from the Chronicles of Jean Froissart
The “Hundred Years’ War” between France and England (1337-1453) was an episodic struggle lasting well over a hundred years, for much of the time without any conflict. The battles were both violent, but also occasions when ideals of “chivalry” were displayed.
The Englishmen, who were in three battles lying on the ground to rest them, as soon as they saw the Frenchmen approach, they rose upon their feet fair and easily without any haste and arranged their battles. The first, which was the prince’s battle, the archers there stood in manner of a herse and the men of arms in the bottom of the battle. The earl of Northampton and the earl of Arundel with the second battle were on a wing in good order, ready to comfort the prince’s battle, if need were.
The lords and knights of France came not to the assembly together in good order, for some came before and some came after in such haste and evil order, that one of them did trouble another. When the French king saw the Englishmen, his blood changed, and [he] said to his marshals: “Make the Genoways go on before and begin the battle in the name of God and Saint Denis.” There were of the Genoways crossbows about a fifteen thousand, but they were so weary of going afoot that day a six leagues armed with their crossbows, that they said to their constables: “We be not well ordered to fight this day, for we be not in the case to do any great deed of arms: we have more need of rest.” These words came to the earl of Alencon, who said: “A man is well at ease to be charged with such a sort of rascals, to be faint and fail now at most need.” Also the same season there fell a great rain and a clipse with a terrible thunder, and before the rain there came flying over both battles a great number of crows for fear of the tempest coming. Then anon the air began to wax clear, and the sun to shine fair and bright, the which was right in the Frenchmen’s eyes and on the Englishmen’s backs. When the Genoways were assembled together and began to approach, they made a great [shout] and cry to abash the Englishmen, but they stood still and stirred not for all that: then the Genoways again the second time made another leap and a fell cry, and stept forward a little, and the Englishmen removed not one foot: thirdly, again they lept and cried, and went forth till they came within shot; then they shot fiercely with their crossbows. Then the English archers stept forth one pace and let fly their arrows so wholly [together] and so thick, that it seemed snow. When the Genoways felt the arrows piercing through heads arms and breasts, many of them cast down their crossbows and did cut their strings and returned discomfited. When the French king saw them fly away, he said: “Slay these rascals, for they shall let and trouble us without reason.” Then ye should have seen the men at arms dash in among them and killed a great number of them: and ever still the Englishmen shot whereas they saw thickest press; the sharp arrows ran into the men of arms and into their horses, an many fell, horse and men, among the Genoways, and when they were down, they could not relieve again, the press was so thick that on overthrew another. And also among the Englishmen there were certain rascals that went afoot with great knives, and they went in among the men of arms, and slew and murdered many as they lay on the ground, both earls, barons, knights, and squires, whereof the king of England was after displeased, for he had rather they had been taken prisoners.
The valiant king of Bohemia called Charles of Luxembourg, son to the noble emperor Henry of Luxembourg, for all that he was nigh blind, when he understood the order of the battle, he said to the about him: “Where is the lord Charles my son?” His men said: “Sir we cannot tell; we think he be fighting.” Then he said: “Sirs, ye are my men, my companions and friends in this journey: I require you bring me so far forward, that I may strike one stroke with my sword.” They said they would do his commandment, and to the intent that they should not lose him in the press, they tied all their reins of their bridles each to other and set the king before to accomplish his desire, and so they went on their enemies. The lord Charles of Bohemia his son, who wrote himself king of Almaine and bare the arms, he came in good order to the battle; but when he saw that the matter went awry on their party, he departed, I cannot tell you which way. The king his father was so far forward that he strake a stroke with his sword, yea and more than four, and fought valiantly and so did his company; and they adventured themselves so forward, that they were there all slain; and the next day they were found in the place about the king, and all their horses tied each to other. *** [The contingent led by the king’s son, the Black Prince, was hard pressed in the fighting.] Then the second battle of the Englishment came to succour the prince’s battle, the which was time, for they had as then much ado and they with the prince sent a messenger to the king, who was on a little windmill hill. Then the knight said to the king: “Sir, the earl of Warwick and the earl of Oxford, sir Raynold Cobham and other, such as be about the prince your son, are fiercely fought withal and are sore handled; wherefore they desire you that you and your battle will come and aid them; for if the Frenchmen increase, as they doubt they will, your son and they shall have much ado.” Then the king said: “Is my son dead or hurt or on the earth felled?” “No, sir,” quoth the knight, “but he is hardly matched; wherefore he hath need of your aid.” “Well,” said the king, “return to him and to them that sent you hither, and say to them that they send no more to me for any adventure that falleth, as long as my son is alive: and also say to them that they suffer him this day to win his spurs; for if God be pleased, I will this journey be his and the honour thereof, and to them that be about him.”
Reprinted here by kind permission of the Internet Medieval Source Book.