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"What Happened To Prisoners Of War In Medieval England" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jul 2017 12:32 p.m. PST

"Every medieval English monarch had to decide how to deal with prisoners of war. Ruling over territory that sometimes ran from the highlands of Scotland to the south of France, their authority rested on violence. Fighting the French, Scots, Welsh, Irish, or their own nobility in a string of civil wars, they could not have kept their throne without victories on the battlefield.

How, then did they deal with the warriors they defeated?…"
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Great War Ace Inactive Member25 Jul 2017 11:12 a.m. PST

Not a word about mutilation. Iirc, William the Bastard mutilated the garrison that mocked his bastardy when to took the town of Alencon. Some he blinded, others had their tongues cut out with blacksmith's tongs, others lost hands and feet. The French during the HYW announced before a battle that they would cut the drawstring fingers off the hands of every captured archer. Common soldiers could expect this sort treatment after any battle that they lost. I reckon that the worst the brigand problem, the more likely mutilation would be (when outright execution was not resorted to), to keep the pool of functioning fighters reduced. And to send a message to future pows: don't fight if you don't want a similar fate.

Great War Ace Inactive Member25 Jul 2017 11:14 a.m. PST

I guess that my examples moved outside of England proper. But medieval England was not unique in the treatment of prisoners, but rather typical.

uglyfatbloke25 Jul 2017 12:34 p.m. PST

I'm not aware of any evidence to suggest widespread mutilation of PoWs in England or Scotland; I can't think of an example of mass execution.

Great War Ace Inactive Member25 Jul 2017 5:24 p.m. PST

The article gave one; king John's mass execution of the mercenary crossbowmen. I don't see widespread mutilation anywhere. But it happened. Usually a population was threatened with death or worse if they didn't capitulate; or at least the likelihood of that hung over them if they resisted unduly. As field battles were rare events anyway, I don't think that the British Isles can show a trend of any sort of behavior toward prisoners by looking at field battles. Evesham was certainly more bloody for the losers than most "British" battles.

uglyfatbloke26 Jul 2017 2:01 a.m. PST

How do we know it happened if we don't have evidence? it's exactly the kind of thing that would be mentioned in chronicles – and very likely in an exaggerated, confused or even invented manner. I'm not especially aware of the wider population being threatened with death or worse for not capitulating. I can think of two examples of free tenants being forfeited for not accepting a new regime, but that's rare, isolated, did nit affect the majority of people and in both cases most of the people in question had their property restored. In one – Buchan – most free tenants accepted Robert I's kingship and got their lands back and in the other – Edward III's occupation of Lothian 1333-38 (ish) – their property was restored when the occupation administration was chucked out. It's not even clear that Edward III's forfeiture orders had much effect in the first place. General engagements were rare, but small actions and sieges were commonplace and the usual practice was either ransom or in the case of sieges the defenders surrendering on terms which included safety of life, limb and property.

Great War Ace Inactive Member26 Jul 2017 6:53 a.m. PST

Exactly: surrender while you can get terms guaranteeing your limbs and property! That propensity speaks volumes. It points to a mindset so common that anyone and everyone held it. If you push the attackers beyond the pale, you don't get any guarantees: and the corollary is that your limbs are at risk. So swift surrender was always uppermost in everyone's mind. It was the strategic risk that commanders dreaded: surrender before a proper relieving army could arrive. Because nobody wanted to suffer the loss of limbs (a la Alencon to Wm the Bastard).

(I wasn't suggesting that an entire population was similarly at risk: but I didn't word it very clearly.)

uglyfatbloke26 Jul 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

I think it's more of a face-saving formula for both sides than anything else – which may well not apply in France, Spain etc. In England and Scotland there was no tradition of enmity before 1296; also, most English people who served in Scotland were from the north of the country and most Scottish people who served in the threatened areas were from the southern part, so a sizeable proportion – maybe 10 or even 20% had intermarried over the preceding 200+ years and were relatives…of course they considered 3rd cousins and so on to be far closer relatives than we would, so it's a little obscure to us. All in all, day-on-day Anglo-Scottish warfare was, in general, remarkably constrained compared to most places….it could be extremely wild on occasion however – Douglas'behaviour at Lintalee for example. The relatively low prevalence of servile status in Scotland may have been a minor factor in the treatment of the locals …as Jean de Vienne's party discovered in the 1380s!

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