Author Topic: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD  (Read 7593 times)

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The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« on: January 03, 2016, 11:44:16 AM »
Battle and Date : The Bridge of Lussac, 31st December, 1369

Protagonists : Sir John Chandos, Sir Thomas Percy (English) v. Sir Louis de St Julien, Jean de Kerlouet (called by Froissart Carnet le Breton) (French)

Armies : Froissart gives the English about 300 lances overall; 30 with Percy, 40 with Chandos and the rest under numerous local nobles.  He doesn’t give the number of the French except that Kerlouet has 40 lances and in total he and St Julien outnumber Chandos.  The Chronique Normande du XIVe siecle, however, gives the English 700 combatants, of whom 140 hold the bridge.  The French have only 80 combatants in total.  Neither side seems to have any attached archers but trail about a horde of servants (who leave much to be desired).

Source : Chronicles of England, France and Spain and the Surrounding Countries, by Sir John Froissart, Translated from the French Editions with Variations and Additions from Many Celebrated MSS, by Thomas Johnes, Esq; London: William Smith, 1848.CHAPTER CCLXXVIII.

Prologue
At this time, there was in Poitou an abbey which still exists, called St. Salvin, situated seven leagues from Poitiers; and in this abbey there was a monk who hated the abbot, as he afterwards showed. It was on account of this hatred which he bore him that he betrayed the abbot and the whole convent, and delivered up the abbey and the town to Sir Louis de St. Julien and to Carnet le Breton, who took possession of it, repaired it, and made it a strong garrison.
Sir John Chandos, being séneschal of Poitou, was seriously afflicted with the loss of St. Salvin: he was continually devising means to retake it, whether by assault or by escalade was perfectly indifferent to him, so that he could gain it. He made many nightly ambuscades, but none succeeded; for Sir Louis, who commanded in it, was very watchful, as he knew the capture of it had highly angered Sir John Chandos.

[On 30th December, Chandos decides to attempt to escalade St Salvin and assembled a force of 300 lances for this purpose.  However, they are thwarted because that night the French are reinforced and the Abbey is alert.  Chandos is seriously hacked off and retires to an inn in a state of displeasure.  He dismisses his men in two groups, the main one to ride back to Poitiers, the other under Sir Thomas Percy, to go looking for trouble.  Then a messenger appears, saying the reinforced French garrison have sallied.  Chandos, initially reluctant, decides to set out in pursuit.  Percy meanwhile appears to have heard the news and is trying to cut the French off at the Bridge of Lussac.  We return to the scene in the light of early morning]

The Battle at the Bridge of Lussac.
The French might be about a league from the bridge of Lussac, when they perceived Lord Thomas Percy and his men on the other side of the river. Lord Thomas had before seen them, and had set off full gallop to gain the bridge. They said, “There are the French: they are more in number than we are; let us hasten to take advantage of the bridge.” When Sir Louis and Carnet saw the English on the opposite side of the river, they also made haste to gain the bridge: however the English arrived first, and were masters of it. They all dismounted, and drew themselves up to defend and guard it. The French likewise dismounted on their arrival, and giving their horses for the servants to lead them to the rear, took their lances, and advanced in good order, to attack the English and win the bridge. The English stood firm, although they were so few in comparison with the enemy.

Whilst the French and Bretons were considering the most advantageous manner to begin the onset, Sir John Chandos arrives with his company, his banner displayed and flying in the wind. This was borne by a valiant man at arms, called James Allen, and was a pile gules on a field argent. They might be about forty lances, who eagerly hastened to meet the French. As the English arrived at a small hillock, about three furlongs from the bridge, the French servants, who were between this hillock and the bridge, saw them, and, being much frightened, said, “Come away: let us save ourselves and our horses.” They therefore ran off, leaving their masters to shift as well as they could. When Sir John Chandos, with displayed banner, was come up to the French, whom he thought very lightly of, he began from horseback to rail at them, saying: “Do you hear, Frenchmen! you are mischievous men at arms: you make incursions night and day at your pleasure: you take towns and castles in Poitou, of which I am séneschal. You ransom poor people without my leave, as if the country were your own; but, by God, if is not. Sir Louis, Sir Louis, you and Carnet are too much the masters. It is upwards of a year and a half that I have been endeavouring to meet you. Now, thanks to God, I do so, and will tell you my mind. We will now try which of us is the strongest in this country. It has been often told me, that you were very deSirous of seeing me: you have now that pleasure. I am John Chandos: look at me well; and, if God please, we will now put to the proof your great deeds of arms which are so renowned.” With such words as these did Sir John Chandos greet them: he would not have wished to have been anywhere else, so eager was he to fight with them.

Sir Louis and Carnet kept themselves in a close body, as if they were willing to engage. Lord Thomas Percy and the English on the other side of the bridge knew nothing of what had passed, for the bridge was very high in the middle, which prevented them from seeing over it. During this scoffing of Sir John Chandos, a Breton drew his sword, and could not resist from beginning the battle: he struck an English squire, named Simkin Dodenhale, and beat him so much about the breast with his sword that he knocked him off his horse on the ground. Sir John Chandos, who heard the noise behind him, turned round, and saw his squire on the ground and persons beating him. This enraged him more than before: he said to his men, “Sirs, what are you about? how suffer you this man to be slain? Dismount, dismount:” and at the instant he was on foot, as were all his company. Simkin was rescued, and the battle began.

Sir John Chandos, who was a strong and bold knight, and cool in all his undertakings, had his banner advanced before him, surrounded by his men, with the scutcheon above his arms. He himself was dressed in a large robe which fell to the ground, blazoned with his arms on white sarcenet, argent, a pile gules; one on his breast, and the other on his back; so that he appeared resolved on some adventurous undertaking; and in this state, with sword in hand, he advanced on foot towards the enemy.

This morning there had been a hoar-frost, which had made the ground slippery; so that as he marched he entangled his legs with his robe, which was of the longest, and made a stumble: during which time a squire, called James de St. Martin (a strong expert man), made a thrust at him with his lance, which hit him in the face, below the eye, between the nose and forehead. Sir John Chandos did not see the aim of the stroke, for he had lost the eye on that side five years ago, on the heaths of Bordeaux, at the chase of a stag: what added to this misfortune, Sir John had not put down his vizor, so that in stumbling he bore upon the lance, and helped it to enter into him. The lance, which had been struck from a strong arm, hit him so severely that it entered as far as the brain, and then the squire drew it back to him again.

The great pain was too much for Sir John, so he fell to the ground, and turned twice over in great agony, like one who had received his death-wound. Indeed, since the blow, he never uttered a word. His people, on seeing this mishap, were like madmen. His uncle, Sir Edward Clifford [recte Twyford], hastily advanced, and striding over the body, (for the French were endeavouring to get possession of it,) defended it most valiantly, and gave such well-directed blows with his sword that none dared to approach him. Two other knights, namely Sir John Chambo and Sir Bertrand de Cassilies, were like men distracted at seeing their master lie thus on the ground.

The Bretons, who were more numerous than the English, were much rejoiced when they saw their chief thus prostrate, and greatly hoped he was mortally wounded. They therefore advanced, crying out, “By God, my lords of England, you will all stay with us, for you cannot now escape.” The English performed wonderful feats of arms, as well to extricate themselves from the danger they were in as to revenge their commander, Sir John Chandos, whom they saw in so piteous a state. A squire attached to Sir John marked out this James de St. Martin, who had given the blow; he fell upon him in such a rage, and struck him with his lance as he was flying, that he ran him through both his thighs, and then withdrew his lance: however, in spite of this, James de St. Martin continued the fight. Now if lord Thomas Percy, who had first arrived at the bridge, had imagined anything of what was going forwards, Sir John Chandos’ men would have been considerably reinforced; but it was otherwise decreed: for not hearing anything of the Bretons since he had seen them advancing in a large body towards the bridge, he thought they might have retreated; so that lord Thomas and his men continued their march, keeping the road to Poitiers, ignorant of what was passing.
Though the English fought so bravely at the bridge of Lussac, in the end they could not withstand the force of the Bretons and French, but were defeated, and the greater part made prisoners. Sir Edward Clifford stood firm, and would not quit the body of his nephew. If the French had had their horses, they would have gone off with honour, and have carried with them good prisoners; but, as I have before said, their servants had gone away with them. Those of the English also had retreated, and quitted the scene of battle. They remained therefore in bad plight, which sorely vexed them, and said among themselves, “This is a bad piece of business: the field is our own, and yet we cannot return through the fault of our servants. It is not proper for us who are armed and fatigued to march through this country on foot, which is quite against us; and we are upwards of six leagues from the nearest of any of our fortresses. We have, besides, our wounded and slain, whom we cannot leave behind.” As they were in this situation, not knowing what to do, and had sent off two or three of the Bretons, disarmed, to hunt after and endeavour to find their servants, they perceived advancing towards them, Sir Guiscard d’Angle, Sir Louis de Harcourt, the lords de Partenay, de Tannaybouton, d’Argenton, de Pinane, Sir James de Surgeres, and several others [These are the main body of men at arms that departed in the night]. They were full two hundred lances, and were seeking for the French; for they had received information that they were out on an excursion, and were then following the traces of their horses. They came forwards, therefore, with displayed banners fluttering in the wind, and marching in a disorderly manner.

The moment the Bretons and French saw them they knew them for their enemies, the barons and knights of Poitou. They therefore said to the English: ‘You see that body of men coming to your assistance: we know we cannot withstand them; therefore,” calling each by his name, “you are our prisoners; but we give you your liberty, on condition that you take care to keep us company; and we surrender ourselves to you, for we have it more at heart to give ourselves up to you than to those who are coming.” They answered, “God’s will be done.” The English thus obtained their liberty. The Poitevins soon arrived, with their lances in their rests, shouting their war-cries; but the Bretons and French, retreating on one side, said, “Holla! stop my lords: we are prisoners already.” The English testified to the truth of this by adding, “It is so: they belong to us.” Carnet was prisoner to Sir Bertrand de Cassilies, and Sir Louis de St. Julien to Sir John Chambo: there was not one who had not his master.

These barons and knights of Poitou were struck with grief, when they saw their séneschal, Sir John Chandos, lying in so doleful a way, and not able to speak. They began to grievously to lament his loss, saying, “Flower of knighthood! oh, Sir John Chandos! cursed be the forging of that lance which wounded thee, and which has thus endangered thy life.” Those who were around the body most tenderly bewailed him, which he heard, and answered with groans, but could not articulate a word. They wrung their hands, and tore their hair, uttering cries and complaints, most especially those who belonged to his household.

Sir John Chandos was disarmed very gently by his own servants, laid upon shields and targets, and carried at a foot’s pace to Mortemer, the nearest fort to the place where they were. The other barons and knights returned to Poitiers, carrying with them their prisoners. I heard that James Martin, he who had wounded Sir John Chandos, suffered so much from his wounds that he died at Poitiers. That gallant knight only survived one day and night. God have mercy on his soul! for never since a hundred years did there exist among the English one more courteous, nor fuller of every virtue and good quality than him.


Commentary
The Bridge at Lussac would be enough of the numerous small scale border skirmishes that made up this phase of the Hundred Years' War if it was not where Sir John Chandos, one of the major English commanders met his end.  Because of this, Froissart gives it the full treatment.  The way he describes what happened, his informant (s) were almost certainly in Chandos’ party.  There is another reasonably detailed account in the Chronique Normande, of which there appears to be no English translation.  However, it broadly agrees with how the battle came about and what happened, differing mainly in the strengths of the two sides and the fact that the English bridge party were led by Sir Hugh Stafford and Sir Digory (aka Gregory) Sais.

Froissart’s narrative is particularly strong here.  He is doing what he does best, telling the tale of deeds of arms, and has clearly spoken to a person or people who were present.  He delivers a strong sense of tragedy – a great knight dies basically by accident in a pointless skirmish.
Notable for the student of medieval warfare is the fact that, on the night of 30th/31st December, Poitou was swarming with bands of men-at-arms.  Medieval men-at-arms were not cosseted fair-weather fighters – they fought in the depth of winter and in the middle of the night. 

In terms of tactics, we see that both sides dismount and send their horses to the rear under their servants.  The two sides indicate their willingness to fight in different ways.  Chandos advances his banner after his tirade, both emphasising the formality of his being in the field as Seneschal of Poitou.  The French close up their ranks into a fighting formation.

Both sides use their lances in the fight, apparently unshortened.  Chandos and Twyford both use their swords.  We can see Twyford doing what was probably normal practice of physically standing over a downed comrade to protect him at his most vulnerable.  The Black Prince’s standard bearer does this at Crecy and Henry V stands over his wounded brother Humphrey at Agincourt.

One mystery that Froissart doesn’t properly explain is the behaviour of the bridge party.  One minute they are about to receive a French attack then they drift off in mid-fight.  Admittedly, a quick glance at the remains of the bridge show that Froissart is right that it is high and hard to see across.  But having worked so hard to secure the bridge, would they have ridden off without checking the French had gone, even if they didn’t pursue?  The Chronique Normande version is different here, with the French committed to a fight on the bridge when Chandos comes up and having to split their force to face both ways.  Froissart is probably trying to explain away why Sir Thomas Percy didn’t help Chandos in need, but doesn’t know the actual answer, which was the small bridge party could hold their end of the bridge against the French but couldn’t storm it to get to the other side.  Even if they could hear the fighting on the far side, they would not be able to see what was going on and may not have realised Chandos was in danger.  Given the different leadership given to the bridge party by the Chronique Normande, Sir Thomas may even have ridden off to Poitiers before Chandos arrived, leaving the bridge defence in the hands of two junior comrades.

So there we have it, a gameable skirmish with well-balanced sides (if we take Froissarts English numbers and the Chronique Normande’s French), with the arrival of overwhelming English reinforcements the ticking clock against which the French are working.
  • Anthony Clipsom

aligern

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2016, 05:19:17 PM »
Lovely post Anthony!
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Mick Hession

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2016, 05:37:59 PM »
Yes indeed.

Cheers
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2016, 08:53:39 PM »
Yes, very nicely laid out and presented, with thoughtful comments.

One does note how on occasion during the Hundred Years War a friendly force just happens to be in the vicinity when things start to get sticky for one side.  This speaks volumes about the general quantity and quality of reconnaissance during the period.

One may note the incidental details surrounding the lance-stroke which dealt Chandos his death-blow: it was thrust, not simply held out, by an experienced squire; Chandos happened to stumble on account of his robe, which brought him onto the point with extra force; his visor was up; he did not see the stroke coming because he had lost his eye on that side during a hunt; it struck "below the eye, between the nose and forehead," and "it entered as far as the brain, and then the squire drew it back to him again."

This suggests that lance-strokes on foot in this engagement, or in French practice, were thrust-and-withdraw affairs as opposed to the White Company style of having two or three men on a lance and holding a dense array of lance-points in front of the formation so that an apple or glove could not be thrown between them.
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Erpingham

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2016, 10:20:18 PM »

This suggests that lance-strokes on foot in this engagement, or in French practice, were thrust-and-withdraw affairs as opposed to the White Company style of having two or three men on a lance and holding a dense array of lance-points in front of the formation so that an apple or glove could not be thrown between them.

Not just French - the unnamed squire who gets James St Martin also thrusts and withdraws his lance.  If you were to read Thomas Gray's descriptions of foot combat, his men-at-arms also tend to thrust with their lances against cavalry, rather than ground them Flemish style.  Two possibilities occur to me - one is that techniques in Italy were different or (perhaps more likely) the scale of the action has a bearing.

Why Chandos doesn't close his visor is a mystery.  It is possible he keeps it up to communicate better.  However, with only one eye, a closed visor would make him almost blind - not a good thing in melee.  He's far from unique though - many named leaders in Froissart and elsewhere receive facial wounds, which suggests at least part of the time with the visor up.

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2016, 09:45:36 AM »
Why Chandos doesn't close his visor is a mystery.  It is possible he keeps it up to communicate better.  However, with only one eye, a closed visor would make him almost blind - not a good thing in melee.  He's far from unique though - many named leaders in Froissart and elsewhere receive facial wounds, which suggests at least part of the time with the visor up.

Agreed: he was perhaps expecting to issue orders/challenges or otherwise employ speech at volume, which a closed visor would render indistinct.  He seems to have been quite vocal in the run-up to the actual fighting.  That said, given the robe he was wearing and the tussocky ground, he may also have been trying to see where his feet were going, although if this were the reason it does not seem to be very well supported by the outcome. ;)

His banner was 'advanced before him', so perhaps he was not expecting to be in melee quite as swiftly as actually happened.

Quote
If you were to read Thomas Gray's descriptions of foot combat, his men-at-arms also tend to thrust with their lances against cavalry, rather than ground them Flemish style.  Two possibilities occur to me - one is that techniques in Italy were different or (perhaps more likely) the scale of the action has a bearing.

Could well be: perhaps also the White Company may have developed a more discipline-oriented and less individualistic approach?
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2016, 10:04:53 AM »
Quote
Could well be: perhaps also the White Company may have developed a more discipline-oriented and less individualistic approach?

I think so.  The White Company formation will only work as a tight group, not for individual sparring, so they are aiming at an effect as a unit.  It would be very difficult in a two-men-to-a-lance formation to move quickly and so easier to keep them together.

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2016, 10:41:19 AM »
Do we believe the White company method of lance useage? It looks suspiciously to me like an elaboration of the mediaeval'lance' as an organisation with 1-n members. After all, if a man ground his lance then what greater resistance can there be to a charge than Earth herself?
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2016, 10:55:31 AM »
Do we believe the White company method of lance useage? It looks suspiciously to me like an elaboration of the mediaeval'lance' as an organisation with 1-n members. After all, if a man ground his lance then what greater resistance can there be to a charge than Earth herself?

Good question about the "misunderstanding" theory.  Without my books I can't really check but I think writers like Mallett and Caferro take it literally.  Also, I can't check the quote but I thought the two-man-one-lance was an offensive, not defensive move?
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2016, 11:29:28 AM »
Without my books I can't really check but I think writers like Mallett and Caferro take it literally.  Also, I can't check the quote but I thought the two-man-one-lance was an offensive, not defensive move?

Azario says:
Quote
et lanceis grandibus et cum longissimis ferris superapositis, rescistendo se opponere et ut plurimum duo utuntur una lancea et tres aliquando, quia tam gravis et tam grossa est quod nichil tangunt quin forent.

They had very large lances with very long iron tips. Mostly two, sometimes three of them, handled a single lance so heavy and big that there was nothing it would not penetrate.

Villani says:
Quote
il modo del loro combattere in campo quasi sempre era a piede, assegnando i cavalli a' paggi loro, legandosi in schiera quasi tonda; e i due prendeano una lancia, a quello modo che con gli spiedi s'aspetta il cinghiaro; e così legati e stretti, con le lance basse, a lenti passi si faceano contro a' nemici con terribili strida.

Their mode of fighting in the field was almost always afoot, as they assigned their horses to their pages.  Keeping themselves in almost circular formation, every two take a lance, carrying it in a manner in which one waits for a boar with a boar-spear.  So bound and compact, with lowered lances they marched with slow steps towards the enemy, making a terrible outcry.

From http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=400080, http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=147628, http://www.deremilitari.org/RESOURCES/SOURCES/villani3.htm
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2016, 02:05:49 PM »
Wierd!  It must have been quite difficult to aim the point, then again, no one is going to deflect the point with a shield.
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2016, 02:21:42 PM »
Wierd!  It must have been quite difficult to aim the point, then again, no one is going to deflect the point with a shield.
R

Yes, this would be an unsubtle steamroller of a tactic, with no fancy spear-play.  But then aiming a cavalry lance was probably quite difficult, as the point could bounce about.  The practice of lance-shortening is specifically said to make the lance more rigid (and hence controllable) in melee.

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2016, 10:28:24 AM »
So what was that Breton doing behind Chandos attacking Simkin? Did he somehow simply saunter into the English formation?
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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #13 on: January 05, 2016, 01:27:58 PM »
My imagining of the scene is that the English at this stage are sat on their horses, Chandos and a few men have ridden in advance of their formation in "parley" mode.  It's all a bit tense because Chandos is ranting quite a bit and, on the edge of the group, argy-bargy breaks out between a couple of squires.  Chandos chides the main group for not coming forward to rescue the squire, everybody falls back a bit, the English dismount, banner is brought forward and attack proper begins.

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Re: The Bridge of Lussac 1369 AD
« Reply #14 on: January 05, 2016, 03:43:26 PM »
Just wanted to voice my appreciation for this excellent post. Great read. Thanks!
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