History > Ancient & Medieval Battles

Cocherel 1364 AD

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Name of the Battle and Date :
Cocherel, 16th May 1364 (incorrectly given by Froissart as 24th May)
Navarre led by Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch
France led by Bertrand du Guesclin
Numbers if known  or a reasonable estimate
Navarrese : Approximately 1500-3000 men by contemporary estimates, including 700 men-at-arms, 300 archers and 500 others.  The others probably equate to the brigands (light infantry) mentioned but may include mounted Gascon sergeants.  120 mounted “young men” ride out of Evreux to reinforce the Navarrese army but it is unclear whether they arrive on time.  50 lances from Conches reach the battlefield as the dead are being stripped.  French Wikipedia produces a figure of 6000 for the English army by placing the men-at-arms in 6 man lances, but the evidence for this idea is unclear.
French : Between 1100-1500 men-at-arms, plus associated varlets, by contemporary estimates.  Froissart has the Navarrese say they are outnumber by half at one point, so total combat strength of 2,000-2,500 is likely.

The title of and chapter and verse of original source
Thomas Johnes (trans) Sir John Froissart's Chronicles of England, France, Spain and the Ajoining Countries from the latter part of the reign of Edward II to the coronation of Henry IV Chapter CCXXI-CCXXII

Froissart’s account of what is essentially a large skirmish is , on the surface, an extended feat of arms.  But careful reading shows two small professional forces facing up to each other – almost the whole Navarrese force are routiers and the French have a heavy professional component too.  Froissart goes to some lengths to enlighten us to the preparations for action and how the two sides learn of one another and make their plans, then describes how those plans play out.  This gives a long account, so this description is split into two parts.

Part 1 Preparation
Whilst (..) the nobles were making preparations for the coronation, the French and Navarrois were advancing towards each other in Normandy: the Captal de Buch was already in the city of Evreux, collecting his men at arms and soldiers from every place he could get them.
When the lord John de Greilly, known by the appellation of the Captal de Buch, had completed his numbers of archers and foot-soldiers in the city of Evreux, he made his final arrangements, and appointed as governor of it a knight called the lord Michael d’Orgery. He sent to Conches5 the lord Guy de Graville, to defend that place as a sort of frontier. He then marched with all his men at arms and archers; for he had heard that the French were abroad, but was not certain in what quarter.
He took the field, very desirous of finding them; and, having mustered his army, he found he had seven hundred lances, and full three hundred archers, with five hundred other serviceable men. There were among them several good knights and squires; especially a banneret of the kingdom of Navarre, named the lord Saulx; but the greatest and most expert, with the largest company of men at arms and archers in his train, was an English knight, called sir John Jouel.
(The Navarrois meet two heralds on the road)
By the reports of the two heralds, both armies were acquainted with each other’s situation. They therefore made such dispositions, as would speedily force them to meet. When the Captal had heard from Faucon [an English herald] the numbers the French army consisted of, he immediately despatched messengers to the captains who were in the city of Evreux, with orders for them to send him as many recruits and young gallants to his assistance as they could possibly collect: they were to meet him at Cocherel, for, supposing that he should find the French in that neighbourhood, he had determined to fight them wherever he should meet them. When the messengers came to Evreux, the lord Michael d’Orgery had it publicly cried, and strictly ordered all those who were horsemen to join the Captal. Upon this, there immediately set out one hundred and twenty young companions from that town.
On the Wednesday the Captal de Buch took up his quarters, about two o’clock, on a mountain, and encamped his army. The French, who were wishing to meet them, marched straight forwards until they came to a river, called Yton [actually the river Eure], in that country, which runs towards Evreux, having its source near Conches, and encamped themselves at their ease, this same Wednesday, in a handsome meadow, through which this river runs. On the morrow, the Navarrois decamped, and sent their scouts out, to examine whether they could learn any news of the French. The French also sent out their scouts on the same errand. Before they had gone two leagues, each brought back to his army such intelligence as could be depended upon.
The Navarrois, conducted by Faucon, marched straight by the way he had come, and, by four o’clock in the morning, found themselves in the plains of Cocherel, with the French in front of them, who were already drawing up their army in battle-array. There were a great many banners and pennons flying; and they seemed to be in number more than half as many again as themselves. The Navarrois directly halted on the outside of a small wood. The captains assembled together, and began to form their men in order of battle.
They first formed three battalions well and handsomely on foot, sending their baggage and attendants into the wood. Sir John Jouel commanded the first battalion of English, which consisted of men at arms and archers. The Captal de Buch had the second battalion, which, one with another, was about four hundred combatants. With the Captal, there were the lord of Saulx in Navarre, a young knight who had a banner, the lord William de Gaville, and the lord Peter de Saque-ville. The third battalion had three knights; the lord Basque de Marneil10, the lord Bertrand de Franc and the lord Sauseloppins, and were in the whole about four hundred men under arms.
When they had formed their battalions, they marched them not far distant from each other, taking advantage of the mountain which was on their right, between them and the wood, posting their front upon this mountain facing their enemies, and fixing, by orders of the Captal, his banner in the midst of a large thorn bush. He commanded sixty men to remain there, to guard and defend it. They had so placed it to serve as a standard for them to rally round, if by chance of war they should be dispersed or separated; and they strictly ordered, that no one should, on any pretence, descend the mountain; but if their enemies wished to fight, they must come to seek them.
Thus drawn out and formed were the English and Navarrois, who remained, as I have said, upon the mountain. The French, in the mean time, arranged themselves into three battalions also, and a rear-guard.
Sir Bertrand du Guesclin commanded the first battalion, which was composed of all his Bretons, and they were fronted opposite to the battalion of the Captal. The earl of Auxerre had the second battalion. There were with him, as his advisers, the viscount de Beaumont, and the lord Baudoin d’Ennequin, grand master of the cross-bows. There were also in that battalion French, Picards, and Normans, and sir Odoart de Renty, sir Enguerrant de Hêdin, sir Louis de Havenquerque, with several other good knights and squires. The third battalion consisted of Burgundians, commanded by the archpriest: with him were the lord de Châlons, the lord de Beaujeu, the lord John de Vienne, the lord Guy de Felay, the lord Hugh de Vienne, and many more. This battalion was to oppose Basque de Marneil and his company. The other battalion, which was to serve as a rear-guard, was entirely composed of Gascons; and they were commanded by the lord Edmund de Pommiers, the lord Souldich de la Trane, the lord Perdiccas d’Albret, and the lord Petiton de Courton.
These captains had a grand consultation. They considered the arrangement of the Captal, and that his people had fixed his banner in a bush, with part of his men guarding it, as if it were to serve as a standard: they therefore said, “It is absolutely necessary, when the combat shall begin, that we march directly for this banner of the Captal, and that we exert ourselves as much as possible to gain it; for, if we be successful, our enemies will be much disheartened, and incur great danger of being conquered.” These Gascons thought also of another plan which was of great service to them, and was the cause of their gaining the day. As soon as the French had formed their, line, the principal Gascon chiefs withdrew together, and consulted for a long time how they could best act; for they saw that their enemies, from their position, had greatly the advantage over them. One of them made a proposal, which was cheerfully listened to: “My lords, we well know that the Captal is as hardy a knight as can be found upon earth; and, as long as he shall be able to keep with his men and fight, he will be too much for us. I therefore think that if we order thirty of our boldest and most expert cavaliers to do nothing but to follow and attack the Captal, whilst we are making for his banner, his men will be thrown into some confusion: and then our thirty, by their own strength and that of their horses, will be able to push through the crowd, and advance so near the Captal, that they may seize him and carry him off between them to some place of safety, where they will remain until the end of the battle; for, if he can be taken by such means as this, the day will be ours, as his army will be panic-struck1.”
The Gascon knights immediately assented to this plan, saying it was well thought of, and should be followed. They chose from their battalion thirty of the most enterprising men at arms, and mounted them upon the strongest and most active horses they had with them. They then marched into the plain, well instructed what they were to do. The army remained where it was, on foot, in order of battle.
When the French has thus drawn up their forces, and each knew what he was to do, the chiefs held a consultation, and long debated what war-cry they should use, and whose banner or pennon they should fix on as a rallying point. They for a long time determined to cry, “Notre Dame Auxerre!” and to make the earl of Auxerre their commander for that day. But the earl would not by any means accept of it, excusing himself by saying; “My lords, I return you many thanks for the good opinion you have of me, and for the honour you offer me; but at this moment I cannot accept of such an office, for I am too young to undertake so honourable a charge. This is the first pitched battle I was ever at: for which reason I must beg of you to make another choice. We have here many very able and enterprising knights, such as my lord Bertrand du Guesclin, my lord the archpriest, my lord the grand master of the cross-bows, my lord Lewis de Châlons, my lord Edmund de Pommiers, and sir Odoart de Renty, who have been in many hard engagements, and know much better that I do what in such cases is proper to be done. I must, therefore, intreat you to excuse me from accepting your honourable offer.”
The chiefs, after looking at each other, said, “Earl of Auxerre, you are the highest by birth, and of the largest property and estates of any of us: you have therefore the right of being our chief.” “Certainly, my lords,” replied the earl of Auxerre, “what you say is very pleasing to me; but this day I will only rank as one of your companions; and, whether I live or die, I will hazard the adventure among you; but, as to the command, I am determined not to accept it.” They again looked at each other, in order to see whom they should fix on for their chief. Sir Bertrand du Guesclin was unanimously thought on, and considered as the best knight of the whole company, one who had been engaged in the greatest number of battles, and who was the best informed in military affairs. It was therefore resolved they should cry, “Notre Dame Guesclin!” and that the whole arrangement of that day should be as sir Bertrand would order it. Everything, therefore, being settled, each lord retired to his banner or pennon. They found that their enemies were still upon the hill, and had not quitted their strong situation (not having a desire or thought of so doing), which very much vexed the French, seeing that they had greatly the advantage where they were, and that the sun was beginning to be high, which was the more to their disadvantage, for it was at that season very hot. This delay was what the most able and expert knights dreaded; for they were as yet fasting, and had not brought with them any wine or victuals worth mentioning, except some of the lords, who had small flagons of wine that were soon emptied, and none had been procured or thought of in the morning, as they imagined the engagement would begin on their arrival: but this, as it appeared, was not the case. The English and Navarrois deceived them thus by subtlety, and it was a late hour before they engaged.
When the French lords perceived their situation, they assembled in council, to know what would be the best for them to do, and whether they should march to attach them or not. In this council, all were not of the same opinion. Some wished to fight, whatever might be the consequences; for, they said, it would be shameful for them to make any difficulties about it. But others, better advised, said, that if they should begin the combat, situated as they were so much to their disadvantage, they would be in the greatest danger, and out of five men they should certainly lose three. In short, they could not agree to fight in their present position.
During this time the Navarrois saw them very plainly, and how they were formed: they said to each other, “Look at them: they will very soon come to us, for they have a good will so to do.” There were among them some knight and squires of Normandy, that had been made prisoners by the English and Navarrois, who had been allowed perfect liberty to go and ride about wherever they pleased, upon the faith of their word of honour, provided they did not bear arms in favour of the French. They rode towards the French army, and in conversation, said to the French lords: “My lords, consider what you are about; for, should this day pass without an engagement, your enemies will to-morrow receive a very large reinforcement; as it is reported among them, that the lord Louis de Navarre is on his road to join them with at least four hundred lances.”
This intelligence much inclined the French to attack the Navarrois at all events: they were made ready for it two or three different times: but the wiser advice got the better. Those lords said, “Let us wait a little longer, and see what they will do; for they are so proud and presumptuous that they are as eager to fight us as we are to meet them.” Many of them were very ill and faint, from the great heat, as it was now about noon; they had fasted all the morning, and had been under arms: they were therefore much heated by the sun, which affected them doubly through their armour. They said, therefore, “If we attempt to fight them by ascending the hill in our present state, we shall most certainly be beaten; but if we retreat to our quarters, through the necessity of the case, by to-morrow morning we shall form a better plan.” Thus had they different opinions on what was to be done.
Commentary Part 1
Firstly, a little background.  Charles of Navarre (aka Charles the Bad) is in a similar position to Edward III.  He is King of Navarre but is also a close relative of the French royal family and a major landholder in France.  He seeks at various times to improve his position by devious means.  On this occasion he has rebelled.  He has despatched his chief military advisor, the Captal de Buch, to command his forces in Normandy (where most of his lands are).  However, the French have struck first and taken a lot of his castles and towns.  The Captal arrives to a crisis and needs to put together a field force to oppose the French.
It is interesting to note that both sides are looking for a fight but they are stuggling to find each other.  Fortunately, the Navarrese meet heralds on the road, one of whom is English and, although England is technically neutral in this war, provides assistance.  The English then proceed directly toward the French and find them in a meadow by the river Eure.  Interestingly, the French are on the same side of the river as the Navarrese – they are not just blocking the river crossing, but looking for a fight in a fair field.  This gives the Navarrese the chance to pick advantageous ground on a hill.  The Captal raises his banner on a bush. This is normally a way of creating a rally point for scattered troops – is this to be clear to his expected reinforcements where to come? Incidentally, the Captal’s behaviour clearly shows he doesn’t have a massive superiority of numbers.  He thinks he needs to stand on the defensive and let the French come to him, perhaps relying on his reinforcements to strengthen him.
The French can be clearly seen in their councils of war.  In the army council, the niceties of chivalry are played out, under the pretext of determining the battlecry.  Froissart is dramatising here but clearly this is a classic problem for French armies at the time.  Should low-born professionals lead or inexperienced nobles?  Auxerre does the right thing and it is all dressed in the appropriate chivalrous forms and virtues.
Elsewhere, the reserve has a divisional council.  Firstly, it is notable that the French are deploying a reserve and secondly, that it is made up of some of the most experienced fighters in the army.  These are Gascon routiers and they are talking tactics.  They assemble a strike team to go for the Captal, while planning to flank the English and attack the standard in the rear.  These two things will cause maximum confusion and undermine enemy morale.
Meanwhile, the French have a problem.  They have taken the field without eating and it is a hot May day.  The enemy haven’t attacked.  Should they attack or withdraw?  Another army council convenes.

Part 2 – The Battle
When the knights of France (to whose honour the command of this army was entrusted) saw the English and Navarrois were not inclined to quit their stronghold, and that it was now mid-day; having heard the information which the French prisoners who had visited their army had given, and having considered that the greater part of their men were exceedingly hurt and faint, through the heat; they met together, by the advice of sir Bertrand du Guesclin, whose orders they obeyed, and held another council. “My lords,” said he, “we perceive that our enemies are very eager to fight us, and have a great wish for it; but, however violent they may be, they will not descend from their strong position, unless by a plan which I shall propose to you. We will make dispositions, as if for a retreat, not intending to fight this day, (our men, indeed, are severely afflicted by the great heat); and order our servants, baggage, horses, &c. to cross the bridge and river, and retire to our quarters: we will, at the same time, keep close to them, watching attentively the enemy’s motions. If they really wish to fight us, they will descend the hill, and follow us into the plain. As soon as we shall perceive their motions, if they act as I think they will, we shall be ready armed to wheel about, and thus shall have them more to our advantage.” This proposal was approved of by all, and considered as the best that could have been offered. Each lord, therefore, returned to his people, under his banner or pennon. The trumpets sounded as for a retreat, and every knight and squire ordered his servants to cross the river with their baggage. This the greater part did, and afterward the men at arms followed, but very slowly. When sir John Jouel (who was an expert and valiant knight, and eager to engage with the French) saw the manner of their retreat, he said to the Captal, “My lord, my lord, let us now descend boldly: do you not see how the French are running away?” — “Ha,” replied the Captal, “they are only doing so out of malice, and to draw us down.”
Sir John Jouel upon this advanced forward (for he was very desirous of fighting), crying out, “St. George!” and said to his battalion, “March: those that love me let them follow me, for I am going to engage.” He then drew his sword, and, with it in his hand, marched at the head of his battalion. He and his company were almost down the hill before the Captal moved: but when he found this to be so, and that sir John Jouel meant to fight without him, he considered it as a great presumption, and said to those around them, “Come, let us descend the hill speedily, for sir John Jouel shall not fight without me.” The company of the Captal advanced forwards, with him at their head, his sword in his hand. When the French, who had been watching them all the time, saw them descend and enter the plain, they were mightily rejoiced, and said, “See now, what we have been waiting for all this day has come to pass!” They then faced about, with a thorough good will to meet their enemies, crying out, “Notre Dame Guesclin!” They dressed their banners in front of the Navarrois, and began to form under them from all parts and on foot. On the side of the Navarrois, sir John Jouel advanced, sword in hand, most valiantly, and drew up his battalion opposite to that of the Bretons, which was commanded by sir Bertrand du Guesclin, and performed many gallant deeds of arms; for he was a bold knight; but he found there one that was too able a match for him. The knights and squires then spread themselves over the plain and began to fight with all sorts of weapons, just as they could lay hands upon them; and each party met the other with great courage.
The English and Navarrois shouted out, “St. George!” the French, “Notre Dame Guesclin!” (Froissart again provides a long list of participants)There were many hard blows given, and many valorous deeds of arms performed on each side; for no one should wilfully lie2.
It may be asked, “What became of the archpriest, who was an excellent knight, and had the command of a battalion, that I have not hitherto made any mention of him?” I will tell the truth. As soon as the archpriest saw the enemies drawn up, and that the battle was going to begin in earnest, he quitted his company, but said to his people, and particularly to his banner-bearer; “I order and command you, under pain of my greatest displeasure that you remain where you are, and wait the event of the battle. I set out directly from hence, not meaning to return; for I can neither bear arms nor fight against some of the knights that are with the enemy. If anyone should inquire after me, this is the answer that you will give him.” He then set out, accompanied by a single squire, re-crossed the river, and left the others to make the best of it. They did not notice his absence, as they saw his banner, and thought he was among them, until the business was over.
I will now speak of this battle, and how it was stiffly maintained. At the commencement of the conflict, when sir John Jouel had descended the hill, he was followed by all as closely as they could, and even by the Captal and his company, who thought they should have gained the day; but it turned out otherwise. When they perceived that the French had wheeled about in good order, they immediately found they had been deceived. However, like determined men, they were not panic-struck at the discovery, but were resolved to recover it by their gallantry in the combat.
They retreated a little, then assembled together, and after that they opened the ranks to give room to their archers, who were in their rear, to make use of their bows. When the archers were advanced in front, they extended themselves, and began to exert themselves handsomely in shooting; but the French were so strongly armed and shielded against their arrows, they were but little hurt by them, if at all, and for this did not fight the less valiantly, but intermixed themselves with the English and Navarrois, as did the English with them, equally eager in the combat. There was much hacking and cutting of each other, with lances and battle-axes, seizing each other by main strength and wrestling. They took and ransomed prisoners from each alternately, and were so much intermixed together, that they engaged man to man, and behaved with a degree of valour scarcely to be credited but by eye-witnesses. You may easily imagine that, in such a crowd and so situated, numbers were thrown down, wounded and killed: for neither side spared the other. The French had need not to sleep on their bridles; for they had opposed to them men of ability and determined enterprise. Each, therefore, loyally agreed, not only to defend himself and his post vigorously, but to take every advantage that should offer: if they had not done so, they must have been defeated. In truth, I must say, that the Bretons and Gascons were good men, and performed many gallant feats of arms.
I wish now to speak of the thirty who had been selected to attack the Captal. They had been excellently mounted, on the best horses of the army, and attentive to nothing but their orders (as, being so charged, they were bound to do): they advanced in a close body towards the Captal, who was using his battle-axe manfully, and gave such deadly strokes with it that none dared approach him. They pushed through the crowd by the strength of their horses, as well as by the help of some Gascons who had accompanied them.
These thirty men, who, as you have seen, were so well mounted, and who knew well what they were to do, neither looking to the risk nor danger, made up directly to the Captal and surrounded him. They all fell upon him, and carried him off by dint of force, quitting the spot directly. This created great confusion, and all the battalions drew thitherward; for the Captal’s men were like to madmen, shouting out, “Rescue, rescue the Captal!” All this, nevertheless, was of no service or help to them; for, in fact, the Captal was carried off in the manner I have related, and placed in safety. However, at the moment this happened, it was not truly known which side had the best of the battle. In this grand bustle and confusion, whilst the Navarrois and English, like madmen, were following the Captal, who had been captured before their eyes, sir Aymon de Pommiers, sir Petiton de Courton, the souldich de la Trane, and the company of the lord d’Albret, determined unanimously to make for the banner of the Captal, which was fixed in a bush, and which served as a standard for the Navarrois.
The attack and defence were equally sharp and vigorous; for it was guarded by good men: particularly by sir Bascon de Marneil and sir Geoffry de Roussillon: many were wounded, killed, unhorsed, and rescued. The Navarrois, at last, who were near this bush and about the banner, were broken in upon and forced to retreat. Sir Bascon de Marneil with several others were slain. Sir Geoffry de Roussillon was made prisoner by sir Aymon de Pommiers. The banner of the Captal was immediately seized: and those who defended it were either killed, taken, or had retreated so far that there was no news of them. Whilst the banner of the Captal was thus conquered, torn and dragged upon the ground by the Gascons, the Bretons, the French, the Picards, the Normans and Burgundians were most valiantly fighting in another part of the field; and well it behoved them so to do, for the Navarrois had made them retreat. Among the French, there was already killed the viscount de Beaumont; the more the pity, for he was a young knight well formed to do great things. His people, to their great sorrow, had carried him out of the battle, and guarded him, as I have heard related, by those of both sides. No one had ever seen a battle, with the like number of combatants, so well fought as this was; for they were all on foot, and combated hand to hand, intermixing with each other, and striving for victory with the arms they used, and, in particular, with those battle-axes which gave such astonishingly fatal blows.
Sir Petiton de Courton and the souldich de la Trane were sorely wounded, insomuch that they could do no service during the remainder of the day. Sir John Jouel, by whom the combat began, and who had most courageously attacked and fought the French, performed, that day, many very gallant feats of arms, and never deigned once to retreat. He had been engaged so far in the battle that he was grievously wounded in several parts of the head and body, and at last made prisoner by a squire of Brittany under sir Bertrand du Guesclin: he was then carried out of the crowd. At length, the French gained the field; but on their side there were killed the grand master of the cross-bows, sir Louis de Havenquerque, and many others. On the side of the Navarrois, the lord de Saulx and numbers of his people were slain. Sir John Jouel died in the course of the day. There were made prisoners, sir William de Graville, sir Peter de Sequainville, sir Geoffry de Roussillon, sir Bertrand du Franc, and several more. Few of the Navarrois escaped being slain or taken. This battle was fought in Normandy, pretty near to Cocherel, on a Thursday, the 24th day of May, 13643.
After this defeat, when all the dead were stripped, and those who had made prisoners had put them aside and attended to the wounded; when the greater part of the French, having repassed the bridge, were retiring bruised and weary, to their quarters; sir Guy de Graville, son of sir William de Graville, who had been made a prisoner, having in haste left Conches (a garrison town of the Navarrois), with fifty lancemen4, intending to join the Captal, came on full speed to the field where the battle had been fought. Upon which, the French in the rear cried out, “Let us turn back, for here are more enemies.” On hearing this, sir Aymon and his company, who had remained on the field, seeing these Navarrois advancing, fixed his pennon aloft in a bush, as a rallying-post for the French. When sir Guy saw this, and heard the shout of “Notre Dame Guesclin!” and that none of his party appeared, but plenty of dead bodies were lying around, he soon found that the Navarrois had been discomfited; he therefore quickly faced about, and returned the way he came. In the evening, the French examined those prisoners whom they had in their tents. The archpriest was much inquired about and spoken of, when it was found that he had not been in the engagement: his people made the best excuses for him they could. You must know that the thirty cavaliers who had carried off the Captal, as you have heard, never halted until they had brought him safe to Vernon, and lodged him in the castle. On the morrow, the French decamped, and marched to the city of Rouen, where they left a part of their prisoners.

Part 2 commentary

The result of the council is slightly controversial to modern commentators.  It seems suspicious that what the French need to do – withdraw to a camp across the river where they can eat and camp safe from attack – becomes the basis for a cunning ruse.  Was this simply a question of reinterpreting the retreat after the fact?  Du Guesclin was, however, famed for his cunning, so we cannot rule out this ploy.  His army wants to fight or withdraw.  Why not suggest that we feign retreat and if they pursue we get them, if not we need to withdraw to camp anyway?

We might also take in at this point the strange behaviour of the Archpriest.  Arnauds de Cervole’s excuse is, in chivalric terms, true.  He should not fight his feudal superior.  But neither are here in that relationship – they are both mercenaries.  There were Gascons on both sides, many had family relationships (the Bascot de Mauleon, interviewed by Froissart in Foix many years later, says he was captured by his cousin at this battle) but nobody else withdrew.  Also, one of the heralds the Navarrese met on the road was from the Archpriest.  He wished to discuss something with the Captal but the Captal wouldn’t see him.  A willingness to take his men and withdraw perhaps or just his intention to personally absent himself?

Anyway, we now get battle in earnest.  Note the method by which the French disengage, the men-at-arms covering the withdrawal of the baggage, servants, various varlets and, importantly, their horses.  Jonathon Sumption in Trial by Fire gives an account of the battle which implies only the reserve are on foot while the English and French are mounted and he is followed in this by John Wagner in The Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War.  But Froissart is fairly clear that this is an infantry fight.  The only ones definitely on horseback are the French reserve (who are Gascons and not Bretons as stated by Sumption).  This impression is backed by other contemporary accounts, such as the Chroniques des Premier Quatre Valois.

We should note the Captal appears happy to let the French pull back.  But John Jouel (or Jewel), in a stupendous piece of insubordination launches an attack anyway.  The Navarrese probably mount to launch this attack.  They think they are trying to over run a retreating enemy, which is classically a cavalry action.  Jouel’s action gives the Captal a dilemma.  He is sure the French aren’t running but if he holds back, a large chunk of the army could be defeated in detail.  While he might get the rest of his army off the field, he couldn’t win.  The only way to win is to throw everything in and use the army as a whole, which he does.

The English never actually deliver a cavalry charge.  John Jouel is a good enough soldier to see the trap.  He stops, reorganises (probably dismounting), brings up his archers and waits on the rest of the army coming up.  The archers prove ineffective – the target  are men at arms with pavises (fort armés et pavoisés ).  The two sides clash in what is obviously a vicious fight.  The Captal is seen axe in hand and both Cuvelier’s account and the Premier Quatre Valois also mention axe-fighting.

Once the Navarrese are engaged along the line, the French reserve swings round the flank.  The hit squad target the Captal while the rest attack the standard.  It is interesting to note that one of the defenders of the standard is the Basque (or Bascon) de Marneil, who should be the left flank commander.  Did his men not support the rest when they advanced?  Or did he fall back to take a stand with the rearguard?

We might take in the vivid scenes of chivalrous warfare.  John Jouel falls mortally wounded.  The Captal is taken and his men try to rescue him.  Young Viscount Beaumont is cut down and his men retrieve his body and stand guard over it.

Eventually, though, with their captains taken or killed and their standard torn down, the Navarrese flee.  The final act is the appearance of the Navarrese reinforcements, who cause a sudden flurry of activity in the scattered French forces but ultimately there is nothing useful they can do, so they withdraw.

An interesting skirmish, with a surprising amount of incidental detail on medieval generalship and command and control.  The council approach to commanding an army is well illustrated and the French, in particular, can be seen to have a clear plan.  The French plan would only work if the Navarrese came forward to meet them, something probably well understood by the Captal. Sir John Jouel’s fatal mistake (both personally and to the army) is reminiscent of the French vanguard’s mistake at Poitiers and a reminder that experienced soldiers can misjudge the enemy’s intent.  He doesn’t completely fall into the trap and indeed does enough to make it an even fight.  His disobedience, however, doomed his comrades.  Also notable is the French use of the reserve, which has something in common with the Captal de Buch's own flank attack at Poitiers and similarities with John Hawkwood's flank attack at Castagnaro a few years later.

The other thing about this action is it’s scale, which makes it a nice fit for a large skirmish rule set.  At 1:10, it gives less than 200 a side.  The armies were clearly evenly matched but sufficiently diverse to make the contest more interesting.  The possibility of reinforcement during the game adds a bit of spice too.  The battle could be fought as it happened or the French could try an attack on the Navarrese on their hill.  It would be interesting to see how sets of rules handled the hit squad and the Navarrese standard (using caroccio rules perhaps?).  Sumption gives a useful map of the action on p.508, for those planning a refight.

Patrick Waterson:
A good analysis of one of the less-known engagements of the period of peace during the Hundred Years War (i.e. post-Treaty of Bretigny).

It makes sense that Jean de Grailly would not feel the need to seek a good defensive position if he in fact outnumbered the foe, and his behaviour in sticking to his position until Jouel made it impossible, together with Froissart's reckoning on numbers, both point to the French having the numbers and trying to find a way to bring them into play.

The French 'snatch squad' tasked with seizing Jean de Grailly appears to have been instrumental in winning the day for the French: it puts one in mind of the similar squad said to have been committed to dealing with Henry V at Agincourt just over 50 years later, albeit the result on that occasion was different.

Mark G:
The captal does come over as one of those guys who understands taking a defensive position to mean storming someone else's castle.


--- Quote from: Patrick Waterson on June 29, 2015, 07:30:13 PM ---
The French 'snatch squad' tasked with seizing Jean de Grailly appears to have been instrumental in winning the day for the French: it puts one in mind of the similar squad said to have been committed to dealing with Henry V at Agincourt just over 50 years later, albeit the result on that occasion was different.

--- End quote ---

There is another hit team in the Battle of Lucocisterna, elsewhere in this section.  While the Agincourt example is presented as a chivalric oath, the Cocherel and Lucocisterna versions are calculated and pragmatic attempts at a decapitation strike.  Of the three only Cocherel works - the strike team is wiped out in the other two, so it is a high risk stratagem.

Addendum : We might look at this in the context of trying to resolve a fight by taking out the opposing leader.  For example, Hotspur tries to do this at Shrewsbury (fails and is killed), as does Richard III at Bosworth (fails and is killed).


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