Pedro who? You may well ask!
He is, however, not the hero of our story, that particular epithet belongs to Edward Woodstock.
He is though, most assuredly, its' villain. As vicious and murderous a blackguard ever to occupy the throne of Castile and Leon, or any throne, for that matter. He was, in fact, the cousin of Edward Woodstock, Prince of the blood of the house of Plantagenet, known to later history as the Black Prince. A man against whom it could be said, to have 'peaked' too early. Now 37 years old, Crecy and Poitier's both years in his illustrious past, weighing heavily on his mind. Now as he sat in his Bordeaux castle, ripe with luxury, he was bored. Damnably bored, bored with the interminable paperwork, bored bickering with his allies, the Gascons* and their idiotic ( to English eyes ) customs. Even bored with the tourneys at Angelomene, couldn't even kill anyone anymore (chivalrously, of course). Frankly, bored with just about everything except action and that was nowhere to be seen. Times were 'a piping', with a vengeance. Since the treaty of Bretigny ( 1360 ) between Edward 111 ( the prince's father ) and the French king all was quiet, quiet as a nunnery at Micklemas. But after the peace, many soldiers were reluctant to return home, action was their raisson de entre, as was the Prince's. They banded together and under charismatic leadership, became infamous ( or famous ) depending on your point of view, thereafter called ' Free companies' of which the most famous was the 'White Company' under Robert Knollye's. No matter how the Prince might have chaffed at the companies exploits and cash rich expeditions, he, as a son of the King of England could not join them in their jolly boys' outings around France. He had the dignity.
Re enter our story the erstwhile, deposed king of Castile and Leon, Don Pedro ( known to the Spanish, as the cruel ) who came to Aquitaine with his two daughters, ( Edwards chivalry, the target ) to appeal his monstrous treatment by the hand of his half brother, Enrique' ( Henry ) the Duke of Trastamara.
Edward, horrified apparently at the deposing of his cousin and promised by Pedro of shedloads of cash ( not aware of the nature of the beast before him ) and to boot a king with whom England had an alliance. With the usual (perfidy) the French were behind the deposing of Pedro and we can't have that, can we? Relishing the fast approach of action and all perfectly legal and all, Edward declared for Pedro and the re taking of Castile.
' You know,' you fight all your life in wars and nothing but the Truces, the Treaties and the 'Piping times of Peace' get in the way, just as you think that nothing is ever going to happen, another one comes along.
Ain't life grand!
An army was collected from Aquitaine, Gascony, Majorca. England under the banner of the Prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt, ( Earl of Lancaster ) sent 4000 archers and 500 men at arms. Last, but not least the free companies under Sir Hugh de Calvely ( Knolly'es had retired to Lincolnshire, a wealthy man ). At the beginning of February 1367 Edward set out with his army from Bordeaux and headed for the Pyrenees and the Pass of Roncesvalles * Passing through the mountains and over the Ebro river at Logrono on the 29th March. Edward rested his men at the fortified town of Nagarette and sent out scouting parties to acertain the whereabouts of Henry of Trastamara and his French allies. On the evening of the 2nd of April, Edward's scouts had reported that the enemy were only 3 leagues distant, camped outside the town of Najera, very strong and in battle order.
Before dawn on the 3rd April, the Black Prince and his allies moved in their marching formations through Aleson and onto the plain of Najera.
Henry of Trastamara had, as the scouts had correctly reported, a very strong army some 60,000 strong drawn up in battle formation, however, as Edward and his companions surveyed the scene before them, they saw that Henry had his back to a river ( Najarillo ) and only one small bridge crossing it*. The chief advisor to Henry was an experienced French knight called Bertrand Du Guesclin who had remonstrated with Henry about the disposition of the army, Du Guesclin was well versed in the power of the English war machine and it's capabilities. Having a river at your back with limited room to maneuver and no escape in the case of defeat was not a good idea, how right he was. Du Guesculin said nothing further and joined his men in the front rank.
But Henry with 60,000 against 24,000 was not thinking about retreat let alone defeat, 'Good God man', it's in the bag.
Du Guesculin's dispositions were as thus;
46,000 infantry and slingers ( of mixed quality) before the town and the bridge. In the centre Henry with his heavy cavalry ( the creme of the horsemen ) 2000 strong.
On his right flank ( centre ) under Don Carillo de Quinteina, a mixed force of light and heavy cavalry 2000 in number, on his left ( centre ) under Don Tello the same mixed force of heavy and light, again 2000 in number. In the front rank, comprising the French men at arms with Du Guesculin, 2000 of the creme de la creme of French chivalry( geezers to a man ). Flanked either side by 6,000 Castilian crossbowmen.
The Black Princes dispositions were as thus;
In the front rank opposing the French and Castilians, John of Gaunt with 3000 men at arms flanked right and left by 3000 of his archers.
The middle battle comprised The Black Prince with 2000 men at arms and 2000 archers, again flanked on both sides. Pedro was with the Prince. On his right was Sir Thomas Percy with 1000 men at arms and 3000 archers. The left, covered by the Captal de Busch with the same configuration and displacement.
The rearward division was given to Jonny foreigner, the counts Armanac and king of Majorca with 3000 foot stiffened with 3000 English archers( In case they legged it ).
The battle is joined when Du Guesclin and his vanguard charged the English front line under John of Gaunt ( He wasn't going to stand there and let the archers shoot him down at their leisure). Such was the press of men on both sides the archers could do little to effect the outcome, it was up to the men at arms to do their stuff and hack it out. The archers concentrated on the crossbowmen, whom they out shot six to one, overwhelming them. The Spanish flanking light cavalry then charged the middle battle commanded by the Prince, trying to probe for an opening or a weakness in the line. These were good tactics against infantry guarded by the slow cranking crossbow but absolutely no good at all against the fast shooting longbow, with little or no protection except the fleetness of their horses, there was only one outcome, they were massacred. Finding no shelter from death, all they could do was run. Seeing this the heavies under Don Carillo tried to intervene, bravely they charged, but to no avail, they could not pierce that fluttering, ghastly hail and were cut down 'a la Crecy'. Don Carillo made prisoner. Both the light and heavy cavalry of the Spanish flanks had now gone from the field, a major obstacle removed, so Sir Thomas Percy and the Captal de Busch advanced together, joined forces and moved behind the still battling Du Guesclin, a classic double envelopement from which the French despite their wonderfull fighting, could not hope to escape. Edward then moved his battle to comply with his flank commanders and further pressurise Du Guesclin. Henry, observing this move by the English, charged with his remaining heavy horsemen in an attempt to rescue his ally. Again the result was the same, the English bowmen cut them down. Three times they charged, three times they failed. ( no lack of grit there ) In utter desperation Henry ordered up his as yet uncommitted infantry 46,000 of them, but the archers with supreme professionalism and Saxon calm awaited the Spanish till within bowshot and dealt that infantry blows from which it never recovered. They never got close. They fled! Or tried to, through the town and down to that small bridge across the Najerilla. We will draw a veil across this unfolding tragedy and return to the main battle. Exhausted from hours of hand to hand fighting and having lost a third of his men, the remaining knights, none of whom were uninjured, Du Guesclin yielded. A brave show well recognised by Edward and his companions after the battle.
The butchers bill? 7000 Spanish
300 Anglo Gascons.
It would have been much more if that little rat Don Pedro had had his way. Wanting to kill all the prisoners in an act of bloody vengeance. Edward protected them against him. This did not stop him, once re gaining the throne from instigating a reign of terror on the unfortunate Castile. Edward never did get those shed loads of cash, there never was any, he'd been had. But mercifully, lots of the action he craved.
As for Pedro? Henry escaped the battle field. Went to France. Came back to Castile the following year, defeated Pedro and strangled him in hand to hand combat.
The Black Prince? Caught dysentery, was never the same man again and died the following year. Broke!
The soldiers? They just went away...........
* Roncesvalles....Roland ( according to the poem ) defeated the first Muslim invasion of the Frankish states at this place in 778. In fact it was a Basque force that did for him.
* Michaelmas; Autumn feastday
* Bridge across the Najerillo. This bridge is still there. When I walked the battlefield in 2002 it still looked medieval (as does much of the interior of Spain I may add). The ground the other side of the bridge rises very steeply, quickly, giving the impression of a cliff face. ( Du Guesclin was right )
The river is about 50 yds wide and quite strongly flowing, difficult to get across.
* Gascons, doughty fighters, allied to the English crown.
Located in Southern France and the border with Spain.
Najera is a pleasant little town well worth a visit. The battle field is disappointingly,mostly under factories.
Geoff Towers. Esq.
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