Monday, June 22, 2020

Medieval Prisoners of War

From History Extra:
One of the most infamous incidents from the Hundred Years’ War occurred at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, when some captured French prisoners were massacred by the English on the orders of King Henry V, as the French rear guard were preparing to make a last assault.

Medieval historian Rémy Ambühl, from the University of Southampton, has been studying this subject – and was recently interviewed for the HistoryExtra podcast on how the capturing (and ransoming) of prisoners of war was a feature of the 116-year-long conflict. During the episode, he explains how a ransom culture developed with laws and practices that were designed to protect the economic interests of the captor, rather than the wellbeing of the captive. There were also some rules around how you would take, or allow yourself to be taken, captive during a battle.

Touching the right hand and asking for ransom was a sign that would be understood in the heat of the action as the soldier giving up and handing himself over to the to his enemy,” explains Ambühl. “But that’s not the end of the story, because the prisoner would then effectively be in the possession of the person he has surrendered to.

“You have his life in your hands and you are supposed to protect the prisoner at that point. So, you need to take him out of the battle. This is problematic if you are in the melee right in the combat. How does that happen? We can read that valets are there to help the knights; they take the prisoners and keep them outside the heat of the action. (Read more.)

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