Saturday 16 February 2019

Battle of Bauge - a potential narrative

I’ve been trying to get as much clarity as I can regarding the Battle of Bauge on 21 March 1421; in relation to its narrative, the leaders and forces involved and transferring it to a demo game for Salute show.

The battle took place the day before Easter Day in 1421, an important date in the medieval religious calendar. Although the battle has been described as “little more than a disorderly scuffle”, it’s significant for three main reasons; i) the death of Henry V’s brother Thomas, duke of Clarence and ii) the first English defeat on the battlefield since Agincourt in 1415, and iii) the involvement of Scottish troops fighting in a combined force alongside the French.

For a medieval engagement there are a good number of written sources for the battle – including English, French, Scottish and Burgundian. The challenge is that they are (inevitably) contradictory and confusing. Regrettably fifteenth century chroniclers did not write their accounts with due consideration for the critical information that wargames 600 years really need to know! One of the fullest modern accounts comes from ‘The Reign of Henry the Fifth’ (Volume 3) by Wylie and Waugh (available online) and although written 90 years ago it's both comprehensive and scholarly in relation the campaign and battle and feels more compelling than many recent writers, such as Jonathan Sumption’s account in ‘Cursed Kings’ the relevant volume in his HYW series. 

My current view of the battle narrative (but subject to adjustments) is as follows:

1. The battle resulted from the English seeking to defend territories conceded to them at the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. The duke of Clarence led an English force (of about 4,000 men) along the Loire and was encamped before Easter 1421 near Beaufort. A Franco-Scots force had been raised by the Dauphin to seek battle and had moved to Bauge from Angers. 

2. The English had discovered the location of the Franco-Scots through the interrogation of captured prisoners. Despite it being the day before Easter, Clarence immediately led a contingent of all his knights and their men at arms towards Bauge. The archers were left to be organised by the earl of Salisbury and to follow on. Clarence’s decision to engage with just the men at arms appears rash with the benefit of hindsight and when considering the role of English archery and combined arms in the battlefield victories of the HYW. 

3. The English army was outnumbered. As with most battles it's difficult to be precise on numbers; but the generally agreed figures are about 1,500 English men at arms against 4-5,000 Scots and French, with the former providing the majority, presumably with a force of mixed arms. (I’ll post a future piece on the leaders and their heraldry etc).
The Couasnon river seen from present day Pont des Fees 
4. The English approached Bauge town from the south or south east, coming up from Beaufort (possibly following the current D60 road). This led them to the Couasnon River, which runs to the east of Bauge, near where it converges with the Altree River (both rivers being cited by different chroniclers). The crossing is referred to as Pont des Fees (the D722 on modern maps).  The first engagement took place at the bridge crossing the river, where a small contingent of French were surprised by the English mounted knights. Close fighting took place and it’s possible that the English had to dismount to force their way across – after which they then remounted.
The modern Couasnon river is relatively narrow (see Google image) and appears fordable – however contemporaries do reference wet, marshy ground running alongside and so the bridge seems to have been an important tactical feature and possibly the only option for mounted men in full harness to cross at.

The area in red depicts the likely battlefield area north-east of Viliers Bauge
5. Once across another fracas ensued after some of the French fell back to a church, from where they hurled rocks at the English, until they were by-passed. This maybe the Chapel of Fauborg St Michael, on the edge of the medieval town and not far from the Pont des Fees bridge. The mounted English knights then moved towards the town,to engage the Scots troops, who were by now alerted and prepared. Where this took place we seem to have a fairly reliable location. It’s likely to be on land uphill from the river crossing, between Bauge town and the village of Viliers Bauge (to the south west), along the crest of a slope. This ridge may have masked the size of the Scots contingent from Clarence as he rode up from the river towards the shallow plateau to attack. Today there is a monument to the battle in this area and the local vicinity is called ‘La  Bataille’. There are also references to fighting near a church and a graveyard – presumably of Viliers-Bauge.

The monument on the battlefield site

6. In the ensuing melees, in which the English appear to have fought from horseback, the duke of Clarence was killed, along with a number of other English noblemen, with others being captured. It was most likely weight of numbers, along with Clarence’s death, which tipped the day for the Franco-Scots. The earl of Salisbury’s troops – the army’s archers – appear to have got close to the battlefield but not close enough to take part on the day. Instead on the following day they collected Clarence’s body and buried the English dead, then fell back to Le Mans. Clarence's remains were buried in Canterbury Cathedral, under a magnificent alabaster effigy made in 1439.

Thomas Lancaster duke of Clarence. Canterbury Cathedral

If anyone has any additional views or information, they'd be most welcome.
In the next posting, I'll consider how I can include most of these key elements and apply them to a tabletop demo game.
Toodle pip.



Peter Douglas said...

I’ll be following this project eagerly! I’ve always been interested in the Scottish army in France, especially as it featured a prominent Douglas!

Independentwargamesgroup said...

Never heard of this battle and Im very impressed by your research already. Look forward to more, well done.

Bluewillow said...

Matt Williamson Hi Simon,

I am building for the battle myself and plan to revisit the battlefield in two weeks (went through yesterday afternoon, but had a customer on a Napoleonic/Vendee guided tour day so had no time to stop ). I have started the French/Scot roll of arms, I plan to do the English in a couple of weeks. Then my painting will commence so we can add the battle as a option it as one of our "walk the battlefield, in the morning and then wargame it in the afternoon" tours.
a few points

The departure village for the English was Beaufort-en-Vallée

I have linked some maps of the battlefield from the 1836 cadastral Napoleon that you will find useful, particulary road and bridge crossing of the Le Couasnon, which had mills and mill ponds along its length leading in Vieil-Baugé and Baugé.

This map has the battle site, the three mills and the bridge crossing past the church at Le Vieil-Baugé, the battle site is north of the village, some of the ground can still be walked.

I will share my coat of arms research so far with you. I do plan to get to salute this year and catch up. Lots of painting to do!


Painterman said...

The 1836 map is wonderful; I had no idea they existed and its easier to see the course of the river and the 'Bataille' area. Do you have any views on where the river crossing was most likely to have occurred?
Thanks for sharing this, Simon.

Bluewillow said...

I am translating a French document at the moment, I will draw up my suspected option for you and take some then and now shots for you


caveadsum1471 said...

Really interesting post,a battle that passed me by, I'm looking forward to seeing your game at Salute!
Best Iain

Hendrid said...

I'll follow this project with interest too. An off the beaten track which deserves much more attention. A good source for info and a good read, if you don't already know is the book 'An Antidote for the English'.