The Battle of Baugé was fought on the 22nd March 1421 between an English force led by Thomas, Duke of Clarence and an Armagnac French army under the command of the Constable of France.

The Background

The long running conflict between England and France known as the Hundred Years War had been re-ignited by Henry V's decision to invade France in 1415. English fortunes were naturally in the ascendancy after the victory at Agincourt on the 25th October 1415, although in truth that battle brought little advantage to the English other than demoralising their foes. Rather it was Henry's patient conquest of Normandy during the years 1417 and 1418 that significantly advanced the English interest and resulted in Henry's recognition as heir to the French throne in the Treaty of Troyes of the 20th May 1420.

Having been conquered Normandy was now parcelled out by Henry V between his loyal supporters. Among those English nobles who had been rewarded with grants of conquered territory was Henry's younger brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence who received three Norman counties. And whilst Henry was back home dealing with affairs in England (most notably raising money to fund his military campaigns in France), Thomas was in Normandy, looking after his new lands and commanding an English army that spent its time raiding those French territories that proclaimed their allegiance to the Armagnac or Dauphinist party which continued to espouse the cause of French independence.

The Battle of Baugé

In the spring of 1421 Thomas' English army of some 3,000 men had just come back from a raid across Maine and the Loire and had returned to the town of Pont de l'Arche in Normandy. On Easter Saturday, 22nd March 1421, whilst the bulk of the army were busy foraging in the surrounding countryside, Thomas was just sitting down to dinner when one of his foraging parties returned with the news that there was a large Armagnac French force in the vicinity near to the town of Baugé.

Both of Thomas' most senior commanders Gilbert Umfraville (officially Marshal of France as far as the English were concerned) and the Earl of Huntingdon advised Thomas to wait until the entire force could be assembled before engaging the enemy. Thomas was however eager to do battle and in particular to win a great victory over the French as his brother had done at Agincourt. Since the following day was the Easter Sunday, on which battle would have been regarded as a serious sin on that most holy of holy days, and the French might well have scarpered out of range by the Monday, Thomas decided to attack immediately. Dismissing those who advised caution with the words "If you are afraid, go home and keep the churchyard", he set off with his mounted knights and galloped the nine miles to Baugé, leaving behind his infantry and longbowmen.

Thomas now led a force of had 1,500 men at best, whilst awaiting him at Bauge was an army of some 5,000 men, composed not only a body of Armagnac French under the Constable of France, the Sieur de Lafayette but also a substantial Scottish force commanded by the Earl of Buchan.

As he neared Baugé Thomas was faced with the task of crossing the river Cousenon. As the English neared the river a party of Scots under Hugh Kennedy and Robert Stewart of Railston rushed to take command of the only bridge and an English attempt to force the bridge became bogged down in hand to hand fighting. Thomas therefore dismounted and led his knights across the river, thereby outflanking the enemy. Once on the other side the English remounted and charged the enemy flank and drove them back into the streets of Baugé. This initial success was all very well, but the main bulk of the Franco-Scots army had now deployed on the ridge behind Baugé ready to do battle. Undeterred by the enemy numbers, Thomas simply formed his men and charged uphill.

This first English charge was beaten back and they retreated back to the riverbank. Whilst Thomas was reforming his men in preparation for a second charge, the enemy countercharged down the hill. Naturally the Scots made straight for Thomas himself, who was easily identifiable due to the coronet displayed on his helmet. Thomas was soon cut down and killed; the credit for unhorsing the Duke of Clarence being claimed by a John de Carmichael whilst the deliver of the fatal blow was an Alexander Buchanan. The English were rapidly overwhelmed, Gilbert Umfraville and the Baron Roos were both killed, whilst the Earls of Somerset and Huntingdon were both captured.

The whole engagement had lasted scarcely more than an hour, and might have turned out even worse for the English had not the Earl of Salisbury arrived with the rest of Clarence's army, including the all important contingent of archers. They succeeded in driving away the enemy and rescued Thomas' body together with many of the survivors.

The Aftermath

The battle itself was of little military consequence other than it encouraged the French to believe that the English could indeed be beaten. The French Dauphin was however pleased that his policy of hiring Scottish mercenaries to bolster his forces had been vindicated. The Scots were naturally overjoyed at defeating their old enemy, and were particularly proud of their role in the death of the Duke of Clarence. Indeed there was scarcely a Scottish noble family that did not claim some part in the death of Thomas. The French handed credit for the victory to the Earl of Buchan who was rewarded by being made Constable of France.

From the English perspective the reasons for the defeat were well understood, as one contemporary account explained; "by cause theye wolde nott take with hem archers, but thought to have doo with the ffrenshmen them selff wythoute hem. And yet when he was slayne the archers come and rescued the body of the Duke". Most current commentators would concur with this view.

The defeat at Baugé and the death of his brother placed Henry V in a foul mood. When he landed in France in June of that year, he was particularly brutal in his treatment of the enemy and hanged the entire garrison of Rougemont when that fortress surrendered. It may well have been his desire for revenge that inspired his determination to take the town of Meaux. It was during the eight month siege of the town that Henry contracted the dysentery that eventually killed him on the 31st August 1422.


SOURCES

  • Desmond Seward The Hundred Years War (Robinson, 2003)
  • Brian G.H. Ditcham The Employment of Foreign Mercenary Troops in the French Royal Armies 1415-1470 at
    http://www.deremilitari.org/RESOURCES/ARTICLES/ditcham1.htm
  • The Battle of Baugé http://www.millenicom.com/~mattc/research%20site/03-historic/battle%20of%20bauge%201421.htm

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