Routiers (French: [ʁutje] ) were mercenary soldiers of the Middle Ages. Their particular distinction from other paid soldiers of the time was that they were organised into bands (rutta or routes). The term is first used in the 12th century but is particularly associated with free companies who terrorised the French countryside during the Hundred Years' War.
Although paid soldiers were known before the 12th century, the phenomenon of distinct bands (German Rotten, French routes) of mercenary soldiers, often mainly footsoldiers (spearmen, slingers, javelineers, archers and crossbowmen), appears to date from the mid 12th century.Exactly what distinguishes these mercenaries from simple paid soldiers is disputed by scholars but common elements include fighting for profit (as opposed to other reasons such as fealty or faith), a "foreignness" of coming from a different geographical area to that in which they were fighting, and that as members of a rutta, a company of soldiers hired for specific campaigns, routiers moved from contract to contract. Numerous different terms were used for these troops, some geographical (e.g. Brabançons from Brabant, Aragones from Aragon, Bascoli from the Basque country) and other nicknames (e.g. cotereaux or cotereli, perhaps from the knife they carried).
Mercenary bands were mainly seen in France, Aquitaine and Occitania but also Normandy, England and the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor. They were noted for their lawlessness, with many complaints from the church about their depredations, leading to an explicit condemnation by the Third Lateran Council in 1179. Mercenary bands continued to be used but by the early 13th century they began to decline. While useful, they became increasingly unpopular. In England, not only was their brutality condemned, but the rise of mercenary leaders of lowly origins to high office caused friction within the nobility. King John's use of mercenaries in his civil wars led to condemnation and banishment of mercenaries in Magna Carta in 1215.Mercenary bands also fell from favour in France in the early 13th century, the end of the Albigensian Crusade and the beginning of a long period of domestic peace removing the context in which the routiers flourished.
The Hundred Years' War, which lasted from 1337 to 1453, was the backdrop to their pillaging. The Hundred Years' War was fought between two royal families over control of the French throne: the Plantagenets from England, and the House of Valois from France. The War, which is divided into three stages - the Edwardian War (1337-1360), the Caroline War (1369-1389), and the Lancastrian War (1415-1429) - saw the development of new tactics and weaponry that revolutionised warfare during that time period.
By 1348 the Black Death was tearing through Europe, England was bankrupt, and Edward was invading mainland France. In 1347 Edward besieged the city of Calais on the English Channel. Capturing Calais was a major strategic victory, which allowed the English to permanently keep troops in France. King Edward's son, the Black Prince, led a large band of routiers, captured the French King John II, and soon the French government began to fall apart.
The routiers' history can be traced back to a few years after the start of the Hundred Years' War, to Brittany in the early 1340s. No revenue was being generated from the revenues of the Duchy of Brittany for the English army, which meant that the English soldiers had to live off the land. This “living off the land” began as simple freebooting, but quickly transformed into patis, or “ransoms of the country”. A village near a garrison would usually be ransacked for any supplies. Subsequently, the village would be forced to pay the respective garrison for future protection.
This system soon caused much instability in the region for a few reasons. The patis system did not generate any revenue for the English cause but it made small fortunes for individual captains. These captains, whose income depended on controlling an area, rather than wages from the Duchy, were hard to control. While in theory, the King's Lieutenant could rely on his garrisons in time of war, they were scarcely enthusiastic combatants. Furthermore, garrisons that were stationed in fringe territories were subject to boredom, which was relieved by random brutality. That state, coupled with the fact that they were surrounded by hostile inhabitants, caused a lot of animosity between the peasants and soldiers, which in a few instances led to skirmishes and made the task of governing the Duchy harder.
The problem was not confined to Brittany. Château de Lusignan was a fortress near Poitiers captured by the Earl of Lancaster in September 1346. When the Earl withdrew from the area he left a garrison under the command of Bertrand de Montferrand. Many of his troops were men with questionable pasts; criminals and misfits. Despite a truce between 1346 and 1350, the garrison laid waste to over fifty parishes, ten monasteries, and destroyed towns and castles throughout southern Poitou. In May 1347, a French force was sent to recapture the fortress but were ambushed by the garrison and forced to retreat.
Routiers were usually referred to as “Englishmen” in France, but they were actually composed for the most part by Gascons, after the name of the region of what is now South-West France in which they resided.But the Gascons were considered then as a distinct people from the French. The full demographic that filled the ranks of the routiers included Spaniards, Germans, English, and Frenchmen. Although there had been major raiding campaigns led by English noblemen such as the Prince of Wales, many individual routes were led by Gascon officers. Kenneth Fowler has examined the origins of 166 named captains. Ninety one of these were involved in the Great Companies. 36 were English, 26 from Aquitane, 19 were Gascons, five from Béarn and five from Germany. In addition to these, there were a group of 45 Breton captains and a further group from Navarre.
Unlike the earlier routiers companies, the routes of the Hundred Years' War were primarily mounted forces. Their main fighting men were men-at-arms, sometimes accompanied by mounted infantry including mounted archers. For example, the companies operating around Auvergne in September 1363 were estimated at 2,000 lances of men-at-arms and 1,000 mounted infantry.In addition, the companies could be accompanied by groups of pillagers. A route operating around Beaune in September 1364 were numbered as 120 "good lances", 100 other combatants "not including pillagers", suggesting these last were not considered as militarily significant Larger companies of routiers could be surprisingly well organised. They each had a command structure with a staff that even included secretaries to collect and disperse their loot. A few of the groups had their own uniforms, such as the notorious Bandes Blanches of the Archpriest Arnaud de Cervole.
John Hawkwood is the most famous of the English routiers. Beginning as a routier, he ultimately spent three decades as a mercenary captain in Italy.
Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster was an English statesman, diplomat, soldier, and Christian writer. The owner of Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, Grosmont was a member of the House of Plantagenet, which was ruling over England at that time. He was the wealthiest and most powerful peer of the realm.
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.
A chevauchée 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.
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.
The Battle of Blanchetaque was fought on 24 August 1346 between an English army under King Edward III and a French force commanded by Godemar du Fay. The battle was part of the Crécy campaign, which took place during the early stages of the Hundred Years' War. After landing in the Cotentin Peninsula on 12 July, the English army had burnt a path of destruction through some of the richest lands in France to within 20 miles (32 km) of Paris, sacking a number of towns on the way. The English then marched north, hoping to link up with an allied Flemish army which had invaded from Flanders. They were outmanoeuvred by the French king, Philip VI, who garrisoned all of the bridges and fords over the River Somme and followed the English with his own field army. The area had previously been stripped of food stocks by the French, and the English were essentially trapped.
The Battle of Auberoche was fought on 21 October 1345 during the Gascon campaign of 1345 between an Anglo-Gascon force of 1,200 men under Henry, Earl of Derby, and a French army of 7,000 commanded by Louis of Poitiers. It was fought at the village of Auberoche near Périgueux in northern Aquitaine. At the time, Gascony was a territory of the English Crown and the "English" army included a large proportion of native Gascons. The battle resulted in a heavy defeat for the French, who suffered very high casualties, with their leaders killed or captured.
The Battle of Caen was an assault conducted on 26 July 1346 by forces from the Kingdom of England, led by King Edward III, on the French-held town of Caen and Normandy as a part of the Hundred Years' War.
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.
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.
The Battle of Bergerac was fought between Anglo-Gascon and French forces at the town of Bergerac in Gascony, in August 1345 during the Hundred Years' War. In early 1345 Edward III of England decided to launch a major attack on the French from the north, while sending smaller forces to Brittany and Gascony, the latter being both economically important to the English war effort and the proximate cause of the war. The French focused on the threat to northern France, leaving comparatively small forces in the south west.
Le Petit Meschin was a French soldier, mercenary and brigand of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century.
The Gascon campaign of 1345 was conducted by Henry, Earl of Derby, as part of the Hundred Years' War. The whirlwind campaign took place between August and November 1345 in Gascony, an English-controlled territory in south-west France. Derby, commanding an Anglo-Gascon force, oversaw the first successful English land campaign of the war. He twice defeated large French armies in battle, taking many noble and knightly prisoners. They were ransomed by their captors, greatly enriching Derby and his soldiers in the process. Following this campaign, morale and prestige swung England's way in the border region between English-occupied Gascony and French-ruled territory, providing an influx of taxes and recruits for the English armies. As a result, France's ability to raise tax money and troops from the region was much reduced.
The siege of Aiguillon, an episode in the Hundred Years' War, began on 1 April 1346 when a French army commanded by John, Duke of Normandy, laid siege to the Gascon town of Aiguillon. The town was defended by an Anglo-Gascon army under Ralph, Earl of Stafford.
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.
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.
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 siege of Guînes took place in 1352 when a French army under Geoffrey de Charny unsuccessfully attempted to recapture the French castle at Guînes which had been seized by the English. The siege was part of the Hundred Years' War and marked the resumption of full-scale hostilities after six years of uneasy and ill-kept truce.
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.
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.