The Battle of Formigny
The English under Kyriell were directed to march from Cherbourg join up with the forces in Bayeux or Caen.
Kyriell erred seriously in delaying to take Valognes, giving the French time to coordinate their response using both the army standing at the base of the Cotentin peninsula and the forces available from Brittany.
Kyriell gained time by a daring crossing of the tidal bay near Carentan, and he could probably have got to Bayeux ahead of the French, but he decided to stop at Formigny. This was either
a. because he thought he would be at a disadvantage if he was caught from behind out in the open, or
b. because he was expecting a relief force to come out from Bayeux: I have seen nothing to suggest that such a relief force was ever planned or sent. The French, but no other sources, say that Kyriell placed men under Matthew Gough to the south to meet the expected arrival of Richemont (somewhere near the point of the central blue arrow of the three pointing north on the map).
Clermont in Carentan had wisely resisted attacking Kyriell as he passed to the north of Carentan, because he was inexperienced and needed the extra force which the Bretons would supply, and I think he ran into Kyriell unexpectedly because he had stopped at Formigny.
There was then a pause: Clermont didn’t want to attack prematurely before Richemont arrived; he didn’t know when or if Richemont would arrive, and Kyriell didn’t want to leave his prepared position.
Skirmishing of some character then involved the two French cannon, the noise of whose fire alerted Richemont, who didn’t know where Clermont was before that.
The French suffered casualties and Clermont was on the point of retreating when Richemont appeared in the nick of time, whereupon the English withdrew from their prepared positions.
The French joined forces, effectively surrounding the English army, and making their position untenable.
Matthew Gough, recognising this, took his force to safety in Bayeux.
The English were then defeated with heavy casualties, made heavier by the villagers of Formigny killing those trying to escape through the buildings and enclosures of the village.
The expected ability of the English garrisons to continue resisting failed to materialise because the new cannon provided by the Bureau brothers reduced siege times from months to days, and so there was no time to mount any other relief expedition, and Normandy was lost.
For your essay you would stress F (Foreign and Military) with the French army reforms taking effect, and I: Individual & Random, with the error of Kyriell in delaying at Valognes, plus the military understanding of Richemont making haste and arriving just in time. The Duke of Suffolk was murdered a fortnight later on May 2nd, and Cade’s revolt broke out in June, making a response to Formigny impossible.
Hostilities: the first three hours
After the taking of the cannon
Kyriell’s response to the cavalry attack
Key factors in the English defeat
The Battle of Formigny, (1,2) fought on 15th April (2,5) 1450, (2,4) was a major battle (1,2) in the later stages (1,4) of the Hundred Years’ War (1,2) between the crown of England OR England’s last army in Normandy (2) and France. (1,2) Although the French king, Charles VII, did little to save the life of Jeanne d’Arc, he used the succeeding years to strengthen his position in France. (8) In 1444, Charles and the then king of England, Henry VI signed the Treaty of Tours, which guaranteed a temporary truce between the two countries, the marriage of Margaret of Anjou to Henry, and the transfer of the province of Maine to Charles. (8)
French Army Reforms
The French, under Charles VII, had taken the time offered by the (8) Treaty of Tours in 1444 (4,10) to reorganize and reinvigorate their armies. (10) The French ordonnance companies were local companies of French gentry or nobility consisting of between 600 and 1000 men each. (11) They consisted of mounted men-at-arms (gen d’armes in French), each accompanied by a squire and a page, also mounted and wearing similar armor and weapons. (11) Also in the mix were archers or crossbowmen, (11) and finally came the powerful artillery train. (11,12) Each of these companies was disciplined, well commanded (12) well-trained and drilled, allowing them to make a better account of themselves than their predecessors in earlier stages of the war. (11) In emergencies, these local units could be quickly called to arms and confront English attacks. (11) Unlike the English, they could operate during the winter. (12) The English force was little changed from the ones that had dominated the French military over the previous 120+ years. (11) There were some 1000-1200 men-at-arms, along with about 2800-3000 longbowmen. (11) [There were probably also some billmen wielding a polearm called an English bill. (11) It was a relative of the halberd, and was very effective against mounted opponents. (11) ] Still wielding the longbow which had won famous victories at Crécy (1345), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415), the archers still regarded themselves as the deciding arm of the English army. (11) They were to be shown otherwise by the events at Formigny. (11)
The end of the Truce
As happened to so many of the truces of the Hundred Years War, it did not offer the prospect of a permanent settlement. (8) Margaret was only a distant relation to the French throne and she was impoverished therefore coming without a dowry. (8) When Henry attempted to renege on the transfer of territory, Charles threatened by collecting a large army and by 1448 Henry acquiesced. (8) On March 25th, 1449, François de Surienne, called ‘the Aragonese’, the English commander of Verneuil, a Knight of the Garter turned routier, (12) took Fougères (9,12) and sacked it. (9) Charles VII took up the cause of the duke François I of Brittany, his vassal. (12) Edmund of Somerset, the English governor of Rouen replied: “I disavow the man who took it, but I am happy with the result and will not make him give it up”: the truce was broken. (12)
In this font from ‘Jean Bureau’: As a prerequisite to the campaigns to retake Normandy and Gascony, the Bureau brothers established a number of arsenals and magazines that would support the planned offensives. (12) They quickly updated and enlarged the number of siege and field guns in the king’s army. (12) Where Charles VII had previously had to borrow guns from towns which owned them, he now had enough of his own to attack several places at once, which impressed contemporaries. (JB) Three months later, (9) in June 1449, (8,9) hostilities recommenced (8,9) when the French broke the truce (10) and repudiated the Truce of Tours by invading Normandy. (9) Thanks to the army reforms (12) they were in a much improved position. (10) Four French armies were immediately ready, (12) all supported with the improved artillery. (JB) The reorganized French Army took advantage of the weakened English, (8) who had no field army in the duchy, and the campaign quickly became (9) a series of sieges. (8,9) The castles held by English garrisons were isolated, demotivated and abandoned by London. (12) On May 15th, Robert de Floques, bailiff of Evreux took Pont de l’Arche and soon Conches. (12) Then Verneuil fell. (12) Pont-Audemer fell in August, (10,12) and then Pont-L’Evêque. (12) Cutting north and east the Bureau brothers and their guns oversaw the fall of (10) Lisieux. (8,10) Rouen capitulated (5,8) on October (9,10) 29th. (12) On the 10th of November, Charles VII made his solemn entry into Rouen. (12) Normandy was reconquered as far as the River Dive. (12) The constable’s troops liberated the south of the Cotentin. (12) Harfleur followed (8,9) in December, (9,10) and Honfleur and Fresnoy fell (8,10) in January 1450. (10, JB) Bombardments by the Bureaus’ artillery aided in the capture of (JB) Rouen (JB) Harfleur, Honfleur and Fresnoy. (JB) Bureau acquired a reputation as an effective artillery officer during this campaign. (JB) By January 1450, the French had forced the English back to the coast of Normandy. (JB) The English only retained Caen (5,12) and 7 other towns: Falaise, Vire, Bayeux, Avranches, Bricquebec, Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte and Cherbourg. (12)
The English army assembles
In the winter of 1449, (6,10) the government of Henry VI gathered (9,10) a small army (5,6) to send to Normandy. (6,9) It was the only attempt to (12) halt the French advance, (9) and assist the English troops stationed on the mainland. (12) It had 3-4,000 (12) OR 4000 (13) OR 3,500 (5) OR about 3,000 (8,10) OR 2500 (7,9) men, (5,7) and was led by Sir (6,7) OR Captain (12) OR Lieutenant General (13) Thomas Kyriell (6,7) OR Kyriel, (5,12) OR Kyrriel(13) (5,6) It assembled at Portsmouth (6,8) and sailed to Cherbourg, (5,6) the only remaining port the English still held in Normandy. (13) Bearing all the hopes of Somerset (12) it arrived on 15th (8,9) March (5,8) 1450. (5,7)
The English objective was Caen (5,8) OR the relief of Bayeux. (9) Kyriell’s orders were to avoid a battle and to lead his troops to Caen (9,13) where Somerset would take command. (13) It would be up to him as Governor of Normandy to avenge his defeats and rebuild his reputation. (13) It would only take Kyriell four or five days to cover the twenty-three leagues that separate Cherbourg from Bayeux. (13) Standing in the way, Valognes was held by the French, blocking communications with Cherbourg. (13) Kyriell besieged it. (13) Kyriell (6,7) at the request of local officials, deviated from his orders. (9) He asked (7,9) Edmund Beaufort, (9) duke of Somerset, the English governor of Normandy, for reinforcements (7,9) to recapture Valognes. (8,9) This was a strange decision: taking Valognes would not free up the road to Bayeux road because Carentan was also held by the French. (13) It would have seemed better to move more quickly than the French and Breton armies. (13) Somerset (7,12) who had taken post in Caen since losing Rouen in 1449, (12) reluctantly (7) agreed, (7,13) in late March, (10) to give him a further 1800. (7,12) OR 2,000 men (6,12) commanded by Sir Matthew Gough (6,9) OR Mathieu Gough, (12) the governor of Bayeux, Richard Vere, Somerset’s deputy, and Henry Norberny, governor of Vire (12) The men had been raised from the garrisons in the Cotentin and the cities of Caen, Bayeux and Vire. (12)
The French armies
To the South (6,7) of the Cherbourg peninsula there were two French armies preparing to engage the English. (7) On the day of the English landing, Abel Rouault carried the news to Guillaume de Couvran, the captain of Coutances; and on the next day a messenger informed the King at Alençon. (13) Charles VII was informed on the 19th or 20th of March. (13) From Valognes Abel Rouault appealed to the duke and the constable for help in the threatened siege. (13) The king hastily formed an army of 3000 (13) OR 5,000 (10) men (13) by joining two French armies under (10) the young Jean (12) Comte de Clermont (5,7) son of Charles I (8,10) duc (5) de Bourbon1), (5,8) and King Charles VII’s son-in-law2. (12) The count, barely twenty-four years old, was about to learn the art of command against an enemy superior in number, and at the beginning of a decisive campaign: it was a task beyond him. (13) The King no doubt expected that the constable would effect a junction with him and take command before the army encountered the enemy; and he could rely on the officers with whom he surrounded his son-in-law to compensate for his inexperience. (13) Among them were the Breton Prigent Coëtivy, admiral of France. (13) He marched north for Carentan. (10) One was commanded by (5,7) It was at (7,9) OR marching towards Carentan, (7,8) 20 miles west of Bayeux and 30 miles south of Cherbourg (7) with a force of some 3000 (6,7) OR 5,000 (8,10) men. (7) The second (7,9) OR third (10) force of 2000 (7,9) OR 1,200 (7,8) Bretons (9,10) consisted of fully mounted men, (7,8) mounted judging from the pace of their march. (10) OR about 1200 heavy cavalry and 800 archers. (7) OR crossbowmen. (9) It was commanded by the Constable (7,8) of France, (9) Arthur (8,9) of Richemont (7,8) who had departed from (7) OR lay at (9) Coutances, 20 miles (7,9) further south (7) OR southwest (9) of Carentan. (7) It was available to support de Clermont’s army. (7,9) De Richemont was the older and more experienced commander and had participated in the sudden defeat of the English in the battle of Patay. (7)
Valognes 10th April
Kyriell lingered in the Cotentin (12) OR marched (6,8) swiftly, (6) south. (8) He took a number of strongholds. (12) OR He began operations against Valognes (5,6) on March 27th. (12) Joachim Rouault, soon marshal of France, was captain of Valognes, but he was replaced by his brother Abel, who was going to show himself worthy to occupy this advanced post. (13) He had only a small garrison; but the townspeople who, the year before, had opened their doors to the Breton army, showed themselves men of war. (13) Kyriell captured it (5,6) on April 10th, (5,9) OR 7th or 12th (12) in a bloody clash (10) against heroic resistance. (13) On that day French had still not combined their forces. (6) Kyriell (6,7) then marched to relieve the siege of Caen, (2,3) OR towards Bayeux (7,9) OR to Bayeux and Caen, (12) and approached Carentan on 12th April. (7) Since most of his captains were occupied further east, the French king had ordered, (12) the Comte de Clermont (5,7) to go to Carentan, to stop the English. (12) The French responded with alacrity; and on the 12th of April Clermont arrived at Carentan. (13)
Carentan 12th April
There he learned that Valognes, after a glorious resistance, had surrendered on about the 10th, and that the English had left it on the 12th. (13) To avoid the French and Breton armies, Kyriell needed to get past Carentan and Clermont’s army, but if he went via St. Lo, he would lengthen his journey to Caen by four or five leagues, and put himself in a dangerous position between the royal army at Carentan and the Breton army advancing east towards him. (13) Probably following the advice of Matthew Gough, Kyriell chose a route (13) following the coastline north of Carentan. (11) Never before had such a large army attempted it. (13) East of Carentan, the bay of Grand-Vey separates the Cotentin from the Bessin. (13) Two main rivers flow into this bay, the Carentan to the west and the Isigny to the east. (13) At low tide this was a huge sandy beach, and the two rivers were then fordable at two points, three miles apart. (13) Matthew Gough knew the place well; he may well have taken this road before, perhaps on his way to Valognes a few weeks earlier. (13) Reassured by Gough, Kyriell was confident that he could avoid the twin dangers of tide and quicksand, and his confidence was proved correct. (13) The English safely by-passed Carentan by this route (6,7) on 12th (10) OR 14th (12) April. (10,12) Clermont raced to intercept them (6) OR refused to engage the English. (7,9) He watched the English cross the fords of Veys in the direction of Bayeux and Caen. (12,13) Prudently, Clermont followed the English at a distance, (12) allowing Kyriell to proceed unmolested (9,13) in spite of being urged to do so by the town’s people (7,13) and his own officers. (12) This was because he had only 3,000 men (12) and was unwilling to engage the English force (9) which had 2,000 more. (12) OR because he arrived too late with his 3,000 men. (12) OR because the tide prevented him from attacking them. (12) Kyriell, too, refused to offer battle. (8) OR sent a couple of groups to support the peasants. (13) There were a number of smaller skirmishes (10,13) as the town’s militia made a sortie against the rearguard of Kyriell’s army. (7,13) Celui-ci se décida enfin à envoyer Joachim Rouault et Geffroy de Couvran avec quelques lances ou pour leur donner satisfaction ou pour les soutenir et les défendre. (13) Ces troupes et les paysans donnèrent sur l’arrière-garde anglaise et y mirent quelque désordre ; mais ils ne pouvaient faire plus These were repulsed as (7) Kyriell marched on towards Bayeux, (6,8) while de Clermont remained at Carentan 15 miles West. (7) OR advanced East and followed from Carentan towards Bayeux. (7,8) On the 14th (7) Clermont sent for the assistance of the Constable de Richemont, who had just arrived at Saint-Lô from Coutances (7,12) with the Breton troops, and was camped there. (12) He requested that the latter come to his support in an attack the following day. (7)
The Movements of Richemont
The constable was raising troops at Messac, between Rennes and Redon. (13) He received the message the next day and hastened to join the Duke at Dinan (March 20th or 27th). The army was nearly four thousand men, stronger than the royal army, and Richemont wanted to set out; but a cruel surprise awaited him. (13) The council advised the Duke not to go. (13) After several days, the Duke promised to leave on Easter Monday (April 6), and to go to Dol, where the constable was going to celebrate Easter. (13) When he arrived he announced that he would not leave Brittany. (13) He retained nearly 2000 men and officers who would have been very useful in Normandy. (13) Weary of waiting for the duke, the constable left Dol on the 10th of April, the day Valognes fell. (13) He had less than two thousand men, and the Breton officers, kept back by the duke, were anxiously wondering whether it would be possible for him to face the enemy; but he was full of confidence and consoled them, saying: “I vow to God that with the grace of God, I will have seen the English before coming back”. (13) He hoped to get to Valognes in time. (13) The Count of Clermont paused to see which way the English were going to go, and to wait for Richemont who, the next day, was about to arrive at Coutances. (13) The constable was making haste; but time was against him. He had been in Rennes the message of Abel Rouault on 24th March. (13) He left for Dinan where the army assembled. (13) By 14th April he had reached St Lô. (7,12) Clermont had thought that Kyriell, avoiding Carentan and the meeting of the French, would by-pass Carentan to the west and go from there to Bayeux. (13) In this he was mistaken and his mistake affected the constable’s thinking. (13)
Kyriell stands at Formigny
Now commanding an army of four thousand, (10) Kyriell marched toward Bayeux, (9,10) ten miles from Bayeux. (13) He reached the village of Formigny (9,10) on the evening of April 14th, (6,8) four days after the fall of Valognes, (5) He was about 10 miles from Bayeux. (11) Having crossed the estuary of the river Vire, (7) Kyriell halted his forces for the night (6,7) in the shallow valley (7) OR on the plateau3. (12!) near (6,7) OR at (8) the village of Formigny, (6,7) and camped on the western bank of a brook that emptied into the Aure River (11) Matthew Gough had perhaps picked out the place as a good defensive position. (13) OR It was not a good place to oppose an enemy. (7) The English, now numbering about 4,000 men, established defensive positions. (8) They set up archer stakes and dug some hasty trenches to guard against a French cavalry attack. (11,13) It was a habit of the English to strengthen themselves for the night. (13) OR 12 says ‘the ‘Godons’4 dug ditches and traps in the morning after the French appeared!’ (12) On the morning of 15th April, (9,12) the English were only ten miles (9) half a day’s march (7) four leagues (13) from the safety of Bayeux, (9) but instead of resuming his march, Kyriell held his position. (7,9) OR the horsemen left for Bayeux, and the infantry followed. (12) One might wonder why an experienced soldier like Kyriell did not continue his march to the safety of Bayeux5. (7) Perhaps he hoped to repeat the exploits of the English at Crecy and Agincourt. (12) Kyriell knew that he was being closely followed by the French army, and was threatened in flank by the Constable. (13) He could not be confident of reaching Bayeux without a fight. (13) Perhaps he hoped that Somerset would send him help; and perhaps he wanted to wait for that behind his entrenchments? (13)
Hostilities: the first three hours
The French approach
On the morning of April 15th, Clermont and his men left Carentan (11) finally managed to cross the Petit Vey ford at the river mouth6 (12) and began marching the 15 miles east to reach the English before they reached Bayeux. (11) They marched along the later famous National Road 13, (8) and approached the English camp. (7) As he moved to attack the English, de Clermont did so with the knowledge that a second French force, led by Arthur de Richemont, was advancing from the south. (6) He had difficulty restraining his men, who were thirsting for battle with the English. (12) Meanwhile, in response to Clermont’s request, (12) and realizing the danger to the French forces besieging Bayeux, (11) Book 13 points out that Clermont acted unwisely in confronting the English on the road, when he had delayed in informing Richemont until the morning of the 15th, thus risking Richemont not arriving in time, and it was only Richemont’s understanding of the urgency and consequent forced march which saved the situation. (13) Richemont and his men had duly7 departed (7,9) to (9,10) OR through (7) OR from (12) St. Lô (7,9) 19 miles Southwest, (7) to join Clermont’s army (7,9) and intercept the English before they reached Bayeux. (7,12) While Clermont was marching towards Formigny, Richemont and his men were galloping north and west to join him. (11,12) With each mile, Richemont and his men prayed they would arrive in time to intercept the English. (11)
Clermont arrives at Formigny
Clermont (5,7) intercepted8 (2,3) OR caught up with (6,7) the English were peacefully engaged in striking camp (129) OR marching to relieve the siege of Caen (1,3) OR waiting for them. (7,9) It was on April 15th (6,7) at Aignerville, in the morning (12) OR at around 3:00 PM (6,7) OR near (5,4) Formigny, (4,5) on the Carentan-Bayeux road (4,10) just over halfway between Valognes and Caen. (5) Kyriell’s (6,7) outposts spotted Clermont’s force (6,7) behind them (12) advancing from the west. (6,7) The English force comprised about 5000 soldiers, of whom 3500 (4) OR 4000 (7,9) (72.5% (2900) OR 70% (7) OR 75% (9)) were archers. (4,7) The French did nothing for three hours. (12) The inaction of the French army has been criticized. (13) Yet it was very easy to justify. (13) The King’s instructions, as well as prudence, commanded him to wait for the Breton army. (13)
The English line of battle
Kyriell recalled the cavalry and (12) put his army into battle formation. (11) Towards the village, to the rear of English camp, the houses, walls, hedges, gardens planted with trees made a barrier impassable to the cavalry. (13) Kyriell drew up his army in (7) the long-tested formation used since Crécy, (6,7) with infantry dispersed among the longbowmen. (6,7) With a front estimated at some 1000 yards, (7,11) the English stood in a dip. (7) A stone bridge over the brook appears to have been about the mid-point of the English line. (7)There were some billmen, and (7) about 800 men-at-arms placed in a dismounted position (7,8) in a long (10) OR thin (9) line (9,10) OR two large groups possibly 10 or 12 ranks deep, (11) among three wedges of longbowmen (7,8) behind a crop of Spanish riders. (9) OR Kyrrielhad divided his army into two corps: the main body under the command of Kyrrielhimself, occupied the village and the heights, and (13) a second group (12,13) remained on reserve on the left flank at the south end of the line. (12) OR on the left bank of the stream, under the orders of Matthew Gough, guarding the bridge and the ford. (13) At the right (north) (12) OR East (13) end of the line was a small hovel which had been reinforced to serve as a redoubt. (12,13) It defended the camp and at the same time the road to Bayeux, the line of retreat. (13) The longbowmen were further protected by a row of stakes (6,7) driven into the soft spring earth (8) and shallow moats, (7) OR water-filled holes dug to repel mounted knights (8) OR a trench (5,12) OR behind earthworks (8) with their backs to the stream (6,7) OR creek. (9) The ‘Godons’10 (12) dug ditches (12,13) and traps on the right bank of (12) the Ruisseau de Formigny, (12) a small tributary of the Aure (7,10) that ran South. (7) The men-at-arms were armed mainly with shortened lances, swords, axes, bills, and maces. (11) It was a strong defensive position, (4) OR weakened however, (6,7) as at Patay (7) by the low nature of the ground and the lack of natural terrain on which to anchor their flanks. (6,7) There was no reserve, the number of men at arms on foot was too small for that to be possible. (7) Kyriell’s troops prepared to receive the French attack (6) against about the same number of French soldiers. (4)
After a pause of three hours (12) that allowed the English to further entrench their position, (9,12) The French under Clermont deployed cautiously, (12) about 400 yards away from the English line (11) just out of long range of the British bows. (11,12) In the first hour of the battle, (11) Clermont opened the battle (6,7) with an infantry attack (11) OR two attacks on Kyriell’s lines. (6,7) It is difficult to understand why Clermont went into action before the arrival of the Constable. (13) Did he want to have the sole credit for victory? (13) His attack was premature and imprudent. (13) OR Book 13 takes an independent line, so difficult to reconcile with any other source that I have included it in full as an Appendix (q.v) OR Book 12 omits all the French attacks and moves directly to the artillery attack. (12) His dismounted (7,9) men-at-arms (9) attacked the English (8,9) flanks. (8,10) OR it was the second charge (7) which was aimed at the flanks (7,11) They were fairly quickly repulsed. (7,9) The longbow men (7) exacted a heavy toll (6,7) with enfilading shot from the line of ditches and potholes at short range, as well as from both flanks on each side of the road. (7) The English formation numbered around 4,000 – with a three-to-one preponderance in archers – and gathered behind a thicket of stakes and low earthworks. (10) Shortly afterwards, two mounted attacks on the English flanks were also repelled. (11)
The second charge by de Clermont was mounted and aimed for the flanks of the English. (7,9) Both attacks were defeated (5,6) with significant casualties. (6) OR the French only lost 100-200 men (6!) The English archers held the French off (3,5) and after absorbing fire for (5,6) about three hours (4,5) This was “three hours of skirmishing”. (8,10)
Not wishing to throw away more of his men without inflicting casualties on the enemy, (11) after an interval, at about 5 o’clock (7) Clermont (3,5) OR Jean Bureau (JB) advanced two (3,5) cannons. (10,11) to positions on each of the French flanks opposite the English longbows, to barrage the English archers deployed as they had been at Agincourt. (JB) They were long-range (9) culverins (7,11) OR coulverine (9) light (7) guns, (7,9) on two (7) -wheeled carriages. (7,9) These had been supplied to the French king’s army by the brothers Jean and Gaspard Bureau, pioneers in the field of ordnance. (5,JB) They fired into the dense pack of archers (9,11) for several minutes. (11) Crucially these ‘culverins’ were able to do so beyond effective bowshot range (7,9) at some 400 yards (366m) (7) so that the archers were unable to deliver any return shot. (7,9) They enfiladed the English line and fired accurately. (9) They began to inflict (5,6) a few (10) OR terrible (9) casualties (5,6) OR wrought havoc (12) causing long-range bloodshed (11) upon the English archers, (5,6) It was the first occasion on which the French used field artillery (5,8) OR cannon bombardment. (8) It is likely they were breech loaded, (7,11) as they were apparently able to deliver a sufficiently (7) rapid rate of fire (7,9) to disrupt the English longbow men. (7) After the archers had been galled and were suffering casualties, (7,9) Kyriell ordered a company of halberdiers to attack the gunners, which they did with devastating effect (12) OR the archers (6,7) lightly armed and armoured, (11) broke ranks and (7) charged the French positions (6,7) without orders (11)at around 5:00 PM. (6) They took both French guns (5,6) and killed the gunners (11,12) stopping the bombardment. (12) OR the French had other cannon with which to pound the English. (9)
After the taking of the cannon
Accounts differ on whether the French recaptured the guns in a counter attack. (7) The English retired back to their line to await the French response. (11) OR To rescue the French gunners (12) apparently not dead as we learned from (11), Pierre de Breze, the Marshal of Dreux, launched an assault on the enemy infantry. (12) There was a fierce struggle, among the silent guns, barrels of powder and shelters covering sheaves of arrows. (12) Finally, the French managed to retake the guns, (12) while the English retired to their defensive line. (11,12)
Clermont was now concerned: his army was still intact, (12) OR had also by this time suffered losses, (6,7) and was in disarray. (6,9) It was smaller in number than Kyriel’s, and there was no sign of the hoped for arrival of the Constable. (12) However, the French Army OR only lost around 100-200 men in the whole battle. (6) As a result of the English sally, the entire French force (11) began to withdraw (6,7) a short distance. (11) With the loss of the guns, Claremont pondered how to prevail against the enemy. (11)With his lines breaking, (6) It is likely that if at this point Kyriell had made a brisk counter-attack then the French lines would have been shattered. (7,9) It is not known whether this omission was due to hesitation on Kyriell’s part, or to his belated awareness of de Richemont’s approach from the South. (7) The retreat was quickly halted as (6,7) between 6 and 7 o’clock in the evening when both the English and French became aware (7) of the Constable de (5) Richemont’s (3,4) cavalry beginning to arrive on the scene (3,4) over the rise (7,8) from the south. (4,6) His force was deployed on top of a slight ridge by a windmill to the South of the village. (7) The unfolding attack was in full view of de Clermont’s force, (7) and doubtlessly stiffened morale. (7,9) One of the French captains wrote shortly afterwards that if the Constable (Richemont) had not come when he did, Clermont’s army would have suffered ‘irreparable damage’. (10)
The French Cavalry arrives
Richemont had left his archers behind in the interest of arriving at the battlefield (11) by a forced march (12) more quickly. (11,12) It is likely that he had located the precise position of de Clermont by the sound of his army’s gunfire. (7,11) He crossed the Aure, (10,11) and at about 6.00 pm, (7,11) OR at about mid-day (12) he approached the English force from the flank. (10) As his men appeared on the heights to the south of the field of battle, the English shouted for joy, mistaking Richemont’s men for cavalry sent to help them by the Duke of Somerset. (12) De Richemont was an experienced commander. (7) Rapidly assessing the situation, (12) he rode forward to make contact with de Clermont prior to committing his army. (7,11) OR now attacked. (9,12) Kyriell’s force was by now out-numbered. (7) De Richemont’s force consisted of heavy cavalry and reached the field (7) with an estimated strength of about 1200. (4,7) After a quick war council it was decided to continue the battle. (6,7) Clermont agreed to place himself under the orders of the older and more experienced Constable de Richemont, who persuaded de Clermont to rally his army. (7) Richemont was ideally positioned to assault the English flank and rear: (9,12) he divided his army in two: (12) and at about 7:00 pm (11) Richemont’s (3,4) reinforcements (3,4) commanded by the bastard of Tremouille (12), charged downhill (7,12) and attacked the English (4,6) left (6,7) flank (4,6) OR the riders of the English reserve. (12) Taken by surprise they retreated to the village of Formigny, to the rear of their troops. (12) He extended his left flank in order to make contact with de Clermont’s right flank. (7,12) To do this he sent his infantry (12) (which had been left behind in the forced march! (11)) round to be welcomed enthusiastically by Clermont’s men. (12)
Kyriell’s response to the cavalry attack
The arrival of the new French troops (6) caused the English to (4,5) collapse. (5) OR shift their forces, (4,6) Kyriell lost his cool. (12) Kyriell drew back from Clermont (10,12) and ordered the retreat of his entire army behind the brook. (12) This conceded the advantage of the prepared position, (4,12) by rendering unusable the pits and earthworks behind which his archers had been sheltering. (12) It also assisted the completion of the junction between the Bretons and French. (12) The English bent their flank back to meet the attack. (6,7) forming an “L” formation partially straddling the stream. (8,10) With their backs to the village and the orchard hedges, the English were determined to hold the bridge that defended their lines. (12) Without reserves11 (6,7) Kyriell had no option but to form a new flank like this, (7) but the English line was thinned by the manoeuvre. (6,8) It had to be done quickly. (7) The extended semi-circular front of the English (7) was so dense that it inhibited firing by many longbowmen. (7,9) It was a hastily assumed position (7) and leaving no time to erect fortifications to protect the archers, (6,7) but it was by now unavoidable. (7) The French attacked on two fronts. (4,6)
The French victory
The French attacked the redoubt that defended the right flank of the enemy army12 and neutralized it. (12) Then they attacked the bridge. (12) The two-pronged (4,6) OR repeated attacks, (4,10) forced Kyriell’s men back, ultimately (6,7) OR quickly (9) breaking their line. (6,7) The English position was shattered, (6,8) and Kyriell and his men began to flee the field (6,8) OR fell back everywhere towards a little stone bridge and nearby orchards where heavy fighting took place. (7,11) The English were cut up into small groups (7,9) amidst the gardens and the orchards. (12) Many of them fought (7,9) bravely (12) to the death (7,9) The rank and file were hunted down in the village gardens. (12,13) Large numbers fell (11) in hand to hand combat (7) OR by intense crossbow and gun fire (9) OR killed by the local peasants. (12,13) OR by the cavalry riding them down. (6) The English captains were forced to surrender. (12) and the English were (1,2) decisively (2,6) defeated. (1,2) Kyriell was wounded (12) and taken prisoner. (7,8) By sundown, the battle was done. (11)
Key factors in the English defeat
Kyriell paid a heavy price for stopping to take Valognes. If he had not lost three long weeks besieging Valognes, he would have arrived safely at Caen early in April and been able to take the field with Somerset; their combined force might have crushed Clermont’s small isolated force; and gone on to bring the Bretons to battle with a 3-1 superiority. (13) The defeat was a classic example of two armies affecting a concentration on the battlefield. (7) Although classic in theory it was a manoeuvre that commanders even centuries later warned against. (7) The reason is that exterior concentration needs good communications. (7) The battle of Formigny is all the more remarkable for the fact that it occurred in virtual absence of communications as was inevitable in the Middle-Ages. (7) Although the presence of guns significantly influenced the course of the battle they were decisive only in that their noise located the English position precisely and therefore made a concentrated attack on two fronts possible. (7)
The English casualties were catastrophic. (7) The entire army was captured, killed, or (7) fled, (7,9) running all the way to Caen (9) OR Bayeux (7,9) in utter panic. (9) There were not many (7,9) OR a thousand (12) were left to flee, (7,9) OR retreated in good order (12) but they included the second in command, Matthew Gough (7,9) and De Vere. (12) 4000 (1,12) OR around 2,500, (6,7) OR 2,300 (8) men were killed (1,4) nearly 50% of his total force, (6) and 900 (7,12) OR 12-1400 (13) captured. (7,10) The dead were buried in fourteen trenches on the battlefield. (12) For the French, the victory proved relatively cheap with a total loss of (7,8) 1000 dead and wounded. (10) OR around 100-200 men (6,11) OR 200. (7,8) The figure of 200 does not seem to fit the initial description of the first phases of the battle, when de Clermont’s army was said to have been repulsed ‘with heavy losses’. (7) The two French sources do not acknowledge any French dead at all. (12,13)
Loss of Normandy
The Battle of Formigny was one of the closing battles in the Hundred Years’ War. (8,9) It was a major defeat for the English (8,12) and one from which they never recovered. (8) Lacking an army in Normandy, the English were unable to prevent (6,7) the French from (1,2) regaining Normandy, (1,3) originally conquered by Henry V. (1) The besieged towns could now have no hope of relief. (12) Clermont and Dunois (12) soon (7) united (12) to enter Bayeux. (7,12) The French (3,5) under Dunois (12) captured Caen two months later (3,5) on July 1st. (12) Somerset set sail for Calais. (12) Falaise fell on July 21st. (12) On August 6th Charles VII entered Caen and granted an amnesty to the people of the town, even including the merchants of Bernay, who had supplied the English. (12) The remaining English strongholds in Normandy (2,7) were taken by siege (9) by early August. (5,9) Thierry de Robessart, yielded Saint-Sauveur le Vicomte to the French after a brief resistance. (12) The last British held town was Cherbourg. (12) In order to besiege it, guns were dug into the beach, a side of the city that was thought unassailable. (12) The English defenders were astonished to see the guns being covered in greased leather at every tide: (12) All the great soldiers of the kingdom were there. (12) After negotiations, (12) the city surrendered on August 12th. (9,12) The ‘Goddams’ left on the 14th. (12) The English power in northern France was broken and they lost all of it except Calais. (4,8) Richemont was nominated Governor of Normandy. (12) Though other engagements occurred in the south, the English had lost France forever. (8) Thirty years later, Clermont, now Duke of Bourbon built the Chapel Saint-Louis at Formigny in thanksgiving for his first military victory. (12)
Appendix I – account in infobretagne
This takes such a different line from the other 12 sources that I have incorporated it as a whole here: I have underlined points of similarity with the previous accounts:
The count knew that the constable would arrive from Trévières on the left bank of the river occupied by Matthew Gough. (13) It would be helpful if he could seize the bridge and the ford, to prepare the junction of the two armies, but he should have waited for the Richemont before doing this. (13) He did not expect this skirmish to become a battle; but it did. (13) The count advanced to the left towards the area occupied by Matthew Gough. (13) He detached archers and sixty spearmen, to occupy the right bank of the brook, while the culverins fired on the English position, where they caused great damage. (13) Suddenly Matthew Gough, passing from defence to attack, threw a troop of archers, who resolutely crossed the bridge, made the French retreat and seized the guns. (13) The French archers retreated when Pierre de Breze, at the head of his company of men-at-arms, brought them back to the stream. (13) There began a furious melée. (13) This was the first test for the newly created ‘Compagnies d’Ordonnance’, and they distinguished themselves. (13) “Had it not been for them, I think the English would have done great harm to our people.” (13) The whole French army was engaged, but Kyrriel left Gough to fight alone, keeping his main force motionless in their prepared position. (13) Was he anticipating the arrival of Richemont and keeping his troops fresh against the Bretons, who would be tired after their forced march? (13) He may have expected that Gough would be able to defeat the French on his own, and indeed, after three hours of fighting, the Compagnies began to weaken. (13) It seemed that Kyrriel could now seize the opportunity and resolutely commit a general action. (13) Meanwhile Clermont was waiting for news of Richemont. (13) Suddenly on the hill of Aiguerville beyond the Aure less than two kilometres south of Formigny, an army appeared. (13) The English saw them first. (13) They cheered, but then saw the French and Breton banners. (13) It was Richemont! (13) He stopped near a windmill on the hill: and weighed up the situation. (13) He decided that a junction with the existing French army was more important than directly attacking the English flank. (13) He ordered Loheac to move to the bridge with the vanguard and the archers. (13) Seeing this, and fearing to be cut off from their line of retreat, the English return to the left bank of the stream and retreated precipitately to their entrenchments. (13) Loheac passed so near their last ranks that the archers without stopping killed a hundred men. (13) The constable, with the rest of his troops, crossed by the ford and joined forces with Clermont. (13) Richemont took command. (13) Brèze came to ask permission to attack the post on the right wing of the English, to cut off their retreat on Bayeux. (13) After a moment of reflection, the constable approved this movement. (13) Brèze ordered his Compagnies d’Ordonnance to the attack, and most of the redoubt’s defenders were killed or captured. (13) Those who remain fled to the English lines where Drézé pursues them. (13) Meanwhile, on the right bank of the brook, the Bretons were fighting on the bridge, and Clermont alongside it. (13) Matthew Gough defended it vigorously, but lost so many men that the stream was red with blood. (13) Soon the French took the bridge, and in the centre another attack has the same success. (13) The English position was thus driven in on all sides. (13) Matthew Gough, recognising that the battle was lost, gathered what remains of his force to seek refuge in Bayeux. (13) Kyrriel persisted for a long time in a useless resistance. (13) Finally his troops broke and fled through the village. (13) But the houses and gardens which would have been a useful defence at the rear now became a trap. (13) Those taken prisoner by the French troops were given quarter, and were relatively fortunate compared with those captured by the angry peasants, who were exterminated. (13) Thus the peasants gained revenge for more than thirty years of oppression. (13) There were nearly four thousand English dead and twelve or fourteen hundred prisoners, among whom were Kyrriel and the chief leaders. (13) The army which Somerset expected to lead to the reconquest of Normandy, was annihilated. (13) For the constable and France itself, Formigny was revenge for Azincourt. (13)
1 Clermont’s father had been the main instigator of the Praguerie, which had attempted to overthrow Richemont!
2 He later succeeded his father as Jean II, Count of Bourbon.
3 Odd unless ‘plateau’ should be taken literally as ‘flat land’
4 The ‘Goddams’ apparently a 15th Century rendering of the modern ‘Les Fuckoffs’
5 Not only could he have continued his march on 14th and reached Bayeux, but he then stayed at his position throughout most of the 15th without moving at all.
6 Absurdity: perhaps this refers to the English.
7 Book 13 says it was not as routine as this word suggests.
8 Given the direction of travel of both armies, ‘caught up with’ might be a better ideal.
9 Book 12, by a French author, is completely wrong. They could not have covered the distance before noon?
10 The ‘Goddams’ apparently a 15th Century rendering of the modern ‘Les Fuckoffs’
11 Or, according to 12 with his reserve having moved into the village.
12 But the English have already retired behind the stream and are nowhere near it!