Battle of Castillon

a dismal fight/Betwixt the stout Lord Talbot and the French.”



The Valois

The house of Valois occupied the French throne from 1328 to 1589, from the accession of Philip VI to the death pf Henry III. (3) The accession of the Valois to the crown opened a new era in the history of France, in which serious crises alternated with periods of great splendour. (3) Their period on the throne covered the period of the Hundred Years War, the wars of Italy and the Wars of religion, but it was also the time when the Middle Ages was making way for the Renaissance and the sixteenth century in which their view of the world widened with the great discoveries. (3)

Causes of the Hundred years’ War

The causes of the Hundred Years’ War related to disputes over the overseas territories of the English kings. (6) Since William the Conqueror, the duke of Normandy, had become king of England in 1066, a situation developed where subsequent kings of England were also the owners of significant territories in France. (6) William, Duke of Aquitaine, died in 1137 leaving as his heiress his beautiful daughter Eleanor. (12) Queen of France by her first marriage with Louis VII, and Queen of England by her second marriage with Henri Plantagenet, Eleanor is described by her contemporaries as a beautiful woman with green eyes. (12) She was a woman of strong character and quick thinking, very interested in music and poetry, and somewhat fickle. (12) She married the King of France Louis VII but reserved to herself the government of Aquitaine. (12) In 1152, on the pretext that she had not given him a male heir, Louis VII repudiated Eleanor, who immediately married an English prince, Henry Plantagenet, who became the King Henry II of England two years later. (12) The marriage of the Eleanor with Henry Plantagenet in 1137 made Aquitaine an English possession. (12) She lived more than 80 years, giving birth to ten children including five sons (all Plantagenet). (12) Two of them, Richard Lionheart and John Lackland, made war against their own father. (12) The death of Eleanor in 1204 marked the beginning of the long history of English rule in Aquitaine, though the duke remained vassal of the king of France. (12) The King of England was also Duke of Normandy, and these two possessions meant that he controlled a large part of the west of France, from the Pyrenees to Picardy, rather than the King of France. (12) This situation inevitably upset the balance of power in Western Europe. (6) The English kings were vassals to the king of France through the territories they held in his kingdom. (6) However, their position in England meant they wielded much more power than the other French vassals. (6) Conflicts broke out as English kings sought to make their territories in France independent from the influence of the French king, with the duchy of Guyenne being a particular centre of dispute in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. (6) The French King Charles IV had died in 1328 with no male heir. (6,12) Edward held a claim to the throne through his mother, Charles’ sister, (6,12) but was passed over in favour of the nephew of Philip the Fair, Philippe de Valois, (12) who became of Philip VI, (6,12) designated as such by the French nobles. (12) They cited the old “Salic law” from the tradition of the Franks ruling women and their heirs out of the succession to the crown. (12) This began the Valois dynasty of French kings. (12) Philip VI intended to drive the English out of their French possessions, especially the Duchy of Aquitaine. (12) French support of Scotland in several confrontations with England, combined with the desire to pull the French duchies away from Philip’s influence, saw Edward reassert his claim to the French throne. (6) Philip’s claim to the throne allowed him to win the support of discontented French princes and provinces, making it close to impossible for the French king to govern his northern territories from Paris. (6) This instability would remain throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and ultimately fuelled what became known as the Hundred Years’ War. (6) Edward III claimed the crown of France in 1337 in the place of Philip VI of Valois. (12) Historians traditionally date the Hundred Years’ War from 1337 to 1453, (6) although skirmishes and periods of intermittent conflict before and after those dates mean they are far from agreed upon, especially because of the generally fragmented, stop start nature of the conflict. (6,11) During the one hundred and sixteen years of the war there was a series of skirmishes or battles, broken up by intervals when there was no fighting. (12) The war’s many defeats, humiliations and clashes found their conclusion at the ‘Battle of Castillon’, where the fate of the two great kingdoms of Christendom was played out. (7a) To the ravages of war were added the disaster of the Black Death, which decimated the population. (12) Then in 1346 at Crécy the French king’s army was severely beaten by the English. (12) In 1356 came another English victory at Poitiers where the king of France, the son of Philip VI, John the Good (who had succeeded his father Philip VI six years earlier) was taken prisoner by the Black Prince, son of Edward III of England. (12) The French king did not regain his freedom until 1360 after the signing of the peace treaty of Brétigny by which Edward III renounced the crown of France but received in exchange almost a third of France. (12) In 1364 King John died, and Charles V succeeded him. (12) Charles, greatly helped by Bertrand du Guesclin, reconquered a good part of what the English had gained at Brétigny. (12) In 1380, the death of Charles V and du Guesclin saw the throne pass to Charles VI “the Mad” who, against a backdrop of civil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians (allies of the English) was beaten by the English at the famous battle of Agincourt after the new king of England Henry V had again claimed the crown of France! (12)

Recovery of France after 1420

Charles the Mad recognized the king of England as king of France by the disastrous treaty of Troyes. (12) He thus by-passed the claim of his son the Dauphin, who was obliged to take refuge in Bourges. (12) So little of France did the Dauphin actually control that he was nicknamed the “little king of Bourges”. (12) It was, however, this ‘little king’ who reconquered the lost lands with the help of Joan of Arc. (12) The breakdown of the 1420 Treaty of Troyes began the final stage of the Hundred Years’ War. (11) This period from 1420 to 1453 is characterized by Anne Curry as the “wars of the Treaty of Troyes” for control of the crown of France. (11) After Charles the Mad’s death the Dauphin, ignoring the Treaty of Troyes, undertook the reconquest of the kingdom of France. (12) Although suffering early defeats at Cravant (1423) and at Verneuil sur Avre (1424) he then received the support of the young shepherdess, Joan of Arc, who galvanized the French troops to relieve the siege of Orleans and had Charles VII crowned at Reims on July 17, 1429. (12) The lifting of the siege of Orleans (10,14) and the coronation of King Charles VII (1422-1461) in the cathedral of Reims gave hope to the subjects of the king. (10) Since 1429, after the damage wrought on the English invaders by Joan of Arc, the kingdom of France had been recovering little by little. (10,14) The reconquest of the kingdom began there, and the English gradually lost their footing on the continent. (10) Joan of Arc was then captured by the Burgundians and burned alive in Rouen in 1431. (12) Not long afterwards Henry VI of England was crowned king of France, but Joan the Maid had turned the tide. (12) By 1440, the French had driven the English completely from the valley of the Loire, and the English retained only Normandy in the north and Gascony in the south. (14) The Truce of Tours in 1444 gave the French a much-needed respite, during which time Charles completed some necessary military reforms. (14) During the years immediately following the Truce, the French king had undertaken a major reform of his military forces. (14) First and foremost, Charles forbade anyone other than himself to recruit French forces, a move designed to eradicate the bands of uncontrolled brigands that roamed the countryside during the frequent lulls in the conflict. (14) Thus he prepared for the final grinding campaigns in a conflict that had begun more than a century earlier—well before anyone’s living memory. (14) Under the weak kingship of Henry VI, England seemed powerless to stop the French offensive of 1449 to recapture Normandy. (14) The victory of Formigny on April (9,12) 15th (9) 1450 led to (9,12) the French conquest of Normandy in 1450. (7) A three-pronged thrust led by John, Count of Dunois, better known as the “Bastard of Orleans,” vanquished the English from the duchy within a year’s time. (14)

First Reconquest of Guyenne


Encouraged by the victory, (12) and with the tide of the Hundred Years’ War favouring the French, (7,8) Charles VII, (12) sought to complete the reconquest of the kingdom. (9,12) He needed to take back Calais, and Guyenne. (9) Calais was unfeasible (9) so he focused his military resources on Gascony, (7) OR Aquitaine (12) OR the duchy of Guyenne (9) the last English-held province in France (7,9) whose population remained attached to its duke, in this case Henry VI, king of England. (9) As the English seat of government in Gascony, Bordeaux was the most important objective of the French forces. (14) The French laid siege to the city before the onset of winter. (14) King Charles VII therefore marched south (8) OR appointed Gaston Count of Dunois commander in chief of the French army (12) with an army of seven thousand. (7) OR John of Dunois and John II of Bourbon led the conquest. (Dunois) Operations in the Dordogne valley were directed by John de Blois, count of Périgord. (12) Those operations were supported by the artillery of Jean Bureau. (12) He entered the province, while 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. (7) After the French had gained control over the valley of the Dordogne, (12) Gaston IV of Foix-Bearn drove the English out of Dax in May which brought the town’s period of prosperity based on trade with England, to an end. (Dunois) This first (9) short (10) campaign ended when (9) isolated and outnumbered, the English garrison in Bordeaux surrendered (7,Dunois) by a treaty of June 12th 1451. (Dunois) and Dunois triumphantly (9,Dunois) entered Bordeaux (12) accompanied by Gaston IV of Foix-Béarn (Dunois) on 30th June (7,12) OR June 25th (Dunois)1451. (2,5) John II of Bourbon was appointed governor of Guyenne. (Dunois) James I of Chabannes, John of Dunois and Gaston IV of Foix-Bearn forced the surrender of Bayonne on August 21st OR 18th 1451. (Dunois) The French thus recaptured (2,5) Bordeaux (5,7) and the rest of Guyenne and Gascony (2,6) from English rule. (2,5)

English recapture Guyenne

This was a severe blow to English national pride. (7) Nothing now remained of the great Plantagenet empire built up by Henry II but illusions and rich Guyenne. (7a) It seemed a decisive end of the Hundred Years’ War. (5,11) For a time Henry VI’s government even feared a French landing on the English coast. (9) Jean Bureau, the famous artillery man, was made Mayor of Bordeaux. (7B) However, the unfamiliar French regime soon proved objectionable to many of the inhabitants, (2,6) Bureau got along badly with the people of Bordeaux, in particular the Captal de Buch. (7) The English still considered it their right to reclaim their mainland territories. (5) After three hundred years of foreign occupation, the new subjects of Charles VII (10,11) quickly regretted the departure of the English who had preserved their communal rights and autonomy. (10) They were soon dissatisfied at being taxed for the maintenance of the French army and losing the English market for their wine. (12) They considered themselves subjects of the English monarch. (11) Long an English possession (7,7a) the duchy and principality had enjoyed enormous privileges, exemptions and liberties. (7a) Charles VII’s policies quickly engendered a revolt in Aquitaine. (7a, 10) The locals were flatly opposed to accept being incorporated to France and losing their unique status. (7a) Although Bordeaux had been made the French capital in 1451, the people were prepared to relight the fires of war. (7a,Bureau) They sought the help of the King of England Henry VI (8,10) secretly dispatching agents (8,12) to London asking for an army to liberate their territory. (7a,8) He listened willingly, as a victory over the French would enhance his prestige. (12) OR In London the government was in turmoil as King Henry VI dealt with bouts of insanity and the Duke of York and Earl of Somerset vied for power. (8) OR The English primarily focused on reinforcing their only remaining possession, Calais, and watching over the seas. (11) In June 1452, following the appeal by Gascon exiles, Henry VI decided to raise a 5,000-man expeditionary force to send to Bordeaux (9) under veteran commander John (2,5) Talbot (1,2), Earl of Shrewsbury. (8,11) Talbot was one of the most famous English military leaders of the period, (5,7) and a respected (7) and feared military leader. (7,11) He had seen action first at the age of 16 at the bitter Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, and helped to suppress the Welsh rebellion begun by Owen Glendower in the first decade of the 15th century. (14) In 1414, King Henry V appointed Talbot to serve as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. (14) No stranger to partisan warfare by that time, Talbot became known for a method of fighting that involved rapid marches to surprise his enemies and keep them off balance. (14) It was an age that required a strong measure of ruthlessness if a commander were to succeed in getting the better of his enemies, and Talbot took well to the task. (14) One Irish nationalist said of Talbot that “from the time of Herod there came not anyone so wicked.” (14) Henry appointed him General Lieutenant of Guyenne (a kind of Viceroy). (12) He was already an old man (11,12) He was 65, (14) OR 66 (11) OR nearly 70 (12) OR in his mid-seventies (13) OR rumoured to be seventy-five, but actually sixty-six (11) OR eighty. (11,12) He enjoyed an excellent reputation: (7a) he had fought many engagements against the French, (12,13) against Joan d’Arc, and Dunois and Bureau himself at Formigny. (12) OR although his career on close inspection had been marked by incompetence, hesitancy in decision making, and especially seizing opportunities. (7a) Unlike his rival John Fastolf, though brave, he was a poor tactician. (13D) He excelled in raids that required stealth, but he was less successful in open battle. (14) which he usually avoided. (13D) On the two occasions he did he was defeated at Patay and Castillon. (13D) Following the English withdrawal from Orleans in May 1429, (14) Talbot’s army was overrun by the French at the Battle of Patay. (13D,14) Talbot was captured during the rout and subsequently spent four years in captivity. (14) Talbot’s orders were to invade Guyenne, defeat the French and re-open Henry’s path to the French throne, which he still dreamed of occupying. (7a) Talbot raised an army. (12) The local people welcomed the arrival (2,6) in the Medoc (12) at (2,6) OR near (5,8) Bordeaux of this English army (2,5) of three thousand men (5,7) under (2,5) Talbot (2,7) on 17th (7,8) OR 20th (10,12) October (2,7) 1452. (2,5) As promised, (8) with the cooperation of the townspeople, Talbot easily took the city (11) on October 23rd. (7,11) OR on the night of 22/23rd. (9) Bordeaux was recovered (5,7) thanks to the English sympathies of the Gascon people. (7,8) The English reinvested Bordeaux in 1452. (7B) OR The city’s populace (8) opened their gates to Talbot (13) expelled the French garrison (9,13) and welcomed Talbot’s men, (8) who entered Bordeaux in triumph. (10) The French seneschal Olivier de Coëtivy was taken prisoner. (9) Within months of re-entering the city (5,7) the military skill of Talbot had (7) liberated much of the area around the Bordeaux. (8) The towns of Libourne, Saint Emilion, Gensac, and Castillon (12) quickly followed in reasserting their loyalty to the English. (13) They were taken by Gascon lords supporting the King of England. (12) This restored Gascony to English control (5,7) by the beginning of 1453, (5,11) thereby undoing the gains made by King Charles VII in 1451. (13) OR but Talbot’s arrival was a quixotic, hopeless gesture. (12)

French army raised to recover Guyenne

The point of disembarkation for the English army was strategically a surprise. (11,13) The French knew an expedition was coming, but expected it to come through Normandy. (11,13) Alarmed by the arrival of Talbot and his expeditionary force at Bordeaux, (7a) Charles VII had to react. (9) He decided to put an end to the occupation and the claims of the English, and to force the turbulent duchy of Aquitaine to submit once and for all. (7a) He took considerable time (11,13) over the winter (8,11) making thorough preparations. (9,13) In the spring of 1453 (9,12) in March (12) Talbot, received reinforcements (5,7) of a further 3000 (5,8) OR 2000 (10) OR 2,300 (14) brought by his (5,7) fourth and favourite (11) son (5,7) John, (8,11) the Viscount (11) OR Lord Lisle. (8) OR the lord of Isle. (10) They raised his strength to over five (5,7) OR nearly six OR six (5,8) OR seven (9) thousand. (5,7) It was a fine force by the standards of the time, (9) and as usual, the English counted on augmenting their army with loyal Gascons. (13) But the combined French army was in an overwhelming superiority (7,8) although no single one of its three units by itself outnumbered the Anglo-Gascon army that Talbot could now put in the field. (13) By mid-summer (13) OR By the spring (11) of 1453, (11,13) Charles VII was ready with a large army to re-occupy Guyenne. (8,13) It was a joint French and Breton counter-attack, (10) with nine thousand (7) OR between 7,000 and 10,000 (8) men. (7,8) Using the same strategy that worked so well in Normandy (14) he invaded Gascony (7,8) OR Guyenne (8,11) with three French armies (7,8) OR army corps. (9) The force had more than one commander. (13) It was effectively run by committee, (7,11) The titular command was vested in the senior nobleman, Jean de Blois, Count of Perigord and Viscount of Limoges, (13) OR the Grand (12) Admiral of France Jean de Bueil (9,12) Jacques de Chabannes (12) the marshals of Culant and Lohéac, (9) Jean de Blois, Count Dunois (10) and the Bureau brothers (7a,10) Gaspard and Jean. (10,14) OR It was by now practice in the French army that the ‘siege engineer’ directed siege and artillery operations, and so the de-facto man in charge was a by now well-known ‘siege engineer’ called Jean Bureau, who along with his brother Gaspard was an acknowledged master of artillery. (13) The King had formed a professional army that included infantry, cavalry, and artillery. (14) The existing cavalry was combined into 20 compagnies d’ordonnance, each of which contained 100 “lances”. (14) Each lance comprised one mounted man-at-arms and five more lightly armed auxiliaries. (14) As for infantry, Charles required each parish to maintain and equip one archer, and he exempted all volunteers from any form of taxation. (14) The professional horse and foot soldiers were augmented by the best artillerymen of the era, organized into a permanent force under the expert leadership of the king’s masters of artillery, Jean and Gaspard Bureau. (14) They had gained experience in the Normandy sieges and had also been in the 1451 campaign to reconquer Guyenne; they knew the region. (13) The artillery would beat off and hold a position against attackers, but its immobility meant that it could not destroy them. (13) That could only be achieved through a counter-attack with the cavalry. (13) The noblemen commanders remained with and led the heavy cavalry, which was their particular expertise. (13) The de-facto command structure of the French army therefore reflected the realities of battle as they had by now evolved. (13)These forces headed for the area in mid-1453 (2,5) to drive the English out of the area south of the Loire. (7a) One army approached from the Northeast, one from the East, and one from Southeast. (13) Charles VII followed with a reserve army well to the rear. (13) Their orders were to crush Talbot. (7a) The French had two (7a) OR three (6,8) advantages: (7a,8) numerical strength, (7,7a) perfect knowledge of the terrain (7a,13) and the artillery of Jean Bureau, (6,8) a commander who would later be regarded as instrumental in developing France’s military dominance. (6) They maintained pressure on the borders of the Duchy by raiding (7a,8) numerous towns and villages in the area. (8) Talbot determined that he was substantially outnumbered. (14) His only option was to wait in Bordeaux (7,11) for reinforcements (11) OR until an opportunity arose to fall upon one army before the others could support it. (7,11) On June 27th 1453, Jacques I of Chabannes took Chalais. (13D)

The siege of Castillon

In view of the opposing numbers the separate French armies advanced with some caution. (13) The French (10,13) centre army corps commanded by Dunois and the Bureau brothers (10) coming from the East (13) descended the valley of the Dordogne. (10) By July 8th, 1453, they seized Chalais and Gensac, from where, crossing the Dordogne by the ford called “the Rauzan Crossing”, they approached Castillon. (12) OR they choose not to move immediately on Bordeaux and retreated to the area near Castillon. (10) On the advice of (9) Jean Bureau, (8,9) the treasurer of France, (9) the army’s artillery master, (8) the French forces (2,5) began by (2) laying siege to Castillon (2,5) on July (9,11) 8th (11) OR By mid-July (13) 1453. (9,11) Castillon was a pro-English stronghold, (2,5) a fortified town and castle (9) in eastern Gascony (6) about thirty miles east of Bordeaux (7,13) on the lower Dordogne River (2,8) upstream from Libourne. (2) They had 7,000-10,000 men (8) OR 1,800 “lances provided” (groups of men-at-arms and archers) making a total of 7,200 combatants, from the standing army that Charles VII had established in 1445, and 800 “free-archers”, a force of low status soldiers, set up in 1448, which had already proved its worth in Normandy. (9) In addition they were powerfully armed with Jean Bureau’s recently introduced (2,6) field (2) artillery, (2,6) the best in Europe, in both firepower and mobility. (9) Artillery had become a common siege weapon since its use at Metz in 1324 , but its use in battle was as yet uncommon and marginal in effect, because of its very low rate of fire and poor manoeuvrability. (10) At the siege of Maastricht between November 24, 1407 and January 7, 1408 the Burgundian artillery fired a total of 1514 balls, an average of only thirty-three cannonballs per day. (10) The Turkish guns used during the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 could only fire seven rounds a day. (10) The gunners could not deal with the problem of recoil, and had to prepare earthworks in order to anchor the wooden base supporting the tube in the ground, a technique which made the gun incapable of responding to the movements of an enemy. (10) At Crécy in 1346, King Edward III of England aimed three cannons at the French, but their effect was largely psychological. (10) From 1450 the French took advantage of the latest technical advances of the time, to acquire lightweight mobile guns mounted on wheels. (10) These improvements allow the French artillery to move more quickly. (10) Using them, more than sixty strongholds in Normandy were taken in sixteen months of campaign. (10) (1449-1450). (10) The French forces outside Castillon included among their commanders (10) Jean Bureau, (8,9) “an ordinary citizen of Paris, of no great social status but full of audacity and particularly adept at using the artillery” (Thomas Basin). (9) Jean Bureau, who knew the region well, decided to draw Talbot into battle on unfavourable ground. (12)

Talbot decides to relieve Castillon

Warned of the arrival of the French army by the people besieged in Castillon, Talbot, in Bordeaux, hesitated (4) because he would rather have waited until the French forces drew closer to Bordeaux. (13) As soon as the French arrived at Castillon, the townspeople sent a request to Talbot imploring him to come to their aid and drive off the besieging army before the town could be surrounded. (7,14Against his better judgment (7) Talbot was persuaded to go to the rescue of Castillon. (13) With noted aggressiveness and daring, (13) Talbot left (4,7) Bordeaux (13) on July 16th (4,7) in the early morning of 16 July, (4,13) at around 7 o’clock. (4) He led an advance troop of cavalry to be followed by more dismounted men and artillery. (13) His total force at Bordeaux was some 6000 plus about 3000 Gascon contingents which had joined at the last moment. (13) His aim was to relieve Castillon and win a victory over this detached French force, (8) He hoped that by knocking out one army and then quickly returning to Bordeaux, he would be in a better position to chose his ground and pick-off the other two. (13) Speed was therefore essential and this meant the large numbers of men at arms on foot would have to follow. (13) He outdistanced a majority of his forces (11) and by nightfall he had reached Libourne, (4,11) with only 500 men-at-arms and 800 mounted archers. (11,13) There he slept. (4) OR After reaching Libourne on the Dordogne River at sundown (13) after a brief rest (14) Talbot’s mounted force continued with a forced night march. (13) Battle

The Day of Battle

Talbot, with his army of English and Gascons, moved rapidly towards Castillon, hoping that the fear inspired by his fame and the effect of surprise would easily defeat French. (12) He crossed the Dordogne at Libourne and seized Fronsac. (12) Coming from the north from Libourne, (4,7a) OR ‘coming from Bordeaux’ (9) the advance guard of the English-Gascon force (13) consisting of Talbot’s 4000 (7a) OR 1300 (11) men, (11,7a) after a 12-mile ride, the English (14) arrived on the plain of Castillon (7,7a) OR in the woods immediately north of the (13) Priory of (7,11) St. Laurent (7,13) OR Saint-Florent (4) by dawn (13,14) next morning. (7,12) Under cover of darkness, the English had been fortunate not to encounter a single enemy picket on their march. (14) Talbot took up a position hidden in the woods overlooking the Priory (4) in sight of Castillon. (12) It was July 17th, 1453. (1,2) The French number, under the command of John of Dunois and the Bureau brothers. (13D)

The attack on Saint-Laurent

The strength of the two armies is variously reported by the chroniclers of the time. (12) The Anglo-Gascon army was 8,000 to 10,000 strong. (12) OR The numbers available to Talbot for the battle of Castillon were therefore much lower than the total theoretically available to him; probably no more than 4000 at the height of the battle. (13) The French had about the same number (12) not less than 10,000 men and 300 guns (13D) with 600 “lances” (groups of a single man-at-arms accompanied by 4 to 5 men), 4,000 archers, and infantry. (12) A weak garrison (4,11) OR a small group of (4,5) OR A thousand French archers under Joachim Rouault were placed as an outpost (13) in the small (11) Priory of (7,11) St. Laurent (7,13) OR Saint-Florent, (4) a few hundred meters (12) to the north of Castillon (12,13) at a point where any relief force from Bordeaux might be anticipated. (13) Remembering the loss of his cannons at Formigny, Bureau had put them there to protect his cannons from capture. (11B) Taking the advice of those besieged in Castillon, (4) rather than prudently waiting for the rest of the English army, (5) Talbot attacked (4) the besiegers’ (9) OR St. Laurent (7,13) The route taken had been an indirect one and French lookouts in the Priory would have had no inkling of an assault out of the wood at day-break. (13) Talbot’s small force surprised the French archers. (13) On Talbot’s order, the English swooped down on the sleeping priory, catching many of the French archers still in their bedrolls. (14) Attacking with his customary determination (9) with his mounted contingents (7) he quickly defeated it (4,5) killing some and dispersing the others. (13) The attack was a complete success. (13) The main French army in the camp had made no attempt to relieve the Priory. (13)

After the taking of St Laurent

The surviving members of the garrison fled (4,7) OR retired in good order (9) back to the French camp. (4,7) Their retreat was difficult: they had to go along the slope overlooking the river (4) with the English following. (9,11) Despite earlier plans to wait for reinforcements, (11) Talbot pressed his men onward to the French camp, (11,12) believing his reinforcements would arrive soon. (11) The French from the Priory had to defend themselves in bloody hand-to-hand fighting, and after crossing the small river by a ford or temporary bridge, found themselves safe inside the camp (4) thereby alerting the main army of Talbot’s arrival. (7) Some of the English men at arms pursued the archers right up to the camp and would have returned with useful reports as to its position and nature. (13) Talbot would have done well to pause and wait for the rest of his army and the artillery to catch up. (12) OR he did pause: After the nearly 30-mile forced march and the conquest of the Priory, Talbot now gave his troops a well-deserved rest. (13) The men were also able to help themselves to the ample supply of food in the Priory. (4,13) They ate and drank by breaking open some barrels abandoned by the French. (4)

Report of French flight

As his army arrived on the field (8) OR As Talbot was preparing to hear Mass, (4,14) a scout (8) OR messenger presently arrived from Castillon and reported that the French were retreating, (11,13) abandoning the entrenched camp. (4,7) French horsemen and carts were seen (13) in the plain beyond the position held by the French (4,8) riding hastily away from the camp. (13) This report seemed to be confirmed by clouds of dust rising to the east (4,8) in the direction of Castillon. (8) What had in fact happened was that the archers who had fled from the earlier attack on the Priory had sought refuge in the camp. (13) As the camp was already overcrowded the commanders (13) OR Bureau (8) had decided that the maximum number of horses, carts and non-essential men would have to be evacuated. (13) Encumbrances (4,8) (camp followers (8,11) pages and unnecessary baggage (4)) were being removed from the combat zone. (4,8) The cloud of dust that had been seen should in the distance was that of the varlets riding horses and carts away from the camp (13) OR moving their horses to another location to make room for the archers. (14) It had misled messengers into the belief that the whole army was in retreat. (13) True to his instincts Talbot recognized the value of striking the French as they were attempting to withdraw. (13) He was cautioned against such haste at least until all of the English and Gascon men at arms on foot had arrived. (13) Nevertheless, Talbot was deceived by the report; (2,4) he thought the French had been demoralised by their retreat, (9) and decided to attack immediately before the prize escaped. (13) Boosted by the easy victory at the priory, Talbot pushed forward. (11) OR Urged on by their minor victory at St Florent, the small English army didn’t wait for the rest of the army and advanced towards the main body of the French army. (5) It was an understandable but nevertheless fatal error of judgment. (13) He thus reversed an earlier decision to wait for the rest of his army to arrive. (7,7a) Seeking to strike a decisive blow, and without scouting the French position, (8) He rushed (2,4) prematurely (2) to attack the retreating French (2,4) with 1,000 (2,6) OR 1200 (7) OR 1,300 (500 men-at-arms and 800 archers) (5) dismounted (2,12) horsemen (2,5) (5) some way ahead of his 5,000 foot soldiers. (2,6) Talbot dismounted his horsemen, OR Talbot’s mounted force (13) forded the river Lidoire (12,13) 600 yards (550m) to the West of the French camp. (13) With banners waving he advanced towards the French camp. (12)

The French position

The French army (7) of 7,000-10,000 (8) OR not less than 10,000 men and 300 guns, under the command of (13D) OR 9,000 (7) OR 6,000 to 7,000 (14) men was commanded by committee, (7,11) OR by Jean Bureau. (8) OR By John of Dunois and the Bureau brothers. (13D) OR by the Bureau brothers. (7B) Jacques I of Chabannes, Joachim Rouhault, Charles of Burgundy, Jean V of Bueil, Andre de Montfort-Laval and Charles IV of Anjou were present. (13D) In preparation for besieging the town, (8) using the dry bed of the Lidoire, he hastily built a small1 camp. (12) Bureau had his men (8,13) some 700 French pioneers (13,14) construct (2,5) an extraordinary artillery (5,11) park out of range from Castillon’s guns. (11) This camp was (12,14) a mile (12) east of Castillon (12,14) in the plain of Colly, at the edge of the Dordogne, with a tributary of the Dordogne, the Lidoire, in the rear. (12) It was in a position where it would not be caught between two fronts; the town garrison to East2 and the expected relieving army also coming from the East. (13) The pioneers toiled around the clock for or four days (13,14) from 13th to 16th July. (13) They dug (13) a deep (11,13) continuous (13) ditch and rampart palisaded (7,11) by tree-trunks (11,12) on three sides; (7,11) East, South and West. (13) OR by a ditch at one side, palisades on the other sides (5) and on the fourth (5,7) (Northern) (13) side by a river. (5,7) It was the River Lidoire which had steep banks. (7,11) It was some 700 yards (640m) long and on average 200 yards (183m) wide. (13,14) This maximized the French artillery strength (7,11) by enabling oblique (7,13) and enfilading fire. (7,11) The irregular perimeter of the French camp (11,13) made the best use of a dried riverbed and was such to give the artillery a maximum of oblique (13) and enfilade fire (13,14) against any attackers”. (11) Another distinctive feature of the French camp was its composition. (13) It reportedly contained (13) the 300 guns (5,12), a large number by the standards of the time, (10) and far more siege cannon or bombards than could be expected to be with a moving invading force. (13) Alerted to the English approach, Bureau had shifted (8) the guns, (4,7) (portable, light and heavy artillery) (10) from firing positions near the town to defend this camp. (8) By sundown on July 16th the fortification was complete and the French position secure. (14) The guns were cleverly placed by (7,11) Charles VII’s ordinance officer Jean Bureau (7,11) and his brother Gaspard (12) around the perimeter of the camp and if there were as many as 300 they must have been almost wheel to wheel in an unbroken line. (13) The exact breakdown between artillery pieces and handguns is not known. (13) The 300 guns provided by the Bureau brothers in the pay of the king were of many different kinds. (10) The calibres of the pieces vary from two to sixty-four pounds, the calibre being determined by the weight of the projectile in pounds, about 14 lb. (10) The light artillery included falcons and culverins, (10) and hand guns, (10,13) called “haquebutes”, (10) probably supervised by the Genoese mercenary, Guiribaut. (13) The heavy artillery had bombards, cannons and ribauldequins and also included pieces using torsion like catapults. (10) Capable of being dismantled for transportation, and reassembled for sieges, it was common to see them alongside with firearms in the late Middle Ages. (10) The French army was therefore well protected by the artillery camp. (5) Talbot seems to have miscalculated just how heavily the camp had been fortified, (6) particularly in regard to the artillery, a fatal error. (7a) Toward the centre of the defence was a deep, narrow indentation blocked by a barrier that seemed likely to be the entrance to the camp. (4) It contained at least 6000 men. (13) There is little doubt that Bureau had prepared the camp primarily to engage a relief force. (13) Moreover, a cavalry troop of 1000 Breton men at arms was located 1 mile to the north of the camp on a wooded rise. (13) The battle showed how brilliantly the Jean Bureau had sited the camp. (13) It could not be attacked from the North where it was protected by the river Lidoire and a steep bank. (13) If it was attacked from the West its frontage of only 200 yards (183m) was too small for the full deployment of an attacking army. (13) From the South the attacker would have to pass across the front of the camp and virtually within the range of its guns as the river Dordogne was only 600 yards (550m) away to the South. (13)

First Contact

With his men stationed behind the strong entrenchment, Bureau awaited Talbot’s attack. (8) The stories available to us underline the exemplary calm of the French defenders, as the English approached their defensive ditch. (4) The English-Gascons did not advance upon the French camp from the west, but swung round to attack the longer axis of the camp embankments from the South. (13) They met not the frightened or fleeing Frenchmen they expected, but (12) were stunned to find the enemy’s lines manned. (8,13) This time it was Talbot who was surprised, (10,13) the French Army was not in full flight but ready and waiting for him. (13) As an experienced campaigner Talbot belatedly realized that the French had not left their camp and that it was indeed well positioned. (13) Jean Chartier says: “Talbot was amazed when he saw the fortifications that the French had made …. (10) However, nothing in his experience would have enabled him to recognize the danger of confronting a wall of gunfire that could cover a greater area than the longbow. (13) Undeterred, (8) despite being outnumbered and in a vulnerable position, Talbot ordered his men to continue the fighting. (11) Talbot directed his troops to dismount for the attack (8,13) while he remained astride his white cob. (13) Talbot sent his (8) dismounted cavalry (6,13) OR Talbot and his company rode right up to the French defences, (10,12) thinking to force the entry of the park at once. (10) ) The assault was undertaken without Talbot’s artillery, which did not arrive in time. (13)The French gunners were waiting for him right where he was. (13) The attack was launched with the battle-cry of “Talbot! St. George!” (13) The English advanced into the full force of the French army (11) meeting withering fire from Bureau’s 300 guns (9,12) at point blank artillery range. (13) They met a hail storm of arrows (8) and artillery fire3. (6,8) It was carnage. (13) They quickly suffered heavy losses. (6) Historian A. J. Pollard suggests this seemingly reckless behaviour from Talbot may be due to the fact that his “pride and honour were at stake for he had already ordered his men to battle when (11) he discovered the strength of the French position”. (10,11) English and Gascons who got through the massed gunfire struggled across the moat and up to mount the parapet. (13) Arriving at the counter-scarp of the ditch, (4) Thomas Erpingham reportedly managed to (13) plant his banner on the top of the parapet (4,13) before paying for the glory with his life. (13) The French tried to prevent this, and a confused melée took place, after which the standard fell into the ditch. (4) Then began a great and terrible assault, in which great bravery was displayed on both sides; (10) the fighting was hand to hand, (10,13) with axes, pikes and lances. (10) This destruction lasted for an hour; for the English always returned with great ardour, and the French responded in kind. (10)

Cannonade begins

However, while this was going on at the wall of the defence, the Bureau brothers (10) had time to prepare their artillery. (4,10) OR The English came under bombardment from the French cannon before they reached the camp (6,8) While Talbot was busy encouraging his troops for yet another assault, the order was given to all the guns to fire together on the English. (10) All 300 (4,10) of Jean Bureau’s OR the Bureau brothers’ (1,10), cannon opened fire (2,4) at once, (4,10) causing terrible carnage (2,4) among the dismounted cavalrymen. (2) French cannon pounded the attackers with enfilade fire at point-blank ranges, maiming more than they killed. (13) The noise signalled the start of the battle to the French cavalry out of sight to the north. (7a) The attackers were massed closely together, so that they could neither escape nor hide, (4) and the cannonfire blew most of the English force to pieces. (5) Ignoring this, Talbot continued his assault and almost succeeded. (9) OR The survivors bravely regrouped but (4) further volleys of cannon fire routed them, whereupon the French opened the gates and chased the English fugitives. (4,10)

Late arrival of English infantry

As the battle continued the seriously out-numbered English and Gascon army was augmented piecemeal as the following dismounted force arrived on the scene. (13) Although in total there may have been close to 4000 of Talbot’s men on the battlefield, their piecemeal arrival made efficient deployment difficult. (13) Unable to personally take part in the fighting (8) or wear armour (7,11) as he had been previously captured (8,12) in Rouen (12) by the French and paroled, (8,12) promising not to bear arms against the King of France. (12) Talbot pressed the attack (7,8) charging across the battlefield pushing his men forward. (8) He was the only Englishman who remained mounted in the battle. (11) He believed the arrival of his remaining troops would secure victory. (7,8) Unable to break through Bureau’s fortifications, (8) the English were slaughtered en masse. (8,11) According to David Nicolle, the battle itself was “highly characteristic of the period” with the strong field fortification of the French and the small-arms fighting of the battle. (11) In many ways, this battle played out like the Battle of Crécy in “reverse”. (11) Although some of Talbot’s infantry did come up during the hour of battle, (2,5) and quickly followed their leader into battle, (5,11) they met a similar fate at the hands of the French artillery. (5,11) It is reported each shot killed six men at a time. (11) OR the course of the battle was already clear, Talbot was killed and the English troops routed by the French. (6)

Cavalry charge

Even as a singular force, it was still insufficient number to successfully assault a well-prepared field defense. (13 Despite the searing gunfire the English-Gascon army managed to maintain the struggle for about an hour (11,13) OR about 90 minutes (14) approaching mid-day. (11,13) At this point the outcome of the battle could still have gone either way, (12,13) but then, hearing the sound of the cannonade, (4,10) the thousand-strong (11) Breton cavalry (4,9) stationed (10) out of sight (12) not far away (10,12) in reserve (4,7) at Horable Mill, (4) OR hill (12) and led by the lords of Montauban and Hunaudaye, (9) OR by Peter II, (11) the Duke of Brittany (11,12) OR by Francis II of Brittany, the young Count of Etampes, (13D) hastened to defeat the English. (4,9) They were deployed with perfect timing and surged down from the heights, wheeling round the camp to the East. (13) The Anglo-Gascons were surprised to find themselves thus attacked in the (12,13) right (11,13) flank. (12,13) This cavalry charge (2,9) came at the right time to strengthen the French, (9) archers (13) who emerged from their camp (8,9) walls, behind which they had retreated earlier in the day, (13) and defeated the English. (2,9) They took full advantage of the enemy now being driven down the incline towards the river Dordogne, and tried to ford the Dordogne at the Pas de Rauzan. (13)

Death of Talbot

There is some debate over the exact circumstances of Talbot’s death. (11) He had neither armour nor weapons and was very vulnerable. (12) In the ensuing melée, (4) Talbot’s (2,4) hackney (4) (horse) had been killed (4,11) OR hit (8) by a cannonball (4,11) OR a musket shot. (12) Falling, (8,12) it broke the English commander’s leg, (8) pinning him to the ground. (8,11) While on the ground Talbot (4) having vainly asked to be taken for ransom (8) was killed (2,4) by an archer (4,8) Michel Perunin, (13,14) who finished the Earl off with a (11,13) single (13) blow of an axe (11,13) to the head (13) casually dashing out the old man’s brains (14) OR “split him open with a sword up his backside, so that it emerged through his throat”. (9) OR a number of French soldiers overwhelmed Shrewsbury’s guards and killed him. (8) OR he died when his head was struck off by a cannon ball. (10) OR killed by a musket ball. (13D) Elsewhere on the field, OR standing by his father (12) his son Lord Lisle also had been struck down. (8,11)


The judicious and innovative use of artillery had won the battle. (10) With both of their commanders dead, (8) the English were soon routed and forced to flee (4,8) Panic seized the English, (9) OR Anglo-Gascons (12) and they began falling back. (8) OR ‘fled’ (4,12) OR ‘were routed’ (2,11) pursued by the Breton cavalry. (12) The defeat was total (1,2) and was over within an hour (5) OR it lasted over an hour. (11) Some attempted to make a stand along the banks of (8) OR crossing (4) the Dordogne, (4,8) by the ford of Rauzan, (10) where many of them drowned (4,12) Some of the English managed to get into Saint-Émilion; (9,12) others were pursued to nearby towns. (13) OR back to Bordeaux. (7,8) Others took refuge in Castillon, (4,9) where they did not remain safe for long. (4) It surrendered (9,12) without a fight (12) on the next day (2,4) OR on July 19th (9) as soon as the French deployed artillery under the walls. (4)


In the late afternoon of July 17, 1453 the plain was littered with dead and wounded. (12) Apart from Talbot (2,10) one of their most notable field commanders, (8) at least (4) OR ‘nearly’ (5) 4000 dead remained on the battlefield (4,5) OR around OR more than 4000 (10) OR some 3500 (13) OR 4,000 English were killed, wounded, or captured (4,10) including more than 30 knights. (12) OR 9,000 dead, wounded and prisoners. (13D) The French losses are passed over by the chroniclers. (12) The only mention is that the French lost (5,8) a mere (5) OR around (8) 100 men in the fighting (5,8) during the attack on the priory of Saint Florent. (12) OR French are generally estimated at between 200 and 300. (13) Jacques I de Chabannes was injured. (13D)

Consequences in Guyenne

Without Talbot (4,7) or his son (7,8), all the places held by the English capitulated quickly (4,13) as the French artillery approached. (13) Once the English had been defeated, the royal troops moved to Bordeaux (8,10) which remained a stronghold of English support, (6) where the Gascon lords had entrenched themselves. (10) The French wanted to finish the job quickly, and put (10,11B) 250 artillery pieces (11B) in front of the city. (10,11B) The defenders quickly (10) OR after a three-month(8) OR 10-week (11B) siege, (8) understood that the walls of the city would not long resist the French cannon. (10) The city sent a delegation to Charles VII asking for terms of surrender. (11B) Bureau, confident in the positions of his batteries, told the king, “I promise you on my life that in a few days I shall have demolished the town. (11B) Hearing this statement, the delegation agreed to accept Charles’ harsh terms. (11) They capitulated without bloodshed (2,4) to King Charles VII of France (13) on October (2,6) 10th (13) 19th (7,8) OR 17th (10) 1453, (6,7) At the castle of Pressac, at St-Etienne-de-Lisse, the surrender of the English was signed. (4) Having lost all patience with the Gascons, Charles VII fined the city 100,000 gold crowns for resisting his authority. (14) For his service to the crown, Charles appointed Jean Bureau as Bordeaux’s mayor for life. (14) After 300 years, English rule in Gascony was over. (7,12) The English defeat upset the economy of the region. (12) Sales of wine to England, without ceasing completely, shrank rapidly. (12) Exile, voluntary or imposed, reduced the ranks of the nobles. (12,14) The remaining locals accepted the domination of Charles VII (9) more readily because they were allowed to keep the privileges they had enjoyed under the English because the French, to win over the people of the area, had no choice but to consent to their continuance. (7a) OR There was no more talk of ‘Charters of Liberty’ or “consent” to taxation. (12) The people of Castillon lost their privileges, though they were gradually regained. (12) Few people thought it appropriate to flee to England. (13D) Over the next few years some nobles who had fled were welcomed back, and some even regained possession of their former lands. (12) Charles nevertheless took care to erect fortresses in Bordeaux, Bayonne and elsewhere to better control the inhabitants and prevent a possible return of the English. (9) In 1474 Jean de Foix-Candale granted them a charter whose provisions were confirmed and extended by Gaston II in 1487. (12) No longer the pearl of the crown of England, Guyenne continued to distrust the French authority, and in 1814 it opened its port and its doors to the English in 1814, announcing the fall of Napoleon. (7a)

Consequences for the War as a Whole

Taking place a few weeks after the fall of Constantinople in the hands of the Turks, the battle of Castillon passes almost unnoticed by contemporaries. (12,13D) There were many great changes afoot in that year: Gutenberg’s invention of printing, the birth of Leonardo da Vinci, the birth of polyphony in music, the progress of anatomy and astronomy, the poems of François Villon and the end of Gothic art. (12) In these changes have been seen the end of the Middle Ages. (12) In hindsight, the battle clearly marks a decisive turning point in history, and is cited as the endpoint of the period known as the Hundred Years’ War. (11) The catastrophic (for the English) Battle of Castillon (6) was final. (9) It restored Guyenne and Gascony to France and ended the war. (2,5) The small town of Castillon thus washed away in one day more than 100 years of French humiliations. (7a) This battle marked the end of the Hundred Years’ War (1,2) between France and England, (2,5) sealing the English fate on the continent, effectively ending any significant English footholds on the European mainland (4,7) other than (5,7) the Pale of (5,11) Calais. (5,7) which was the last English possession in mainland France, and the Channel Islands, historically part of the Duchy of Normandy and thus of the Kingdom of France. (11) In 1475 hostilities between French and English briefly resumed and the English did not give up their claim to the crown of France. (12) By the Treaty of Picquigny in that year 1475 a definitive truce was established. (12) Calais was finally lost in 1558, (11,12) but the Channel Islands have remained British Crown Dependencies to this date. (11) It was not apparent to either side, however, that the period of conflict was over. (11) Henry VI of England lost his mental capacity (8,11) in late 1453, which led to the (11) outbreak of the Wars of the Roses in England. (8,11) England was no longer in a position to effectively pursue its claim to the French throne. (8) In spite of this the Kings of England continued to claim the title of ‘King of France’ until the beginning of the nineteenth century. (7a) But although England would no longer have a continental empire, it would still be the mistress of the seas. (7a) The battle also opened the way to the unifying of the Kingdom of France. (7a) It is considered important in the history of warfare due to the extensive use of artillery (5,12) for the first time, combined with cavalry when used at the critical moment, (12) which effectively neutralised the entire might of the English force which was wielding more conventional weapons. (5) A mass of weapons firing from prepared defensive positions was really an expansion of the English longbow tactic. (13) It was an early version of “shock and awe”. (12) The disorganised charges, storms of arrows and individual heroism of the English failed to dislodge the French. (12) The longbows charged uphill into a hail of fire from a well-placed gun position and lost. (13) The whole medieval conception of war collapsed in the face of the new weapons. (12,13D) Chivalry was no longer the queen of battles! (13D) However, a different level of competence and experience was required in order to employ these new weapons effectively in a vulnerable defensive position. (13) The Bureau brothers had well assimilated their experiences of previous campaigns. (13) They had thought through the new logic of the advantage gained by a longer range of fire, tempered by its lesser mobility. (13) The command structure of the French army had adapted itself to these new realities and enabled such men to make the necessary changes in tactics. (13) It signalled the beginning of the end of the Middle Ages. (7a) After the effective end of the Hundred Years’ War, weakened and traumatised by the defeat, the English never attacked France without the support of a strong coalition. (11) But America had not yet been discovered. (12)


The day after the battle (9,12) Talbot’s body was recognized by his herald, (4,9) who identified his master’s corpse (14) by a missing tooth, (9,14) a molar on the left side of his jaw. (9) His remains were temporarily deposited (4,9) in the chapel (12) of Notre-Dame-de-Colle, (4) on the banks of the Dordogne near Pas de Rauzan (12) OR on the battlefield. (4,9) The battle of Castillon impressed contemporaries because of the death of the well-respected Talbot. (12) On the site of this chapel a memorial to Talbot was built, a rare homage to a respected and admired enemy. (12) A piece of the armour of the old leader (commonly alleged to be 80 years old: in fact he was only 60) was sent to Charles VII who, forsaking his usual reserve, said: “May God be thanked for this good knight “. (9) Forty years later, one of his sons had his mortal remains exhumed: (9) they were transported to England (4,9) and buried in Whitchurch. (4) 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. (7,11) In France medals of victory were struck, celebrating the strength of the king’s army and the power of his justice. (9) A casualty after the battle of Castillon was Pierre II de Montferrand, husband of Mary Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Bedford and a granddaughter of Henry IV of England. (11) On returning to France, after being exiled in England, Montferrand was arrested and taken to Poitiers where he was tried by a commission. (11) Having been found guilty he was beheaded and quartered, possibly on the orders of Charles VII, at Poitiers, in July 1454. (11) Montferrand was one of only a small number of nobles known to have been executed for treason during the reign of Charles VII. (11) By order, all the cathedral churches of the kingdom had to plan ceremonies of thanksgiving (masses and processions) each year on August 12th, the anniversary of the surrender of Cherbourg which had marked the end of the “liberation” of Normandy. (9) Such was ‘the feast of the king’, a prototype of today’s ‘Armistice Day’. (9) The village of Castillon has since been called Castillon-la-Bataille. (13)

1 600 metres long and 200 to 300 metres wide

2 This must be a misprint for ‘West’, if they were east of the town!

3 Big contradiction as to when the artillery opened fire.


[bibliography of sources available upon request]

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