Battle of Verneuil
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|Battle of Verneuil|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
Battle of Verneuil
| Kingdom of England
Duchy of Burgundy
| Kingdom of France
Kingdom of Scotland
|Commanders and leaders|
| John, Duke of Bedford
Earl of Salisbury
| Viscount Aumale †
Earl of Buchan †
Earl of Douglas †
Viscount Narbonne †
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Verneuil was a strategically important battle of the Hundred Years' War, fought on 17 August 1424 near Verneuil in Normandy and a significant English victory. It was a particularly bloody battle, described by the English as a second Agincourt. Altogether some 7262 French and allied troops were killed, including 4000 Scots. English losses were 1600, including two men-at-arms and "a very few archers". The Scots army, led by Archibald, Earl of Douglas and John Stewart, Earl of Buchan (both of whom were killed), was almost destroyed. Many French noblemen were taken prisoner; among them the Duke of Alençon, Pierre, the bastard of Alençon, and Marshal de La Fayette. After Verneuil, the English were able to consolidate their position in Normandy. The Army of Scotland as a distinct unit ceased to play a significant part in the Hundred Years' War, although many Scots continued to serve in France.
The black time
Because of the 1420 Treaty of Troyes which had disinherited him, upon the death of his father Charles VI on 21 October 1422, the Dauphin Charles's status as King of France was recognised only in the south of the country (less the province of Guyenne in the southwest). Charles' coronation in Reims would not take place before 17 July 1429, seven years after the death of his father.
The death of Henry V of England on 31 August 1422, two months before that of Charles VI, brought no relief, as the continuing English war effort was effectively managed by John, Duke of Bedford, acting for the nine-month-old Henry VI.
In 1424, the France had scarcely recovered from the 1415 disaster at Agincourt, and the northern provinces were in the hands of the English following Henry V's conquest of Normandy. The civil war between the factions of the Armagnacs and Burgundians showed no sign of ending. France desperately needed soldiers, and looked to Scotland, her old ally against England, to provide essential military aid.
The Army of Scotland
The first large contingent of Scots troops came to France in the autumn of 1419, some 6000 men under the command of John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan. These men, supplemented from time-to-time with fresh volunteers, soon became an integral part of the French war effort; and by the summer of 1420 the 'Army of Scotland' was a distinct force in the French royal service. They proved their worth the following year, playing a large part in the victory at the Battle of Baugé, the first serious setback experienced by the English. The mood of optimism this engendered collapsed in 1423, when many of Buchan's men fell at the Battle of Cravant.
At the beginning of 1424, Buchan returned, bringing with him a further 6500 men. He was accompanied by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, arguably the most powerful nobleman of Scotland. On 24 April 1424, the army, comprising 2500 men at arms and 4000 archers, entered Bourges, the Dauphin's headquarters, helping to raise Charles' spirits.
March to Verneuil
In August, the new Franco-Scottish army made ready to march into action to relieve the fortress of Ivry, (about 50 km northeast of Verneuil), and which had been under siege by the Duke of Bedford for three months. Douglas (the newly created Duke of Touraine), and Buchan left Tours on 4 August to link with the French commanders, the Duke of Alençon and the Viscounts of Narbonne and Aumale. But before the army could arrive, Ivry surrendered to the English. Uncertain what to do, the allied commanders held a council of war. The Scots and some of the younger French officers were eager for battle; but Narbonne and the senior nobility had not forgotten Agincourt, and were reluctant to take the risk. As a compromise it was agreed to attack the English strongholds on the Norman border, beginning with Verneuil in the west. The town was taken by a simple trick: a group of Scots, leading some of their fellow countrymen as prisoners, pretended to be English, and claimed that Bedford had defeated the allies in battle, whereupon the gates were opened.
On 15 August 1424, Bedford received news that Verneuil was in French hands and resolved to make his way there as quickly as he could. As he neared the town two days later, the Scots persuaded their French comrades to make a stand, Douglas apparently having forgotten the lessons of Homildon Hill. He is said to have received a message from Bedford that he had come to drink with him and prayed for an early meeting. Douglas replied that having failed to find the duke in England he had come to seek him in France.
The allied Franco-Scottish army deployed a mile north of Verneuil on an open plain astride the road leading out of the Piseux. Narbonne and the French division were situated on the left of the road, supported by wings of Milanese cavalry, while Douglas and Buchan were on the right supported by a similar wing of Lombard cavalry, recruited in northern Italy. Aumale was given overall command; but this heterogeneous army defied all attempts at co-ordinated direction. On emerging from the forest, Bedford drew up his men in two divisions to match the disposition of the enemy, with the usual distribution of men-at-arms in the centre and archers on the wings and in front, with sharpened stakes in front of them. He also took the precaution of posting a strong reserve of 2000 archers to the rear to guard the baggage, tying the horses together to prevent flight. Bedford commanded the division facing the French, and Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury, that facing the Scots. Both sides wanted the other to take the initiative in beginning the battle, and so, from dawn to about 4:00 pm, the two armies stood facing each other under the blazing sun. Bedford is also said to have sent a herald to Douglas once both armies had been deployed to ask what terms for battle he required, to which Douglas grimly replied that the Scots would neither give nor receive any quarter.
A bloody day
At about 4pm, Bedford ordered his men to advance. The English soldiers shouted "St. George! Bedford!" as they slowly began to cross the field. At the same time, as if by some pre-arranged signal, the Milanese knights charged through the English archers on Bedford's right. Once Bedford had taken his troops within arrow range, he ordered a halt and the archers started to drive their stakes into the ground, a simple but effective device for snaring cavalry. The ground had been baked hard by the summer sun, and the stakes could be forced in only with difficulty. Seeing an opportunity, the French began an immediate charge out of synchronisation with the Scots division. As the French advanced under Aumale, they shouted "Montjoie! Saint Denis!". The archers on Bedford's extreme right were caught off balance, allowing the French cavalry to break through their ranks (improved, tempered steel armour worn by the Lombards may also have contributed to the effect). The most dangerous time for infantry was during a rout, when they lost formation and therefore could not bring in defensive firepower, which allowed the French knights to hunt down the English archers one by one. Many of the English panicked in face of the French advance and a Captain Young was afterwards found guilty of cowardice for retreating with the 500 men under his command without orders. Young was drawn and quartered as punishment for his retreat. The French continued their charge towards the baggage train to the north, while the men-at-arms in Bedford's division began a spirited attack on the French infantry to their front. While Salisbury was hard pressed by the Scots, the men defending the baggage train were equally hard pressed by the attacks of the 600 Lombard horsemen together with the French knights. The head-on clash between the English and French knights on the field of Verneuil, both of whom had marched on foot into battle, resulted in the words of the British medievalist Desmond Seward "... a hand-to-hand combat whose ferocity astounded even contemporaries". One veteran of Verneuil, Wavrin, recalled how "the blood of the dead spread on the field and that of the wounded ran in great streams all over the earth". For about three-quarters of an hour, Frenchmen and Englishmen stabbed, hacked and cut each other down on the field of Verneuil without either side gaining any advantage in what is generally considered to be one of the most fiercely fought battles of the entire war. Bedford himself fought in the battle, wielding a fearsome two-handed pole-axe that cut down many a Frenchman, leading one veteran to recall: "He reached no one whom he did not fell".> Seward noted that the Bedford's battle-axe "... smashed open an expensive armour like a modern tin can, the body underneath being crushed and mangled before even the blade sank in". After about three-quarters of an hour of the onslaught, Narbonne's division began to give ground before finally breaking and was chased back to Verneuil, where many, including Aumale, were drowned in the moat. Narbonne, Ventadour, Tonnerre were all dead.
Having disposed of the French, Bedford called a halt to the pursuit and returned to the battlefield, where Salisbury was closely engaged with the Scots, now standing alone. The Lombard cavalrymen, anxious that their French counterparts were poised to take all the spoils, charged round the English left flank towards the baggage. By the time they arrived the French had been driven off by Bedford's reserve, soon to be followed by the Lombards. The English reserve arrived just in time to drive off the Lombards and the French men-at-arms, and then marched forward to aid Salisbury against the Scots. Having tasted blood the reserve decided on their own initiative to enter the main battle, charging un merveilleux cry on the unsupported Scottish right wing. The battle of Verneuil reached its closing stages when Bedford wheeled from the south to take the Scots on the right flank. Now almost completely surrounded, the Scots made a ferocious last stand. The English shouted "A Clarence! A Clarence!" invoking Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence killed at the Battle of Baugé in 1421. The long-standing enmity between Scotland and England meant no quarter was given with those Scots attempting to surrender being cut down and virtually the entire Scots force falling on the battlefield. The Scots stood their ground and died where they fought.
A high price
Verneuil was one of the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years' War, described by the English as a second Agincourt. Likewise, Verneuil was a huge blow to French morale as for the second time in a decade the pride of French knighthood had met the English in open battle and had been decisively defeated. The only consolation for the French was this time the shame of defeat was shared with the Scots and Lombards. Altogether some 7262 allied troops were killed, including 4000 Scots. The English lost 1600 men including two men-at-arms, and "a very few archers", according to Bedford. Archibald, Earl of Douglas fought on the losing side for the last time, joined in death by the Earl of Buchan. Sir Alexander Buchanan, the man who had killed Clarence at Baugé three years earlier, also died.
The Army of Scotland had been severely mauled; but it was not yet ready to march out of history. It did have the effect though, of greatly reducing any reinforcements from Scotland for future campaigns against the English in France. This was not entirely unwelcome to the French as one French chronicler, Basin, wrote that the catastrophe at Verneuil was at least counterbalanced by seeing the end of the Scots "whose insolence was intolerable". Among the prisoners were the Duke of Alençon, Pierre, the bastard of Alençon, and Marshal Gilbert Motier de La Fayette. Greatly saddened by the catastrophe at Verneuil, Charles VII continued to honour the survivors, one of whom, John Carmichael of Douglasdale (Jean VI de Saint-Michel), the chaplain of the dead Douglas, was created Bishop of Orléans (1426–1438).
In the aftermath of Verneuil, the road appeared to lie open to take Bourges and thus bring all of France under English rule. Bedford, much inspired by the example of his late brother, Henry V, preferred to concentrate on finishing off the job of subjecting Maine and Anjou rather run the risk of leading an advance into the south of France with these two provinces only partially conquered. Bedford preferred to methodically conquer one province at a time rather than risk all on a bold drive to conquer the south of France in one campaign, which might finally bring all of France under English rule, but which equally might end in disaster. The consequences of the victory at Verneuil were: The English captured all border posts of Lancastrian Normandy and La Hire withdrew to the east. The only exception was Mont Saint-Michel, where the monks resisted. A plan to take Rouen by mining was foiled due to Bedford's victory.
Literature and legacy
The French contemporary chronicles made long details of the reactions of the inhabitants of Paris under Burgundian rule. The Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris and Enguerrand de Monstrelet's chronicles are major sources for this battle. The Chronique de Charles VII, roi de France, by the king's historian Jean Chartier (approx. 1390–1464), published by Vallet de Viriville in 1858, corroborated the story of a complete English victory. The French writers bemoaned the loss of life to Charles VII's cause. Richard Ager Newhall's study of warfare in 1924 remains a reliable authority on the battle tactics and events. The Victorian Rev. Stevenson translated a French study into the noble families which suffered so much in the Hundred Years' War, and is oft quoted. And similarly, Siméon Luce (1833–1892), a 19th-century French medievalist historian, was transcribing from what remained of original documents in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. These secondary sources are all that are available as many of the original contemporary accounts are lost. The English had the advantage later of Burgundian Jehan Waurin travelling with the army, but he had little to say on Verneuil. Alfred Burne's military estimates were near accurate; his theory of Inherent Military Probability (IMP) is making a comeback.
- Newhall, English Conquest, pp. 315–17
- Barker, p. 80; Burne, p. 369; Newhall, pp. 319–20; the numbers of English casualties are not in the chronicles as being high at all; there is no evidence, perhaps because the victors on the field collated the French dead, and took prisoners.
- Juliet Barker, "Conquest: The English kingdom in France", p. 79
- Seward, Desmond The Hundred Years' War, London: Constable & Robinson, 2003, p. 200.
- Burne DSO. Lt. Col. Alfred H. The Agincourt War, Verneuil, A Second Agincourt. 1956, p. 204
- Seward, Desmond The Hundred Years' War, London: Constable & Robinson, 2003, p. 201.
- Burne, pp. 368–9
- "un merveilleux cry", Jehan Waurin
- Barker, 79–80.
- Barker, 80.; Burne, 369 ;Newhall, pp. 319–20.; the numbers of English casualties are not in the chronicles as being high at all; there is no evidence perhaps because the victors on the field collated the French dead, and took prisoners.
- Seward, Desmond The Hundred Years' War, London: Constable & Robinson, 2003, p. 202.
- Barker, 81; J Shirley (ed.), A Parisian journal, 1405–1449, (1968), pp. 200–1.
- Barker, Juliet R V (2010). Conquest : the English kingdom of France in the Hundred Years War. London: Abacus. ISBN 978-0-349-12202-1.
- Burne, A. H., The Agincourt War. A Military History of the Latter Part of the Hundred Years War from 1369 to 1453, (1956), Folio soc., 2005, 358-69.
- Brown, M, 'French alliance or English peace? Scotland and the last phase of the Hundred Years' War, 1415–53' in L.Clark (ed.), Conflicts, Consequences and the Crown in the Late Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2007), 81–99.
- Casavetti, E., The Lion and the Lilies, 1977.
- Donaldson, G., The Auld Alliance, 1985.
- Forbes-Leith, W., The Scots Men-at-Arms and Life Guards in France, 1882.
- Griffiths, R. A., The Reign of Henry VI, 1981.
- Newhall, R.A. The English Conquest of Normandy 1416–1434: a study in fifteenth century warfare New Haven and London, 1924.
- Seward, D. The Hundred Years War, 1978.
- Simpson, M. A, "The Campaign of Verneuil", in the English Historical Review, vol. 49, 1934.
- Stuart, M. W., The Scot who was a Frenchman, 1940.
- The Brut (Continuation H) - Chronicles of England
- Liber Pluscardine - Scottish chronicles from Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin
- Harleian MS 50 (BL) - Manuscript from the Robert Harley collection in the British Library