Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Fought on 17 July 1453, the Battle of Castillon ended the HUNDRED YEARS WAR and stripped England of all its holdings in FRANCE except the town of CALAIS.

After their conquest of Normandy in 1450, the French focused their energy and resources on Gascony, a province of southwestern France that had been an English possession for almost 300 years. As an army of 7,000 marched south from Normandy, 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 29 June 1451. A severe blow to English national pride and to the popularity of HENRY VI's government, the loss of Bordeaux was reversed in October 1452, thanks to the English sympathies of some of the Gascon nobility and the military skill of John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury (c. 1384-1453), the most famous and successful English soldier of the time. Within months of reentering Bordeaux on 23 October, Shrewsbury had restored English control to most of Gascony.

The military victory in France, followed by news of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU's pregnancy, placed Henry VI and his chief minister, Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, in the strongest political position they had enjoyed since 1450. On the other hand, Somerset's chief rival, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, already humiliated by the failure of his uprising at DARTFORD in February 1452, was further isolated by the government's newfound success and popularity. However, CHARLES VII was determined to retake and hold Gascony, and by the early summer of 1453 he had reestablished the naval blockade of the Gironde, thereby threatening Bordeaux with starvation. The English government realized the precariousness of Shrewsbury's position, and undertook feverish efforts to collect men, money, and shipping. However, French ARTILLERY made all this activity unavailing. On 17 July near Castillon east of Bordeaux, Shrewsbury attacked a strong French position protected by cannon. The enemy guns cut the English to pieces, killing Shrewsbury and his son and ending English rule in Gascony forever. News of the battle not only left Somerset's government saddled with blame for losing the province, it may also have triggered Henry VI's mental collapse, for the king's illness descended upon him in early August 1453, about the time he would have been informed of the disaster. The king's incapacity revived York's political fortunes, further depressed those of Somerset, and dangerously intensified the rivalry between the two dukes, which, in turn, fostered the violence and political instability that led to the WARS OF THE ROSES.

Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Pollard, A. J., John Talbot and the War in France, 1427-1453 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1983); Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).

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