Private war, a long-standing privilege of the Gascon nobility, continued to destroy whole regions and to divide and weaken Edward III's allies...The English government's correspondence with its officials in Gascony during this period is filled with complaints of civil disputes between noblemen and injunctions to reconcile the rivals before one of them deserted to the enemy. In the southern extremity of the Landes and the Bayonnais the last vestiges of central control had disappeared by the early 1340s. Arnaud de Durfort, who had been granted the lordship of Labourde for its better defence against the French and Navarrese, conducted a private feud against the Albret clan...and both groups waged a persistent guerilla war against the citizens of Bayonne. Edward III sent the Chief Justice of the Gascon court of appeals to...enforce his will by confiscating Labourde...Arnaud reoccupied his lands with "slaughter, mayhem and destruction". The merchants of Bayonne continued to be attacked and plundered on the roads and waterways about the city. Stone towers appeared throughout the area and robbers made their camps around them. In the two years ending September 1343 the ducal revenus of the Bayonnais yielded nothing. On account of the anarchy prevailing there, the clerk recorded in his ledger, it was "quasi tota destructa".
The symptoms of a crisis of loyalty and a grave breakdown of public order became very noticeable by the end of 1342 as economic distress intensified and demobilised soldiers began to pour across Languedoc...The men who laid waste to Albigeois in 1345 did so with banners unfurled, trumpets blowing and 400 cavalry. In the march of Gascony private war had actually been legalized by the French crown in times of peace or truce on the basis that those regions had once formed part of the duchy of Aquitaine where custom sanctioned it. The appearance of the first self-governing companies of routiers was a more sinister event: large gangs of armed men, organized like military units with a formal structure of command, emblems and names. The Societe de la Folie, so called, terrorised the district of Nimes for some eighteen months until its leader was taken and hanged in June 1344. Like most of his kind he was a member of the minor nobility of the province, the group which had suffered most from the economic troubles of the period.
The Talleyrands, counts of of Perigord, although still the dominant family of the region, were a declining power. The Rudels, lords of Bergerac and principal potentate of the Dordogne valley, had died out in 1334 in a welter of fighting and private war. Their place was being filled by aggressive and covetous rivals from the neighbouring regions of Aquitaine, pre-eminently the lords of Albret and Caumont; and by a host of turbulent petty lords very similar in their outlook and ambitions to the hill-barons of the Agenais. The Count of Perigord...was a natural focus for their opposition. The rebellion of some of these men in 1340...was a watershed in the province's history, introducing a long period of anarchy and civil war of which the Bordeaux government took full advantage. In August 1340 the English had lodged a garrison at Saint-Astier in the Isle valley which remained there for a year until the place was taken by storm in the autumn of 1341. The "rebels and enemies" who had occupied Montences in the name of Edward III...withstood a siege of more than six months in the following year...Fresh sores were continually opened. At about the time that the Bishop of Beauvais was demolishing the towers of Montences, the English planted another garrison at Mussidanm with the assistance of its lord...This place remained in English hands for more than five years. The boundary between banditry and war was never exactly drawn. The French government, however, referred to the provincial capital of Perigueux as a frontier town.
Long terms of garrison service interrupted by guerrilla warfare, armed robbery and castle-rustling under minor commanders was not a life for the impressed townsmen and minor landowners who traditionally made up the numbers of medieval armies. Instead the fighting fell to volunteers drawn from a growing military underworld of disparaged gentry, refugees and drifters, malcontents and petty criminals. The court records and letters of pardon of the period are filled with the stories of their lives. The tale of Arnaud Foucaud could stand for many of them. He came from the small village of Clion in Saintonge. His family seem to have been rich peasants. He had learned how to fight on horseback and could handle a lance. When Foucaud was about fourteen or fifteen years old he got involved in a village feud and killed one of his antagonists in a fight. This was in 1337, the first year of the war, as the French were overrunning English-occupied Saintonge. When the Seneschal's officers came to arrest him he fled to the nearest "English" garrison, which was at Montendre, an enclave of the duchy about 15 miles from his home. The commander there, a louche petty nobleman from Bearn, hired him as a soldier. His life at Montendre consisted in keeping watch and periodically pillaging and burning villages. When the castle was captured by the French in July 1338, Foucaud received a safe conduct as part of the terms of capitulation and returned home. In 1340, after two relatively uneventful years, he went to Jonzac, the nearest market town, and met two relatives of the man he had killed. There was a fight. Foucaud himself was badly wounded, but both his antagonists were killed. Five weeks after this incident, as he was still nursing his wounds, he was arrested. But he never stood trial. The Seneschal only wanted to be rid of him. So he allowed him to go free on condition he would leave the province for good. Foucaud went to Bourdeaux. Here, he took service in the household of Jean Colom, a rich urban knight who employed him as a cavalryman and took him on several expeditions...In June 1341 another soldier in Colom's pay persuaded him to join a small armed band which was being formed for some private purpose of the La Motte family. This turned out to be the daring capture of Bourg, by far the most brazen of the Bourdeaux government's breaches of the truce of Esplechin. Foucaud fought gallantly in this enterprise and served in the garrison of the town after it had fallen. But his reward was meagre. His wages were unpaid and his share of the spoils amounted to no more than ten livres' worth of equipment. Moreover, he quarrelled with the garrison commander, who suspected him of being a French sympathiser, and tried to extract a confession by torturing him. By 1342 he was back in Bourdeaux hiring out his services as a jobbing trooper. He joined a band of 100 men recruited by the lord of Pommiers to carry out long-range raids in Saintonge, but the pillage of this enterprise was worth only fifty livres to be divided between all of them. He fought with Ingham's army in the campaign of Saintonge and Angoumois in the autumn of 1341, taking part in the capture of Blanzac, and gaining ten livres in cash as his share of the spoil. At some stage during 1343 he seems to have obtained a pardon from the French royal lieutenant in the south, the Bishop of Beauvais. But by the autumn of 1344 he was back in Bourdeaux. According to evidence which he gave under torture...he was next hired in Bourdeaux by a Bearnais nobleman to take party with twenty-five others i na raid on a small priory not far from the city. He and six men stood guard outside, while the rest went in, tied up the Prior and his servants and stripped the place of gold and silver, horses and everything of value. But the captain of the troop took most of the spoil for himself. Foucaud's share was only twenty florins. This incident was his undoing, for it was not covered by his pardon. It is not clear how he fell into French hands. He probably tried to go home. In May 1345 he was taken to Paris and held in the prison of the Chatelet to answer charges of treason, robbery and murder. He was convicted on the 27th and beheaded in Les Halles on the following day. Foucaud was twenty-three years old when he died. Booty was an incidental bonus for men like him, but it was not booty that drew them to warfare and most of them got very little of it. They were drop-outs, desparados.
Even a small number of these licensed bandits posted as garrison troops in the middle of French-held territory had a catalytic effect in accelerating the breakdown of public order...They stole and killed over an extending radius, creating islands of ungovernable territory and roads too dangerous to pass...In the spring of 1343 the visitors of the Order of Cluny, touring the provinces of the Order in western France, were able to see very little in the southern parts of Saintonge and Angoumois. Most of the priories there were inaccessible, abandoned or incapable of feeding their occupants. "They have enough to eat today," the visitors reported about one of these places, "but they have no idea whether they will eat tomorrow. The troops and mercenaries stationed hereabouts are eating up the whole wealth of the house." [...] The garrison of Blanzac had reduced everything within marching distance to desert.