During the Hundred Years War era, noblemen captured in a battle were normally held for ransom. In such a case, who got to keep the prisoner, provide him lodgings, and receive the ransom? Was it the soldiers who captured him? The lord which the soldiers served? Or the sovereign which the lord served?

  • As far as I know, it was usually the lord whose troops actually captured the captive. Unless the captive was the king or a leader (like the hapless Jean II of France) and then he was kept by his opposite number. But I don't have sources at the moment. – Felix Goldberg Feb 23 '13 at 10:57
  • @FelixGoldberg did the same rule of thumb apply to who received the ransom money? – Fitri Feb 23 '13 at 14:16
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    I guess so; otherwise, why bother with keeping the prisoners? – Felix Goldberg Feb 23 '13 at 14:43
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    @FelixGoldberg does that mean that it's disadvantageous to capture a higher-ranking prisoner? Because higher ranking nobles would keep them and get the ransom, not you. – Fitri Feb 23 '13 at 15:40
  • I presumed you only had to pass along a king or a very high leader like him (since capturing a king is a matter of state). But I admit I am not basing my thoughts here on more than some disjointed recollections - that's why it's a comment, not an answer... – Felix Goldberg Feb 23 '13 at 16:20

Noble prisoners captured by other nobles would be held by them - in the proper manner- which frequently got so long and expensive the nobleman lost out on the deal.

Since ultimately they belonged to the king, who in the 15th Century would be leading the army in the field, the noble would have to pay a fee to the king to keep them - essentially a cut. Or they would sell the prisoner on up the chain either for a cut of the ransom or for advancement.

Because of the nature of warfare in this era a commoner was unlikely to capture a high ranking noble, knights sought out and fought other knights. Agincourt is an exception in that most of the French nobility were slaughtered in the mud by common soldiers and archers.

There are a bunch of interesting brothers-in-arms contracts from the 100years war where people agreed beforehand to partner in capturing prisoners and guaranteed to pay a certain part of any ransom for each other. They read almost like car insurance deals.

Juliet Barker has a couple of very accessible books on the era Conquest and Agincourt


A prisoner captured in battle belongs to the "state" of the soldiers who captured him. In theory, that would be the king of England or France.

Now it is possible that with at least some high ranking nobles, the king of England or France would let the capturer keep the prisoner. But this would be a form of "delegation," not a usual practice.

But common soldiers wouldn't keep the prisoner. They'd hand him up the "chain of command" to an officer, their lord, and ultimately the king.

  • What would someone gain from capturing noblemen then? – Fitri Feb 24 '13 at 3:33
  • @Fitri: A promotion. Take Iraqi prisoners captured by American soldiers. In theory, the American President is "commander in chief" and can do whatever he wants with them. In practice, he delegates it to the Army and lets them set up prison camps and "process" prisoners according to established procedures. – Tom Au Feb 24 '13 at 16:22
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    This goes against what I have read on the topic (basically Juliet Barker's books). What are your sources? – lins314159 Feb 25 '13 at 8:07
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    @lins314159: My first boss, who said, "A soldier cannot withold the spoils of war from the sovereign, except with the sovereign's consent" – Tom Au Jun 21 '13 at 14:55

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