Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Battle of Formigny: England vs. France (April 15, 1450)

The knights of Christendom are divided;
For whose cause should their swords be provided?
England boasts of its Author, Lancelot,
And Gareth to whom peasant boons are brought.
Yet, France has its lady warrior saint,
Joan of Arc, who freed France from English taint.

One hundred years bled the heroic test
Edward, Richard, and Henry without rest,
Challenged Philip, John, and Charles in France
For Norman English titled inheritance.
To Charles’ stronghold Orleans they laid siege,
But Joan rode in as knight of France’s liege.

Fire beyond the work of Medieval arts
Proved France that day against the English darts,
Yet Normandy would be saved another day
With the aid of gun powder’s explosive ray.
For on the crossroads of Formigny
Two guns roared against England’s panoply.

Desperately the archers charged where the guns lay,
But Richemont rode up in full array,
And peering down the hill, thundered swiftly,
While Clermont rallied again quickly,
Afterward, France won the One Hundred Years’ War
And England would despise this land of lore.

Per Scriptum E. Wesley - Mackinac Center Intern

Much of Western Civilization in Western Europe has been characterized by the nationalistic animosity between England and France that took two world wars to finally end. But where did this animosity come from? In 1066, the Duke of Normandy (France) invaded England, dethroned Edward the Confessor, and became known as William the Conqueror. At that point, noble titled land in France became linked to the Norman English kings. However, as France followed the Conqueror’s model of royal feudal centralization of the nobility, French lands became a recipe for dynastic contest. Between 1337 and 1453, the kings of England and France waged perhaps the longest single national war in Western history, the Hundred Years’ War. Until 1429, the English were winning the war in almost every land encounter. In that year, nationalist hero of France and Catholic saint, Joan of Arc, broke the English siege of Orleans, setting in motion a twenty four year process of French unification and expulsion of English forces in France. However, the most decisive battle against the English on land was the Battle of Formigny on April 15, 1450. The battle would not only signal the end of the Hundred Years’ War, it would solidify the imperial contest between England and France on the national scale for future eras to come. This division within Western Civilization was born out in many key events of the founding of liberty in the West.

The Battle:
Sir Thomas Kyriell held the last English army in Normandy by April of 1450. Being sent to France by the Duke of Suffolk and linking up with what was left of the Duke of Somerset’s force, Kyriell had now had about 4,000 men under his command (lowest estimation is 3,800 and highest estimation is 5,000). After Kyriell’s landing at Cherbourg, taking of Valognes, and defeating of a small sortie near Carentan, Kyriell camped near Formigny (see map below). Comte de Clermont’s French force of about 3,000 men made straightway from Carentan for Formigny (a distance of about 15 miles bearing east), while Richemont, with a force of about 2,000 from St. Lo (about 19 miles southwest of Formigny) planned to intercept Kyriell before he reached Bayeux.

At about 3:00 pm on the 15th, Kyriell detected Clermont’s movements, and set up his men into the successful formation tried at the Battle of Crecy, with 800 dismounted men-at-arms interspersed between 2,900 longbow archers (see battle map below). Kyriell blocked the road, setting up his center line of archers in front of a stone bridge that crossed a brook further down the road. Clermont’s men dismounted, and launched a probing assault, but were turned back. Clermont then led a mounted attack on the English flanks, but again to no avail. Then, Clermont finally released two “culverin” cannon on the archers, decimating them at an amazing range of about 300 yards. Probably lightweight, breach loaded, and possibly each mounted on a two wheel carriage, these guns would had to have been able to fire very rapidly in order to cause such significant damage to the archer formations. Frustrated, the archers finally left their stake entrenchments, charged, and took possession of the guns. However, whether or not Clermont successfully recaptured the guns in a counterattack is still disputed. What is apparent is that the English were too late. Richemont had mysteriously abandoned his earlier plans to intercept Kyriell further east, and suddenly arrived poised on the brow of the hill behind Kyriell's left flank with about 1,200 mounted knights (800 archers had been left behind). No one knows how he knew where the battle was. Perhaps he heard the guns. Anyway, Kyriell hastily flew back to the brook, and formed a semi-circle around the bridge. In this formation, the English archers were not near as effective, and Clermont, after rallying his men, found it not too difficult to break the lines. Dreading being captured by the French, almost all of Kyriell's men fought to the death in little pockets of skirmishes across the lines, but Kyriell himself was captured. The French only lost about 200. After having driven out the last English army division in Normandy, the Hundred Years' War was coming to a close. Henry VI vainly sent one last army into Normandy which was forcefully put down (again by cannon) at the Battle of Castillon in 1453.

The Hundred Years' War formed France into a new national identity inherently opposed to England. This was due to the fact that during the 15th century, nobility and feudal hierarchy formed the basis of nationhood, and titled land was the foundation for all politically legitimate sovereignty. The English vs. French struggle would last far after feudalism into the 20th century, demonstrating that the national rhetoric for 19th century European empire was a modified extension of national formations from the Medieval era. Far from being totally opposed to liberty, this dichotomy helped found some of the greatest struggles for colonial independence, including America. Had France not been so anxious to dismantle the British Empire during the late 18th century (even at the expense of bankrupting itself and sending itself from financial ruin into a bloody revolution), America might never have had such a persistent ally in its War for Independence. No less important, Napoleon's territorial expansions might never have been stopped at Waterloo had not Great Britain been so stubborn in its somewhat distant excursions into the European Continent. History would not be the same without the Battle of Formigny and the nationalistic conclusion to the Hundred Years' War.

Image Král Jan v bitvě u Kresčaku from Wikipedia
Map of France and Formigny Battle Map from xenophongroup.com

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