Battle of Poitiers
The 19th of September 1356 AD
Poitiers, the second of the three great English victories of the Hundred Years War , was as at Crécy the triumph of a smaller but better led force over formidable French numbers poorly marshalled by their king, this time John II.
Edward the Black Prince had fought at Crécy , and chose similar tactics to those employed by his father there. His Anglo-Gascon army on a great raid out of Aquitaine had been chased down by the French, perhaps over-burdened by a baggage train full of booty. Some sources think Edward offered to surrender booty and possibly his forces to John of France, as he was greatly outnumbered – perhaps three to one, the French mustering some 20,000 men (and this could have been still greater had John not decided to leave many slower foot units behind to speed his pursuit). If John refused such an offer he lived to regret it.
Though just 26 the Black Prince proved an astute general. He chose his ground well, deploying his men in a rough V formation. Marshy land to his left flank gave his archers stationed there protection from cavalry; a hedge offered a defensive line at the closed end of the V; and the baggage wagons were put to good use as a barricade on the right. The French as at Crécy attacked piecemeal, though this time they were largely dismounted, learning from recent defeats. Two divisions were repelled, weakened by volleys of arrows from their flanks as they were funnelled towards the English infantry. The 20-year-old Duke of Orléans through cowardice or panic failed to attack and follow up on the second wave which had almost won through. When King John himself led the final wave Edward took his main force beyond the defensive line and met the French; but he had also sent an elite cavalry division round behind the enemy, outflanking them to devastating effect.
John II was captured along with some 2,000 of his men; more than that number perished or were wounded; English casualties were light. The resulting need to ransom John ruined France for a time; and the instability of a country without its king had repercussions for years ahead.
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