December 14, 2003

Notes: Desmond Seward, The Hundred Years War

P.M. Lawrence writes about chevauchee:

There are some confusions here, some material and some not. One is a confusion between "chevachie" and "havoc". The effects outlined are those of havoc; a chevachie, cavalcade or cavalgada is technically the baggage train of succesful loot acquired in such a raid (see the early part of Washington Irving's "Conquest of Granada" for an example). As such, a chevachie need not necessarily wreak havoc; that said, havoc of that sort was just what the English were wreaking, with chevachie the way of making it cover its costs better.

Alas! The distinction between "havoc" (the activity) and "chevauchee" (the booty train that was one of the activity's results) has long been lost to the English language. For example, consider Desmond Seward (1978), The Hundred Years War (New York: Atheneum: 0689706286), pp. 84-5:

The operation's chief campaign turned out to be a chevauchee by the Black Prince... who had arrived at Bordeaux in September. In October 1355 the Prince rode out of the ducal capital with an army of probably no more than 2600 men-at-arms and archers... everyone on horseback, to spend the next two months killing and burning in Languedoc almost as far as Montpelier and the mediterranean seaboard. He stormed Narbonne and Carcassonne--where he found useful supplies of food and wine--and burnst a large part of both towns to the ground, though he did not succeed in taking their citadels.... Castlenaudry, Limoux, and many other little towns... during the Prince's 600 mile march countless villages and hamlets went up in flames... mills... chateaux... churches. One of the Prince's secretaries wrote, 'Since the war began, ther was never such loss nor destruction'... the Prince himself commented smugly on the 'many goodly towns and strongholds burnt and destroyed.'

It was not gratuituous cruelty or wanton lust for devastation. The object of every chevauchee was to underline the enemy's weakness and deprive him of his taxes by destroying the lands and property on which they were levied. Chivalry had nothing to do with it--that was reserved for battles.... According to Froissart, the troops preferred silver-plate and money but nothing of value was ignored, especially carpets, and the army returned with a baggage-train groaning with plunder....

During such a chevauchee the English killed every human being they could catch (apart from those worth good money), so people unable to reach a town or castle had to hide... caves... elsewhere underground... cellaras and tunnels... fled to the forest... huts... the English searched the woods systematically...

And here's Seward on what Chaucer's patron John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was doing while Chaucer wrote his poem The Book of the Duchess mourning the death of John's wife Blanche:

...John of Gaunt... led a chevauchee into Normandy in midsummer 1369. It was indistinguishable from a Grand [freebooter mercenary] Company's campaign as the English government was too short of money to pay the troops... pay them out of booty. Indeed, may of Gaunt's men were routiers, together with large numbers of the worst criminals of England who had been promised pardons...

Posted by DeLong at December 14, 2003 08:08 AM | TrackBack


Count me in as an inconoclast. But as much as I respect you (and that means a whole lot to me), I think it is undemocratic of yours to discard posts so lightly.

Your blogging power comes with responsabilities.

Yours truely, Jean-Philippe.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe on December 14, 2003 10:01 PM



Posted by: Jean-Philippe on December 14, 2003 10:12 PM


Wow! This Lorgeril clan of Languedoc, tending Lorgeril vinyards since 1600s, could be desecndents of survivors from that raid of the Black prince then? Here is their homepage -- I open it sometimes just to hear the signal music, I find it very pleasant:

And I didn't know the English went down south as far as Montpellier during the Hudnred Years War -- thoguh I knew they discovered Cannes much later in 20th century!

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 14, 2003 10:22 PM


"Indeed, may of Gaunt's men were routiers, together with large numbers of the worst criminals of England who had been promised pardons..."

But then, as Samuel Johnson, the famed lexicographer, said long after in 1775, according to Boswell: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

And the Duke of Wellington: "I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me," on inspecting the troops in his command before battle and then later, in 1831: "Ours [our army] is composed of the scum of the earth - the mere scum of the earth." - from:

Posted by: Bob on December 15, 2003 07:28 AM


One of my areas of studies is the Mongol Empire. The Mongols have earned a deservedly terrible reputation for themselves by doing the same thing that everyone else did, but more and better.

The events described here took place more than a century after the foundation of the Mongol Empire, so you can perhaps claim that the European knights had studied under the Mongols. Though of course, maybe they learned it from the Normans, who in turn had learned from the Norsemen.

Posted by: Zizka on December 15, 2003 07:36 AM


Back to Chaucer’s carefree young squire. It’s fairly clear that men don’t have much of a natural inhibition against rape; all a general needs to do is relax discipline, as Stalin did when the Red Army reached the Reich in 1945. German historians estimate that two million civilian women were raped by Red Army soldiers – and a good number of Russian women soldiers, a scandal which led to the reversal of the policy shortly before the end (Anthony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin). Of course, the Wehrmacht and the SS did even worse things in Soviet Russia. The circumstances suggest a distinction between rape and murder – for the German soldiers had to be indoctrinated and ordered to kill civilians. (I suspect they were ordered not to rape, on grounds of racial pollution, but don’t have direct evidence). This indoctrination is not terribly difficult (Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men, about an SS police battalion).

Another factor is the distancing created by superior technology. A mounted knight in armour was pretty much invulnerable against peasant weapons – they were only in real danger from crossbowmen in castles and other cavalry in the open. The same effect works even better with planes, tanks and air-conditioned Beltway offices.

Oh, and Bertrand du Guesclin led raids of the same destructive type on Jersey. The royal garrison holed up safe in Mont Orgueil castle, but no such luck for the peasants.

Posted by: James on December 15, 2003 07:37 AM



Let's not forget pikers. I suspect it is from them that the term "piker" comes, though my American Hertage Dictionary says "origin unknown."

Posted by: K Harris on December 15, 2003 09:29 AM


Oh, given that 'pikey' is a racist term in Southern British English for Gypsies, I suspect it's got nothing to do with the weapon.

Posted by: Richard on December 15, 2003 11:19 AM


Richard, It must be pretty obscure, because as a Southern British English person of a reasonable age, i've _never_ heard the expression. There are other derogatory terms, but not that one.

Posted by: Mark on December 16, 2003 09:41 AM


For Bulent Sayin - by the outbreak of the Hundred Years' War the English only held a part of southwest France around Bordeaux, what their kings inherited from Eleanor of Aquitaine, and that was why so many of their operations started from there (even though they moved up the Loire valley a lot). It's not really much further south to get to Montpellier, it's just not in the direction of the capital.

For Brad, there isn't any contradiction between what you just now put and where I was coming from I totally agree that the distinction usually doesn't matter. Only - just as with the importance of rigour in that discussion about using mathematics - sometimes it does matter. So, we should keep the distinction between havoc and chevauchee clear in our minds so as to be ready on other occasions when it does matter.

Here are a couple of examples.

Washington Irving used the term "cavalgada" in an early chapter of the Conquest of Granada where the Moors brought back a lot of booty. About the middle of the book he describes a major Spanish incursion which did not live off the land but needed to bring its own supplies and then be resupplied at the coast - it abandoned its lines and cut through to the coast, just like Sherman in Georgia (and the officers of that war may well have profited from that book). That time the object was havoc, though Irving does not use the term. So the idea of havoc was not included in the term "cavalgada" when Irving wrote in 1829.

The other example is when a PR man tried to make out that the USA hadn't invaded Cambodia. Technically it hadn't (then), that was just an incursion. The difference for military operations was profound, but telling that to journalists was a foolish use of jargon that futilely attempted to obscure the human effect on Cambodians. (Invasions and incursions are just as bad for the people on the receiving end, only with invasions you stick around for the long haul and have to cover the cost of hanging in there.) But if the journalists had laughed the military men out of using one of the terminological tools of their trade, they would have been worse off for it.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on December 16, 2003 04:38 PM


The Germans killed Jewish Civilians,
Americans and British killed civilians from the air, no, women and children from the air (the men were on the front lines) Italians killed in Ethopia wholesale. The Japanese and Russians are are at the top of the list if you have an IQ above a cactus (and are non-Jewish)
The Jews practice slavery at the time of this posting..... now!

Posted by: blog on January 7, 2004 09:47 AM


Post a comment