Thursday, 4 October 2012

Beating the French - Again!

What could be better to raise our spirits this morning than a crushing English victory over the French? How about crushing English victory over the French and Scots at the same time!

I knew already of course of the Battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, but Verneuil does not trip off the tongue in the same sentence. No kings did battle at Verneuil and it sits in the historical shadow cast by other better known events. It was arguably just as significant as those better known clashes however.

The battle was fought on 17th August 1424. King Henry V, victor of Agincourt and conqueror of Normandy had died two years previously. Charles VI, the mad king of France, had followed him to the grave within months. This left the infant Henry VI on the throne of England and the hapless Dauphin Charles VII ruling over the south of France from Bourges. Meanwhile, true power rested with the regent John Duke of Bedford who held sway over the English possessions sprawling across the north of France, which now included the royal capitals of Paris and Reims.

In their efforts to eject the English, the forces of the Dauphin were ably assisted by the Army of Scotland commanded by the Earls of Douglas and Buchan. It was the Scots indeed who had facilitated the French recapture of the strategically important town of Verneuil, since the town’s people could not differenciate between Scotsmen and Englishmen.

The Duke of Bedford soon marched on Verneuil, eager to retake the town. The Franco-Scottish force, under the command of Agincourt veteran the Duke of Alencon and the Viscounts of Aumale and Narbonne prepared to meet the English in battle, forming up across the road to Verneuil; the French on the left, the Scots on the right, with Italian mercenary cavalry deployed on the wings.

With Bedford having dismissed his Burgundian allies for siege duties elsewhere, the French force was significantly larger than the English; outnumbering them by perhaps as many as two to one. Bedford therefore elected to fight a defensive battle; forming up his dismounted men–at-arms in line with archers on the wings who were protected by a barrier of stakes driven into the ground, though the ground was baked hard and the archers struggled to drive the stakes in.
John Duke of Bedford

Battle commenced when the Milanese mercenary cavalry on the French left charged against the English archers and succeeded in breaking through to fall upon the English baggage which was laagered to the rear. Here however they ran into a second reserve force of archers and were driven off in disarray by a hail of arrows. The cavalry on the other wing did not even attempt to engage the English archers opposite them but instead made straight for the baggage so as not to miss out on any plunder. Here they too fell foul of the longbowmen and fled from the storm of arrows that greeted them.

The French commanders meanwhile had thrown caution to the wind and charged the English men at arms opposite. In hard fighting the French were driven back. Unable to stand up to the onslaught they broke and fled, with many drowning in the moat surrounding the town. The Duke of Bedford himself is said to have killed many, wielding a pole-axe to deadly effect.

This left the Scots in an impossibly bad position; already engaged in hard fighting with the Earl of Salisbury’s men-at-arms on the English left, they then found themselves assailed on the flank by the reserve archers, who having driven off the cavalry, now exchanged bows for daggers and set upon the Scots. When Bedford’s victorious men at arms, having put the French to flight and ruin, also wheeled about and closed upon the Scottish rear, slaughter ensued. The fighting between these old adversaries was vicious, the Scottish commanders had sent a message to Bedford beforehand announcing that they intended to give no quarter. They received none. By the time it was over four thousand Scots including Douglas and Buchan lay dead. Aumale and Narbonne had also fallen. Alencon meanwhile was a prisoner, taken captive by Sir John Fastolf; the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Fallstaff.

English losses were slight by comparison and only two men at arms had been killed.

The Battle of Verneuil finished the Scots as a fighting force in the conflict and secured English dominion of Normandy. Ultimately of course all would be lost as the English alienated their subjects and allies and finally lost the crucial support of the Duke of Burgundy. In the aftermath of Verneuil however, few would have bet against further English successes.

For the Scottish connection see:

The 100 Years War by Desmond Seward

No comments:

Post a Comment