength. The French divisions attacked in turn not en masse, and Orléans fled or was dismissed before engaging the enemy. Consequently, in many of the phases of the battle the prince may have not been at any sort of numerical disadvantage.

The victory at Poitiers combined the defensive tactics, witnessed by the prince at Crécy, with the chivalric traditions of an earlier age. After the failure of the French attacks against his infantry, Edward responded with a classic heavy cavalry charge. To add a more modern flavour to this tradition, the flanking force led by the captal de Buch may have included mounted archers and possibly Gascon crossbowmen. The battle was thus a fine illustration of the use of dismounted troops who, as at Crécy, in concert with archers in a defensible position, broke the French attacks, then remounted and defeated the enemy with a cavalry attack, which was now uncommon, if not anachronistic.

Although the outcome of the battle seems clear, it is uncertain whether the prince ever intended to fight a battle, certainly at least under the conditions in which Edward found himself. If a meeting with Lancaster had been achieved then the combined English force would have been formidable and the prince could have anticipated a victory. Certainly, English battle strategy had proved very effective in several encounters, Crécy not the least. Had additional forces and resources been available, and the arrival of the Black Death not precluded further military action, then the 1346–7 campaign and the victory at Crécy might well have yielded far greater spoils than Calais and the ransoms of a few and deaths of many of the French nobility. With this experience in mind it seems extremely likely that the prince actively sought a battle in the 1355–6 expeditions, but he wished to fight on his own terms and against an enemy whom he felt confident of defeating. The concessions the prince was willing to make prior to the battle and some of his remarks made afterwards suggest he lacked confidence early on the morning of Monday 19 September. However, once the victory had been achieved it influenced not only further military tactics but also broader political strategy. The English had now demonstrated in both Scotland and France that if they could bring an enemy to battle on their own terms then they could win: that confidence coloured wider aspirations in the Hundred Years War. The struggle that previously had centred on sovereignty in Gascony, became, albeit briefly, about sovereignty over the entire kingdom of France.

After the defeat at Crécy (as well as Courtrai (1302) and Morgarten (1315)), the French had made several attempts to combat those devastating infantry tactics. At the battles of Lunalonge (Poitou, 1349), Taillebourg (near Saintes, 8 April 1351), Ardres (6 June 1351) and Mauron (14 August 1352) the French used infantry and dismounted men-at-arms in greater numbers. They also endeavoured to find a weakness in the opposing infantry–archer formation. In the event these approaches proved ineffective or were not put into action at Poitiers and the defeat destroyed the French illusion that relatively minor military changes could be effective. As a consequence, for a generation, French commanders avoided battles with the English whenever possible. The contrast between the French response in 1356 with that of 1359–60 is very clear. During that campaign defensive tactics allowed them to turn the tables on the English by denying Edward the crown. Later they were able to reverse the territorial gains the English had gained through the treaty of Brétigny. This was only possible when they had an easily-assailable military objective – the principality of Aquitaine.

Archers and the Longbow

The role of the longbow in the early campaigns of the Hundred Years War is a contentious matter. A number of issues are open to argument and interpretation, ranging from the nature of the weapons themselves, their power and rate of accurate fire, to the disposition of the archers on the battlefield. In part, the trouble lays in the fact that no extant medieval longbows remain. The earliest examples are those reclaimed from the wreck of the Mary Rose. If these were finished longbows representative of those used at Poitiers then they were formidable weapons indeed with an effective range of 300 yards or more. By contrast, the wooden or composite crossbows of the time could shoot about 200 yards, and for every quarrel a bowman might fire up to ten arrows. Thus, well-trained longbowmen with a sufficient supply of arrows could, if this is an accurate interpretation, cause a great deal of damage and disruption to an enemy attack. What is not in doubt is that archers became an increasingly important component in English armies in the course of the Hundred Years War. The proportion of longbowmen to other troops was regularly three, four or five to one, and sometimes reached as high as twenty to one. However, the ‘invincibility’ of the longbow has been questioned in recent years. It is argued that, rather than causing a great number of casualties, archer fire caused the enemy either to be funnelled into a particular area where the English infantry defences were at their strongest or simply to disrupt the assault so that the enemy did not prove as great a threat.

Longbowmen alone did not win the battle of Poitiers (or those of Crécy and Agincourt) but they were a critical component of the armies that secured those victories. When working alongside infantry and with a final cavalry charge to rout the enemy they proved, whether through the number of casualties that they inflicted or through the sheer scale of the disruption they caused, to be an extremely effective military asset. The manner in which they were used and disposed on the battlefield is, however, somewhat uncertain.

The formation and disposition of the archer corps was described by Froissart, a la maniere d’une herce which according to Oman and Burne was a triangular formation with the apex facing the enemy placed between divisions of dismounted men-at-arms. This is based on the translation of herce as harrow. Alternatively, the archers may have been placed on the flanks, or in the shape of a candleabrum or a horn-shaped projection on the wings of the army, or a hedgehog possibly using stakes or pikemen for protection.

It appears likely that troop dispositions were not standard but dependent on a number of contingencies. At Crécy, the archers seem to have been used on the wings in a forward flanking position. They may have begun the battle beyond the front rank of dismounted troops to allow them to gain a little extra range, but they could have a more mobile role, and after the enemy approached they may have fallen back to the flanks curving slightly forward to provide crossfire. In this position they would not have provided the vanguard with much protection. Because of the numbers involved and the lie of the land in 1346 it may be that the front was almost a mile in length. This allowed only a very light defence of the prince’s division (the vanguard) which, at Crecy, fought in the centre. Formations at Poitiers are less certain but again archers seem to have been used on the wings and targeting, when possible, the less armoured flanks and rears of the French infantry and cavalry.

Whatever the formation and disposition of longbowmen and whatever the nature of the bows themselves, archers formed an integral part of the English tactical system from the 1330s onwards; seeking to slow or disrupt an enemy advance. At Crécy, the bowmen proved very effective against the French cavalry, and at Poitiers against dismounted men-at-arms at close range. These battles also showed the superiority of the longbow over the crossbow in terms of effective range and rate of fire. The success of the archers in Scotland and at Crécy made a profound influence on English tactical thinking and on the Black Prince and his retinue, many of whom first saw military service in 1346. Consequently, the battle of Crécy laid the foundations for the battle that was fought outside Poitiers ten years later and it influenced the structure of the Anglo-Gascon army both proportionally and tactically.

The importance of archers and their longbows was such that they became the subject of a number of governmental ordinances. In 1357 and 1369 the export of bows and arrows was forbidden, and in 1365 archers were forbidden to leave England without royal licence. In 1363, instructions were issued requiring everyone, including the nobility, to participate in regular archery practice. The use of the longbow, a popular, not aristocratic weapon, demonstrated the need of the king to draw on the support of all levels of society in his (at least theoretical) quest for the French throne.

The success at Poitiers also influenced the composition of English armies in France in other ways. The Reims campaign (1359–60) witnessed the full emergence of the mounted archer and establishment of mixed retinues (men-at-arms and archers). This in turn led to a shift in the social composition of the military community as knights and mounted men-at-arms became less significant in the degree to which they might influence the outcome of a battle. Further, heavy cavalry was not conducive to conducting wide-scale, extensive raids. Lightly armed mounted troops, by contrast, gave the necessary mobility that allowed them to participate fully in chevauchées and for such raids to become engrained as the predominant strategy, while a balanced troop composition allowed for an effective and flexible tactical response to a variety of military situations. Such forces were particularly effective when used in defensive positions, preferably prepared in advance or chosen for their advantageous terrain and natural features. The massed power of the archers could thin out the enemy at a distance and slow their advance, and disciplined infantry would deal with any opposing forces that reached the front line.

However, the longbow was not all-powerful and the tide began to turn against the English in the Hundred Years War as the French continued to experiment with various tactics to negate its influence on the battlefield. Longbows did not have quite the same impact in 1356 as they did at Crecy, partly due to the French use of dismounted troops advancing slowly under cover of their shields. Charles de Blois and Bertrand du Guesclin at Auray (1364) further demonstrated that close formations of well-armoured soldiers could provide a less easy target. However, on both occasions the French were defeated, although mainly because of the disciplined fighting of the infantry who were entrenched in a well-defended position. Once du Guesclin became constable of France he employed what were essentially guerrilla tactics and refused to be brought to battle. If it could not be employed in substantial numbers against an enemy willing to take the initiative to attack then the longbow was all-but useless.


This late 15th-century picture of the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 shows fallen warhorses. Despite their power, horses proved vulnerable to English archers, especially when using hunting broadhead arrows with wide cutting surfaces.

This late 15th-century depiction from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques of the battle of Crécy on 26 August 1346 shows many elements of medieval armies, including archers, crossbowmen, foot soldiers and mounted knights.


Flags took several forms. The pennon or pennoncelle was a small triangular flag nailed to the lance behind the head, and was painted with the owner’s arms. Bannerets had a banner, in the 13th century usually a slim rectangular flag with the longest side against the staff, where it was nailed or tied in place. Banners bore their owner’s arms and were carried by banner bearers whose duty was to stay close to their lord. The lord’s arms during the 13th century could also be carried by all of his followers. In 1218 a robber is recorded buying 100 marks’ worth of cloth for his band as though he were a baron or an earl, suggesting that followers could be equipped in coats of the same colour at least. Barons and knights had the right to have their knights and squires wear a badge or uniform.

In battle men looked to their lord’s banner, which was usually carried furled and only broken out when fighting was expected. Its symbolism was of high import: if it fell or was captured there was a risk of panic, and it would be protected by several tough men. Signals were given by trumpet or by hand, especially if the noise made shouting ineffective. Trumpets were also used to call the troops to arms before battle. War cries were used to frighten the enemy and bolster courage.

When fighting on foot the knight relied in part on his following – his squires, household and retained men – to watch his back. In the 14th century he might wear a jupon with his coat-of-arms displayed on front and rear, but equally some were plain and a warrior with his visor down was then difficult to recognize. As well as the banner, for his followers, a man of rank might, by the end of the century, also have a standard, a long flag perhaps carrying the red cross of St George next to the fly, then elements of his heraldic coat, such as main charges and colours, and perhaps his motto, the war-cry shouted to rally and encourage his men.

By the 15th century, surcoats were increasingly discarded and, with a lack of shields, it was essential that the banner-bearer remain close to his master, following his horse’s tail, as it was said. A lord might give the order not to move more than 10 feet (or a similar measurement) from the standards, but if the line slightly shifted it would not be too difficult in the confusion of battle to strike out accidentally at an ally.

In order to carry out heraldic identification and to deliver messages, important nobles employed their own heralds wearing tabards of their master’s arms, and trumpeters with the arms on hangings below the instruments.


The outcome of a war in the medieval age hung not merely upon skill at arms; in fact, this could actually be a secondary factor. John made an abortive attempt to invade Wales in 1211 that failed because of a lack of supplies; Llywelyn and the Welsh collected their belongings and cattle and withdrew into the mountains. In 1265 Simon de Montfort’s troops were unable to get their normal food and suffered from having to live off the land in Wales. Edward I fought no major battles in Wales – the ground was wrong for cavalry and the Welsh fought more as guerrillas. Knights were often hampered by the mountainous terrain but the English were nevertheless victorious in two engagements. Edward instead used attrition. He launched his first campaign against Wales both by land and sea, using labourers and woodcutters to make a road through the forests, building castles and cutting off the grain supply from Anglesey. In 1282 a bridge of boats was built to cross to Anglesey.

The king used similar tactics against the Scots. The first campaign in 1296 was completed in just over five months, with Scotland annexed to England. After his victory at Falkirk in 1298 he was able to provision his garrisons. He was in Scotland again in 1300, besieging Caerlaverock Castle and leading his armies across the country, but the Scots withdrew and refused battle. English armies would always be hampered by problems of supply in Scotland: the further they ventured, the longer the lifeline to England became. Moreover, many English-held castles were scattered and remote, making it difficult to march swiftly from one to another, or to relieve a fortress if besieged.

Scouts were used to locate enemy forces, after which the commanders tried to work out the best way to proceed. Armies made use of terrain where possible, and were careful to protect a flank if feasible. William Marshal, in a speech to his troops before the second battle of Lincoln in 1217, pointed out how the enemy’s division of his force meant that Marshal could lead all his men against one part alone. Other commanders were less prudent or simply hotheaded. The decision by the Earl of Surrey in 1297 to cross Stirling Bridge with the Scots in near proximity was foolhardy, since there was a wide ford 2 miles upstream that would have allowed a flank attack, and indeed Sir Richard Lundy had suggested this move. As it turned out, William Wallace and Andrew Murray attacked before even half the English force was across the bridge and the majority of those caught on the wrong bank were crushed.

When Edward was in direct control he proved a good tactician, as he showed at Evesham in 1265. He advanced to stop Simon de Montfort reaching Kenilworth, and divided his army into three battles to block his escape. Caught in a loop of the River Avon, Simon’s vain hope of killing Edward was dashed when the second battle swung into his flank while the third blocked any escape back south.

In his Scottish campaign of 1298, Edward brought 2,500 heavy cavalry and probably about 15,000 infantry. At Falkirk he faced the Scots arrayed in their schiltrons, tightly packed formations presenting a hedge of spears towards any attacker. They may have additionally fortified the position with wooden stakes. Again, disagreement was found among the division leaders: having skirted to the right of wet ground, the Bishop of Durham sensibly wanted to wait for the earls of the left-hand division to come level, and for the king who was bringing up the centre. But the impetuous young Ralph Bassett urged the cavalry on. Swinging out round the flanks, the two English divisions rode down the Scottish archers stationed between the schiltrons, and the Scottish cavalry broke and fled. However, the horsemen could not break the determined Scottish ranks of spears and it was the move by the king to bring up his archers and crossbowmen that helped prevent his knights dashing themselves to pieces. English cavalry deterred the Scots from breaking their ranks, and they were then forced to stand their ground until the archers withdrew, allowing the cavalry finally to break through. Even so, over 100 horses were killed. It should be noted that there appear to have been more cavalrymen in the battle than archers, and that crossbowmen were also used. Edward does not seem as yet to have developed his tactic of using massed longbows to decimate enemy ranks.

Knights at this time still often fought from horseback, changing to their destriers or coursers from the palfreys they used for riding. There is no evidence that cavalry routinely dismounted during the Welsh wars.

When delivered correctly the charge of the heavy horse was a formidable weapon that could smash a hole in enemy ranks. The charge began as a walk, increasing speed when within suitable range so that the horses would not be blown or the formation disorganized when the final push came. The mounted charge could still be highly effective, the knights riding almost knee to knee with lowered lances in the hope of steam-rollering over the opposition. The lance usually shattered during the first charge, the stump being dropped and, if need be, the sword was drawn, or perhaps a mace or horseman’s axe. Inventories from the 13th century show that horses killed in battle largely belong to knights and those with mounts of quality; in other words, the knights formed the front line.

Another problem with a mounted charge was discipline. As happened at Lewes, the charge by Prince Edward’s cavalry was successful but the elated horsemen kept going, pursuing their opponents so far as to put themselves out of the battle as well. The threat of the front line being completely penetrated was one reason commanders sometimes used a reserve, as did Simon de Montfort at Lewes. The knights who burst through might turn and strike the rear of the enemy line. The reserve was also quite often the position of the commander, with subordinates controlling the forward battles.

During the 14th century war was conducted in a number of ways. The chevauchée was one method. Like the well-tried feudal tactics that preceded it, the aim was to disrupt the economy of the area by swift movement, seizing food for the soldiers and destroying crops, villages and peasants (thereby insulting the lord of the place into the bargain) while evading danger to oneself by avoiding castles unless they were easy to capture.

Successful battles for the English required the use of cavalry to smash a hole in the enemy ranks, and the matchless skills of the English archers. However, as in the previous century, there were times when the cavalry shock manoeuvre could not be used effectively, for example in the bogs and mountains of Wales or against the Scottish schiltrons.

The young Edward III composed his forces so that the bulk of infantry were bowmen, and were mostly mounted to assist swift movement on the march. His men-at-arms were much more likely now to dismount on the battlefield to form the front divisions (called ‘battles’). Where possible, they stood in a naturally defended position with their archers, thus forcing the enemy to wear themselves out attacking them, a style of warfare first tested in battle against the Scots. Froissart describes how, in 1327, when Edward’s troops encountered the Scots, they were ordered to dismount and take off their spurs before forming themselves into three battles. In 1332 a force of the ‘disinherited Scots’ under the pretender Balliol (in fact pretty much an English force) invaded Scotland and after an abortive attack on the Scottish camp on the River Earn, formed a single block of dismounted men-at-arms at Dupplin Muir, with wings of archers and a small mounted reserve. The Scots, under the Regent, Donald, Earl of Mar, withered under the archery, and many of Balliol’s men-at-arms remounted to chase the routed enemy.

When Edward launched his main campaign against France, the English took their new double-pronged strategy with them. The first encounter in France was in 1342 when the English, driven back from the siege of Morlaix, formed up with a wood at their backs, a stream on one flank and dug a ditch to protect the front. Despite being pushed back to the woods, the English held their enemies off. At Crécy in 1346, dismounted men-at-arms and archers beat off repeated attacks by French cavalry, whose horses were a prime target for arrows. That same year this combination defeated a Scottish invasion at Neville’s Cross near the city of Durham, but there was heavy pressure on the English centre and right until a mounted English reserve was brought up and caught the Scots by surprise, the victory made complete by the arrival of reinforcements. At Poitiers in 1356 a mounted reserve swung the battle for the English, who were hard pressed in their defensive array by dismounted Frenchmen. The reserves turned the battle round and King John himself was captured.

In 1351 at Saintes the French retained mounted wings of horse to try to break up the archers on the flanks, and retained this formation for the rest of the century. At Nogent-sur-Seine in 1359 they succeeded in breaking into the English formation of archers in this way, whereas the men-at-arms kept tightly packed.

The significance of English archers in the French theatre is shown by the defeat at Ardres in 1351, where Sir John Beauchamp, caught by a dismounted French force as he returned from a raid, lined a ditch and held them off until they came to close quarters and another force broke up the archers.

In 1345 an English relieving force under the Earl of Derby charged into a French siege camp before Auberoche, the archers and men-at-arms doing much damage, while a sortie from the garrison finally broke the French forces. This form of surprise attack would occur again at La Roche Derien in 1347 during the Breton War of Succession, when an English relieving force fell on the French siege camp at night.

After Poitiers there were no further major battles between England and France until Agincourt in 1415. It was not battles that won a country as much as hard sieges: the French generally refused to fight in the open, instead shutting themselves up in castles and fortified towns, and forcing the English to besiege them, or else wander the countryside.

With the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 garrisons emptied, and groups of soldiers formed free companies under captains such as Sir Robert Knollys (perhaps the earliest) and Sir John Hawkwood. These ‘rutters’, as the English called them, or routiers, actually consisted of men from many nationalities, though the French often referred to them all as ‘English’. Each company often consisted of only a few hundred men, archers, infantry and men-at-arms. A typical ploy was to seize one or two strong castles and use them as bases from which to terrorize an area. They hired their services out to rulers, and according to Froissart, the Black Prince used 12,000 of them in Castile. At the end of the 14th century they tended to disappear until their rebirth on a smaller scale after the renewal of war by Henry V.

English forces were also involved in Spain. At Najera in 1367 the army of the Black Prince formed three entirely dismounted lines, the main battle in the centre, to face a Castilian force including many French soldiers, also in three lines but with many cavalry. The men-at-arms again fought well, ably supported by archers who out-ranged the Spanish javelin-wielding mounted jinetes. They also out-shot crossbowmen and slingers, who drew back, allowing the English men-at-arms to overlap the enemy division. When the English rearguard swung in on the flank, the Spanish and French lines shattered.

By the 15th century, the knight often fought on foot. He had been trained to fight mounted, with a lance, but it was often more effective to dismount most of the men-at-arms and to keep only a small mounted reserve. This was partly due to the increasing threat from missiles. In France during the early 15th century, the English forces used tactics learned the previous century. If the armoured fighting men were kept near the blocks of archers and all waited for the enemy to advance, it meant the latter arrived in a more tired state, all the while harassed by the arrows from the archers and compressed by a natural tendency to shy away from them. This bunching could then work to the advantage of the English who used their archers to strike at the press of French soldiers, now aggravated by those behind pushing forward, as happened at Agincourt. The groups of mounted men-at-arms who tried to outflank the archers at the start of the battle were foiled by the woods which protected each end of the English line, and found to their cost the price of facing archers when mounted.

When archers were in a strong position, ideally defended by stakes, hedges or ditches, a cavalry charge was extremely dangerous. Even when the horses were protected by armour, there was always some exposed part that an arrow could strike, and arrows went deep. Shafts fitted with broad hunting heads made short work of flesh, and the horses became unmanageable even when not mortally wounded. The mounted knight then became useless as he fought for control or was thrown to the ground as the animal collapsed. It is worth noting that only a few hundred at each end of the French line attacked, and of these a few still reached the stakes despite the volleys of presumably thousands of arrows launched at them. Yet it was the dismounted men-at-arms who did most of the fighting in this battle, and it was they who, according to one chronicler, pushed the English line back a spear’s length before everything became jammed up:

But when the French nobility, who at first approached in full front, had nearly joined battle, either from fear of the arrows, which by their impetuosity pierced through the sides and bevors of their basinets, or that they might more speedily penetrate our ranks to the banners, they divided themselves into three troops, charging our line in three places where the banners were: and intermingling their spears closely, they assaulted our men with so ferocious an impetuosity, that they compelled them to retreat almost at spear’s length.

Since plate armour obviated the need for a shield, and fighting dismounted meant the rein hand was free, it became common for knights on foot to carry a two-handed staff weapon in addition to the sword hanging at their side. At first this was often a lance cut down to a length of around 6–7ft (1.8–2.1m). Increasingly, other staff weapons were carried, which could deal more effectively with plate armour. One of the most popular was the pollaxe, designed to dent or crush the plates, either to wound the wearer or so damage the plates that they ceased to function properly.

Mounted men were very useful in a rout, for they could catch up a fleeing enemy and cut him down with minimum risk to themselves, especially if he was lightly armoured. Indeed, catching archers out of position was the best way for cavalry to scatter them before they got a chance to deploy. In the Hundred Years’ War this was not too much of a problem for English knights, since the French did not use archers on a large scale. During the Wars of the Roses, archers fought on both sides in Yorkist and Lancastrian armies and, for the most part, the men-at-arms found it best to stick with the tried-and-trusted methods and fight on foot.


Knights who were injured or sick faced two obstacles on any road to recovery. First, dependent on their rank, they might or might not get the chance to see a surgeon. Second, if they did get medical attention, a great deal depended on the quality of the physician and the nature of the wound. The king and the great nobles would have surgeons in their pay and such men would travel with their master when they were on the move. Thomas Morestede is styled as the King’s Surgeon in his agreement with Henry V for the invasion of France in 1415, where he is also to provide three archers and 12 ‘hommes de son mestier’ (men of his service). In addition, William Bradwardyn is listed as a surgeon and both he and Morestede came with nine more surgeons each, making a total of 20 for the army. Some surgeons were retained by indenture in the same way as the soldiers. John Paston, who was hit below the right elbow by an arrow during the battle of Barnet in 1471, managed to escape with other fleeing Yorkists but lost his baggage. His brother sent a surgeon who stayed with him and used his ‘leechcraft’ and ‘physic’ until the wound was on the mend, though John complained it cost £5 in a fortnight and he was broke.

The medical care itself was a mixture of skill and luck, since astrology and the doctrine of humours played a large part in medical care. Surgeons of repute were taught at the school of Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, but even these men would have had limited skills. Many could treat broken legs or dislocations successfully, even hernias, and carried out amputations, though a lack of knowledge of bacteria made it a risky business for the patient. Some used alcohol, opium or mandragora to dull the pain. Neither instruments nor hands were necessarily washed. Open wounds could be treated by stitching, and egg yolks were recognized as a soothing balm. However, blood flow was staunched by the use of a hot iron.

Arrows might go deep, though by the 15th century it was less common to be hit by one with a head bearing barbs, especially when wearing armour. Yet arrows were often stuck in the ground for swift reloading, and conveyed on their tips a lethal dose of dirt which, together with cloth fragments, would be carried into the wound. Abdominal wounds were usually fatal, and surgery in this area was fairly lethal, since any tear in the gut would allow material into the abdominal cavity (not to mention dirt from the weapon used), resulting in peritonitis and death. However, skeletons from the battle of Towton in 1461 show that men did survive quite horrendous wounds. Bones show evidence of slashing blows which bit through muscle into the bone itself, in some cases shearing off pieces. One individual in particular had been in battle before, having been struck across the jaw with such force that the blade cut across to the other side of the mouth. He also had wounds to the skull, but survived all of these, with some disfigurement, to face action once more at Towton, knowing what that might entail – in this instance his own death. Although knights might wear better armour, it was (theoretically) their job to lead from the front. Some unfortunate knights neither escaped nor perished, but were left for dead, robbed and left half-naked in the open unless by chance they were discovered and succoured.

Much of the Towton evidence comes from men who were infantry. Compression of the left arm bones strongly suggests that some were almost certainly longbowmen. They appear to have been killed during the rout or after capture, and some have several wounds, especially to the head, suggesting that once cut down, further blows were delivered to finish them off. Presumably they had no helmet, or had discarded or lost it while being pursued. The victims were then placed in grave pits. Knights and men of rank might escape such a fate. After Agincourt, the Duke of York’s body was boiled and the bones brought back to England for burial. Similarly those of lords would be found either by their retainers or else by heralds, whose job it was to wander the field and book the dead (meaning those with coats-of-arms), which gave the victor a good indication of how he had fared. The families would then transport the body back to be buried on home ground, in the case of the nobility next to their ancestors. Otherwise they were buried locally, usually in a churchyard.

During the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses, with men supporting rivals to the throne, treason was an easy and swift charge to bring. For example, after the battle of Wakefield in 1460, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, was captured and executed next day. Men of rank killed while in revolt might also undergo the degradation of public humiliation. This was not common during the first part of the 15th century, since much of the time knights fought in France, where they were usually treated as honourable opponents. Warwick the Kingmaker, however, having been slain at Barnet in 1471, was brought to London and displayed for all to see, before his body was allowed to rest at Bisham Abbey with other family members. Richard III was exposed for two days in the Church of St Mary in the Newarke in Leicester, naked except for a piece of cloth, and then buried in a plain tomb in the house of the Grey Friars nearby. Salisbury’s head, with those of the Duke of York and his young son, the Earl of Rutland, both killed at Wakefield, was stuck on a spike on the walls of York, the Duke’s complete with a paper crown.

Being treated to the indignity of having one’s head spiked on London Bridge or on other town gates served as a warning to all those passing beneath. However, a number of attainders (loss of civil rights following a sentence for treason) were reversed, such as that of Sir Richard Tunstall who, despite being placed in the Tower, managed to persuade Edward IV that he was more use alive and gained his favour. Children of those who died accused of treason did not usually suffer because of it, though their father’s lands might pass to the crown until they inherited them.

In contrast to this brutality, there is evidence that humanity and regret did exist. Chantry chapels were set up on various battlefields to pray for the souls of those who died, for example at Barnet, some half a mile (800m) from the town, where the corpses were buried. Richard III endowed Queen’s College, Cambridge, for prayers to be said for those of his retinue who perished at Barnet and Tewkesbury. Nobles might make provision for men of their retinues to be cared for if wounded; Henry of Northumberland told his executors to carry out such wishes if he should be killed at Bosworth.

Arrows Versus Armour: The Minefield of Opinions

Archers carried specialist arrows, bodkins with needle-pointed heads to punch through mail links, or armour-piercing heads perhaps tipped with steel to penetrate steel plates. Tests have shown that the spin of the arrow in flight enables the head, striking at right angles, to drill a hole into armour plate. The range at which an arrow was shot, as well as whether iron- or steel-tipped heads were used, would determine its potency. Most surviving oxidized red bodkins seem to be of iron, which tests suggest curl up when they strike plate. If they struck mail they would burst the rings apart as they went through, a serious threat to anyone in plate armour, exposing a mail gusset, for example, at the armpit. Crossbows were equally powerful although they did not employ bodkins. Handguns were also appearing in armies in the 15th century, though not in any great number at this period.

Vaslui: A Great Christian Victory

At the beginning of January 1475, the Ottoman army entered Moldavia, in search of a decisive clash with Stephen’s army. The battle took place near the city of Vaslui. The thick fog that day played an important role, making the orientation of the Ottoman army difficult. The first Ottoman attack caused a certain amount of panic in the Moldavian camp, even Stephen the Great being, for a moment, terrified. The bursts of the Moldavian artillery, alight on the flanks, restored the balance on the battlefield, and a flank counterstrike of the Moldavian army inflicted a decisive blow. Believing themselves surrounded, the Ottomans began to retreat in disorder. The consequence was a bloodbath which lasted, according to some chronicles, no less than three days, the casualties of the Ottoman army being estimated at approximately 40,000 dead and 4,000 prisoners. The high number of the dead was also due to the ice breaking when crossing the river Siret and to the flawed manner in which Suleyman pasha ensured his retreat. The prince of Wallachia, Laiota Basarab, faithful to the prince of Moldavia, was besieged by the Turks in a fortress but, seeing the Ottoman army’s retreat, he broke out from the castle and inflicted great damages on the fleeing Turks.

After the battle ended, the prince of Moldavia made several symbolic gestures which were meant to highlight his victory. First, he executed the Ottoman prisoners, refusing any negotiations for their ransom. Then he ordered, contrary to practice, that the victory be celebrated with a four days fasting with bread and water, as a token of gratitude to God, the one to whom the triumph was owed. The victory achieved thus a divine character, and at first news presented it as a miracle accomplished by God through the hands of men for the destruction of the enemies of the Christian faith. 80 After the period of penance, Stephen the Great entered triumphantly in the capital of the country, Suceava. A cortege of priests, led by the metropolitan and the bishops, greeted the prince in a religious procession, hailing “Long live the emperor.”

Not just the Moldavian Church considered that Stephen the Great deserved a more important place among the Christian rulers. The enthusiasm stirred by the victory of Vaslui determined the Polish chronicler Jan Dlugosz to consider that to the prince of Moldavia should be awarded the honor to lead all of the army of Christendom against the Ottomans, in other words to be the captain general of the crusade, who would have been the ideal incarnation of Christian wrath. However, such acceptance by other Christian rulers was more than problematic. Even Stephen, in his circular letter to the leaders of Christendom, adopted a cautious and humble attitude.

The documents of the Moldavian chancellery from this period show that the prince of Moldavia did not take any new titles, but that he was aware of the significant increase of his prestige and worried about an inevitable retaliation of the sultan. On 25 January 1475, in a letter addressed to all princes of Christendom, Stephen the Great wrote that “the unfaithful emperor of the Turks, who is the sworn enemy of the whole Christendom” sent an army of 120,000 men and “we [.] went against the enemies of the faith, we defeated them and crushed them under our feet, and put them all to the edge of the sword.” Warning about the imminence of a new Ottoman attack, the prince appealed for Christian solidarity, considering that the loss of Moldavia will be a huge blow for all of Christendom: “the unfaithful emperor of the Turks wants to take revenge [.] and to subdue our country, which is the gate of Christendom and which God has protected until now. But if this gate which is our country will be lost-God forbid! – then the entire Christendom will be in great danger.”


The principality of Moldavia was originally established in 1352 or 1353 by King Louis the Great of Hungary as a Transylvanian march against Tartar inroads, its first voivode being Bogdan Dragosh (after whom it was at first called Bogdania, the Ottomans continuing to call the country ‘Boğdan’ ever after). Dragosh threw off Hungarian hegemony as early as 1359 (others say 1365), though after 1397 the country instead became nominally a Polish-Lithuanian vassal. Serious Turkish inroads commenced in the mid-15th century, and tribute was first paid to the Ottomans in 1455, but Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare, 1457-1504) successfully repudiated their overlordship and, despite a major defeat in 1476, Moldavia thereafter remained independent until after his death. Polish suzerainty was effectively ended in about 1480, from which time Stephen openly aligned himself with Moscow against the king of Poland. An attempt by King Jan Olbracht (1492-1501) to reimpose Polish claims in 1497 resulted in the defeat of his Polish-Lithuanian troops, supported by Teutonic Knights, by an alliance of Moldavians, Hungarians and Crim. Tartars plus 2,000 Ottoman auxiliaries.

Moldavia’s armed forces differed little in composition from Wallachia’s, comprising ‘ lesser’ and ‘greater’ armies in exactly the same way, though with the distinct difference that unlike the Wallachians, or come to that the Transylvanians, virtually the entire army was mounted on campaign, which gave it considerable mobility, though the majority of the peasants were only mounted infantry and actually dismounted on the battlefield and fought on foot. The ‘Chronicle of Olah’ tells us also that: ‘The Moldavians hold themselves to be nobler and braver than the Wallachians, and their horses are better. They can put an army of 40,000 in the field’. Stephen the Great’s physician, Muriano, put this figure somewhat higher in 1502, stating that Moldavia ‘can assemble an army of 60,000 men in times of need’. Other accounts mention 45-75,000. Most sources seem to agree that the cavalry element (heavy cavalry of boyars, curteni and viteji, light cavalry of landowning peasants) numbered only about 12-15,000 men, the balance being infantry supplied chiefly by the general levy upon which, it can therefore be seen, considerable reliance was placed.

The obligation of all able-bodied freemen to perform military service when called upon by the voivode is only first to be found mentioned in Moldavian records in 1444, but doubtless it existed in the 14th century and probably even earlier. Little is known of its utilisation in the 14th century, except that when fighting against King Sigismund of Hungary in 1395, Stephen I ‘marched with all his people’s force’, comprising ‘a light-armed host and a great multitude of archers’. The Polish chronicler Jan Dlugosz (d. 1480) confirms Stephen the Great’s frequent use of the general levy, stating that ‘only women and children remained at home’, and that ‘if he found a peasant without arrows, a bow and a sword, he ruthlessly condemned him to be beheaded.’ Nicolae Costin referred to Moldavian peasant-soldiers in 1467 with ‘scythes, spears and axes’, and Baltazar de Piscia described the army he saw in 1476 as comprised largely of rustici armed with bows, swords and spears. They were led by their district starosras (marshals).

The standing troops of the lesser army seem to have been first established by Petru I Musat (1375-91), and comprised the voivode’s curteni – his standing troops, including castle garrisons and frontier guards (the strajeri ), some (but very few) mercenaries, and his personal retinue – plus the contingents of the boyars. Under Stephen the Great at least, and probably since the 14th century, the cavalry element of the standing troops was provided by viteji, while the infantry were comprised of voinici and iunaci (‘the brave’). Eye-witness descriptions of the army fielded in 1476 put the strength of these household troops at 10,000, but doubtless this does not include all of the frontier troops or castle garrisons, which appear to have been big enough to increase its numbers to 15,000. The figure of 10,000 also occurs in the first half of the 15th century (as, for instance, in 1430, when Sigismund of Hungary called for the voivode of Moldavia to provide that many men for service against the Ottomans), and the gradual increase in size of the standing army is reckoned to have been one of Stephen’s achievements.

In addition the curte could field a small amount of artillery, probably introduced in the early-15th century. Stephen’s army at the Battle of Vaslui in 1475 included 20 guns, and the next year he had an unknown number of cannons at Valea Alba. Most of Moldavia’s guns and gunpowder, together with some other armaments (notably swords), were imported from Brasov in Transylvania and Lwów in Poland.


The Last Throw of the Dice

The Battle of Wadi al-Khaznadar, also known as the Third Battle of Homs, was a Mongol victory over the Mamluks in 1299.

Mongol operations in the Levant, 1299-1303, showing the location of the Battle of Wadi al-Khaznadar (3rd Homs)

After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the Holy Land, shock waves traveled through Europe. Every bishop summoned the faithful to tell them that Christ’s Sepulchre had been irretrievably lost to them. Among the people there was no rage, only a vague sense of loss. For two hundred years they had been hearing about the Crusades, their triumphs, and their failures, and they had little emotion left for the dead who lay buried among the ruins of Acre. The days of the Crusades were over, and they had other matters to attend to. Moreover, they were grateful that they were no longer to be taxed to pay for the Crusades.

But the Crusades were not yet entirely a thing of the past. To end the story with the fall of Acre is to leave out the last brilliant flaring-up of the Crusader spirit, the sudden emergence of a new, heaven-sent opportunity to establish God’s kingdom firmly in the Holy Land. The Mamelukes might seem to be in total control; they had reduced most of the seacoast cities to rubble; they stabled their horses in Jerusalem; but they were not in any practical sense ruling over Palestine, which had become a desert. There remained Armenia, which would survive for 175 years, almost forgotten by the West, under Christian kings who descended from the family of Lusignan. There remained the armed Templars who had taken refuge on the island of Cyprus. There were not very many of them, but they could call upon the Templars in Europe to swell their ranks. Above all, there remained the Mongol army of the Ilkhan Ghazan, and this army, when well led, could sweep everything in its path. Ghazan had been converted to Islam, but he felt kindly toward the Christians and unkindly toward the Sultan of Egypt.

In the summer of 1292, a year after the fall of Acre, the Templars on Cyprus elected a new Master, Jacques de Molay, who was the Marshal of the Templar army, and expert in all military affairs from the construction of fortresses to tactics and strategy. His election was fraught with extraordinary consequences.

Jacques de Molay, who would bear an extraordinary weight of destiny on his shoulders, was a man almost without a history. He was born near Besançon in eastern France to a family of the minor nobility. He was about twenty-one years old when he entered the order, in 1265, at Beaunein the wine-growing region near Dijon. Thereafter, he spent his whole life in the service of the Templars. He was one of those steadfast soldiers who disappear into the army, for nothing very much was heard of him until he became Marshal.

He quarreled with King Henry of Lusignan, because he wanted to retain complete control of the Templars, while the king wanted to command all the forces on the island. The quarrel became violent, and in August 1298, the pope came out openly on the side of the Master. The pope urged Henry of Lusignan, King of Cyprus, to set aside his quarrels with the Templars, because it was beyond doubt that they contributed to the safety of the kingdom and an open break would only jeopardize the lives of everyone in Cyprus. Boniface VIII was not overstating the case on behalf of the Master of the Temple. The number of Templars on the island was probably no more than five hundred, but they were a disciplined force. Jacques de Molay was a fighting knight, and if the Crusaders ever fought again they would need someone like him to lead them.

For nearly seven years the Mameluke army remained quiescent, partly because Egypt was being ravaged by a plague and partly because the army needed time to absorb the treasure it had pillaged from Palestine. Then suddenly two fully equipped Mameluke divisions stormed Alexandretta and advanced into Cilicia to attack Sis and Adana, slaughtering as they went. One by one, the castles of Armenia were demolished. King Constantine of Armenia, acting on behalf of Hethum, the rightful king, who had been wounded in a palace intrigue, summoned the help of the Mongols. The Ilkhan Ghazan offered to lead a combined Armenian and Mongol army against the Mamelukes.

Messengers were sent to Cyprus to warn the king of the coming battles. A small army was hastily put together and ferried to the port of St. Symeon in the autumn of 1299. Here they made contact with Mongol forces encamped in the ruins of Antioch. Jacques de Molay was given command of thirty thousand Mongol soldiers. Hethum, recovered from his wounds, took command of the Armenian army. He had been partially blinded during the palace intrigue, but his sight had returned and he was able to see the immense army brought up by the Mongols. Altogether there were more than a hundred thousand troops: three or four thousand from Cyprus, perhaps fifteen thousand from Armenia, a small army of Georgians, all the rest Mongols. Ghazan decided that the time had come to rid Syria of the Mamelukes.

Hethum, who knew the Mongol emperor well, and indeed was related to him—Ghazan had married a princess of the Armenian royal family—accompanied the huge army on the march to Wadi al-Khaznadar. Ghazan was very small and he had the wizened features of a Mongol. Hethum thought that in all his army there were not two thousand men as small as the emperor, and there were few who were as ugly; neither were there any so generous, brave, high-minded, or sweet-tempered. Ghazan told Hethum that his intention, once he had swept Syria and Palestine clear of the Mamelukes, was to give that land to the Christians.

Wadi al-Khaznadar, halfway between Aleppo and Damascus, was a large walled town on the Orontes. It was well fortified, with walls of black stone, and was famous for its orchards and the beauty of its people. The Mameluke army was camped in and around the town, ready to do battle. The Mongol-Armenian-Christian army rode along the plain in the shadow of the Lebanon mountains until it was a day’s march from Wadi al-Khaznadar. Ghazan called a halt, saying he would remain there until his horses were fully rested. He set up his camp, busied Wadi al-Khaznadarelf with his own affairs, and seemed totally indifferent to the presence of the enemy a day’s march away. There was an abundance of fodder and water, and provisions came from the surrounding villages.

The news that Ghazan was resting in his camp came to the ears of the Sultan at Wadi al-Khaznadar on December 22, 1299. He decided to attack immediately, reached Ghazan’s camp toward evening, and sent his cavalry to destroy the army of the Mongol emperor. Caught by surprise, Ghazan ordered his own cavalry to dismount. They were not to attack the enemy, but to use their horses as a wall and to shoot arrows at the enemy as soon as they came within range. The Mongols were superb archers. They broke the charge, and by nightfall the Mamelukes had fled.

During that night, the Mongols and their allies advanced on Wadi al-Khaznadar. The battle was resumed at dawn, and this time the Mongols had no need to kneel behind their horses. Armenians, Templars, Hospitallers, and contingents of the Cypriot army, Georgians, and Mongols, spent the day slaughtering the Mamelukes until there was scarcely any part of the battlefield uncarpeted by dead bodies.

The allied losses were small; the Mamelukes lost three-quarters of their army. The sultan fled to Cairo with a small bodyguard of Bedouin, while the survivors fled in the direction of Tripoli and were cut down by Christians living in the mountains of Lebanon. The Sultan’s treasure was found intact. Characteristically, Ghazan ordered that the spoils should be divided among the soldiers, and he kept for Wadi al-Khaznadarelf only the sultan’s sword and a pouch containing the seals of the sultanate.

The army rested for five days and then advanced on Damascus. While they were on the march, the governor of Damascus sent ambassadors with costly presents and the keys to the city. Ghazan received the ambassadors, accepted their gifts, and told them he would set up his camp near the city and perhaps make it his capital. Capchik, a Saracen who had ingratiated Wadi al-Khaznadarelf with Ghazan, was made governor of Damascus, while Cotulossa, a Mongol chieftain, was made second-in-command of the army. Toward the end of February 1300, Ghazan had to return to Persia to put down an uprising. Before he left, he summoned King Hethum, and said the time had come for the Christians to take possession of their castles and restore them to fighting strength. Ghazan said he had given orders to Cotulossa to help them in every way.

For six months the Christians, with the help of the Mongol army, were in effective control of the Holy Land. Everything was restored to them. Dazed, they saw the country over which they had fought for two hundred years given back to them. Armenia belonged once again to the Armenians; the cities of the seacoast as far south as Gaza and Jerusalem itself belonged to the Crusaders. At Easter, services were held in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Templars and Hospitallers had entered the city in triumph, and no one had tried to stop them. Ghazan, before leaving Damascus, sent ambassadors to the pope and the sovereigns of Europe, urging them to pour men, money, and armaments into Palestine, which was his gift to them. He wanted an alliance between the Mongols and the countries of Europe against the Mamelukes, and he was prepared to back up the alliance with his vast army.

The Armenians drifted back to Armenia; the Christian knights surveyed the shattered seacoast cities and wondered whether help would come in time. There were less than five thousand of them now, and they realized that it was beyond the power of a handful of men to make a kingdom. Jacques de Molay sent out columns in all directions, pretending to have a force much greater than the one he possessed. The pope told the Mongol ambassadors that the time was not ripe for another Crusade, and the sovereigns of Europe said the same. Ghazan remained in Tabriz; Jacques de Molay took up residence in the Templum Dei in Jerusalem, and fretted over the impossibility of the task entrusted to him. The kingdom was in his hands, but where were the people to till the fields, guard the frontiers, rebuild the churches? The seacoast cities must be rebuilt brick by brick: towers, castles, gates, city walls. Where were the women? Where were the children? With a Mongol army to protect them, with thousands upon thousands of immigrants coming from Europe under the good offices of the pope and the sovereigns of Europe, the kingdom might be restored, but it would have to be done quickly and decisively.

It was the year 1300, the Jubilee Year commanded by Pope Boniface VIII, the most imperial of popes, to celebrate the achievements of the Church and his own power. Enormous crowds flocked to Rome, where the pope sometimes appeared in procession with two swords held before him, representing both spiritual and temporal power. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the few remaining Crusaders were desperately seeking help and the pope did not listen to them.

In Palestine the summer was unusually hot. The trees withered; the roads were thick with dust. As usual, there were conspiracies, counterconspiracies, secret agreements. Quite suddenly Jacques de Molay was confronted with a conspiracy designed to shatter his last hopes. Capchik, the Saracen governor of Damascus, the close and trusted friend of the Ilkhan Ghazan, who had innocently raised him to high position, entered into secret correspondence with the Mameluke sultan, offering to place Damascus under Egyptian sovereignty in exchange for a vast treasure, the sultan’s sister in marriage, and the governorship of Damascus to be held by him and his family in perpetuity. Dictating his memoirs to his friend Nicolas Falcon seven years later, in a convent in Poitiers, the monk Haiton, formerly Hethum, King of Armenia, records in his rather haphazard manner the events of that summer and autumn:

When Molay saw that the entire country was in a state of rebellion, he knew he would be unable to make headway with so few men, and that is why he rode to the kingdom of Mesopotamia by the shortest route, and related in great detail everything that had passed in the kingdom of Syria. Ghazan could do nothing because it was summer, but with winter coming up he made all his preparations on the banks of the Euphrates and sent Cotulossa with thirty thousand Tartar horsemen, ordering them, when they reached the country of Antioch, to send word to the King of Armenia and other Christians in the countries of the Orient and Cyprus to join him. While they were waiting for Ghazan Wadi al-Khaznadarelf to march into the kingdom of Syria with all his forces, Cotulossa followed the emperor’s orders.

Cotulossa reached Antioch with his thirty thousand Tartars and sent word to the King of Armenia to join him. The King agreed to march and went to find him; and the Christians in the kingdom of Cyprus, having heard of the arrival of Cotulossa, sent forces to the island off Tortosa. Among them was the Lord of Tyre, brother of the king of Cyprus, who was Generalissimo, and the men in charge of the Hospital and the Temple with their brethren. While they were all preparing themselves to do their Christian duty, there came the rumor that Ghazan was ill and the doctors despaired for his life.

So it came about that Cotulossa returned to Ghazan with the Tartars, and the King of Armenia returned to Armenia, and the Christians who had assembled at Tortosa returned to Cyprus. In this way the expedition to save the holy land was totally abandoned. This happened in the year of Our Lord 1301.

This was not quite the end, because the Mongols and Armenians went on fighting. There were continual small battles and skirmishes, and then at last, in 1303, at Marj as-Saffar, a great plain twenty miles south of Damascus, the combined Mongol-Armenian army was defeated. The remnants of the army retired to Nineveh, where Ghazan received them, promising to continue to wage war against the Saracens and giving King Hethum a sum of money, sufficient to support a thousand Armenian horsemen and a thousand Mongol soldiers to be used in the defense of the kingdom of Armenia. The king returned to Armenia, raised an army and won a victory over the Mamelukes at Ayati, near Tarsus. It was a decisive victory. Of the seven thousand Mamelukes who took part in it, only three hundred survived. The sultan called for a truce. King Hethum was happy to give it to him. Thereupon, remembering that he had always wanted to be a monk, he set his affairs in order, put a nephew on the throne, and traveled to the West.

The monk Haiton was not entirely correct when he said that all the Christian forces returned to Cyprus. He left out of account the handful of Templars who had remained on Ruad. From this small waterless island, the last remaining possession of the Templars, Jacques de Molay had hoped to send landing parties along the coast to recover the Holy Land. The island was well fortified, it had a good harbor, a fine church, tanks for storing rainwater. One day in 1303, the Mamelukes sent twenty ships to the island with ten thousand soldiers. They forced a landing, massacred most of the Templars, and sailed away. Only a few of the Templars on Ruad were able to reach Cyprus.

With the battle of Marj as-Saffar and the fall of Ruad, the Crusades truly came to an end. There would be raids on Tortosa, Acre, and Alexandria by ships based on Cyuprus, and from time to time popes and kings would announce forthcoming crusades either because it suited them to do so for political reasons or because they genuinely felt that such things were possible. Whatever their intentions, these crusades never took place.

Throughout the Crusades there had been a strange sense of fatality, a sense of doom. Even when the Crusades were at their height, when the kings of Jerusalem appeared to be in full control, there seemed to be something wanting. Seen from the villages and cities of the West, Jerusalem appeared in men’s eyes like a dream in shimmering Oriental colors, remote and inaccessible; and even those who walked through the streets of Jerusalem sometimes wondered whether they had really reached the place they had so desired to see. They had heard it called “Jerusalem the Golden,” and they imagined a city made of gold and rubies and emeralds. Instead, it was a dusty place, though the stones were the rich color of crusts of bread. No city created by man could live up to Jerusalem’s reputation. For two hundred years, proud men from the West fought a continuing battle for the city set on one of the mountains of the Judaean desert. For two hundred years, kings, princes, knights as well as the common people suffered from thirst and scorching heat to win and hold a city in the wilderness. Then at last they discovered that Jerusalem was not a geographical place. It was a place in the human heart.

Mamluks vs. Mongols


A reconstruction of an Arab dromon-shūnī

The shūnī was a general classificatory name for an Arab galley though it is often referred to as a type on its own. Her equivalent was the Byzantine dromon.


The real name of Konstans II (641–68) was Flavios Herakleios, but he was crowned as Constantine and he used that name on his coins. The new emperor, probably because of his youth, was universally known by the nickname of Konstans. During the early part of his reign the Senate exercised unusual power, but by the time he was 18 or so he ruled in his own name and began to take the field himself in command of his troops.

Naturally the first concern of the emperor was the Arab threat, and Konstans devised an aggressive policy, urging his soldiers on with remembrance of the victories of Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Unfortunately for the emperor, the Arabs were increasingly better organized, and in Muawiya, the governor of Syria and then first Umayyad caliph (661–80), they had a leader who devised a carefully thought-out plan to conquer the Byzantine Empire. In 647 he began to make annual raids into Asia Minor. Muawiya was tolerant of Christians and he made use of Byzantine administrators and craftsmen, most notably to help with the construction of a fleet with which he sought to challenge Byzantine naval superiority and strike deep into the heart of the empire. Thus, Muawiya captured Cyprus (649), Rhodes (654), and Kos (654), challenging the Byzantines for control of the southern coast of Asia Minor. Interestingly enough, the Arabs were not able to hold Cyprus, and from this time until the middle of the tenth century Cyprus remained a “condominium” in which both Arabs and the Byzantine officials exercised authority and from which neither power was supposed to launch an attack on the other. This interesting arrangement was probably not unique in this period and indicates the ability of Byzantines and Arabs to interact in a less than hostile way.

Konstans II recognized the danger posed by Muawiya’s success at sea, since it meant that the Byzantine heartland of Asia Minor was being caught in the “pincers” of a double threat from the Arabs: attacks by land and a surrounding movement to the south by sea. The emperor organized and personally commanded a fleet that set off to challenge the Arab navy, and the two powers met at the “Battle of the Masts” at Phoenix (modern Finike) in Lycia, off the southern coast of Asia Minor, in 655. The Arabs won a total victory and Konstans barely escaped with his life, disguising himself as an ordinary seaman.