Battle of Baugé 22nd March 1421

The first significant setback to Henry V's England came in 1421 when the Scottish John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan, took 6,000 men to France to assist the Armagnacs in their continuing struggle. On 21st March with a French force under the Constable, Gilbert de Lafayette, they defeated an English force under the Duke of Clarence, Henry V’s first brother Thomas of Lancaster, at Baugé.

 

The king was raising more troops in England whilst Clarence was in Normandy overseeing the three counties he had been awarded after Agincourt and the 1420 Treaty of Troyes. In March 1421 he was commanding a small force conducting raids along the River Loire in Armagnac territories. On 22nd March he was in camp near Beaufort-en-Vallée, east of Angers[1], on his way back to Normandy after finding Angers strongly defended, when it was reported that a large Franco-Scots force was about ten miles east at Baugé. Clarence ignored advice to wait until his foraging archers re-joined his force and set off with about 1,500 mounted knights and men-at-arms to meet an enemy of about 6,000.

 

[1] Some tertiary sources place him in Pont de l’Arche, just south of Rouen, which must be doubtful.

The approach to Le Vieil-Baugé with a ridge beyond the village

They had to cross the River Cousenon but found a Scots patrol occupying the only bridge and an attempt to take it swiftly failed. Clarence then led his men to the left flank where they dismounted and forded the narrow river where it was about 10 feet wide. They remounted and drove the Scots back to Le Vieil-Baugé where they took refuge in the church. Clarence then regrouped his force back at the bridge.

River Cousenon

Old mill and bridge on the Cousenon

Possibly at the site of the crossing

Baugé church, with twisted spire

In the meantime the main body of the Franco-Scots troops under Buchan had re-deployed behind the ridge at Le Vieil-Baugé. They advanced to attack the English and when their leading elements were seen as they crested the brow Clarence led a mounted charge up the hill. When he reached the ridge they met the Franco-Scots main body which stopped the English force. Clarence withdrew his men to the river and as they re-formed a Franco-Scottish counter-attack hit them. Clarence and other leaders were killed along with many of their men.

 

At this stage Thomas de Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury, arrived with the archers and remaining knights and men-at-arms. They drove off Buchan’s men, recovered Clarence’s body and rescued the survivors before withdrawing. The Franco-Scots spent the night in Baugé before pursuing the English survivors to stop them escaping but they managed to evade capture and got back safely to Normandy.

Approximate area of the Franco-Scots counter-attack

Although the battle was regarded in England as of little military significance (unless you were in it) the French made much of it and the Duke of Brittany changed his allegiance. Buchan was made Constable of France and English invincibility was decried as a myth. Henry V was furious and his subsequent ruthless actions are held as examples of this and may possibly have led to his decision to capture and occupy the town of Meaux near Paris.

Decline and Loss 1429 – 1453

Henry V did not live long enough to enjoy his kingdoms as he contracted dysentery in 1421 during an eight month siege of Meaux, where he had gone to relieve the Duke of Exeter from French forces threatening Paris, and died in the summer of 1422 aged 35. His son was only a few months old and his brother John, Duke of Bedford, was appointed Regent of France. Charles VI died two months later. Henry's mental illness, which he had suffered in various fits since 1392, seemed to have been passed on to his grandson who became Henry VI.

 

Although Henry VI was crowned King of England and France the Armagnacs remained loyal to Charles’ son and war continued in central France. In 1428 the English laid siege to Orleans but in 1429 Joan of Arc rose to inspire French morale and war effort. The siege was lifted after French attacks and they went on to take English strongholds on the Loire. With other successes the Dauphin became Charles VII in Rheims in 1429. Joan was captured by the Burgundians in 1430, handed over to the English and executed after an ecclesiastical court found her guilty of heresy.

 

In 1435 Philip 3rd Duke of Burgundy changed sides and recognised Charles VII as King of France in the Treaty of Arras which revoked the Treaty of Troyes and made him the Premier Duke in France. Charles put his army on a more professional footing and using du Guesclin’s strategy of avoiding major battles he gradually succeeded in taking more towns from English control. Rouen was taken in 1449, Caen in 1450, and Bordeaux and Bayonne in 1451. In 1453 John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, attempted to recover Gascony for the English crown but his Anglo-Gascon force was defeated at Castillon. This rather unsatisfactory action is accepted as the last battle of the Hundred Years War

Afterword

The main battlefields were re-visited in March 2011.

 

The figures for combatant strengths are always difficult to ascertain as much depends on how the troops are counted. The number of men actually fighting is usually uncertain as figures could include all the supporting troops such as engineers, armourers, cooks, bakers, and so on.

 

References:

 

Curry, Anne (2002) The Hundred Years’ War 1337-1453, Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Montgomery of Alamein (1968) A History of Warfare, Collins.

Reid, Peter (2008) A Brief History of Medieval Warfare, Constable & Robinson Ltd.

Seward, Desmond (2003) The Hundred Years War, Constable & Robinson Ltd.