Battle of Verneuil
|Battle of Verneuil|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
Battle of Verneuil, from Vigiles de Charles VII
|Kingdom of England||
Kingdom of France|
Kingdom of Scotland
|Commanders and leaders|
John, Duke of Bedford|
Earl of Salisbury
Count of Aumale †|
Earl of Douglas †
Earl of Buchan †
Viscount of 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.
The battle started with a short archery duel between English longbowmen and Scottish archers, after which a force of 2,000 Milanese heavy cavalry on the French side mounted a cavalry charge that brushed aside the ineffective English arrowstorm and wooden archer's stakes, penetrated the formation of English men-at-arms and dispersed one wing of their longbowmen. The Milanese went on to rout the English baggage train and its security force, looting the train and quitting the field. The dismounted and well-protected Anglo-Norman and Franco-Scottish men-at-arms clashed in the open in a ferocious hand-to-hand melee that went on for about 45 minutes. The English longbowmen reformed and joined the struggle. The French men-at-arms broke in the end and were slaughtered, the now alone Scots in particular receiving no quarter from the English. The Milanese heavy cavalry returned to the field at the battle's conclusion but fled upon discovering their army's fate.
Altogether some 6,000–7,262 French and allied troops were killed and 200 taken prisoner. The Burgundian chronicler Jean de Wavrin estimated 1,600 English killed, although the English commander, the Duke of Bedford claimed to have lost only two men-at-arms and "a very few archers". The Scots army, led by the earls of Douglas and Buchan (both of whom were killed), was almost destroyed. Many French noblemen were taken prisoner, among them the Duke of Alençon, 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.
In 1424, France had not recovered from the 1415 disaster at Agincourt, and the northern provinces were in the hands of the English following King Henry V's conquest of Normandy. The Dauphin (heir to the French throne) Charles had been disinherited due to the 1420 Treaty of Troyes, and, upon the death of his father Charles VI in October 1422, his status as King of France was recognised only in the regions still not occupied by the English, namely the south of the country (less the province of Guyenne in the southwest). The civil war between the pro-Dauphin Armagnacs and the pro-English Burgundians showed no sign of ending.
The death of Henry V in August 1422, two months before that of Charles VI, brought no relief, as the continuing English war effort was managed by John, Duke of Bedford, acting for the nine-month-old Henry VI. The Dauphin desperately needed soldiers, and looked to Scotland, France's old ally against England, to provide essential military aid.
Army of Scotland
The first large contingent of Scots troops came to France in the autumn of 1419, some 6,000 men under the command of John Stewart, 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 brought with him a further 6,500 men. He was accompanied by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, one of the most powerful noblemen of Scotland. On 24 April 1424, the army, comprising 2,500 men at arms and 4,000 archers, entered Bourges, the Dauphin's headquarters, helping to raise Charles' spirits. A body of 2,000 heavy cavalry from the duchy of Milan in Italy, (led by the Frenchman le Borgne-Caqueran) clad in complete suits of tempered steel plate armour, was hired from Duke of Milan Filippo Maria Visconti after a treaty of alliance on 17 February 1424. A smaller Milanese heavy cavalry force had already been employed to decisive effect against the Burgundians at La Buissière in September 1423.
The victory of the French under the Count of Aumale against the English at the Battle of La Brossinière on 26 September 1423 and another victory over the Burgundians at La Buissière the same month improved the Dauphin's strategic situation. The outflanking and destruction of a body of English longbowmen at La Brossinière convinced the French that it would be possible to destroy a large English army in a decisive battle. A plan was hatched: the main English army would be sought out and crushed, after which Charles VII would be crowned as king in Reims.
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), which had been under siege by the Duke of Bedford. Douglas (newly created Duke of Touraine) and Buchan left Tours on 4 August to link with the French commanders, the Duke of Alençon, the Count of Aumale, and the Viscount of Narbonne. 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 made 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 is said to have received a message from Bedford that he had come to drink with him and prayed for an early meeting. He 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 forest of Piseux. The flat fields had been chosen to give the greatest advantage to the Milanese cavalry, whereby they could be employed to their full potential against the enemy archers. The mounted Milanese men-at-arms under Caqueran drew up in front of the dismounted Franco-Scottish men-at-arms, who were formed into one battle. Narbonne's Spanish mercenary men-at-arms and most of the French were situated on the left of the road, while Douglas and Buchan were on the right. Aumale was given overall command, but this heterogeneous army defied all attempts at co-ordinated direction.
On emerging from the forest, Bedford likewise put his men in a single battle, 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. Bedford put a lightly armoured force of 500–2,000 men, some mounted, in charge of guarding the baggage train and the horses and preserving his rear security. Some 8,500 horses were tethered together to link up the main army to the baggage wagons as a precaution against encirclement.
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.
At about 4pm, Bedford ordered his men to advance. The English soldiers shouted "St. George! Bedford!" as they slowly began to cross the field. A short archery duel between English and Scottish archers took place, with inconclusive results. At the same time, as if by some pre-arranged signal, the 2,000 Milanese mounted men-at-arms charged through the English front line. The Lombards brushed aside the English wooden stakes that could not be secured in ground baked hard by the summer sun. The English arrow storm proved ineffective against the Italian mercenaries' superior armor. The shock effect of the Milanese charge terrified the English, with men-at-arms and archers knocked over, gaps torn in the English ranks as they tried to avoid the onrushing horsemen and some throwing themselves to the ground and being ridden over by the Milanese cavalry. The Milanese rode through and penetrated the entire English formation. The longbowmen on the English right were dispersed.
Many of the English panicked in face of the Milanese advance and a Captain Young was afterwards found guilty of cowardice for retreating with the 500 men under his command without orders, considering the battle as lost. Young was hanged, drawn and quartered as punishment for his retreat. English mounted troops fled to Conches, where they proclaimed the battle lost to the town's small garrison. At Bernay, more Englishmen announced Bedford's defeat. At Pont-Audemer, news of an English disaster provoked an uprising, with retreating English troops divested of their armour and horses. A series of smaller uprisings in the countryside also took place.
The Milanese attacked the English baggage train, triggering an instant rout. The rearguard of 500–2,000 English men ran away, some fleeing on horseback and the Milanese gave chase. The Lombards returned to the field later, expecting the French to have won the battle, but were informed otherwise.
After the devastating cavalry charge, Bedford rallied his soldiers, the English men-at-arms showing great discipline and reforming their ranks. Sensing a victory, the French men-at-arms led a confused charge, with Narbonne's men reaching the English before the rest of their comrades. The French disorder was in part a result of the desire to close in fast to avoid the English arrowstorm. As the French advanced under Aumale, they shouted "Montjoie! Saint Denis!". Bedford's men-at-arms advanced in good order towards their French opponents, pausing often and giving a shout each time. The men-at-arms under Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury were hard pressed by the Scots. A small force of French heavy cavalry on the right attempted to outflank the English line but were repelled by an arrowstorm from the redeployed English left wing of 2,000 longbowmen, who used the lines of tethered horses for cover.
The head-on clash between the superbly armoured English and French men-at-arms on the field of Verneuil, both of whom had marched on foot into battle, resulted, in the words of the British medievalist Desmond Seward, in "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 often 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, leading one veteran to recall: "He reached no one whom he did not fell". Seward noted that 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".
The English longbowmen on the right, dispersed by the Milanese charge, had by now reformed and they, along with longbowmen on the left who had repelled the French cavalry, joined the main struggle with a great shout that boosted the morale of the English men-at-arms. After some time, the French battle line gave ground before breaking and was chased back to Verneuil, where many, including Aumale, were drowned in the moat. The ditches outside of town were the scene of a merciless killing of the routed French men-at-arms. 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 engaged with the Scots, now standing alone. The battle of Verneuil reached its closing stages when Bedford wheeled from the south to take the Scots on the right flank. Now almost surrounded, the Scots made a ferocious last stand. The English shouted "A Clarence! A Clarence!" invoking Thomas, Duke of Clarence, Bedford's brother, 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 almost the entire Scots force falling on the battlefield. The Scots stood their ground and died where they fought. Most of the Lombard cavalry returned to the battle at this point to discover their comrades slaughtered, and were put to flight in turn after losing 16–20 men killed.
Dauphin Charles was forced to postpone his plans of coronation at Reims. 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 than 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 likely due to Bedford's victory.
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 6,000–8,000 men on the French-allied side were slain. In a letter to Thomas Rempston written two days after the battle, Bedford stated that 7,262 allied troops were killed. Bedford put his losses at two men-at-arms, and "a very few archers". The Burgundian chronicler Jean de Wavrin, an eyewitness to the battle, estimated 6,000 killed on the French side, 200 captured and 1,600 Anglo-Norman deaths. 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 was 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).
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 (c. 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 often 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 Jean de Wavrin travelling with the army, but he had little to say on Verneuil.
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