On the 3rd of April, 1367, the forces of Henry of Trastámara were lined up outside the walls of Nájera, awaiting the arrival of an enemy force. Henry had been fighting in a civil war with his brother, Peter of Castile (or Pedro the Cruel), for some time beforehand, and Peter had finally gained the aid of foreigners: Edward, later known as the Black Prince, and John of Gaunt. Henry’s forces had gotten up in the middle of the night and arranged themselves to protect the road into Nájera.
Henry had a large force, which, unusually held some slingers, but was mostly genitors, light, javelin-armed horsemen used primarily in the fights against the Moors. They arranged themselves with a number of men-at-arms in the front, and the large ranks behind the small vanguard.
There was but one problem with this plan – Edward’s forces had also gotten up at midnight, and found a path through the ridges and hills to the left of the Spanish forces. Thus, when the English Vanguard arrived and attacked from an unexpected direction, there was a fair amount of confusion and fear amongst the ranks of the Spanish defenders!
What does one do when the English knights – currently dismounted attack?
Well, the quick-thinking Spanish leader commanding that battle immediately ordered his genitors to attack in a harassing manner, and then for his mounted troops to charge the English men. It was an effective tactic, and did some damage to the English lines.
Unfortunately, at that point the main body of the English force arrived. Things suddenly looked a lot worse for the Spanish.
The Spanish moved their vanguard down to fight the English, whilst the genitors reformed their lines. The English lines became a little raggard, as they repulsed the Spanish attackers.
The English centre and right flank surged forwards, with bowmen killing the horses of many of the Spanish genitors. The unhorsed genitors were easy to dispatch, and the English began to make their way towards the back lines of the Spanish – a very large number of pikemen.
The English left flank moved forward now as well, with the bowman causing further strife for the Spanish. Many of the Spanish decided to retire back to the town, only just able to find a way to crossing the river. As the battle amongst the pikemen intensified, even this retreat route was cut off, and the panicked Spanish began to drown in the swollen river.
At this stage, the Spanish commanders managed to get back some control of their men, and swung around more of their troops to protect against the English advance. The pikemen swung around as well, and although they weren’t as effective as the Spanish hoped, at least they were proving more difficult to take out. The English had a thin front line, but it was holding.
More and more of the Spanish pressed forward to engage the English. However, in their eagerness, the lines behind crowded the lines ahead. When the English counter-attacked, the pikemen were unable to flee – there were too many men wielding pikes behind!
The English were taking casualties, but the Spanish were now losing men too swiftly to endure. Even rallying their men around the standard couldn’t give the Spanish more joy – they were losing men too quickly.
Eventually, the losses became too high, and they quit the field.
That was the end of the battle. (The Spanish had lost over 60 rout points, the English had lost 32). The Black Prince cemented his growing reputation as a fearsome commander, and Peter would regain his throne.
Eventually, Peter and the Black Prince would squabble and fall out, and Henry would kill Peter and rule, once again, as Henry II of Castile.