Battle of Verneuil
The Battle of Verneuil (occasionally 'Vernuil') was a strategically
important battle of the Hundred Years' War, fought on 17 August 1424
near Verneuil in Normandy and a significant English victory. It was
a particularly bloody battle, described by the English as a second
Agincourt. Altogether some 7262 French and allied troops were
killed, including 4000 Scots. English losses were 1600, including
two men-at-arms and "a very few archers". The Scots army, led by
Earl of Douglas.
and John Stewart, Earl of Buchan (both of
whom were killed), was almost destroyed. Many French noblemen were
taken prisoner; among them the Duke of Alençon, Pierre, the bastard
of Alençon, and Marshall Lafayette. After Verneuil, the English were
able to consolidate their position in Normandy. The Army of Scotland
as a distinct unit ceased to play a significant part in the Hundred
Years' War, although many Scots continued to serve in France.
France had scarcely recovered from the disaster at Agincourt,
and most of the northern provinces were in the hands of the English
following Henry V's conquest of Normandy. The civil war between the
factions of Armagnac and Burgundy showed no sign of ending. The
Dauphin was recognised in the south of the country as Charles VII,
following the death of his father Charles VI in 1422, but he
remained uncrowned. The death of Henry V in the same year as Charles
VI brought little relief as the continuing English war effort was
effectively managed by John, Duke of Bedford, acting for the infant
Henry VI. France desperately needed soldiers, and looked to
Scotland, her old ally, to provide essential military aid.
The first large contingent of Scots troops came to France in the
autumn of 1419, some 6000 men under the command of John Stewart, 2nd
Earl of Buchan. These men, supplemented from time-to-time with fresh
volunteers, soon became an integral part of the French war effort;
and by the summer of 1420 the 'Army of Scotland' was a distinct
force in the French royal service. They proved their worth the
following year, playing a large part in the victory at the Battle of
Baugé, the first serious setback experienced by the English. The
mood of optimism this engendered collapsed in 1423, when many of
Buchan's men fell at the Battle of Cravant.
At the beginning
of 1424 Buchan arrived back, bringing with him a further 6500 men.
He was accompanied by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas,
arguably the most powerful nobleman of Scotland. On 24 April 1424
the army, comprising 2500 men at arms and 4000 archers, entered the
Dauphin's headquarters at Bourges, helping to raise Charles'
In August the new army made ready to march into
action to relieve the castle of Ivry near Le Mans, under siege by
the Duke of Bedford. Douglas (the newly created Duke of Touraine),
and Buchan left Tours on 4 August to link with the French
commanders, the Duke of Alençon and the Viscounts of Narbonne and
Aumale. But before the army could arrive Ivry surrendered to the
English. Uncertain what to do the allied commanders held a council
of war. The Scots and some of the younger French officers were eager
for battle; but Narbonne and the senior nobility had not forgotten
Agincourt, and were reluctant to take the risk. As a compromise it
was agreed to attack the English strongholds on the Norman border,
beginning with Verneuil in the west. The town was taken by a simple
trick: a group of Scots, leading some of their fellow countrymen as
prisoners, pretended to be English, and claimed that Bedford had
defeated the allies in battle, whereupon the gates were opened.
On 15 August 1424 Bedford received news that Verneuil was in
French hands and resolved to make his way there as quickly as he
could. As he neared the town two days later the Scots persuaded
their French comrades to make a stand, Douglas apparently having
forgotten the lessons of Homildon Hill. He is said to have received
a message from Bedford that he had come to drink with him and prayed
for an early meeting. Douglas replied that having failed to find the
duke in England he had come to seek him in France.
Franco-Scottish army deployed a mile north of Verneuil on an open
plain astride the road leading out of the Forest of Piseux. Narbonne
and the French division was situated on the left of the road,
supported by wings of Milanese cavalry, while Douglas and Buchan
were on the right supported by a similar wing of Lombard cavalry,
recruited in northern Italy. Aumale was given overall command; but
this heterogeneous army defied all attempts at co-ordinated
direction. On emerging from the Forest Bedford drew up his men in
two divisions to match the disposition of the enemy, with the usual
distribution of men-at-arms in the centre and archers on the wings.
He also took the precaution of posting a strong reserve of 2000
archers to the rear to guard the baggage, tying the horses together
to prevent flight. Bedford commanded the division facing the French,
and Sir Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, that facing the Scots.
At about 4pm, as if by some pre-arranged signal, the Milanese
charged through the English archers. Once Bedford had taken his
troops within arrow range he ordered a halt and the archers started
to drive their stakes into the ground, a simple but effective device
for snaring cavalry. The ground had been baked hard by the summer
sun, and the stakes could be forced in only with difficulty. Seeing
an opportunity the French began an immediate charge out of
synchronisation with the Scots division. The archers on Bedford's
extreme right were caught off balance (the tough armour worn by the
Lombards may also have compounded the threat), allowing the French
cavalry to break through their ranks. They continued their charge
away towards the baggage train to the north, while the men-at-arms
in Bedford's division began a spirited attack on the French infantry
to their front. Unable to withstand the onslaught, Narbonne's
division broke and was chased back to Verneuil, where many,
including Aumale, were drowned in the moat. Narbonne, Ventadour,
Tonnerre were all dead.
Having disposed of the French,
Bedford called a halt to the pursuit and returned to the
battlefield, where Salisbury was closely engaged with the Scots, now
standing alone. The Lombard cavalry, anxious that their French
counterparts were poised to take all the spoils, charged round the
English left flank towards the baggage. By the time they arrived the
French had been driven off by Bedford's reserve, soon to be followed
by the Lombards. Having tasted blood the reserve decided on their
own initiative to enter the main battle, charging on the unsupported
Scottish right wing. The Battle of Verneuil reached its closing
stages when Bedford wheeled from the south to take the Scots on the
right flank. Now almost completely surrounded, the Scots made a
ferocious last stand. The English shouted "A Clarence! A Clarence!"
invoking Thomas, Duke of Clarence killed at the Battle of Baugé.
Verneuil was one of the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years'
War, described by the English as a second Agincourt. Altogether some
7262 allied troops were killed, including 4000 Scots. The English
lost 1600 men including two men-at-arms, and "a very few archers"
according to Bedford. Archibald, Earl of Douglas fought on the
losing side for the last time, joined in death by the Earl of
Buchan. The Army of Scotland had been severely mauled; but it was
not yet ready to march out of history. It did have the effect
though, of greatly reducing any reinforcements from Scotland for
future campaigns against the English in France. Amongst the
prisoners were the Duke of Alençon, Pierre, the bastard of Alençon,
and Marshall Lafayette. Greatly saddened by the catastrophe at
Verneuil, Charles VII continued to honour the survivors, one of
whom, John Carmichael of Douglasdale, the chaplain of the dead
Douglas, was created Bishop of Orléans. Bedford returned in triumph
to Paris: "he was received as if he had been God...in short, more
honour was never done at a Roman triumph than was done that day to
him and his wife".
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