Guilhem Pépin, Françoise Lainé and Frédéric Boutoulle (eds),
(Ausonius, Bordeaux, 2016) 357 pp. €25.00
The Anglophone historiography of the Hundred Years War once focused primarily on the great set piece battles and campaigns. In more recent years it has turned its attention to how armies were put together and provisioned and, most recently of all, to reconstructing the military careers of the men who served in royal armies via the database assembled by a team led by Professor Anne Curry. Francophone scholarship too was largely directed towards warfare directed by the monarchy; the activities of fourteenth century routiers and their fifteenth century écorcheur heirs were a demonstration of the anarchy which strong monarchs like Charles V and the mature Charles VII had to combat. While there was a recognition that national heroes like Bertrand Duguesclin or Joan of Arc’s “gentil Dunois” had more links with the dark side of warfare than was entirely comfortable, studies focused on understanding the mechanisms underpinning that dark side in its own terms were a minority taste until recently.
The present volume, doubling as a festschrift for the distinguished British lawyer and historian of the Hundred Years War Jonathan Sumption, assembles a series of papers which focus specifically on this form of warfare and the careers of the men who waged it. Guilhem Pépin’s examination of routier companies operating across the south west of France, primarily in the 1370’s and 1380’s, sets the tone. These men, when they can be identified, were often members of the social elites from parts of Gascony in the English obedience (though assisted by numerous figures of decidedly non-elite origins). Their activities in territories which had formed part of the “Greater Gascony”, created by the Treaty of Brétigny after the French reconquest, served English war aims. Armand Jamme, like several contributors, takes a biographical approach. He shows how Bernard de La Salle’s 1371 capture of Figeac propelled a previously minor figure on an upward path of social distinction which culminated in his appointment some years later as Captain-General of the Papal armies.
Moving back in time, Justine Firnhaber-Baker re-examines connections between military violence and the 1358 Jacquerie in the lands around Paris, concluding that the peasant rebellions did not respond to such violence but were rather an attempt by communities to get their retaliation in first by destroying noble-owned castles before they could be occupied by soldiers. She also favours interpretations which link peasant actions with calls to resist the Dauphin Charles’ armies issued by Etienne Marcel’s Paris-based government. Nicolas Savy considers the tactics of the Anglo-Gascon routiers. While there are few surprises- unable to sustain siege warfare they had to rely on ambushes and surprise tactics, with as many operations aborted as successful- his emphasis on the need for effective intelligence work and the attempts of towns to cut off sources of information to the routier bands adds a new dimension to one’s understanding of how pervasive insecurity impacted on society. Pierre Prétou also considers how local societies in Gascony defended themselves against unwelcome military interventions through various forms of local solidarity which could make life very uncomfortable for the soldiery. Philippe Contamine considers the career of the royal administrator Jean de Blaisy, a man deeply involved in efforts to clear the routiers from their lairs in the 1380’s (often by purchase, but backed up by the show trial and execution of Mérigot Marchès) and close to the crusade publicist Philippe de Mézières.
Moving to a fifteenth century context, Loïc Cazaux reviews the career of Antoine de Chabannes, who moved seamlessly between royal service and écorcheur activity (itself arguably a form of indirect royal warfare against Burgundy in time of nominal peace). Valérie Toureille demonstrates that not everybody could pull off the same balancing act; Robert de Sarrebrück’s loyalty to Charles VII was eventually outweighed by his hostility to Angevin claims in his native Lorraine and he ended up a marginal figure. Kelly deVries sketches the career of Perrinet Gressart, who juggled English, Burgundian and even French allegiances and died in his bed as captain of La Charité after seeing off all comers, including Joan of Arc.
One approach to dealing with routiers was to export their violence. Michael Jones examines a group of Breton soldiers operating in the Duchy of Bar in the 1370’s; conforming to stereotype, they were quite happy to change sides the moment their contract expired but while two of the men involved had long military careers the other two seem to have treated the wars in Bar as a kind of martial gap year experience in otherwise more sedentary lives. Germain Butaud traces the careers of men who served on both sides of the civil wars in Provence in the 1380’s; while some merely passed through, others chose to settle in the region.
Françoise Lainé studies Savoyard men at arms in French service in the opening years of the Hundred Years War, concluding that these men (mostly signed up on very short term contracts and paid in the same way as their French counterparts) were allies rather than professional mercenaries. Bertrand Schnerb’s examination of the early fifteenth century Burgundian armies paints a slightly different picture; the dukes hired a mix of specialist units (mostly crossbowmen) from Italy or the Iberian Peninsula and a limited number of professionals from across Europe integrated into Burgundian companies. Anne Curry’s consideration of foreign soldiers in English armies and garrisons in France from 1415 to 1450 shows a rather similar state of affairs, with the qualification that the English authorities became increasingly uncomfortable about the presence of foreigners after around 1430 and sought to weed them out-without ever succeeding.
Moving beyond France, Christophe Masson demonstrates that French armies operating in Italy in the 1390’s shared enough of a common military culture to operate successfully alongside Italian condottiere while Werner Paravicini shows that routiers were as open to the lure of crusading warfare as any chivalric purist, especially in Prussia where the fighting season conveniently coincided with the winter lull in hostilities elsewhere.
This collection of essays hangs together rather better than most conference proceedings and it is possible to trace a number of themes across several contributions. Several illustrate the possibility of upward social mobility, whether as a routier or (as with Jean de Blasy) in combatting them. Others, however, suggest that the line between “regular” and “irregular” warfare could be very blurred indeed, with routiers and écorcheurs both operating as credibly deniable agents for one party in an ongoing conflict. Approaches to dealing with such “irregular” warriors changed little over time, relying on a mix of paying them off, favouring recruitment to fight somewhere else and recruiting the more presentable specimens into royal forces (approaches favoured even by that champion of peace in Christendom Philippe de Mézières). These processes were eased by a shared culture from which even the most violent routier was only rarely excluded- a culture reinforced (or complicated?) by the presence of a growing number of men who had moved on from being occasional warriors like the Savoyards in Gascony around 1340 to the hard bitten professionals who figure in so many of the papers. They were however complicated by the sometimes effective resistance of local communities as identified by Firnhaber-Baker and Prétou.
There are some weaknesses. As so often in Hundred Years War studies, the fourteenth century gets the lion’s share of attention. The French crown’s large scale import of homogenous Scottish and Italian forces in the 1420’s is curiously overlooked, as are its long term consequences in the shape of a substantial foreign presence in French royal armies for the rest of the war (most of the victims of Prétou’s communal solidarities in the 1450’s were Scots). Surprisingly Jules Quicherat’s classic nineteenth century biography of that arch-écorcheur the Castilian Rodrigo de Villandrando is not in the bibliography.
One might also wonder whether the easy equation of routiers and mercenaries requires some deconstruction. As Philippe Genet points out in the introduction, by the Hundred Years War most fighting men expected to be paid for their services. Routiers, operating mostly on their own account, often in the interests of their “natural” overlord, were not mercenaries in any conventional sense- though they might at times sign contracts for mercenary service.
Nevertheless this is a welcome collection which brings the importance of “irregular” warfare into the prominence which it deserves and points up a number of themes which deserve further study.
Brian G H Ditcham