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The Battle of Verneuil: a second Agincourt


2015 marked the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Thanks to Shakespeare we remember this battle and heroism of Henry V and his tired army against the glorious might of France. But what is less well remembered is how this victory led to much longer lasting achievements in France and Europe at large. It surprised contemporary observers, and re-established the military reputation of the English, and their feared longbowmen.

It was the foundation of Henry V’s reputation as a warrior king without equal, which grew as he conquered northern France. Such was the state of France, with a mad king, warring nobles and a military class demoralised by regular defeat, that he was able in 1420 to agree a treaty that made him and his descendants kings of France. All he had to do was outlive Charles of France, who ill and 20 years older. But he didn’t, he died two years later, his health broken by ceaseless campaigning, leaving a 9 month old heir, Henry VI.

Fortunately for the young king, his uncle John, Duke of Bedford was made Regent in France in Henry V’s will. Bedford was an honourable man with successful military experience on the Scottish borders and in the French wars, he devoted himself absolutely to winning his nephew’s French kingdom.

Henry V and later the Duke of Bedford were not only having to fight the French, and their various mercenary allies, they also had to deal with a large Scottish army in France. The Scots had honoured the Auld Alliance and had been the main supporters of Charles the Dauphin (later Charles VII of France) since 1419. In 1421 they killed Henry’s brother, Thomas Duke of Clarence at the Battle of Bauge, while Henry himself was in England. Although Bauge was a fairly small battle if weighed by the numbers involved, it is arguable that no one else had a comparable success against the English. It was the only time an English prince was killed in battle during the Hundred Years War. After this success the Scots were confident they had the measure of the English. Henry’s death 9 months after Bauge gave Charles and his commanders further confidence. They had felt that English forces led by Henry were invincible, but as Bauge had shown, under other English commanders they were fallible.

The English forces fighting in France in the fifteenth century were rarely big enough to achieve everything that needed doing at any one time. As a result if Charles’ forces could inflict a large enough defeat on them, the remnants would struggle to hold on to many of Henry’s conquests. So in 1424 Charles pulled together an army made up of the most experienced men he could find, including possibly the largest number of Scots yet. Charles’ army, led by his most experienced commanders, set out to bring Bedford and the English to battle on favourable ground. They achieved this outside the southern Normandy town of Verneuil on a warm summer's day. But their plans came to nought as Bedford and the English won a devastating victory against the odds. The victory at Verneuil restored the myth of English invincibility established at Agincourt.

As a result it took Charles another 30 years to recover the conquests made by Henry V and John, Duke of Bedford in a mere nine years... 

By Richard Wadge

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