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Beyond Agincourt

The overwhelming success of the English at Agincourt had so demoralised the French that the invaders were considered invulnerable. Many Scots travelled to France to help fight the common enemy and did achieve a Franco Scottish victory at Bauge in 1421, raising hopes of a reversal. The English invaders would however continue to dominate militarily for a further eight years before another French victory at Beaugency and a further twenty five until the English defeat at Castillon marked the end of the 100 Years War.

When the English King Henry V died in 1422, his one year old son was left to inherit both the English and French thrones. The weight of maintaining this huge inheritance was borne primarily by his uncles John, Duke of Bedford acting as Regent of France and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, styled Protector of the Realm, in England. This arrangement had been deliberately planned by the old king before his death. He knew he could rely on Bedford and in his will charged the Duke with carrying out his wishes in France. He was to retain Normandy at all costs, continue the war against the Dauphin and offer the regency of France to the Duke of Burgundy (knowing that it was unlikely to be accepted all the time the Dauphin lived).

When the mad French King Charles died on 21st October 1422, the Duke of Bedford, ever faithful to his dead brother’s plans, wasted no time in having Prince Henry proclaimed throughout occupied France as King of England and France. At this time, France was divided roughly into three parts - the Duke of Bedford ruled Normandy, Aquitaine and other such parts that his forces could occupy.

The north and east of France plus Paris was ruled by Phillip, the Duke of Burgundy in the name of the English monarch, while south of the Loire most areas remained loyal to the Dauphin. The borders between these areas were by no means absolute and were subject to frequent changes of ownership as fighting ebbed and flowed.

The English kept a force of some 15,000 soldiers in France and therefore relied greatly on the support of Burgundy. The Dauphin remained at Berri biding his time and gathering his forces, waiting for better times when perhaps the Burgundians and the English would fall out. Steady trickles of knights from France and increasingly from Scotland, joined his army.

In April 1423, Bedford signed a concordat at Amiens with Phillip of Burgundy and John, Duke of Brittany, confirming their acceptance of Henry VI’s title as King of France. Their joint fortunes were further bound by the marriage of Phillip’s daughter to Bedford. This alliance was put to the test when troops from both Dukes gathered at Auxerre to meet a Dauphinist army marching on Burgundy. The armies met at Cravant on the banks of the Yonne on the 31st July 1423. The Dauphin’s army of some 10,000 French and Scots were commanded by Sir John Stewart and were drawn up on the eastern bank. The Anglo Burgundians with some 4,000 troops were commanded by the Earl of Salisbury and formed up on the western shore.

Neither side wished to attempt an opposed river crossing and stood facing each other for three hours or more until Salisbury ordered the advance. The river is waist deep at this point and about 50 yards wide, the English archers gave their usual covering fire as the men at arms waded across. Meanwhile, English forces under the command of Lord Willoughby, forced a crossing over the only bridge and split the Dauphin’s forces in two. The French buckled and crumpled under the onslaught, but the Scots refused to retreat and were cut down by the hundred with over 3,000 being killed and a further 2,000 taken prisoner. Encouraged by this victory, Salisbury headed west and began to reclaim the old Plantagenet lands of Anjou and Maine.

The Scots, ever willing to aid England’s enemies, continued to send men and materials to France and in April 1423, a complete expeditionary force of 6,000 Scots, led by the Earl of Douglas arrived on the Loire. The grateful Dauphin awarded Douglas the Duchy of Touraine. Bedford had also been strengthening his forces in France and when he heard that a Franco Scottish army of 15,000 was in the field, he gathered all available forces from his Normandy garrisons and marched to intercept them. He was joined by Salisbury and some Burgundians, whom Bedford promptly sent off to Picardy saying that “he needed no such numbers to defeat the French”.

The two armies met on the 17th August 1423 in open country south of the town of Verneuil. The French force was composed of Scots and French knights, cavalry, men at arms and Italian crossbowmen. Bedford’s forces, wholly English since he had sent the Burgundians off to harass Picardy, numbered some 10,000 including a strong contingent of archers. Bedford deployed his forces astride the Verneuil to Damville road in Azincourt formation, dismounted with archers on the wings, each archer with his stake to hold off cavalry. Bedford, with memories of Azincourt, stationed 1,000 archers to defend the Baggage Park and horses. The Dauphin also arranged his forces astride the road with the French holding the centre and the left and the Scots on the right wing. Cavalry and crossbowmen were stationed on the flanks.

Douglas took much of the day deploying his forces and it was the English who started the battle by advancing on the enemy around four o’clock. At that moment the less disciplined French cavalry decided to charge and managed to get among the English archers before they could plant their stakes, scattering them and exposing Bedford’s centre. If they had continued, the outcome could have been very different, but true to type, the cavalry, more interested in plunder, galloped on to attack the English baggage park where they were met by a storm of arrows from the defending archers. Bedford’s men at arms formed a new front to cover their right and rear while the archers reformed and rained death on the French line.

Bedford’s line pushed forward and after half an hours fierce fighting, the French broke and fled. Meanwhile the English left flank was attacking the Scottish position who, before the battle, had sworn they would give no quarter and ask for none. They stood their ground when the French fled, even when the remaining cavalry and crossbowmen skirted the main battle and went for the baggage train where the English archers again made them suffer terribly. The Scots were thus fully exposed as the English finished off the remaining French and turned to add their weight against them. The Scots were massacred, stubbornly refusing to flee and were almost slaughtered to a man with a mere handful being taken alive.

It was another great victory for the English. With the aid of the English bowmen they had again decimated French armies far larger than their own, truly, God must be an Englishman!

Three years later, Bedford again defeated a small French army at the battle of St James and three years after that the two sides met at Jargeau, a small town on the banks of the Loire. This battle being notable as the first offensive action in which Joan of Arc was involved. The French victory that followed marked the end of English military supremacy in France and a rise in French fortunes that resulted in a string of victories at Beaugency, Patay, Gerbevoy, Formigny and culminated in a final victory at Castillon that would end the one hundred years war.

About The Author

Since his retirement Jim Keys has indulged his passion for history, writing two books on Britain’s past: The Dark Ages and The Bloody Crown. He is currently writing the last of the trilogy, Fighting Brits which covers Britain’s military struggles from the Armada to Afghanistan. Read more about Jim »