Battles and Sieges

Battle of Castillon

In July 1453 the English were defeated in the Battle of Castillon. It was the last pitched battle of the Hundred Years War. It brought to an end the brief restoration of English control in Gascony, that had been instigated by an expedition led by Sir John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, after the French expelled the English from Gascony in 1451. Following the defeat at Castillon the English held on in Bordeaux for several months, before surrender there left England with only Calais as a possession in France. 

The French, expecting an assault on Normandy, were surprised when the Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot, and an army of 3000 landed to the north of Bordeaux. His son, Viscount Lisle, arrived with a further 2300 men. Local recruitment bolstered the size of the army at Talbots command.

Battle of Castillon, 17 July 1453.

Talbot aimed to take out one army at a time through rapid deployments. When the French lay siege to the town of Castillon, the Gascons asked Talbot to go to the towns rescue. Eventually, he agreed.

At Castillon, the French had formidable defences established, including over 300 guns. Talbot was told that the enemy was in retreat, as clouds of dust were seen

Talbot ordered for the army to form up. The French were not withdrawing; quite the opposite, they were forming up. Nonetheless, the order was given to attack: into the face of 300 guns and hundreds of archers.

The battle was a decisive French victory. Talbot lost his life, as did many under his command. Bordeaux held out for 3 months but, England had now effectively been forced out of Gascony. It is thought by some that the news of the defeat at Castillon brought about King Henry VI’s first period of incapacity, thus making it a cause of the Wars of the Roses.

Source Material on the Battle of Castillon

On 13th July the French laid siege to Castillon-sur-Dordogne in Pērigord, which was held by the English. The Seigneurs de Lohēac and Jalogne, Marshals of France, were sent to conduct the siege, along with many other lords, barons, knights, squires, captains and combatants, to the number of sixteen to eighteen hundred men-at-arms and archers. The king’s artillery, both heavy and light, was also sent there under the charge of Jean Bureau, and his brother Jasper Bureau, master of the royal artillery; their company consisted of seven hundred gunners, whom the brothers instructed to dig trenches round the field containing the artillery, before the siege was begun.

When Talbot heard of this he immediately left Bordeaux in haste with eight hundred to a thousand English horse, attended by some of the most valiant lords and knights in the whole realm of England and from the Bordelais, and following by from four to six thousand English on foot. Talbot and his men arrived before Castillon soon after dawn on Wednesday 17th July. When the French heard that he had come they withdrew into the field surrounded by ditches, but Talbot caught up with some of the foot-archers before they could enter it; these they attacked, killing some five or six score [score = 20, so 100 to 120]. At this stage the French made increased efforts to get into the enclosure as the English marched towards them, fully expecting them to flee and abandon the siege. While waiting for the rest of his foot-soldiers to come on, Talbot had a cask of wine set up for the refreshment of his men; meanwhile the French were able to enter the enclosure from
various sides and re-establish their ranks, and the gunners set up their culverins and ribaudekins
on the dykes facing the English.

Battle of Castillion from Grandes Chroniques de France

The besieged within Castillon had found means to inform Talbot that if he marched quickly to their relief the French would flee. On his arrival, however, he was astonished to find that the French had prepared an entrenched artillery camp.

Talbot and his men now marched right up to the barrier, expecting to make an entry into the field; but they found themselves courageously opposed by a body of valiant men, well tried in war, which was surprising after the information they had received. Talbot was riding a small hackney, and remained in the saddle because of his age [86 or 87], but he ordered all the other riders to dismount. As they arrived the English marched under eight banners, those of England, Saint George, the Trinity, Lord Talbot and four others skilfully executed.

The attack then began, with great show of valour and hard fighting on each side, and lasted for a full hour. At this point the Duke of Brittany’s men were sent for to relieve the French who had laboured to defend the barriers. When they arrived, the French, who had fought all day and with renewed courage at the sight of these reinforcements, were able with the help of God and their own skill to turn the English back, and the Bretons fell upon them and trampled all their banners underfoot. In the camp there was such noise of culverins and ribaudekins being loaded that the English were forced to flee. Many, however, were killed in the field, and Lord Talbot’s hackney was struck down by a shot from a culverin and he was killed where he lay beneath the horse. Also among the slain was his son.

Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Chronique de France

Image Credits

The death of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury at the battle of Castillon from Vigilles de Charles VII by Martial d’Auvergne (1484).

Battle of Castillion from Grandes Chroniques de France.

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