Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The High Command of the English army in 1346

The commander was Edward himself but his choice of senior officers was to have a profound influence on the way the campaign was to be fought. As convention dictated, Edward divided the army into three more or less self-contained divisions for supply, movement and tactical purposes.

The central division was commanded by the king himself, the advance guard was given to his eldest son, Prince Edward who is better known as the Black Prince. The rearguard was put under the command of the Bishop of Durham and the Earl of Arundel. The Earl of Northampton, who had been brought back from Brittany the previous autumn, was appointed Constable while the Earl of Warwick became Marshal.

The Black Prince was, if anything, even more devoted to the concept of chivalry than was King Edward himself. In 1346 he was aged just 16 and although everyone knew him to be tall, tough and handsome his military abilities were entirely untested. He could sit a horse well enough and was famously dextrous with his sword, but how he would behave when brought face to face with an enemy intent on killing him, nobody knew. Nor was the boy’s education over for he took with him on campaign his tutor Bartholomew Burghersh.

No doubt King Edward wanted to give his son and heir experience of command, but he was pragmatic enough not to risk the safety of one third of his army on the decisions of an inexperienced teenager. Edward gave his son some talented and experienced knights to act as his staff and advisors. Among these were Sir Reginald Cobham, Sir Thomas Ughtred, Sir Richard Stafford and the colourful figure of Sir Thomas Holland.

Sir Thomas Holland was more than twice the age of the Black Prince and one of the toughest and most respected knights in England. He had been active in the earlier campaigns against France and fought on Crusade against pagans in Prussia. He had lost an eye in battle and wore a large black eyepatch that covered not only the empty socket, but also the hideous scarring that surrounded it. Some years before the campaign began, he had become engaged to Joan, a young girl whose good looks earned her the nickname of The Fair Maid of Kent. Joan was heiress to the enormously wealthy Earl of Kent and a grand daughter of Edward I.

Before the actual wedding could take place, however, the Earl of Kent changed his mind and engaged Joan to the wealthy Earl of Salisbury. The resulting legal action was still dragging on when Edward summoned both Sir Thomas and Salisbury to join him in Portsmouth in the spring of 1346. There seems to have been no ill will between the two men.

Although the Black Prince was in nominal command of the advance guard throughout the campaign, nobody was in any doubt that real power lay in the hands of the older and more experienced men that Edward had put to serve with his son.

Putting Thomas Hatfield, Bishop of Durham, in command of the rear guard might be though an odd decision by Edward. But in the 14th century men of the cloth were not necessarily men of peace. At this date Durham was a county palatine, meaning that it ran many elements of government for itself. Most importantly the Bishop of Durham was expected to organise his territories for defence against any Scottish invasion, so Hatfield would have brought plenty of experience in the organisational side of warfare to the army.

Durham was the Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1346. As such he was a key figure in the national government and so almost duty bound to follow the king wherever he went. In any case, Durham’s command was almost as nominal as that of the Black Prince. The rearguard had the earls of Arundel and Suffolk as joint second in command.

Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, was after the king probably the richest man in England. In 1346 he was aged 33 and had an impressive career behind him. His father had been executed on trumped up charges during the Mortimer regime in 1328, but Edward had ensured that young Richard inherited his father’s lands and titles intact. Trusted without hesitation by Edward, Arundel had been appointed Sheriff of Shropshire and chief justice of Wales, both posts that he had filled confidently and well. In 1341 scandal struck when he fell in love with the married Eleanor of Lancaster, sister to the Earl of Derby who was fighting so well in Aquitaine. Eleanor’s husband died conveniently in 1344 so, after allowing a suitable time for mourning, she married Arundel in 1345.

Superb administrator though he was, Arundel had never served in a major military campaign. Presumably he was there to look after the organisational side of things.

Arundel’s colleague, Robert Ufford, Earl of Suffolk was neither rich nor young. His rise to importance had begun when he joined the gang of younger men who helped Edward arrest Mortimer and end that baron’s rule. In 1346 Suffolk was 48 years old and at heart still a minor rural nobleman despite his elevation to an earldom in 1337 and the acquisition of the spreading landed estates that went with the title. He retained his links to his old home and friends and seems to have been popular with the lesser gentry.

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