Battle of Baugé, 21 March 1421

The battle of Baugé was a Scottish victory during the Hundred Years War, fought on French soil. By the start of 1419 the English under Henry V were in a very strong position in France. His victory at Agincourt had saved Henry’s invasion of France from ending in disaster, and had established him as a major force in France. Charles VI of France was increasingly insane, while his heir, the future Charles VII, was only sixteen, and had only become Dauphin in 1417, after the deaths of all four of his older brothers. The situation was further complicated by the ongoing civil war between the Royalist faction and the supporters of the dukes of Burgundy. This had seen John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, order the murder of the king’s brother Louis of Orleans, while in 1419 supporters of the Dauphin would in turn murder the duke.

Late in 1418 the Dauphin Charles made an appeal for Scottish help. At this time Scotland was ruled by Robert Stewart, first duke of Albany (Just before the death of his father in 1406, the future James I had been sent to France, possibly to protect him from Albany, but on 22 March 1406 he had been captured at sea by the English, and in 1418 was still in captivity in England). Albany was generally in favour of the French alliance, and it was decided to send a force of 6,000 volunteers to France. The command was to be shared by Archibald Douglas, earl of Wigtown (or Wigtoun), the son of the fourth earl of Douglas, and Albany’s second son John Steward, third earl of Buchan. A fleet of ships from Castile reached Scotland in September 1419, and on 29 October 1419 the Scottish army reached the Dauphin’s court at Bourges.

As is often the case with well documented medieval battles, the more sources we have the less certain we can be about the course of the battle. To make things more complex in this case we have four different sets of chronicles – Scottish, French, English and Burgundian – none of which are entirely internally consistent - as an example the two main Scottish sources (the Liber Pluscardensis and the Scotichronicon) disagree on the size of the Scottish army and on who killed Clarence, while the Lancastrian dynasty was not universally popular in England.

The Franco-Scottish Army

It is impossible to be sure of the exact numbers of men in either of the armies present at Baugé. Estimates of the size of the Franco-Scottish army vary least, ranging from 5,000 to 7,000, with 6,000 most likely.

The Scots made up by far the largest part of this army, although exactly how many Scots were present is again unclear. The Scottish army that reached France in 1419 was almost certainly 6,000 strong, but this force had not been kept together. Some of the Scottish troops were used to reinforce Dauphinist garrisons upstream of Paris and in Maine and Anjou (during 1420 Henry V had encountered Scottish troops during the siege of Melun). However we also know that Buchan and Wigtown had returned to Scotland during 1420 to recruit more men, returning in January 1421. The majority of sources agree that the Scots made up by far the largest part of the Franco-Scottish army, while Buchan and Wigtown commanded the combined force.

The small French contribution to the combined army was led by the Constable of La Fayette, one of the dauphin’s marshals. It was probably a force of local levies, although would have contained a core of more experienced men associated with La Fayette. There was also a small force of Angevins under the lord of Fontaines, who had joined the army just before the battle (the lord of Fontaines would be amongst the small number of French casualties at the end of the battle). Despite this the army was overwhelmingly Scottish.

In the time between their arrival in 1419 and the battle the Scots had gained a rather poor reputation amongst the French – both main Scottish sources report that they were seen as “consumers of mutton and wine” – but they still had a high reputation with the Dauphin.  

The English Army

The size of the English army is much less certain. A number of sources give figures for the size of the army at the start of the expedition. The Scottish Liber Pluscardensis gives a figure of 10,000 men, which French sources give figures that range from 4,000 up to 12,000. The French chronicle of Juvénal may be most accurate, giving Clarence around 6,000-7,000 men at the start of his expedition, including 1,200 nobles, who would have made up the bulk of the men actually involved in the battle.

The army was commanded by Henry’s oldest brother Thomas of Lancaster, duke of Clarence. In March 1421 he was the heir to the throne (Henry’s new wife, Catherine of Valois may have been pregnant by this point, but the future Henry VI would not be born until early December, so it is probably safe to assume that this was not yet known).

The larger figures are most unlikely, giving Clarence as many men as Henry V had brought to France before Agincourt. Clarence’s army had probably been formed largely from the garrison of Normandy, which at the beginning of 1421 had numbered just under 5,000.

Whatever the actual size of the English army, all accounts agree that only a small part of it actually took part in the battle – the men-at-arms led by Clarence, while Salisbury was left behind to gather together the archers. In English armies of this period the ratio of archers to men-at-arms was at least 3-1, and so Clarence many have gone into battle with no more than a quarter of his army.

It is generally accepted that Clarence fought with around 1,500 men-at-arms at Baugé – English sources suggest that few of the men-at-arms escaped, while the Scotichronicon gives a total of 1,617 English dead, roughly in line with other sources. Given a ratio of 3-1 this would have given him 4,500 archers, for a total of 6,000 men.

The Raid

Clarence’s army mustered at Bernay in March 1421. His target was Angers, on the Loire. He is said to have believed that the Franco-Scottish army was somewhere in this vicinity. His army moved fast, crossing the River Huisne at Pont-de-Gennes, just to the east of Le Mans, and then turning to the south west, crossing the Loir at Luché (between La Flèche and Le Lude). When Clarence reached Angers the town was too strongly defended for him to besiege, and so he retreated east to Beaufort-en-Vallée, to the east of the town. At the same time the Scottish force was moving west from Tours, and would soon be in place to the north of the English, blocking the direct route back to Normandy.

The Battle

On the night before the battle the two armies were only eight miles apart. During Good Friday (21 March) the Franco-Scottish army had reached Le Lude, on the Loir, eleven miles to the north east of Baugé. They had then moved on to Baugé, before finally moving about one mile further to the south west to the small village of Vieil Baugé. At this point Clarence was based at Beaufort en Valleé, eight miles further to the south west. The two armies were also separated by the River Couasnon, which runs south west from Baugé, passing to the east of Vieil Baugé but to the west of Beaufort. The only available bridge across the river was at Baugé.

By the morning of 22 March at the latest Buchan and Wigtown had decided to offer battle at La Lande Chasles, a small village six miles to the south east of Baugé, on the opposite side of the Couasnon. The evidence suggests that they knew that Clarence was close by, but that Clarence was unaware how close he was to the Scottish army. That morning Buchan sent La Fayette to inspect the ground at La Lande Chasles, while Clarence sent foraging parties out in every direction (these foraging parties contained most of his archers).

One of those foraging parties, possibly under Sir Gilbert Umfraville, was sent north towards Baugé, and at some point during the morning discovered the present of the Franco-Scottish army, capturing a number of Scots. They then returned to Beaufort, where Clarence questioned them (possibly while at dinner).

This was almost certainly the first Clarence learnt of the Scottish presence, and he now made the mistake that would lead directly to his defeat and death. Rather than wait for the foraging parties to return to Beaufort, Clarence decided to attack the Scots with his mounted men-at-arms. The earl of Salisbury was left behind to gather together the rest of the army and bring them north as quickly as possible.

Early in the afternoon of 22 March Clarence, at the head of around 1,500 men-at-arms, including the earls of Somerset and Huntingdon, Edmund Beaufort, John Grey count of Tancarville and Lords Roos and Fitzwalter, rode out of Beaufort heading for the bridge at Baugé. The main reason for this disastrous decision would appear to be that Clarence wanted to win some glory for himself. He had not been present at Agincourt, and was not temperamentally suited for the war of sieges that had followed. Huntingdon and Umfraville were both said to have attempted to persuade him to wait for the rest of the army, but without success.

At this point the Franco-Scottish army was dangerously scattered. La Fayette and his scouts were on the same side of the river as Clarence. Most of the men were at Vieil Baugé, south west of the bridge, and according to the Scottish sources were either at prayers or playing sports. Near the bridge were thirty men under Robert Stewart of Railstone, while another hundred under Walter Kennedy were quartered in a nearby church.

La Fayette’s scouts were first to spot the approaching English army, raising the alarm. Exactly where the first clash took place is not entirely clear, but it was probably around the bridge at Baugé. The main Scottish sources report that Clarence was initially unable to force his way across the bridge in the face of a storm of Scottish arrows, but was eventually able to make his way across, either using the bridge, or across a swampy ford.

Having abandoned his archers at Beaufort, Clarence should at least have made sure that his force of men-at-arms kept together. Instead he had allowed it to become stretched out on the road to Baugé. He was now in a very dangerous situation. His own small force was divided by the river. The Scots had been alerted to his presence, and the small force at the bridge had delayed the English for long enough for Buchan to gather together a large part of his own army.

French sources report a short clash between the English and a small French force under Jean de la Croix at this point, which ended when the French retreated into the parish church. A clash with a small force of cavalry is mentioned in at least one English source, which may reflect this same incident.

Even now Clarence does not seem to have waited for all of his men-at-arms, but instead to have advanced towards the main Scottish force at Vieil Baugé. Scottish and French sources both state that some of the English troops arrived late, after having been left behind on the ride to Baugé.

Vieil Baugé lies on a low ridge a short distance back from the river. At this point the main Scottish force would appear to have been hidden over the skyline, and Clarence began to advance up the slope towards the village (Scottish, English and French sources). At some point during this climb, Buchan led his men over the skyline and the two armies charged.

The result was a confused hand-to-hand melee, in which the outnumbered English was virtually wiped out. Clarence was one of the first to be killed. Hardly surprisingly none of the sources agree on how he died or who killed him. Amongst the possible candidates are Alexander Makcaustelayn (a Lennox highlander), the lord of Fontaines (in single combat between the armies before the battle!), Charles le Bouteiller and William de Swinton (a mistake for John Swinton, Buchan’s nephew). The Liber Pluscardensis is more honest, suggesting that it was impossible to tell who had killed whom in the melee, while Walsingham claimed that the death of Clarence did not become known until some time after the battle, when the bodies of the slain were searched.

Notable English casualties included the count of Tancarville, Lord Roos and Gilbert Umfraville. The earls of Huntingdon and Somerset, Edmund Beaufort and Lord Fitzwalter were amongst the prisoners. Very few of the English men-at-arms escaped from the melee.

Casualties

Overall the English probably lost around 1,500 men. The Scotichronicon gives a figure of 1,617 dead. French sources tend to support the figure of 1,500 casualties, either mostly dead, or a mix of dead and captured.

Scottish and French losses were much lower. The two main Scottish sources provide very low figures – the Liber Pluscardensis gives suggest eighteen killed, while the Scotichronicon reported the dead as twelve Scots and two Frenchmen. As with some English reports from Agincourt, these figures are almost certainly too low, especially for a close quarters melee battle, but even if we multiply them by ten it is clear that the Scots had won a very cheep victory.

The Immediate Aftermath

The end of the melee marked the end of the fighting, but not of the wider campaign. The larger part of the English army, the archers under Salisbury, was still intact, but it was now dangerously isolated, with the victorious Scots between them and safety in Normandy. The Scottish commanders spent the night after the battle in Baugé, from where they dispatched a report of the victory to the Dauphin.

In the event Salisbury was able to escape with relative ease. The Scots seem to have assumed that he would either have to attack them at Baugé or retrace Clarence’s steps, which would have taken the English east of Baugé. Instead Salisbury slipped by them to the west, crossing the Loir at La Flèche, and bluffing their way across the Sarthe at Le Mans by pretending to be French, destroying the bridge behind them. The Franco-Scottish army learnt of this movement too late to intervene.

Clarence’s body was recovered, probably on the day after the battle and by his illegitimate son John, who he had knighted just a few days before the battle.  

Longer Term Impact

The result of the battle of Baugé led to a short term improvement in French fortunes. Buchan was rewarded with the lands of Châtillon-sur-Indre, and was appointed constable of France, effectively command of the French armies. Wigtown was given Dun-le-roi, and made count of Longueville (something of a meaningless award, as the place was in English hands). The Scottish involvement in France expanded, and in 1424 Wigtown was replaced by his father, Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas, who led a large Scottish army to France.

In England the news was met with shock, while Henry V reacted with a mix of grief for the death of his brother and anger at his inept performance. Henry prepared for an early return to France, leaving England for the last time in May 1421.

In the meantime the Dauphin Charles had taken to the field in person, at the head of a combined Franco-Scottish army, this time with a more substantial French component. This army began a siege of Chartres, but when Henry reached France the Dauphin retreated back south, unwell to risk facing him in battle.

Henry settled down to besiege Meaux, the main Dauphinist strongpoint near to Paris. The siege ended in success in May 1422, but Henry contracted a fatal illness, and died on 21 October 1422.

Despite this apparently crushing blow, the high-point of English fortunes in France was yet to come. Over the next two years the Scots would be involved in two battles where they were badly let down by their French allies. The first came at Cravant on 31 July 1423. Sir John Stewart of Darnley, the third most senior Scottish commander at Baugé, had command of an Allied army that was sent to attack a Burgundian strongpoint at Cravant on the Yonne. Darnley’s army included Scottish, Spanish, Italian and French contingents, but when Salisbury appeared only the Scots stood and fought. Darnley himself was captured in the battle. He was later ransomed with French help, but was later killed during the siege of Orleans.

Early in 1424 the Scottish forces in France were reinforced when Archibald Douglas, fourth earl of Douglas, arrived at the head of an army of 6,500 men. He was made duke of Touraine, and took up residence at Tours, but his time in France would be short. In August he was at the head of a combined Scottish, French and Italian force that had been brought together to raise the siege of Ivry. Ivry surrendered to the English before the Allied army could arrive, but the Scots and the younger French nobles were determined to seek battle. It was decided to attempt to capture some towns on the border of Normandy. Verneuil-sur-Avre soon fell to the combined army, but this apparently easy success was short-lived. On 17 August, at Verneuil, an English army under John, duke of Bedford, with Salisbury commanding the wing that was facing the Scots, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Allied army. 4,000 of the Scots, including Douglas and Buchan were killed in the fighting. For the next five years the Dauphinist cause seemed to be hopeless, only reviving with the failure of the English siege of Orleans.

Despite this, the battle of Baugé had been a serious blow to the English. Clarence had been the heir to the throne at the time, and so his death was significant in its own right. It was also the first major English defeat since Henry V had begun the second phase of the Hundred Year’s War. Wild rumours soon travelled around Europe, greatly exaggerating the scale of the defeat, and in some cases replaced Clarence with his brother Henry. The victory also helped to cement the “auld alliance”, lifting the reputation of the Scottish soldiers in France. The next few years also saw the formation of the Garde écossaise, a small Scottish force which acted as a bodyguard for the kings of France, and survived until the revolution. 

See Also - Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Hundred Years War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (25 February 2008), Bauge, battle of, 21 March 1421, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_bauge.html

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