Battle of Formigny
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|Battle of Formigny|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
The Battle of Formigny by Martial d'Auvergne
|Kingdom of England|| Kingdom of France
Duchy of Brittany
|Commanders and leaders|
|Thomas Kyriell|| Charles de Clermont
Arthur III, Duke of Brittany
|7,000||5,000 French, and 1,200 Bretons (arrived later)|
|Casualties and losses|
The French, under Charles VII, had taken the time offered by the Treaty of Tours in 1444 to reorganize and reinvigorate their armies. The English, without clear leadership from the weak Henry VI, were scattered and dangerously weak. When the French broke the truce in June 1449 they were in a much improved position. Pont-Audemer, Pont-L'Evêque and Lisieux fell in August and much of Normandy was retaken by October. Cutting north and east the Bureau brothers oversaw the capture of Rouen (October 1449), Harfleur (December 1449), Honfleur and Fresnoy (January 1450), before moving on to invade Caen.
The English had gathered a small army during the winter of 1449. Numbering around 3,000 men, it was dispatched from Portsmouth to Cherbourg under the command of Sir Thomas Kyriell. Landing on 15 March 1450, the army was reinforced with a further 2,000 men under Sir Matthew Gough in late March.
Kyriell advanced south and captured Valognes in a bloody clash, as further south two French armies joined (around 5,000 men under Charles I de Bourbon, who was also Comte de Clermont) and marched north for Carentan.
The English army circled Carentan on 12 April, the French declined to sally although there were a number of smaller skirmishes. Kyriell turned east towards Bayeux, reaching the village of Formigny on 14 April. At the same time a third French force, under Arthur de Richemont, had reached Saint-Lô from the south.
On 15 April, Clermont's forces were sighted by the English. The armies faced each other on the Carentan-Bayeux road, near a small tributary of the Aure, the English with their backs to the stream. The English formation numbered around 7,000 – with a three-to-one preponderance in archers – and gathered in a long line behind a thicket of stakes and low earthworks.
Clermont opened the engagement with attacks against the flanks and small charges; these had little chance of success and were easily turned away. He then advanced two cannons. After a period of fire that caused a few casualties, the English charged and captured the guns.
These initial skirmishes took some three hours. At this time the Breton army under Arthur de Richemont arrived from the south, having crossed the Aure and now approaching the English force from the flank. They numbered almost 1,200 Bretons – almost all mounted judging from the pace of their march.
Kyriell drew back from Clermont and shifted his force into an "L", straddling the stream. With the prepared position abandoned and split by the enemy's firepower the English force was soon overwhelmed in a series of charges. Kyriell was captured and his army shattered.
The English had been dealt a major blow, with 3,500 killed or seriously wounded and 900 taken prisoner, while French and Breton casualties were no more than 1000 dead and wounded. With no other significant English forces in Normandy, the whole region quickly fell to the victorious French. The advance continued elsewhere, quickly sweeping up all English possessions except Calais.
The battle is often cited as the first in which cannons played a pivotal role (the first decisive use of cannon is generally considered to have been the following battle, at Castillon). This is rather difficult to judge; contemporary accounts are dubious and it can be seen that the arrival of the Breton army of Arthur de Richemont, future duke of Brittany, Arthur III, with his powerful force of cavalry on the flank of the English, forcing them to leave their prepared defensive position, was more significant, although the early artillery fire from the two French guns played a role in that as well.
The cannon may have been decisive, not so much for the effect they had themselves, but in that they alerted Richemont to the fact that there was a battle going on, and so caused his appearance on the field. It was fortunate for Clermont that this was so because one of his captains wrote shortly afterwards that if the Constable (Richemont) had not come when he did, Clermont's army would have suffered "irreparable damage".
- Battle of Formigny, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology, Vol. 1, ed. Clifford J. Rogers, (Oxford University Press, 2010), 54.
- Arthur III, Duke of Brittany, Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War, ed. John A. Wagner, (Greenwood Press, 2006), 34.
- Roberts, William J. (2004). France: a reference guide from the Renaissance to the present. Infobase Publishing. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-8160-4473-3.
- Bradbury, Jim (1992). The medieval siege. Boydell & Brewer. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-85115-312-4.