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Subject: Political-military strategy of the chevauchée in 100YW rss

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Mark Johnson
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The other question raised by my exploration of the Hundred Years War is more difficult to formulate. It has to do with the chevauchée, the raiding type of warfare that England pursued against France in the first half (or so) of this extended period of conflict. Instead of a question, I'll just lay out my tenuous understanding and let others comment.

The 100YW starts with raids because England is not strong enough to actually conquer and hold a significant chunk of France. That's not even how the worldview works at this point in European history, right? The conflict is over feudal claims to the throne of France, and the English kings don't need to conquer territory so much as de-legitimize the French kings. Since the primary(?) function of the kingdom at the top of the feudal hierarchy is to defend its people from attackers, the chevauchée is strategic warfare. Deliberate & understood as such?

It's not exactly about the economic effect--this isn't a plundering expedition, and I already mentioned it doesn't steal territory. Though it does impose an economic loss on the other side through destruction. Still, I think the primary function is sort of a "hearts & minds" effect, just through the prism of medieval values & society. It's not easy for me to understand how people in the raided lands are expected to switch their feudal allegiance to the king that just raided them! And yet, they did. It almost reduces feudal kings to strongmen warlords.

A secondary question is about the obligation of vassals on the raiding side to fight this war, all the way down to those commoner longbowmen. I can more readily understand the obligation of vassals in France to come to the aid of the king who is defending his kingdom. Why do the ones in England do what they do? I guess it's a question about the feudal responsibility to go on the offense. Put another way, though, I guess it could always be spun as defending your king's rightful claims to a throne. So the offense is couched as a defense. Or maybe that distinction didn't even matter to the nobels & warriors of that time, who would gain materially from the raid.
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Eddy Sterckx
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MarkEJohnson wrote:
that distinction didn't even matter to the nobels & warriors of that time, who would gain materially from the raid.


Bingo.

It was rather profitable, they could do it with virtual impunity, it weakened the hold of the French king over the territories and he had no way of reversing the favour by raiding across channel. And did I mention there was lots of loot to be gotten for only a low risk ?

Not many downsides there.

Maybe it needs mentioning that this was not exclusively an English 100YW thing - the French did it in Italy, the Mongols pretty much everywhere and then there's the Vikings who on occasion left their boats and waterways to raid more into the interior as well.
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L. SCHMITT
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Weren't part of the English knights paid for joining, in an attempt to have fewer but more reliable soldiers ?
 
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marc lecours
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My way of making sense of feudalism is to see it as a world organized like the Mafia or gangs fighting over control of a city. Each gang has members who are loyal to its leader. There's a fuzzy border between the territory of each gang.

When peace breaks down, then the gangs start raiding each other. When the English gang raids the French gang, this is an affront to the french king. He must do something or lose face. There must at the minimum be tit for tat. If he loses face too much then his underlings start to switch sides.

Any underling that is disloyal and that switches side must be heavily punished. Therefore once they switch they rarely switch back unless they are powerful enough to avoid retribution. The stronger dukes all dream of becoming king themselves, so they are not completely obedient. They plot. They look for increased power by joining the stronger side.

In our modern world, states are more powerful than the kingdoms of the middle ages. When a state gets too strong, smaller states tend to form coalitions to stop them, otherwise everyone gets swallowed up. In the middle ages states were much weaker. Dukes tended to join the stronger king. There was not a huge worry of getting swallowed up by a strong king. Dukes were more or less independent and could break away easily if the strong king was followed by weak descendants.

There's a good game in there somewhere.
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Mark Johnson
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rubberchicken wrote:
My way of making sense of feudalism is to see it as a world organized like the Mafia or gangs fighting over control of a city.


Yes, the same analogy has occurred to me, too.
 
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Roger Hobden
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MarkEJohnson wrote:

A secondary question is about the obligation of vassals on the raiding side to fight this war, all the way down to those commoner longbowmen.
Why do the ones in England do what they do? I guess it's a question about the feudal responsibility to go on the offense. Put another way, though, I guess it could always be spun as defending your king's rightful claims to a throne. So the offense is couched as a defense.


Part of the obligations that English Lords had to their king was to make soldiers available for whatever (good) reason a specified minimum number of weeks per year, after which they could disband their troops and go back home. Also, English Kings were continuously asking the Clergy to declare their ambitions legitimate, to encourage people to 'sign up', but also to agree on special taxes to support the war effort. In exchange for their support abroad, Bishops and Dukes would also get more privileges in return.

Fragmentation of the European countries into a multitude of smaller domains ruled by local lords is indeed one of the defining features of the Medieval Era.

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Ernie Olsen
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MarkEJohnson wrote:


It's not exactly about the economic effect--this isn't a plundering expedition


Tha chavauchee was partly a plundering expedition. One of the conventions of medieval warfare made it extremely profitable, and that was the practice of ransoming prisoners. Every prisoner greater than a serf fetched a ransom, and a captured knight could make you rich. Even if you were a lowly bowman in the English army, you could sell the rights to your prisoner to a more senior member who is better positioned to make the exchange. It was a sort of commodities market. This practice made joining the chevauchee popular.

The chevauchee was brutal on the French countryside and virtually depopulated a portion of France. Why so brutal? Once the English had demonstrated their superiority over the French militarily, the French tactic against the English army was to give ground and wait for the English to run out of supplies. The English needed combat, because the resultant prisoners were the only way to offset the enormous expense of the expedition. To bring the French to battle, the English enacted a scorched earth policy. The rationale, correctly, was that the plight of the populace would eventually force the French army to intervene.
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Alain Curato
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santino el cato wrote:
Weren't part of the English knights paid for joining, in an attempt to have fewer but more reliable soldiers ?


A friend of mine once lent me a book about that. Will see if i can get it again.
 
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Kent Reuber
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Diplomacy: Hundred Variant is a 3-player Diplomacy variant (England, France, Burgundy) that may be interesting. A few miniatures rules such as Flower of Chivalry: A Guide to the Late Middle Ages and Armati include campaign rules. The rules with Armati, I believe, can be played without needing to set up miniatures battles, just using the amount of troops.

Another HYW topic I'm interested in is the bands of mercenaries, routiers, who decided not to go home after peace was declared and who set up what amounted to protection rackets of the local population. This would be kind of a chevauchee in miniature, with the group moving out from a captured castle to raid the countryside.
 
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Keith Rose
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Mellonhead3013 wrote:
MarkEJohnson wrote:


It's not exactly about the economic effect--this isn't a plundering expedition


Tha chavauchee was partly a plundering expedition. One of the conventions of medieval warfare made it extremely profitable, and that was the practice of ransoming prisoners. Every prisoner greater than a serf fetched a ransom, and a captured knight could make you rich. Even if you were a lowly bowman in the English army, you could sell the rights to your prisoner to a more senior member who is better positioned to make the exchange. It was a sort of commodities market. This practice made joining the chevauchee popular.


Not always - a military campaign was a significant expense for the individuals concerned (paying accompanying servants/soldiers etc, payment for transport, stores etc) - nobles often going into debt to pay for a military venture. The proceeds were by no means guaranteed, and a long delayed ransom would often mean the "victor" having to accommodate his prisoner in the style to which they were accustomed until (and if) such a ransom was paid. it wasn't unusual for a knight to be a lot worse off even after a successful campaign.
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eddy_sterckx wrote:
MarkEJohnson wrote:
that distinction didn't even matter to the nobels & warriors of that time, who would gain materially from the raid.


Bingo.

It was rather profitable, they could do it with virtual impunity, it weakened the hold of the French king over the territories and he had no way of reversing the favour by raiding across channel. And did I mention there was lots of loot to be gotten for only a low risk ?

Not many downsides there.

Maybe it needs mentioning that this was not exclusively an English 100YW thing - the French did it in Italy, the Mongols pretty much everywhere and then there's the Vikings who on occasion left their boats and waterways to raid more into the interior as well.


IIRC the French, via Geneose and French ships, did sack some English cities and threatened to invaded in the early period of the 100 year war. This, of course, was put to rest at the Battle of Sluys. Nevertheless, the fear of a french invasion was real.

I do agree, however, that they could do it with virtual impunity for some time since the French resorted to giving up territory for time.
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Charles Vasey
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MarkEJohnson wrote:
The other question raised by my exploration of the Hundred Years War is more difficult to formulate. It has to do with the chevauchée, the raiding type of warfare that England pursued against France in the first half (or so) of this extended period of conflict. Instead of a question, I'll just lay out my tenuous understanding and let others comment.

The 100YW starts with raids because England is not strong enough to actually conquer and hold a significant chunk of France. That's not even how the worldview works at this point in European history, right? The conflict is over feudal claims to the throne of France, and the English kings don't need to conquer territory so much as de-legitimize the French kings. Since the primary(?) function of the kingdom at the top of the feudal hierarchy is to defend its people from attackers, the chevauchée is strategic warfare. Deliberate & understood as such?

It's not exactly about the economic effect--this isn't a plundering expedition, and I already mentioned it doesn't steal territory. Though it does impose an economic loss on the other side through destruction. Still, I think the primary function is sort of a "hearts & minds" effect, just through the prism of medieval values & society. It's not easy for me to understand how people in the raided lands are expected to switch their feudal allegiance to the king that just raided them! And yet, they did. It almost reduces feudal kings to strongmen warlords.


The Metrical Chronicle of Jordan Fantosme which covered the Angevin Kings has a marvellous section in which (from memory) Philippe Count of Flanders, describes how one harrasses the land of the other to show he cannot protect it.


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Eric Brosius
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Not too different, perhaps, from the goal of insurgency operations in modern times, in Vietnam perhaps, or in Afghanistan.
 
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Ian Schofield
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Yes, I think you have the understanding correct. There is a game on the 100YW published in S&T many years ago where Chevauchees were a key part of the game for the English player.

Ian
 
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Several people have already touched on the important cultural differences compared to other eras, and especially the modern world. The raid or plundering expedition was seen as a very appropriate form of warfare, with a high risk-reward ratio. It was a good and proper way for the feudal leader to give himself and his followers a chance of booty as well as the glory of combat.

The fixed battle, on the other hand, was very risky for all involved. It wagered the kingdom on a single day's events, and invited the judgement of God which was always to be feared.

The medieval era was perhaps extreme in its taste for plundering and ransom-based "phony war", but chevauchée style tactics have been a major feature of war in many eras since even if the rationale has changed somewhat. Personal profit remained a big motive well into the modern era.
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Chris Brown
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Another aspect:
During feudal times the prime wealth of a lord was in his land, peasants, and craftsmen. It was though his fortification (castle, keep, strong manor house) that he exerted control over his lands and its population. If a larger enemy force moved into a lord's lands, he'd fallback into his fortification in order to wait for an opportunity to attack or for the larger force to leave. The chevauchée counterbalances this strategy. It ramps up the cost to the local lord of waiting around and will hopefully inspire him the come out and fight, thus surrendering his advantage found in his fortification.
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Bruce Jurin
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Mellonhead3013 wrote:
MarkEJohnson wrote:


It's not exactly about the economic effect--this isn't a plundering expedition


Tha chavauchee was partly a plundering expedition. One of the conventions of medieval warfare made it extremely profitable, and that was the practice of ransoming prisoners. Every prisoner greater than a serf fetched a ransom, and a captured knight could make you rich. Even if you were a lowly bowman in the English army, you could sell the rights to your prisoner to a more senior member who is better positioned to make the exchange. It was a sort of commodities market. This practice made joining the chevauchee popular.

The chevauchee was brutal on the French countryside and virtually depopulated a portion of France. Why so brutal? Once the English had demonstrated their superiority over the French militarily, the French tactic against the English army was to give ground and wait for the English to run out of supplies. The English needed combat, because the resultant prisoners were the only way to offset the enormous expense of the expedition. To bring the French to battle, the English enacted a scorched earth policy. The rationale, correctly, was that the plight of the populace would eventually force the French army to intervene.


Yes, I agree and I'd like to expand.

I think the critical reason for the chevauchee in the 14th century was a combination of the England's superiority in battle, and the aftermath of Crecy and Poiters, along with the difficulty is siege warfare. 14th century Europe was a period where the ebb and flow between besiegers and defenders favored the defenders; we see that in Edward III Rheims' siege, followed by a failure to Chartres. Taking a single fortress was a difficult endeavor, and making substantial headway against a ring of fortresses was beyond the means of the English given their size and financiers. The Dauphin who would become Charles V already in 1360 decided on the strategy of non-engagement with the English.

Major battle losses could lose the war – they would put the French at the mercy of the English, and potentially reduce the ability of the French crown to control its own country. France at that point did not have a powerful central rule and the loss of its military could be critical. So at the treaty of Bretigny they gave away much of southern France and its wealthy wine country in Gascony along with needing a large ransom for John II.

So at the height of the chevauchee, it was viewed as potentially the most effective method for the English to try to bring the French to battle. If the French wouldn't fight in open battle, and England couldn't afford endless sieges, they needed to try to bring the French out of their fortresses. So they despoiled the countryside, and of course got plunder and supplies while they were at it, including the potential for lucrative ransom, as England had to pay for its army.

The first reversal in the war in France's favor came during Charles V reign when they decided to outlast the English. Both Edward III and the Black Prince died, but it was really Charles's strategy of attrition, fighting in many places, counter-raiding, and avoiding being baited by the chevauchee against the countryside. Always fight but avoid a pitched battle, and England had little to counter this strategy besides the chevauchee.

This chevauchee strategy is clearly not unique to 14 century France, at least in character although the exact mechanisms changed. Similar warfare occurs where a superior battle army does not have the ability to defeat fortification, so the mobile army destroys the region. For example, the Huns devastated the Eastern Roman Empire, but their arrows would do no good against the walls of Constantinople; often the Eastern Romans paid tribute to avoid the raiding; and other nomad armies often had similar histories. History repeated itself later, during the war of Spanish Succession Marlborough needed to get action while his Dutch Allies were available, and the French were in their fortresses. So Marlborough started burning villages, etc.


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