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Battle of Poitiers
(19 Sept. 1356 AD)

By Ed Zwilling

The battle of Poitiers pits Prince Edward of England and his army of 100 Year War English (#168) against King Jean II of France, leading the Medieval French (#170).


The English deploy first anywhere on the Eastern hill. English Knights and cavalry fight dismounted (as 4Bd). The French deploy second anywhere within 600P of their baseline and move first. French Knights should be mostly dismounted as (4Bd), however a small mounted contingent is necessary to simulate the initial engagement of Clermont and Audrehem, described below. I would propose that all but two of the six French Knights should dismount.

The Battle

After Crecy, the English did not press their attack. Rather they proceeded north to Calais and began a siege which would last an entire year. King Philip, having determined that the English held too strong a position, did not pursue. In August, 1347, King Philip disbanded his army. Shortly after learning of this, the residents of Calais surrendered to avoid starvation

While there were a few sporadic battles in the years that followed, Europe was for the most part preoccupied with the Black Death. The English continued, in this period, to accept only defensive battles and to fight primarily on foot.

In August of 1350, King Philip VI of France died. His son, Jean II, succeeded him to the throne. By 1354, England and France were operating under a truce and peace talks between Edward and Jean were initiated by Pope Innocent VI. When they ultimately failed, England began raising an army. In 1355, when the truce expired, Prince Edward set sail for Bordeaux with a small force. Later that year, King Edward and the Duke of Lancaster set off to Calais. With this new invasion, Jean began raising his own army.

In 1356, Prince Edward set out from Bordeaux to cross the Loire and meet up with Lancaster. He fought his way through France, raping and pillaging without any grand strategy as was the medieval way. In this manner the Prince probably hoarded a considerable treasure for himself. He also alerted King Jean to his position and soon found a large army bearing down on him. As at Crecy, the French had destroyed bridges in an attempt to corral the English into a pitched battle--this time over the Loire. It was in this way that Prince Edward determined he would not make it safely back to Bordeaux and found himself looking for a good defensive position in which to engage the French.

Prince Edward settled on a position approximately two miles south of Poitiers. He chose a wooded slope protected on the west by marshes and on the north and east by hedges. Edward divided his force of approximately 7,000 men into three units as described on the map, all of which fought on foot. Before the battle could start, Cardinal Tallyrand tried to work out a peace arrangement. A truce was called on September 18, and the French began to make demands. The chroniclers disagree as to what Prince Edward's bargaining position was. He either offered to surrender Calais and the other English possessions in France or simply stated that he had no authority from his father to make any deals whatsoever. Regardless, he was not able to satisfy the French, whatever their demands were.

There is also some dispute as to whether or not the Prince tried to withdraw, or even sneak off, after the negotiations had failed and before the battle in order to escape to Bordeaux with his bounty. Certainly, the French would have been better off had they used their time preparing for battle, or attempting to encircle the English, rather than granting Tallyrand's hopeless request. As at Crecy, the French enjoyed a vast superiority in numbers to the tune of approximately 20,000 men.

However, King Jean was not able to use his superior strength to any advantage whatsoever. He deployed his forces by dismounting the majority of his men-at-arms, at the suggestion of Sir William Douglas (a Scottish ally of the French). His reasons for doing so may have been valid. Certainly, the terrain would make a cavalry charge difficult, and the large contingent of longbowmen would make this task all the more difficult. Yet, the English had been using this technique successfully in purely defensive battles. In any event, King Jean picked a small force of approximately 300 elite knights to ride in ahead and quickly cut down the English archers, and thus prepare the way for the three waves of infantry following behind. They were given to Marshalls Clermont and Audrehem to command. The remaining forces were commanded by the Dauphin (who was in his first battle and only 19 years of age), The Duke of Orleans (who was King Jean's brother and also militarily inexperienced), and the largest force was commanded by the King himself. As for the ill-fated Genoese crossbowmen, they were so interspersed with the rest of the dismounted men-at-arms that they were of limited effectiveness.

The battle immediately got off to a bad start for the French. The Marshalls charged off with their cavalry leaving the infantry to struggle as best they could far to the rear. The reason for their hasty charge could have been that Edward began to retreat from the field in an attempt to escape into Bordeaux. Regardless, the two Marshalls further blundered by separating from one another and attacking two different points. Warwick's archers fired head on into the cavalry charge and had little effect. However, Oxford deployed his archers in the marshy ground that was safe from attack by cavalry. They were able to fire directly into the flanks and rear of the cavalry led by Audrehem and thus drove them off. Clermont's cavalry met a similar fate when they met up with the archers Salisbury had hidden in the hedge.

The cavalry charges had been totally repulsed before any of the three waves of infantry could reach the English hedge. The Dauphin was the first to arrive, and his force engaged all along the hedge. They fought ferociously but were unable to punch through at any point. Edward kept a reserve of approximately 400 men with which to reinforce his line in the event the French were able to weaken it at any given point. After suffering heavy casualties, the Dauphin began to fall back across the valley from which they had come. While the French forces were regrouping, the English were able to rest, replenish their arrows, and remove the wounded.

What happened next is inexplicable. Either the Dauphin's force was so demoralized by their failure to pierce the English hedge that they simply left, or the Dauphin was ordered to leave and his force simply followed suit. In any event, the sight of the Dauphin's force retreating caused the entire next wave of infantry, that led by the King's brother, to become demoralized. Orleans and his men quickly retreated off the battlefield without having struck a single blow or suffered any losses whatsoever.

King Jean was nonplused to say the least. More probably, he was enraged. He immediately ordered his huge force, which still outnumbered that of the English, to attack. When they came within sight of the English, a force already worn out from battle, hearts began to sink. Edward strengthened his line with his reserve and took all the remaining men and formed them in a single mass. Just before the forces engaged, Edward sent Captal de Buch, one of his Gascon vassals, and a small force of about 60 men and 100 archers to march out unseen. They were to march around the slope which would hide them from view and come out of the thickets and attack the French flank and rear.

The two forces clashed together with a great noise as the English charged down to meet them at the base of the slope below the hedge. The archers, now out of arrows, joined the melee with their swords drawn. As the forces remained locked together, the French were attacked in the rear by Captal de Buch. The French, ignorant of the size of the force, began to give way and retreat toward Poitiers. The King, his son and their retinue, however, remained and fought until captured by the English.

Game Map (ASCII)

A color map of the actual battle deployment and terrain is available at my Hundred Years War page.

     ================FRENCH BASELINE==================
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     . r . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R B . . . . . .
     . r . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . B R B . . . . .
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     . . . r . . . . . . . . . . f f f h h R h h . . .
     . f f f r M M M h h h h h h f f f h h h R h . . .
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     . f f f f f r M h h h h h f f f . . . . . . R . .
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     f f f f f f f f f r . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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     ==============ENGLISH BASELINE===================

SCALE: The space between each dot/letter is one inch.


.=Good Going (Good Going)
h=Gentle Hill (Good Going)
f=Light Wood (Bad Going)
M=Marsh/Bog (Bad Going)
B=Built up Area

Terrain Notes

The Hills confer a +1 bonus to the unit on higher ground as normal. The marsh to the west of the English hill (west hill) is represented. However, the hedge on the northern and eastern sides of the hill are not represented. I chose to represent the hedge on the west as woods and disregarded the hedge to the front. Given the fact that the English charged down the hill and through the hedge when Jean's unit was engaged, I suspect the hedge was not very substantial (certainly not the type of hedge that bogged down tanks in the invasion of Normandy). The built up area is Maupertuis and was entirely skirted by Captal de Buch's small unit. The river is the Miausson.

Special Rules

One third of the French force (3 blade) must flee off the board on the 8th bound. Just kidding. No special rules. The flight of Orleans is represented by the fact that both sides are starting at even strength.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.

Background Resources

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Last Update: January 18, 2000

Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.