The Battle of Verneuil was fought on the 17th August 1424 between an English force led by John, Duke of Bedford and a Dauphinist French army under the command of the Scot James Stewart, 3rd Earl of Buchan and Constable of France. It is often known to the French as 'un seconde Azincourt'.

Background

Following the death of Henry V in 1422 and the succession of his infant son Henry VI, the young king's uncle John, Duke of Bedford officially became Regent of France and therefore responsible for realising his brother's dream of the conquest of France. John was opposed by the supporters of the French Dauphin Charles, or Charles VII who were seeking to drive the English out of France and re-establish the authority of an independent French monarchy.

In 1424 the Duke of Bedford was busy assembling an army at Rouen with the intention of completing the conquest of Maine and Anjou. (Strategically important districts that would link Normandy to Aquitaine.) Meanwhile the Dauphinists had been organising their own army under the Duke of Alencon, the Viscount of Narbonne and the Count of Aumale, with the intention of invading Normandy. This Dauphinist force was joined by a contingent of some 6,500 Scots under the Earls of Douglas and Buchan. Combined with some Italian mercenaries the combined army totalled some 15,000, more than enough it was felt to deal with whatever the English could throw at them.

On the 14th August 1424 this Franco-Scots army succeeded in capturing the English held town of Verneuil. This they achieved by means of a ruse, as the Scots appeared before the town with 'prisoners' tied to their horses tails and so persuaded the town to surrender as they believed that these prisoners signified an English defeat. At the time the Duke of Bedford was busy at Ivry but when he heard the news of the fall of Verneuil he immediately set out for the town. About a mile to the north of Verneuil, the English army emerged from the forest before a plain in front of the town where the French and Scots had gathered to meet him.

Bedford had some 9,000 men under his command and he deployed them in same basic formation as the English had previously used with great success in their battles with the French. The dismounted men-at-arms massed in the centre divided into two divisions one commanded by Bedford himself and one by the Earl of Salisbury. The archers were arranged on either wing, although Bedford also placed a reserve force of some 2,000 archers a quarter of mile behind.

The French Dauphinist army 17,000 men was similarly divided into two divisions, one under the command of the Count of Aumale supported by cavalry and the other led by the Earls of Douglas and Buchan and supported by some 600 Italian cavalry and some Genoese crossbowmen. The Scots themselves were so confident of victory that they informed the Duke of Bedford that it was their intention to give no quarter in the coming battle.

The battle of Verneuil

Both sides appeared reluctant to begin the fighting, but at around 4pm that afternoon the Duke of Bedford gave the order to move forward. With cries of "Saint George!" and "Bedford!" the English advanced towards the Count of Aumale's division. The French the surged forward to meet the English with their own cries of "Mountjoie!" and "Saint Denis!" and the battle commenced. The two sides hacked away at one another for 45 minutes with Bedford himself causing great damage as he swung a two handed pole-axe at the enemy. Eventually the French lines crumbled and fell back and many of the French were drowned in the moat before the walls of Verneuil including the unfortunate Count of Aumale himself.

Whilst all this had been going on, a detachment of French cavalry charged the English right wing and managed to penetrate the lines of archers and swept them away before they had time to get themselves properly organised. This left the English centre somewhat exposed but fortunately for the Duke of Bedford, the lure of the English baggage proved to great and the French charged on rather than joining in the fight.

The Italian cavalry supporting the Scottish division had also swept through on the left and attacked the English baggage whilst the Earl of Salisbury was struggling to contain the Scots. However the reserve force of archers succeeded in dispersing the French and then turned to deal with the Italians, who were rapidly beaten off, before coming up to assist the Earl of Salisbury.

It was at that point that the Duke of Bedford, having driven one French division from the field smashed into the Scottish rear. The Scots know found themselves effectively surrounded and the massacre began. Having sworn that they would give no quarter, they received none and the slaughter of the Scots was considerable; very few survived that day. As John himself was later to record "The moste vengeance fell upon the proud Scottes".

The aftermath

As noted above almost the entire Scottish contingent of 6,500 men died on the field of battle; both the Earl of Douglas and the Earl of Buchan were killed that day as well as notable Scottish commanders such as Alexander de Lawedre of Haltoun and John Forrester. This almost complete destruction of the Scottish army in France at the battle brought to an end Scottish participation in the Hundred Years War. Oddly enough the French were not sorry for this and regarded this as the one positive feature of the whole debacle. English casualties at the battle were light, although a captain named Young was hanged, drawn and quartered for cowardice for abandoning his position when the French cavalry charged.

John, Duke of Bedford went on to conquer Maine, no doubt pleased that by defeating and killing the Earl of Buchan he had now revenged the death of his brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence at the battle of Baugé some two years earlier. The military strategy of Charles VII and the Dauphinists was now in tatters, Verneuil together with the earlier defeat at Cravant left no obvious solution to their predicament and it seemed as if the English were here to stay. Not until 1435 would Charles come across the means of his country's salvation.


SOURCES

  • Steve Schifani The Battle of Verneuil: A scenario for Chipco's Days of Knights at http://members.shaw.ca/kblackley/verneuil.htm
  • Desmond Seward The Hundred Years War (Robinson, 2003)

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