Time for some tech innovations.
Name: The Battle of Castillon
The War: The final phase of the Hundred Years War(s)
When: 17 July 1453
Where: Castillon-la-bataille, Gascony, South-Western France
Force/Commanders: 7’000 English troops under John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury against 9’000 or so French troops under Jean Bureau.
“And now to Paris in this conquering vein
All will be ours, now bloody Talbot’s slain”
-William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part One
“Such was the end of this famous and renowned English leader who for so long had been one of the most formidable thorns in the side of the French, who regarded him with terror and dismay”
– Matthew d’Escourcy
It was the final stages of what we now call the Hundred Years War(s), a series of interconnected conflicts between France and England in the 14th and 15th centuries. Following decades of English domination, French fortunes had improved, most famously through the activities of Joan d’ Arc.
In 1453, only a small amount of French territory was still in English hands, though it was French land through ancestral claim only (many of those areas had been under English rule for centuries and considered themselves English). These included Calais and the province of Gascony in the south-west.
Gascony had only recently been ‘liberated’ from French rule by a force of 6’000 or so men under John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, known as “the English Achilles” due to his bravery and reputation in battle. The French King, Charles VII, gathered his own armies and sent them out to meet him once the weather was agreeable.
Forcing Talbot to abandon the general safety of Bordeaux by besieging the small town of Castillon-la-Bataille, a French army under Jean Bureau prepared to meet the English war hero.
On the morning of the 17th July, Talbot arrived near the town with an advance guard of his troops, routing a force of French militia. Believing inaccurate reports that the French positions around the town were being abandoned wholesale, Talbot ordered his troops to swing left and charge directly at the investments.
Only, there were none. Bureau had not besieged Castillon at all, instead putting all of offensive weaponry – archers, quarrels and over 300 cannon – facing outward. Dismayed but undaunted, Talbot ordered an attack anyway.
The English charged, but could make no headway against the French firepower. The cannon was utterly devastating. The demoralised English were already pulling back when a force of Bretonnian cavalry arrived on the field, charging their right flank. The English routed.
As he retreated, Talbot’s horse was hit by a cannonball, trapping him under the animal. He was then killed by a French militia member.
Why It’s Decisive – Impact On That War
It pretty much ended any chance that the English could keep the conflicts going. Gascony was a very sympathetic province to the English: their failure to hold it in the face of the French counterattack, along with the death of their gret commander, meant that Calais was all that the English could hold onto. That too would be lost to them, but not for a while.
Immense. Cannon had been a part of warfare for a while, but nearly always in the form of sieges. Their impact on pitched battles was negligible due to their awkwardness in movement and slow reload times. Castillon changed that. It was the first recorded battle where artillery was the deciding factor. It gutted the English charge, and for good measure, essentially killed their commander. Just as the bow had destroyed the usefulness of Knights in the same conflict, now cannon was outperforming the bow.
Within just a few decades, cannon (and its smaller variations) would be the dominant missile weapon of warfare. Castillon is the first battle where the entire result is down to its involvement. It was an inevitable innovation, but this is where it first started.
Debatable. It can be argued that the Hundred Years War(s) had already reached its essential conclusion: the re-assertment of French authority over their traditional territory. But if Talbot had been able to drive the French off – say by approaching the French position from a different direction – it’s entirely possible that the English coul have held onto Gascony, ensuring that the long war would continue. It had already jumped back and forth between the two sides several times.
Then again, with England about to be engulfed in the War of the Roses, it seems doubtful they could have held onto their continental lands much longer anyway.
In National Consciousness
Minimal. Castillon has its place in history but the French look towards the Siege of Orleans and Joan d’ Arc for their commemoration, while the English tend to place all their focus on Talbot’s death (if at all). When Shakespeare made Talbot a character, his death takes place in a different battle, and cannons are not even mentioned.
So then, Castillon is remembered in purely military terms as the ending of one great conflict and the beginning of a new age in warfare. Combined with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in the same year, the battle was a watershed, one of the great signs that the Middle Ages was coming to a close.
For more of NFBs Decisive Battles check out the index here.