Siege Warfare during the Hundred Years War – Once More into the Breach, Peter Hoskins

Siege Warfare during the Hundred Years War – Once More into the Breach, Peter Hoskins

Although the Hundred Years War is best known in Britain for battles such as Crecy, Poiters or Agincourt, the fighting was actually dominated by a huge number of sieges. Some of these are very famous, but the vast majority will be almost unknown to the general reader (I hadn’t heard of most of them, and this falls right into my original area of expertise!).

Most books on Medieval warfare make the point that sieges were more common than battles, but often fail to mention more than a handful of actual sieges. This book more than makes up for that, and really hammers home that point – every phase of the Hundred Years’ War was dominated by countless sieges, varying from very brief affairs lasting for a few days at most, up to the major epics such as Calais or Orleans. It is notable that most of the very long sieges involved the English as the attacker and the French as the defender. Sieges of towns and cities are also much more common than in most wars in England, and sieges of isolated castles rather rarer. 

We start with a brief overview of the war itself, to place these sieges in some context. Next comes two chapters looking at the details of siege warfare – what methods were used by the attackers and defenders, the nature of the physical defences and the methods used to try and overcome them. This was a period in which a truly effective blockade was often quite hard to enforce, which helps explains some of the longer sieges. However it was also a period in which gunpowder weapons were starting to come into their own, so the nature of sieges changes during this period – at the start they are still dominated by catapults and trebuchet, attempts to undermine the walls, blockade and starvation, with some costly assaults, but by the end the guns of the impressive French siege train are dominant, and we see an increasing number of fairly strong places surrender the moment the guns were in place.

This is followed by six chapters looking at each of the main periods of the war, and the sieges that took place. Some of these accounts are very short – less than a page in some cases, mainly when the siege was either very short or very obscure. Others are covered in great detail, and these demonstrate just how varied these sieges were. This is an interesting period, with a mix of chivalric escapades and professional siege warfare, so we get cases where the besiegers built proper siege works, fortifications outside walls etc, but also accept chivalric challenges (at Orleans there was a battle between two groups of Pages involving stone throwing). At the same time these were often brutal affairs, with the civilian population of the towns often the main victims, both during the sieges and often in their aftermath, where populations might be expelled.

This is a fascinating book, focusing on a key part of the Hundred Years War and one that is often somewhat neglected. 

1 – The Hundred Years War
2 – Siege Warfare
3 – Fortifications – Attack and Defence
4 – The English Ascendancy, 1337-1360
5 – The French Recovery, 1369-1389
6 – From Harfleur to the Death of Henry V, 1415-1422
7 – From the Death of Henry V to the Siege of Orleans, 1422-1429
8 – From Orleans to the Truce of Tours, 1429-1444
9 – The Expulsion of the English from France. 1449-1453

Author: Peter Hoskins
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2018

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