This artwork, by the French artist Eugène Delacroix (c. 1798-1863), was created as he visualized and practiced for a painting that he would produce about the Battle of Poitiers, which occurred on September 19, 1356, in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War. Prior to the battle, King Edward III of England (r. 1327-1377) and his sons launched a multi-pronged invasion of France. In response to the attacks, King John II of France (r. 1350-1364) mobilized a large army and hunted down one of the prongs of the English invasion. King John’s target was the English ruler’s heir—the “Black Prince” Edward—a brilliant, but in this case quite cautious, military leader. King John II and the French army intercepted the Black Prince near Poitiers, and when Edward realized he could not slip away without a fight, he set up his troops on a defensible slope. In terms of manpower, King John II and the French had a massive advantage over the English during the Battle of Poitiers. Yet, Edward’s choice of terrain evened the odds. King John, disregarding age-old battlefield strategy, unwisely decided to send his army to attack up the slope. Wave upon wave of French forces were fended off and pushed back by Edward’s troops on the high ground. After thousands of French warriors had been killed and many more wounded in the uphill charge, King John II’s army fragmented (and notably the Duc d’Orléans decided to withdraw from the battle), leaving the French king in great danger. As the tide of battle turned, the English army converged on King John II’s position. The final moments of the battle were described by the chronicler, Jean Froissart (c. 1337-1410), who wrote of how the English troops struggled amongst themselves to be the first to capture the French king and the king’s son, Philip, who was also present at the battle. According to Froissart’s account, a knight from Artois named Denis de Morbecque was finally able to convince King John II to surrender himself to Edward, the Black Prince. It is about this timeframe of the battle, the point when the French king was being surrounded by English troops, that Eugène Delacroix chose to re-create in his artwork. After the battle, King John II was hauled back to England, where he remained for around four years until he was finally released upon the payment of a huge ransom.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Chronicles of Jean Froissart, translated by Geoffrey Brereton. London: Penguin Classics, 1968, 1978.
- The Chronicles of Froissart, translated by Lord Berners, in Chronicle and Romance: Froissart, Malory, Holinshed, edited by Charles W. Eliot in the Harvard Classics series. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910, 1938.