were mercenaries associated with free companies who terrorized the French countryside during the Hundred Years War. The word routier
is French for "road-man", referring to their travelling nature. (In modern French, "routier" refers to truck drivers.)
Routiers were a product of their time. The Hundred Years War, which lasted from 1337 to 1453, was the back drop to their pillaging. The Hundred Years War was fought between two royal families over control of the French throne. The Plantagenet’s 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 revolutionized warfare during that time period.
By 1348 the Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...
was tearing though Europe, England was bankrupt, and Edward was invading main land France. In 1347 Edward besieged the city of Calais
Calais is a town 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 capital is its third-largest city of Arras....
on the English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...
. Capturing Calais was a major strategic victory, which allowed the English to permanently keep troops in France. King Edward’s son, The Prince of Wales, who led a large band of routiers, captured the French King John II, and soon the French government began to fall apart.
The routiers' history can be traced back to a few years after the start of the Hundred Years War, in the early 1340s. The War was causing the English a great deal of debt and this along with the fact that the French countryside was in a state of anarchy, led to a very tenuous situation. No revenue was being generated 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 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 (even though it made small fortunes for individual Captains). Furthermore, garrisons that were stationed in fringe territories were constantly bombarded by boredom. 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 even led to skirmishes. As word spread of the wealth and relative ease with which one could plunder the isolated villages through the French countryside, came the onset of the routiers.
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, for the most part, the marauding gangs were led by Gascon officers.
These independent rogue groups were generally composed of professional soldiers who had been discharged from their respective units. Rather than return home to a life of serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...
and poverty, they chose to plunder and pillage the rural France. For the soldiers there was no alternative, they lived in a country with few natural resources, and each probably owned a small piece of land which had been broken up through generations of partition
A partition is a term used in the law of real property to describe an act, by a court order or otherwise, to divide up a concurrent estate into separate portions representing the proportionate interests of the tenants. Under the common law, any tenant who owns an undivided concurrent interest in...
Each group of routiers was surprisingly well organized. 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
Arnaud de Cervole, also de Cervolles, de Cervolle, Arnaut de Cervole or Arnold of Cervoles , known as l'Archiprêtre , was a French mercenary soldier during the Hundred Years' War.-Early career:...
. The Routiers were known for their ruthlessness; they generally took everything they could find. They were also known for violating women, as well as routinely torturing and killing the men they encountered during their escapades.
One of the most infamous examples of true routiers is the garrison at Lusignan
The Lusignan family originated in Poitou near Lusignan in western France in the early 10th century. By the end of the 11th century, they had risen to become the most prominent petty lords in the region from their castle at Lusignan...
. Lusignan was a fortress built back in the twelfth century, and was captured by Earl of Lancaster. When the Earl withdrew from the area he left a garrison of 300 men under the command of Bertrand de Montferrand. Many of his troops were men with questionable pasts; criminals, and misfits. During peace time, 1346-1350, the garrison laid waste to over fifty parishes, ten monasteries, and destroyed towns and castles throughout southern Poitou
Poitou was a province of west-central France whose capital city was Poitiers.The region of Poitou was called Thifalia in the sixth century....
. During peace time the garrison carried on as if they were still at war. They even enlisted the services of French troops who had been discharged during the peace accord. The King couldn’t even stop them. In May 1347, a force was sent to put an end to the violence. They were ambushed and forced to retreat.
Sir John Hawkwood was an English mercenary or condottiero who was active in 14th century Italy. The French chronicler Jean Froissart knew him as Jean Haccoude and Italians as Giovanni Acuto...
is the most famous of the English routiers. Beginning as a routier, he ultimately spent three decades as a mercenary captain in Italy.
The routiers were bands of mercenaries who roamed throughout France during the Hundred Years War. They were well organized, and well trained. Most were former soldiers who had been discharged and chose not to return to the economic hardships of their homelands. Tracing their beginnings back to the early 1340s, they lasted throughout the Hundred Years War.
Sources and suggested reading
- Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War. The English in France 1337-1453, Penguin Books, 1999, ISBN 0-14-028361-7
- Sumption, Jonathan, The Hundred Years War I: Trial by Battle, University of Pennsylvania Press, September 1999, ISBN 0-8122-1655-5
- Sumption, Jonathan, The Hundred Years War II: Trial by Fire, University of Pennsylvania Press, October 2001, ISBN 0-8122-1801-9