The Black Prince and the Capture of a King: Poitiers 1356
Morgen Witzel and Marilyn Livingstone
Reviewed by Z.G. Martin
In part, this deceptively slim volume is a blow-by-blow account of the action at Poitiers, but the content goes far beyond that, providing useful strategic overviews, background to the conflict and events leading up to it, and biographies of the key figures, and is generously littered with useful material for a period which already offers a rich vein of wargaming ore.
It opens with a summary of the action at Crecy ten years before, which the authors argue was won not by English archery, but more by French arrogance and poor organisation. There are scenario and army hooks ranging from the ‘colossal effort’ of the siege of Calais in 1346/47 to the Combat of the 30: an impromptu tourney on foot arranged by bored and unoccupied soldiery, won by a duplicitous Frenchman bringing a horse to the table.
Or there is a subterfuge at Plague-ravaged Calais involving turncoat Italians, acts of derring-do, a drawbridge ambush and a skirmish involving the incognito Black Prince and his father, and all of this before we even reach the titular battle. Here is inspiration aplenty; the flower of French chivalry formed for the furor franciscus, or a notorious free company; bandits and routiers in every sense but name, or predatory small unit raiders from the garrisons of isolated fortified houses and abbeys.
Beyond this the reader is provided with a solid breakdown of funding, equipment, arms and armour, with apposite photos (although there are no colour plates) but only a single map depicting in the broadest strokes the surmised starting positions of the combatants. The importance of both logistics and terrain to the outcome are discussed, and an appendix provides the authors arguments on how and why they have interpreted the evidence in a given way. In summary then, this is a useful tome for wargaming not just Poitiers but a substantial tranche of the period as a whole, and an interesting read to boot.