Mollie M. Madden, The Black Prince and the Grande Chevauchée of 1355 (Matt Raven)

Mollie M. Madden

The Black Prince and the Grande Chevauchée of 1355

(The Boydell Press, 2018) 262 pp. $99.00

In September 1355, Edward the Black Prince, Edward III’s eldest son, landed in Gascony accompanied by an army. Between 5 October and 9 December, the Prince led a destructive raid – a chevauchée – all the way to Narbonne and back. In this monograph, published by Boydell and Brewer as part of their ‘Warfare in History’ series, Dr Madden charts the preparations for and course of this campaign. Unlike many studies of the Hundred Years War, this book is not focused on battle tactics or the presence (or not) of a ‘military revolution’. Instead, Madden has provided a landmark study of the logistics of the campaign, and the link between logistics and the campaign itself. Indeed, the chevauchée is identified as a particularly useful case study in military logistics precisely because of the lack of extraordinary battles during this campaign. As a study in what may be thought of as the ‘management’ of war in the mid-fourteenth century, Madden’s work sits in a small but distinguished vein of historiography, pioneered by H.J. Hewitt and continued by Craig Lambert and Nicolas Gribit. [1].

Setting out the validity of the 1355 campaign as a case study occupies the book’s opening statements. Madden argues that the 1355 chevauchée can be viewed as a discreet campaign in its own right and on its own terms, rather than just as a necessary prelude to the glorious Poitiers campaign of the following year. Madden then situates her book within the historiography of medieval military administration. It is somewhat surprising that Hewitt’s The Organisation of War under Edward III is not discussed here (although Hewitt’s book on the Black Prince’s expedition from 1355-57 is well treated); and Ralph Kaner’s University of York Ph.D thesis ‘The Management of the Mobilization of English Armies: Edward I to Edward III’ could also have been considered. Although listed in the bibliography, Gribit’s book seems to have appeared too late to be considered at length, in either the introduction or at relevant points in the following chapters. Some key passages, integrating work on different historical periods, provide a useful discussion of ‘logistics’ as applied to military history, which emphasise that logistics ‘undergirds all military action’ and argue that ‘the logistical system determines both the capabilities and effectiveness of a military force’ (6-7). Madden then moves into a succinct discussion of her source material. Particularly welcome is Madden’s identification of the potential of French records and archaeological evidence: this approach breaks new ground and the author is to be commended for it. Finally, Madden discusses the mathematical equation utilised to calculate the consumption rate of an army and her presumed calorific intake of men and horses, which is derived mainly from nineteenth-century US army field manuals. While I am unqualified to assess the merits of these approaches, it seems that they are judiciously applied throughout the book and that they add a great deal to Madden’s discussions of supply.

With the book situated in its source base and within a wider body of work, Madden then provides a detailed account of the campaign. The bulk of the book can be divided into two: chapters one and two consider the campaign preparations, within the wider context of the established systems of military administration; and chapters three to five follow the course of the campaign itself and its aftermath.

Chapter one focuses on the looming issue of how to supply and transport the Prince’s army. Initially, however, Madden explores exactly when the decision to dispatch the expedition was made, and why it was led by the Prince in particular. Madden argues – contra Hewitt and others – that the decision to go to war had been made well before the end of the second Avignon conference (March 1355). This argument rests on a belief that the proposals put forward by the English representatives were completely unrealistic and an intentional insult: that they were, in essence, designed to fail. But two of the most important ambassadors, the duke of Lancaster and the earl of Arundel, were empowered to negotiate on several key problems for a peace and, if that proved impossible, a truce; and they were even instructed not to push the discussions to breaking point by demanding too many territorial concessions. In light of this, the circumstantial evidence Madden uses to support her argument for the dating of Edward III’s commitment to go to war fails to convince, since (as Madden notes) shipping preparations and victualling may have happened regardless of whether an expedition was being readied. Madden is, however, on surer ground regarding the expedition’s leadership. It is convincingly demonstrated that the decision to despatch the expedition under the leadership of the Prince was made no later than late April-early May 1355, and that this superseded an earlier expedition to be led by the earl of Warwick. A particularly valuable section considers the Prince’s leadership in light of his symbolic importance and the necessity of regaining some of the ground lost in Gascony to hostile incursions. The preparations for the expedition are then considered: finance, transport costs, supplies and shipping all receive careful treatment, as a sophisticated and efficient system of administration, purveyance and supply is revealed.

Chapter two considers recruitment. Historical analysis of this topic is hindered by the absence of any comprehensive pay rolls for the English sections of the army, the comparative lack of pardons and horse compensation accounts, and the difficulty of establishing the size of the Gascon contingent. A historiographical review establishes the various estimates of the army’s size (helpfully summarised in table 2.3) before Madden concurs with Craig Lambert that c. 2,000 Englishmen accompanied the Prince, and these combined with 3-4,000 Gascons and 2-3,000 non-combatants. From here, Madden moves into an analysis of how soldiers were raised for the expedition, and how these processes produced ‘paperwork’ in the form of pardons, protections, indentures, and payments from the English exchequer. The army is then divided into sections as Madden introduces the Prince’s command staff, magnate captains, administrators and professionals, Gascon troops, ‘professional’ soldiers, and non-combatants. This prosopographical section works well as a clear and efficient breakdown of the army, as far as is possible, although the sub-divisions are occasionally misleading: Reginald de Cobham, for example, a knight of the royal household, a member of the Order of the Garter and, from 1347, a recipient of a personal summons to parliament, surely cannot be satisfactorily classified in the ‘administrators and professional’ bracket. But one of the great strengths to this approach is that the Gascon and non-combatant components receive their proper dues. And, although exactly what ‘professionalism’ means in the soldiering context is not teased out, Madden does not fall into the trap of trying to judge professionalism by counting frequency of service. This chapter, then, allows a picture of the Prince’s army and its component parts to emerge with clarity and provides a valuable case study in the composition of English armies during the mid-fourteenth century. It could, perhaps, have positioned the 1355 campaign within wider contexts – those of the highly variable spread of sources across 1337-60, for example, or the changing methods of recruitment and army structure through the same period. In the end, however, this is more than compensated by a mastery of the difficult evidence for the 1355 campaign in particular, and the use of this knowledge to provide a picture of the Edwardian military machine in action.

Chapters 3 and 4 turn from thematic reconstruction to a detailed narrative. These chapters are key to the book’s argument and convincingly demonstrate the central place of logistical concerns to the shape of the campaign as it unfolded. Chapter three covers the march from Bordeaux to Narbonne. Madden demonstrates that the Bordeaux administration must have undertaken extensive preparations, which allowed the Anglo-Gascon army to set off on 5 October, less than two weeks after the Prince had arrived. Madden provides an innovative account of the consumption rate of the Prince’s forces between his departure and his arrival at Narbonne on 8 November, which illustrates an extensive system of supply, and she calculates the army’s rate of progress. The rest of the chapter comprises a detailed day-by-day breakdown of the Prince’s route, which is especially useful after the army divided itself into three battles on 11 October. This discussion usefully integrates the army’s route into the considerations of supply and terrain: our understanding of why the Prince decided to continue eastwards rather than attacking Toulouse, for example, is much enhanced by this approach. In chapter 4, Madden’s day-by-day narrative tracks the Prince’s return to Bordeaux from Narbonne. The return march was significantly more arduous, with a faster pace and fewer rests required. The average speed accelerated from an impressive 13 miles per day to a formidable 15 miles. Throughout this chapter, Madden draws attention to the sheer level of destruction visited on hostile territories by the Prince’s army until they reached friendly lands once again. And, during her narrative, Madden weighs up the evidence regarding the Prince’s intentions in choosing his route: was Edward seeking battle, or seeking to avoid battle? Madden favours the former suggestion, and the arguments marshalled in favour of this lend this interpretation a strong measure of support. The structure of these chapters does not lend itself to light prose, and the experience of reading them would have been further enhanced by the provision of more detailed maps, although this may be the purview of publisher rather than author. These points should not, however, detract from the role of these chapters within the book as a whole. They provide a detailed narrative tailored to address historiographical discussions at various points. Furthermore, they attempt to provide a case study in military logistics which supports the author’s contention that logistical concerns were integral to the development of military campaigns. This attempt is certainly convincing: when taken with the first part of the book, readers will be left in no doubt as to the intricacy, efficiency and importance of the systems of logistics and administration supporting the military operations of the Hundred Years War.

The final (smaller) chapter of the book examines the post-campaign period, as the Prince resupplied his troops, carried out interim raiding, and received homages. This section illustrates this period both as a postlude to the 1355 campaign and as a necessary prelude to the Poitiers campaign. Madden provides a useful analysis of expenditure during the 1355 campaign, as shown by the accounts of John Henxteworth, the Prince’s war treasurer. Here, as elsewhere, some comparisons might have been useful: how, for example, does this expenditure compare to the wardrobe book of William Norwell, which covers expenditure in the 1338-40 campaign? Madden goes on to note the French response to the Prince’s raid and provides a brief but emphatic evaluation of the Prince’s successes in strategy and looting.

A useful series of appendices are provided. Appendix one lists the ships which transported the Prince to Bordeaux: where known, each ship is ascribed a home port, a master, a name, tunnage and a number of mariners. Such information will be useful to the growing group of historians interested in the naval history of the Hundred Years War. Appendix two names the men known to have served in each division of the army, along with those who did not serve, and deserters. While this list is useful for military prosopography, it does leave something to be desired in that it is prefaced simply by a brief summary of sources used, and there is no way of telling which of these sources relate to each individual. It is unclear, for example, how Madden has used the searchable Soldier in Medieval England database, since this resource covers the period from 1369 onwards. And, as with the section in the main text on recruitment, it would have been helpful to illustrate the foci and lacunas of this source base, since this is critical in contextualising how far armies in this period can be reconstructed at all. It may be profitable for readers to contrast this section with the chapters on recruitment and retinue dynamics (and the appendices) in Gribit’s book on Henry of Lancaster’s expedition, which utilises a muster roll to reconstruct the personnel of Lancaster’s army to a far greater extent than can be managed for the 1355 campaign. This comparison would reveal the extent to which historians of mid-fourteenth century military personnel are at the mercy of their sources, before muster rolls begin to become more common later in the century. Appendix three comprises a day-by-day breakdown of the campaign, with date: place: distance marched, which provides a convenient point of reference and supports chapters three and four in particular. Appendix four sets out a series of tables breaking down Henxteworth’s payments by office and number of entries, office and amount of spending, and items purchased.

Prior to these appendices, Madden offers a useful overview of her arguments in a brief conclusion (pp. 193-5). Madden suggests that the Prince’s expedition succeeded in fulfilling its primary goals –restoring the king’s authority in Gascony and furthering his strategic position – and proposes that the efficient planning and supply systems underpinning the campaign are pivotal in explaining the Prince’s successes. It would be very hard to disagree. The author is to be congratulated on providing an astute and comprehensive account which should be recognised as an exemplary case study in the field of medieval military logistics. While some opportunities for wider comparisons and contextualisation have not been taken, this should not detract from the value of the book. Madden has provided military historians with an important monograph, built on intensive use of the available sources and a clear, well-reasoned and ultimately persuasive thesis: as an exhaustive, empirical account of military procedures in action, it commands respect and deserves careful reading.

Matt Raven
Institute of Historical Research, London


[1] H.J. Hewitt, The Organisation of War under Edward III, 1338-1362 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1966); C. Lambert, Shipping the Medieval Military: English Maritime Logistics in the Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2011); N. Gribit, Henry of Lancaster’s Expedition to Aquitaine, 1345-1346 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2016).



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