The Battle of Poitiers was one of the most significant battles between the French and English armies during the Hundred Years’ War. The battle took place in 1356 on French territory near Poitiers. It resulted in a decisive victory for the English side with the French suffering a humiliating defeat with French leaders, including the French King, being captured by the English forces. The battle turned the scales in favour of the English for the time being, leading to the weakest period of French supremacy during the Hundred Years’ War.
As part of the Hundred Years’ War, the French and English were already at war over English territories on the Continent. In 1356, Prince of Wales, Edward began a campaign to rally his supporters in the French territories, moving out from the English-held region of Aquitaine. Raiding along the way, Edward led his forces to the castle at Tours. Before he could take the castle, French King John II reached the site to relieve the castle. After attempts at negotiations failed between the two sides, they prepared for battle on September 19.
The English army, led by Edward, was significantly smaller than the French army. According to medieval sources, the English army numbered at 5000 while the French army totalled 11000. However, the English had a crucial advantage in that they had 1000 archers in their midst who proved vital during the fighting. Apart from them, the English had 3000 men-at-arms and 1000 infantry. In contrast, the French had 8000 men-at-arms and 3000 infantry.
At the beginning of the fighting, the French cavalry charged at the English side. They were checked by the English archers successfully who, positioned at the side, rained arrows on the sides and backs of the horses, piercing the vulnerable armour points. This prevented the French cavalry to make any significant advancements to the English side.
The French infantry then advanced but after fierce fighting, withdrew to reorganise for a second attack. However, other parts of the French army thought the infantry was retreating and panicked, leading to disorganisation on the French side. This ultimately proved a vital disadvantage to the French as Edward summoned his reserve forces stationed in the forest nearby to complete his victory over the French army, more than half of which had been sent away from the battlefield.
The Battle of Poitiers was the second major victory for the English forces during the Hundred Years’ War. One of the most devastating losses for the French was that the King was captured and a large number of leading noblemen fell in the battlefield. King John II of France consequently spent many years as a hostage in England.
His son Charles ruled as regent but had to contend with the unrest in Paris, the lack of support from the non-noble population and the crunching pressure of reaching a negotiation with England. Ultimately, France had to agree to pay a vast sum of ransom to the English and to give up several of its territories in Western France.