Sir Robert Knolles’ chevauchée through northern France between August and December 1370 is arguably the most fascinating English expedition of the fourteenth century. Outwardly it displayed all the hallmarks of a structurally uniform English army typical of the period: fully-mounted mixed retinues of roughly equal numbers of men-at-arms and archers, with their pay and other terms of service likely to have been stipulated by contracts of indenture. Yet in other respects the army was entirely unconventional. The pay, terms of service under which the men were to serve, and the senior command structure were novel. It was also the last campaign in the fourteenth century for which charters of pardon for military service were issued in significant numbers and, unconventionally, they were issued prior to the campaign – for service to be rendered – rather than after it. It was also the only English force of the entire period which came apart at the seams in the field, fragmenting into four divisions due to bickering between its commanders and their subordinates, with disastrous consequences. The newly appointed French Constable, Bertrand du Guesclin, confronted and defeated two of the four divisions in pitched battle, temporarily reversing the French King Charles V's Fabian strategy and dealing a huge military, and perhaps psychological, blow to the English.
To fully comprehend why the failure of this army was so important for future English martial organisation, and contributed to an overhaul of English war strategy, it is necessary to examine the army's organisational and structural framework, its command hierarchy, and the bonds between its personnel, to see how these differed, if at all, from other armies of the period, and what bearing, if any, these factors had on why it imploded so spectacularly.
Preparations for War
Since the renewal of Anglo-French hostilities in 1369, the English had largely been on the back foot. Charles V's forces had begun recapturing lands in south-western France that had been ceded to Edward III by the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360. Two English armies sent to France in 1369 had alleviated some of the pressure but achieved little else. At a Great Council in London in February 1370, it was decided to launch another expedition to France in the summer of four thousand men, part of a joint enterprise with Charles II of Évreux, king of Navarre.