Wednesday, March 18, 2015
BATTLE OF CASTILLON, (1453)
Fought on 17 July 1453 near the town of Castillon in eastern GASCONY, the Battle of Castillon ended the HUNDRED YEARS WAR and stripped the English of all French holdings except the town of CALAIS.
After the French conquest of NORMANDY in 1450, CHARLES VII focused his military resources on Gascony, the last English-held province in France. As an army of seven thousand entered the province, other French forces besieged the fortresses protecting BORDEAUX, the Gascon capital, while a joint French, Spanish, and Breton fleet blockaded the mouth of the Gironde to prevent the English from relieving the city. Isolated and outnumbered, the English garrison in Bordeaux surrendered on 30 June 1451. A severe blow to English national pride, the loss of Bordeaux was reversed in 1452, thanks to the English sympathies of the Gascon people and the military skill of John TALBOT, earl of Shrewsbury, who led an army of three thousand ashore on 17 October. Within months of reentering Bordeaux on 23 October, Shrewsbury had largely restored Gascony to English control.
Respected and feared in France, Shrewsbury was the most famous English commander of the war’s last decades. By the summer of 1453, three French armies were converging on Gascony. Although reinforcements brought by his son raised his strength to over five thousand, Shrewsbury was still heavily outnumbered by the combined French forces, and his only option was to wait in Bordeaux until an opportunity arose to fall upon one army before the others could support it. However, when a French force of nine thousand laid siege to Castillon about thirty miles east of Bordeaux, Shrewsbury, against his better judgment, yielded to the pleas of representatives from both Castillon and Bordeaux and marched to the relief of the town on 16 July.
Early next morning, Shrewsbury arrived at Castillon with his mounted contingents, and led an immediate and successful assault on the French ARCHERS holding the Priory of St. Laurent. The surviving archers fled to the fortified French camp east of the priory, thereby alerting the main army of Shrewsbury’s arrival. Although the French army was commanded by committee, the camp and been laid out by Charles VII’s ordinance officer, Jean BUREAU. Designed to maximize the opportunity for oblique and enfilading fire from the French ARTILLERY, which may have numbered almost three hundred guns of all sizes, Bureau’s camp was protected on three sides by a ditch and palisaded rampart and on the fourth side by the steep bank of the River Lidoire.
Upon receiving reports that the enemy was retreating, Shrewsbury reversed an earlier decision to wait for the rest of his army to arrive and attacked immediately with the twelve hundred men he had at hand. The reports proved inaccurate, and when the French guns opened fire, the dismounted English suffered severe casualties. Shrewsbury, who wore no ARMOR to honor the pledge he had made when last released from French custody, pressed the attack, believing the arrival of his remaining troops would secure victory. However, as reinforcements came up, they suffered the same fate as the initial attackers, and the eventual arrival of French reserves broke the English attack and sent the survivors streaming back to Bordeaux.
With both Shrewsbury and his son dead on the field, the English position in Gascony quickly collapsed and the French entered Bordeaux to stay on 19 October 1453. After three hundred years, English rule in Gascony, like the Hundred Years War itself, was over. In England, news of the battle may have triggered HENRY VI’s mental collapse, for the king’s illness descended upon him in early August, about the time he would have learned of the disaster.
Further Reading: Pollard, A. J. John Talbot and the War in France, 1427–1453. London: Royal Historical Society, 1983.