Henrey Bradley recently shared on Quora the remarkable tale of Sir John Chandos who rose from obscurity to become a hero of the Hundred Years War and a knight distinct from all others.
Born to a family of small nobility in Derbyshire, Chandos, from a young age, honed his combat skills and military knowledge to an exceptional level. As the Hundred Years War broke out, Chandos, still a young man, joined King Edward III’s defense campaign as an adventurer.
His military aptitude was evident during the Siege of Cambrai in 1339, where he bested a French knight in single combat and led a small troop of warriors to thwart an enemy attack. Word of his martial prowess spread and Chandos was soon knighted. This event marked the onset of an extraordinary military journey that lasted the initial three decades of the Hundred Years War.
Longbowmen vs. Crossbowmen
Chandos’ battlefield brilliance and tactical skills made him the preferred choice for leading small groups of warriors in reconnaissance missions. At the tender age of 20, he played a pivotal role in revealing the formation of the French fleet before the Battle of Sluys in 1340. His outstanding performance during the battle added to his growing reputation.
In the Battle of Crecy in 1346, Chandos was instrumental in the vanguard of the Black Prince. Some argue that his strategic use of terrain and longbowmen in the battle – tactics he employed throughout his military career – was pivotal. The use of thousands of longbowmen to take on slow-shooting Genoese crossbowmen and heavily armored soldiers proved to be a game-changer. More than 2,200 French nobles, including hundreds of Knights, the King of Bohemia, nine Princes, ten Counts, and many powerful individuals wearing the finest available armor, fell, along with uncounted thousands of lower classes, for an estimated total of 12,000 overall French casualties.
Chandos and the Black Prince
Chandos was lauded for his significant role in the Crecy campaign and became a founding member of the Order of Garter, receiving a few fancy titles. More importantly, he became a close friend and advisor to the Black Prince, serving as his Chief of Staff.
Chandos’ logistical abilities, strategic acumen, and ability to call upon experienced Free Companies marked the next two decades of his life. As the Chief of Staff for the Black Prince, his tactical prowess was on full display at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.
After a decisive victory at Poitiers, Chandos received significant accolades, becoming a Viscount and a Knight Banneret. As England transitioned into a period of peace following the capture and ransoming of King John II of France, Chandos took on administrative responsibilities managing the Principality of Aquitaine.
In 1364, the battle-hardened, one-eyed Chandos set out to bring the War of the Breton Succession to an end. During the Battle of Auray that year, he led his forces to a decisive victory over the French army led by Bertrand du Guesclin, utilizing longbowmen and dismounted infantry to lethal effect.
Chandos continued his military exploits after ending the War of the Breton Succession, becoming Constable of all Aquitaine. However, when England and the Black Prince got embroiled in a war in Spain, Chandos found himself building a formidable military force to march across the Pyrenees.
Chandos in Spain
Chandos’ efficient logistic planning allowed him to assemble a large body of mercenary soldiers from Free Companies. His leadership was once again tested when the English and Gascon army, under the Black Prince and Chandos, faced a larger French and Castilian army in the Battle of Najera in 1367. The enemy army lost the battle, suffering heavy casualties.
Despite the success of this Spanish adventure, the King of Castile refused to pay his debts, causing financial hardship for the Black Prince and the Principality of Aquitaine. This financial strain was exacerbated by the declining health of the Black Prince due to dysentery, leaving Chandos to lead the Principality.
As the situation worsened, Chandos took decisive action. He led a raid across a river and successfully ambushed the French army. Unfortunately, during the ensuing chaos, he tripped over his cloak and fell, suffering a fatal wound to his face.
His death at the age of 55 was a tremendous loss. The French King said that if Chandos had lived, he alone could have achieved a lasting peace between England and France. An extraordinary life that came to an abrupt end because of a cloak. Edna Mode in ‘The Incredibles’ had it right after all.