The Black Prince and the Capture of a King: Poitiers 1356, Marilyn Livingstone, Morgen Witzel

The capture of a king in the course of a battle was a relatively rare event. This, the climactic event of the Black Prince’s first campaign as commander, came at the end of nearly a year of campaigning across the southwest of France.

The battle of Poitiers in 1356 is less well known than more famous clashes such as Agincourt, however, Poitiers was no less dramatic, and equally important in terms of the course of the Hundred Years War. The capture of King Jean brought France to the brink of total defeat, and led to one of the most devastating and destructive periods in French history. It is not exaggeration to say that the battle of Poitiers changed the course of history for both France and England.

In the summer of 1356 the Prince and his army drove northward towards the Loire, attacking once again deep into French territory. This time he met real opposition: the full French army led by King Jean and many of the leading nobility of France, some of them veterans of the defeat at Crécy ten years before. Outnumbered, the Prince fell back, but in September he turned near the city of Poitiers to make a stand.

The battle that followed was a tense encounter. The French had learned much from the disastrous defeat at Crécy, and took time to organize and prepare before attacking. Their advance was deliberate and well-planned, yet the result was the same. Once again, English and Welsh archers wrought mayhem among the French ranks. The French formations disintegrated, and a violent counterattack by English men-at-arms caused it to dissolve entirely. King Jean and his eldest son made a final stand with some of their followers, but in the end they were forced to surrender and were taken back to England as prisoners.

The core of the book is a day-by-day description of the campaign of July-September 1356, climaxing with a detailed description of the Battle of Poitiers itself. The detailed account and analysis of the battle and the campaigns that led up to it has a strong focus on the people involved in the campaign: ordinary men-at-arms and noncombatants as well as princes and nobles.

Marilyn Livingstone is a historian and editor. She is the co-author, along with Morgen Witzel, of The Road to Crécy: The English Invasion of France, 1346 (2004). She has an MA in medieval history from Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London and a doctorate in economic history from Queen’s University Belfast where her thesis researched and analyzed the taxation levied by Edward III in 1340-41 to fund the early stages of the Hundred Years War. In addition she has worked on a study of medieval crop yields and on a database of attacks by the French on the English coast during the Hundred Years War.

Morgen Witzel is a historian and writer. He is the co-author, with Marilyn Livingstone, of The Road to Crécy: The English Invasion of France, 1346 (2004). He is a Fellow of the Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter Business School and a writer on the history of business and management. He is currently editor in chief of Corporate Finance Review.

REVIEWS

“Witzel and Livingstone (The Road to Crecy) successfully analyze the surprising English victory at Poitiers, a significant achievement that nearly crushed medieval France decades before Joan of Arc’s valiant anti-English crusade. This highly focused military history details how the “almost cat-like” Prince Edward chose highly capable soldiers to carry out his risky yet well-reasoned strategies on a battlefield where French forces outnumbered the English three to one. Campaign resources were so scarce at one point that horses died of alcohol poisoning because wine was more readily available than water. While the battle resulted in great potential for a future kingdom combining England and France, it also cemented the Black Prince’s reputation as a chivalrous warrior because of his respectful treatment of the captured French king. In this account, the military movements (organized by date) and engagement remain primary, but the authors also offer clear descriptions of the chaotic French monarchy, including King Jean’s patricidal heirs, and the unusually respectful and collaborative partnership between Edward III and the popular Black Prince. Ideal for military historians, this taut narrative provides clear political context and a detailed, climactic account of a legendary battle. (July)”

– Publishers Weekly

“Livingstone and Witzel (coauthors, The Road to Crécy) begin their latest book in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Crécy in 1346, then go on to feature a day-by-day account of the 1356 campaign leading up to and including the Battle of Poitiers. Alongside that narrative, the authors analyze and explicate events prior to 1356 as well as those taking place after the conflict, arguing that the Battle of Poitiers is as important as later medieval battles such as Agincourt. Although the focus is on military, historical, and political analyses, the personalities and dominant figures on both the English and French sides are also focal points. Some prior knowledge of the events and people that feature during this stage of the Hundred Years’ War (e.g., King Edward III, Charles of Navarre, etc.) will be greatly helpful. VERDICT Overall, a meticulously researched work specifically geared toward readers with an interest in medieval history and warfare.”

– Library Journal
  • Format: Hardback, e-book
  • Pages: 224
  • ISBN: 9781612004518
  • Publisher: Casemate
  • Published: July 2018