Navarette, 1367

Martin Davis

Navarette is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, it shows the
ascendancy of the English bowman over an unusual opponent-- light
cavalry. Secondly, it occurred outside the normal sphere of combat for
the period (at least as far as we insular British are concerned).
Thirdly, it contains some of the great figures of the high chivalric
period-- du Guesclin, Chandos, John of Gaunt and the Black Prince.
Finally, but for me interestingly, it forms the background to the last
part of Conan Doyle's "The White Company".

The battle had its roots in Spanish politics which appear to have been
no less complicated in the fourteenth century than at any other time.
The 'rightful' king of Castile, Pedro the Cruel, had been deposed by his
subjects, led by a nobleman, Henry of Trastamara, who had become the new
king, and Bertrand du Guesclin, the renowned French knight. Pedro fled
the country and went to see the Black Prince, administering the English
provinces around Bordeaux. Edward was incensed by the idea of a king
being deposed (I imagine he was also glad of an excuse to stop doing
paperwork and organise a fight) and set about recruiting troops. Men
from Gascony and Aquitaine answered his call; his younger brother John
came from England with 400 knights and a large number of archers the
King of Majorca produced some troops; and of course, the 'Free
Companies' of mercenaries were always available.

In February, 1367, Edward set out with his force, through the Pyrenees.
He crossed the Ebro at Logrono where he had heard that Henry of
Trastamara was only a short distance off, and the Allied army went
through the small town of Navarette along the minor road to Najera.

Henry made his stand with the River Najarilla at his back--this seems to
me to be a pretty elementary mistake and one wonders why he did it.
Still, he wasn't stupid and with du Guesclin advising him there must
have been some motive. The most likely explanation to me is that he felt
that the strength of his army lay in its cavalry rather than its large
numbers of conscript infantry and that these could be used to best
advantage on the featureless plain that separates Najera from Navarette.
Quite probably the idea of defeat never even occurred to him--his army
outnumbered that of Edward and Pedro by about 29,500 to 24,000 and I
should think he was quite happy .

Both sides arrayed their forces in three lines laid out in a comparable
manner. The front line of Henry's army was led by du Guesclin in person,
with 1500 picked men-at-arms and 500 crossbowmen. To oppose this Edward
put his brother John of Gaunt with 3000 infantry and 3000 archers. In
Henry's second line were two flanking forces of Spanish light cavalry
mixed with a core of heaves. At this time Spain was beginning to
experiment with light cavalry--later to develop into the 'genitors' of
the Renaissance--for skirmishing purposes; an idea that had dropped out
of contemporary European military thinking. The centre of the line was
led by Henry himself with the cream of his heavy cavalry, 1500 strong.
The Black Prince was also in the second line together with Pedro the
Cruel and 4000 infantry, l/2 of them archers. Flanking him were two
similar forces under Captal de Buch and Sir Thomas Percy. The third line
of Henry's force consisted of 20,000 Spanish infantry of mixed
capability, ranging from well armed professionals to reluctant con
scripts. On Edward's side, the third line was led by the King of Majorca
and the Count Armagnac with 3000 foot and 3000 archers. In all three
divisions on Edward's side, the men-at-arms or foot were drawn up in the
centre with the archers on either flank. As soon as the Black Prince was
satisfied with the dispositions, he ordered his entire army to dismount
and had the horses sent to the rear.

Battle of Navaratte diagram
Du Guesclin led his vanguard and they smashed into Lancaster's division.
The English longbowmen dispersed the Castilian crossbowmen but once the
melee had started the press was such that they could con tribute little.
Lancaster and du Guesclin remained locked together throughout the
remainder of the battle, fighting hand to hand. The Spanish flanking
cavalry forces then charged the advancing flanks opposing them.
Normally, the heavy contingent held back while the light cavalry
harassed the sides of the opposition and probed for a weak spot along
the front, seeking to create a gap where the heavy cavalry could drive
in a wedge and smash the entire formation. This system had proved very
successful--against infantry armed with spears or the slowloading
crossbow. Against longbowmen it proved disastrous. As the Spaniards
moved along the front, avoiding hand to hand combat and hurling their
javelins, they were shot down in droves. Surprised, they drew back to
organise--and suffered still more heavily. As they wavered, the heavy
cavalry leaders took in charges to restore morale and never even reached
the units they were charging. The demoralisation on the Spanish flanks
was now complete--the cavalry remaining wheeled about and fled the field
leaving Gomez Carillo to be captured.

Percy and de Buch now capitalised on their momentary advantage in the
best possible way--by joining up to make a cohesive front. This was done
so neatly that I can only imagine that Edward had briefed them to do
this before the battle. In any event, they moved in unhurriedly together
and managed to link behind du Guesclin's force, still battling
Lancaster. The men-at-arms turned inwards to take du Guesclin's men from
the rear, while the archers faced out against the inevitable Spanish
counter attack. It was not long in coming. Henry realised that the
Percy/de Buch line had to be broken. Three times his knights charged;
and each time the charge faded to nothing under the withering hail of
arrows. Edward moved up his own central division to increase the
pressure on du Guesclin. Desperately, Henry ordered up his infantry
mass--but again it never came to grips with the forces of Edward and
Pedro. Despite the disparity in numbers the archers waited calmly until
the infantry were in range and loosed salvo after salvo. The infantry
faltered, broke and fled. Realising the battle was lost, Henry went too.
The Spanish cavalry were able to scatter but the infantry could only
escape over the narrow bridge of Najera. As the fresh third division
swept round passed Percy and chased after them, many Spaniards died,
both in the press and by drowning. Du Guesclin did not surrender until
he realised that the Spanish army had gone. His force had been
surrounded throughout the battle, 1/4 of its number were dead,
practically all the others injured.