The first book about this decisive battle in the Hundred Years War
In August, 1424, the armies of England, Scotland, and France met in the open fields outside the walls of Verneuil in a battle that would decide the future of the English conquests in France. The hero king Henry V had been dead for two years, and the French felt that this was their chance to avenge their startling defeat at Agincourt, and recover the lands that Henry had won from them. Despite its importance, the battle of Verneuil is largely overlooked in accounts of the Hundred Years War, and this book is the first proper account of the battle and its significance. It is also one of the first books to outline the important part the Scots played in the wars in France in the years between the two great battles of Agincourt and Verneuil.
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Verneuil the Second Agincourt 1424
The Battle of the Three Kingdoms
By Richard Wadge
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Richard Wadge
All rights reserved.
The Hundred Years War
England and France waged the Hundred Years War between 1337 and 1453. While relations between the two kingdoms were more likely to be hostile than amiable between the Norman Conquest and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, hostility was more persistent during these years. There were times, such as c. 134056 and 141535, when the fighting was almost continuous with some large-scale battles and sieges, and there were other times, such as c. 13901410, when life was almost peaceful. The original cause of the war was that according to English law, Edward III had a good claim to the French throne through his mother, Isabella, who was daughter of Philip IV of France. Unsurprisingly, the French claimed that the ancient Salic law of the Franks excluded inheritance of royal power through the female line. Edward was not prepared to accept this slight. However, relations between the kings of England and France were made more complicated by the English king claiming to be Duke of Normandy and Duke of Aquitaine, which meant that he owed feudal fealty to the King of France for these lands. These were matters that were never going to be resolved solely by diplomacy or legal argument. But it is also fair to say that war became something of a habit among the English at this time.
This habit was fuelled by the longer running warfare between England and Scotland. Once the Hundred Years War1started England was in a pincer between Scotland to the north and France over the Channel to the south. There were two major areas of dispute between England and Scotland in the Middle Ages, which were as insoluble as was the dispute over the French throne: where was the border between the two kingdoms, and was the King of Scotland subject to the English king? Edward I had managed to establish a shaky English suzerainty, but it crumbled under his weak successor, Edward II. He could not counter Robert Bruce, Robert I of Scotland, a heroic figure who led his kingdom to independence. While a series of victories in Edward III's reign taught the Scots to avoid provoking the English king, these two issues ensured that there was never more than a truce on the border. The Scots and the French agreed treaties in the fourteenth century to support each other against England the Auld Alliance, which is described in a later chapter.
England's two long wars came together in the fateful meeting of the armies of the three kingdoms at Verneuil in 1424.
The years of the Hundred Years War would have been eventful enough in western Europe without warfare between the two kingdoms. In 134750 the Black Death killed around 40 per cent of the population of Europe, but this only quietened the war for a couple of years. This dreadful cull of the population gave opportunities to the survivors; ordinary men and women had a scarcity value which gave them some economic power and choice. Towns and cities continued their rapid growth in much of western Europe, despite the ravages of war in France in particular. Local and international trade grew with the towns, and the great commercial cities of the Italian peninsula began to send their trading fleets full of exotic goods (and more ordinary items like high quality bowstaves for the English war-bow) to the ports of northern and western Europe.
What is perhaps most surprising in the period between 1380 and 1420 is the remarkable coincidences in the political upheavals in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and France. There were deeply divisive struggles between the king and the magnates and among the magnates themselves in all three countries. All three countries had an incompetent king for a period. Robert III of Scotland may have had some long-term physical disability after his accident in 1388 but he seems to have become vacillating and desperate to please many of his nobles. He was succeeded by a minor, James, who also happened to be a prisoner in England. Richard II of England became a capricious, self-indulgent ruler who found it very difficult to trust anyone outside his immediate circle. His successor Henry IV always had a problem because some people felt he was not a legitimate king because he had deposed Richard II. This may have led to him being plagued by self-doubt. But as his reign progressed, he increasingly suffered from sustained serious ill health which affected his ability to rule. At the same time, France was rent by feuding between the royal dukes and their supporters, because King Charles VI of France had increasingly frequent bouts of insanity, which necessitated a regency for much of the last thirty years of his reign. Yet despite these problems the three kingdoms managed to continue their desultory, often bloody struggles for supremacy.
At this time of tragedy and change, when the people needed spiritual support the most, the papacy was in a state of decay. It had been based in southern France at Avignon since 1309 where it gained an unenviable reputation for corruption and partiality. Then, from 1378 western Christendom ended up with two popes for forty years. Despite these problems with the leadership of Christendom, this was a period of deep personal faith, but that could be something very different from a deep faith in the spirituality of the Catholic Church. Some theologians and preachers put forward ideas that, with hindsight, we would regard as being the foundations of Protestantism.
The Hundred Years War inevitably led to a number of developments in military practice. The best known of these are the use of the English war-bow and the development of gunpowder artillery. The development of professional non-noble armies was just as important. The success of the English armies, wherein everyone fought on foot regardless of rank and most of the soldiers were archers, was a great surprise in Continental Europe. It went against the tradition that noble, mailed and armoured horsemen were the most important and effective fighting men on the battlefield. The English armies weren't the only ones that demonstrated the power of good infantry against armoured cavalry. The Scots showed that pike-armed infantry could defeat cavalry at Bannockburn against the English and the Flemings proved much the same point at Courtrai against the French. But the English were the only ones who used infantry archers to defeat armoured cavalry. The other surprise was that it was the English who were so successful. They had never been a major European military power in their own right before, although England had been an important part of Henry II's Angevin Empire in the twelfth century.
It has been suggested that Edward III had a very small number of primitive cannons at the Battle of Crécy, but they had no effect on the outcome of the battle. However, by the fifteenth century gunpowder artillery had developed sufficiently to give a great advantage to besiegers, and by the end of the Hundred Years War it was becoming an effective force on the battlefield. Other nations took to hand-held gunpowder weapons rather than the war-bow, leaving England and Wales with their 'eccentric' choice of missile weapon until the sixteenth century. It was pike-armed infantry assisted by infantry armed with gunpowder weapons that ended the reign of heavy armoured cavalry as kings of the battlefield in western Europe. By the fifteenth century, many of the companies that made up the English armies in France, and even more of the individuals who served as archers and men-at-arms, were professional.2 Many of these professionals came from the ordinary people, not from the nobility or what would later be called the gentry. In his efforts to both counter the English and control his fractious kingdom, Charles VII of France also came round to encouraging the development of professional soldiers by establishing the gendarmes d'ordonnance. Interestingly, it was the kingdom of France that maintained and developed these professional soldiers in the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while in England, suspicion of standing armies and royal tight-fistedness prevented the continued development of a professional army.
The Hundred Years War made a notable and lasting contribution to popular self-image of what it was to be English. In the fourteenth century, Edward III's campaigns brought considerable wealth to England in the form of loot and ransoms. His victories brought pride to many English people. Both the wealth and the pride were spread to local levels by the involvement of ordinary men as archers in the wars. When Henry V reinvigorated the English war against the French, he won what became a near mythic victory at Agincourt. Again the stalwart English (and Welsh) archers were key contributors to English success. Although the Hundred Years War ended in defeat for the English, they maintained a healthy contempt for the French, which Henry VIII exploited. An expression of this well-established contempt for the fighting qualities of the French can be found in the description of the Battle of Verneuil in Edward Hall's Chronicle, which was written in Henry VIII's reign. Hall commented 'for surely the nature of the Frenchman is not to labor long in fighting and muche more braggeth than fighteth'.3 In the nineteenth century, the no-nonsense English longbowman was built up into an archetype of what Englishmen could achieve. Three key events in this process of building the archers' reputation were the battles of Crncy, Poitiers and Agincourt. But the question this book raises is 'Why is the Battle of Verneuil not the fourth battle in this list?' A history which describes only the events of battles can be very sterile. A battle happens as part of a chain of events in history, and these events are what give the battle its significance. As this account of the Battle of Verneuil will show, the behaviour of the soldiers in a battle can turn the battle one way or another, and so they can also influence the path of history after the battle one way or another. These are the battles that historians call decisive. It is almost certain that the leaders and captains of the forces engaged in the Battle of Verneuil were aware that they and their men were engaged in just such a battle. Like the battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt, the Battle of Verneuil was the culmination of one side following a battle-seeking strategy. But, as the outcomes of these four major battles demonstrate, having a battle-seeking strategy and winning the sought-for battle were two very different things. This was why large battles were rare in the 116 years of the Hundred Years War. Leaders on both sides understood the strategic risks inherent in any battle, let alone a large-scale, decisive one. Therefore, as will become clear in the account of the years preceding the Battle of Verneuil, strategy was advanced by raids, sieges, ambushes and surprise assaults, rather than through a series of great set-piece battles such as happened in the Crimean War or the First World War.
Military activity is only half a war; diplomacy makes up the rest. Diplomatic activity during the Hundred Years War had various strands. There was the struggle for what we would now call the 'moral high ground'. Whose cause was 'more right'? While both sides sought rulings from the law departments of the great universities of western Europe, papal support was the key to establishing this. The papacy's other role was to try to lead peace negotiations in an attempt to stop the shedding of Christian blood. At the same time as there was conflict and uncertainty at the top of secular society, there was conflict and division in the Church. In 1377 Pope Gregory XI ended the Avignon papacy by returning to Rome. He hoped that, by returning to his see, he would be able to re-establish the independence of the papacy. The standing of the papacy had been weakened by more than sixty-five years' residency in Avignon where its decisions and actions were effectively controlled by the French kings. Something most clearly demonstrated by all seven Popes who reigned from Avignon being French. Unfortunately Gregory died a year later, before he had been able to do much to improve the papacy's reputation. When the cardinals met to choose his successor, the Roman mob rioted, demanding that the conclave elect an Italian pope. Fear and national pride had more effect on the papal election than spiritual considerations, with the cardinals electing the Archbishop of Bari, who became Pope Urban VI. However, Urban was autocratic and intemperate and soon antagonised the cardinals, particularly the many French ones appointed during the time of the Avignon papacy. They met at Anagni, about 70km south-east of Rome, where they declared Urban's election invalid. Fearing Urban's reaction, the cardinals moved to Fondi further away from Rome, where they elected Robert, a son of the Count of Geneva, who became Pope Clement VII. This so outraged Urban that he had five of the cardinals tortured and killed!4 Clement needed to find a sympathetic haven to be secure from Urban's outrage, and so re-established a papal court at Avignon. France and its supporters (many ruled by relatives of the French king), including Burgundy, Aragon, Castile and Naples, supported Clement. Scotland, honouring the Auld Alliance, also accepted Clement. England, Flanders, the Holy Roman Empire and a number of north Italian city states supported Urban. Naturally both popes declared the other to be an antipope. All this was worse than anything that happened in England, Scotland or France in their divisions at this time.
The Papal Schism continued until the election of Martin V in 1417. The Schism affected the Hundred Years War since both the English and the French could gain papal support for their claims. They could do this knowing that the papacy did not have the standing to lead a peace process because of its divisions. This changed with Pope Martin's election, but he was unable to negotiate even a temporary truce between the warring nations. However, his successor managed to promote negotiations in the early 1430s which brought lasting harm to the English cause. It is difficult to know what effect the Schism had on the ordinary men and women of England, Scotland and France. But it must be no coincidence that the philosopher and theologian John Wyclif, who questioned the Church's right to its authority and vast properties, thrived at this time.
Diplomacy was also part of the practical aspect of war making; the kings of England and France made serious efforts to build up alliances. Firstly, there were attempts to gain active military support, more commonly by the French kings. The make-up of the army that fought for Charles VII of France at Verneuil is the clearest proof of the success of these efforts. Both the French and English kings made treaties with the great dukes of France and with the dukes of Brittany to try to gain some military advantage. Secondly, the kings of both realms made serious diplomatic efforts to build alliances which contained their enemy, rather than actively participating in the wars. Henry V's negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor are an example of this. The most robust result of the diplomatic efforts throughout the Hundred Years War was The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. Although they played their part earlier in the Hundred Years War on occasion, the Scots were particularly active in the wars in France in the period between the battles of Agincourt and Verneuil.
The Battle of Verneuil marked a high point for the kings of England in their efforts to win the Crown of France. The outcome of the battle ensured that Henry V's legacy, both military and diplomatic, survived and was built upon. The story of how the armies of the kingdoms of England, Scotland and France came to meet on a hot summer's day in the open fields just north of Verneuil in 1424 is a neglected tale. While it is overshadowed in popular history by other great battles of the Hundred Years War and later wars, it is one of the great achievements of English soldiers, as this book will recount. But it is more important than just another notable English military success; it was a decisive battle that affected the course of history in England and France for some years. It was part of a complex sequence of events following the shock of Henry V's victory at Agincourt that ultimately led to consolidation of the kingdom of France as a European power after a century and half of disorder, and left England with the reputation of being a pugnacious neighbour in Europe; part of it, but also at the edge of it.CHAPTER 2
England and France at the beginning of the fifteenth century
In the decades immediately before and after 1400, England, France and Scotland all endured their own particular version of the same political problem; conflict between the king and the great magnates of the nation. Sometimes this involved physical violence but more usually it was political plotting for supremacy. In all three countries this conflict concerned the rights of the king, the nature of kingship and the rights of the magnates. Kingship at this time was very personal. Robert I of Scotland, Edward III of England and Charles V of France were examples of successful kings who commanded the loyalty of the magnates and their people. In the heyday of their reigns, they all chose highly competent loyal servants. Robert and Edward were also heroic military figures. But if the king was a child or an incompetent, problems could arise. In all three kingdoms, there were senior relatives who could act as regent; men whose right to be regent would be questioned only by their own relatives but not by the nobility or the Church in general. If a kingdom was ruled by a weak king or a regent revolt and civil war were not inevitable, as the situation in Scotland at this time proved, but they did happen in England and France. Meanwhile the magnates, whether relatives of the king or not, were concerned with the maintenance of their own rights: primarily the security and integrity of their estates and access to the king for influence and patronage. In general they did not consider themselves as aspirants to the throne, except when the king had left no clear heir. Equally they were reluctant to accept a magnate succeeding or replacing the king. In both England and Scotland the Parliament had some restraining effect on both kings and magnates mainly through its powers to authorise the collection of specific taxes, but it was only able to influence the outcome of conflicts between the king and the magnates when acting in concert with one party or the other. The Church could only influence these struggles when the archbishops and bishops used their political skills and wealth in a secular manner by behaving very like lay magnates.
Excerpted from Verneuil the Second Agincourt 1424 by Richard Wadge. Copyright © 2015 Richard Wadge. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 The Hundred Years War 9
2 England and France at the beginning of the fifteenth century 17
3 Scotland and the Auld Alliance 33
4 Tactics and strategy in the Hundred Years War 47
5 Recruiting armies in England, Scotland and France in the Middle Ages 59
6 Arms and armour at the time of the Battle of Verneuil 75
7 Henry V and the conquest of Normandy 91
8 Henry V: Regent of France 109
9 The legacy of Henry V 125
10 1423: The Regent of France versus the King of France 139
11 The road to Verneuil 151
12 The battle 167
13 The aftermath of the battle 187
14 The tide of war begins to turn 201
15 Verneuil: The forgotten battle of the Hundred Years War 215
Appendix A English captains at the battles of Cravant and Verneuil 223
Appendix B Reconstructing events at the Battle of Verneuil 226
Appendix C The most important contemporary sources 235
Notes and references 242