1346 and 1347 proved to two of the finest years for Edward III. He overtook the town of Caen, the city of Calais on the French side of the English Channel (which allowed the English to harbor troops safely in France), and even won the Battle of Neville’s Cross against the Scots, which all but defeated Scottish threats.
Also in 1346 was the epic Battle of Crecy. It was in this battle that the French outnumbered the English two to one. The English, however, used their infamous longbows and set up ingenious defensive structures. Similar to the Battle of Agincourt, the English longbow-men shot the French Cavalry down as they charged. Phillip, for some reason, rushed the attack, and his crossbowmen proved all but completely ineffective.
It was also in this battle that Edward III’s son, the Black Prince, just 16 years old, proved himself in battle. Coming under attack, Edward III refused to send any aid to him, making him prove himself. Thus he did in what is believed to be a great fashion.
The Black Prince, presumably called so because of the black armor that he wore, had come under attack by the French, with only his small contingent of men with him. Being pressed hard, one of Edward III advisers came to the king, asking him to send aide to the prince. There are accounts of the conversation that may have taken place. From what can be taken, Edward III asked if his son was dead or otherwise incapacitated to fight and lead. When the answer given was no, the king said “let him earn his spurs”. The Black Prince fought his way out of danger, and this act inspired the English more so, and they won the battle fairly easily.
Edward III and the prince lead the army on to Calias. This all important city allowed the English to keep troops in France, and was under English control until 1558. In the end, Edward III took the city, and only after his wife the Queen begged him not to behead the nobles, he took said nobles hostage, fed the inhabitants and set them to disperse where they may.
After these important victories, there came about the Black Death, or the Plague the following year, 1348. There were rumors that the Plague was a punishment from God; some went so far as to say that it was punishment from this battle as the English killed so many they invited death to this world more than ever. Due to the overwhelming dead from the disease, and fear of contracting the disease, he war was put on hold for over 18 years. In that terrible time, nearly a full 1/3 of the population in Europe died due to the disease. One of the most notable people to die of the plague was actually the king of England’s’ own daughter Joan Plantagenet.
King John II of France signed the Treaty of Mantes in 1354 and the Treaty of Valognes in 1355. These treaties were did not last, and are hardy worth mentioning in the grand scheme of the war, each lasting less than a year before being as worthless as the paper they were written on.
In 1356, the plague had subsided considerably and both France and England were recovering financially from its effects. The process had to have been a slow one, as so many had perished. It is apparent that the plague had drastically changed England, with the Peasant Revolt rising up in 1381.
But whatever the financial situation was, the Black Prince began waging war again, leading an army through Gascony. King John II followed in hot pursuit with his own army. The two forces met just outside of Poitiers.
With the two forces facing each other, John was certain of victory, and became very cocky. The Black Prince, on the other hand, seems to have not wanted a battle here. He had scorched much of France without much resistance and now faced an army twice the size of his own. The 26 year old prince offered his wagon trains which were reportedly loaded with loot, and promised not to engage the French in combat for seven years. Some reports claim that the prince even offered Calais back to the French crown. This could have been a major victory without loss of life if John II had accepted it. He did not however.
King John II responded to this generous offer by demanding that the Prince himself and 100 of his best knights surrender to the French. This was not a shining moment for the French king, as he would regret this decision shortly.
Obviously, the Black Prince was not about to turn himself over, and the battle began shortly after. Drawing on past experience in fighting the French, Prince Edward employed much the same tactics in this battle as he had at the Battle of Crecy. Using his longbow-men, the prince set up defensive positions to protect them, and allowed the French to come charging at him. It is reported that the English long bow was not quite powerful enough to penetrate the French armor here, due in part to the armor being a bit rounded. In any event, the English shot the horses out from under the French.
It is important to note here that the Dauphin Charles was leading the infantry for the French. Though the Dauphin had around 1000 troops with him, they were unable to penetrate the English hedge. The Dauphin had to retreat and regroup. The other infantry unit, lead by the Duke of Orleans, panicked and retreated as well, leaving King John II alone with his unit.
In the end, the Black Prince led a cavalry unit to the French flank, closing the king in. the English had began running low on arrows, and many of the archers had actually mounted horses to join in the cavalry charge.
Completely surrounded, the French tried to flee. It is said that John wielded a large battle ax valiantly, but his helmet was knocked off. A French knight that was exiled and now fighting for the English, Denis de Morbecque, said to him:
“Sire, I am a knight of Artois. Lead yourself to me and I will lead you to the Prince of Wales.”
So it was that the King of France, King John II, was taken by the Black Prince. He was treated fairy well, with some sources reporting that he was allowed to travel and enjoy a semi-regal lifestyle. Eventually, he was transported to the Tower of London. No one from the French side dared to attempt a rescue their king.
The ransom of the king was set a 3 million crowns, a substantial amount of money; money that the French did not have at the time. The king left his son Louis of Anjou at the English controlled city of Calais and returned to France with the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360. He was sent to help raise funds to pay the English his ransom. Louis of Anjou, however, dishonored his family when he escaped his holding. With the treaty now in peril, King John II did something that was very honorable, though foolish; he returned himself to the captivity of the English. In April of 1364, John II died of an illness, and the French were left again disheartened and had to decide who would take the throne.
Charles V succeeded him John to the throne, and singed the Treaty of Bretigny. This treaty made Edward III renounce his claim to the French crown, along with gaining Edward III’s holdings in Aquitaine. Disputes arose as the Prince of Wales, also now the Prince of Aquitaine taxed his subjects to pay for a war in Castile. Protests arose, and the subjects asked for help from Paris. Charles V met with his advisors and lawyers, and it was decided that Aquitaine was still under French rule due to Edward not following the renunciations. In 1369, Charles v declared war on Edward III.
Charles V fought the English back, wining many small battles along the way. Brittany reconciled with the French throne, and the Breton Knight Bertrand du Guesclin became one of the most successful generals for the French in the Hundred Years War.
The Black Prince, on the Iberian Peninsula fighting, became ill and in 1371 was relieved of command. In 1376, the Black Prince died. He was buried just outside of Canterbury cathedral. The next year, Edward III passed away as well, and the English throne went to Richard II.