Battle of Formigny 1450 - Hundred Years' War DOCUMENTARY
The era of great English victories by their seemingly invincible longbow armies finally ended with the watershed victories of Charles VII at Orleans and Patay. In that year of 1429, the tide of the Hundred Years’ War finally turned. From that point forward England’s fortunes, both military and diplomatic, would start to collapse with remarkable speed, while the reinvigorated French under the Valois would continue to grow in strength. Welcome to the penultimate video in our series on the Hundred Years’ War - the death of Joan of Arc, the fall of Lancastrian Normandy and the beginning of the end of the English invasion, culminating in 1450 at Formigny. Medieval era is fun, but if you want to have some sci-fi style fun, the sponsor of this video Mech Arena is just what you need! Mech Arena is a tactical, team-based shooter perfect both for casual and competitive play. Jump in, blow up mechs with your friends, and be out in 5 minutes! Mech Arena has tons of Mechs, each with unique abilities, different playstyles – there are countless ways to customize your Mech – there are skins, paint job, and unlimited weapon combinations.
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Special offer for our viewers: Use our link in the description or scan the QR code to get 1 Black Carbon Skin, 300 A-Coins, 50,000 Credits, and get a head start before everyone else. This is gonna be epic - don’t miss out! The momentous coronation of Charles VII at Reims in the summer of 1429 gave England’s regent in France - the popular and capable John of Bedford, time to brace Paris itself for an assault by the new king’s inspired forces. When it came in late August, once again with Joan of Arc leading the charge, Bedford was prepared and, after a few skirmishes and a brief siege, the French were repelled. The momentum of Orleans had run its course and Charles ordered his army away for winter.
By this point in the war, Joan was becoming politically troublesome for the restored Valois monarchy despite her role in boosting French morale in the dark decade of the 1420s. After continuing campaigns on her own for a few months, she was captured at Compiegne by the Burgundians and then sold to the English in November. After one of the most notorious religious trials in world history, the Maid of Orleans was burned at the stake by English soldiers in Rouen, convicted as a heretic. At the time of her death in May 1431, Joan of Arc was only nineteen years old.
Charles VII made no attempt to save her. On the military front, Bedford managed to stabilise the situation by retaking a few castles, and this gave Bedford an opportunity to emulate Charles’ propaganda coup of two years prior. On December 16th of that year, Henry VI of England was crowned Henry II of France as well. However, all things taken into account though, the war was not going well for the English, who no longer had adequate finances or manpower to defend its 350-mile long line of contact in France, fund the modern war with gunpowder siege weapons, or maintain its many garrisons. It was only through Bedford’s capability and love of him among the Anglo-French that the lands were maintained. Despite minor English success in retaking some rebellious Norman castles in 1434, the revolt continued to bleed the occupiers of much-needed resources and their situation continued to deteriorate.
Even more unfortunately for the English, their most important ally could see the way the winds were blowing. The dual-monarchy suffered two body-blows in quick succession during 1435. On September 14th the ailing Duke of Bedford finally passed away at Rouen and was replaced by Richard of York. Worse still was the Treaty of Arras, signed on September 20th between King Charles VII and Philip of Burgundy.
This finally reconciled the feuding French factions in a settlement which granted the Duchy of Burgundy even more territory in return for Philip’s formal recognition of Charles VII as the French king. This political sea change had an immediate effect, as unrest began to occur all over the English lands in France. Moreover, the armies of Charles VII managed to capture the coastal towns of Dieppe and Harfleur, crucial for ferrying reinforcements and supplies across the channel. Peace negotiations in 1439 failed, but over the next few years, England’s position on the continent only got worse. Pontoise - the last English foothold in the French crownlands, fell in 1441 and the year after Gascony was attacked for the first time in decades.
Because a group favouring peace with France at any cost, led the Duke of Suffolk, had great influence with the king in England, the latter led an embassy to Tours in early 1444 for a conference. France’s delegates were unwilling to make any kind of compromise, the deal was in reality a desperate one for Suffolk. In return for an extendable two-year truce, Henry VI would be betrothed to the niece of Charles VII - Margaret of Anjou, and England would cede Maine to France. Though the peace came as a great relief to English civilian settlers in Northern France - who were on the receiving end of increasing French attacks, it was generally received with fury in England3, and served as one of the factors which made the Wars of the Roses inevitable a decade or so later. As Henry’s realms started falling apart, Charles made good use of the truce to embark on a series of military and monetary reforms which would forever change the feudal France which he had fought so hard to inherit.
The taille - a direct land tax which had only been occasional until this point, became permanent and funded the king’s changes. Feudal French armies had been hired by contracted for centuries and usually went home at the end of the year. Starting in 1444 however, only the poorer quality units were discharged, while the better contingents were retained as the core of a new standing army. On January 5th, 1445, the French royal government officially announced the formation of compagnies d’ordonnance - regular units of troops supplemented by bringing the highest quality bands of routiers and écorcheurs, many of whom were dismissed mercenaries, to the king’s service.
To ensure their continued loyalty, discipline and relatively high moral standards, these new professional soldiers were paid monthly with the new revenues. Recruitment of former freelance soldiers cut down the amount of banditry in the kingdom while also making use of an untapped reserve of experienced manpower. Other, less reputable écorcheurs were viewed as an impediment to peace, little better than the outlaws which had tormented France for decades. Another vital part of Charles’ modernisation of the French army was his integration of ‘modern’ gunpowder artillery, which emerged in European armies during the early fifteenth-century. Particularly revolutionary was the development of so-called ‘crumbled’ gunpowder, which didn’t disintegrate into its separate components when moved and was therefore far more reliable, and far more effective.
Other technological advances including multiple powder chambers on breech-loading cannons meant that newer cannons could have a surprisingly high rate of fire. Enter the brothers Jean and Gaspard Bureau - sons of a merchant in the service of Charles VII. After being appointed to the task, the duo regularised the haphazard and sporadic variety of cannons currently used by inexperienced French forces. Proper usage for each type of gun was specified and a greater level of training and professionalism was instilled into a previously relatively neglected arm of the military.
In addition, the brothers used France’s new fiscal strength to purchase standardised, higher-quality bronze gun barrels. Larger bombards were retained for heavier siege duties such as battering down castle walls, while smaller caliber guns such as the culverin would be used against infantry targets. In Normandy and the formally relinquished County of Maine, it was becoming clear that the Duke of York and his military forces in France weren’t going to dance with the conciliatory tune of Henry VI’s advisors. To them, it was inevitable that more territory would fall if the French weren’t resisted now, and so the garrisons of Maine refused to leave their fortresses - such as the capital at Le Mans. This provoked threats of renewed warfare with France in late 1447, but the garrisons did hesitantly withdraw from Maine in March 1448, further diminishing the English position in now-exposed Normandy. Soon after, York was sent to govern Ireland as a means of getting him out of the way and was replaced in France by his great rival Edmund Beaufort - Duke of Somerset.
The tension in Normandy finally came to a climax when the captain of Verneuil - Francois de Surienne, attacked a Breton fortress at Fougeres with Suffolk’s backing in March 1449. The town was badly sacked and its fall prompted the then-neutral Duke of Brittany Francois I to ask Charles VII for help. Somerset refused to apologise for his subordinate’s act and the French retaliated by quickly seizing castles at Pont-de-l’Arche, Gerberoy and Conches by late May. France offered to exchange Fougeres for these towns, but was refused. This made the resumption of war inevitable and it was finally declared at the end of July.
Charles VII crossed the Loire in August and took personal command of the southernmost of four armies which now simultaneously invaded the weakened English lands in Normandy. It was a total walkover. On the 8th, French forces took Pont-Audemer, and Somerset’s other castles began to fall with alarming frequency - their garrisons having been consistently reduced over the decades.
A few weeks later on the 26th, the inhabitants of Mantes rose against the English, seized control of a gate, and forced the garrison to surrender to Charles’ troops. In September, Breton forces completed their conquest of the Cotentin Peninsula south of the Grand-vey and handed it over to French royal officials, while at the same time the Duke of Alencon took back the city which bore his name, which had been beyond the man’s control for decades. On October 16th the king’s personal force - led by Dunois, besieged the glorious Anglo-Norman capital at Rouen. Knowing no relief was coming, Somerset surrendered the city in less than a week and was allowed to march with his garrison to English-held Caen.
So driven were the French to complete the reconquest that their operations continued into winter, and they eventually managed to recapture the crucial channel ports at Harfleur and Honfleur. By the time Charles’ offensive halted, England only retained a small area of central-western Normandy around Caen and Bayeaux, in addition to the Cotentin Peninsula’s northern segment with Cherbourg as its most important city. In England, two of the most powerful figures in the kingdom - Queen Margaret and Suffolk, raised a formidable army of 4,500 men and the ships with which to transport them to Normandy. Sir Thomas Kyriell was put in command of the force. He was a veteran of the war in France and a Knight of the Garter who came from a family of middle-ranking knights which, for centuries, had served the kings of England as sheriffs and in other similar roles.
However, the expedition was delayed because of a lack of ships and the onset of winter. Worse still, when the army learned that their second installment of pay was to be postponed, they mutinied and killed one of the king’s officials. Suffolk was widely regarded as the cause of the unrest through maladministration, and when he attempted to flee across the channel to escape his enemies he was assassinated in May of 1450. Despite a false start to the campaign, Kyriell and his soldiers sailed from Portsmouth as soon as the weather in 1450 permitted, landing at Cherbourg on March 15th.
These reinforcements instantly boosted the faltering morale of the English in Normandy and led to Kyriell’s army receiving a further 1,800 reinforcements from the large nearby garrisons. France’s garrison at Valognes realised that it was in danger and requested support from the south, but Kyriell pounced too quickly, besieging the castle for three weeks before it finally surrendered on April 10th. The squire in charge of the fortification - Abel Rouault, was permitted to depart with his garrison, supplies, horses, and possessions in return for the capitulation. After learning of the new English invasion, Charles VII sent some of his best units and most capable lieutenants to inform and reinforce his commander in the area - Jean de Clermont. Having missed the opportunity to save Valognes, he established himself at Carentan on the main road that Kyriell would most likely use to move south. There, Clermont sent word to the Breton Constable of France - Arthur de Richemont, asking him to move his forces to Saint-Lo in case Kyriell marched that way.
Meanwhile, the English moved slowly south, absorbing manpower, artillery and other siege weapons along the way. French scouts informed their commander that rather than passing by his location, Kyriell and the English army were instead executing a potentially dangerous, but incredibly well-executed march through the low-lying tidal marshlands near the Grand-Vey, which they accomplished on April 14th with only minor resistance. Local farmers and other peasants were supplemented by a company of men-at-arms, but were easily brushed aside.
Matthew Gough - one of the English captains, supposedly shouted at them “Mad dogs! We crossed despite you!” After successfully getting past the harsh terrain, Kyriell’s army set up camp for the night at a village known as Formigny, while Gough was sent ahead to Bayeaux in order to get reinforcements. Clermont moved to close the distance with the English at dawn on the 15th and sent another message to de Richemont asking to be reinforced. After receiving the call for aid, he too set out for Formigny early on the 15th, but wouldn’t reach the field before the fighting began. At the English position, Kyriell’s 6,000 troops spent the morning hours constructing a line of field entrenchments, made up of ditches, potholes, earthen palisades, and sharpened stakes to block the main eastward road. Accompanying this was a smaller series of fortifications to the east of Formigny, they had made the village a makeshift fortress. As midday approached, English outriders returned from the west and informed Sir Kyriell that a French army was approaching.
In a hurry, the English knight had Gough recalled from Bayeaux. Realising he was about to be engaged, Kyriell drew up his archer-heavy forces in battle array. His own 4,500 were placed on the right side of the line, anchored on the village of Formigny, while Gough led about 1,500 troops on the left near the Val stream. Clermont’s 3,000 strong army of men-at-arms, mounted crossbowmen and some artillerists began to enter the area shortly after noon, led by an elite Scottish vanguard compagnie.
When his forces approached the Val, they wisely halted about 600 meters away from their enemy, well out of longbow range. At a safe distance, the French forces formed up west of a bridge between them and the English, and for three hours Clermont’s men remained where they were while the general conferred with his advisors. The older captains cautioned restraint, while their younger counterparts urged an immediate attack before the English defences grew any stronger. Clermont - who would later be known as the ‘Scourge of the English’, opened the battle by sending forward two light culverins protected by a few hundred crossbowmen and men-at-arms. When the cannons opened fire, stationary English troops suffered heavy casualties from the unexpected artillery fire.
Matthew Gough reacted first, sending 500 archers across the bridge to attack the small artillery position. They drove away the French gunners, captured the culverins, and killed those protecting them. Panicked by the setback, Clermont ordered a group of local peasants to scour the countryside south of the battlefield in order to find de Richemont, he needed reinforcements as soon as possible. At the same time, the French commander sent a larger unit of men-at-arms under Pierre de Brézé to reinforce their beleaguered comrades and engage the enemy troops.
Though this fierce melee started well for the French under Clermont, Kyriell sent more reinforcements to bolster Gough’s soldiers and it began to tilt in favour of the numerically superior English. Official reports to the French king written only days after the battle later state that if Kyriell’s army had launched a full-scale attack at this point, Clermont would have been defeated. That attack never came. As the clash went on in the center, a small army of around 1,000 men emerged onto the plateau south of the battlefield. The English were jubilant, celebrating that reinforcements had arrived to finish the French off from the flank.
However, as the third force got closer, the sight of French and Breton banners made both sides realise what was happening - Arthur de Richemont’s army had arrived and Kyriell was now the one in danger of being hit from the rear. De Richemont rode quickly with his advance guard to confer with Clermont while the main Breton force remained on the English side of the Val. This was tactically problematic for Kyriell’s army, but it is likely that his numbers still considerably outstripped those of either French commander. In response, Sir Kyriell had Gough’s smaller contingent on the left start to redeploy, pivoting to face de Richemont’s main army to the south. However, the elite Breton advance guard used the opportunity to fight their way across the bridge, slaying six-score of their English enemy whilst doing so and disrupting Gough’s redeployment effort. With disarray now the order of the day among his enemy’s troops, the Breton Constable returned to his main army and advanced northeast towards the English rear, while at the same time Clermont assaulted their front.
Also, at the same time, Pierre de Brézé had mounted a few hundred men and rode around the field, seizing control of the eastern fortifications and preventing any substantial retreat. Kyriell did his best to rally the now disorganised and demoralised English in the village, but Brézé charged them from behind while both main armies attacked from different angles. To make this worse, the town peasants rose up and joined in the developing slaughter. The main English army was totally destroyed, only Gough and Robert Vere survived to lead their surviving soldiers back to Bayeaux and Caen respectively. One group of 500 longbowmen withdrew to a garden next to the Val and were on their knees begging for mercy.
Nevertheless, Clermont’s troops slew them anyway. The English commander Sir Thomas Kyriell was taken prisoner, along with about 1,200 others, while around 3,800 of the knight’s men perished at Formigny. This defeat finally broke the back of England’s military hopes in Normandy.
Most garrisons had contributed forces to Kyriell’s army and his defeat now denuded them of defenders. Just over two months after the triumph of France’s armies at Formigny, it had also seized Vire, Avranches, and Bayeaux on May 16th. In June, Caen was besieged and taken a few weeks later. Charles VII rode north and ceremonially entered the city on June 6th. With only little resistance, the Cotentin Peninsula city of Cherbourg finally went down on August 22nd, 1450 - all of Normandy was now under French control for the first time in almost three decades. It wasn’t over yet, however, as Gascony still remained in English hands.
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