Victory at Poitiers: The Black Prince and the Medieval Art of War

Anne Curry looks at a book on one of the key battles of the 14th century

Victory at Poitiers
Author: Christian Teutsch
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Reviewed by: Anne Curry
Price (RRP): £19.99

Of the many battles of the Hundred Years’ War, that of Poitiers (19 September 1356) is the least well-studied. Yet it brought the greatest political advantage for the English through the capture of the French king, John II, by Edward of Woodstock (better known as the Black Prince).

This book attempts to cover more than the battle itself. It owes much to the approaches of Professor Clifford Rogers, especially in the ideas that commanders had the capacity for strategic thought and also learned from previous experiences.

Not surprisingly this leads to some discussion of the lessons of Crécy, Nevilles Cross and the campaigns of 1355. This is standard and rather limited stuff.

Discussion of the 1356 campaign begins almost 70 pages into the book. Fifty pages are devoted to a day-by-day account of events from 16 to 20 September. This is when the book at last starts to come to life.

There is interesting material on how the armies edged towards each other. This gives a good feel of increasing tension.

The stages of the battle itself, and of the commanders and sub-commanders within it, are nicely handled. Due attention is paid to the problems that the sources raise. The route of the flanking manoeuvre of the Captal de Buch has long been a matter of contention: Christian Teutsch reviews the possibilities and advances his own with close attention to the topographical features of the location.

The book closes with a very perfunctory chapter on the aftermath of the battle which provides almost no detail other than that found in standard histories of the Hundred Years’ War.

The result is a pleasant enough book but one which does little to advance our knowledge of the battle or of warfare in the period. To my mind, a fuller and longer discussion of the battle itself would have been more valuable, especially given the author’s insights as a serving officer.

The background does not seem wholly expert. The book uses some extracts from newsletters and chronicles as published by Rogers and Barber but that it should draw on the highly derivative chronicle of John Capgrave, written in the mid-1450s, is perplexing.

A full study of Poitiers, from both English and French perspectives, remains to be written. Even Sumption’s excellent Hundred Years War: Trial by Fire (1999) gives only 15 pages of 585 to it, and Green’s Battle of Poitiers (2002) is thinner than Teutsch’s book. 

Anne Curry is professor of medieval history, University of Southampton

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