Black Monday: The Deadly 14th Century Hailstorm That Killed Over 1000 Soldiers and 6000 Horses
On Easter Monday, 13 th April 1360, a freak hail storm broke over English troops as they were preparing for battle with the French during the Hundred Years’ War. So brutal was the storm that over 1,000 men and 6,000 horses lost their lives that night. Convinced it was a sign from God, King Edward rushed to pursue peace with the French, marking the end of the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War.
Inheritance Dispute Results in 116 Years of War
The Hundred Years’ War was a series of military conflicts between France and England which began in 1337 due to an inheritance dispute over the French throne, and only truly ended in 1453. The 116 years of the war saw the rise and fall of several kings and nobles.
During the course of the war, King Edward III of England was actively attempting to conquer France. In October 1359, he led an invading force of 10,000 men across the English Channel to France. The French avoided direct conflicts and remained sheltered behind protective walls, while Edward’s army sacked and burned the countryside.
On 5 th April 1360, Edward led his army to the gates of Paris, attempting to provoke the Dauphine of France (Charles V) into battle, but he refused. Unable to breach the Paris defences, Edward led his army onto the gates of Chartres, where they were again met with heavy fortifications.
Collage of paintings representing battles of the Hundred Years' War. Clockwise, from top left: La Rochelle, Agincourt, Patay, Orleans. ( CC by SA 4.0 )
The Storm Hits
On Easter Monday April 13, the English army made camp outside Chartres in an open plain when a sudden storm materialized. The temperature dropped dramatically and thunder and lightning crashed overhead, striking and killing two of the English leaders. Panic set in among the soldiers, who had nowhere to run or seek shelter, and the horses stampeded. High winds and huge hailstones along with freezing rain began pelting down. Within half-an-hour, more than 1,000 men and 6,000 horses lay dead.
Thus arm’d fierce Edward did his Troops advance
Resolv’d to Wast ye Stubborne Realm of France
But Gracious Heaven stops his enraged Hand
And loudly pleads in Thunder for the Land
Edward obeys his Great Creator’s Will
To yield to Heaven is but to Conquer still
These are the words that run along the bottom of the plate below, which appears in ‘The History of that Most Victorious Monarch Edward IIId’ by Joshua Barnes, (10 January 1654 – 3 August 1712), an English scholar and Regius Professor of Greek.
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This plate depicts Edward on the battlefield, during the Hundred Years’ War with France. The date shown is Black Monday ( public domain )
A Sign from God
King Edward was convinced that the storm was a sign from God. It is reported that during the climax of the storm, he dismounted from his horse and dropped to his knees, reciting a vow for peace in the direction of the Chartres Cathedral.
In the aftermath of the storm, he rushed to pursue peace with the French, and on May 8, 1360, he signed the Treaty of Brétigny, agreeing to renounce his claim to the throne of France in return for sovereignty over vast tracts of land in the north. The French also paid a substantial sum for the release of their king, John II, who was held captive in England. The agreement marked the end of the first phase of the Hundred Years' War, its legacy cited in one of Shakespeare’s works:
“It was not for nothing that my nose fell a- bleeding on Black Monday last, at six o'clock i' the morning.” —Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, ii. 5.
But it was not a lasting peace. Nine years later, war broke out again when the king of France accused Edward of not honoring the treaty. The last phase of the Hundred Years’ War finally concluded in 1453. While the Black Monday storm had led to temporary peace after decades of war, it’s outcome was devastating – it had caused more English military casualties than any of the previous battles that had taken place during the bloody war.
Top image: King Edward III implores the forgiveness of God while facing the storm of 1360 with his army in the fields of Sours ( public domain )