Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 June 2021
This brief note provides a new translation and discussion of a passage from La Branche des royaus lingnages, Guillaume Guiart's 12,510-line verse history of the French kings, written between 1306 and 1307. In this text, Guiart provides an insightful description of what he saw of a French army on the march and in camp during Philip IV's 1304 campaign in Flanders (which would culminate with the Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle) including the roles of supply wagons and roads, and the central presence of many non-combatants.
In his excellent 2007 book, Soldiers’ Lives, Clifford J. Rogers observed that, in the Middle Ages,
armies would usually have with them very substantial numbers of unattached camp followers – prostitutes, butchers, women selling provisions, shield merchants (shields being prone to demolition in combat), cobblers, and washerwomen, among other groups. Guillaume Guiart gives a nice picture of them in a French army camp in 1304, crying their cheeses and breads, dispensing wine from casks, baking tarts and pasties, and getting into trouble of various sorts.
While collecting sources for a medieval warfare reader, Kelly DeVries and I found this reference too tantalizing to pass up, especially as we were seeking a source that would give our readers a glimpse of the realities of a medieval military encampment.
The passage to which Rogers points does not, upon examination, include the full range of possible camp-followers, but what Guiart's poem does say about a medieval army on the march and in camp is nonetheless fascinating. Indeed, among the poem's several points of interest is the way in which it indicates that the needs and wants of the medieval soldier might deviate from some modern expectations.
After the disastrous defeat of his French knights at the Battle of the Golden Spurs below the walls of Kortrijk on 11 July 1302, King Philip IV (the Fair) launched a major campaign against the Flemings in 1304. Among the soldiers accompanying this French army – he describes himself as a sergent d’armes from Orléans – was Guillaume Guiart. His name, one suspects, might be unknown to history if it were not for the fact that he was wounded in the campaign.