The Battle of Descartes, 1356 ~ the battle that almost was….

In 1356 there was very nearly a battle between the English and French armies at Descartes in the South Touraine….it happened almost like this…..

In 1355, as part of what is known as the 100 Years War, the English king, Edward III, planned his second invasion of France. His army landed at Bordeaux and stormed through Southern France as far as Carcassonne. After failing to take the city, they returned to Bordeaux in December 1355: raiding and pillaging as they went.

The English forces (1) spent the winter around Bordeaux before starting their chevauchée in the first week of January 1356. The chevauchée was a savage European method of warfare used in the Middle Ages for weakening one’s  enemy. It was a system of wreaking havoc, burning and pillaging enemy territory, to reduce the productivity of a region and terrify the local populace. The chevauchée could be used to force an enemy to fight, or to discredit an enemy’s government and detach subjects from their local allegiance. This method of terror usually caused a massive flight of refugees to fortified towns and castles thus depopulating the countryside and disrupting agriculture.

At the same time, in early 1356 the French army, led by king John, defeated  a second English force that had landed in Normandy. The French army then turned south to attack the English who were advancing north-east from Bordeaux towards the Loire. The English were  still burning, destroying and pillaging the countryside as it went through Brantôme, Rochechouart, Châteauxroux and capturing the Citadel of Romorantin in, what is now, the Department of the Loire et Cher. The English then headed west to Tours where they turned back heading, once again, to Bordeaux. On the 13th September they were on the River Cruse at La Haye (modern Descartes) in the South Touraine and were being pursued by the French army who were just 20 miles (32 kilometers) away at the fortress of Loches. The French arrived at La Haye/Descartes the following day, the 14th September, just hours after the English had left.

The English army was in full retreat and, unable to cross the Loire, were holed up for a while at Chatellerault on the east bank of the Vienne. Eventually the French army overtook English forces at Poitiers on Sunday 18th September 1356. The following day the famous Battle of Poitiers took place.

So, there you have it. A couple of hours either way and La Haye/Descartes would have been famous for more than its writers, philosophers and paper-making skills ~ it would have been a haven for historical war buffs!

(1) I’m using the terms English army and French army here as shorthand. The armies were a mix of nationalities, and in fact the idea of European Nation states did not exist at this time.
The ‘English’ army included Gascons, while French allies, for example, included Scots.
Sources used:
Trial by Fire: The hundred years war, Volume II, Jonathon Sumption, Pub. Faber & Faber, 1999

About Jim McNeill

I am a blogger on 'The Social History of the Touraine region of France (37)' and also 'The Colonial History of Pennsylvania and the life & Family of William Penn'. I am a Director of Fresh Ground Group Ltd.
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2 Responses to The Battle of Descartes, 1356 ~ the battle that almost was….

  1. Pingback: Loches at war: 1359 | Social history in the Touraine ~ Central |France

  2. Colin Dyson says:

    Very interesting post Jim, thanks. Colin XX

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