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 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.
A mercenary is an individual who is hired to take part in a conflict but is not part of an army or other-governmental organisation. Mercenaries fight for money or other forms payment rather than for political interests. In the last century, mercenaries have increasingly come to be seen as less entitled to protections by rules of war than non-mercenaries. Indeed, the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants and do not have to be granted the same legal protections as captured soldiers of a regular army. In practice, whether or not a person is a mercenary may be a matter of degree, as financial and political interests may overlap, as was often the case among Italian condottieri.
In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.
The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.
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) and a "foreignness" of coming from a different geographical area to that in which they were fighting. 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).
The Duchy of Brabant was a State of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1183. It developed from the Landgraviate of Brabant and formed the heart of the historic Low Countries, part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1430 and of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1482, until it was partitioned after the Dutch revolt.
Aragon is an autonomous community in Spain, coextensive with the medieval Kingdom of Aragon. Located in northeastern Spain, the Aragonese autonomous community comprises three provinces : Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel. Its capital is Zaragoza. The current Statute of Autonomy declares Aragon a historic nationality of Spain.
The Basque Country is the name given to the home of the Basque people. The Basque country is located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. Euskal Herria is the oldest documented Basque name for the area they inhabit, dating from the 16th century.
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.
France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.
Aquitaine, archaic Guyenne/Guienne, is a traditional region of France, and was an administrative region of France until 1 January 2016. It is now part of the region Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It is situated in the south-western part of Metropolitan France, along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with Spain. It is composed of the five departments of Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Landes and Gironde. In the Middle Ages, Aquitaine was a kingdom and a duchy, whose boundaries fluctuated considerably.
Occitania is the historical region and a nation, in southern Europe where Occitan was historically the main language spoken, and where it is sometimes still used, for the most part as a second language. This cultural area roughly encompasses the southern third of France, as well as part of Spain, Monaco, and smaller parts of Italy. Occitania has been recognized as a linguistic and cultural concept since the Middle Ages, but has never been a legal nor a political entity under this name, although the territory was united in Roman times as the Seven Provinces and in the Early Middle Ages.
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.
The House of Valois was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. They succeeded the House of Capet to the French throne, and were the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589. Junior members of the family founded cadet branches in Orléans, Anjou, Burgundy, and Alençon.
By 1348 the Black Death was tearing though 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 Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, the Black Plague, or simply the Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The bacterium Yersinia pestis, which results in several forms of plague, is believed to have been the cause. The Black Death was the first major European outbreak of the second plague pandemic. The plague created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals, which had profound effects on the course of European history.
Calais is a city and major ferry port in northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's prefecture is its third-largest city of Arras. The population of the metropolitan area at the 2010 census was 126,395. Calais overlooks the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel, which is only 34 km (21 mi) wide here, and is the closest French town to England. The White Cliffs of Dover can easily be seen on a clear day from Calais. Calais is a major port for ferries between France and England, and since 1994, the Channel Tunnel has linked nearby Coquelles to Folkestone by rail.
The English Channel, also called simply the Channel, is the body of water that separates Southern England from northern France and links the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the busiest shipping area in the world.
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. 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 1346-1350, 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” by their victims, 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 English 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 Auverne 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.
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 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. The use of the chevauchée declined at the end of the 14th century as the focus of warfare turned to sieges.
The Edwardian War was the first phase of the Hundred Years' War between France and England. It was named after 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 écorcheurs were armed bands who desolated France in the reign of Charles VII, stripping their victims of everything, often to their very clothes.
The Battle of Nájera, also known as the Battle of Navarrete, was fought on 3 April 1367 near Nájera, in the province of La Rioja, Castile. It was an episode of the first Castilian Civil War which confronted King Peter of Castile with his half-brother Count Henry of Trastámara who aspired to the throne; the war involved Castile in the Hundred Years' War. Castilian naval power, far superior to that of France or England, encouraged the two polities to take sides in the civil war, to gain control over the Castilian fleet.
The Battle of Blanchetaque was fought on 24 August 1346 between an English army under King Edward III and a French force of 3,500 men commanded by Godemar du Fay. The battle was part of the Crecy campaign, which took place during the early stages of the Hundred Years' War. The English army had landed in the Cotentin Peninsula on 12 July. It 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 out-manoeuvred 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 Lunalonge was fought in the summer of 1349 between a French force numbering approximately 1,500 men and an Anglo-Gascon force of some 500 men, during the first phase of the Hundred Years' War. The location of the battle is thought to have been modern Limalonges in Deux-Sèvres. The outnumbered Anglo-Gascons, commanded by Thomas Coke, gained the upper hand during the day, but had to withdraw on foot during the night because the French, under Jean de Lille, had captured their horses. The French lost approximately 300 killed and an unknown but large number captured, including their leader.
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 Anglo-Gascon army included a large proportion of native Gascons. The battle resulted in a heavy French defeat and they suffered very high casualties, with their leaders killed or captured.
The Battle of Cocherel was a battle fought on 16 May 1364 between the forces of Charles V of France and the forces of Charles II of Navarre, over the succession to the dukedom of Burgundy. The result was a French victory.
The Battle of Mauron was fought in 1352 between an Anglo-Breton force and France. The Anglo-Bretons were victorious. The battle took place in the context of the Hundred Years War. With the Franco-Breton claimant, Charles de Blois, a prisoner, and the Anglo-Breton claimant a minor, the English were attempting to rule Brittany in the name of their protégé.
The Battle of Cadzand was a minor battle of the Hundred Years' War fought in 1337. It consisted of a raid on the Flemish island of Cadzand, designed to provoke a reaction and battle from the local garrison and so improve morale in England and amongst King Edward III's continental allies by providing his army with an easy victory. On 9 November Sir Walter Manny, with the advance troops for Edward III's continental invasion, made an attempt to take the city of Sluys, but was driven off.
Arnaud de Cervole, also de Cervolles, de Cervolle, Arnaut de Cervole or Arnold of Cervoles, known as l'Archiprêtre, was a French mercenary soldier and Brigand of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century.
The Battle of Caen on 26 July 1346 was the assault on the French-held town by part of an invading English army under King Edward III as a part of the Hundred Years' War. Elements of the English army of 12,000–15,000, nominally commanded by the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Northampton, prematurely attacked the town. Caen was garrisoned by 1,000–1,500 soldiers and an unknown, but large, number of armed townsmen, commanded by Raoul, the Count of Eu. The town was captured in the first assault; many nobles were taken prisoner and 5,000 of the ordinary soldiers and townspeople were killed. The town was then sacked for five days.
Philip of Navarre, Count of Longueville (1336–1363) was a younger brother and supporter of Charles II of Navarre, a claimant to the French throne. The son of Philip III of Navarre and Joan II of Navarre, he married Yolande of Flanders in 1353. She was the daughter of Robert of Flanders and Jeanne of Brittany and the widow of Henry IV of Bar. The marriage was childless, though by his mistress Jeannette d'Aisy Philip had two illegitimate children - Lancelot and Robine. Philip and his brother Charles fought against John II of France in 1353.
A free company was an army of mercenaries between the 12th and 14th centuries recruited by private employers during wars. They acted independently of any government, and were thus "free". They regularly made a living by plunder when they were not employed; in France they were the routiers and écorcheurs who operated outside the highly structured law of arms. The term "free company" is most applied to those companies of soldiers which formed after the Peace of Brétigny during the Hundred Years' War and were active mainly in France, but it has been applied to other companies, such as the Catalan Company and companies that operated elsewhere, such as in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire.
The Battle of Pontvallain was fought on 4 December 1370 in the Sarthe region during the Hundred Years' War. English forces that had broken away from the army commanded by Sir Robert Knolles fought a French army under the newly appointed Constable of France, Bertrand du Guesclin.
The Battle of Bergerac was fought in August 1345. An Anglo-Gascon army commanded by Henry of Grosmont, Earl of Derby, took a French force under Henri de Montigny, Seneschal of Périgord, by surprise outside the walls of Bergerac and defeated it. The French suffered heavy casualties and the loss of the town, a significant strategic set-back.
Le Petit Meschin was a French soldier, mercenary and brigand of the Hundred Years War in the 14th century.
Between August and November 1345 Henry, Earl of Derby, conducted the whirlwind Gascon campaign of 1345. Derby, commanding an Anglo-Gascon force, oversaw the first successful land campaign against the French in the Hundred Years' War. He twice defeated large French armies in battle, taking numerous 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, commenced 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 large-scale mounted raid (chevauchée) undertaken by Henry, Earl of Lancaster, between 12 September and 31 October 1346, as a part of the Hundred Years' War. Lancaster and an Anglo-Gascon force of approximately 2,000 English and Gascon soldiers met no effective resistance from the French.