Last updated

A chevauchée (French pronunciation:  [ʃəvoʃe] , "promenade" or "horse charge", depending on context) was a raiding method of medieval warfare for weakening the enemy, primarily by burning and pillaging enemy territory in order to reduce the productivity of a region, as opposed to siege warfare or wars of conquest. The use of the chevauchée declined at the end of the 14th century as the focus of warfare turned to sieges. Its legacy eventually led to the scorched earth strategies used in modern warfare.


In the Iberian peninsula, this type of raid was usually called a cabalgada [1] (older spelling: cavalgada). The Ghazi razzia is also considered similar in purpose. [2]

The chevauchée could be used as a way of forcing an enemy to fight, or as a means of discrediting the enemy's government and detaching his subjects from their loyalty. This usually caused a massive flight of refugees to fortified towns and castles, which would be untouched by the chevauchée.

Early uses

The chevauchée has gained recognition for its use during the Hundred Years' War between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France. It was not a new tactic and had been used many times before; for example, William the Conqueror had used the tactic before the Battle of Hastings to encourage Harold to engage in a battle. The difference was that during the Hundred Years War the tactic was used more frequently, on a larger scale and more systematically than before. [3]

The English used the chevauchée in lieu of a larger standing army, and it was carried out primarily by small groups of mounted soldiers, rarely more than a few thousand men. This was the characteristic English strategy in the 1340s and 1350s after first being used by the forces of Edward III of England in the Second War of Scottish Independence.[ dubious ] In part because of these tactics, the French were forced into the battle of Crécy.

The chevauchée was not used exclusively by the English; at times it was also employed by the French[ when? ]. The tactic focused on undermining the enemy government's authority and destroy his resources by focusing on taking hostages and other material goods rather than engaging in large scale military battles.

In medieval Bedouin culture, ghazwa was a form of limited warfare verging on brigandage that avoided head-on confrontations and instead emphasized raiding and looting. The Umayyad-period poet al-Kutami wrote the oft-quoted verses: "Our business is to make raids on the enemy, on our neighbor and our own brother, in the event we find none to raid but a brother." [4] [5] William Montgomery Watt hypothesized that Muhammad found it useful to divert this continuous internecine warfare toward non-Muslims, making it the basis of the Islamic holy war. [6] As a form of warfare, the razzia was then mimicked by the Christian states of Iberia in their relations with the taifa states. [7]

A large-scale raid organized by an Iberian Christian king in Muslim territory was called a fonsado;[ citation needed ] this is perhaps the earliest word used for such raids. In contrast, the word cabalgada [1] was introduced later to denote a smaller raid, whose main purpose was plunder. The word algara [8] referred to either a raiding party, or perhaps to a yet smaller raid. [9] A 12th-century Christian chronicler wrote: "Every day large bodies of knights leave castles on what we call algarades and roam far and wide, pillaging all the territory of Seville, Córdoba and Carmona, and setting it all alight." [10]

A 13th-century Iberian example of a raid called cavalgada is the operation launched at the order of Ferdinand III of Castile in April 1231. It departed from Andújar, and first advanced towards Córdoba, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The raiders hit Palma del Río, killing many inhabitants. Thereafter they proceeded as far as Seville, which they bypassed heading towards Jerez and Vejer. When they were intercepted by an army of Ibn Hud near the Guadalete river, the battle of Jerez occurred. The Castilian raiders managed to rout the Moorish army, and withdrew with booty, but not before they killed all their prisoners. The raid and battle were amply described in the chronicles of Alfonso X of Castile. [11] [12] [13]


According to historian Kelly DeVries, chevauchée tactics developed into a regular strategy in the Hundred Years' War following the Black Death when Edward III of England no longer had the troops to engage in regular battles. Specific tactics were "a quick cavalry raid through the countryside with the intention of pillaging unfortified villages and towns, destroying crops and houses, stealing livestock, and generally disrupting and terrorizing rural society.

Most of the troops used in a chevauchée during the Hundred Years War were made up of light horse or hobelars. The mercenary groups known as the 'Free companies' were also prominent in using the chevauchée." [14] These tactics had been successfully used against the English by the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence, especially in the raiding of Northern England by James Douglas, Lord of Douglas and Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray.

Notable uses

Although often considered to be a tactic characteristic of mercenaries, the chevauchée was also undertaken by famous medieval captains.

War of the Two Peters

During the War of the Two Peters, a period of near constant fighting from 1356 to 1379 in Spain, the forces of the Kingdom of Castile continually destroyed grain, olive trees and vineyards in the Kingdom of Valencia until nothing remained to be harvested. The Spanish word for this type of operation was cavalgada. [15] A cavalgada however did not refer strictly to an operation by mounted troops; it could well refer to a surprise raiding attack carried by infantry alone. [16] After 1340 the Early Reconquista was over, and for more than a century warfare between Granada and its Christian neighbors consisted largely of cavalgadas and razzias. [17]

Hundred Years' War

English armies often resorted to the chevauchée during the Hundred Years' War with France. After the fall of Calais to the English in 1347, Edward III of England launched many raids into the French interior as he sensed the French weakness. Edward, the Black Prince, took his mounted force into Artois, while Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster burned Fauquembergues to the ground.

Shortly thereafter, Edward III decided to lead a grand chevauchée with his whole army into the heart of France from Calais at the beginning of September. However, the starting date came and passed, because while morale was high, his forces were just as exhausted as the French. A truce was agreed upon between the French and the English in that same month, which disappointed some in his army who were eager for loot.

In 1355–1356, Edward the Black Prince led a chevauchée from Bordeaux to the French Mediterranean coast, resulting in much destruction and another challenge to French supremacy. Extra defenses were built at Tours to deter the Black Prince from attacking the town.

During the 1370s, the English launched chevauchées led by Robert Knolles and John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, the third surviving son of Edward III, but little was achieved militarily.

1346 Crécy campaign

The Crécy campaign was a large-scale chevauchée conducted by an English army throughout northern France in 1346, which devastated a significant amount of the French countryside and culminated in the eponymous Battle of Crécy. The campaign began on 12 July 1346, with the landing of English troops in Normandy, and ended with the fall of Calais on 3 August 1347. The English army was led by Edward III, while the French army was led by Philip VI of France.

1346 campaign of Henry of Grosmont

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster led a chevauchée between 12 September and 31 October 1346. His Anglo-Gascon force, consisting of 2,000 soldiers, marched 160 miles (260 kilometres) north from Gascony and sacked Saint-Jean-d'Angély and Poitiers. After sacking Poitiers, his force pillaged much of Saintonge, Aunis and Poitou, and captured many towns and castles, including Rochefort and Oléron.

1355 campaign of the Black Prince

The chevauchée by the Black Prince in the autumn of 1355 was one of the most destructive in the history of English warfare.

Starting from Bordeaux, the Black Prince traveled south into lands controlled by Jean I, Comte d'Armagnac with Toulouse as the apparent ultimate target. Edward departed with an Anglo-Gascon force of 5,000 men. He laid waste to the lands of Armagnac and also despoiled the Comté de Foix before turning eastward into Languedoc.

The count of Armagnac reinforced his fortresses instead of engaging Edward. The residents of Toulouse prepared for a siege as Edward approached, but the Black Prince was not equipped for a difficult siege and bypassed the city, crossing two rivers to the south that the French had thought impassable by a large force and had hence left unguarded.

Edward continued south, pillaging and burning and causing a great deal of mayhem. While the forces of Armagnac remained in Toulouse, Edward backtracked across the two rivers without much harassment. Only after it was apparent that Edward was departing did Armagnac harass the English. After the campaign, Armagnac was rebuked by James I, Count of La Marche, Constable of France and lost great favor with the people of Toulouse for his cowardice and lack of generalship.

The result of this chevauchée by the Black Prince was that the important city of Toulouse realized that they were on their own to protect themselves and were forced to become militarily self-reliant. This process repeated itself throughout France in the wake of a chevauchée. Toulouse became an essential part of the country's security over the next two centuries[ citation needed ]. The chevauchée of 1355 was the only time during the Hundred Years' War that Toulouse was seriously threatened.

Unlike large cities such as Toulouse, the rural French villages were not built or organized to provide a defense. With these small villages lacking much in the way of fortifications, they were much more attractive targets to members of a chevauchée. In the absence of great walls, villagers picked a building, often a stone church, in which to defend themselves. They surrounded the church with ditches and stocked it with stones and crossbows. Even with these measures, peasants did not stand much of a chance against the professional fighters of a chevauchée. Even if these measures of self-defense were successful for a short while, resistance could not be maintained for long, and surrendering after resisting was often more costly than immediately surrendering. While there was an established practice of holding nobles and knights for ransom, villagers would most often not be able to pay the ransom that made it worth a pillager's time to take someone hostage, instead of just killing them. Therefore, it is not surprising that the peasant villages put up whatever meager resistance that they could.

1356 campaign of the Black Prince

In the summer of 1356, the Black Prince undertook a second great chevauchée. This too lacked a clear objective. Edward had an estimated 7,000 men under his command. The chevauchée began on 4 August 1356, against the city of Bourges. This chevauchée differed from the first in that, in addition to the raiding, burning and looting, there was also military action taken against objectives away from the main body of the force. Edward burned the suburbs of Bourges, but did not capture the city. However, he did capture the less important city of Audley.

Several small forces of French knights were defeated and Edward paused to besiege and capture the small town of Romorantin, where several French leaders were holed up. By this time the army of John II of France was in pursuit.

Edward marched West along the Loire River to Tours, burning the suburbs before marching south. By this time the French army was only thirty miles (50 km) away and had superior numbers. The French pursued faster than the English marched. By 18 September 1356, Edward entered Poitiers. The next day, outside the city, the Battle of Poitiers was fought, which resulted in a great English victory and the capture of John II of France, who eventually died in captivity after his large ransom, twice the yearly income of France, went unpaid.

1373 campaign of John of Gaunt

In August 1373, John of Gaunt, accompanied by John de Montfort, Duke of Brittany led a force of 9,000 men out from Calais on a major chevauchée. While initially successful as French forces were insufficiently concentrated to oppose them, the English began to meet further resistance as they moved south. French forces began to concentrate around the English force but, under specific orders from King Charles V, the French avoided a set battle. Instead, they fell on forces detached from the main body to raid or forage. The French shadowed the English and in October, the English found themselves being trapped against the River Allier by four separate French forces. With some difficulty, the English crossed at the bridge at Moulins but lost all their baggage and loot. The English carried on south across the Limousin plateau but the weather turned severe. Men and horses died in great numbers and many soldiers, forced to march on foot, discarded their armour. At the beginning of December, the army finally entered friendly territory in Gascony. By the end of December they were in Bordeaux, starving, ill-equipped and having lost over half of the 30,000 horses with which they had left Calais. Although the march across France had been a remarkable feat, it was a military failure. [18]

1380 campaign of the Earl of Buckingham

In July 1380, the Earl of Buckingham commanded an expedition to France to aid England's ally the Duke of Brittany. The French refused battle before the walls of Troyes on 25 August, so Buckingham's forces continued their chevauchée and in November laid siege to Nantes. [19] However, expected support from the Duke of Brittany did not appear and, in the face of heavy losses in both men and horses, Buckingham was forced to abandon the siege in January 1381. [20] In February 1381 Brittany, reconciled to the regime of the new French king, Charles VI, paid 50,000 franc to Buckingham to abandon the siege and the campaign. [21]

In the 15th century

The French campaigns of Henry V of England provided new opportunities for the use of the chevauchée by English armies. One not particularly successful example in March 1416 led to the Battle of Valmont. By the 1420s, many important French towns were under English control, including Caen, Falaise, Cherbourg and Rouen. This decreased the need for the chevauchée as the focus to the conquest of France. After Henry's death, the situation for the English worsened. Sir John Fastolf, an experienced English commander, proposed in a 1435 memorandum a return to aggressive chevauchée tactics. His recommendations were not, however, taken up. [22]

A table-top miniature wargame called Chevauchée, designed to simulate the action associated with this term, was published at one point by the game development company Skirmisher Publishing LLC.

See also

Related Research Articles

Battle of Poitiers Battle in 1356 during the Hundred Years War

The Battle of Poitiers was a major English victory in the Hundred Years' War. It was fought on 19 September 1356 in Nouaillé, near the city of Poitiers in Aquitaine, western France. Edward, the Black Prince, led an army of English, Welsh, Breton and Gascon troops, many of them veterans of the Battle of Crécy. They were attacked by a larger French force led by King John II of France, which included allied Scottish forces. The French were heavily defeated; an English counter-attack captured King John, along with his youngest son, and much of the French nobility who were present.

Peter I, Duke of Bourbon Duke of Bourbon

Peter I of Bourbon was the second Duke of Bourbon, from 1342 to his death. Peter was son of Louis I of Bourbon, whom he also succeeded as Grand Chamberlain of France, and Mary of Avesnes.

Siege of Calais (1346–1347) Siege by King Edward III during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Calais occurred at the conclusion of the Crécy campaign, when an English army under the command of King Edward III of England successfully besieged the French town of Calais during the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War.

Hundred Years War (1337–1360) First phase of the Hundred Years War

The first phase of the Hundred Years' War between France and England lasted from 1337 to 1360. It is sometimes referred to as the Edwardian War because it was initiated by King Edward III of England, who claimed the French throne in defiance of King Philip VI of France. The dynastic conflict was caused by disputes over the French feudal sovereignty over Aquitaine and the English claims over the French royal title. The Kingdom of England and its allies dominated this phase of the war.

Robert Knolles 14th-century English knight

Sir Robert Knolles or Knollys was an important English knight of the Hundred Years' War, who, operating with the tacit support of the crown, succeeded in taking the only two major French cities, other than Calais and Poitiers, to fall to Edward III. His methods, however, earned him infamy as a freebooter and a ravager: the ruined gables of burned buildings came to be known as "Knollys' mitres".

James I of Bourbon, was a French prince du sang, and the son of Louis I, Duke of Bourbon and Mary of Avesnes. He was Count of Ponthieu from 1351 to 1360, and Count of La Marche from 1341 to his death.

Hundred Years War Conflicts between England and France during the 14th and 15th centuries

The Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) was a war involving a series of conflicts between the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of France, that took place during the Late Middle Ages, and lasted for a total of 116 years. The war had been based on disputed claims to the French crown by the English Royal Dynasty House of Plantagenet and the French House of Valois. Over time, the war encompassed a broad power struggle, involving factions from across Western Europe, and was fueled by emerging nationalist sentiment on both sides.

Battle of Pontvallain Battle in the Hundred Years War

The Battle of Pontvallain, part of the Hundred Years' War, took place in the Sarthe region of north-west France on 4 December 1370, when a French army under Bertrand du Guesclin heavily defeated an English force which had broken away from an army commanded by Sir Robert Knolles. The French numbered 5,200 men, and the English force was approximately the same size.

Lancasters <i>chevauchée</i> of 1346 Campaign during the Hundred Years War

Lancaster's chevauchée of 1346 was a series of offensives directed by Henry, Earl of Lancaster, in southwestern France during autumn 1346, as a part of the Hundred Years' War.

Crécy campaign Military campaign in 1346–1347 during the Hundred Years War

The Crécy campaign were large-scale raids (chevauchée) conducted by the Kingdom of England throughout northern France in 1346 that devastated the French countryside on a wide front, culminating in the eponymous Battle of Crécy. The campaign was part of the Hundred Years' War.

Gaillard I de Durfort

Gaillard I de Durfort, known as the Archdeacon (l'Archidiacre), was a French priest and nobleman of the Durfort family. He inherited the Lacour–Durfort lands in 1345 and abandoned his clerical career to marry Marguerite de Caumont.

Black Princes <i>chevauchée</i> of 1356

The Black Prince's chevauchée of 1356, which began on 4 August at Bordeaux and ended with the Battle of Poitiers on 19 September, was a devastating raid of Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King Edward III of England. This expedition of the Black Prince devastated large parts of Bergerac, Périgord, Nontronnais, Confolentais, Nord-Ouest, Limousin, La Marche, Boischaut, Champagne Berrichonne, Berry, Sologne, south of Touraine and Poitou.

Burnt Candlemas was a failed invasion of Scotland in early 1356 by an English army commanded by King Edward III, and was the last campaign of the Second War of Scottish Independence. Tensions on the Anglo-Scottish border led to a military build up by both sides in 1355. In September a nine-month truce was agreed, and most of the English forces left for northern France to take part in a campaign of the concurrent Hundred Years' War. A few days after agreeing the truce, the Scots, encouraged and subsidised by the French, broke it, invading and devastating Northumberland. In late December, the Scots escaladed and captured the important English-held border town of Berwick-on-Tweed and laid siege to its castle. The English army redeployed from France to Newcastle in northern England.

Black Princes <i>chevauchée</i> of 1355 1355 mounted raid during the Hundred Years War

The Black Prince's chevauchée, also known as the grande chevauchée, was a large-scale mounted raid carried out by an Anglo-Gascon force under the command of Edward, the Black Prince, between 5 October and 2 December 1355 as a part of the Hundred Years' War. John, Count of Armagnac, who commanded the local French forces, avoided battle, and there was little fighting during the campaign.

Lancaster's chevauchée of 1356 in Normandy was an English offensive directed by Henry, Earl of Lancaster, in northern France during 1356, as a part of the Hundred Years' War. The offensive took the form of a chevauchée, a large mounted raid and lasted from 22 June to 13 July. During its final week the English were pursued by a much larger French army under King John II that failed to force them to battle.

The sieges of Berwick include the Scottish capture of the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed by the Scots on 6 November 1355 and their subsequent unsuccessful siege of Berwick castle, and the English siege and recapture of the town in January 1356. In 1355 the Second War of Scottish Independence had been underway for 13 years. After a period of quiescence the Scots, encouraged by the French who were fighting the English in the Hundred Years' War, assembled an army on the border. In September a truce was agreed and much of the English army left the border area to join King Edward III's campaign in France. In October the Scots broke the truce, invaded Northumbria and devastated much of it. On 6 November they captured the town of Berwick in a pre-dawn escalade, but failed to carry the castle, which they besieged.

Treaty of Guînes Unratified treaty of the Hundred Years War

The Treaty of Guînes was a draft settlement to end the Hundred Years' War, negotiated between England and France and signed at Guînes on 6 April 1354. The war had broken out in 1337 and was further aggravated in 1340 when the English king, Edward III, claimed the French throne. The war went badly for France: the French army was heavily defeated at the Battle of Crécy and the French town of Calais was besieged and captured. With both sides exhausted, a truce was agreed that, despite being only fitfully observed, was repeatedly renewed.

Edward III's chevauchée of 1355 took place when King Edward III of England led an army into Picardy in the hope of provoking the French into a battle. Edward’s son The Black Prince had begun a chevauchée on 5 October with an Anglo-Gascon force from Bordeaux heading towards Narbonne.

Lancaster's Loire campaign was the march south from Brittany in August 1356 by an English army led by Henry, Duke of Lancaster. He was attempting to join the army of Edward, the Black Prince, near Tours. The French had broken the bridges over the River Loire and Lancaster was forced to turn back, returning to Brittany in September.

Siege of Breteuil Siege during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Breteuil was the investment of the Norman town of Breteuil, held by partisans of Charles II, King of Navarre, by French forces. It lasted from April 1356 to about 20 August. It was interrupted on 5 July when a small English army commanded by Henry, Earl of Lancaster relieved and resupplied it. The French king, John II attempted to bring Lancaster to battle with the much larger French royal army, but Lancaster marched away and the attempt failed. Instead John renewed the siege of Breteuil.


  1. 1 2 cabalgada in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  2. Cathal J. Nolan (2006). The age of wars of religion, 1000-1650: an encyclopedia of global warfare and civilization. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 718. ISBN   978-0-313-33734-5.
  3. Aberth, John (2000). From the Brink of the Apocalypse. Routledge. p.  85. ISBN   0-415-92715-3.
  4. Paul Wheatley (2001). The places where men pray together: cities in Islamic lands, seventh through the tenth centuries. University of Chicago Press. p. 11. ISBN   978-0-226-89428-7.
  5. A. J. Cameron (1973). Abû Dharr al-Ghifârî: an examination of his image in the hagiography of Islam. Royal Asiatic Society : [distributed] by Luzac. p. 9. ISBN   978-0-7189-0962-8.
  6. William Montgomery Watt; Pierre Cachia (1996). A history of Islamic Spain. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN   978-0-7486-0847-8.
  7. Cathal J. Nolan (2006). The age of wars of religion, 1000-1650: an encyclopedia of global warfare and civilization. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 724. ISBN   978-0-313-33734-5.
  8. algara in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
  9. Peter C. Scales (1994). The fall of the caliphate of Córdoba: Berbers and Andalusis in conflict. BRILL. p. 184. ISBN   978-90-04-09868-8.
  10. Philippe Contamine (1986). War in the Middle Ages . Wiley-Blackwell. pp.  58–59. ISBN   978-0-631-14469-4.
  11. Gonzalo Martínez Diez (2000). "La conquista de Andujar: su integración en la Corona de Castilla". Boletín del Instituto de Estudios Giennenses (176): 635. ISSN   0561-3590.
  12. Julio González (2006) [First published in 1946 in De Hispania no. XXV]. Las conquistas de Fernando III en Andalucía. Editorial MAXTOR. pp. 63–64. ISBN   978-84-9761-277-7.
  13. H. Salvador Martínez, with English translation by Odile Cisneros (2010) [Spanish edition: 2003]. Alfonso X, the Learned: a biography . BRILL. pp.  82–83. ISBN   978-90-04-18147-2.
  14. DeVries, Kelly (1999). Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Stroud: Sutton. pp.  11–12. ISBN   0-7509-1805-5.
  15. Donald J. Kagay (2008). "The Defense of the Crown of Aragon during the War of the Two Pedros (1356-1366)". In L. J. Andrew Villalon, Donald J. Kagay (ed.). The Hundred Years War (part II): different vistas. BRILL. p. 161. ISBN   978-90-04-16821-3.
  16. Joseph F. O'Callaghan (1998). Alfonso X and the Cantigas de Santa Maria: a poetic biography. BRILL. p. 153. ISBN   978-90-04-11023-6.
  17. Weston F. Cook (1994). The hundred years war for Morocco: gunpowder and the military revolution in the early modern Muslim world. Westview Press. p. 120. ISBN   978-0-8133-1435-8.
  18. Sumption, Jonathan (2009). Divided Houses. The Hundred Years War III. London: Faber & Faber. pp. 187–96. ISBN   9780571240128.
  19. Sumption (2009), pp385-90, 396-99
  20. Sumption (2009), p. 409
  21. Sumption (2009), p.411
  22. Stephen Cooper The Real Falstaff, Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years War , Pen & Sword, 2010, pp 70-6

Further reading